Snow fell outside as winter’s cold touch frosted the pane of glass next to her. She wrapped her hands more tightly around her coffee cup as she sipped and peered into the velvety dark of an empty street. Other than the cook and a waitress, she was alone in the all-night diner. She wished she wasn’t, but she was. Her mind drifted back to another night just like this one. Just like this one it had been close to midnight on Christmas Eve.
She’d been on top of the world then. After three years of hard work and loneliness, she’d been offered a promotion in an exciting city away from this bland town and she’d accepted it. Her things had been moved and she had just finished up final details on a day when everyone else was home or at church celebrating. She’d passed the little diner and decided to stop for a hot cup of coffee to warm her fingers, for though future’s promise held some light, the night was bitterly cold.
Her fingers had just begun to thaw when he walked in and cheerfulness suddenly filled the room, touching everyone including her. He hailed the cook and the cook waved back with his spatula. He got the waitress talking, and marveled at her two children’s accomplishments. He told a joke and the two workmen at the counter joked back, laughing.
As he was served his bacon and eggs, their eyes met; and he’d motioned her to join him. And in two hours that felt both like a lifetime and no time at all, she learned he was leaving – as she was – in the morning. Yet it wasn’t for an exciting city, but a dusty country where he would fight for someone else’s freedom and, perhaps, for a freedom she daily took for granted. And they had agreed that night, that, barring other relationships or death, they would meet here again in five years to the minute.
Those five years had been good. She’d met with success. She’d made some friends, friendly acquaintances really. But a life filled with trivial things holds little satisfaction, and she’d learned that, like everyone else, she was not without a yearning to go below surface amusements.
Oh, she’d made an effort to find him. She’d tracked his name down every possible avenue, but had come up empty. Maybe she’d been had. His easy manner invited trust, but perhaps it was a ruse. She’d chided herself, but she couldn’t forget that night five years ago nor their easy conversation nor the depth of his gray-green eyes nor the way his left eye squinted when he smiled. Nor their promise.
And here she was. Little had changed in this old town, but somehow it pulled her back. She’d even come a few days early and curiously perused real estate listings.
The dark night whispered doubt and tragedy. Minus the occasional clatter of dishes, it was too quiet. She had been foolish to think about it at all. She should have left it, as he most certainly had, in the booth as she walked out the door. She should have left the memory. She should have forgotten the promise.
She squinted again into the darkness, then down into her steaming coffee. She closed her eyes and held the cup to her cheek. Please. Life had to hold more than what she’d experienced. Please, on this night when all the world somehow knew hope was real and love wasn’t just for the fortunate, let him remember. Let him care. Let him come.
The bell on the door jingled. She opened her eyes and they met his: gray and green and deep as the sea.
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