It had been drizzling rain for hours. Streams coursed down the windowsill. But even so, the rain couldn’t quell the diner’s bustling afternoon completely, it seemed everyone was crazy enough to be out in the light shower much to her dismay.
One of the cooks had called in sick and Jim, her manager, was in dire need of someone to handle desserts. Fortunately for her it was her specialty.
“So are you going to tell me what happened?” Samantha asked.
“What do you want to know?”
“Not every sordid detail, obviously. Just the G rated stuff. It is my big brother we’re talking about after all.” Samantha shivered.
She liked him… really liked him. But more than that, for whatever reason, she trusted him. She had the impression that his world was ordered by a sense of right and wrong, that he had integrity. He wasn’t preoccupied with pretending to be something he wasn’t.
A small smile spread across Aaliyah’s face. “It was...different.”
Samantha raised her eyebrows. “Oh,”
“Not a bad different. Definitely one I’m not going to forget for a long while. Now I just have to figure out how to stay the hell away from him.”
“Why? What do you mean? “A frown marred her brow at the mere suggestion.
“We had our moment, but I’m really hoping this is once and done for him, because...” She let her face fall into her hands as the memory of their night settled over her.
“I don’t know. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind so I don’t really know what to think.” She grabbed a fork and pressed the tines around the rim of the pie shell until there were ridges all around it. “To be honest, Samantha, I don’t know up from down right now.”
“I know you’re hyper focused on everything that’s been going on in your life right now, but if you’re attracted to him, and he’s obviously super attracted to you, why not just go for it?”
“I’ve been to hell and back, Samantha. You know this.”
“Jason isn’t some asshole frat boy. Maybe you should give him a chance.”
Her shoulders slumped and sadness flickered behind her eyes. “I’m scared. I don’t want to go through what I went through again. I was a mess.”
“He’s been through some pretty rough stuff too.” Samantha said.
Aaliyah lifted her gaze to hers.
“Stop waiting for something bad to happen. The best thing you can do is get to know him a little more. Stop trying to control what you can’t control.”
Letting him in scared her, but Samantha had a point. She needed to learn to be more open to it, to trust him as much as she could.
As Aaliyah slid the baking sheet into the oven, she heard the bells on the door jingle behind her. She turned slightly to see Jason come through the door. He was soaked through.
Samantha frowned. “You’re soaking wet.”
Jason draped his jacket over a chair. His hair glistened with droplets of water. “Truck came in; someone had to unload it.”
“You’re going to get sick, Jason.”
“Let me get some towels so you can dry off,” Aaliyah said. She headed to the back and grabbed two towels out of the supply closet. Back in the diner, she found him rubbing a paper napkin over his hair.
“Thanks,” he said, eyeing the towels in her hand.
“Of course.” She handed him the two towels.
She watched him towel his hair dry as he sat on the chair in his usual jeans and shirt as she mopped up the puddle of water from the door to where he’d sat. The normally kempt brown strands looked unruly after being rubbed with the towel and Aaliyah wondered how he managed to look good even when disheveled.
She put away the mop and the mop bucket, and then headed back to Jason’s table and said, “Would you care for something to eat or drink?”
Jason leaned back in his chair and grinned. “Sure. What’s the special today?”
“Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, green beans and a roll.”
“Then I’ll take that,”
“All right, I’ll put the order in.” She smiled and removed the wet towels off the table.
While she waited for Jason’s order to be ready, she bussed tables littered with napkins and cups and water glasses, and carried the gray bus tub back to the sink before pulling out the mini pies from the oven and setting them on the counter to cool. Before she knew it, the bell dinged, signaling Jason’s food was ready.
She grabbed the plate and placed it in front of him and said, “Is there anything else I can get you?”
“Not that I can think of, but you can sit down and keep me company.”
Aaliyah rolled her eyes. “I can’t right now. I’m working.”
He shrugged “Then take a break.”
“I just can’t take breaks whenever I feel like it, Jason. Besides, we’re short staffed today so it’s not a good time.”
Jason leaned forward. “Then how about dinner tonight? My treat.”
Before she could give him an answer Samantha butted into the conversation.
“Oh? Dinner? That sounds nice. You should go, Lia.” Samantha said with a huge grin and gave a thumbs-up sign as she headed towards one of her tables, and Aaliyah gaped after her.
She turned back to Jason who took a bite of his lunch, waiting for an answer.
“Dinner sounds nice, but tonight is not really a good night. I need to grab some household things for the house after work.”
“I’ll take you by the store afterwards. No problem.” Jason shrugged.
She sighed. The man was persistent.
“Okay,” she offered.
After lunch, she cashed Jason out and walked with him to his truck. The rain lessened to a slow drizzle, and the clouds began to break, allowing some light to seep through.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” she said and handed him a small take out box. “I made these apple pies. They’re really good or at least everyone has been telling me they are. I got one for you and Lucas before they were all gone.”
“Thanks,” he said, and he smiled back at her appreciatively. “So, I’ll pick you up after work?”
Before she could say anything she spotted a vespa being rolled out to the front of the store across the street.
“Hold onto that thought.”
Aaliyah held up her finger, gesturing for Jason to wait and checked both directions for any incoming traffic before jogging to the other side of the road.
She stepped under the store canopy and over to the Vespa. It was a beautiful midnight blue with a black helmet dangling from the handlebar. She’d always wanted to own one and even now she couldn’t resist running her fingers over the beige seat.
An older gentleman was sitting out front in a rocking chair.
“Excuse me, sir?” Aaliyah asked. “How much is this?”
“I was asking 4000, but you got a nice face. 3500.”
Aaliyah bit her lip, contemplating whether or not she should buy the Vespa. Walking was beginning to take its toll on her. She was tired when she walked home, and in the morning her legs and feet often ached. However, she was afraid to deplete all the money she had saved during her time in Port Isabel. What if Nathan found her? What if she needed to quickly get away but didn’t have the necessary funds to do so?
“Do you think you could hold this for me?” She asked. “I can pay you half now and the rest in payments, I mean until it’s paid off. It’s just money is a little tight right now…”
He pointed to the sign on the window. “Did you not read the sign? Cash only. I don’t have a layaway.”
Sadness swept her features. “Oh. Um...Okay. Well—”
She turned to see Jason running up to them. He pointed over to the Vespa. “How much for the Vespa?”
“For you my friend, $3000.”
Aaliyah’s eyes widen. “What? But you just—”
Jason held up a hand to cut her off and gave her a reassuring smile before turning back to the older gentleman. “Title on hand?”
“Of course,” he said. “You want to test drive first?”
“Nah, I know you’re good for it.” Jason said. “Will you take a check?”
“For you, of course.”
“Great,” Jason reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet and pulled out a folded check.
Aaliyah’s eyes widen.
“Jason. What are you doing?”
“Getting you the Vespa.” He said simply as he began filling out the check.
She gaped at him in shock, frozen to the spot. She blinked before finding her voice. “Absolutely not.”
She reached for the check in his hand, eager to tear it into shreds, but he lifted his arm in the air. Jason held the check up high out of Aaliyah’s reach.
“It’s okay,” she reassured, reaching up towards his hand. “I’ll just save up a little more until I can afford it. It’s fine. Really. It’ll be okay.”
“I can give you the money, Lia. I have savings.” Jason said.
She shook her head. “No. No. I can’t let you do that. I would never take your savings.”
“I want to.”
“You hardly even know me!” She exclaimed.
“I know you enough to know you’re good at keeping your word,” he said, grinning. “Besides, why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?”
“Look. having somebody help you doesn’t mean that you failed,” Jason murmured, gazing down at her. “It just means that you’re not in it alone.” He’s no longer grinning, but serious.
She frowned at him, at a loss what to say. The thought was very sobering, and she softened toward the Vespa, feeling guilty about her fit of pique. His intentions were good, misguided, but not from a bad place.
Finally she said, “Okay, but it can’t be a gift. I won’t take it unless you loan this to me.”
He sighs heavily. “Okay. On loan. Indefinitely.”
“You two sound like an old married couple,” added Charlie. “And I should know, because my wife-Godbless her soul-and I talked like that to each other for 55 years.”
Aaliyah flushed bright scarlet and glanced quickly at Jason, who was smiling benignly at Charlie.
“You think? Jason laughed as he handed him the check, and followed Charlie inside the store to retrieve the key and title. After a moment, Jason returned and stood in front of her.
“Here.” He handed her the key. “You sure you know how to drive one of these things?”
She hopped onto the scooter and started the engine. “A friend of mine used to have one. I learned everything from her.”
“Good. So I don’t have to worry about you crashing into that pole as soon as you leave this parking lot.”
Aaliyah laughed. “No, you don’t have to worry about that. I’m a pretty good driver.” She said, and turned to face him. “Whaddya think. Does it suit me?” “You’d need a helmet for that.” Jason walked toward her and removed the helmet from the handle. He slipped it on her and gave her a little pat on the top of the head. “Now it suits you.” She smiled broadly, obviously pleased by that.
“Thank you,” she said again. “Really. I love it.”
“No problem,” he said. “So...about that dinner?”
“Okay, but it’s my treat.”