Daniel met Mike in the movie theater restroom after a late night showing of Quarantine.
He was admiring how thoroughly the guy at the next sink was washing his hands when the guy tuned to him and asked, “So, what did you think?”
He reached around Daniel for a paper towel.
Daniel rinsed his hands off under the hot water and grabbed a towel for himself.
“It was ok. I like the Spanish version better though.” He used the paper towel to turn off the faucet.
The guy’s face lit up. “Me too! Not many people saw that one.”
Daniel tossed his paper towel in the trashcan. “I like horror movies.”
“I’m Mike.” His new friend stuck out his hand. Since Daniel knew how clean it was, he accepted the handshake.
“A couple of us are going to Denny’s to talk about the movie. Want to come?”
Normally Daniel would have said no. He didn’t like new people and didn’t like talking. But he had been thinking about getting a Moon Over My Hammy anyway and it would be awkward to say no and then turn up at the restaurant. So he was kind of trapped.
In the lobby, Mike introduced him to three other men, all in their early to mid twenties and all wearing jeans and t-shirts. Daniel felt out of place in his khakis and stiff white button down shirt.
“This is Daniel. He’s coming with us.”
Two of the men nodded. The shortest one, sporting a flannel shirt over his Beam Me Up Scotty t-shirt, shrugged.
They walked to the parking lot and the four men piled into Mike’s jeep. “Come on. There’s room for all of us.” Mike gestured to the back seat.
Daniel looked skeptically at the cloth roof and narrow back seat, where the guy in the Scotty t-shirt and the one with t-shirt featuring Jack Nicholson’s face in that famous shot from The Shining already sat.
Daniel hated that image, especially Jack’s teeth.
“I’ll just meet you there.” He hurried across the lot to his Civic and buckled himself safely inside.
He could just go home, he realized as they pulled out of the parking lot. Lose Mike in traffic and never see him or any of them again.
But he knew he’d never be able to sleep with an unsatisfied craving for a Hammy, so he followed the jeep of young men to Denny’s.
He’d just eat and leave, he reasoned. He didn’t even have to talk.
The only booth available only fit four people, so Daniel squished up against the window with “Scotty” and a thin guy with glasses beside him.
His favorite waitress, Lola, distributed menus but she didn’t recognize Daniel until she came back to take their orders.
“Moons over My Hammy without Swiss cheese and an orange juice, please.”
Lola jerked her head up and stared at him. “Daniel?”
Her shock didn’t surprise him. He always came alone to the restaurant, every Sunday morning and whenever he thought Lola might be working. She’d never seen him sitting with other people before.
Daniel felt his face grow hot as the group stared at him. The thin guy pushed his glasses up on his nose.
It probably was surprising to them that Lola, a beautiful redhead with a smile that made his heart pound, knew his name.
“Hi Lola,” he said shyly and handed her his menu.
Lola recovered from her astonishment and took the rest of the table’s order. She looked back at him over her shoulder as she went to get their drinks.
Mike leaned across the table to him. “You know that hot waitress? Dude!” He raised his hand for a high five, which Daniel cautiously returned.
Mike went on to list all they ways he thought Lola was hot and how cool it was that Daniel actually knew her.
Daniel basked in Mike’s approval. By the time Lola returned with his orange juice, a coke, a lemonade and two chocolate shakes, he had the courage to meet her eye, and even smile just a little.
She winked at him as she left, earning him another high five from Mike.
After opening straws and sucking on shakes, Mike and his friends began discussing the film they had just seen, going through it scene by scene.
Scotty even had a notebook, where he had jotted down his thoughts while watching the movie.
When Daniel asked him how he could see to write in the dark theater, Scotty pulled out a pen from the pocket of his flannel shirt.
Scotty pointed it at him and clicked a button on the side. A light glowed from the tip of the pen, temporarily blinding Daniel.
“All the critics have them.” Scotty returned the pen to his pocket and went back to the discussion.
Daniel blinked, listening but not participating in the conversation, even when the red headed guy sitting next to Mike misidentified the actress who had played Mrs. Espinoza and no one corrected him.
Mike scooped the last of his shake out of the tin cup and waved the long spoon at Daniel. “We have a club.”
Lola arrived with their meals and they all paused to watch her shuffle the plates onto the placemats.
After she left, Mike shoved a French fry into his mouth and continued. “A bunch of us get together and talk about horror movies.”
Daniel nodded noncommittally and bit into his sandwich.
The rest of the meal passed quickly, the four men discussing other movies and debating the pros and cons of Zombie Strippers and the upcoming release of Twilight, which Mike called “an abomination.”
“Vampires are not supped to be hot teenagers, even in Washington.”
As they left, Mike called out to Daniel. “You should come to our next club meeting, Dan. It’s Monday night at 8. We meet in the basement of the First Church of Christ.”
Daniel gave him a wave and slid into his driver’s seat, relieved to be alone.