Let me tell you about them / Breakfast in america
By David Menchaca
My legs wrap around the rippling body of the white Harley-Davidson. The Friday sun begins to set, coating the world in the colors of an orange creamsicle. Traffic is light tonight. The Harley's growl settles into a content purr as I park in front of the bar and hop off the bike. The rich scent of gasoline wafts through the air.
I have time to kill, I think to myself. She wasn't supposed to show up to the bar for another hour. A bookstore is across the street. I brush my wind-blown hair back with my hand. Looking straight ahead, I walk across. A BMW nearly hits me. Its horn honks indignantly but I keep walking. The smell of paper and coffee billows around me as I enter the bookstore. I wander around looking for nothing in particular. Model airplanes, leather notebooks, and sci-fi novels catch my eyes.
I turn around, bumping into someone, spilling a cup of coffee on the ground. "Oh God, I'm so sorry," I stammer. "I can get you another—"
"Don't worry about it. Hey, I like your jacket." They smile and tug at my red leather jacket, asking "Wanna look around with me?" I oblige and we peruse the bookstore together, conversing about our favorite books, music, and hobbies. We have a lot in common: classic rock, vintage cars, and old sci-fi books. They have short dark hair. They give me a warm hug before I leave back to the bar.
Wearing a red dress and a blank expression, my date chides me for being late. A waitress asks what we would like to drink. Without missing a beat, I say "Aviation." I look over my date's shoulder at the bookstore through the window.
"You know, I like me a man who knows what he wants," she says with a smirk.
She looks far too much like Florence. That's all I could think the entire evening. I didn't even pay attention to her name when she actually told me. I look across the table and can only see Florence's red hair, porcelain skin, and facial features that could cut steel. She doesn't really seem too friendly. After a few short, brusque answers I finally ask a question she was passionate about, but a few words in I stop paying attention. She looks far too much like Florence. At this point, Florence was nothing but a footnote in my mind; a vintage blend of bittersweet memories, broken promises, and sour goodbyes wrapped up in a cherry pinup dress, but still I zone out, recalling one of the few memories I have left of her, one of the even fewer good ones.
The ducks were well fed after the two empty popcorn bags were thrown into the trash. Andrew and Florence returned to the blue Mazda and made their way down the road to the nearby vintage clothing store. It was a warm Saturday in April. A few clouds lingered in the blue sky.
The two of them opened the glass door of the small shop and stepped onto the hardwood floors. An Elvis song was playing over the classic-style jukebox. Andrew followed his future ex-girlfriend as she perused the dresses, skirts, and blouses. Florence's favorite dress was black with red trim and cherry print pattered onto it. It made her look like the most beautiful pinup girl the 1950s ever would have seen.
Out of the corner of his eye, Andrew found something that caught his interest. It was a plastic cherry necklace decorating the neck of a bust mannequin. A pair of shiny red spheres and their bright green stems were suspended from a cheap metal chain. Andrew knew she would love it. He located the necklace in a glass jewelry case at the cash register.
Almost as if fate itself was telling him to purchase it, another customer entered the store. Florence's English teacher and his fiancé walked through the door. She greeted them with a cheery "Hi, Dr. Pierce!" and separated from her friend as they made conversation. After a few seconds, Andrew decided to seize his moment.
Although he was still well within her field of vision, Florence never even noticed Andrew's departure. He briskly walked to the cash register and asked the shopkeeper for the necklace. Without a second thought, Andrew paid for the eight dollar necklace and took it from the shopkeeper, thanking her quietly as he returned to Florence's side.
Pleased by her shopping trip, Florence decided it was time to leave the store. Her coppery red hair was gleaming in the sunlight as they strolled down the street. While they were walking back to the car, Florence noticed something.
"You bought something, didn't you?" she asked. Andrew had no choice but to reply, "Yeah. But I'm not giving it to you until we get to the car." Florence put an adorable fake scowl on her face. "Fine," she conceded. Andrew opened the passenger door for her and she buckled herself in. He shut the door and walked to the other side, hopping into the driver's seat.
He handed her the small leopard-print paper bag containing her gift. Despite not knowing its contents, Florence couldn't help but smile. Her sparkling brown eyes looked deeply into Andrew's...
She was still glaring at me when I zoned back in. Her voice cuts at me. "Are you still there?" I take a quick sip of my drink and say, "Oh, yeah. Sorry." Not-Florence starts getting up from her seat, saying, "You know, I don't think this is going well. I'm just gonna go." I respond, "Yeah, I agree. Bye." She leaves her drink at the table. I reach over and finish it off for her. She's already almost out the door when I look back up. Night has just barely fallen. My chair has a clear view of the still-open bookstore across the street now that Not-Florence is gone. I wonder if that person I quite literally ran into is still there.
I get up and push my seat in. Our drinks were about eight dollars each, so I pull out a 20 dollar bill and a few ones and hand them to the waitress on my way out. I walk out the door and start crossing the street to return to the bookstore. According to the sign on the front door, this bookstore should be open for about another hour and a half.
I step inside, once again embraced by the potpourri of paper and coffee. It's even quieter than before. I look over at the counter at the right side of the store and there they are. They seem to be hard at work ringing up customers and organizing books, but they have a bright smile on their face nonetheless. I look around the shop some more, finding a nice small leather notebook.
Notebook in hand, I take a deep breath as I prepare to go up to the counter. My newfound friend seems very excited to see me.
"Hey, didn't expect to see you back so soon!" they say energetically.
"Yeah, I just wanted to grab this really quick," I reply.
"How'd the rest of your night go?" asks the bookkeeper.
I chuckle. "Honestly, not too great. It's all good, though, truth be told I had a much better time here."
"That'll be $25.01," they say. At this point I nearly forgot I was purchasing something.
"Sure thing." I get out my wallet and pay for the notebook.
"Hey, my shift is nearly over. Want to catch up again in, say, half an hour?" they ask. I find myself readily saying, "Yeah, sure! I'll be over by the coffee shop." They flash their cute smile at me once again and say, "Alright, I'll see you then."
I head over to the coffee shop on the other end of the store. I order myself a small drink in order to counteract the minuscule amount of already weakening alcohol in my system. I find a pen in my pocket, crack open the notebook, and start writing. After thirty minutes, I already have the makings of a short science-fiction story and a doodle of an astronaut driving a classic convertible in space inscribed into the notebook.
I look up and watch the bookkeeper tap the screen of the tablet on the counter and then make their way towards the coffee shop. Panicked, I do my best to act natural by lunging for the nearest magazine and sipping my drink. They plop themselves down into the chair right next to me. "Hey there," they say. "Whatcha drinking?"
I shrug and reply, "Some kind of peach-white tea-lemonade-thing. I'm honestly not much for coffee." I continue to sip my drink while pretending to read the magazine.
"You know, between the leather-bound notebooks, the red motorcycle jacket, and the fancy bar dates, you didn't exactly strike me as the type to read Seventeen. Your upside-down reading skills are also very impressive. Guess everyone has their own hidden depths," they observe. I nearly spit out my drink and feel my face change color to match my jacket.
I concede, "You got me there." They put on a smug smile upon hearing my confession.
They look around at the store, saying, "Well, at any rate, this place is closing soon. Wanna get out of here?" I agree and we walk out of the store together.
"By the way," they say. "It's been a long night and I honestly forgot your name. Who are you, exactly?"
I respond. "I'm Andrew Rivera. Nice to meet you." They smile and extend their hand.
"Taylor. Taylor Shelby," they say, oddly reminiscent of an adorable, androgynous James Bond. We walk up the streetlamp-lit sidewalk together a bit longer, making chit-chat along the way.
We stop in front of a tiny blue Fiat with a white stripe. "Well, Andrew, it was nice spending time with you. Let's meet up again sometime," Taylor says with a smile. They give me a hug and step into the car. I hear the small engine roar as I turn around and walk away.
I tuck the notebook into the small leather pouch just underneath my bike's headlight. I hop on the motorcycle and welcome the familiar tremble between my thighs. The cool nighttime air buffets my face as I ride back home, thinking of Taylor all the way there.
The Saturday morning sunshine filters in through my window blinds, lighting up the insides of my eyelids. I open my eyes and my small studio apartment slowly comes into focus. Art prints of vintage racing cars and black and white posters of old movie stars adorn the walls. A small black desk sits in front of the bed, holding my new notebook, a futuristic lamp, my computer, a record player, and a speaker. I read the clock on the nightstand to my right. Around 9:30. Still early. I drag myself out of bed and shuffle to my desk. I set up the record player, turn on the speaker, and put on the Eagles' Hotel California. I then shuffle across the hardwood past my nightstand over towards the bathroom as the guitar notes sound through. I reach into the shower and turn the faucet on. I brush my teeth while waiting for the water to heat up before I step in for a quick shower. Afterwards, I open the glass door and wipe the fog off the mirror so I can shave and wash my face.
I exit the bathroom. The music has stopped now, so I head to the desk to flip the record over before walking back to the closet. I pick out a fresh set of boxer briefs and patterned socks, shortly followed by the rest of a complete outfit. I look in the mirror and behold its reflection: an androgynous 5'11" person with long side-swept hair, neatly wrapped in a white T-shirt and dark blue jeans. My grandmother would say I look like James Dean and she would be right; the only things missing would be my red leather jacket and the silver Porsche coffin with the number '130' painted on it. I breathe a heavy sigh and saunter off towards the window. It's bright and sunny outside. No jacket today. I take a minute or two to make the bed, folding the sheets back into something that resembles their normal place. I look around the room, taking in the sparse furniture, neat decorations, kitchen equipment, and the small TV screen. Something shiny in the corner catches my eye. I should really toss out some of those empty alcohol bottles, I think to myself.
I turn off the music, grab my keys and head out the door, making my way down to the parking lot. The Harley-Davidson Street Rod awaits me, shining in the sunlight. I hop into the black leather saddle, waddle backwards out of the parking space, and take off for the day. I carve my path down the city streets, weaving between cars and delivery trucks. It's nearly eleven o'clock now, just in time for brunch.
The blue Fiat is already parked in front of the café. I park the bike right behind it, hop off, and walk into the building. The place smells of coffee and fresh pastries. Taylor is sitting at a bar table at a window with a panoramic view of the city streets outside, wearing black jeans, combat boots, and a gray T-shirt with black stripes. The slicked back dark hair makes them look like a young Marlon Brando. They step onto the laminate hardwood floor and come up to greet me. "Hey there, Andrew," they say. "You know what you want?"
I look up at the menu options written on a chalkboard above the counter. "Uh, just gimme a quick sec," I answer. Taylor places their order. After a few moments, I follow suit. We head back to the bar table and wait for our breakfast together.
We watch the traffic pass by as I think of something to say. Taylor breaks the silence. "You know, you should really wear a helmet when you ride that thing." They nod towards my bike.
"Yeah, you're right. I guess I just never really cared enough to get one," I reply.
"Well, you should. After all, it's your life we're talking about here." They look at me and give me that cute smile again. Our order is ready. I get up to grab our food, then sit back down on the barstool. We take a break from talking to eat for a bit, but the silence never feels awkward.
"So, you from around here?" I ask.
"Nope. I was born in West Virginia. Charleston, to be exact," Taylor says.
"West Virginia's quite a ways away. How'd someone like you end up all the way over here?"
"It's a long story. Short version: I went to college in the area and came back after moving back home for a bit." Taylor wistfully looks out at the street again. "I knew enough people and places back here to make a decent living, so I just started driving and never looked back."
"You don't miss home at all?" I ask stupidly.
"Not particularly. I have my own life out here and I keep in touch with my family as much as I can. Well, as much as I can stand." Taylor chuckles, almost like they're hiding something. I don't press on. Instead, they ask, "How about you? Where'd you come from?"
"El Paso. Same as you, I guess; I moved to the big city for college and decided I liked the change of pace. I worked some odd jobs here and there and set up shop."
Taylor raises an eyebrow. "How odd we talking here?"
I shrug. "Nothing too crazy. I've sold everything from space-age medical technology to leather goods. I spent some time repairing motorcycles. And for about a year or so I was a piano bar singer on a cruise ship."
Taylor lets out a short whistle. "Wow, you really have done some weird stuff. What was the cruise ship life like?"
"Lots of fun. I had my own little dorm room on the ship's interior. I didn't have a nice ocean view or anything but at least I didn't have to be at home. I'd spend the days visiting all sorts of islands and ports in the Caribbean then sing for a bunch of drunk people for three or four hours every night. Between all the music I had to learn and dealing with all those drunk folks it was lot more work than I expected, but I wouldn't have traded that for anything. Plus the tips were good." I laugh to myself. "Never underestimate the generosity of middle-aged women who have had maybe one or two too many cocktails."
I look back out at the street, then turn to Taylor with a smirk. "So what do you do for a living? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't exactly think selling books pays for stuff like turbocharged Fiats."
Taylor looks down at the surface of the table and giggles. "You got me there," they concede. "I'll admit, I come from a rather wealthy family. We're no Trump dynasty by any means, but money has never exactly been a problem. Well, one day my mother decided I wasn't exactly welcome in the family any longer for... Being the way that I am. My dad tried to fight her on it, but she won. But not before he secretly gave me enough means to start my own life." Taylor looks out at the street again with an almost longing expression on their face. "I could never be my mother's perfect daughter. I'm just glad Dad understood enough to lend me a hand. I got my car, a small apartment, and got to work at the bookstore." I watch as Taylor's glum face reshapes into a slight smile. "My dad's the only one I still really talk to. I'll check up on my brother sometimes, but as far as my mother's concerned I died in a car wreck somewhere between Charleston and here. Whenever she's not looking, Dad always likes to make sure I'm still doing okay."
Taylor scrunches their eyebrows and rapidly shakes their head. "Ugh, I'm really sorry. We just met last night and I'm already dumping all my issues on you."
I look at them and say, "No, trust me, you're fine." I finish my meal, dust the crumbs off my mouth, then look out the window for a bit.
"You know, no one drinks a lot, rides motorcycles without a helmet, or goes out with random bookstore workers just for no reason. You're running from something, aren't you?" asks Taylor.
I chuckle. "My family, my ex, my life; take your pick. It's not easy surviving when everyone else has abandoned you."
Taylor smiles again, asking "What was that like?" I look out the window myself. Cars, taxicabs, and bicycles go by. My motorcycle and Taylor's Fiat are parked just down the street. "Well, my family has had a checkered past dealing with queer people. They say they support gay marriage, but I still had to sit silently through countless homophobic jokes and remarks. They had their own hangups on trans people, and I doubt they'd even understand the whole non-binary thing." I shook my head. "Once word started getting around that I was bisexual in high school, that was its own can of worms. I lied as much as I could until I got the hell out of that house." I take one last long sip of my drink. "And Florence? She barely put up with my sexuality, despite enjoying… Experiments of her own. The one before her understood, though. But it seems like I just have to throw away every last good thing in my life." I plant my elbow on the table and prop my head up on my fist. "I'm still struggling to figure things out sometimes. I guess I've just never really allowed myself to figure out, to be who I am."
Taylor smiles and takes my hand. "Maybe we can both figure things out together."
I smile back at them and say, "Yeah." They squeeze my hand.
"I have work in a little bit; I better get going. Tomorrow afternoon?" Taylor tilts their head and looks at me with their sky blue eyes.
"Of course," I say. We get up and leave the café holding hands. We walk back outside to our vehicles. Taylor looks quizzically at the sleek white Street Rod 750. "A Harley, huh? Never thought they had it in them." They give me a hug, saying "See you tomorrow." Taylor gets in the Fiat, firing up the engine and throwing the top down, and races off towards the bookstore. I hop on the motorcycle and ride off.
On the way back home, I stop at a motorcycle shop, purchasing a pair of racing striped full-face helmets.
About the Author
Born and raised in San Antonio, David Menchaca is a senior English major at Trinity University who recently began seriously writing fiction. When not busy in class or playing violin in the Trinity Symphony Orchestra, David enjoys music, swing dancing, video gaming, and pestering motorcycle shop owners.