The Learning Hours Page 2

Bracing my hands against the counter, I lean in.

“What the fuck are you doin’ here, Rabideaux?” the reflection asks itself. “What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doin’ here?”

What the fuck possessed me to switch schools when I could have stayed in Louisiana? Finished out the season a champion, started a career instead of upsetting and disappointing my parents, uprooting myself, moving halfway across the country.

For what? More scholarship money? More expenses paid? To have a face nobody wants to see plastered on a university billboard?

Has it been worth it?

I take another hard look at myself, disgusted, before straightening.

“Bat-shit crazy is what you are.” I curse to myself one last time before tossing the paper towel in the trash.

Unlock and push through the steel bathroom door.

Head back to the table full of—

No one.

I come up short to a dining room of empty tables, save for a few surrounding booths and curious onlookers, families and other patrons eating—but no wrestlers.

The entire damn team is gone.

As I cautiously approach the table, our young waitress appears out of nowhere, notebook in hand, pencil stuck behind her ear, frazzled.

She grabs me by the shirtsleeve and, “Thank God you’re still here! Phew! I thought you’d all left!”

“What do you mean you thought we’d all left?” I glance toward the door. “Wait, did my friends leave?”

I almost choke on the word friends, the irony of the situation not lost on me. Friends wouldn’t pull this kind of shit, and I hardly know these guys.

“Yes, they ran out—I was literally about to freak out, thought for sure you guys were going to stiff me.” She prattles on, oblivious to my confusion.

“So wait: what do you mean they ran out?” I need her to explain, in no uncertain terms.

“Well, um, I mean…yeah. They, uh, ran out.”

“I know what runnin’ out means, I wasn’t being literal.” My fingers get stabbed into my hair, and I feel it sticking up when I take them out. “Fuck.”

The young woman flinches.

“They seriously left me?” I clarify. “Are you sure they left?”

I refuse to believe they left me here; we’re supposed to be a goddamn team. I was counting on it.

That fucker Brandon Ryder drove me in his shitty, banged-up car, and I’d bet fifty bucks it’s no longer parked outside waiting to give me a lift back to the house I share with Gunderson and Eric.

The petite waitress taps me on the shoulder nervously. “Um, I hate to make the situation worse, but, um…I’m assuming since you’re still here, you’ll be the one paying?”

“I’m sorry—what?”

“Paying. For all the food.”

Did she say paying for all the food?

My head gives an involuntary shake. “What does that mean, all the food?”

“They didn’t pay. For, um, any of it.”

“I’m sorry—what?”

“Are you okay, sir?” the waitress asks, taking a step back. “You keep repeating yourself. Are you having a stroke? Or like, maybe a seizure?”

“They didn’t pay?” I clench my fists. “Those fuckin’…”

Assholes. Those motherfucking assholes stiffed me with the goddamn bill.

“How much is it?” I brace myself for the total, calculating it at around one hundred, maybe two—two fifty, tops.

“Four hundred and—”

“What!” I shout. I know it’s loud, and the restaurant is full of people, but I don’t fucking care at the moment. Outraged and pissed doesn’t cover the feelings coursing through my blood right now. I want to punch something. “Why the hell would you just let them walk out of here?”

I know I’m shifting the blame, but I don’t care. I don’t care that this is not her fault. I need someone to blame, and she’s standing right in front of me, twisting her hands and looking guilty.

“Sir, they ran. I…”

“Shh, stop talkin’. Let me think for a minute.”

“I’m so nervous, sorry—we’ve never had anyone walk out on a bill this high before. Usually it’s like, way less than this. Sometimes people even take the salt and pepper shakers.”

Her eyes flicker to the stainless-steel door I assume is the kitchen, then to the cash wrap at the front of the restaurant where we waited for a table when we walked in. “I could go talk to my manager and explain the situation, but I’m worried she’ll call the cops.”

The cops?


I shake my head, run another hand through my shaggy hair. “Forget it—someone has to pay or they’re going to fire you.” Because you let them get up and leave without fucking paying.

“I’m really sorry.”

“So am I.”

“So…” She shuffles her feet, hands me the black billfold containing the bill and a ballpoint pen. “Everything is itemized.”

How convenient; of course it’s itemized. “For my convenience?”

Angry, I snatch the bill out of her hand, unfold it, peer down and study it.

Shake – 5

Soda – 10

Hamburger – 4

Cheeseburger – 2

Chicken sandwich – 1

Shrimp Alfredo with extra shrimp – 1

Side salad – 4

Soup – 3

Spaghetti – 1

Wings – 5

Onion rings – 1

Mozzarella sticks – 1

Fried pickles – 1

Bread basket – 1

Ice cream – 1

Pie – 9

Steak – 6

Who the fuck orders steak at a Pancake House?

I fold the bill back in half, resisting the urge to tear it into a million, tiny, motherfucking pieces.

“Were those guys your friends?” the little waitress interrupts. “Maybe they didn’t realize you were still here?”

I shoot her a look; is she couyon? Crazy? There’s no way she believes this was an accident, and I say out loud what we’re both thinking: “They’re hazing me.”

Shit. They are hazing me.

It not only violates the wrestling and athletic department’s policy, but also the university’s code of conduct. Actually, it also breaches several of the school policies, and there are so many things wrong with this whole scenario, it would take me all night to list them all. If our coaches found out, the team would probably be suspended.

The waitress—Stacy, her nametag says—bites her lip and stares up at me with naïve doe eyes. “It did seem strange when they all ran out of here so fast. One guy tripped on his shoelaces and fell down on the carpet.”

I wonder who that could have been, the dopes.

“Yeah, well, guess it serves me right for goin’ to the goddamn bathroom, huh?”

“How are you going to pay for this?” The waitress shifts uncomfortably on the balls of her feet before smoothing down her hair. “I feel so bad, but I have other tables to get to. If you don’t pay, I really am probably going to get fired…”

Jesus. I cannot catch a break.

“Credit card, I guess.”

I pull out my phone and unlock the credit card app, handing the device over to the waitress.

She looks at it, confused. “Do you have an actual credit card? I have to swipe it—I don’t think I’ll be able to scan this. We’re pretty old-school here.”

I sigh loudly, digging my wallet out of my back pocket, and slap the card in her waiting, open palm, prepared to take it up the ass—metaphorically speaking, of course.

Stacy smiles cheerfully. “Thanks! Be right back!”

Yeah, no fucking problem! I’ll just wait right here because I’m not a fucking prick!

And just like that, four hundred thirty dollars and fifty-seven cents I don’t have goes down the toilet—and let’s not forget about my parents, who are going to kill me, especially after I fought them so hard to transfer to Iowa.

After my payment goes through and I sign for the charge, I walk outside with a receipt almost twelve inches long and try to tuck the damn thing in my back pocket.

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