Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Chaser and the Chasee

On Sunday morning, I sat in a back booth of Red's Diner—a diner I owned, I might add—and studied the revised menu I was working on. I glanced toward the door when it opened.
A man dressed in a Marine Sergeant's uniform, rows of colorful ribbons decorating the left side of his chest, strode in, the door closing softly behind him.
Noah Murphy!
My heart lurched, and I dropped the pen in my hand.
He looked around the busy diner, studying the counter, the grill, the huge menu board above it...the booths, and that's when his eyes landed one me.
I gulped.
I bit my bottom lip.
My hands clenched.
The boy I'd chased and loved during high school but eventually lost—a man now deck out in a Marine uniform, only fifteen feet away.
His eyes widened. A smile flashing across his face, he approached slowly. The ten or twelve people eating breakfast in the diner, impressed at the sight of such a handsome man in uniform, turned to watch. When he stood over me, our eyes met, and my face flushed—bright red, I'm sure. His eyes were as blue as ever, his hair as blond as ever.
"May I?" he asked, nodding at the seat opposite me.
"Of course," I said, ignoring my thrashing heart. "The more customers the better."
"It's been awhile, Red," he said. "How have you been? You own the diner—I saw the big neon sign outside."
The sound of my nickname falling from his lips forced tons of memories to flash through my brain, and I touched my curly red hair without thinking. I'd chased Noah as a freshman and sophomore in high school and snagged him as a junior. I worked at the diner before and after school, usually, three or four days a week. The place turned out to be our favorite meeting spot and our hangout.
But by the time we were seniors, Noah had drifted away. He'd found another love, I was left broken hearted, and then he sailed off for a career in the Marines. I'd gone to college, studied business, worked at the diner during summers, and after graduation, with financial help from my folks, took it over.
We chatted as he devoured the breakfast I recommended: scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, coffee, and two pancakes on the side. My treat.
When my heart finally slowed down enough so I could talk straight, I asked point blank, "What are you doing here, Noah?"
"Retiring," he said, wiping his lips with a napkin. "Helping my folks move into assistant living. Buying the house."
"You're going to stay?" My eyebrows inched up. "Live here?"
"For the rest of my life," he said, sitting back. "I've served eight tours in the Middle East. I want peace and quiet"—he studied my face—"and all the other things I'd never found in the Marines."
My eyes flicked to his wedding-ring finger. Bare. I'm sure he'd seen mine was also bare.
"Best breakfast I've had in a long time," he said, and shoved his empty plates aside. "Maybe best ever." Then he smiled. "I owe you."
He left me with nothing more than another smile and a nod.
Abby, my BFF from high school, now my kitchen manager, rushed to take Noah's place across from me in the booth. "Oh my God, Allison!" she said, grabbing my hands, squeezing. "Is that him?"
I gulped again. "Yes."
"I don't think so."
"Don't let him get away this time, girlfriend!"
I'd never married. I'd had chances, but mostly I'd been too busy. I doubted Noah had come back for me. Throughout the twenty years he'd been gone, he'd visited his folks on leave but had never contacted me.
I sighed.
Still, it was great seeing him today, looking so fit and handsome.
The next Sunday, as I sat in that corner booth, tweaking the menu—my usual routine—he strode into the diner again. Dressed in jeans and a Marine T-shirt, he sat across from me.
"Hey," he said, a sheepish look creeping across his face.
"Allison Fisher," he said, his lips working, "I've finally admitted to myself I loved the redheaded girl I knew twenty years ago, the girl who chased me everywhere, the girl I treated so badly." His fingers inched across the table to touch mine. " you think after all this time I could become the chaser? Is there hope?"
I started at him for a long moment. Then I smiled and waved for a waitress. I squeezed his hand.
"We'll talk about it over breakfast," I said, my smile wider as he squeezed my hand back. "I'd love being the chasee this time," I added. "I really would."
The End
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