It was around one in the morning when an unruly group of bikers showed up. I heard them long before I saw them, the terrifying rumble of their motorcycle engines shaking loose everything in the diner that wasn’t bolted down. It was like a stampede of buffalo had just come through. They stomped on in through the glass doors, stupidly pushing against it instead of pulling. I stifled a frustrated sigh. I was going to have to wipe the glass free of their smudgy handprints when I got a second.
“Welcome to Jessy’s Diner,” I greeted as professionally as possible.
They didn’t bother to acknowledge me. They were all big and burly and rude, shoving right past me to claim a table in an obviously closed section of the diner. The night shift didn’t normally see so much business, so half of the restaurant was closed and set up for the next morning’s breakfast service. A part of me really wanted to go over there and ask them to move to one of the free tables, but one look at them as a collective group had my stomach doing flips. There’s was no way they’d listen to someone as small and timid as myself. I was just going to have to grin and bear it, cleaning and setting up once they left.
I was about to drop off a couple of menus and ask if I could bring some refreshments over, but one of the bikers –a mountain of a man with a bald head but a full beard– slapped me right on the ass and chortled, “Bring us whatever’s on tap, sweetheart. Make it snappy.”
I flinched, unable to find the right words to berate the man. “I, uh– O-okay.” My cheeks flushed bright red as I scurried away, too embarrassed to do anything but glare furiously at the ground.
Cookie and Wilma, who’d seen the whole thing happen, had left their stations and exited through the kitchen doors. Wilma patted me on the back in a stiff attempt at comfort while Cookie crossed his arms in front of his chest and huffed, “You alright, honey? I can kick them out if you want.”
I sniffled back tears, refusing to let the rising humiliation in my chest get the better of me. Sometimes I wondered if I should get a different job, but I knew I didn’t have a pretty enough resume to get anything better. I just needed to swallow my pride and work until my fingers were raw. The second I had enough money squirreled away, I promised myself things were going to change. I was going to put myself through college, I was going to follow my passion in design, and I was going to make something of myself.
Dealing with assholes was just an obstacle, another test for me to ace –even if it was a struggle sometimes. If I could handle standing up to Kellan, I could handle serving these people for an hour or two.
“I-it’s okay,” I mumbled. “Let’s just hurry and serve them so they get out of here.”
Cookie gawked and pointed in the bikers’ general direction. “I think that might be sooner than you think.”
I turned around and spotted Max and Jeremy approaching the group of bikers. Their backs were turned toward me, so I wasn’t able to make out what they were saying, but judging by how abruptly the bearded biker stood up and grabbed Max by the shirt collar, I had to guess it wasn’t something very pleasant.
Everything that came next happened in the blink of an eye. Upon seeing that their colleagues were in trouble, the rest of the firefighters rose from their seats and rushed over, backing Max and Jeremy up. They outnumbered the bikers two-to-one, so it was understandable to see why they backed down as quickly as they did. The bearded man hissed something under his breath, shoving Max out of the way.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” he grumbled as he left.
Jeremy broke out into a fit of giggles. “See? This is why you need to drink more often. You’re way more fun.”
I shuffled over, anxiously threading my fingers together. “A-are you okay? What happened?”
“We should be asking you,” said Max, gruff as ever. He sounded angry, though I didn’t think it was directed at me.
Jeremy patted his friend on the shoulder. “We saw you getting hassled. Thought we’d do something about it.”
“Th-that was very sweet of you,” I bumbled, heart racing in my chest. “You really shouldn’t have, though. You could’ve gotten hurt.”
Max didn’t say much. He simply grunted before reaching into his pocket to pull out his wallet. He handed me a couple twenty-dollar bills and muttered, “We need to get going. That should cover the table.”
I glanced down at my palms quickly and listened to my stomach squeal with muffled joy. “T-this is much too much,” I started to protest, but Max was already on his way out the door.