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Always Gold

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The thing about crappy towns, Louise had come to realize, was that they were exactly as their name said: they were crappy. Ocean City of New Jersey wasn’t an exception. In fact, it was almost a perfect match for how one might envision a crappy town. 

And yet still, there was something special to her about the way the sun hit Wonder Wharf in the evenings and there was something special about the way the snow lightened in the early morning of the sunrise when it first fell. There was something gentle about the midnight street lights and the gingerbread-y smell of the arts center right before winter break hit. 

It was one of those early-mornings when even the birds have yet to awaken, and Louise was brewing a cup of coffee while mopping the floors of the restaurant. She shivered as she propped the mop up against the wall, wearing a leather jacket that practically swallowed her with a pair of faded, flared Levis and a jaggedly-cut crop top. The window behind the grill was propped open, a cold breeze blowing in despite it nearing the end of May. On the floor below her, Converse-shaped mud stains tracked her steps. She sighed and moped those spots, too. 

She was opening the fridge and trying to decide if she should go get more ground beef from the butcher when Linda walked in, her shirt on both inside out and backwards. She yawned and rubbed her eyes when she caught Louise, and Louise caught the still that she makes, the short moment of surprise as if to say, You’re still here?

And—this hadn’t been her plan, necessarily, still living at home at twenty one-years-old, doing online college part time part-time while her siblings were in college and working and living on their own, completely independent from their parents. 

But Linda seemed to recover in the split-second that Louise stared at the ground, self-conscious hands shoved in her pockets, Linda’s voice loud and cheery.

“And what are you doing up this early, little Miss-Missy?” 

Louise gestured towards the mop. “What does it look like?” 

“Is it a surprise party for Bobby and I? Oh, Louise!”

“Mom, what?” 

Linda straightened her glasses and briefly glanced down at the tag of her shirt. “The restaurant, oh, you know—!” 

Louise stared at her and flatly replied, “I really don’t.” She leaned against the mop and almost slipped forward, but she pulled back up before she fell too far.

Linda’s hands were thrown up in the air as she replied. “It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of it!” 

“Oh…” Louise laughed a little too loudly and thought about last year, when both she and her father had forgotten about the anniversary. Linda hadn’t spoken to them for three days after that. “Of course, Mother! Of course I couldn’t have forgotten about the twenty-fifth anniversary of the restaurant !” 

Linda joined in with her loud, honking laugh, but it’s clear she doesn’t necessarily know why she’s laughing.

Louise quickly moved forward to shoo her mother towards the door. “Mom! I can’t believe you could’ve doubted me!” 

Linda laughed again. “Oh, I didn’t doubt you, silly-pants!” She stopped and Louise almost ran into her. “Wait a minute. You didn’t forget, now did you, Louise?” 

What ? Mother,” she laughed again, and God , she was doing a lot of laughing, and so was Linda, really, “I wouldn’t dream of forgetting such an important date.” 

“Oh, hum, I can’t tell when you’re being sarcastic or not,” Linda said with a hum, and Louise got her out of the door with a final shove. The bell dinged above them. 

“Get out and don’t come back, you hear me?” she shouted out the door, and an elderly man shot her a perplexed look from the sidewalk near Jimmy Pesto’s restaurant. “I’D ADVISE YOU TO LOOK AWAY RIGHT NOW, OLD MAN!” 

“Louise!” Linda barked from the apartment door as Louise popped back inside the restaurant. 

Louise took a deep breath and pulled out her phone, flipping it open. She dialed Gene’s number and he picked up after the fourth ring. 

“If this isn’t the pizza company offering me free pizza for life, I’m not interested!” 

“Gene.”

“I would also accept payment for my ambassadorship in the form of Chunky Blast Offs!”

“Gene…what?”

“What?” 

“What?”

“What?”

“Gene.” 

“Is this the pizza company or not?” 

“GENE!” 

“Oh, hey, Louise. Sorry, I was on the phone with a pizza guy. He was offering me ambassadorship—“

“Ohh, my God.” 

“You sound like Dad!”

Sarcasm seeped into her voice. “Thank—“

“After he took that heartworm medication!” 

Louise hated that she was momentarily caught off guard. Out of anybody, only Gene Belcher had the power to do that to her. “When did that happen?” 

“Uhh.” 

“Okay, I’m calling Tina.” 

“Wait!” 

Louise tapped her foot against the ground impatiently. 

“So…this isn’t about a pizza company?” 

“AGHHH! It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the restaurant, and Mom thinks that I’m throwing a party.” 

“And that means…what?” 

“Can you drive down? I’m going to call Tina—“ 

“WHAT! You want me to drive down from the city in THIS weather?!” 

Louise pinched the bridge of her nose. “It’s. Summer.” A moment later, “You ass .” 

A gentle-turned-monstrous piano key crackled through the speaker of Louise’s phone and Gene began to hum, “To the N, to the Y, to the C! New! York! City!” 

“Yeah, and what’re you doing in the city, again? Sleeping off of friends’s couches?” Louise snapped, sullen and tired. 

Gene, who—after a gap-year that ensued sitting on the couch and pretending to work at the restaurant—applied to Pace and somehow got in on a scholarship for the theater program. Though working towards a theater degree, what Gene planned to do after school isn’t clear and Louise tried her hardest to pretend that doesn’t stress her out. 

There was a brief pause where Gene didn’t say anything and Louise trids to shove that lump of something that was in her throat back down, momentarily worried she’s upset him, but Gene continued and that something dissipated and Louise was able to convince herself that it wasn’t even there in the first place. 

“I’ll be down in an hour, but you have to pay me double my hourly rates! It’s called entertainment, damnit!” Gene shouted, and a mash of piano keys exploded out of her phone speaker before the call dropped. 

She called Tina next, already exhausted before her day’s even actually began. 

“Hey, T,” she muttered upon Tina picking up the phone almost immediately. “You available to drive down?” 

“Oh, hi, Louise,” Tina said pleasantly. “How are you doing?” 

“Can you come fucking home ?” 

“Oh. Josh and I were actually planning on going to see this new—“ 

“Don’t care.” 

“—this new zombie movie. It’s called Zombperfect , and it’s about a zombie who’s misunderstand by the rest of the zombies—oh, and Josh and I have a surprise—“ 

“Don’t. Care.” 

Tina sighed. The phone went muffled, but Louise could still hear Tina go, “Josh?” And then, after getting no reply, she repeated with the same exact tone and volume, “Josh?” 

After graduating high school, Tina attended college up north for two years and another two abroad, in Prague. The year Louise graduated, Tina moved an hour away to Newark and started working for a journalist company. On her way to work, she ran into her old middle-school boyfriend, Josh. He was teaching dance at a nearby academy while working on his own plays, commuting from New York City and Newark weekly. 

They’d been dating two years and it disgusted Louise completely. Within six months, they’d moved in together in a tiny apartment in Newark and adopted a dog named Dancer. When Louise snorted and asked if they’d get another one and named it Prancer, Tina stared at her blankly and said, “What?” 

With a start, Louise realized that Tina’s talking to her. 

“Why do you need us to come down, Louise?” 

“I mean, the dancer doesn’t have to come—“ 

It came off as a mumble, but Josh still shouted Hey! anyways. 

“It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the restaurant, I guess,” Louise said. 

“What! It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary, and you didn’t tell me? What the hell, Louise!” Tina said, the volume of her voice rising ever-so-slightly but the tone still remaining flat. 

“Whoa, T. Lotta exclamation points there,” Louise said, rising her left thumb to her mouth and ripping the nail off with her teeth, leaving a jagged bed of nail. 

“What? What are you talking about?!” Tina said, sounding panicked. 

“Just—never mind. Can you make it out here?” 

“Of course I can, Louise. It’s Mom and Dad’s anniversary.” 

Louise laughed nervously. “It’s not their anniversary, you know that, right?” she attempted, but the call had already been dropped. She stared at her phone and threw it against the counter. 

“Agh, you piece of shit! Just tell me when someone fucking hangs up!

She grabbed her wallet off of the counter and made her way towards the door, but she darted back once the door was already half-open and grabbed her phone. 

“I’m sorry, honey,” she murmured with mock-adoration, placing air-kisses on the phone as she walked out of the restaurant. A young couple looked at her. “What are you looking at, punks? Huh? HUH?” 

They rushed past her. 

Louise smiled despite herself and sent Linda a quick text. 

Working on stuff. Don’t come down until the afternoon. 

Linda’s reply came immediately. (;

Louise rolled her eyes and tucked her phone into the pocket of her jeans.

☄☄☄

Still living at home hadn’t been Louise’s plan. She’d been looking at schools further down south, still on the east coast, when business suddenly slowed. It wasn’t just her dad’s restaurant; even Pesto came over one morning to ask Bob if business had been slow for him, too. 

A new boardwalk was built on the other side of town, and tourists and even the locals started visiting there as opposed to Ocean Avenue. Moving locations became a daily topic of conversation, but Bob’s stubbornness made sure that wasn’t going to happen. Linda and Bob began to argue like they never had before, and this time, it wasn’t about dirty laundry on the floor. Linda swore up and down that if they didn’t move their business up to the new boardwalk, they’d surely close. Bob swore up and down that he was never going to sell out, and if that involved losing the restaurant, then “so be it.” 

(“What are you saying, Bobby, soviet? Like the Russians? Why are you saying soviet?”) 

(“What? Lin, no. Not like the Russians. So-be-it .”) 

(“Huh? So-ve-it? ”) 

(“Oh my God.”) 

But by the end of Louise’s senior year, the restaurant was sinking. 

So she deleted the college emails and threw away her acceptance letters before her parents could see them, signed up for a business and management degree at Ocean City Online University, and spent the summer trying to keep the restaurant afloat. When her parents asked her about the acceptance letters she’d never gotten, she cracked a joke about being dumb and they didn’t ask anymore questions. Louise had almost expected her dad to, at least, and she tried her hardest to convince herself that she wasn’t disappointed. Things were hard. Things were going to continue to be hard. 

Her parents didn’t bring up the scholarship that the University of Pennsylvania had offered her. They didn’t bring up her GPA or her SAT scores and they sure as hell didn’t ask her why she was working nine-hour shifts at the restaurant the summer before her first year of college when she should’ve been at beach week with Rudy and the Pesto twins and Jessica and Harley and Megan. 

They knew. She knew. Everybody knew. 

But then, all of a sudden, she was twenty one years-old and still living at home. 

Business got better, gradually, after that summer. They never relocated, not exactly, but Louise got a night job working concessions so that she could open a miniature Bob’s Burgers booth down at the new boardwalk. Bob threw a fit, of course, but he relented when business picked back up. The booth sold the daily specials only (she almost got a fine for the Tickle My Big Pickle Burger, served with one, large pickle on the first day) and if people wanted to try more of Bob’s Burgers, they had to visit the main restaurant. Things worked out, anyway, because the new boardwalk burned down the July before Louise started college after Mr. Fischoeder opened a “fire rollercoaster.” 

And so, business did pick back up. Gradually. Jimmy Pesto relaxed a bit, but he’d come over every few weeks or so and, if Bob was working in the kitchen, he would stand in the middle of the restaurant awkwardly until Bob came out. He’d make a comment, shout, “Zoom!”, and leave before Bob had the chance to think of a comeback. On more than one occasion, Louise would say something before Pesto could (“Hey, JIMMY! Stop trying to FUCK my dad, you sick pervert! He’s not interested!” And as he left, shouted to customers near his store: “Don’t eat at Jimmy Pesto’s; he’s one, sick motherfucker! He likes GROSS OLD MEN!”) 

It wasn’t her best roast, granted, but Jimmy would get visibly upset and sometimes leave without saying anything. In turn, the next times he would come back, he’d have something to say about Bob and Louise. 

The day Louise enrolled for her online degree, she promised there was nothing about herself that she was going to sacrifice to help her family.

On what feels like her eleventh year of working at her dad’s restaurant, she isn’t so sure.

☄☄☄

As she walked down the sidewalk, Louise decided to stop by Reflections for the supplies to celebrate the restaurant’s anniversary. After she passed by Mort’s, her phone rang. She dug it out with a sigh and flipped the phone open. 

“Louise,” Bob said. 

She remained quiet.

“We can’t afford to take the day off. And I know you forgot about the anniversary and I know that you’re doing this to get out of work.” 

“You forgot, too,” she replied with ease. 

“That doesn’t—call your mom. We need the business today.” 

“Father, father,” she said with a laugh, and then realized that she doesn’t know how to continue, so she snapped the phone shut. Immediately, it began buzzing again, and she sent him one text: we can open for the anniversary by lunch, old man. 

The weather was still cool and there was a nice breeze in the air that ran through Louise’s hair. The sidewalk was still cracked and old like it always had been, but as she thought about how old her parents are getting, how old the restaurant is, she felt grateful for the familiarity of Ocean City. 

It was a short walk to Reflections, maybe a block or two, but the shop looked almost exactly the same as it did when Louise had been a kid. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been there. Maybe when Harold first started getting sick and Bob made her and Gene bring food to Edith when they were still in high school. 

The bell above the door dinged as she stepped in. Edith, now the sole owner of the shop, sat on a stool by the counter. Her eyes snapped towards Louise, sharp and bird-like despite her age. 

“Hi, Edith.” 

Edith’s eyes went from the mud on Louise’s shoes to her hair, where the bottom underside of her black hair was dyed purple in the peek-a-boo style. 

“Child! Disgusting!” she said, her voice loud yet still croaky. 

Louise glanced around the shop. As she expected, nothing about the shop had changed probably since she was a kid. “I like what you’ve done with the place, Edith.” Her eyes landed on the urn sitting on the counter and she nodded in greeting. “Harold, good to see you.” 

“Don’t speak to him!” 

Louise craneed her head forward, hand cupped around her ear. “I think he said hello.” 

“Harold, do not speak to her!” 

“What was that, Harold? You found a new hottie in heaven? And her name is Estelle Getty?”

“Get out of my store!” Edith barked. 

“Whoa, whoa. Edi. Can I call you Edi?” 

“No!”

“Edi, baby, darling, honey, I think we got off on the wrong foot this morning.” 

Edith grunted. 

“I’m here to make a transaction,” she said smoothly, sliding a pile of cash across the counter. Edith’s eyes flickered down to them. 

“These are three ones.” 

“And there will be more from where that came from, baby. You just have to cooperate.” 

“What do you want?” she grumbled. 

“You’re invited to our restaurant this evening to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary.” 

“Do I have to eat the food?” 

“No,” Louise replied smoothly. 

Edith climbed down from the stool and waddled over to Louise, nearly a foot and a half shorter than her. “Fine,” is all she said. 

She’s gotten lonely without Harold , Louise realized, and there was a gentle pang in her chest. 

“Oh, and I need decorations,” Louise said. 

Edith muttered something unintelligible.

“What?” 

“Decorations!” She pointed towards a row in the back. 

Louise, momentarily uncertain of how she was supposed to decorate their restaurant, stared at the row for a moment. 

A party needs decorations. 

What were decorations?

Streamers, maybe? A banner would be nice, too, she guessed.

Parties hadn’t ever been her job. Tina had usually taken care of that, and even Gene used to, too. Holiday decorations were her mom’s job. 

“Right. Decorations,” Louise said, nodding once before making her way to where Edith had pointed. “I’m here to…get decorations.” 

Edith’s eyes narrowed. Before she could say anything, Louise scooped up a pile of random things—streamers, a long roll of paper, and a pack of balloons. 

She checked out with her credit card before Edith could do anything else and made it back to the restaurant before eight-thirty. 

When Louise opened the door, she saw Tina sitting on one of the booths, Josh sitting across from her. 

She’d seen him a total of two times, once for Christmas and once for Thanksgiving.

He was wearing sweats, his hair flattened against his forehead, and he smiled when he saw Louise. “Hey, Louise,” he said.

Louise nodded at him. 

Tina turned around in her chair, head tilting, in surprisingly cute clothes (cropped skinny jeans and a vintage-looking, baggy Boys 4 Now tee). The time in Newark has done her well: her hair had grown out a little bit past her shoulders, black and glossy, and her glasses were new. They’re circular with thin rims, and Louise was almost surprised that she’s able to pull them off. 

“Louise!” Tina greets. 

Louise glanceed from Josh to Tina. Their hands were clasped across the table and she groaned. 

“What is it? Are you tired? Tina asked.

“Yeah, T,” Louise said dryly. “That’s exactly it.” 

“Oh. You should try to get more sleep, then.” 

“I think—“ Josh began, but Louise squinted at him and said, “Ah.” Josh stared back at her and attempted to continue. “I think she was—“ 

“Ah.” 

“Just being—“

“AH!” 

Josh sighed. 

Louise collapsed against a nearby wall, dropping the plastic bag from Reflections down to the ground. 

“Did you see Edith?” Tina asked, standing up to grab the bag from the ground. She hummed satisfactorily when she dumped the supplies onto one of the tables. 

“Did I ever,” Louise mumbled. “She’s coming to the party.” 

“Is she bringing Harold?” 

“Is she—“ Louise blinked. “Is she—bringing Harold? The urn ?” 

“I’ve heard that it’s good for them,” Tina said pleasantly. 

“Good for who ?” 

Tina opened her mouth to continue, but Louise waved a hand across the air to make sure that she didn’t. Tina opened her mouth again, but closed it almost immediately at Louise’s expression. When she continued, she went in a completely different direction than Louise knew that she wanted to go in. 

“Should we invite Aunt Gayle?” 

Louise let out a choking laugh. “We are not inviting Gayle, T.”

“Aunt Gayle.”

“Aunt Gayle.” 

“Okay. Who have you invited?” 

“Uh. Edith.” 

“That’s it? Louise, what the hell!” 

Louise shrugged and said, “Hey, this thing just went into fruition today. I think Zeke’s coming in to work around eleven.” 

Tina stilled at the mention of Zeke’s name, eyebrows furrowed underneath her glasses. 

“Oh,” is all she said, and Louise raised her eyebrows slightly. “Does he…”

“He still works here,” Louise said, answering Tina’s unasked question. 

Tina made a soft, groaning sound in her throat. “Uhhhh...” 

Louise groaned. “It’ll be fine, T.” 

Tina’s voice raised by what seemed like an entire pitch. “Will it, though?” 

Josh looked at Louise strangely. In return, she stuck her tongue out at him. He moved up and places an arm around Tina. Louise faked a vomiting sound and realized that Josh had probably no idea about what happened between Zeke and Tina. 

Louise wasn’t sure she knew, actually. One summer, Tina and Zeke were fine; hanging out during the summers in between college. He’d met Josh a handful of times, too, but one day near the end of summer, the communication between them ended. Tina gave no explanation. Zeke didn’t do any better.

“Tina and I are looking at places here, Louise,” Josh said, and Tina stopped groaning momentarily. 

“Was that the surprise you had?” 

Josh smiled. “Nothing too exciting, I’m afraid.” 

“No kidding.” Josh’s eyebrows stitched together. “I’m kidding , Josh.” The next part of her statement was a mumble. “ I’mhappyforyou...”

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Louise said with a twirl, grabbing the streamers from the table and shoving them into Tina’s arms. “You can decorate, T. Josh…” She looked him up and down. “Just, like. Help her?” 

“And what are you going to do?” Josh asked, a hint of teasing attached to his tone. 

“Make coffee,” Louise said, turning on her heel and into the kitchen. 

☄☄☄

Gene arrived at nine AM exactly in that dramatic, flourishing entrance that felt like it was individual to him only. 

“Honey, I’m home!” he shouted as the bell above him dinged. Louise was in the kitchen on her third cup of black coffee pretending to be sorting the kitchen out while Tina and Josh were attaching streamers to the ceiling. 

“Shh!” Louise said, popping her head out of the kitchen window. “You’ll wake the baby,” she whispered. 

“What baby? I only know of one, and that’s Jorge Timothy Clooney!” 

“I think you mean George Clooney,” Tina offered helpfully. 

“No, I’m pretty certain his name is Jorge Timothy Clooney. Star actor of The Wedding Singer !” 

“Adam Sandler?” Tina asked.

“What? I think you mean Adam Levine, star of American Idol and Spy Kids !” 

“Oh, okay.” Tina returned to attaching streamers to the ceiling. Josh has the banner spread out across the counter, writing out “Happy 24 th Anniversary!” in big, bubble letters. 

“He’s kidding, Tina,” he whispered to her before straightening up. “Hey, Gene. How’s the city?” 

“It’s citying!” Gene exclaimed, chest puffed out. “Hey, don’t you visit weekly, sir? I know a scam when I see one!” 

“I mean…” Josh’s eyebrows folded into each other. 

“I will not be fooled!” 

Louise moved out of the kitchen, coffee sloshing out of her mug. Josh eyed the steam coming out of it warily. 

“Gene Belcher,” Louise said, head tilting. 

Somehow, out of all of them, it seemed like Gene’s changed the least despite his status of living in an elite city and going to a university in said elite city. His haircut was still the same and how he acts was still the same. It felt weird how, that if Louise was shown a picture of this Gene and past Gene, the only difference she’d be able to tell would probably just be the height difference. 

“Excuse me, I think you mean Burger Man,” Gene replied. 

“I—“ Louise rolled her eyes. “I don’t even want to know .” 

“Okay, but it’s you who’s missing out!” 

Louise put Gene and Tina on invitation duty and swore up and down that she was cooking in the kitchen when, in reality, she was working on an assignment that was due three days ago. Summer break was in a week, but Louise still had three separate assignments due for three separate classes. 

She’d tried the “turn in a blank Google Doc” trick, and somehow, hadn’t been caught yet. 

“Louise,” Josh said, head peering through the kitchen window, “you don’t look like you’re cooking.” 

Louise didn’t look up, her eyes trained on the laptop sitting on the ground in front of her. Her back faintly hurt from the awkward, craned-forward position she’s in. “You cook then,” she mumbled, biting her lip. “We don’t even have to prep until eleven. Tina and Gene are just dumb.”

“Do you miss them?” Josh asked seriously, and Louise stopped typing at that. 

“What do you mean?” 

“I mean…you just spent your entire lives with them.” 

“Whatever, Josh,” Louise scoffed. “Feel lucky I haven’t skinned you alive for dating my sister.” 

Josh cringed. He went quiet after that, but he came into the kitchen anyway and started slicing tomatoes. 

“My dad’ll kill you if you cook anything,” Louise said from her now sprawled-out position on the ground, legs kicked back to touch her back. “Scratch that, I’ll kill you.” 

“I won’t,” Josh said  

Louise was briefly glad that he wasn’t Jimmy Jr.—that Tina was dating Josh instead—and she almost said so to him, but she kicked herself internally before she could say anything nice to him. 

Because if there was one thing Louise Belcher wasn’t , it’s being nice. Especially to Tina’s boyfriends and especially after the Jimmy Jr. situation. 

“Does your mom seriously want a party?” Josh asked.

Louise pulled her knees to her chest. “Stop trying to make conversation,” she muttered, and Josh fell quiet, his fall falling slightly.

Her first assignment was finished in the silence of the kitchen. 

☄☄☄

By eleven, Bob broke free from upstairs and stood in the middle of the apartment, his hair askew and his expression entirely enraged. 

“I lost hours of prep, Louise,” he said as he stumbled in, apron partly on, voice turning screechy in that Bob Belcher sense. “Hours.” 

Louise blew him a raspberry from her spot on the bar stool. She and Josh had gotten the banner up outside, and Zeke had shown up about half an hour before Bob arrived. He busied himself in the kitchen before Tina and Gene got back. 

“Hey there, Mr. B,” Zeke called from the kitchen, popping his head out around the window. 

“Hi, Zeke,” Bob said with a sigh. 

“I’ve got the grill here all fired up and ready now, Mr. B!” 

“Uh…thanks.” Bob’s gaze moved to the Burger of the Day Board and his eyes narrowed. “Louise, why does the board say that the burger of the day is the Beet Your Kids Burger ?” 

“Sorry, father, I am suddenly deaf,” Louise quipped, typing another sentence or two onto her fourth, and final, assignment. 

“What board?” Gene exclaimed with a gasp, looking around with comically wide eyes. “Wait, is this a burger place?” 

“Oh, my God,” Bob groaned.

Zeke stuck his head further out the window to see Josh and Tina sitting at a booth, Tina’s expression stoic and staring straight ahead. 

“Hiya, T-Bird, girl!” Zeke called. He nodded at Josh and grinned. Between Jimmy Jr., Josh, and Zeke, Louise didn’t mind the latter two. 

Tina mumbled a slow, drawn-out groan before saying, “Hi, Zeke.” 

Zeke nodded again before withdrawing back into the kitchen. Louise glanced at him once and then at Tina, who continued to groan. 

Bob shot her a look. “Tina, hush.” 

The groaning got louder.

“You alright there, girl?” Zeke shouted from the kitchen.

“She’s fine, Zeke,” Louise replied.

Right as Bob swung the door to the kitchen open, Linda slammed the door open to the restaurant, breathing hard as if she’d been running. 

“Oh, Bobby, you sneak, you!” she shouted, hands on knees. “We were gonna wait for the par-tay ,” she continued.

“We don’t need a party, Lin.” Bob moved into the kitchen, Linda trailing behind him, small hand attached to his shirt collar, trying to pull him back towards the door. “If anything, I should’ve been in charge.”

“Why?”

“Because this is my—never mind.”

Louise worked on her assignment as Bob prepped the restaurant for the lunch rush, Zeke slicing vegetables. 

By twelve, people Gene and Tina had invited started shuffling in. Teddy comes in first, paunchier around the waist than Louise remembered but wearing a wide grin. He didn’t visit the restaurant as often as he used to back when she was a kid.

“Bobby!” he warbled, arms spread out, “happy anniversary, you big bastard.” 

“Uh…thanks, Teddy,” Bob replied from the kitchen, his apron stained with grease.

“Twenty-five years. I just can’t believe it,” Teddy said with a sniff. 

“Hm.” Bob made his way out of the kitchen and leaned against the counter. “Do you want a burger? Our special is”—he craned his head to glance at the Burger of the Day chalkboard, eyebrows knitting together—“uh, not…that. Louise, please change it.”

“Never!” 

“I’ll take a Beet Your Kids Burger , Bobby,” Teddy said. 

“Oh, my God. Don’t say that, Teddy,” Bob groaned. 

“What? Burger? Why don’t you want me to say burger?” 

Bob retreated into the kitchen with a loud sigh. 

Mort came in next, Gretchen almost right after him, and then Edith came in, Harold’s urn clutched in her arms. 

“See!” Tina shouted to Louise when she saw the urn. “I told you she’d bring it!” 

Bob stuck his head out of the kitchen window. “Louise, what is she doing here?” he hissed. 

“What’s that, Harold? You hate this place?” Edith announced loudly. 

“I invited her,” Louise replied. 

“Why would you—okay. That’s fine. Edith, would you like a burger?” 

“From this place? Never!” 

“This is a party, now,” Tina said approvingly. Faint pop played from the speakers, but it wasn’t too loud or too-packed inside the restaurant. 

Louise finished her fourth assignment ten minutes after everybody arrived and slammed her laptop shut, jumping out of her seat. 

She contemplated grabbing a beer because even Tina was drinking one, still sitting in a booth with Josh and Gene. Instead, after looking around, she decided to stand outside for a momentary breather. 

When she got outside, it felt warmer, so she shed her leather jacket off and dropped it by her feet. 

Inside, she could see her dad smiling as he doled out burgers. A couple walked past Louise and into the store after seeing the anniversary banner. 

Louise leaned against the wall. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a sudden flash of familiar-looking sandy-blonde hair. She jolted up and looked down the street, but she didn’t see who she thought she’d seen. 

She spent another minute scrutinizing the streets, almost surprised as to why she cared so much. She hadn’t seen Logan Bush in years . And if she saw him again, she didn’t get why it would matter. Besides, even if she did see him, there were only two things she could do. 

A: Punch him.

B: Punch him.

After a final glance down the street, she picked her jacket up from the ground and made her way back into the restaurant, arms spread wide to continue to celebrate.