"There is no peace," says God, "for the wicked." Isaiah 48:22 (MSG)
The pizza joint was packed after a high school basketball gang and I was there with a bunch of my friends. I was the youngest of the group of teen boys. It was loud. It was smokey (you could smoke anywhere in public in those days), and it was extremely busy with teenagers and families celebrating the basketball team's victory.
I don't remember there being any discussion. In the midst of the din, the eldest of my group of friends looked around and said "Let's go." We got up and followed him out of the restaurant without paying the check. I still remember the look on his face and his laughter as the group reveled in pulling one over on the restaurant. We all laughed as we sprinted towards my friend's house, but underneath the laughter my conscience had already kicked in.
I remember hating that night. Guilt and shame have a way of magnifying paranoia, anxiety and fear to ridiculously huge proportions. I spent the night at my friends house in utter fear of police raiding the house and hauling me off to jail. I can still remember the panic in my head each time I heard a police siren in the distance.
There is no peace for the wicked.
It was about four years later that I stopped by the pizza joint after school and asked to speak with the manager. I still remember his confused expression as I explained what I'd done and handed him money from my paycheck to cover the old debt, and then some. The look on his face told me he thought I was crazy. I'm sure people walk out on checks regularly, especially teenagers, and it's all part of the daily routine of the restaurant business. Looking back now, 30 years later, I laugh at the silliness of it myself. But it taught me a good lesson.
Do the right thing. You sleep better.