Part one -- Summer
Part one – Summer
The diner was deserted, like it always was at this hour. The long, light hours of the day had given way to the sparkling stars and inky sky. It was a nice night out, one of those summer nights where friendships were forged around bonfires and couples stole glances and kisses. I did neither. Never had and most likely never would. Even though I didn't participate in the summer delight, I enjoyed the simmering heat and light clothes that came with it nonetheless. The nights in the diner were boring and long but it hardly bothered me. I cleaned out the salt shakers, finally scrubbed the nasty tables in the back and observed the few people that stumbled in here to grab a quick bite. There hadn't been anyone in two hours and I briefly wondered how long I would be able to keep my night job here. Business was slow at night, especially in summer because everybody chose the cool night air over a dingy, sticky diner. I could hardly blame them. When the door of the diner opened I was shaken from my reverie. A gangly young man entered. Despite the sweltering heat out he wore a wool scarf and an oversized sweater. He settled at the bar, furthest from where I was filling the coffee machine. He seemed somewhat socially awkward and barely glanced at me on the way in. I eyed the gangly man before turning to Jonah, the night cook. He was in his fifties and recently got divorced, so he worked night shifts here next to his day job in a restaurant down the road. It was mostly just us and I liked it that way. He nodded quietly towards the man and I moved to serve him after a long pause.
'Good evening, what can I get you?'
The young man looked up in bewilderment, having been in a firm fight with the laptop bag he was carrying. I closed my mouth again. Letting him gather his bearings while I eyed the scene before me. He had long black curls that he kept pushing back but that still hopelessly flopped over the rims of his glasses as soon as he let go. His nose was long and hooked and his mouth slightly opened. I could see the corner of a silver laptop poking out from his bag.
'Oh, I eh... A coffee please.'
The young man made eye contact after twisting and turning his hands several times. His eyes was what struck me. Electric blue. I nodded. Too dumbfounded to reply. I broke eye contact first, turning around and creating as much space as possible between me and the tall, blue-eyed man. I activated the coffee machine and watched as it grinded the beans I had just poured in moments before the entry of the mysterious man. Behind me I could hear Jonah tinkering away in the kitchen, humming softly to the radio. I took a risk and turned my head slightly as to see the man again. He had gotten out his laptop and was now typing away at it furiously, not paying heed to me or Jonah. Undisturbed and unbothered. I was already dreading the moment where I would have to burst his bubble to get him his coffee. The machine finished and I picked up the cup containing the scalding hot beverage. The owner would reprimand me for not using the regular coffee makers, but this was faster and cheaper, seeing as there was only one customer. One customer would never drink a full pot of coffee. I approached the part of the bar where the man was settled. He was still typing away, the loud taps on the keyboard echoing off the dryboard walls of the diner. He didnt look up when I settled the coffee next to his laptop. He just nodded and kept writing. All of the sudden I felt a pang of curiosity. What could possibly peak this young gangly boy's interest this much? I sat down on my usual chair as I pondered. Was he still a college student? There are plenty of those in New York. He seemed a tad bit too old for it. A popular blogger? Probably not. News reporter? Nah.
'Hey, sweet pea, can you give me a hand?'
Jonah had his head poked out of the kitchen space and was looking at me somewhat bemused. He had noticed me looking at the man. I nodded slightly, silently passing through the sliding doors that lead to the kitchen before moving to stand in front of Jonah, my arms crossed.
'Alright, what can I do.'
'Well you can stop gawking at that poor young man for one.'
I snorted. I wasn't gawking. I was just politely observing the one stranger that had ventured into the diner at this time of night.
'I need you to try this.'
I looked at the dirty pots and pans on the counter, and then the one still on the fire. I could see the reddish contents bubbling in its little home and I felt my stomach growl just a little bit. We both knew Jonah shouldn't be cooking if it wasn't necessary for the customer. We had been reprimanded before.
'Jonah you know you can't cook if there are no customers to eat it. What if mister Gardener finds out?'
'Relax I brought my own food, just give it a try.'
I bent over the pot on the fire and took a quick sniff. This, without a doubt smelled amazing. I instantly felt like home and couldn't help but lean in a little more. I heard Jonah giggle.
'What is it?'
'Just a stew with some secret ingredients, I knew you'd like it. My mother taught me to make this at a very young age. I changed some things up but a stew is a stew and it feels like home.'
I had forgotten that Jonah's mother was Russian and that he had lived in Russia most of his childhood. He had perfected his America accent and it was easy to forget he came from anywhere other than here. I knew his mother had awakened his passion for cooking, he always told me about it in the long nights we spent mostly alone in the diner. Jonah passed me a spoon and I tasted it.
'This. Is amazing. Honestly!'
It truly was. It hadn't only smelled like home, it tasted like it too. I suddenly longed for the long nights I spent with my parents in front of the fireplace and the Christmas mornings around the brightly lit tree. I was surprised that food could make me feel like this even in the heat of this summer. I never imagined that it could. I watched mutely as Jonah scooped up some of the stew in a bowl and handed it to me.
'Go give that to lover boy, I need another take on it.'
I knew I shouldn't, it wasn't policy at the diner and I was not looking forward to facing the young, somewhat weird man again. Jonah wasn't taking no for an answer so within moments he had pushed me back through the door and into the diner. I struggled to keep the stew in the bowl as I sighed exasperatedly. I guess there was no turning back now. I eyed him once more. He was still focused on his laptop, he had seized the frantic typing and now seemed to be proofreading his writings. His coffee stood, forgotten and cold on the counter. I took another step. He still didn't notice. I soon reached the part of the bar where he was sitting down and coughed softly to get his attention. Nothing. I coughed again, my cheeks burning and softly wondering why I, a social wreck, had ever become a waitress. He looked up. His eyes meeting mine before sliding down to look at the bowl that was still in my hands.
'I, eh... The cook has been experimenting he'd like your take on it.'
His eyes met mine again and he seemed to try and make sense of me for a moment, silent as ever. I felt my cheeks become redder and redder by the minute. A hint of a shy smile graced his face before he nodded and said thanks. I placed the bowl in front of him quickly. The curly haired man grasped it and the spoon I offered him soon after. I couldn't help but hold my breath as he took the first bite. His face lit up and he savored the bite before finally swallowing.
'You can tell the cook it's good. Amazing even. I doubt I could give him the right words to describe the taste.'
'It tastes like home.'
I had spoken without realizing and wished I could disappear into a hole in the ground for a moment. I was never one to speak so brashly, never had and never would. Until now that was. The man seemed to agree with me as he nodded and added;
'Yes. I suppose it does.'
My nerves were shot but I felt a rush of heat when he agreed with me. I turned around and started back to the kitchen before stopping and turning around to face the blue-eyed man again. He was still holding the bowl, scooping up another bite. I gathered all my nerve and spoke.
'Who can I say approved of the stew?'
'Matthew. You can say Matthew approved.'