It’s been six years since Jenna had Lulu. Six years since she’d told Earl she wanted a divorce. Six years since she’d broken things off with Dr. Pomatter. Six years since she’d been left Joe’s Pie Diner by Old Joe. Five years since she’d gotten her own apartment for her and Lulu. Four years since she’d renamed the diner to Lulu’s Pies. Three years since she’d last had to see Earl before he got carted off to prison for violating the terms of their divorce and the restraining order. Two years since she’d won the National Pie Contest in Springfield. One year since Lulu had started pre-school.
And now? Now, she was happy. More than happy enough.
That was in jeopardy as soon as a tall, dark-haired man stepped into the diner one slow Wednesday morning and stopped Jenna in her tracks. Luckily he hadn’t seen her yet, so she quickly ducked underneath the counter and backed towards the kitchen. Becky came walking out of the kitchen and almost ran into Jenna but stopped as she saw who was standing in the entrance of the diner.
“Oh, shit!” she whispered, dragging Jenna back into the kitchen with her. Cal gave them an annoyed look but kept to cooking the next breakfast order as Dawn was taking a couple’s order in her section.
Jenna and Becky peered out the windows of the double doors at the man, ducking when he turned his head their way. “What the hell is he doing here, Jenna?” Becky asked accusingly.
“I don’t know!” Jenna flailed. “I-I haven’t even seen him since Lulu was born and I ended it!”
Becky peeked back out of the window. “Well it looks like poor Dawn’s serving him now. What are you going to do? You can’t hide in here until he leaves!”
“I know that, Becky! Oh shit, what am I going to do?” Jenna muttered.
“Don’t ask me, Jenna! I gotta get back out there or Cal’s going to be mad, sorry girl,” Becky replied, pushing the door open and stepping back out onto the floor and clearly avoiding looking at the man sitting at the table on the far side of the diner.
Dawn rushed over to her at the pickup window, bouncing with nervous energy. “Becky, I just took that nice man sitting in Jenna’s section’s order for her, where is she?”
Becky whispered back, “She’s hiding in the kitchen and freaking out!”
“Because that nice man is Dr. Pomatter!”
“Oh, oh, no.”
“What are we going to do?”
“ We are going to do nothing, Dawn. This is Jenna’s thing to figure out, not ours,” Becky chastised her, holding her in place by the arm before she could run into the kitchen and start hyperventilating and make Jenna more anxious.
Jenna peered back out of the kitchen door window and immediately regretted it. Dr. Pomatter was in her line of sight, and he was just sitting there, looking at everything in the diner. She turned her back to the door and walked behind the spice rack to her workstation.
“All right Jenna, time to invent a new pie. I’m going to call it, ‘My Ex-Gynecologist Ex-Lover Is Back After Six Years and I Don’t Know What to Do’ Pie. Mix together bittersweet chocolate and vanilla custard. Add cinnamon and a dash of allspice, cloves, and slices of banana. Cover with a thick layer of crust. Watch carefully in the oven so it doesn’t explode,” Jenna talked to herself as she grabbed ingredients from the shelves.
She looked down at the pie in front of her, seeing a jumbled mess of ingredients and a cracked pie crust. Sighing, she said, “What the hell am I doing?”
Cleaning up the mess and throwing it in the garbage, she wiped her hands of flour on her apron. She put her fists on her hips and stared down at her worktable. “Get a grip on yourself, girl. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for him showing up here six years after everything happened that has absolutely nothing to do with me.”
Taking a few deep breaths to calm herself down, Jenna walked back to the kitchen doors and saw Becky and Dawn staring furiously at her through the windows. Jenna stepped out and quickly walked to the counter, where the two other waitresses and Cal, through his pick-up window, were waiting for her.
“Well, did he order anything?” Jenna asked, fidgeting with the pen in her apron pocket to avoid looking at him.
“Um, yes, he ordered a slice of the Afternoon Delight Pie,” Dawn answered, bouncing rapidly on her toes.
“Fine, I’ll take it to him then, just so the three of you stop looking at me like that! Don’t you all have things to do?” Jenna commanded, taking his slice of pie in her hands and walking carefully across the diner.
Dr. Pomatter looked at her as she approached him, his hands twisting nervously in his lap. The plate clattered loudly on the table as she set it down, her shaky hands betraying her composed expression.
“A slice of Afternoon Delight Pie for you, Dr. Pomatter,” Jenna said quickly, wiping her hands reflexively on her apron and rocking back on her heels.
“Oh, thank you so much, Jenna,” he said with his usual anxious manner, digging his fork out of the cloth napkin wrapping and taking a large bite. ‘Oh my god.”
“You like it?” Jenna asked.
Dr. Pomatter chewed and swallowed the large bite before responding. “This is unbelievably delicious. What’s in this?”
“Oh, uh, it’s chocolate custard topped with slices of strawberries, melted caramel sauce, and whipped cream,” Jenna said.
He took another huge bite and mumbled, “Holy shit.”
Jenna laughed nervously, feeling a little deja vu, and turned back to Becky and Dawn, who were just staring at her from the counter, poorly pretending to clean off menus. She gave them a glare and turned back to face Dr. Pomatter, who was openly looking at her with something like awe on his face.
She cleared her throat, causing him to jump and almost spill the rest of his pie onto his lap. He saved the plate, though, and slid it back to safety in the middle of the table.
“Sorry about that, I got a little lost in my head,” he apologized.
“Oh it’s fine,” Jenna replied.
He gave her an anxious smile and returned to eating the pie. Jenna nodded, mostly to herself, and walked away before she could hear another of his ridiculous exclamations of how good her pie was and fail to keep her nerve. Becky and Dawn immediately dragged her into the kitchen when she reached the counter, much to the annoyance of Cal.
Knowing she still had pies to prepare for the afternoon, Jenna got out a ball of dough and began rolling it out on her workstation, refusing to speak. Becky folded her arms over her chest and Dawn jiggled her leg apprehensively, neither of them willing to break the silence. Jenna had the pie crust rolled out and was cutting the excess edges off of the pie tin when Becky finally caved.
“Well what did he say? You were over there for a very long time,” she exclaimed.
“Not much, just that my pie was delicious,” Jenna sighed, ignoring the all-too-familiar yet unwanted feeling settling in the pit of her belly that his words caused.
Becky looked at her exasperatedly as Dawn went to peek out of the kitchen door windows. “Come on, girl, what aren’t you telling us? Did he say anything about why he was here?”
Jenna raised her hands in defeat. “I didn’t get a chance to ask him, I walked away before we talked about more than the damn pie.”
Dawn came back to the table with alarm on her face. “Uh, Jenna? Do you want me to pick up his empty plate or will you do it so Cal doesn’t glare at me again?”
“I’ll do it, Dawn, he is at my station anyway. Can you finish this Lulu Lemonade Pie for me, please? Becky, you’re coming with me,” Jenna said.
“What are you doing, Jenna?” Becky asked, apprehensive.
“I’m going to make my peace with Dr. Pomatter, and you’re going to listen while taking the orders of the group that just came in,” Jenna said pointedly.
“Fine,” Becky replied, snagging four menus to take to table eight while Jenna walked to Dr. Pomatter’s table.
Jenna noticed his plate had been scraped clean as she approached, and she squished down the weird feeling in her belly. He smiled broadly at her when she reached the table, hands twisting in his lap again.
“Can I get you anything else, Dr. Pomatter? Coffee, orange juice?” Jenna asked, pulling out her ticket pad and pen.
“Oh, uh, no thank you, coffee just makes me jittery,” Dr. Pomatter answered. “This was kind of an impulse stop, if I’m being honest.”
She gripped her pen and ticket pad tighter. “Is that so?”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I’m really just stopping through on my way from Connecticut to visit some family in Springfield for a milestone wedding anniversary of my great-aunt and uncle. I thought I’d stop here as a nice break point, see how things were, and, uh, for some...pie.”
She blushed a little and couldn’t hold back a small smile. “Well, that’s nice Dr. Pomatter. Wait, you’re driving all of the way from Connecticut to Illinois? Why wouldn’t you just fly and save all of that time?”
“I couldn’t find any flights for cheap so I just packed up and started driving. Besides, I like driving. It lets me relax and think,” he chuckled.
They both jumped a little at the sound of Becky setting a napkin dispenser down too hard on the next table over; Jenna risked a glance at her. Becky mouthed “sit down” at her and turned back to clearing the table and pretending to ignore their conversation.
“Do you mind if I sit, Dr. Pomatter?”
“Oh, no, please, sit,” he gestured to the open seat across from him and sat up straighter in his chair.
The two of them sat in awkward silence for a moment, neither one sure of where to go from there. Jenna flicked her gaze to Dr. Pomatter’s left hand, now resting on the table, and was less surprised than she should have been to the absence of his wedding ring on his fourth finger. Not wanting to read into anything, she decided to stick to a safe topic.
Jenna put her hands in her lap and asked, “So, how’s the drive been treating you so far? It’s been chillier here than normal for September, but I don’t know if you’ve had colder weather in Connecticut.”
“It’s been the usual September chill for us, thankfully, so the drive has been pretty good with some of the leaves starting to change already,” he replied cheerfully.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll get much of that this year, the wind has already been tearing the trees apart. Lulu’s not going to have a leaf pile to play in much this fall,” Jenna said.
Dr. Pomatter asked, “That’s your daughter, right?”
Jenna nodded her affirmation. “Yeah, she just turned six in July. I can’t believe how fast she’s growing up. Sometimes I feel like she’s six going on thirty-six.”
That got a chuckle out of Dr. Pomatter. “It is crazy seeing them grow up, isn’t it? One of my first patients after med school came back to see me the other week with two more than she’d had when I last saw her. Her oldest was already in third grade and had a lot of questions I definitely could not answer in front of her mother.”
They both laughed, and Jenna felt some of the tension leave her shoulders. She’d forgotten after six years how easy he was to talk to and the ease with which he continued a conversation. The lull here was natural, though, so she smoothed her hands down her apron and made to stand up. Dr. Pomatter rose just as she did, forcing her to tilt her head up to look him in the eyes.
“Well, I don’t want to keep you from your family too long, I know Springfield is still a solid eight hours from here,” Jenna said.
“Oh, it’s no trouble, honestly. It was nice seeing you again, Jenna,” Dr. Pomatter smiled, pulling out his wallet and leaving a crisp twenty dollar bill on the table. “Keep the change, please. You and your pie have improved my morning immensely.”
Jenna blushed at the compliment and stammered, “We-well thank you, Dr. Pomatter. Would you like a slice of pie for the road?”
His eyes lit up even more than they already were, giving Jenna her answer. She scurried over to the display case and boxed up another slice of the Afternoon Delight pie and holding it out to him. “On the house, Dr. Pomatter. It’s a long drive, you’ll need the sugar boost,” she explained.
He smiled and took the box from her, his fingers just barely missing her own. “Thank you, Jenna. I’ll likely be coming back this way in a few days, so I’ll do my best to stop back in.”
She grinned at him and said, “Goodbye, Dr. Pomatter.”
With that, he walked out of the diner and Jenna released a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. She quickly cleared the table of his plate, wiping it down and dropping the dirty plate in the bin next to the kitchen doors. On the register she cleared out his order and put the twenty inside the cash drawer.
As if summoned by the ding of the register drawer closing, Becky and Dawn sidled up on either side of her at the counter. Jenna rolled her eyes and pulled out her notepad, already thinking of ideas for a new pie or two she wanted to try next week and scribbling down the ingredients she’d need for them that she didn’t already have in the pantry.
“Jenna you can’t pretend like we’re not here, you know,” Becky complained, pulling the pen from Jenna’s hand as Dawn simultaneously grabbed the notepad from her other hand.
“Girls, it was just a quick chat, I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” Jenna said.
Becky and Dawn exchanged a look. “Did you at least find out if he’s still married to Francine?” Dawn asked.
“No I didn’t, it really was a quick chat. We just talked about his travel to Springfield to visit family and the weather, and that’s all,” Jenna answered, retrieving her pen and notepad from their hands.
“Did he say anything about coming back?” Becky probed, expression unreadable.
Jenna threw her hands up. “You two are insatiable!” she exclaimed, sighing. ‘But yes, he said he’d try to make it here again on his way back to Connecticut in a few days.”
Dawn squealed while Becky tried to hide a little fist pump from Jenna’s vision. “It doesn’t mean anything though, girls! We all know he just really likes my pies, and that’s not a deciding factor for whatever you think it is,” Jenna said.
“Whatever you say, doll,” Becky relinquished, loading her serving tray up with the breakfasts of the group in her section.
Dawn gave Jenna a sheepish smile before scurrying off to the back to reorganize something that only she thought would need reorganizing, leaving Jenna to her thoughts and ingredients list.
As she wrote down more ingredients for what she was loosely dubbing the ‘Crisp Autumn Breeze Pie’, a thought crossed her mind that had her mildly panicking. What if he did come back, though? What kind of pie would he want? Should she make him one of her usual specialties or craft something new? What if he came while Lulu was here? She’d have a lot of explaining to do to her little girl, but she didn’t know if she could handle that right now.
Shaking her head to clear her mind, she tucked the notepad and pen back into her apron and went into the kitchen, kicking Dawn out of the pantry to man the counter so she could work in peace. Time to bake and bake and let it take over, let the rhythm and familiarity of the pastry slow her racing thoughts to the pace of a six year old, put all of herself into her pies until she felt nothing but calm and collected.
An unexpected visit from Dr. Pomatter after six years in her pie shop couldn’t--no, wouldn’t--throw her off for more than an hour or two. She refused to let his charming smile and praise of her baking weasel its way out of the firm grip she had on her heart. Things ended the way they did because she was doing what was best for her and for Lulu. That still hadn’t changed. A second visit from Dr. Pomatter in a few days definitely wouldn’t change that.