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A Beleaguered Busboy Gets an Unexpected Invitation

I bolted through the swinging door that divided the restaurant's kitchen and dining room, still buttoning my cuffs. The wonderful aroma of cooking made my stomach rumble with hunger, but before I could snatch so much as a piece of cheese, my mom's words stopped me cold.

She looked up from the pot of rich mushroom soup she was stirring, pushed her hair off her flushed face, and smiled. ''Josh,'' she said, ''I've booked a big party for Friday night. Don't miss the bus that day. I'm going to need your help setting up and clearing tables.''

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The emptiness in my stomach wasn't from hunger anymore. Her words hit me like a doubled-up fist. I didn't answer her; I couldn't answer her. I turned and headed for the dining room to finish setting tables. Coming through the door at top speed, I nearly collided with one of the waitresses, Sofie. I was glad it was Sofie and not her sharper-tongued twin sister, Sadie.

Now Sofie said, ''Slow down, Josh,'' smiling and shaking her finger in mock anger.

''Sorry,'' I mumbled as I grabbed a stack of napkins.

Not Friday night, I thought. Any night but Friday. I had seen the small white envelope on my book when I got to English class this morning.

That little envelope held the first invitation I'd had in the year and a half since I've lived in this small town. That ''small town friendliness'' everyone talks about seemed to be just that: all talk! I was the proverbial new kid. Being invited to Jenny's party made me feel great, just great.

At the same time, I wondered why Jenny had invited me. She'd never even spoken to me. Once I thought she wanted to say something as I had passed her on the bus. I'd even slowed down when I noticed her looking at me with those big brown eyes she has. No luck, though. If she never talked to me, how could she know what a great guy I was? Maybe at the party it would be different. Yes. It would be a fantastic night. I just knew it.

That afternoon, I'd missed the bus again. Missing it was becoming a habit. I knew Mom would be looking at the clock, watching it, and just knowing why I was late.

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I didn't mind the walk home, as I had the party to think about.

When I rounded the bend, I could see the small building that housed the restaurant Mom ran. Lots of local people came there to eat. I helped out by being the one and only busboy. Sometimes I'd see kids from school eating with their parents, but they usually ignored me, acting as though they had never seen me before.

Before I could tell Mom about the party invitation, she'd said, ''Hurry up, Josh. Go get cleaned up and set those tables before customers start arriving.''

She was slicing apple strudel, still warm, golden, and inviting looking. I raced upstairs empty handed. In a flash I was flying down the steep stairway from our living quarters looking like the busboy Mom wanted: face clean, hair slicked back, and wearing a white shirt and a tie.

And now, here I was setting tables in record time, so fast that Sadie barked at me to save the crystal and silver because my mom couldn't afford to buy more. She slammed the water pitcher on the table for emphasis.

Sofie whispered to me as she passed, ''Don't take her words to heart, Josh. She doesn't really mean it.''

All I could think about was Friday night and Jenny's party.

I could picture the whole thing like slides on a movie screen. It would be the night Jenny would finally talk to me.

Couldn't Sofie and Sadie do the busboy bit one night, I wondered, as I added water glasses to the silver and napkins on the tables.

I'd just have to tell Mom I couldn't work Friday. I pushed through the swinging door with that purpose in mind.

Mom looked up from the spicy rib sauce she was making and said, ''Josh, sometimes I wonder how I'd be able to do all this if I couldn't depend on your help so much. You will be sure to make the bus on Friday, won't you?''

Running a restaurant is more than just cooking. She spends a lot of time worrying, even though she tries to hide it from me. Funny thing is, I worry about her, too.

So, what could I say but, ''Sure Mom, I'll be here right on time.''

I picked up a tray of food and hurried back through the door.

Looks like I'll have to find another way to have my first conversation with Jenny, I thought.

Just then, Sadie stormed up to me, and, in her gruff way, said, ''I don't suppose you would want to come over to our place Sunday night and meet our grandniece, Jenny, would you? She keeps asking us about you. Why, I'll never know, but come if you want to.''

She turned to go, then hollered back, ''Six o'clock and be on time!''

It was the nicest thing she'd ever said to me.

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