The drive to their mom’s Waffle House shouldn’t have taken long but stop and go traffic going to the restaurant added several minutes to their drive.
As they rounded Memorial Park, some campaign signs lined the road.
“I can’t believe they have election signs up already. It’s still a year off.” Johnny eyed one small sign. Pete Buttigieg.
“That’s the gay guy, right?” Colton asked.
“Yeah. I heard people still don’t know how to pronounce it.”
“He’s not going to win. Look how many Trump 2020 signs there are here.”
“He won this county last time.” Johnny sighed. “He won the whole state, I think.”
“Could you imagine if a queer man won? Holy hell?” Colton laughed. “Here we are.” Colton pulled up, and parked.
Johnny and Colton walked quickly into the restaurant and were greeted by Gladys. Their mom soon appeared from the back.
“Hey you two, happy birthday!” Sharon beamed. “Take that booth over there.” Their mother pointed to the corner and Colton and Johnny took the seats quickly with Johnny taking the seat that faced the entrance.
Gladys came up to them with a coffee pot in her hands. Johnny turned the cup over on the saucer and let Gladys pour. “I can’t believe you two are nineteen. High school graduation was just days ago, not a month or so.” She chuckled as she poured a cup for Colton.
Sharon smiled, and placed her hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Glad you could make it Conn — I’m sorry, Johnny. God that’s going to take time getting use to calling you what your grandpa called you. Your brother said you were like the dead this morning.”
“Yeah, why sweetie? It took me how many years to tell you two apart, now you got be called Johnny now?” Gladys laughed.
“What did the boys want?” Dwayne, Gladys’s husband yelled.
“The usual, right” Sharon asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Johnny said.
“Yeah,” Colton. “Me too.”
Johnny kicked Colton underneath the table.
Sharon put her hands on her hips and glared at Colton. Johnny nudged his shoe against Colton.
“I’m sorry.” Colton’s face flushed. “Yes, ma’am.”
“That’s better.” Sharon relaxed her arms. Gladys chortled as she went back to the counter to take care of a customer who wanted to pay his bill.
“I bought a small cake for you two from Publix to have before you leave. I have to work until nine tonight. So, we’ll just have to a birthday dinner another time. Raincheck?”
“That’s fine, Mom.” Johnny smiled. “Chocolate cake? Yellow cake?”
“It’s yellow cake with fudge icing.” She held her finger out. “I’ll be right back.”
The door opened with a small bell ring, and Zach Carpenter walked in with an older man.
Johnny instinctively slunk down in his seat.
Colton’s eyebrows knitted together, “What?” Colton twisted his body to where Zach stood
Zach was scanning to see where they should sit.
“You can sit anywhere you want honey!” Gladys shouted, as she took the customer’s twenty and made change from his bill.
“Hey, Zach!” Colton shouted.
Johnny’s neck heated.
“Hey, Colton, Connor, what’s up?” Zach Carpenter walked toward them; his companion followed him too. Zach stood at least six feet three inches, and when Colton stood up to greet Zach, it was noticeable that Colton was a couple of inches shorter.
Zach had three days or so of light brown stubble that contrasted with his unruly ash brown hair. The grey shirt he wore seemed painted on his sculpted chest. The shirt further tapered into a V-shape, showcasing his small waist. The pink shorts he wore showed off Zach’s thigh muscles. Johnny didn’t know what brand of moccasins Zach was wearing but he was sure he didn’t buy it from Wal-Mart.
The man next to Zach was shorter; thinning salt and pepper gray; the man’s eyeglasses balanced at the end of the gentleman’s nose.
Before Zach or Colton could say anything, Sharon appeared, holding the cake in one hand, and another tried to keep the candles on the cake from blowing out.
“It’s your birthday?” Zach asked, staring at Johnny, who nodded quietly slightly embarrassed when their mom started singing.
“Our birthday,” Colton corrected.
Luckily for them, Gladys took over when their mother faltered in staying in tune, and Gladys’s golden voice, trained from years of choir practice at the local A.M.E. church, got other patrons to clap at the end, right before the twins blew out the candles. Zach and the older man next to clapped hard.
Dwayne came out with grilled cheese and fries and gave the plates to Gladys who in turn placed them in front of the boys.
Sharon hugged her boys and went back to the back office while Gladys and Dwayne went back behind the counter.
“This is my uncle, Roderick,” Zach said. “He’s visiting from Boston and saw this restaurant from across the bridge from his hotel on Gulfside.
“We don’t have them in Massachusetts.” Roderick eyed Johnny and Colton’s plate as he scanned the cooking area. “I remember as a kid going to them in Pennsylvania. We would stop after summer camp in upstate New York just to try the grits. I haven’t had grits in so long.”
“Well, uncle, I can tell you’re hungry so let’s take a seat.” Zach waved goodbye at Colton, Johnny, and Sharon as Gladys passed with two fresh plates for the cake.
Johnny relaxed when Zach and Roderick sat in a booth several feet away and not in the empty booth right next to them.