2010-05-31: Drink on the House



Date: May 31, 2010


Not as suave as it sounds. Random career paths crossing leads to more low-key awkwardness.

"Drink on the House"

Food Court

Memorial Day at the Food Court means that the post-lunch crowd is even more non-crowdy than ever. There simply isn't one. How the place manages to stay in business is something Claire hasn't figured out yet, but then, when you charge two bucks for a soda that costs a nickel, there's a lot of profit to be made on not a lot of work. She is manning the register, the sole server and cashier on duty for the slow day with just one cook on the grill behind her in the kitchen.

With only two customers nursing their Cokes in the corner, Claire busies herself with color coding the schedule with highlighters, each crew member getting their own color: Kiki in pink, April in yellow, Claire in lavender, Archie in green, and so forth. The things that Mitch and Archie don't tend to think of, being men and all. Hopefully Kiki and April won't be annoyed about what color they got and how one should have gotten another based on their birthstones. It sounds like something they would do.

If they even know what their birthstones are. Or what months they were born in, for that matter. Any time you run into a name like 'Kiki', you have to start wondering about such things.

How to stay in business is something that Randall has also been struggling to work out as best he can. The pawn shop had its ups and downs, but at least it was there all the time— but he's stuck with his instinctive conviction that the time had come for him to move on from it. Now if he could only figure out what to do for a living instead… At least he's not limited to night shifts any more.

There's a high-pitched squeak of oversized wheels against concrete sidewalk as he pushes a metal handcart up to a nearby souvenir stand, dropping off a fresh supply of pin-up calendars and license plate frames. And then stops, glancing over toward the restaurant. Is that who he thinks it is? Definitely. Has she spotted him yet? Probably not. Hopefully not, after the last of their series of more-often-than-not awkward encounters.

The open windows may give a good view of the outdoors, but Claire is busy highlighting with the occasional glance at the two diners, to make sure they are happy and not throwing food or otherwise requiring her care. It's really a pretty easy gig — take order, give the customers those little numbers they put on their tables, give order to cooks, pick up order, bring order to table, clear. And sometimes the patrons are nice enough to clear themselves to the bussing areas, so then all she has to do is wipe off the table.

Even Kiki can do it. This means there is plenty of time to think about the things Claire doesn't want to think about — the fact one father is missing, the fact the other father is pretending to be dead, and all of the things that brought them to that point. She sighs, picking up the now-color-coded schedule and thumb-tacking it back into the bulletin board. She steps back to look at her handiwork — much better. She can now see at a glance what days and shifts she works.

If only there was more of a distraction— but wait, now there is! Outside, even with the holiday, foot traffic is still crowded enough that a guy in a green polyester pantsuit has managed to step onto the lip of the now-empty handcart at just the wrong angle, swinging the rest of it upward to whack into his shin and breadbasket. A shouting match between him, Randall, and the pimply-faced youth working the cash register quickly ensues, drawing momentary attention from other passersby as they start to dodge around the ruckus.

At the same time, the customers in the corner vacate their seats and head for the exit, probably to check out the possible altercation, which gives Claire something to do. She moves to the table, picking up the trays of trash to bring to the nearest trash can by the door. Glancing out, she notices that one of the three shouting people is a familiar face.

"I'm checking something outside!" she calls back to Nawlins, the cook, before pushing the door open and stepping out into the sunshine. She looks out of place on the city street in her tennis outfit, short white pleated skirt trimmed with red stripes and a white polo t-shirt with the red Food Court logo on the chest.

"Knock it off, or I'm calling the police!" she calls to the three, an empty threat which is meant to scare them into quieting down. "You're scaring away our customers!" Like they'd have any, anyway.

At first, it looks like Pantsuit is going to call her bluff and start griping at her instead, but by this point the PFY has had time to (a) fish out a couple bucks and slip it into the guy's hand, and (b) turn on Randall and yell "All right, that's it, you're fired!" - which seems to be enough to placate him; he pockets the cash and walks off, though he continues grumbling under his breath to save face.

Newly unemployed once again, Randall's face falls, and - having little else to do at this point - he turns to face the music Claire. "Hi! You, um. You're looking good." Looking well, he meant. The tennis outfit is distracting, okay?

"Don't fire him, it wasn't his fault," Claire shouts at the guy and then turns to look at Randall, brow creased with irritation and worry. "I… didn't mean to get you in trouble or anything, I just didn't want to see you get punched or something, either. I wasn't really going to call the cops unless someone started getting violent," she manages. She nods toward the cart. "You deliver to the souvenir stands or something?" Obviously he hasn't moved on to something bigger and better since the pawn shop, but then she's working the counter of a fast-food diner.

Randall glances back to make sure the instigator is well out of earshot, then turns back and shakes his head. "Don't worry, it's just for show—"

Thirty seconds ago

The end of the shouting match is seen again, this time from the clerk's point of view. As soon as Pantsuit's back is turned, he winks at Randall, then hands over the bribe (obvious phony bills, once actually looked at) and 'fires' the deliveryman (who'll just come back the next day). It's not the first time they've done this, either.

"—but yeah, I have been, lately. Short-term, but it keeps the rent paid and the lights on." Which is all he's ever asked of a day job, really; his true interests lie elsewhere. "What about you, how's this gig working out? Seems like it's been pretty busy lately." Kind of like Hooters, only not? But at least he manages to keep that thought to himself.

Claire Bennet doesn't have the resume required for Hooters — that is, she's just not stacked enough, not that she'd ever have applied. The short skirt here doesn't bother her, as she's comfortable enough showing off her bare legs thanks to cheerleading. "It's a job," she says, with a shrug. "Not enough to pay any rent, but enough that I don't have to bug my mom for spending money and feeling like a slacker, right?" She nods to the restaurant. "I should go back in, though. I can give you a free small cup of water, if you like, and then you can fill it with soda from the fountain and pretend it's water, if you like."

It depends what sort of rent it is, too. Even a one-bedroom apartment in New York isn't exactly cheap, but the price does vary based on the neighborhood.

"Works for me," says Randall, glancing around at the decor as he follows Claire inside. At least it's consistent— and it does make sense, once you get past the confusing name. (Subway, anyone?) And now that he's here, he may as well address the elephant in the room and get it over with: "Hey, I meant to apologize for that thing at Central Park the other day, you know? I— I didn't think."

She walks ahead of him to the small half door that allows her behind the counter, putting a literal barrier between them as they address that particular elephant. Reaching for the cups, she pulls out one of the little clear plastic cups that are meant for free water fill-ups. Using that keeps the inventory correct, as the fountain drinks are tabulated based on cups handed out.

"Help yourself to the drink fountain," she says, nodding toward the soda fountain on one wall.

It might seem Claire is planning to ignore the apology, but she finally shrugs. "It's not your fault. I mean, you shouldn't have to think twice about what songs you sing. It's pretty much something no one would ever need to worry about in the history of ever, right? Don't worry about it." There is a forced non-chalance in her posture and her tone, and then a glance back to make sure Nawlins the cook is not in earshot should Randall bring up anything about why that particular song was an issue.

Except that he does, because he knows what she's going through. Well, knows about what she's going through. But Randall gets that she doesn't want to dwell on it right now, especially with at least the cook hanging around somewhere. Time to change the subject. "I'm glad we finally got to do it, though. Portia loved it— she's gonna have a lot of doors open to her once she finishes up with school. Might even be a two-and-out, I dunno."

Portia — must be the girl that he was singing with. The same girl they ran into on Claire's 20th birthday at the club, the blonde realizes as Randall speaks. "Yeah, so … you know her? I mean aside from the time at the club. I didn't realize you were friends," Claire says, leaning on the counter. "And what's a two-and-out?" she asks, looking up at him with curious green eyes.

"Yeah, for a couple years by now," Randall explains, turning back with a cup of what does actually look like water - until you get close enough to see the bubbles. "Off and on, anyway. And it's a sports term, I think— leaving college early for the pros. Whatever 'the pros' turns out to be for her— I don't think she's made up her mind yet."

"Huh." It's strange to her that Randall and Portia didn't act like they knew each other, or not really, when they met at the club, but she chooses not to pursue that line of questioning. "Yeah, she was pretty good. Good luck to her and all that," she says with a smile. "Must be nice to have a talent that might lead to something." Must be nice to be able to go to college, without having to drop out every term! "Kinda envy that."

Portia was teasing him that night, for whatever reason. And if he ever thought about it in quite those words… but he hasn't, there was too much else to keep track of. "I know the feeling. I mean, I've still got my own things to work on, but… sometimes it feels like I'm still going to be working odd jobs when I'm forty, you know? Only I won't be able to get half of them any more, because people assume you'll ask for more money or time off or something."

Claire nods. "I guess. I still feel like I should be in high school in some ways, especially here, but I want to do something more than this, for sure. It's just… you know. A normal job." That word again. Normal. "There's even two other former cheerleaders who work here, same age or so as me, so I guess it's the thing to do right? Or so they'd tell me. They're into that. What things are the Thing To Do. More than I am, but well, they have less things on their minds." Or nothing on their mind, when it comes to Kiki and April.

The doors open and a group of teenagers come in, heading for the counter. "Oh, no, a mad stampede," Claire says with a smirk. "I better, you know, work or something. You can hang out or whatever, though." She turns her attention to the group of four, smiling brightly. "How may I serve you?"

Randall nods. "They've got a point there— you want to jump on the right thing when it comes along, because it might not again. But usuallly it does." Hooray for second (or third, or fifth) chances.

Glancing over toward the new arrivals, he shakes his head. "I should probably get going, myself. But I'll see you around, I guess?" At least for as long as the deliveryman gig lasts. With a wave, he ducks over to one side so he can make his way back outside without getting trampled or gored by the metaphorical herd.

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