Page 5 of We Were Once

Carrying him into the living room, I decide to set the small black pot on the windowsill. Patting the top, I say, “Have a great day,” and then get dressed for my errands.

When my bag is packed, I lock the door and head downstairs now that the shops are open. Something red grabs my attention on the stairs between the third and second floors. Bending down, I pick it up. The safety pin on the back is bent on the name tag.

Joshua.

Patty’s Diner.

My neck jerks back as if the guy from last night is here in person, his words stuck in my head again—you need balance. Still offended, I consider dumping the tag in the nearest trash can, but since I’m not near one, I drop it in my bag instead and go about my day.

The weather is stuck in summer for a few more weeks—sunny, blue skies, and a gentle breeze. It’s exciting to explore my new neighborhood after living on the other side of campus last year. Ruby found the apartments—a small building with eight units—and we were lucky enough to get the two apartments that take up the third floor. I can’t wait to spend time with her again.

Our relationship is so different from the people I grew up with. My last name gained me entrance to parties back in Newport, but my lack of interest in petty gossip showed me the exit.

I traded friends for grades. That paid off for me, but thank God, I found Ruby. She’s the one person, other than my parents, who has become a constant. I don’t know how I would have survived college without her. Coming from a similar background, she understands the pressure that is inherited with a well-known last name.

I take a breath, keeping my dreams locked safely inside. I don’t have to decide now, so I let it be, not wanting the confrontation that lies ahead to ruin today. Closing my eyes, I inhale deeply and smell the last day of freedom, trying to focus on the positive of my good friend returning.

I browse five stores unsuccessfully, not finding any curtains I like. Continuing to walk down the street, I’ve covered quite a few blocks and begin to feel lethargic. Caffeine wouldn’t be bad either.

A text from Ruby comes in as if she knew I needed an injection of happy: Miss me?

Me: Get here already. I giggle as I wait for her next text.

Ruby: If it were up to me, I would. The going away dinner I didn’t want is tonight. And being a Darrow means nothing less than fancy and over the top. My mom decided she couldn’t do pizza and a movie like I wanted. Nope. All of her friends and their kids must come over. I don’t think they’d even notice if I wasn’t there. Oh! You should come. Hop on a train and save me, Clo.

Me: As delightful as that sounds, not, I don’t have anything to wear to a Darrow affair. Also, I’m getting a jump on the syllabus and plan for a quiet night of studying. Thank you, though.

Ruby: Lucky. Gotta run, but I’ll see you soon.

Me: Have fun tonight.

Ruby: Oh, yeah. Sure. Rub it in.

I tuck the phone in my back pocket and continue my search, switching gears from curtains to caffeine. With no sign of a coffee shop on this block, I settle on a diner up ahead. Diner. The name tag . . . Joshua.

More importantly, coffee.

Yep, according to the red logo on the door, here is the infamous Patty’s Diner. Just underneath that, another sign reads come on in, so I do.

When the waitress calls from a table in the back, “Welcome to Patty’s. Sit anywhere.” Scanning the place, I see it’s fairly packed. Since I need my coffee to go, I hustle over to the counter, getting out of the way of the door.

I take a seat at the end, hanging my bag on a hook under the counter, and wait. I swivel a few times before pulling out the MCAT guide to make use of the extra minutes for studying. Setting it next to the menu pulling double duty as a placemat, I start eyeing the pictures of food, suddenly hungry.

Nope, that’s not why I’m here. Coffee is good. I’ll do my good deed for the day, and then I can grab a sandwich at home. Stick to the plan.

A bony finger that has years of life creased into the knuckle points at the right side of the menu. “These are the specials,” says the waitress who greeted me. When I look up, her dark eyes look tired but still welcoming. Gray and blond strands fall from the clip she has loosely secured at the crown of her head. Despite the other servers wearing jeans and matching T-shirts, she wears her white shirt with a denim skirt instead. “What can I get you?”


Tags: S.L. Scott Romance
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