“I like diner coffee.”
There are only two other people in the diner: the cook, reading a newspaper behind the counter, and the waiter, playing a handheld video game by the register. Wes almost turns around right there.
But then the waiter says, “Grab a menu and take a seat, I’ll be with you in a second,” and really, Wes is exhausted and the thought of driving somewhere else makes his head hurt.
He takes a menu from the rack and slides into a booth. He should sit at the counter, really, there’s no one else here and it would just be more convenient, but that might invite conversation and the last thing he wants is to invite conversation. At least he doesn’t pick a booth in the back of the diner. He’s not that horrible.
He opens the menu to a random page and stares at it, not really reading the words or seeing the glossy pictures. A few minutes later, the waiter comes over, bobbing on his heels and smacking his gum and doing everything Wes hates. It would bother him except he’s too numb to care.
“A’ight, what can I getcha?” the other man asks.
Wes carefully closes the menu and says, “Just a coffee, please.”
The bobbing stops. “You sure? Money makes the best burgers this side of California, and we’ve got some pie to die for.”
“I’m sure.” He looks up, blinks at the waiter. “Coffee.”
The waiter wears a dubious expression but tucks the notepad into his apron. “Okay. Be right up.” The cook looks back down at his paper, no longer interested now that his services aren’t required.
The waiter slides a white mug in front of him and gives him a bright smile that seems so out of place here. “Enjoy. Holler if you need anything.” He goes back to the counter and picks up his game.
Wes wraps his hand around his mug and doesn’t drink and doesn’t think of anything. He’s done enough thinking already. If he does any more, he just might drown.
He loses track of time a little, because he’s jerked out of his thoughts when a plate is set before him and his coffee has gone cold. Wes blinks at the piece of pie oozing on the white porcelain.
“I didn’t order this.”
“Duh.” Wes isn’t looking, but he can hear the server’s eyes roll. “It’s on the house. You look like you could use it.”
Feeling like he might shatter if he moves too fast, Wes unwraps his fingers from his mug and pushes the plate towards the waiter. “I don’t want it.”
Wes receives a charming, cajoling grin. “Come on, man, the berry pie here is the best in the West. You won’t regret it.”
Wes pushes the plate a little closer to the edge of the table. “I don’t want pie.”
A pause. Then a shrug. “Alright. I guess I’ll eat it.” The server picks up the plate.
And sits down on the opposite side of the booth.
Wes stares at him. “What are you doing?”
“Eatin’ pie,” the other man says, scooping a forkful of filling into his mouth. “ ‘s d’rishus.”
“You couldn’t eat it somewhere else?” Anywhere else?
“But the pie was here.” The server holds out a hand in a What can you do? gesture and eats another bite.
Wes sighs. “Look…” He eyes the nametag. “Travis. I appreciate it, but I’d really rather be alone right now.”
Travis swallows. “If you wanted to be alone, you would have stayed at home. Instead, you came here, to an all-night diner, at three in the morning. Something is on your mind. So.” He leans back, plate tucked against his chest, like he’s digging in for the long haul. “Talk.”
“Talk,” Wes repeats flatly. “To you.”
“Yeah.” Travis waves the fork around. “It’ll be good for you! I’m like a bartender without all the ridiculously expensive drinks. Although I do make a damn good mojito.”
Wes grips his mug and resists throwing it at the other man. “I don’t want to talk.”
“Again, I point out that you’re at a diner at three in the morning, not drinking coffee and not eating pie. You obviously didn’t come here for the food.”
“No. I came here to be left alone.”
“Then you should have gone to a bar. But this? Is a diner. And I am naturally chatty. So. Talk.” He gives Wes an encouraging smile. “I’ve heard it’s very therapeutic.”
Despite himself, Wes feels the tiniest of smiles crack his lips. “I might actually need booze if we’re going to go there.”
“Well-dressed and sarcastic. I like it.”
Wes smiles a little again, and it feels so much less brittle than he expected. He looks at his mug. “Look, Travis, I do appreciate it,” and this time he’s sincere, he really is. “I’m just not in the mood for talking right now. It’s nothing to do with you.”
Travis chews on a bite of pie and studies him for a moment.
Finally, he says, “Alright,” and puts the plate on the table. “Then how ‘bout I get you some more coffee and just…sit here a while? Until I finish my pie.”
Wes looks at Travis’s charming, earnest face, and thinks about sitting here alone, and pulls his hands into his lap. “Okay. Just until you finish your pie.”
This time there are two police officers sitting at the counter, looking at menus and chatting easily with Travis.
Travis looks up with a bright grin at the sound of the bell. “Suit guy! Welcome back! Grab a seat, I’ll be right there.”
Bemused, Wes takes a menu and sits in the same booth as last time. He’s not particularly hungry, but he peruses the menu anyway. It’s standard diner fare—soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers—and none of it really piques his interest.
“So what’ll it be?” Travis asks, coming up all bouncy.
“Coffee,” Wes says, closing the menu and pushing it aside. Then, “Suit guy?” he asks.
“Again?” Travis makes a face and tucks his notepad away. He holds out his hands to encompass Wes’s entirety. “Also, suit. Since I couldn’t remember your name, it fit.”
“I didn’t tell you my name,” Wes points out.
Travis snaps his fingers. “That’s right. I knew there was something.” He gives Wes a charming Feed me I’m harmless smile. “Maybe that can be my tip, yeah?”
Wes tries not to smile back. “Coffee, please.”
“Coming right up.”
By the time Travis returns with the mug, a third cop has joined the two by the counter. Wes wraps his hands around the mug and is only a little surprised when Travis plops down on the other side of the booth.
“Busy,” he comments, just for something to say. He’s never been very good with small talk.
Travis waves a hand. “Oh, you know how it is. Wednesday night one AM crowd pouring in.”
Wes brings the mug to his lips. “Lot of cops,” he observes, just short of a question.
Travis eyes him, and Wes isn’t sure why, he did his level best to keep his voice steady. Besides, it’s not like his current problems have anything to do with cops.
“We’re only a few streets from the station,” Travis says, brushing past what may or may not be on Wes’s face. “Plus, Mama’s pie is a piece of heaven on a plate.” He leans back, spreads his arms on the back of the booth and makes himself comfortable. “You sure you don’t want a slice?”
“Alright. Then how ‘bout a burger? Money makes the best burgers this side of the Rockies.”
Wes hides a smile. “That’s quite an expansion.” At Travis’s puzzled look, he elaborates. “Last time you said they were the best this side of California.”
“Did I?” Travis questions blankly, before waving the matter away with a grin. “That’s cuz they are the best and they just keep getting better. Wanna try one?”
“I’m fine.” Wes sips his coffee. “I’m on a diet.”
Skepticism is heavy on Travis’s face. “A caffeine-heavy-no-burgers diet?”
“Precisely.” Easier than saying he’s just not hungry. That invites questions he isn’t ready to answer.
“That sounds horrible,” Travis says with a grimace. “Why do you need to diet anyway? You’re skinny as a beanpole.” He tilts his head back and, before Wes can stop him, hollers, “Money, whip up a burger with everything!”
Obligingly, the man behind the counter starts making a burger.
Wes hunkers down in his seat, mug between him and the rest of the diner like a shield. He’s pretty sure the cops are laughing at him. “I don’t want a burger, Travis.”
He just gets a confident grin in response. “You’ll thank me later.”
“I won’t pay for something I won’t eat.”
“No worries, man.” Again that dismissive wave. “It’s on the house.”
“Are you sure that’s okay?”
Travis laughs, a bright sound for such a dull time of night. “Dude, one piece of pie and one burger are not going to break the bank. But it’s sweet of you to worry.”
To his horror, Wes can feel his face flushing. “I wasn’t worried.”
“Sure you weren’t,” Travis leers, waggling his eyebrows.
“I wasn’t. I don’t care either way.”
“Oh!” Travis clutches his chest dramatically and slumps back in his seat. “Harsh, Suit guy, very harsh.”
Now Wes is sure the cops are laughing.
“You’re a pain,” he grumbles, finishing off his coffee.
“ ‘s part of my charm.” Travis leans over, takes the empty mug from Wes’s slack grip. “Lemme get you a refill.”
On the way to the coffee machine, the cops ask for their check. By the time Travis is done ringing them out, the burger is done, so he returns to the refill and two plates. He slides the mug and one plate in front of Wes.
“Here ya go, eat up. You won’t regret it.”
Wes eyes the burger in front of him, then the pie on the other plate. “I don’t want that.”
“And if you don’t change your mind, I’ll eat it,” Travis says with a Gosh I’m so brilliant tone.
Wes looks back at the burger. It smells delicious and looks scrumptious and the appetite he thought he didn’t have flares up. When was the last time he ate something just for the sake of eating? “And I don’t want this either.”
His stomach rumbles, calling him out on his lie, and Travis grins.
“Just one bite,” he pleads, “one bite and I won’t bother you about it again.”
Wes sighs and gives in. “Do you have silverware?” Travis pulls a bundle from his apron and hands it over. Wes takes the fork and knife, grabs a napkin from the dispenser, and carefully wipes the utensils. Travis’s face twitches, but he doesn’t say anything.
Under Travis’s watchful eye, Wes carefully cuts a piece. (“Get a little bit of everything, it’s best if you get the full experience, man.”) He brings the fork to his mouth, and suddenly he’s hungry, hungrier than he’s been in weeks, and it smells so good…
He takes the bite, chews, and Travis’s face lights up.
“Good, isn’t it? I told you. Best burgers this side of the Mississippi.”
Wes rolls his eyes, but doesn’t bother to correct him.
He doesn’t end up eating the pie, but he eats every bite of the burger and half the fries, and Travis’s pleased grin makes the food sit light in his stomach.
There’s a new guy working in the kitchen and a couple in the back booth, absorbed in themselves and not paying attention to anyone or anything. Wes sits in the booth unprompted, skimming the menu without planning to order anything, and eyes the surly-faced man in the kitchen window.
Travis comes over with a mug of coffee and sits down. Wes has had a good day and can’t even get too annoyed.
“Where’s Money?” he asks, studying the selection of soups like he actually cares.
“Lucy stayed home with the baby, so Money took over the afternoon-evening crowd and we got Jason,” Travis says, lounging.
“I see.” Wes trails his eyes across the menu. “And how good are Jason’s burgers?”
Travis sucks his teeth. “Hmm. I’d say…greater downtown LA.”
“How disappointing,” Wes says dryly.
“But he makes an awesome grilled chicken Panini.”
Wes looks up, and because he can see where this is going, says, “I don’t wan—”
“Jason! Whip up a chicken Panini!”
“—a chicken Panini.”
Travis grins unrepentantly at Wes and adds, “And use the sunset mayo, bro!”
Wes raises one eyebrow. “Sunset mayo?”
“Oh, it’s amazing,” Travis gushes. “My sister Candace makes it. It sets your mouth on fire.”
“Because that’s what I want from my mayo.”
“You won’t regret it.” Travis continues to grin shamelessly. Wes just snorts and looks back at the menu, because it’s easier than looking at Travis’s face.
When the sandwich is done, Travis bounces up to get it. Somehow, Wes isn’t even a little surprised when he comes back with a slice of pie, too.
“I didn’t want this,” Wes says, staring at the plate in front of him and the hot sandwich.
“That’s what you said about the burger, and you ate every bite of it.” Travis nudges the plate towards him. “Come on, just a little bite. On the house.”
“Am I ever going to pay for more than my coffee?” Wes asks, gingerly picking up the sandwich with thumb and forefinger of both hands. A thick, pale orange paste oozes out of the sides when he squeezes the bread together.
“Maybe when you actually order something other than coffee,” Travis says, pulling a fork out of his apron and digging into the pie. “I’m glad to see you eat sandwiches like a normal person.”
Wes stops with the sandwich halfway to his mouth and stares at him. “As opposed to what?”
“A weirdo,” Travis says easily around a mouthful of pie. “Only weirdoes eat burgers with forks and show up at diners at one AM to eat chicken sandwiches, Suit guy. It’s a fact.”
“The chicken sandwich was your idea,” Wes says, lowering the Panini, “and insulting me isn’t making me inclined to eat your food.”
“Aw, dude, not what I meant.” Travis shakes his head. “Lighten up, man. I wasn’t insulting you. Besides, I’m the one working here at one AM. I’m probably weirder than you are.”
“That’s a bet I’ll take,” Wes grumbles, only slightly mollified.
“Come on, I didn’t mean it.” Travis holds out a forkful of pie. “You can have some of my pie to make up for it.”
Wes gives the fork the same look he would for dog crap on his shoe. “That’s disgusting. I will not eat off of that. Get that thing away from me.”
Travis chuckles, pulling the fork back. “See? Weirdo.” He winks at Wes’s grimace. “It’s really not a bad thing, Suit guy.”
Wes takes a bit of the sandwich. The sunset mayo explodes in his mouth and burns all the way down.
But it’s a good burn.
Wes drives aimlessly for four hours after leaving Alex’s house. He doesn’t know why he keeps going over, why he keeps inserting himself into her life. It’s over. Everything is over. Alex couldn’t be more clear.
When he finally pulls into the diner parking lot, he sits for a minute with his forehead on the steering wheel, taking a few deep breaths. He feels exhausted, even though he’s done nothing to warrant it.
He almost wants to go back to the hotel and just sleep it off. But the thought of facing that dark emptiness makes him nauseous, and anyway, he came here, so he pulls himself to his feet and heads inside.
It’s hopping. Like, actually busy for once, despite it being almost midnight. There’s a group of about ten cops—off-duty but Wes can tell—celebrating something or other, a handful of couples, and a few single people sitting at the counter.
Right. Friday night.
Wes lingers in the doorway, debating whether he should just give up and leave. He doesn’t know if he’s up to dealing with this many people even with the barest level of common courtesy.
Then he sees Travis, moving through the crowd like a pro. With a sigh, Wes enters the throng, sitting quietly on a barstool at the end of the counter. Travis is busy and no one is paying him much attention so Wes puts his head in his hands and just breathes.
It’s a good five minutes before he hears a delighted, “Suit guy!” followed closely by a concerned, “Are you okay?”
Wes musters up a weary smile and lifts his head. “I’m fine, Travis.”
Travis’s expression says I don’t believe that for a minute, buddy, but all he says is, “What can I get you?”
Wes reads it as What do you need? and the answer is So many things you can’t give me.
He rubs his temples and laughs. It sounds as bitter and tired as he feels. “Scotch on the rocks?”
“Sorry, man,” and Travis really does sound genuinely sorry. “Remember our first conversation? I’m like a bartender without the booze.”
Wes sighs. “Then just coffee.”
Travis studies him a long moment. “You don’t look like you need coffee right now. I got something better in mind. Wait right here.”
“Don’t have anywhere else to go,” Wes mutters, but Travis has already moved off and doesn’t hear.
If he weren’t so adverse to the idea, he’d lay his head on the counter. Instead, he drops his head into his hands and closes his eyes, doing his level best to tune out all the other noise in the diner.
“Here.” The chink of glass on Formica makes him open his eyes. He stares blearily at the fluted ice cream glass. “Chocolate brownie milkshake,” Travis says encouragingly, pushing it so the straw hits Wes’s lips. “It’s good for whatever ails you, I promise.”
Wes pulls back just enough so the straw no linger hits him. “I’m not in the mood for a milkshake.”
“Because of your completely unnecessary diet?” Travis says sympathetically, like that’s all that’s going on here. “That’s no reason to turn down a delicious milkshake.” He leans on his elbows, smiles encouragingly. “It’s chock full of chocolate—see what I did there?—and chocolate releases endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. And bud, you look like you could use a little happy.”
It’s nothing, it’s just Travis being his annoying, stupid mother-hen self, but it makes tears prick at Wes’s eyes. He looks down.
“And just for you,” Travis adds, “I tossed in a shot of coffee, because I’m coming to believe you are secretly a caffeine addict. So. Drink up.” He nudges the glass at Wes again. “On the house.”
Since Wes’s current options are a) burst into a puddle of tears in the middle of the crowd, b) bolt out of the diner and curl on his bed in a huddled mess, or c) drink the milkshake, Wes does the sensible thing and sips the milkshake. Liquid chocolate slides across his tongue, just enough coffee flavor to be noticeable, and somehow it’s exactly what he needed.
This is why he came here instead of going to the hotel. This right here.
Travis smiles, grips Wes’s shoulder, and somehow manages to convey, I would be here to sit with you if I could, but I can’t because people so I made you a milkshake to cheer you up. “Good on you, man. I gotta get back to work, but holler if you need anything.”
He leaves to answer another patron’s call, but somehow, with his hands wrapped around the specially made milkshake, Wes doesn’t feel abandoned.
He drinks the whole thing down, with only a few moments to speak to Travis before the waiter is called away again. Wes doesn’t say much, but he does appreciate how the other man keeps coming back.
When he leaves, he pulls his pen out of his pocket and scribbles a quick note on a napkin, tucking it under the empty glass.
Thanks, Travis —Wes
Travis isn’t in the diner, and it throws Wes more than he thought it would. Money is in the kitchen, and the usual 3AM crowd of no one is there, but it’s a tiny grey-haired woman whose nametag says ‘Margie’ that bustles up. “What can I get you, sugar?” she asks, her entire face crinkling up with laugh lines.
He stands in the door, feeling awkward and confused. “Is, uh, is Travis…on break?” he asks hopefully, though he somehow knows that’s not the case. Travis brings light and life to the empty diner, and it’s somehow missing tonight.
“Are you a friend of Travis’s?” the woman asks curiously, in an I won’t reveal any information until I know who you are sort of way.
“I—” What is he? Wes wouldn’t call them friends—they’ve talked a handful of times and Travis has served him coffee and given him food. But Wes sort of feels like he’s not just the weird customer who comes in the middle of the night for coffee. He just…doesn’t know what else he is.
“This is Suit guy,” Money says blandly, filling the silence.
Recognition dawns on Margie’s face, then comprehension. Wes doesn’t understand the latter, and it irritates him.
“Of course, of course,” Margie says, ushering Wes to a booth. “I should have realized. Travis said you might show up, and if you did, you can order anything off the menu—on the house. Also, he’s sorry he’s not here.”
“Where is he?” Wes asks, scanning the menu without really looking at it.
“On a ski trip up north,” Margie says easily, all reservations pushed aside because Wes is Suit guy, and apparently that is more than just a regular customer. Somehow. “So what can I get you, hun?”
“Ah, just a coffee, please.” Wes closes the menu and hands it to her.
“You sure?” Margie asks. At Wes’s small nod, she tucks the menu under her arm and says, “Coffee it is, then, be right back.”
She delivers the coffee, and then goes and sits at the counter. Travis would have plopped right down and tried to persuade him to order something else.
No, Travis would have ordered something for him without listening to his protests. It’s annoying and Wes should be glad that he doesn’t have to deal with it.
So why is it he stares at the empty seat across from him and feels so disappointed?
It’s been two weeks, which should be more than enough time for Travis to get back from his ski trip. He goes to the diner feeling a tingly sort of anticipation, and even though he can see some sort of party filling half the diner, he goes in anyway.
The first thing he notices is Travis moving through the throng, arms loaded with plates and a bright, ecstatic grin on his face.
The second thing he notices is the explosion of feeling in his chest, like someone set off a light grenade below his sternum. It’s unexpected, and it makes him stop in his tracks, because really, he’s only talked to Travis a handful of times, and it’s only been a few months since Alex and seriously, Travis? Pushy, chatty, won’t-leave-you-alone, mother-hen Travis?
Someone bumps into him. “Hey, sorry, sorry man.” The other guy laughs.
Wes blinks. “Jason?”
“Yeah?” The darker male turns, no sign of recognition on his face. And why would it? Jason saw Wes once, a month ago, behind a counter. Wes is nothing special.
Nothing special. Right.
Wes swallows, nodding towards the crowd. “What’s going on here?”
“Lia turned eighteen yesterday,” Jason crows, clapping Wes on the shoulder. “That means she’s out! We’re celebrating!”
It’s a jumble of words that means nothing to Wes, but it obviously means something to Jason so he musters up a smile and an awkward thumbs up. Jason laughs and turns away, plunging back into the party.
Wes lingers on the edge, unnoticed, and watches Travis move through the crowd. People’s smiles grow when he walks by, and even when he’s not bringing by food people are glad to see him.
Wes just has to look at that bright smile and remember all the sleepless nights spent here, and he can feel a cheery warmth sparking to life in his chest, and oh, oh, he really should have seen this coming.
He doesn’t belong here, with these happy people. He doesn’t deserve Travis’s bright grins or teasing conversation, not after what happened to his last relationship.
Swallowing, Wes turns to go. Then he pauses, looks over his shoulder. He can’t stay, but it’s not fair to Travis to just disappear without a word, either.
Wes pulls a receipt out of his pocket, scribbles a quick note on the back in a shaky hand. A few folds so it actually looks like a note and not a piece of trash to be thrown away, and Travis’s name on the front, and Wes tucks it into the menu dispenser. Travis is sure to see it there, and if he doesn’t, one of the other servers will most likely get it to him. They seem like one big happy family here.
Wes walks out and doesn’t look back, even though he wants to.
Unlike the tasteful ringtone of his cell phone, the hotel phone blares like a foghorn, and it jerks him out of a sound sleep a quarter to six.
“What the hell?!” he snaps into the receiver, too groggy to even feign politeness.
“Oh thank god, you’re alive,” a voice says. Wes sits up and tries to get sleepy gears going to identify it.
“Who the hell is this?”
“I mean, I didn’t know what to expect after your note,” the voice barrels on in a very familiar manner. “And who the hell leaves that kind of note for a person? I am very upset right now, Wesley Mitchell!”
It clicks. Wes stares at the phone in disbelief. “Travis? How did you get this number?”
“Funny thing,” Travis says sharply, “if you tell the hotel you’re with the police and it’s a matter of life and death, they’ll connect you right through.”
Wes pinches the bridge of his nose. “Life and death…? How did you know what hotel I was staying at?”
“It was on the receipt you wrote your note on.” An angry inhalation and the crinkle of paper. “Speaking of notes, what the hell? ‘Thank you for everything, Travis’. That’s not the kind of note you leave people!”
“Travis, Travis, hold on.” Wes presses his palms against his eyes, trying to get his brain going because it’s way too early, he hasn’t had his coffee yet, and Travis is making no sense. “What are you talking about?”
There’s another inhale at the end of the line—not angry, more like Travis is trying to keep from yelling. “You left me a note,” he says, all feigned calm, “and after the last time I saw you, I thought—”
He cuts himself off abruptly, like it’s too much to even go on.
Wes drags himself out of bed and stumbles to the counter, staring the coffeemaker into coffee-making obeisance. “The last time you…the milkshake?” Because, he has to remind himself, Travis didn’t see him the night of the party. “So you saw me a few weeks ago,” he follows this train of thought, “and then you got my note, and you thought I…what, was going to hurt myself?” He’s pretty sure that’s where Travis is going with this, thanks to the whole ‘Thank god you’re alive’ he was greeted with. This is just clarification.
“It’s a logical conclusion to make,” Travis snaps defensively.
“No, I know, it’s just…” It is a fairly logical conclusion. Wes can imagine how he looked on the milkshake night, how he’s looked every time he wandered into the diner in the middle of the night. If he’d gotten a note like that…
Wes drops his face in his hand and laughs helplessly.
“It’s not funny, Wes!” Travis yelps.
“It’s really not,” Wes agrees, grabbing his mug. “But Travis, you lied to the hotel staff, woke me up at the crack of dawn, and yelled at me because, with no solid reason, you thought I was going to kill myself. I don’t know whether to be creeped out or flattered.”
A long pause. “If those are my two options,” Travis finally says, “then I’d definitely go with flattered.”
“I’ll take that into consideration.” Wes pours himself a cup of coffee, inhaling the aroma. He feels more awake. Maybe now he can actually deal with this conversation.
A gusty exhalation whooshes through the line. “Well, that’s good, then. That’s…good. Boy, this is embarrassing, isn’t it?” Travis chuckles awkwardly, and Wes has never seen it but somehow he can picture what Travis’s sheepish face looks like.
“You were worried,” he offers.
“Damn straight I was worried.” Travis goes from embarrassed to ire in a second. “You come in looking like death warmed over, then I get a note like that’s, it’s an absolutely logical conclusion to make, you insensitive ba—”
“Let me make it up to you,” Wes interrupts before Travis can build up too much steam. “Let me buy you breakfast.”
A long pause. “Like…breakfast breakfast, or just…breakfast?”
Wes’s heart does a funny little leap in his chest, and he has to swallow a sip of coffee before he can answer.
“Let’s figure that one out when you get here.”
“Nice place,” Travis remarks, looking around the dining room as he slides into the seat across from Wes. “I feel completely outclassed.”
Wes can’t help but look. In faded jeans and a leather jacket, Travis definitely doesn’t fit in with the rest of the clientele here, but that doesn’t in any way mean he looks bad.
“You look fine,” he mutters into his menu.
“I know, right?” Travis leers with a waggle of his eyebrows. He casts an appreciative glance at Wes. “But look at you, all casual-like. I mean, you got a sport coat on, but those are jeans.” Shamelessly, he peeks under the table. “Hundred-dollar jeans, but jeans. I’m impressed, Suit guy.”
It says something that Wes feels comfortable enough with Travis that he kicks the other man under the table. Wes doesn’t look at it too deeply.
Travis picks up the menu, wincing at the prices. “What’s good here?”
“Pretty much everything.” Wes shrugs. “Order whatever you want. I’m buying.”
Travis snorts. “This is your version of ‘on the house’, then?”
And Wes feels his lips twitch. “I guess it is?”
Something flashes between them, a miniscule spark. Wes swallows and stares at the menu in his hands.
They make small talk until the waiter comes. (“Even the waiter wears a suit! Man, Wes, you’ve been slumming when you come to my diner.”) When the waiter leaves with the menus and their orders, Wes finds Travis staring at him, a faint smile on his face.
Wes blinks, flushes. “What?”
“You really are okay.” It’s not quite a question, not exactly a statement, but something floating in between.
With a shrug, Wes busies himself with wiping down his silverware. “I’m alright.”
“Okay.” Travis props his chin on his hand. “Then what was with the note?”
Wes swallows. His throat feels tight, and he wants to deflect, more than anything he wants to change the subject and talk about something else (anything else). But Travis came all this way and he was worried and wasn’t that one of the reasons Alex left in the first place, because he was shutting her out?
“I…” He puts his fork down, picks up the spoon, doesn’t look at Travis. “When I have a bad day, and I can’t sleep, I go to your diner. And when you sit down and talk to me, I…feel…better. Even when you do stupid annoying things like order food for me. So that’s what it is. That’s all.” He shrugs like it’s nothing (but it’s everything). Then, without really knowing why, he admits, “There are ups and downs. It hasn’t been the easiest since the divorce.”
Wes’s eyes narrow. “What?”
Travis adopts a wide-eyed innocent expression. “What what?”
“What was that noise?”
“I didn’t make a noise.”
“You did.” Wes points accusingly with his spoon. “You made an ‘Aha I figured it out’ noise.”
“Well…” Travis leans back. “Divorce. Some of the puzzle pieces slotted into place, is all.”
“I’m a puzzle now?”
“Of course.” Travis holds out his hands. “The enigmatic Wesley Mitchell comes, fully suited, to a mom-and-pop diner in the middle of the night? That’s the best kind of puzzle there is.”
“I meant to ask.” Wes puts down the spoon, starts rubbing his knife with his napkin. “How did you know?”
“Who you were?” Wes nods; Travis shrugs. “You’re the Wesley Mitchell, prosecutor extraordinaire, and I know a lot of cops. People talk.”
The napkin scrubs doubly hard at an invisible blemish. “And what do people say?” He can only imagine what a bunch of cops have to say about him. He didn’t exactly make friends with the fallout from the Padua case.
Travis’s voice doesn’t change one iota. “Nothing that changes my opinion of you.”
Wes swallows and carefully sets the knife down. “And what is your opinion?”
The long, slow grin Travis gives him sends a nervous sort of heat flickering through his belly. “That I’d…like to get to know you better. Feed you completely unhealthy things that break your totally unnecessary diet.” Blue eyes trail across Wes’s body, and the fire spreads where Travis’s gaze lands. “See what’s underneath that fancy suit.”
Wes can feel his face burning. To his horror, that’s when the waiter comes up with their food, when Wes is bright red and Travis is radiating sex-vibes.
Luckily, the waiter is discreet. He sets the food down and fades away.
Wes compulsively wipes his knife again, willing his blush away. He’s pretty sure it’s not working. “That’s…uh…that’s awfully sweet of you, but I’m not…” He bites his lip, tries to phrase it delicately. What comes out is, “I’m not in the mood for pie.”
A flicker of confusion, but then, oh, Travis gets it, how perfect is that, he understands without Wes explaining. “Right, gotta work your way through the menu. Burgers and Paninis.”
“The occasional milkshake,” Wes adds. There something tight in his throat, anticipation or dread, he can’t tell.
“Don’t want to go straight for dessert,” Travis agrees, “since you were just spoiled by another…meal.”
“Makes sense.” Travis purses his lips, picks at his omelet with his fork. His eyes never leave Wes’s face. “But, when you’re ready for dessert, I know this great little place that has amazing pie.”
“I think I know it.” Wes fights to keep his voice steady. “I’ve heard it’s the best pie in the West.”
“It’s pretty damn good pie.” Travis leans close, like he’s sharing a secret. “And it’s ready, whenever you want it. All you have to do is come in and order.”
A charge flies between them, fiery and alive, and it feels like a promise.
Wes continues to frequent the diner. Some nights he just can’t sleep. Sometimes he’s brought his work home, and he spreads his papers on the scarred tabletop and works until morning.
Travis is always there with a smile and a cup of coffee. More often than not, he has Money whip something up. Not pie, but Wes is slowly tasting his way through the menu.
He thinks he’s getting there.
Almost nine months after signing the papers, he bumps into Alex at the grocery store, completely by accident. The air turns awkward. Wes waits for the ache to rise up and smother him, but all he feels is a nostalgic longing for the way things used to be.
“You look good,” Wes tells her, and he means it sincerely. She does. There’s a sparkle back in her eye that was missing the last few years of their marriage.
“You too,” she says, appraising him the same way. He can’t even begin to guess what she sees. “Are you still at the hotel?”
“I am. But, uh, I’ve started checking places out.”
“Yeah? That’s great.” And she sounds like she means it. But then, she’s always been sincere—even when she gave him the papers, he could see how truly sorry she was. It was written all over her face.
The thought doesn’t make him hurt the way it did in the beginning. And though she’s right in front of him, he doesn’t have any urge to try and worm his way into her life again.
They’re over, and, surprisingly, he’s okay with that.
It makes him smile.
“What is it?” Alex asks curiously.
“Nothing.” Wes waves a hand. “I’m just suddenly in the mood for dessert.”
“Dessert?” Alex’s eyebrows rise almost to her hairline. “You?”
“Yeah. I know this great little diner with some amazing pie.” He smiles, anticipation a warm tingle under his skin. “I think I’ll stop in tonight.”
He goes in, and when Travis smiles and asks, “What can I get you?” Wes leans close and says, “I’d like to order some pie.”
Travis’s smile changes to a slow, easy grin that makes heat flutter in Wes’s belly, and he leans forward and drawls, “I can get you that. On the house.”