Chapter 3: Feeding the Pythons (excerpt)

At the table, Olivia swallowed her last bite of awesome cheeseburger. Mr. Nunios was right; the food was great. The old wood paneling made everything dark, but antique stained glass lamps, each one different, hung over the tables. In the yellow light of the lamps, Olivia saw dozens of black and white photographs stuck on the mirror. Many were of parties from long ago with people dancing in suits and dresses. In some they wore paper party hats like it was New Year’s Eve or something. Some were close-ups, signed by people Olivia had never heard of, but who must have been famous once. She wondered if she signed a picture and hung it on the mirror, would some kid in fifty years think she had been a celebrity because she had a picture hanging on the wall.

The table was littered with their dirty plates. Everyone’s antique map placemat was stained with ketchup and barbecue sauce except Mrs. Nunios’s. Her map was still clean. Olivia could see the tentacles of a mythical sea monster just offshore near a finger of land labeled Cape November.

Feeling guilty for picking at her fries in front of Alison, Olivia covered her plate with her paper napkin like Alison had. That had been Alison’s nutritionist’s suggestion. If Alison finished all her fries, her mother would be all over her about it.

To distract herself from the fries, Olivia watched Michael tip back in his chair and pat his rock-hard abs. The terrifying boneyard in his plate used to be his Oink and Cluck Deluxe platter.

Mrs. Nunios called the pale, young waitress and politely asked her to wrap up her grilled chicken Caesar salad.

“You’re taking that?” Mr. Nunios asked, sounding doubtful.

“It’s a whole piece of chicken and a lot of salad.”

“Who’s gonna eat it?”

“I’ll eat the chicken.” Michael beamed.

“You’ll eat anything,” Alison pointed out.

“I gotta feed the pythons.” While the waitress cleared their places, Michael grinned broadly and, leaning farther back in his chair, flexed his huge biceps in his red sleeveless tee shirt. It said Bulls Wrestling. The waitress was pretty, Olivia decided, in a washed-out kind of way. Not her type, but she could see where Michael would try to flirt with her.

Olivia had spent a lot of time in one gym or another, and as a swimmer, she had seen plenty of great bodies, both male and female. There was no denying that Michael was in impressive shape. Big, but not bulky. Solid as a rock. A lot of girls thought Michael was totally hot and, while he definitely wasn’t her type, she understood the attraction. She considered for a moment what it would be like to be with Michael, but it was only a thought experiment. With his thick mop of curly black hair, he looked like a male version of Alison, except his eyes were blue like his dad and Alison’s were brown like Mrs. Nunios. It wasn’t like she never fantasized about being with Alison, but when the fantasy was over and reality returned, she felt dirty and guilty, so she rarely indulged in that daydream. There were plenty of other pretty girls to think about.

Olivia felt embarrassed and slightly violated when Michael’s chair made a loud cracking noise, startling her out of her naughty thoughts. He flapped his arms like a bird to keep from falling over backwards. Olivia laughed out loud.

“Don’t encourage him,” Mrs. Nunios sighed.

“Did you just break the chair, Mikey?” Mr. Nunios snapped. “I swear if you busted that chair…”

Michael looked down and wiggled his weight around on it. “No. I saved it.”

Olivia cracked up at Michael and then really lost it when she saw that Alison had snarfed club soda out of her nose. Michael was laughing, too.

The waitress looked more annoyed than amused, probably because she was the one cleaning up. The waitress scurried back into the kitchen to wrap the food for Michael’s pythons. Watching her sway Olivia realized the waitress might have been more her type than she had first thought. Not that Olivia could do anything about it at the moment. She couldn’t even flirt badly like Michael. Not unless she was ready to answer a bunch of uncomfortable questions. And she wasn’t. Story of my life.

Tonio Favetta is the author of Falling From the Ground, a Y/A SciFi adventure. He also teaches high school English.

Posted in Falling From the Ground

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