He hesitates only a moment before pushing open the door to Lucky’s Diner. The regular night waitress greets him with a tone unnaturally chipper for the time of night.
“Evening Luann,” he says as he glances around the empty diner. He is about to head for his usual spot at the counter when he notices a lone patron in a booth just beyond the register. Instinctively, he knows it’s the person he was hoping for.
He quietly slides into the booth opposite the woman. She lowers the book she was reading and smiles shyly.
He can’t stop the foolish grin from spreading, “I wasn’t sure if I’d find you here.”
“Well, here I am.”
He notices she has ordered nothing as the waitress approaches the booth.
“What can I get’cha, Carl?” Luann’s voice has a thick Louisiana twang that reminds him of his grandmother.
“BLT on rye and a coffee.”
Luann turns her attention to Summer, “Have you decided if you’re staying?”
Carl watches her cheeks flush pink, “Oh! Yes. I’ll have a tuna melt. Wheat bread, please. And an iced tea.”
Summer’s eyes drop to the table as Luann walks away.
“You told Luann you weren’t sure if you were staying?”
She nods, “Up until the moment you sat down, I wasn’t sure I should be here.”
“Up until? So, you’re sure now?” His brows furrow.
She raises her eyes to look at him. His green eyes are kind and hopeful, with fine wrinkles around the edges. She spends too much time looking at him.
Her yes is a whisper that causes his eyes to crinkle as his smile returns.
Luann returns to pour coffee and slides a tall glass of iced tea to Summer. They are silent until she walks away.
“So tell me about this party.”
Summer groans, “It was a terrible idea. I went with a girl from work. She’s twenty-three and the party was at her boyfriend’s house. I thought it would be nice to get out and, you know, have fun. Between work and taking care of my son, I don’t really take a lot of time for myself.
But as soon as I got there, I knew it was wrong. There were kegs and frat boys and I couldn’t hear myself think from the bass in whatever music they were playing. The girl from work disappeared right after we arrived. I was the oldest person in the house. Possibly the only parent. I was upset with myself for going. Then, my babysitter sends me a text message with a picture of my son. He was just sitting on the couch watching a movie and eating popcorn. It looked so…comfy. I wanted to be there. But she’d sent the picture after he’d gone to bed, so I couldn’t even make up for my mistake.”
Carl nods and watches her face as she talks. Her brown eyes are sad and tired. He watches her prop her chin on her wrist as she takes a sip of her iced tea.
“It was stupid to be speeding home anyway. He was asleep. I very well wasn’t going to wake him up just to cuddle on the couch.”
She is looking wistfully out the window next to the booth. He follows her gaze, but doesn’t see what captures her attention.
“I know it can be hard.” Carl’s voice doesn’t break her gaze, but he knows she is listening. “I work the graveyard shift. I sleep while Becky is at school, and then I have some time in the afternoon with her. But I don’t have a lot of time for myself. Sometimes I remember what it was like when I was younger, and part of me wants that ability to be spontaneous back. But, instead, I have Becky.” He pauses as Summer turns towards him, “And I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.”
Summer smiles, “I figured that out tonight. I don’t want to be that party girl from college again. I want to be Charlie’s mom.”
Carl reaches across the table and gently takes Summer’s hand from under her chin. She looks and sees herself reflected in his eyes.
“But you don’t have to be just Charlie’s mom.” And she knows exactly what he means.
I thought this was going to be a short story, but you asked for more. This is what I came up with.