Up In Flames (Page 13)

Up In Flames(13)
Author: Nicole Williams

After Logan’s and my hot and heavy make-out session, followed by my speedy retreat, I hadn’t heard from him. Not even a text to make sure I’d made it into work all right. Not even to check if I was all right.

Though I tried to assure myself I was checking my phone all night for Logan’s call, it wasn’t really his name I hoped would pop up. I knew Cole was done with me, I’d seen that guarantee in his eyes, but I didn’t stop hoping for a miracle.

I wasn’t ready to let him go, but what was more, it seemed I couldn’t give him up even if I tried.

When I dropped a fourth order before I’d even made it from the kitchen, I eyed the back door. I even took a couple steps in its direction. Who knows how far I would have made it because by step three, Dani tossed a few paper towels at me before she kneeled down to help me clean up yet another mess I made today.

I had this making a mess of things down.

“Okay, Elle,” she said when I kneeled beside her. Cherry and hazelnut crepes didn’t look anywhere near as pretty on the floor as they did on a plate. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Nothing,” I muttered as I swiped up a heap of whipped cream.

“Oh, yeah?” Dani’s voice had a sarcastic edge to it. “Is that why Liam told me that Cole was in one hell of a mood after he got back from a baseball game this afternoon? Is that why Cole almost tore his head off when Liam asked him if he wanted to come here tonight to grab a bite?”

I suddenly couldn’t get this mess cleaned up fast enough. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, keeping my eyes down. Dani could see through me about as well as Cole could. “And who’s Liam and how do you know him?” Maybe diverting the conversation would get us off the Cole subject matter.

“Three things, Elle,” she said. “First off, you most certainly do know what I’m talking about as those flighty little eyes of yours are a dead giveaway.” I narrowed those “flighty little eyes” at her. “Second, Liam is one of the rookie smokejumpers I’ve been seeing.”

“You’ve been screwing,” I said under my breath, surprising us both. Dani gaped at me in the same way I would have gaped at myself if I could have. I didn’t normally say things like that and knowing how easily it had slipped from my mouth unsettled me.

“Ignoring that last snarky comment and moving on . . .” Dani said as we finished cleaning up the crepe catastrophe. “Third and final point is not how I know Liam”—Dani’s eyebrows danced as she smiled at me—“but how you know Cole. Or, more specifically, how well you know Cole.”

I shot her another glare as I slid the broken plate pieces and soggy mess into a bussing bin.

“Oh my God,” she said, gaping at me again. “There really is something going on between you two.” She couldn’t look more shocked if I’d just told her I was pregnant.

“No,” I snapped, turning and heading back for the dining room. The rush was dying down, but there was never an end to coffee and water needing to be topped off, or extra napkins to be dropped, or bills to be totaled. “There’s absolutely, positively nothing going on between us anymore.” I tried not to imagine, for the thousandth time today, the way Cole’s face had cracked a little when he found out about Logan and me.

“Anymore?” Dani said. “Anymore? Oh my God. Liam was right about you two.”

I flinched at her words. I wanted to flog myself for mine. Who would have known the word “anymore” could give so much away?

I now had a keen understanding of the power of “anymore.”

“No, rookie screw-buddy Liam is not right.” I paused before heading into the dining room. “There never was, is, or will be anything between me and Cole. There’s nothing.” My voice was a whisper by the end.

Dani took a few steps towards me. “Then why does it look like you’re about to cry?”

I couldn’t answer her because if I did, I actually would. “Just leave it alone for now. Please, Dani?”

I didn’t wait for her answer. Dani wasn’t exactly one for sweeping things under the rug, but we were best friends. While I hadn’t openly admitted what happened between Cole and me, I hadn’t eased her suspicions either. I knew I’d have to talk with her soon, like I’d have to talk with so many others, but right now, the promise of the mundane chores of running a diner were ten times more appealing.

By the time I’d refilled the fifth cup of coffee, I’d calmed down and found my waitressing groove. Keeping my mind from drifting onto certain things or people that weren’t of a diner nature took some discipline, but I sucked it up and did my best.

The remainder of the night, Dani delivered food and I poured drinks. We didn’t need to make any more crepe offerings to the tile floor gods. Four was plenty.

A few minutes to closing, I finally got a chance to catch my breath and make my ritual end-of-shift cup of coffee.

“You want a refill, Grandma M?” I held up the coffee pot as I snagged another mug from below the counter.

“I’ll be up all night if I do, but why not?” She smiled and slid the cup across the counter at me. “Life is short and who knows what kinds of adventures could await me tonight.” She winked as her eyes filled with the gleam of possibilities.

“I’m kind of jealous my life is ten times more boring than an eighty year old widow,” I said, filling her cup. I waved at the last table as they headed out the door and Dani flipped the closed sign.

“I’m kind of jealous for you,” Grandma M said, taking a sip of her coffee. “I was really hoping one descendant of mine would be as free-spirited as me, but you were my last hope, Elle Belle.”

I poured my coffee, added a splash of milk and packet of raw sugar, and leaned into the counter across from Grandma M. She came in every Saturday night and sat in the very middle barstool. She always came alone, but she never stayed that way. By the end of the night, she’d made new friends, or caught up with old friends, or made amends with past friends. She was the social butterfly to my social cocoon.

“You had two sons. Two very serious sons who thought free-spirited was a dirty word, Grandma M. One had no children and the other had me.” I arched a brow. “I’d say I was your only hope.”

Grandma M chuckled that full-bodied one of hers. “Good point.”

We sipped our coffee in a rare silence for a minute, nothing but the sound of Paul banging around back in the kitchen, occasionally yelling warnings at Dani to turn the radio down or else he was pitching it out the window. I was just about to get back to work when Grandma M reached across the counter and grabbed my hand.

“Honey, what’s the matter?”

Talk about a loaded question. Pretty much every facet of my life was what was the matter right now.

However, when in doubt, claim ignorance.

“What do you mean?” I grabbed a handful of napkins and focused on fanning them.

“You’re not playing the denial card with me, are you, Elle Belle? Because I might be old as dirt, but my mind’s still sharp.” Grandma M had this knack for being blunt in the nicest possible way.

I sighed. I needed to talk to someone, but how could I tell Grandma M what I’d done and ever look her in the eye again? She might be open-minded, but what I’d done was on a whole different level.

“I made a mistake,” I admitted, setting the fanned stack of napkins aside.

“Good,” Grandma M said firmly. “It’s about darn time.”

My mouth dropped a little. Maybe she hadn’t heard me.

“It was a big one. A really big mistake.”

“Good,” she said again. “Those are the best kind to make.”

My mouth fell open a bit farther. Something wasn’t computing.

“Okay, Grandma M. Enough caffeine for you,” I said, reaching for her cup.

She scooted her cup out of arm’s reach. “Don’t be scared of making mistakes,” she said, waiting for me to look at her before continuing. “Be scared of making none. Because if you’re not making a healthy number of mistakes along the way, you’re not really living life to its fullest.”

Whoa. Okay, Grandma M was on something stronger than caffeine.

“We live our lives afraid of change and if we were to just embrace it instead, it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal when it hits us.”

I had no response. On one hand, it made a whole heck of a lot of sense. On the other hand, I’d never once had an adult tell me to live it up by making as many big mistakes as I could. It sounded like a recipe for disaster.

It also sounded like a recipe for genius.

“I can see you need a little time to work all that out.” Grandma M took one long drink of her coffee before rising out of her barstool. “When you’re ready to talk, you know where to find me, Elle Belle.”

I was so busy working all this new information out I couldn’t seem to work up a response.

“Your father may only see black and white, but seeing a thousand shades of gray in between must skip a generation,” Grandma M added as she headed towards the door. “Just look at me. Every morning I wake up and look in the mirror, I see at least ten different shades in my hair alone. I don’t have any problem seeing any shade of gray you have for me, sweetie.”

She was almost out the door when I spoke up. “Grandma M?” I waited for her warm eyes to meet mine. “Thank you,” I said, smiling. Without admitting any of the details to her, I felt better. A lot better. “Hope your night’s full of wild adventures.” I glanced at her empty coffee cup.

When I looked back at her, she winked. “Yours, too.”

THANKS TO DANI helping me close up again, I locked the diner a half hour earlier than normal. I don’t know if some generous streak had hit her or if it was her way of apologizing for pushing me on the Cole issue, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

When I got in the Jeep and headed down Main Street, I hadn’t intended to take a left instead of a right. Or at least I hadn’t planned on it.

I also didn’t plan on veering off on that bumpy dirt road I’d been down so many times I could have driven it blindfolded. After I shut off the engine, I checked my phone. No missed calls. No new texts.

I should call my dad and let him know I would be home late. I should call someone to tell them where I was. I should call Logan and tell him what had happened. I should call Cole and apologize for deceiving him, too.

I should, I should, I should.

I was so sick of what I should do I never wanted to do what was expected of me again. I was in a mood tonight—that repressed inner wild child had busted lose. All the way. Combined with the full moon and the warm, sticky night, I knew I should get back in the Jeep and go home. Call it quits on this epically awful day.

Too bad I kissed should goodbye.

The summer grass was getting long and it kissed my bare legs as I headed for the swimming hole. Sounds all around me told me even the animals felt the electricity in the air tonight. The light breeze was especially strong with the scent of the wild roses that grew on the outskirts of the water.