Roman glanced up at the Pats game on the TV at New Winslow House of Pizza. The Patriots were slaughtering Baltimore, just like the radio DJs had predicted.
Roman liked football just fine. He was a straight, forty-something man in Massachusetts, of course he followed the Patriots. Even if he was more into the Bruins.
But tonight there was a stranger in the shop who was extremely enthusiastic about the game. Roman has never seen this guy in his life and he was a little concerned that this newcomer might not know about New Winslow and it’s major shortcoming. But the guy was so happy and buying so much food that Roman was reluctant to bring any potential bad news into his life.
A burger, two slices of pizza, a side of fries, and multiple bottles of soda. Roman has told him about the free refills from the fountain, but he’d insisted on bottles.
Roman turned back to the drawer he’d been counting, fishing out a roll of nickles from underneath a pile of pennies. The numbers weren’t adding up. His new cashier seemed to have left the drawer ten dollars short.
“DID YOU SEE THAT?”
Roman dropped the roll of nickles in his hand as he nearly leapt out of his skin. The guy didn’t notice. Instead, he seemed to be doing some kind of ridiculous dance. Almost an elaborate handshake without a second person.
He couldn’t quite tell if the question was directed at him, so he just kind of nodded his agreement and tried to remember where he’d left off counting.
Roman looked up. The guy was looking right at him.
“Can I put in for another mozzarella sticks? Oh, and buffalo wings.”
Roman scrawled down the order on a scrap of paper, then picked up the drawer and walked back to the grill where Celine, his wife and co-owner, was working. She looked up from the sandwich she was making.
“Hey babe,” Roman said. “Table two’s got a couple add-ons.”
“Thanks,” Celine said, taking the paper from him and tucking it into the row of orders slips. “I’ll have it out in a minute. Good game?”
“You can’t tell from the screaming?”
Celine hummed in agreement, already going back to her work. “Let me know if you need anything back here,” Roman said.
He leaned in to kiss her on the cheek, then ducked away before she could swat at him.
The man in the dining room faded from Roman’s mind as business picked up. An hour later, he stood at the pizza bench, pounding out pizza shells and calling out instructions.
“Alright, Charlie, can you check the oven? Order thirty-nine and forty-six should be coming up on this spin. And Tim, you grab that delivery from Celine and get it in the bag for Charlie. He’s going to be taking all three of them. Thanks bud. Oh, and Celine-”
He was cut off by a booming voice from the dining room.
“TOUCHDOWN PATS! God DAMN, they are on fire tonight, man!”
Roman flinched. It was only a matter of time until someone complained. Maybe he should step in while the Pats were still doing well.
“Celine, how’s that fried chicken salad coming?” he said instead.
“Give me a minute, babe,” she said testily from the grill. “I’m drowning here.”
“Sorry, need a hand?”
“Someone grab me some garlic and rolls and I’ll be all set.”
Roman glanced at Tim, who left without a word. From the dining room, he heard a dispairing yell.
“And that was an absolutely gorgeous play by Baltimore, bringing the score almost even with thirty seconds left of the quarter,” the broadcaster was saying on the TV.
“No! God, get your fucking shit together!”
Alright, enough was enough.
“Hey, man,” Roman snapped, his voice carrying into the dining room. “Knock it off, we got kids here.”
“Sorry!” the guy called over. “We’ll be cool!”
He kept his word, at least for a while. As the dinner rush eased, Roman went up front to do some paperwork. He could see the game winding down and the guy still seated in his booth, rapt.
“AND IT’S GOOD! TOUCHDOWN NEW ENGLAND, BRINGING THE FINAL SCORE TO TWENTY-NINE, TWENTY-THREE. THE PATRIOTS WIN!”
And just like that, the guy was whooping and cheering again. Roman looked up from his quarter hourlies and saw him doing that same solo dance again, the elaborate handshake that should have another person on the other end.
Oh well. Not his business.
The guy left a few minutes later, clearing his table and tossing Roman a salute as he walked out. The bell rang cheerfully behind him.
“Wow, those guys were really into the game.”
Roman jumped and turned around. Celine stood there with a bagged order in her hands.
“Yeah…” he said, mind still half on his paperwork.
Then he paused as her words sank in. “Wait…what do you mean, those guys?”
Celine frowned. “The two guys out there watching the Patriots? The ones who have been screaming all night? You literally just watched them leave.”
“What…no, Celine, there was only one guy out there.”
“Are you sure?”
Roman laughed. “I’ve been listening to him for the past few hours, trust me.”
Celine looked at him for a second, then shook her head. “Wow, I’m losing my touch,” she said, scooting behind him to get to the delivery bags. “I could have sworn they were both alive.”
She walked away as Roman slowly set down his clipboard. “Hey, babe?” he called, following after her. “Babe, what do you mean, they were both alive? Celine, wait up!”
Thank you for listening to this special crossover episode of Take the Mass Pike. If you enjoyed it and want to see more of Roman, Celine, and the odd little town they call home, you can read my other series, New Winslow, on Patreon and various other platforms. Or you can purchase the complete first season in paperback or ebook format. Doing so will both support me and the work I do here at Enfield Arts and get you bonus content unavailable on the free series. The links to all of these will be in the show notes.