The next day found her bustling around at noon in the space of the diner, attending to the afternoon rush.
Neva pushed the hair away from her face and pinned the strands to the side of her head, making sure they stayed this time. She smiled at the couple she was serving, making small talk as she served them their order.
She was already five hours into her shift and her feet were aching.
Making sure that the sweet elderly couple had everything they needed, she gave them a bright smile again and went to get the next order for the other table.
She liked the work so far. It wasn’t too stressful, but it wasn’t easy either. She had had the chance to speak to a couple of other girls that had their shift at the same time, and they seemed friendly too. She was happy that she was off to a good start.
She had already made more than fifty dollars in tips because she had taken the efforts to serve her tables well. Neva tightened the red apron around her waist and got back to the table that had a family of three. The little girl looked to be around three or four years old and was so cute, Neva wanted to hold her.
When she laid the plates on the table, the girl looked up shyly at her and gave her a beautiful smile. Neva’s heart almost burst with the need to pick her up and cuddle her.
Instead, she patted the pocket of her apron, keeping her eyes on the little girl and then frowning as though she couldn’t find something. It made the child sit up straight, looking at her eagerly, her bright blue eyes wide. Her parents smiled at the display, shooting Neva grateful looks.
Then she quickly dipped her hand in her pocket and took out a red lollipop, feigning surprise and handing it to the child, who clapped with happiness and gave Neva another shy smile. Her mother was smiling so profusely, that Neva was happy she took the time to grab the candy from the register on her way there.
The rest of her shift passed by in a blur.
She waited tables, brought out orders and then wiped the surfaces, making sure everything was clean.
By the time she was done, there wasn’t a muscle in her body that wasn’t already sore.
She picked her bag from the room at the back and waved goodbye to the rest of the staff, cradling her takeout box that had her dinner in it, to her chest, as she fished out her mobile phone to check her messages.
There was one from her sister, asking her how her first day at work had gone. Neva locked her phone and put it back into her purse, deciding to respond when she got back home.
She unclipped the hair that she had pinned before, letting the strands fall around her face.
The weather was pleasant in Minnesota at this time of September and she didn’t need to carry a coat with her everywhere she went.
She made her way down the street, heading toward her apartment. People were everywhere, taking their lunch breaks, rushing in and out of restaurants, takeout boxes in their hands.
She smiled to herself.
This was it.
This would be her new life.
Granted that it wasn’t going to be easy, she still was beginning to love it.
She had her own apartment. She had a job. She was soon going to have a better one. Last night, she had began preparing her resume to apply for the position of a Business Development Associate. She already had some experience under her belt and she was sure that it wouldn’t be impossible to find a role that suited her present skillset.
Neva winced at the sudden pain that shot through her right side. She stopped in the middle of the path and held her side, willing the pain to go away.
She took a deep breath, pushing it down, as she stepped toward a wooden bench close to her.
She sat down and clutched at it. Damn it, she had exerted herself at work.
The doctor had said she’d need around eight to ten weeks to get back on her feet without any danger of it hurting again. Neva took another deep breath and stood. The pain was already beginning to lessen. Another two weeks of adequate rest and she’d be as good as new.
She picked her food again and began walking. When she turned around a corner, she didn’t pay attention, holding onto her side, and bumped into the person coming in the opposite direction.
“I’m so sorry!” she put her arm out, looking up to apologize.
Dark green eyes stared down at her and her breath froze in her lungs.
“Neva,” Grayson’s deep voice rolled over her, blocking out everything else. Blocking out the pain in her side and her feet.
He was dressed in a full-sleeved black shirt and black sweats. His skin shone lightly with perspiration. Neva realized that she had just interrupted his workout.
“Hey, Grayson, I’m sorry for bumping into you like that,” she apologized, noting suddenly that he had his hands on her upper arms. He must have reached out to keep her from falling.
His chest rose and fell in rapid succession. He was breathing hard. And yet, when he spoke to her, he didn’t seem to be out of breath.
So that was how he was in such excellent shape, she mused.
Grayson’s eyes travelled over her. He stiffened when he saw her clutching her side. Worry flickered in his eyes.
“Did I hurt you?” his voice was low with concern.
She quickly shook her head, “No, that wasn’t you. I just overworked myself,”
She saw his handsome face develop a frown.
“Where are you headed?”
She pointed down the road, “I live around ten minutes from here,”
He looked in that direction and then let her go, taking her takeout box from her. Neva was too surprised to react.
“I’ll walk you home,” he said in an implacable tone.
She frowned. “What? No. You’re in the middle of jogging.. or running or whatever it is that you were doing, you don’t need to-“
He took her arm and fell into step beside her.
“I know I don’t need to, Neva.” He looked down at her, with an intensity that made her pause. “I want to,” he said simply.
She swallowed. He looked back at the path and then lead her ahead.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. She saw him glance at her.
After a long moment, he asked, “So, how was your first day?”
Neva pushed her bag up her shoulder, “It was great actually, I just got off my shift and I have a day off tomorrow so yayy!” she said brightly, “Do you live in the neighborhood?” She looked up at him, noticing that he was already staring at her.
He smiled, “Yeah, I live a few blocks away. I’m glad to hear that you had a good work day though,” he looked at the takeout box. “Dinner?” he asked.
She nodded, “Yeah, it’s some pasta and a salad.”
Then she continued, “You’re welcome to have it, actually. As a thank you for walking me home,” she gave him a smile, suddenly conscious that she was still dressed in her work uniform that wasn’t flattering.
The smile vanished from his face and he looked at her thoughtfully.
“Fair enough,” he said solemnly. “But I think I have a better idea.”
“What’s that?” she asked, delighted when he stepped just a little bit closer to her.
He looked at her and then grinned, “You’ll see.”