[a work in progress]
Matt circled the building before finding a parking spot. He wasn’t expecting Danberry’s to be so busy; but with everything that had happened, he forgot it was Friday night. He locked the car, wondering if he would even recognize Jeff Fowler after ten years. Back then he was everything you’d expect of a star athlete – including the perfect, chiseled body and better-than-everyone attitude.
“Well this should be fun.” He half-whispered with a sigh as he crossed the parking lot and walked into the restaurant.
He scanned the room but didn’t see anyone he thought could be them, so he sat down in one of the only empty booths and checked the time on his phone. 6:32. Good; at least he wasn’t late.
“Can I get ya somethin’ to drink?” A pleasant blond lifted the salt and pepper shakers and wiped the table top down as she spoke. She had the demeanor and calves of a cheerleader.
“Oh, I’m waiting on some more people.”
“I’ll bring you some menus and waters. How many?”
Matt nervously checked the time again and looked up to see Jeff rushing through the door. He hadn’t changed much since school, but he wore the telltale signs of a grieving widower; his eyes were dark and heavy, his strong jaw covered with several days of unkempt scruff. It was pretty obvious that he’d been wearing the same clothes for a couple of days, but he didn’t look dirty, just timeworn.
Jeff held the door open and was followed by a slow-moving boy with the most unwieldy double cowlick Matt had seen since his own childhood. He stood and raised a hand to wave at the pair as they made their way across the restaurant.
“Matt! Hi!” Jeff’s exuberant greeting didn’t do anything to hide his exhaustion.
“Hey Jeff. Long time, man.”
Matt reached out to shake his hand, but Jeff pulled him into a hug.
“Really glad you could meet up today. Danny’s been begging for ice cream all week.” Jeff turned to the boy, “Dan, can you say hello to Mr. Matt?”
“Can we have ice cream now? The wifi is always broken here, but butter pecan is my favorite-favorite.” Danny climbed into the booth, his eyes never leaving the iPad in his hands.
“No way! It’s my favoritest too. Sometimes I eat it for dinner.”
The kid looked up without moving his head. “That’s not even a word.” His eyes immediately went back to the screen.
Matt glanced over at Jeff and saw a smile on his face. “But probably not tonight, ‘cause I’m pretty hungry for a burger.”
They ordered their food and then two men sat looking across the table at each other in nervous silence. Matt swiped the moisture from the outside of his water cup and looked away nervously.
“Come onnnnnn! The Doctor says you can’t cross your own timeline. DUH! I’m a kid and even I know that. Plot hole much?” Danny threw his head back dramatically, then immediately went back to watching the video as though nothing had happened.
“He’s capital O obsessed with Doctor Who. I try to keep up but the sci-fi stuff was Cassie’s thing…” Jeff’s voice dropped off abruptly. He cleared his throat and brought back a well-rehearsed smile. “So what do you do, Matt?”
“I’m a graphic artist. Mostly book covers, band posters, that kind of thing. It’s not where I wanted to be at 27, but hey, it pays the bills.”
Their food arrived and Danny reached for the salt.
“Not too much, kiddo.”
“Yes, Daddy-daddyo. Not tooooooo much.” With a fiendish grin, Danny shook a liberal amount onto his fries. “But how much is too much?”
“Artist, huh? That’s got to be pretty cool though, right? Maybe we could see some of your work sometime?”
The conversation lulled as the trio ate their dinner, followed by the long-promised ice cream. They stepped out into the unseasonably cool September evening and said goodbye. As Jeff opened the door to get Danny situated in the car, Matt turned and walked toward his.
“Hey, this was nice. Thanks for coming out, Matt.”
“Yeah, it was cool. We should do it again.” He looked back and smiled at Jeff, then got in and closed the door, waving over his shoulder as he watched them drive away in the rear view.
Matt rested his forehead on the steering wheel for a moment before aiming his car toward home. He just had dinner with his son.