Hackneys -- Chapter Two -- The Regular (part one)
7 min read

Hackneys -- Chapter Two -- The Regular (part one)

Hackneys -- Chapter Two --  The Regular (part one)

“What are we studying this year?” Niti asked Sue.

He had turned the griddle on and was getting everything ready. She looked up from where she was chopping vegetables on the inner side of the U-shaped bar.

“Yes, I signed up for physics class again,” Sue said.

Niti laughed. Physics was Niti’s favorite topic.

“Otherwise, it’s the usual — math, reading, science,” Sue said. “We’re taking a class in American History. The syllabus includes the ‘Trail of Tears,’ so it should be interesting.”

Nodding, Niti grunted.

“Are you excited?” Sue asked.

“It is very fun to learn,” Niti said. “I like that we learn together.”

“Me, too,” Sue said.

Niti learned everything Sue learned in school. They had learned to speak English together. They had learned to read and write together. Niti loved physics and math, while Sue loved languages and literature. Together, they were straight-A students; technically, only Sue was a student.

“Are we ready?” Sue asked.

“Let’s open,” Niti said.

Sue clapped the tips of her fingers together, and he laughed. She went out the kitchen door and up the stairs to the alley to unlock the door.

“Sue!” a man’s voice said.

Niti waited for Sue to come down the stairs. After a minute or two, Niti grabbed his razor-sharp chef’s knife and headed up the stairs.

“Daughter?” Niti asked as he pushed the door open.

To his relief, Sue was standing in the alley, laughing with a man named Jeffrey.

“Niti!” Jeffrey said.

Not one for a lot of physical contact, Niti allowed Jeffrey to hug him. Jeffrey gave him an exuberant hug.

“Come, come,” Niti said, waving Jeffrey inside the restaurant.

“See our new place!” Sue said. “It’s so pretty. I think it’s the most beautiful space we’ve had.”

“I can’t believe that you’re here!” Jeffrey said. “I saw the flyer and was like — ‘This can’t be real.’”

They started down the stairs.

“What are you doing here?” Sue said.

She pulled the door closed, flipped the switch so their neon “Open” sign was on, and followed the men down the stairs.

“We had to move for my dad’s work,” Jeffrey said.

“Are you still living with your parents?” Sue asked.

“I was in Portland,” Jeffrey said. “I wasn’t doing much of anything in Portland, so I moved with them.”

Niti went into the kitchen, and Sue went around to the inner part of the “U” bar seats. Jeffrey sat down at the bar. Niti started making pancakes, fried sunny-side-up eggs, and sausage links — Jeffrey’s favorite order.

“What are you doing now?” Sue asked.

She set down silverware, a napkin, an empty plastic glass, and a mug. She filled the glass with water and the mug with coffee. Jeffrey didn’t respond until he’d had a long drink of coffee.

“You have the best coffee,” Jeffrey said.

“Diner coffee,” Sue said with a shrug. “I brought the machine with us. You can’t beat it.”

Jeffrey nodded and finished his mug.

“What am I doing here?” Jeffrey asked with a snort of a laugh. He set his mug down, and Sue filled the mug from the coffee pot. “I wonder that almost every day.”

Sue laughed and went to set the pot of coffee on the burner.

“Hey! You still have the picture I gave you!” Jeffrey said, gesturing to an image on the wall.

Sue turned to look at the framed picture of a Native American man from the 1800s. Jeffrey had given Niti the picture when he’d moved. Jeffrey said that the native warrior looked like Niti San.

“We found out that it’s a picture of ‘White Belly’ of the Lakota Sioux,” Sue said. “It’s actually one of the reasons we moved here. We heard that there were a lot of Sioux in Denver. We thought we might find someone who might know Dad’s family.”

“Cool!” Jeffrey said. “I’m glad that I played a tiny role in your adventure!”

“You still haven’t told us what you’re doing,” Niti said, setting Jeffrey’s food on the half wall between the kitchen and the serving space.

Sue brought the plate of their “regular” to Jeffrey and set it on the bar. She gestured to the ketchup, salt, pepper, and hot sauce holder in front of him. He began doctoring his food.

“I don’t know,” Jeffrey said. He took a bite of pancake. “These are the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten. I mean, that’s the problem.”

Jeffrey pointed to Niti and Sue.

“You have a specialty,” Jeffrey said. “Hell, you are special. But me?”

Jeffrey sighed.

“I’m not special,” Jeffrey said. “Come review time, at every job I’ve ever had, I get a ‘needs improvement’ or ‘average.’ I never work my way up. I’m too regular. Boring. Average.”

“Maybe you need to find something you’re really good at?” Niti asked.

“But what?” Jeffrey asked. “The only thing I’m really good at is reading books. But you know that.”

“What are you reading now?” Sue asked.

“Oh. . .” Jeffrey sighed. “I’m embarrassed because I’m reading those romance novels again.”

“Doesn’t matter what you read,” Niti said.

“Just that you read,” Sue said.

“Hmm,” Jeffrey said with a sigh. “What are you reading now?”

“We are reading Sherman Alexie,” Niti said.

“Native American stories,” Sue said. “We’re hoping to find any that Dad remembers.”

“How’s it going so far?” Jeffrey asked.

“He’s from Washington State,” Sue said. “We think Dad’s family might be from Canada.”

“Good for finding what I am not,” Niti said. “But not so good for figuring out where I am from.”

Jeffrey nodded. There was a ding, indicating someone had come into the diner. An alarm chimed and the doors locked. Sue went to the video monitor.

“Just a second,” Sue said, unlocking the door.

“What about reviewing books for a living?” Niti asked. “You always made me and my daughter laugh with your reviews.”

“I. . .” Jeffrey shrugged. “How?”

“I bet if you look, you will figure it out,” Niti said.

“You could write romance books,” Sue said.

Jeffrey looked at her for a long moment. Two policemen came into the dining space.

“Sorry about the door. We don’t allow weapons in the restaurant. We make exception for police, but it will lock every time,” Sue said to the men. She pointed to the sign on the wall. “We have a regular meal — eggs, pancakes. If you’d like meat, it’s only two dollars extra.”

“We saw the sign,” the older policeman said. “Wanted to check the permits. How old are you?”

“Fourteen,” Sue said. “How old are you?”

“You’re not old enough to work here,” the older policeman said.

“She’s my daughter,” Niti said. “We have all permits and have checked the laws. This is a family business. Sue is my family. I own the business.”

Niti San set the three-ring binder on the counter for the men to look at their permits.

“Would you like some coffee while you check the permits?” Sue asked.

“How did he become your father?” the second policeman asked.

“Good luck,” Niti said and went back into the kitchen. “Sit. Sit.”

The policemen sat at the counter a few seats from Jeffrey. Sue filled two coffee cups and set them down on the table. She gestured to the pitcher of cream. The men took a sip of coffee.

“This is really good coffee,” the second policeman said. He looked at the older policeman. “You’ve got to try it.”

The older policeman took a sip, looked at the mug, and then at his partner. They both nodded. Sue went back to the half wall, where Niti was standing. Jeffrey picked up his plate and moved to the spot closest to them.

“You think anyone would care what I think?” Jeffrey asked.

“I do,” Sue said. “You’d have to be honest and clear, but I bet a lot of people would follow you. You could do videos for social media and also have a blog or maybe even write in the newspaper.”

Jeffrey nodded.

“I never thought of it,” Jeffrey said. “You don’t think I’m just lazy for not doing anything real?”

“What is real?” Niti asked with a shrug.

The second policeman gestured to Sue. She smiled at Jeffrey and went to see what the policeman wanted.

“I’d like the regular,” the second policeman said.

“Meat or no meat?” Sue asked.

“No meat,” the second policeman said.

“I can smell something. . . stew? Soup?” the first policeman asked.

“We always make a soup or a stew,” Sue said. “Good nose. Tonight, it’s Minestrone. We make it veggie, but we can add meat if you’d like some.”

“I’d love some minestrone,” the man said. “No meat.”

Sue nodded and went to the half wall. She washed her hands and grabbed a couple of homemade rolls with butter. Niti gave her a bowl of soup. She brought that to the first policeman and went back to get the regular for the first policeman.

“You can take these,” the first policeman said.

“Everything in order?” Sue asked.

“Yes,” the first policeman said. He dipped his spoon into the hot soup and took a sip. “Oh. . .”

Sue waited to see if the man had anything else to say. When he didn’t, she took the binder and brought it back to Niti.

“I know that you think that you’re just average,” Sue said. “But I think it’s pretty special that you care so much about love.”

Jeffrey looked up at her. He nodded and finished his plate. Sue took the plate, set it in the tray under the counter, and filled his mug with coffee. He gestured to one of the two-person tables and Sue nodded.

Jeffrey liked to read at the tables after he’d eaten.

Sue checked in with the police officers. She cleared their plates.

“Would you like some coffee to take with you?” Sue asked.

“That would be great,” the older policeman said. “When do you close?”

“Eight,” Sue said. “I need to get to school, so I usually leave a little early. Dad’s here by himself, and he likes it because it’s quiet.”

“He does the cleanup,” the older policeman said.

Sue nodded.

“Before you tell me that this is no way to grow up or whatever, I want to say that I love our life,” Sue said. “I grew up in restaurants. This is a great way to spend a life. My dad and I enjoy being together, so it’s easy.”

The older policeman nodded. He took out his wallet and looked at the bill.

“We gave you half off for checking our paperwork,” Sue said. “We can always use another set of eyes.”

The policeman squinted at her, and she smiled. He paid in cash, and the policemen left.

For a while, the restaurant was quiet. Jeffrey was reading in the corner, and Sue chopped some more vegetables. They heard the door to the alley open, and Sue gave the cutting board back to her father.

“Nestor!” Sue said.

The cook from the restaurant Sue had visited came down the stairs with a woman and a boy of four or five. The woman was carrying a two-year-old. For all of Nestor’s height and girth, his wife was a slight woman. She wore her long hair in braids, like Niti.

“I wanted to come by,” Nestor said.

Niti came out from the kitchen.

“This is my dad, Niti,” Sue said. “This is Nestor. I told you about him.”

Hackneys continues in two weeks...