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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Estrada

What Do I Want?

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When Maxwell thought of the Allwood Diner, all he would imagine were the chatters in every booth, the towers of pancakes sprinkled in maple syrup and buttermilk, the clatters of utensils that clapped for food, the showers of jukebox tunes reaching into his ears, and the flickers of neon lights inside the main halls of the restaurant.


He couldn’t imagine that today.


People were sitting in a section of the diner clanging on silverware and laughing in response to jokes, but the noise failed to reach Maxwell’s ears. The smell of pancake batter came from the kitchen window at the entrance, Maxwell didn’t even bat an eye. The stained menu that was placed on the table in front of him contained discounted meals, he didn’t even read the first word.


Instead, he was focused on streetlight colors and passing cars. His eyes remained fixated on the dark sky glooming in front of him. He watched passengers scurry with umbrellas that were struggling to follow them due to the wind. He witnessed pedestrians become soaked as cars sped past puddles.

His fingers drummed the glass mug that sat on his table. He ordered a cup of coffee and requested light milk with three Splenda’s, but the drink burned through his tongue and caused Maxwell to release a cough and squint his eyes.


He was supposed to be home three hours ago. The ideal night would be to sit on the cushions of his bed and have one hand grip a video game controller while the other hand hastily shoved a fork of food into his mouth.


Instead, he slouched on a booth with shredded leather. His arms were stuck to the table with old syrup that wasn’t wiped. His feet were surrounded by used paper cups and napkins under the table. He glanced at his phone on the table. It remained lifeless in front of him, which relieved him and annoyed him at the same time.


He took another sip of his coffee.


Maxwell jumped when he heard a thud. A heavy plate of buttermilk pancakes was placed in front of him and a glass cup of orange juice.


“What is this?” Maxwell asked.


“Your order,” a male voice said. Maxwell turned to see Wesley, the executive chef, standing next to him. His white apron was stained as always, and his forehead remained drenched from the heat of the kitchen. However, his blue eyes looked darker, and his wide smile was replaced with a straight line.


“I didn’t ask for this today,” Maxwell said.


“You always order your usual,” Wesley said.


“I’m okay with this,” Maxwell said.


“You never drink coffee.”


“Well, it’s never too late to start something new.”


Wesley moved to the other side of the booth and sat down. The booth squeaked when he sat, and the table sounded like ripped paper as he moved his arms. Maxwell remained still and studied Wesley.


“I haven’t seen you since before you went to see your folks,” Maxwell said. “How did that go?”


“It was fine,” Wesley said. “But there’s no better place to be at than the diner.”


Maxwell watched his lip twitch.


“That bad huh?”

Wesley released a low chuckle and shook his head. His eyes looked at the table and he focused on the egg stains on his paper menus.


“When is any family get-together good?” Wesley asked. Maxwell looked at his plate. The butter had started to melt on top of his stack and the buttermilk cream began to fade into his food. He grabbed the fork that was next to him and began to poke into his pancakes.


“What did they say about the restaurant?” Maxwell asked. The booth squealed as Wesley shifted into his seat.


“They’re shocked it’s still going,” Wesley said. “They thought it would be closed by now.”


“How can that be?” Maxwell asked. “Your diner is the best.” Wesley’s lips curved.


“You must be desperate for a free pancake,” he joked.


“I’m not,” Maxwell said. “Many people have kept coming here and call it their favorite place, like me.”


“I appreciate that Max,” Wesley said. “But not everyone will call this place their favorite like you do.”


“Your parents hate this place, don’t they?” Maxwell asked. Wesley sighed deeply and grabbed the menu. His thumbs traced circles on the dried stains and ran through crayon markings done by children.


“Let’s just say they’re not jumping for joy about me spending my life in a diner,” Wesley said. “They want me to do something better with my life.”


“Like what?” Wesley shrugged.


“Become a lawyer,” he said. “Or be the President of this country. Whatever makes them sound good.”


Maxwell frowned. His pancake was still sitting there, but more holes were in it.


“I’m sorry,” Maxwell said. “I understand how you feel though.”


“How so?”


“I got rejected from Harvard today,” Maxwell murmured. He took another sip of coffee and winced. “Once my parents find out that I couldn’t even get into an Ivy League school, they’ll probably ship me to an adoption center.”


Wesley nodded slowly.


“Your mother came in this afternoon,” Wesley said. “She told me about your application to Harvard.”


“She probably wants you to charge me more if I get rejected.”


“No, she wanted me to give you an extra pancake if you stopped by.”


Maxwell looked at his pancakes and exhaled deeply.


“Wesley, can I ask you something?” Maxwell asked.




“If you had the opportunity to change anything in your life, what would it be?” Maxwell asked.


Wesley continued staring at his menu. The menus have never changed. He always kept it the same from when he opened the diner. It never came to him to make it more modern. He would rather see the stains on his papers.


“Absolutely nothing,” Wesley murmured. “There’s nothing else that I see myself doing but frying burgers and making pancakes.”




“Because when I see my customer’s eyes light up at the sight of my food and people dancing to the music on the jukebox, I see memories being made,” Wesley said. “When people are sitting in my seats, I see joy. When I see the same people come back again, I see love. That makes my life worth living.”


Maxwell looked at Wesley. He clutched his menu and smiled at the paper. Maxwell’s fork continued to fiddle with the pancakes.


“Do you think I can ever feel just like you in anything I do?” Maxwell asked.


“Of course,” Wesley said. “As long as you feel happy, nothing should stop you.”


“But what if I’m not doing what others want for me?” Maxwell said. “My parents came to this country twenty years ago, and they want me to live a life that’s better than their own. What if I’m failing them because I’m not taking an academic path to success?”


“That doesn’t give you a reason to not do what makes you happy,” Wesley said. “A college doesn’t determine your life, you do.”


Maxwell continued playing with his fork. His leg bounced. His fingers continued drumming the glass cup on the table and his sleeve continued sticking to the table.


“What can I do to feel happy?” Maxwell asked softly.


“You have to ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’” Wesley said. “Once you know, you do it, and then you start to feel happy.”


“Is working in the diner what you want?” Maxwell asked. Wesley nodded.


“It always will be,” he said. “I’m happy, and my folks can’t change that.”


Maxwell smiled and relaxed in his seat. Wesley placed the menu on the table and got up.


“I have to get to work,” Wesley said. “You better eat your food, or I will charge you more.”


Maxwell chuckled.


“Will do,” he said. “Thanks, Wesley.”


“Take care kid.” Wesley patted Maxwell’s shoulder and walked away. Maxwell poured syrup on his pancakes. He took a sip of orange juice and began to feel refreshed. Maxwell began shoving big pieces in his mouth.


He watched more cars continue to pass outside. He heard the laughs of people in the background and smiled. He grabbed his phone. No missed calls. No text messages. He was okay with that.


He just wanted to enjoy his meal.

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