“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up, sleepy head!” Jonathan shouted from the bottom step as his voice carried up to Gibby’s bedroom.
There was shuffling, followed by a thump, and then a loud groan from upstairs.“Oh my god, Dad, really?It’s not even eight o’clock yet.” Gibby grumbled from over the banister, glaring down at his father.
Gibby’s t-shirt and boxer shorts were crumpled and his hair stuck out in every direction, making a halo around his head in the morning light.
“I told Dr. Warner that I would meet him at the hospital this morning.”
“You’re getting started really early.I thought you didn’t have to report to work until I started school on Monday?”Gibby asked between muffled yawns.
While all of Gibby’s friends were heading off to college, he was starting his senior year of high school for the second time.The fire stole more than just the last ten months of his life.
“The doctor wants me to meet the staff and get acquainted with the hospital’s protocol before throwing me to the wolves on Monday.” Jonathan shook his head and chuckled when Gibby scratched at his stomach before stumbling back to his bed.“Hey, I’m not finished with you…” He waited for Gibby’s head to appear at the top of the stairs again.“Why don’t you meet me in town for lunch today?”
“Sure, Dad, text me the address and the time,” Without waiting for Jonathan’s response, Gibby went back to bed for a few more hours sleep.
Becker Street Grill was busy for a small town café.Four of its five sidewalk tables were already filled, but only three of the inside booths had customers.The warm summer day was pleasant, but a little too hot for sitting outside in the direct sunlight.The thought wasn’t very appealing to Gibby, so he opted to find a table inside.
Admiring the corny decor, Gibby chuckled as he read the quirky slogans written on antique tin signs that covered the restaurant’s walls while he waited to be seated.
“Is this your first time here?” The deep voice jerked Gibby back to reality.Startled by the question, Gibby jumped as he whirled around on his heels.Swallowing a nervous chuckle when he noticed the good looking guy standing just inches away from him, Gibby’s tongue darted out, licking his lips that were suddenly too dry.
The name on the waiter’s plastic nametag said, ‘Scott.’
Too nervous to face him, Gibby glanced from Scott, back to the humorous signs, before nodding his auburn head.He closed his eyes for a brief second, trying to compose himself, but when he glanced over his shoulder again; the guy was intensely watching him.
The sudden rush of blood pumping through Gibby’s body wasn’t only pounding in his ears, it had his groin stirring to life.The waiter was the same height as him as they stood there looking into each other’s eyes.When Scott tilted his head and lowered his voice, “C’mon, I’ll take care of you,” Gibby almost groaned.
The images that flashed through Gibby’s mind had nothing to do with lunch or food or anything else you could order off the menu.
As Scott walked the few steps to an empty table, Gibby’s eyes dropped down to the guy’s tight black jeans. “How’s this look to you?” The waiter held out his hand indicating the booth in the center of the restaurant, but Gibby knew the other meaning behind his question.
“Yep, looks good to me.” Gibby suddenly blushed.It had been a while since he flirted with anyone.
Scott placed a bundle of silverware wrapped inside a napkin on the table beside a large vinyl menu.“So, what can I get you?”
Gibby glanced at the single setting and frowned, “You can get me another place setting.”
The waiter raised an eyebrow and placed another bundle on the table. “Do you want to start with a soda while you wait?” Scott gave Gibby a wink.He wasn’t much older than Gibby, but sporting a few days stubble over the sharp angles of his jaw made the guy look older than he was.
“Can you bring me a Coke and he’ll take an ice tea.”Gibby bit at his lower lip to keep from grinning.
“Coming right up,” Scott gave him another quick wink before going to fill his drink order.
Stirring his soda with his straw, Gibby watched Scott tend to the other tables while he waited for his dad to show up.Scott’s long legs moved quickly as he carried trays, refilled drinks and cleared away used dishes.Every few minutes Scott glanced over to see if Gibby was still watching him, which he was.
On the second refill, Scott gave Gibby a sympathetic smile.“Maybe he changed his mind?”
“I really don’t think he stood me up,” Laughter lit up Gibby’s handsome face.“Maybe I should go ahead and order since I’m sure that he’ll be here at any moment.”
Disappointment briefly flashed across Scott’s face, but he pushed it aside and opened his notepad and held his pencil, ready to take their orders.
“I’ll take the grilled chicken sandwich with fries and he wants tuna on wheat.”
“Fries for him too?”
Gibby looked up from the menu and laughed.“Fries, no, bring him a side salad with vinaigrette dressing on the side.”
“Sounds like you know what he likes.” Scott forced a smile.
“I know him pretty well.”
Just after Scott disappeared into the kitchen to prepare their order, Jonathan came rushing through the front door.“Sorry I’m late.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Gibby glanced towards the back room to see if Scott had noticed his dad come in.“Don’t worry about it.The one thing that I learned about having parents that are doctors is that you guys are always late.”
Jonathan handed Gibby a small white bag across the table.“I stopped by the pharmacy and got your prescription filled.”
Anger flashed in Gibby’s eyes. “You said I could stop taking the meds.Dad, they make me feel like a zombie!”
Gibby snatched the bag from Jonathan’s hand and dropped it onto the bench beside his leg.
“I said that we would talk about it--”
“Gibby,” Jonathan’s voice was stern, “you were screaming in your sleep last night, again.”
“Then I’ll take them before I go to bed, but I’m not going to a new school in a psychotic daze.”
Jonathan opened his mouth, prepared to continue their argument when Scott arrived with their food.Noticing the family resemblance between Gibby and Jonathan, the waiter chuckled at himself for feeling jealous.“If there’s anything else I can get you guys, please just give me a shout.”
Steam rose off Gibby’s grilled chicken when he lifted the bun off the sandwich to add some ketchup to the center.Since his food was still too hot to start eating, his gaze drifted to the patrons outside.Jonathan followed his son’s longing gaze.
“We could have sat outside if you wanted.”Jonathan said softly.
“It’s too hot out there.”
“It’s pretty warm in here too.” Jonathan noticed the pink flush in Gibby’s cheeks.“You could take your sweat-jacket off.”
Gibby glanced nervously around the nearly empty restaurant. A young couple came into the restaurant while he was waiting for Jonathan.They sat in the back, lost in conversation. Scott had returned to the kitchen leaving Jonathan and Gibby in the dining room; the only other customers near them were three little old ladies, but the women giggled and chatted among themselves.
Picking at his fries, Gibby blew on them before popping a few into his mouth and immediately gasped.“Ooooh hot!” Grabbing his soda, Gibby downed half of the glass.
Jonathan watched Gibby while he ate.No amount of pills or therapy was going to ever make his son whole again, but Gibby needed to learn how to deal with his scars, not just pretend like the fire never happened.
Gibby’s scars were far more extensive then the burns marring the side of Jonathan’s face.He had spent nearly six months in the hospital recovering from second and third degree burns over forty percent of his body.Gibby had lost more than just his home, he almost lost his life.
“I also talked to Dr. Warner about you using the therapy pool at the hospital--”
“Not happening!” Gibby mumble with a mouth full of chicken.
“The pool closes to the patients at six o’clock. He said that you could use it after hours to work on loosening the scar tissue”
Gibby listened while he ate.
“C’mon, Gib, I know you’re dying to get back in the water again.” Jonathan hoped the prospect of swimming would be enough to cheer up his son.
“Maybe,” Gibby shrugged his shoulders out of his jacket, letting the soft cotton material drop behind him onto the bench seat. His dad was right.Gibby had been hiding behind his long sleeves as if they were a security blanket.
Jonathan smiled.He tried not to react to Gibby letting down his guard.“A maybe is better than a flat out no.This is a chance for a new start.Speaking of new starts, are you ready to start school on Monday?”
Gibby rolled his eyes and groaned, bringing a smile to Jonathan’s face.He liked to see his teenage son acting like a kid again.It was too often that Gibby acted more like a crabby old man instead of the carefree teen that he should be.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
“Good, I think that--”
“Oh my star!” A woman shrieked inside the restaurant.
One of the old ladies was standing near their table, staring at the massive scars covering Gibby’s bare arms.Her raised voice drew the attention of the other patrons inside and a few of the ones outside stood up to glance in to see what was going on.
The color drained from Gibby’s face before being quickly replaced by searing hot anger.“Well, Dr. Robinson, have you found a cure for this flesh eating bacteria that I contracted?”He spoke loud enough for everyone to hear him.
“Gibby!” Jonathan hissed at his son before facing the growing crowd.“No, he doesn’t--”
“Aaaand I wonder if I’m still contagious?” Now Gibby’s face was on fire.His body trembled as he fought to pull his jacket back on.Before the sleeves covered his arms, Scott appeared, ready to take control of the situation until he got a good look at Gibby’s burned skin.
“Oh god, what’s wrong with him?” Scott balked at the sight of Gibby’s severe scars.
Gibby pushed his way through the people gathering to gawk at him, fleeing the restaurant.
“There’s nothing wrong with him!” Gibby heard Jonathan shout as he hit the door at a flat out run.Jonathan’s eyes flashed to the small minded town folk of Shepherd’s Crook. “He survived a fire that should have killed him…it would have killed any one of you!”