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“How can I help you?” the acne-pitted teenager mumbled to the wall behind the man, checking her cracked watch impulsively. Her crimson visor was arranged messily on her greasy hair, and her eyes were glassy, away.
He ordered hastily, the same meal every night. She forgot to ask if he wanted fries or apple slices, and he didn’t bother to remind her—she wouldn’t get it right anyway.
“Hey, honey, how was your day?” she asked sympathetically, easing herself heavily into her tired old chair. The kitchen light cast a comfortable glow on her tousled hair, and she passed him the lasagna silently, knowing it was his favorite since it was hers too.
Walking hurriedly, he grabbed his hamburger and lifeless, limp fries that cried oil when he squeezed them. His shoes squeaked on the sanitized, gaudily-colored floor.
No slippers had tread these tiles.
He crossed his feet under the table, cushioned in the type of colorful, holiday-themed socks that only his wife could be allowed to see. The carpet felt familiar under his curling toes, and he could trace the pattern of the swirling lines without a second thought. His wandering toes collided into her limp bare feet, and she smiled at him through her lasagna-filled mouth. Her eyes said, “I love you,” even as blood-colored sauce ran from her curled mouth.
He threw himself into his adopted booth, the one overlooking the highway that went anywhere, anywhere but here. The plastic fabric stuck to his arms, pulling him into the synthetic embrace of loneliness. It was bright blue—her favorite color. He hated blue.
Unwrapping the moist heaviness of the burger, he looked up to survey the almost-vacant restaurant. The harsh fluorescent lights made a spotlight of the empty tables and chairs, filled by bodies hours earlier that had taken that highway to their familiar homes where they could wear holiday-themed socks and holey slippers.
She told him about the unfairness of her new boss. He told her about the traffic on the highway to come home. She told him she liked the weather. He said he wanted to go to Colorado.
But her mouth shaped the words, “Thank you for coming home safely,” and his shaped the words, “Thank you for loving me.”
A woman sat in the synthetic embrace of a booth in the other corner, and she too watched the highway trace memories before her forlorn eyes. She, too, had despondency etched into her weary features. She, too, wore uncomfortable, pretty shoes that clacked unnaturally stridently as she crossed the apathetic floor. They were not slippers.
Her presence, much like his, had become a fixture of the Burger King that blazed its unhealthy lights through the silent serenity of night.
Months later, she bought him a new pair of socks, scratchy and white—the color of endings, emptiness. She cleaned the floor and wiped off the familiar dust that had settled in forgotten corners. She bought herself new socks, too. And then she took the car, the same one that used to bring him home, and it carried her to the highway. And it took her anywhere, anywhere but here.
Wiping his hands, soaked with the fries’ tears, on a small, tissue-thin napkin, he stood up. His white socks and uncomfortable shoes echoed as they crossed the restaurant slowly and stopped as he sat down across from the memory-filled stranger, whose gaze examined him sadly, warily. He glanced at her white socks, the color of new beginnings.
“How was your day?”