“Shaun, you’re doing that thing again. Staring into some far off land. Hurry up loopyhead, figure out what you wanna get.”
A fog seemed to lift from Shaun’s brain and he realized he had been staring at the menu for a while.
“Same as usual I guess. Deluxe Burger, hold the fries. I just want the coke.”
“You haven’t changed a smidge, huh” Cassidy chuckled. “I got’cha. On me this time.”
“Nah, Cass you really don’t need to…” he hesitated because he know it wasn’t true. The tattered, oil covered t-shirt and beat up Nikes with the sole on the left shoe coming loose told Cassidy otherwise.
“Two Deluxe Burger Combos, no fries please!”
Shaun shuffled his shoes a little bit, almost as if he suddenly became a little more conscious of how he looked beside her neatly pressed blazer and slightly waxed hair. After all, she was the one who looked out of place, a stark contrast to the greasy dinge of the burger shop and the unearthly pale glow of fluorescent lights. Sometimes, you could see a mouse scamper by but Cassidy seemed unfazed.
“So, uh. You been up to much?” Cassidy asked.
“Not much, no.” Shaun answered, a little startled at the sound of his own voice. “I’ve been working at a gas station for the past few months. It pays the bills, I guess.”
Cassidy raised an eyebrow. “An’ your mom? She’s doing alright?”
Shaun shrugged. “I guess so. She’s working at a fast food place. She’s been takin’ her meds regularly so problems haven’t been too bad.”
Cassidy nodded. “That’s good. That’s good.”
“Yeah.” Shaun said, looking away from Cassidy’s gaze and staring at the wall, where a poster of a bikini clad girl with a burger and a coke in her hands was taped to the peeling wallpaper.
“What happened to that promise?”
Cassidy froze. “The friendship one?”
An awkward silence rested between the two of them, suddenly broken by the sound of an ambulance siren. The blue and red lights lit up their faces like the bruising of a recent injury.
“Order 512! Chicken Deluxe with fries! Last call!” Shaun rang the bell a few more times.
“Well, I guess that guy isn’t showing up. It’s past closing anyways, do you wanna just split the food?”
Cassidy glanced at the clock just as it hit 10:00pm.
“Yeah sure, I’m starving.”
The two of them sat down in the only two chairs in the room that weren’t coated in grime, neither of them saying a word.
Shaun took a bite and chewed, feeling the greasy chicken inch down his throat. “How did you find Mr. Saltsworth’s calc test? I definitely feel like I got slaughtered. That one with the double integral was real tricky, how did he expect us to actually know that one?”
Cassidy spoke between bites. “Well silly, if you actually did the practice problems you would know. In any case, you should start taking school seriously. College application season is soon. How do you expect to do great things in the world if you don’t even take this stuff seriously?”
“Well, maybe not everyone wants to change the world.”
“Come on Shaun. Everyone wants to matter. What better way to do that than to make an impact?” Cassidy said, putting her burger down and wiping her lips with a tissue.
“What if I just want to work a regular job and care for my mom?”
They both sat, facing each other, a world of understanding apart. Both not understanding why the other wanted what they wanted.
“Cass, you ever thought that this is what I want?” Shaun said, feeling a lump form in his throat. “It’s all I’ve ever really wanted.”
“I remember that you said we would be friends until we both grayed out. I don’t think we’re too far from that, are we Shauney?”
“I said not to call me that. And are you kidding? We are far from that. Don’t fucking joke with me. You’ve got a nice new job, a wonderful relationship, hell you probably have enough dough to buy up this whole place!” Shaun said a little too loudly.
“You are treating time spent with me like some sort of fucking charity. Oh I’ll go spend some time with poor old Shauney so I can rub it in his face how successful and cool I am”
“-that really wasn’t my intention!” Cassidy butted in, her voice faltering. “I just wanted to catch up with old times.”
“Old times are old times. They’re gone. You shouldn’t dig them up. They’re just going to make you feel sad. And you don’t need that, do you? You’re happy now. You have no problems. You’re doing great.” Shaun said, staring at the empty plates.
“Look. I barely can pay the rent every month. I sell drugs to stay alive and take care of Katie and you’re moving to the gentrified part of the neighbourhood which is the reason why people like me can barely afford to stay alive!”
“I…I didn’t know that. I’m so sorry.” Cassidy cried, at first droplets streaming down the contours of her face, but eventually flowing streams that reddened her cheeks.
“You’re sorry! You’re sorry!” Shaun stood up and shouted, his voice echoing throughout the restaurant. If anyone else had been around, they would have turned to look at them too.
“Things will never be the same again, Cass. Y’know, I used to think we would end up together one day. We would take two different paths to get there, but the destination would be the same.” Shaun said, his voice trembling. “But I realize now that things just won’t be the same. I mean, look at us. I’m a druggie and you’re a ‘professional’. What could we possibly have in common? Things just aren’t what they used to be. They can’t be.”
Shaun stood up and began to walk away, but Cassidy grabbed his arm. “Wait, Shaun. Please don’t go. I know you are going through a lot. But we can figure this out together. We always have.”
In that moment, a ringtone pierced the air and they both froze, eyes wide and lips parted. The sound rang, twice, three times, through the empty restaurant.
“It’s work.” Cassidy said. “I have to take this. Please, can we talk about this tomorrow?”
“No Cass. I’ve had enough. Who are you going to choose? What’s the life you want to live? What do you really care about, Cass?”
Cassidy stared at Shaun, with her lips quivering. I’m sorry she mouthed.
“Hello… Cassidy speaking. How can I help you?”