Trevor opened the door to the Vic’s Pizza Shoppe on campus at the U of M. The wooden booths, red and white striped aprons of the servers, and the juke box stationed in the corner gave the impression of stepping back a few decades in time. From the outside, the place looked like a dive with a faded green awning perched over a door with a little bell that jingled every time a customer arrived. That this restaurant hadn’t changed from its original form was exactly what brought in customers. The food was delicious, and the service was just as friendly as it had been back when Vic himself was baking the pizzas.
Trevor spotted Jake Preston, wearing a black beanie over his short, dark hair, at a table by the front window. “What did I tell you? Isn’t this place great?” Trevor shed his coat and slid into the seat opposite from Jake. He breathed in the aroma of baking pizza dough.
Jake lifted a plastic drinking glass filled with ice water. “Very retro.”
“Thanks for meeting me for lunch. So you have the day off of school?”
Jake shrugged. “Yeah. Teachers have a convention or something.” The bell jingled and a trio of guys walked in with back packs slung over their shoulders. “It’s pretty cool being on campus. College sure beats high school.”
Trevor opened his own menu, although he already knew what he wanted. “Do you know where you’re going to college?”
Jake took the black beanie off his head and flung it onto the booth next to him. “I haven’t made a decision yet. My dad wants me to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer, but I have no interest in that.”
“You’ve had recruits interested in you. Are you thinking about playing college football?”
“Yes. The Gopher coach has been practically harassing me to play here at the U of M.”
“That’s great, bro! You can get a big fat scholarship, and it’s only a short drive home on the weekends to get laundry done and eat a home cooked meal. You can’t pass that up. I’ll show you the ropes around this campus.”
Jake’s eyes lit up in excitement but soon dimmed. “It’s ideal, right?”
Trevor set his menu down and leaned in, letting Jake know he had his full attention.
A silver-haired woman approached the table, a pad of paper and pen in hand. “What can I get for you boys?” She looked at them over a pair of colorful reading glasses.
“Can you give us a minute?” Trevor tapped the menu. “Too many good choices.”
The older woman nodded, poking her pen into a bun secured at the base of her neck. “Take all the time you need, honey.”
Trevor turned his attention back to Jake. “So you said playing at the U is ideal. I heard a “but” coming on.”
“But … I have no desire to be a lawyer. I don’t want to be anything like my dad.”
Trevor knew that Jake’s dad had disappointed him on countless occasions. His work often trumped his fatherly obligations, leaving Jake to feel less than important. Like parent night for Hastings High School football. His parents didn’t show up, so when Jake’s name was called, he found Pastor Mitchel in the bleachers and delivered the yellow carnation to him. And that was just one example. “I get it. But you don’t have to be a lawyer. You can major in whatever you want.”
“Yeah. My dad’s really pushing me to go to the U because that’s where he got his bachelor’s degree. I guess I wanna go somewhere else just for spite.” Jake took a long pull of his water. “Maybe Baylor.”
“Baylor is cool. Texas, huh?”
The waitress returned to their table, and Trevor ordered hot wings and a large sausage pizza with extra cheese. She scurried off to the kitchen. “Did you hear that Pastor Mitchel came out of the coma? Mrs. Mitchel posted on Facebook this morning.”
“Yeah, I heard. Becca texted me. It’s good news. The dude had me worried. Senior year is supposed to be a blast, but I’ve been stressing big time. First there was the whole Audrey-thing … that happened at my house. And then Pastor Mitchel almost kicks the bucket. Crazy.”
“You can say that again.” Something Jake said stuck in Trevor’s mind. “Hey, Jake, you know it wasn’t your fault that happened to Audrey.”
Jake looked off into the distance, his light brown eyes pensive. “It never would’ve happened if I hadn’t had that party. So yeah. It kinda was my fault.”
“She doesn’t blame you.”
“Well, I wish I could find the guy who did it. It’s creepy that someone like that was in my house and did that to my friend. Audrey is, like, the sweetest person ever.” Jake gritted his teeth. “I wanna pound the guy.”
“I know the feeling.” Trevor had to work to stay calm whenever he thought about coming face to face with Audrey’s attacker. He took a couple deep breaths. “Jake, I’m starting to doubt we’ll actually catch the guy. Even if we figure out who did it, proving he raped her would be next to impossible.”
“Are you saying we should just give up?”
Trevor ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t want to let Audrey down.” There didn’t seem to be any other option. Then an invisible light bulb dinged above his head. “Your dad is a lawyer. Have you asked him about any of this?” Why hadn’t he thought of this earlier?
Jake laughed humorlessly. “No. He turns red in the face every time the subject comes up. So I avoid the topic. I was hoping we could figure this thing out without his help.”
The waitress delivered wings to the table. “Roberto made these extra hot for you. My eyes are watering just from carrying them to your table.” She dabbed her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt. “Enjoy!”
Jake picked up a wing dripping with sauce and sunk his teeth into it. “It’s not that hot.” He licked sauce from his fingers.
Trevor sat back, waiting for the heat to hit. It wouldn’t be much longer. He waved the waitress back to the table just as Jake’s face turned bright red and his upper lip began to sweat. “Can you bring a glass of milk, please?”
The woman nudged Jake’s shoulder. “I warned you.” She disappeared into the kitchen for just a minute before bringing back a tall glass of milk.
Jake chugged the milk. “Is this your idea of hazing? I’m not officially a freshman here yet.”
Trevor laughed. “I call it a rite of passage. By the way, do not rub your eyes. I learned that the hard way.”
Jake coughed a few times; his eyes were red and watering. “So if I can survive the hot wings at Vic’s, then I suppose I can survive talking to my old man.”
“That’s very insightful.” Trevor smothered a wing in ranch dressing before taking a bite. “It wouldn’t hurt to run it by him before giving up altogether.”
“I’ll do it for Audrey … and Pastor Mitchel.”
“What does this have to do with Pastor Mitchel?”
“Before his accident, he was always telling me to try to find common ground with my dad. A way to connect with him. You know? My dad isn’t into football or anything I’m interested in. I don’t even know how to begin asking him about his job. But this could be a way for us to relate to each other.”
“Cool. You’ll do Pastor Mitchel proud.”
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.