She grabbed two menus off the hostess stand and led us to a table in the back corner. I was thankful for the added privacy even though the restaurant wasn’t busy.
“Thanks, dear.” Gam smiled at her as she slid into the booth.
Once the hostess set the menus down and walked away, I slid in across from Gam.
“She was cute.” She nodded in the direction the hostess had just walked.
“Sure.” I shrugged.
“Think you’d date her?”
“I don’t date anyone.”
I sighed, uncomfortable with the thought of discussing my love life with my grandmother. “I don’t know. I don’t really have time.”
She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. “Oh, that’s crap, Lawrence, and you know it. You have more free time than you let on. You’re off today. You could be taking a beautiful woman to brunch.”
“I am having lunch with a beautiful woman.” I reached over and kissed the top of her hand.
“Oh…” She grinned shyly. “You little shit. You’re good. Got that charm from your papa.”
“From what I hear he was quite the man. I’ll take that as a compliment.”
I’d never met my grandfather. He was the love of Gam’s life, but he’d died before I was born. I could tell he was a great man just based on the way her eyes lit up when she talked about him. As a kid, instead of reading to me, she would tell me stories about their life before he died. From what I knew, he was a talented artist, a badass pilot, and a practical joker.
“He was quite the man,” she responded, her eyes red-rimmed, “and your father was too.”
“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” she scolded.
“Sorry,” I apologized coldly.
“Lawrence, your parents love you very much.”
“That’s great.” I picked up my menu. “What are you getting?”
Her hand came over the top of my menu and smacked it down hard onto the table. “Right now? The brush-off from my grandson.”
I sat back against the booth and sighed as I crossed my arms over my chest. “You’re not getting the brush-off, but my memories of them are very different from yours. Can we just leave it at that, please?”
“You’re a stubborn old lady, you know that?”
“Yes.” She smiled proudly.
“Hi there. Sorry about the wait.” A young waiter set down two glasses of water, spilling drops all over the table as his hands shook.
“You okay, boss?” I asked.
“Yeah. I just… I’m new and you’re… you, and I’m a little nervous.” He grabbed a napkin off of the table next to ours and wiped up the water as fast as he could.
“No problem.” I laughed. “You a hockey fan?”
“Uh, yes. Yes, sir,” he stammered.
“Well, I’m a fan of anyone who’s going to bring me food, so let’s take a picture together, I’ll sign whatever you want me to, and we’ll call it even, okay?”
His goofy, crooked smile let me know he liked my idea. After a few minutes of selfie taking and autograph signing, he finally seemed to calm down enough to take our drink and food order.
“That was sweet of you,” Gam whispered once he was out of earshot. She took a sip of her water, trying to hide her proud smile behind her glass.
“Stop it,” I grumbled.
“I will not,” she said stubbornly, lifting her chin in the air. “I’m having a nice brunch with my grandson, who happens to be a very sweet man.”
“I’m not sweet, Gam. I’m barely sour. In fact, most days I’m downright inedible altogether.”
“You may not think you’re sweet, but I do.” She nodded toward the door leading to the kitchen. “And so does that young man. He’s probably back there calling all of his friends to tell them how cool you are. You made his day.”
I stared at her with a deadpan expression on my face. “I just want pancakes.”
LATER THAT NIGHT, I was sitting at home playing Madden on my XBOX when my text alarm went off. It was from Darla.
D: Hey, you busy? Can I come over?
Hell yes. Bring a pizza.
“Hey!” Her huge smile was the first thing I saw when I opened the door a little while later.
“What’s up, baby?” I reached out and pulled her in for a hug.
“Careful.” She giggled, keeping the hand that held the pizza out straight. “You don’t want tomato sauce and cheese all over the floor of your foyer.”
I pulled back and took the pizza from her. “I’m so hungry I’d probably still lick it off the floor. Come on.” I took her hand and led her back to the kitchen.
We sat at the breakfast bar and stuffed our faces with pizza, barely even talking to each other, for the next half hour.
“Okay,” I sighed, wiping my hand on a napkin. “What’s going on?”
She froze, staring back at me with a bite of pizza still in her mouth. Covering her mouth with her napkin, she shook her head slightly. “What?”
“Yeah, you’re different. Something’s up.”
“I’m not different.”
I read Darla like I read opponents on the ice. What came out of their mouths never mattered; that was just chatter. It was their body language that gave everything away. They would fake right and go left, but I was already on the left waiting for them. I knew what moves they were going to make before they did. It was the same with Darla. She was preoccupied, distant.
“You’ve been in my house for over half an hour, and not only have you been avoiding eye contact the whole time, you have yet to give me shit about… anything. Normally, you would’ve picked me apart for ten different things by now.”
She balled her napkin up and tossed it down on her plate, shrugging. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I turned my stool to face her and pulled her legs so that she was facing me. “Bullshit. Don’t lie to me. We don’t do that.”
She looked sad.
I cupped her face and rubbed her cheek with the pad of my thumb.
“Don’t do that. Don’t be nice to me.” She took my hand off her face, kissing my palm before resting it in her lap. Not making eye contact, she continued, “I did come over here for a reason, but it wasn’t to torment you like normal.”
“The doctor, right?”
Her face swept up to mine, her shoulders finally relaxing for the first time since she’d walked through the door. “How did you know?”
I laughed. “I knew it the other night when you started talking about him.”
“I’m so sorry.” She looked down at her lap again.
“Hey,”—I tucked my finger under her chin and lifted her face—“why are you apologizing?”
“I don’t know. It’s just— We—”
“Don’t,” I interrupted. “Don’t say you’re sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for. Darla, we’ve never put labels on whatever this has been between us, and that’s one of the reasons it’s worked so well for us. We live our lives and whatever happens, happens. Something is happening for you. Don’t you dare apologize for that.”