Jessica stumbled down the unlit road.
It was just after sundown. The hazy deep grey of encroaching night was upon her, and she didn't have much time. Her feet dragged through the gravel at the side of the road as she marched onward.
In the distance she could see the headlights of passing cars. Left to right, and right to left. They all passed by in a blur. People driving south, to Albuquerque. Or else headed north, to Denver. People passing through. Nobody came here. Everyone just... passed through.
She was coming from the east. Along the old dirt road that led to Benjamin's, the old diner. Somehow they remained in business despite changing owners several times that she could remember, and several more from before her time. She could see the sign flickering in the distance. Almost make out the words that she knew read "fresh coffee all night".
She picked up her pace. She had been running for what seemed like forever, though she knew it had been only a few hours. Her pack weighed her down, but she knew she couldn't leave it behind. It had everything she needed in it.
Into the darkening night she ran, bolstered by the sound of the highway. She knew she could get there in just a few more minutes, now that she could hear the passing cars rumble by on the interstate. She wouldn't stop again. She couldn't stop.
The soft chime of the bell on the diner's door flickered through the air. Jessica took a deep breath of relief as a warm motherly voice called out from the back.
"Go ahead and sit anywhere you like. I'll be with you in a minute."
Jessica took a left after the door and grabbed the corner booth. She took off her pack and tossed it into the booth before sliding in next to it. She took a look around. She was alone. Glancing at the clock she noted the time was only 11:47. Still 13 minutes to spare. She had made it.
From the back came Matilda. Everyone knew Matilda. Even people who had never been here before knew Matilda. She was the quintessential late night diner waitress. She'd call you "sugar" and keep the coffee filled and could handle anything that walked through the door to her diner. Everyone knew a Matilda.
Wearing a faded striped shirt of light pink and white, Matilda came out of the door to the kitchen tying her apron around her waist. She glanced left, then right, and saw Jessica in the corner booth. Then when she came closer she saw Jessica. "Honey, you look flushed! What's wrong."
Jessica wiped some sweat from her face on her sleeve. "Nothing's wrong. Not anymore. I made it in time!" She then took a deep breath, realizing how much she struggled to make it now that she had a second. "I'll have a coffee - milk, no sugar - and a slice of pie."
Matilda gave one of those I'm not buying it looks, then said "What kinda pie you want, hun?"
After a moment, Matilda flipped closed her notebook and said "coming right up, hun."
As Matilda headed toward the kitchen, Jessica heard the low squeak of a bicycle's brakes. She looked toward the door and saw Oliver through the window.
It didn't matter that he caught up to her. Not now. She had made it in time.
She glanced to the clock. 11:53. He had made it in time, too. But did he have everything he was supposed to bring?
The bell chimed again and Matilda called "be right there!" as he walked in. He glanced around, saw Jessica, and headed straight towards her with a smile on her face. He sat down across from her, dropping his own bag on the seat next to him.
They looked each other in the eye. Something flickered between them. Neither said a word.
Jessica took out the first item from her pack. A half melted candle. She placed it carefully on the table and looked to him.
He took out his first item. A fishing lure. He looked to her.
She took out a small bag of glitter. He took out a computer mouse.
One item left. From each of them.
Jessica paused, because Matilda had come back with her coffee and a tiny pitcher of milk. She took a curious look around and the strange assortment of items strewn about on her table. "I'll have the same as she ordered" he said before Matilda could ask.
"Sure thing, hun." Matilda said hesitantly.
Jessica looked Oliver in the eyes again. She reached into her pack, with a tear in her eye, and took out a small round disk. A worn and rusted circlet of metal with a hole punched through it.
"I'm sorry, Jessica" he said to her.
"I know" she replied, with no emotion in her voice, despite that which danced in her eyes.
They shared a moment in silence.
Matilda returned with the second cup of coffee. "The pie will be out in a minute" she said to the strange pair.
Oliver raised an eyebrow and Jessica did not answer the unspoken question. "Thank you" they said in unison.
After Matilda walked away, they both took a drink of their coffees and focused. "This is it" Oliver offered.
"This is it" Jessica agreed. A glance at the clock. 11:59. How perfect.
Oliver pulled out a photograph. A poloroid. Taken of Oliver and Jessica, in this same diner, in this same booth. Exactly one year ago.
Their first date had been a beautiful disaster. With dinner being ruined by a burned meal, the movie being laughably overrated, and her car getting a flat driving back to town. While they waited for a tow that would take two hours, they walked the short distance towards the flickering light in the distance only to discover Benjamin's diner.
They both agreed it'd be better to spend the wait in a run-down always-open truck stop diner than to spend it out in the cold, so they went in. They remembered Matilda, though she probably didn't remember them. They remembered laughing until they cried over the silliness of the night. They remembered good, hot coffee and tasty pie with a buttery crust. They remembered being there after midnight when the tow-truck driver finally called. They both remembered, though they didn't admit it to eachother, falling in love right there in that corner booth.
They had gone on more dates. He had taken her fishing. She had taken him to a wine and crafts event. He had taught her his favorite computer games. And she... well, she felt like she lost everything when she had to put her dog down. But he was there for her. She didn't lose him. And they got through it together. They had spent that one night in the dark, by candlelight, when the power went out. And now, a glance at the clock confirmed it was 12:04, they had spent their one year anniversary in the same booth of the same diner where disaster turned into romance.
Matilda set down two steaming pieces of pie in front of the couple as they both felt that warm feeling flicker in their hearts.
About the Creator
Justin is an aspiring writer with a diverse work history. He has a worked a variety of jobs all over the state of California and, to a lesser extent all around the country, and he uses that experience to inspire his writing.