Part 1

Harold’s eyes, normally downcast, away from all things garish and brightly lit, cast desultory eyes upon the place. He waged a mental battle against its cheery kitsch, its brazenly gauche decor. What kind of people would eat in such a place? And he knew what kind, would know even without looking: the kind of people who threw caution to the wind and filed their own taxes. The kind of people who never itemized. The kind who made charitable donations and never kept the receipts.

Harold dismissed them in his mind, but secretly ached. In his deepest heart, he, too, wanted to be cheery and devil-may-care. The corners of his mouth wilted. What good had it done him to be so proper and clever all these years? What good, when life – the bright and exciting kind, announced in neon! – had passed him by, again and again?

Suddenly deciding to be bold and unexpected, Harold put both his hands on the hard red door of the diner, and gave it a determined push.

The door did not budge. Harold blinked, nonplussed. And then, sheepishly, he beheld the “PULL” sign to the left of the handle, and, looking about to make sure he hadn’t been observed, entered.

How well he still remembered the first, deep whiff of the place! Whatever shortcomings there were in decor was more than made up for by the sweet, warm, succulent smell of waffles that filled Harold’s nostrils when he walked through the door. Like a rabbit testing the air, Harold remembered lifting his head, nose twitching in anticipation. His senses led him straight towards the counter, which was fairly busy, even given the lateness of the hour.

There was a large, scowling man behind the counter, eyeing Harold unpleasantly. He wore a nametag that said My name is Theodore, how can I help you?

“Well? What do you want?”

Taken aback, it took Harold a moment before he found his voice. “I – I would like to see a menu, please.”

A smirk brightened the corners of the Theodore the Goon’s mouth. “Menu? What d’you think this is?”

He moved one hand over his shoulder and jerked a beefy finger towards the wall. “There’s the menu, fella.”

Harold’s eyes moved to where Theodore’d pointed. A large, bright yellow placard posted boasted four items:

1 Waffle
2 Waffles
3 Waffles
Wally’s Wonder Waffle Special Combo Supreme– VIPs ONLY!!!

Harold looked around himself. The people around him were eating, most of them one or two waffles – he couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to eat three. But what was a Wonder Waffle? VIPs Only!!!, huh? Probably some ridiculous birthday promotion, Harold decided. When he looked back to order, Theodore’s back was turned to him.

“Ah – excuse me.”

Theodore turned. “You made up your mind?”

“I’ll have a waffle. The one. Please.”

Theodore smirked at him, eyes moving up and down him, sizing him up. “Yeah,” he said finally. “One’s about your speed.”