The Old Glory Diner had been in operation since my parents’ generation. Even before that, it had been a place called Pete’s Luncheonette or Paul’s Luncheonette depending on which one of them you asked on which day. And up until about a year ago, the place looked exactly the same as it did back in the ’70s—wood paneling, burnt orange tiles, and heavy Naugahyde-covered booths. My favorite places to sit were the big horseshoe-style booths over to the right of the counter. You could cram ten kids into one of those booths, as long as none of them were on the football team.
The Old Glory got a facelift though during the summer after my Junior year. It was still the place to be; it’s where everybody hung out, where you could see old upperclassmen who you forgot existed or up-and-coming freshmen who somehow got a ride out here to the other side of the highway. You’d even bump into that old couple whose grass you cut for a couple of summers when you were in middle school, the ones who used to work in the rubber factory with your grandfather. Of course, that’s a rather specific example, but I think everybody had somebody like that at the Old Glory.
They hadn’t redone the entire place though, just opened up the dining room section and added some windows on that side, made the whole place brighter. Over on the counter side, things looked much the same. The three window booths had new upholstery but the same old tabletops; the barstools were new, and the two horseshoe booths got the same treatment as their windowed brethren. It’s like the Old Glory had two halves now, the Old and the New. I liked the Old.
That’s why I was sitting in one of the window booths waiting for Chris, Steve, Andrew, and Lizzie to show up. I told the waitress I was going to have more people with me so we should probably sit in one of the horseshoes, but she said we could switch if they showed up. I was sipping coffee, eagerly awaiting their arrival so we could switch tables when I heard the jingle bells on the door ring. I turned to see who had come in, and it was Jenny.
College had been good to Jenny. Her hair was longer than ever, her look more bohemian and intellectual. She always looked a bit older and more sophisticated than your average high schooler, but now she looked like she could be a professor herself. One of those cool professors, of course, who sit on their desk and wax poetic, and who politely decline invitations to the weekly keggers.
“Can I sit with you? I’m waiting for Kara and some peeps from school.”
I waved my hand approvingly, and Jenny sat down. We had talked once or twice since she came back from Amherst, but she had a summer job down in New Haven, so we hadn’t seen each other since she got home.
“You just hanging here alone? Brooding artist type stuff? Not exactly the Minetta, but it’s about the best we’ve got, right?”
I smiled. “Nah, I’m not ‘on the road’ just yet. Waiting for Andrew and everybody to get here. He’s actually moving down to Savannah tomorrow, going early to get settled in and everything.”
“Oh, no! I had no idea! Oh, but I’m glad I’ll get to see him at least. Very fortunate, wouldn’t you say?”
Oh, I’d say. The jingle bells rang again and in came Steve and Kadence. They were stuck together as close as two humans could be. Steve had been right: he and Kadence did make use of that bed, so I’m glad Chris and I didn’t break it on him.
“Push down, dude.”
I slid in closer to the window. As I did, I hoped that Jenny’s friends showed up before Lizzie did so we didn’t have to awkwardly shuffle seats.
We small talked for a minute or two when Lizzie showed up. I got a slight quease in my stomach thinking about how to handle the seating situation and a bigger quease when Lizzie jumped right into the booth next to Jenny and gave her a big hug.
“Oh my God! You look so cool! You’re such a college babe; oh, you must love it.”
“I do, I do. But look at you.” Jenny shot me a smirky smile. “Casey, lucky boy.”
Sitting across from them, from Jenny and Lizzie, my first two loves you could call them, I couldn’t say who was more beautiful. And in such different ways. Jenny had the rich luster of a pearl, or a precious antique. You could feel her depth and wisdom in her aura.
Lizzie was more like chrome and polished marble. She was shiny and new, but elegant and refined. There was no way I could have chosen between them, and I’m glad I didn’t have to.
Chris arrived next with his new girlfriend, Randi. Oddly enough, I liked the fact that she had a boy’s name. She was a sophomore and a tough little thing, so it fit her. And she fit well with Chris. Plus, with her having a boy’s name, I could always make jokes about how Chris was getting closer and closer to dating a dude.
Chris and Randi hopped into the next booth, and I looked around to give the waitress the signal we were ready to move to the horseshoe. Before I could get her attention though, the jingles jangled again, and Kara walked in with two guys. She walked arm in arm with a nice-looking guy, a little on the short side, but clean cut and preppy looking. He had a nice smile and straight teeth. Behind them was a tall fellow with wild tendrils of hair escaping from his ponytail. Though all of his clothes were of similar muted tones, none of them went together—purplish pants, a green flannel, a ribbed mustard tank top—but they went together perfectly somehow just the same. I knew this had to be Jenny’s secret college boyfriend.
“Ooo, if I wasn’t stuck in this booth, I’d kiss you. Everyone, this is Joe, and this is Kara’s boyfriend, Eddie. Guys, this is Casey and Steve and Kadence and Lizzie and Chris and Randi.”
There were handshakes and head nods all around. More than ever, I wanted to find that waitress and get everyone seated, preferably in a horseshoe booth for each party, when Chris spoke up.
“Hey, you guys all want to sit together?” He pointed over to the new half of the Old Glory.
There was a general sea of agreeing nods, so I thought I should point out the obvious.
“Andrew’s coming too; there’s no big enough tables.”
“Fucko, we’ll just push two tables together.”
I mumbled something about the waitress and horseshoes, but Chris had already sprung into action. He was pushing two of the big eight-seater tables together, throwing two of the end chairs haphazardly in with a four-seater. When the waitress finally came by and saw what he was doing, she just rolled her eyes and started taking drink orders.
So that’s how I found myself at the Old Glory, sitting in the middle of two uneven tables in between Lizzie and Chris and across from Jenny and her boyfriend, Joe. I liked Joe. He was cool without trying. I was guessing he was maybe a year or two older than Jenny, making him maybe three years older than us “high school kids,” but if he felt like a grown up sitting at the kid’s table, he never let on. And Jenny was positively giddy around him. It felt good to see her so happy.
We had already put in our food orders when Andrew finally showed up, flanked by Suzie on one side and the pot smoking kid on the other. Chris leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Is the spazzer on his own personal double date? That kid is my fucking hero.”
Suzie gave everyone quick hugs and Andrew and Company took seats at the end of the table. I gave Andrew a look and a shrug, but he didn’t pick up on my cue.
“Everybody, this is Andrew’s friend Brody; he’s from Hopeville. Good to see you, man; it’s been ages.”
Maybe Brody, in spite of being a pothead, had picked up on the fact I was a little cold on him because my introduction seemed to surprise him. He stopped his chair mid pull-in and threw me a big smile.
I had never seen Brody smile like that before. The first time I met him, I don’t remember seeing him smile, nothing bigger than a smirk anyway. And if he’d ever smiled any other time, it hadn’t been at me. So I never noticed that he smiled mostly with his upper teeth and that his nose wrinkled up a bit. I’d only ever seen one person who smiled like that, and until I saw Brody smile, I had completely forgotten.
Jeremy never smiled much. He was serious, even when he was joking. Most of his smiles came in the sideways variety or involved more eyebrow movement than anything. You never got a full, toothy smile out of him. I’d only gotten one once, and if I had never seen Brody smile, I might not have ever remembered.
Lunch room. Seventh grade. I’m walking to my table, and I pass a kid drawing comic characters in a notebook. “Wolverine rules,” I say to him. He looks up at me, and this awkward, nose-wrinkled smile crosses his face. “Hey, Chris, Steve, this kid draws a perfect Wolverine. Wanna come sit with us?” Until now, I never remembered this ever happening, but it did. Didn’t seem important at the time.
I looked over at Andrew. He couldn’t know what I was now knowing: that Brody reminded him of Jeremy. But somehow the look on Andrew’s face was one of knowing, like a calm suddenly came over him. Maybe he was just soaking in the view of the table, reveling in the memories of his friendships with everyone. I looked the table over myself, down from Andrew, to Chris and Steve, to Jenny, to Lizzie, and then to the other end of the table where there was one seat open.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.