Lisa walked into the restaurant, crossing her fingers that she would find a quiet booth quickly. She hoped the number of cars in front of the building didn’t mean all the tables were full. Her stomach growled as the various smells of food filled her nostrils. Pushing a hand to her stomach she scanned the interior, noticing that the diner was actually bigger than it appeared from outside. Several tables near the front were filled and half the bar stools were occupied. The noise level told her there were almost certainly diners that she couldn’t see. If the smells were any indication she wouldn’t be surprised if half the town was there.
“Can I help you?”
Lisa started and looked around to see a young waitress who could barely pass for eighteen. The girl had seemed to appear from nowhere. Lisa smiled and nodded while the woman pulled a menu from the podium near the wall. Lisa almost laughed at herself as she followed the waitress through the tables to a booth in the back. She must really be hungry if someone could walk right up to her without her being aware. She noted that the waitress was agile, weaving quickly through the chairs until she stopped at a row of booths.
The waitress laid the menu on a table and pulled out her pen and notepad. Lisa slid into the bench seat and glanced over the drink list, settling on a soda. She watched the waitress walk away before she turned back to the menu gratefully. She tried to concentrate on the words but found it difficult. The pictures did little to help her choose a meal. Pushing the menu away she looked around the restaurant instead. It was moderately decorated with pictures from days long past. Little trinkets and antiques sat on shelves or hung in shadow boxes. A glass was set before Lisa. Blinking she looked up into the waitresses face, her own flushing slightly.
“Do you know what you want?”
Lisa half smiled and quickly decided to ask about the special. She didn’t care much what she ate, as long as it tasted good. She was listening to the waitress ramble though the list of foods when a deep voice chuckled behind them. Both women turned toward the voice.
“Monica why not just tell this lovely lady that the burger with fresh fries is by far the best meal you can get? She looks like she wants to get something quick.”
The waitress stuck her tongue out at the man with a grin. “Mason you just sit over there and wait for your burger. Some people like a touch of variety in their lives.”
Lisa laughed at the friendly banter. Watching the interactions between the people around her reminded her of her last conversation with Becca. Lisa smiled in an attempt to keep from crying. She could see why Becca had gushed about the small town friendliness and camaraderie. She still found it hard to believe that the town was well over 3,000 people.
“I think I may just try that burger.”
“You made a great choice.” Mason nodded to her with a grin after Monica left. “All the food is great of course. But nothing beats a burger fresh from the grill, even if the grill is inside.”
Lisa agreed with a smile of her own, thinking how delicious a burger really did sound. She had given up eating burgers, and nearly all takeout, when she began working for Todd. She had given up a lot to work with Todd. Not that she had minded. Now, she could almost taste the burger and suddenly she minded more than she cared to admit. Her stomach growled again and Lisa pushed a hand over it hoping nobody else could hear.
Mason walked over and slid onto the bench across from Lisa. “They are quick with the food here. Hope you don’t mind me interrupting. My name is Mason Thomas.”
Mason looked at Lisa. “Robbins? Why does that name sound familiar?”
Lisa shrugged, trying to remain low key. “My sister lives around here.” Lisa paused. “Or lived, until recently.”
“Really? Who would be your sister?”
“Her name was Becca.”
Mason looked at her as realization lit his eyes. “Oh.” He looked as if he wanted to reach across the table but he held back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
“You can’t bring back something that hasn’t passed.” Lisa looked down to try to hide the tears that threatened to spill over. She stifled a sniffle and tried to feign tiredness instead.
Mason reached across the table then, touching her arm gently. “Becca? She drove a small white car didn’t she?”
Lisa looked up, taking an unsteady breath as she did, and nodded. “But how did you know?”
Mason shrugged and looked uncomfortable. “Ex paramedic. I was the one that found the accident. I stopped to help. I had seen Jon around town but had never known his name. Or his family. There was nothing I could do for them.”
Lisa dabbed at her eyes with a napkin, not caring who saw anymore. She tried to smile but it faltered slightly. She could tell Mason meant well. But the last thing she wanted to hear were the details of her sister’s death. Instead she thanked him for helping Becca before going silent.
Mason tried to meet Lisa’s smile. But his own seemed weak. So he settled for a companionable silence. He knew she was upset. And he doubted he could offer her the comfort and condolence she needed, especially so soon after the accident. But, he admitted, he’d be willing to try.
Lisa composed herself, grateful for the understanding from the man in front of her. For the first time since he sat down Lisa really looked at Mason. He was tall, much taller than her own 5′8. She could only guess at his height but she was sure he stood at least 6′3. And with his broad, well muscled build he looked as if he could easily be a football player. But with his dark wavy hear and piercing blue eyes combined with rugged features he had the appeal of a model. She wasn’t sure she could picture him sitting in an ambulance for a living.
“I’m sorry if I upset you. That wasn’t my intent.”
He spoke so softly that Lisa almost didn’t hear him. She shook her head. “You did what you could. And you were there for Becca and Jon. I can’t ask for anything else.”
Mason opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by the arrival of their burgers. Monica shook her head. “Mason, you just can’t pass up the chance to meet a beautiful woman can you?” The waitress was smiling as she spoke, but there seemed to be a hint of exasperation in her voice.
Mason shrugged. He knew that Monica meant well with her good natured kidding. And in any other situation he would have laughed it all off. But he was afraid that her kidding may cause more distress this time. He looked over to Lisa briefly and made a quick decision. “Lisa is the sister of the accident victims today.”
Lisa winced at the use of the term ‘victims’ and tried to appear calm. That proved to be harder than she had anticipated when Monica began fret over her. She waved the concern off but her feelings must have been plain on her face because Monica continued to ask after her. She wasn’t sure how much she could handle when Mason interjected.
“Monica, I’m sure Ms. Robbins would prefer to enjoy her meal with as little fuss as possible, considering. Don’t worry, you’ll be just a call away if she needs anything while she’s here.”
The young waitress flushed. “Of course. Just call if you need anything. And Mason, you don’t chase her off you hear me? Or the next reunion at the beach I’ll have a cooler of ice with your name on it.” Before either Mason or Lisa could answer Monica rushed off to the next table, leaving them alone with their meals.
Mason smiled when he turned his attention back to Lisa. “Sorry. Monica means well. But shes probably got the biggest heart in town. She may not be very old but she tends to act like the town mother figure. I suppose it comes from losing her own so early.”
Lisa laughed as she grabbed the ketchup bottle. She really didn’t need a motherly waitress worrying about her. But in a way it made Lisa feel just a little better. Pushing thoughts of why Monica had begun fretting over her from her mind Lisa concentrated on her burger. She had to admit that Mason had been right. The burger had been a perfect choice. And having someone to share it with helped to ease her nerves.
Mason was the first to break the silence. “So how long do you plan to stay in town?”
Lisa shrugged. “I’m not sure. I took a year off work to take care of things.”
Mason’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow, I’d love to have a job like that. I would be lucky to get three weeks off.”
Lisa gave a short laugh. “It isn’t exactly as grand as most people think. But I really didn’t give my boss much choice.”
Mason shook his head as he took another bite of burger. Lisa had to smile. She loved her job. And the opportunities that it had offered. But she often found herself wondering if she wouldn’t enjoy a typical nine-to-five type of job more.
“More drinks?” Monica appeared with fresh glasses and a huge smile. “Half the flavor of a burger is in the drink that accompanies it.”
“Monica, you really are super waitress. We haven’t even finished the first glass.” Mason beamed at the young girl.
“You know me, happy guest means happy boss. Enjoy.”
Lisa marveled at the energy of the young woman as she nibbled on a fry. Maybe she wouldn’t enjoy this job so much. Lisa mentally shook herself. She would have time enough to decide what job was right for her. She had more important issues to handle before she considered a job change.
“You look distracted.”
Lisa snapped back to the present and realized that Mason was laughing at her. She laughed and shook her head. “Just considering a job change. But watching Monica I think I can say it won’t be waitressing.”
Mason shook his head. “I don’t envy her. I thought being a paramedic was rough. But the work Monica does makes me tired.”
Lisa popped the last fry in her mouth and grinned. She could get used to the food here. If the rest of the menu was even half as good as the meal she had just finished she would have to add a workout routine to her list of daily activities. Leaning back against the bench she sipped her drink while she waited for Monica to pass by.
“Let me buy you a desert. I know it sounds clique but the apple pie is delicious. Or if you prefer chocolate, there are enough sweets to satisfy any chocoholic.”
Lisa laughed. “I’m not sure I could eat another bite. As for chocolate, I haven’t had a chocolate desert in at least a year.”
Mason gave a theatrical gasp and clutched his chest in mock horror. “We have to fix that right away.” He signaled for Monica before Lisa could protest. Mason had the order ready before Monica even got to the table. Just as quickly as she saw Monica step into view she was gone again to fetch the deserts that Mason ordered. The man seemed to know everything on the menu.
Lisa had to admit, as the generous slice of chocolate crème pie was placed before her a moment later, she was looking forward to forgetting about her diet rules. At least for a while. She savored every bite and chatted easily with Mason about general topics, temporarily forgetting why she was there in the first place. It seemed so easy to enjoy the evening. But all too soon reality came rushing back. With a sigh Lisa called for the check, announcing that it was time for her to get back.
“So soon?” Mason looked disappointed but hid it quickly. Instead he pulled out his wallet and laid a generous tip on the table, then stood and took both checks from Monica. Lisa began to protest but Mason smiled and handed Monica the cash for both checks. “My treat. Besides, if I don’t pay something every now and then my tab gets cut off. And we can’t have that. I wouldn’t want my darling cousin getting in trouble for serving a freeloader.”
Monica elbowed Mason’s ribs gently and smiled. “Just don’t chase my best tips away and I can handle that tab.”
Lisa laughed, understanding the teasing between the two instantly. Though the friendly banter made her want to stay she needed to return to Becca’s house and begin the task of going through the things there. She still wasn’t sure what would happen to the house itself. But the sooner all the affairs were handled the sooner she could get on with her life, and planning for the life of the baby.
It was late when Lisa arrived at the house, and it felt entirely too empty as she walked through the door. With a sigh Lisa locked the door and turned on a lamp nearby. Shadows danced in the room and Lisa shivered, suddenly wanting nothing more than to curl up in the bed she always used when she visited and block out the rest of the night.