diner

Chapter 1



“Lu­cas, get in here.”



Luke Small wrin­kled his nose at the cigarette smoke waft­ing from his fa­ther’s of­fice and steeled him­self for the in­evitable con­fronta­tion. His fa­ther, Bruce, had opened the din­er, Small’s Land­ing, or just the Land­ing for short, soon af­ter be­ing dis­charged from the Ma­rine’s.



“Good morn­ing, Dad.”



“Did you get the sil­ver­ware rolled last night like I asked?” Bruce nev­er both­ered with pleas­antries, or re­al­ly, to say any­thing pleas­ant at all.



“You know I didn’t. You had me do­ing in­ven­to­ry of the freez­er un­til mid­night and then kicked me out so you could go to the bar.” Man­ny, the chef, had of­fered to do the freez­er in­ven­to­ry since that was part of his job, but Bruce would have none of it.



“How the hell do you think you’re go­ing to run this place one day if you can’t even roll the damn sil­ver­ware? I’ve al­ways known you were a good for noth­ing lit­tle fag. Thank God I didn’t fork out the mon­ey for you to go to col­lege.” Bruce’s speech was punc­tu­at­ed by streams of smoke com­ing out of his nose. With his red, an­gry face, it likened him to a car­toon char­ac­ter.



“For the last time, Dad, I’m not gay. And if you would give me a key, this wouldn’t be an is­sue.” Luke tried not to let his fa­ther see how the con­stant re­jec­tion stung. His fa­ther had made the ‘fag’ ac­cu­sa­tion since he was a teen; so much so that Luke start­ed to be­lieve it and ex­per­iment­ed with guys. While he en­joyed men, he was def­inite­ly pref­er­en­tial to wom­en. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, de­spite his deep bari­tone voice, his height, dim­ples and ba­by face made him look like a stereo­typ­ical twink. This made find­ing a man’s com­pa­ny easy, but wom­en tend­ed to as­sume that he was friend ma­te­ri­al on­ly. Not that he had many friends.



“Any­one that looks like you has to be gay. I al­ways told your moth­er that let­ting you cry when you broke your arm was go­ing to make you a wimp. And un­til you show me that you’re man­age­ment ma­te­ri­al, you’re not get­ting a fuck­ing key.”



“I was four for good­ness sakes! And I’ve been man­ag­ing this din­er for the last six years.”



“Bull­shit. Once you’re man enough to move out on your own, I’ll think about giv­ing you a key.”



Luke took a deep breath. He was 26 years old and stuck un­der his fa­ther’s thumb. Be­cause Bruce wouldn’t pay for col­lege and Luke couldn’t get stu­dent loans be­cause of the prof­itabil­ity of the din­er, he didn’t have a de­gree. Since he had al­ways worked for the din­er and his fa­ther damn well wasn’t go­ing to give a ref­er­ence, he had no job his­to­ry for a re­sume. No one want­ed to hire a 26-year-old with no de­gree and no re­sume. At least, not for any­thing that would pay enough to pay for an apart­ment. His fa­ther bare­ly paid him enough to get by, forc­ing him to con­tin­ue liv­ing at home.



Luke de­cid­ed to con­cede so he could walk away. “You’re right, Dad. I’m go­ing to roll the sil­ver­ware now.” He rolled his eyes as he turned and walked out of the smoke-filled of­fice, ig­nor­ing the sat­is­fied grunt that he heard be­hind him.



*



Amy Rice put the fin­ish­ing touch­es on the spread­sheet she was work­ing on, saved it and emailed it to her boss. She was an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant for Trade­Lend, a large cor­po­ra­tion em­ploy­ing more than 1000 peo­ple in her area. She was just a num­ber, but she was good at what she did, so she felt fair­ly se­cure in her po­si­tion.



Her com­put­er locked and e-read­er se­cure­ly tucked in­to her purse, she took the long el­eva­tor ride down to the lob­by and walked the two blocks to her fa­vorite din­er. She was look­ing for­ward to a Cobb Sal­ad, sweet tea and los­ing her­self in the his­tor­ical ro­mance she was read­ing.



A sweet tea ap­peared in front of her as soon as her butt hit the chair and she smiled ap­pre­cia­tive­ly at Luke, her fa­vorite serv­er. She’d har­bored a crush on him for the longest time, un­til her best friend, Al­ice, had laughed and in­formed her that he was most def­inite­ly gay. Oh well, at least she didn’t have to wor­ry about suck­ing in her stom­ach or mak­ing sure her top wasn’t show­ing too much cleav­age. Not that she dressed provoca­tive­ly at all, but her gen­er­ous breasts- the bane of her ex­is­tence- had minds of their own.



“Thanks, Luke. I think I’m in the mood for the sal­ad to­day.”



“You’ve got it, Sug­ar.”



She was pret­ty sure that he knew her name…he must have heard Al­ice say it 100 times, but she nev­er mind­ed his en­dear­ments. In the South, they weren’t tak­en as con­de­scend­ing or sex­ist. Well, most of the time.



As soon as he walked away, she dove in­to her sto­ry and bare­ly reg­is­tered when he re­turned with her food a few min­utes lat­er.



*



Luke watched the ex­pres­sions flit across Amy’s face as she ab­sent­ly ate her food while read­ing what­ev­er it was that she was read­ing. He had a feel­ing she had no idea how sexy she was. He’d heard her tell her brash friend that she knew she was noth­ing more than av­er­age, if not chub­by. If av­er­age meant slight­ly short, curvy, brown hair and brown eyes, then yes, she was. But that was just the sur­face. She had beau­ti­ful­ly pale skin, sparkling eyes, per­fect curves and an adorable cu­pid’s-bow mouth. She al­ways wore her hair back, but it looked silky-smooth. He was fas­ci­nat­ed by the scar that went from just un­der her left ear down along her jaw. It wasn’t bla­tant, but he could def­inite­ly see it up close. He re­spect­ed that she didn’t go to great lengths to cov­er it with con­ceal­er.



He no­ticed the way her de­meanor changed on the days when Dan­ny served her. She seemed more up­tight and ner­vous. More than like­ly, she thought Luke was gay, so she didn’t con­sid­er him a threat. Maybe he could use that as an ad­van­tage some­day. Yeah, right. Like she would want to date a 26-year-old, live at home din­er serv­er. He rolled his eyes at his own stu­pid­ity and went to re­fill her tea. She didn’t look up, but her cheeks were red and he could see the heart­beat at her throat. He won­dered what she was read­ing.



Con­tra­dic­tions



Chapter 2



“Amy,” Al­ice called in a sing-song voice as she let her­self in­to Amy’s apart­ment.



“Jeez, Al­ice! I gave you the key for emer­gen­cies, not to barge in here when­ev­er you want­ed.”



Al­ice laughed loud­ly. “Like you would ev­er be fuck­ing some guy or run­ning around with your snatch show­ing.”



Amy rolled her eyes. Al­ice was so beau­ti­ful with her tall, slim body, short, blond hair and large blue eyes. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, she had the mouth of a sailor. A very drunk, very lewd sailor.



“What do you want, Al­ice?” she asked dry­ly.



Al­ice ig­nored Amy’s tone and bit in­to the ap­ple that Amy was just about to snack on. “I have a blind date for you.”



“No.”



“Yes.”



“Al­ice, you know I don’t date, much less, blind­ly.”



“Yes, my dear, shel­tered, lit­tle lamb. But those times are over. You can’t sit around do­ing noth­ing but read­ing that smut all the time.”



Amy gasped. “It’s not smut! Well…not all of it,” she said, blush­ing.



“Uh huh.” Crunch. “When’s the last time you spent a night away from your e-read­er?”



Amy bit her lip as she thought. “You took me to the movies two weeks ago,” she said proud­ly.



Crunch, crunch. “I don’t count, sweet­ness. You and I aren’t get­ting in­to each oth­ers’ pants.”



“Fine. I don’t re­mem­ber.”



“My point ex­act­ly.” She punc­tu­at­ed her point by mak­ing a per­fect shot of the ap­ple core in­to the garbage can. “That’s why I have a date for you. And don’t even try to ar­gue.”



“How do you know this per­son?”



“He’s a friend of a friend.”



“Who is this ‘friend’? One of the guys you’re cur­rent­ly se­duc­ing?”



“Yes, as a mat­ter of fact. His best friend has been sin­gle for too long and he wants to hook him up with some­one, so it’s per­fect!”



“You ex­pect me to go out with some guy you’ve nev­er even met and know noth­ing about and you think it’s per­fect?”



“Psh, who cares what he’s like? You just need to get over this fear of dat­ing and get out there. Maybe get fucked, sucked and fon­dled. He’s just go­ing to be your train­ing wheels.”



“My train­ing wheels? I may be a home-body, but I have dat­ed and I’m far from a vir­gin. I just choose my men care­ful­ly.”



“Shut your trap and fuck your ex­cus­es. This is hap­pen­ing. I told him to meet you tonight at the Land­ing at sev­en, and then you’re go­ing to see Slam play at the Bar.”



Amy sighed in de­feat. There was no point in ar­gu­ing more. If she re­sist­ed, Al­ice would drag her there kick­ing and scream­ing. She loved Al­ice and knew she meant well, but she could be such a bitch some­times.



“Fine, but I’m not dress­ing like a slut.”



“Come on, I’ll help you pick some­thing out.” Al­ice was re­al­ly, re­al­ly too gid­dy about this.



*



“Dad, I’ve worked 60 hours this week. I’m not cov­er­ing the late-night shift, too.”



“Boy, you’d bet­ter watch your tone. I’m your fa­ther. I let you live un­der my roof and work in my din­er. You’d bet­ter show some re­spect.”



Luke tried to keep his voice at a rea­son­able lev­el, know­ing there were cus­tomers with­in earshot that his fa­ther con­ve­nient­ly for­got about. “Dad, I show you noth­ing but re­spect. I let you run my life ev­ery damn day. I’m ask­ing, this once, for the night off. Hell, it’s not even a night off since I wasn’t sched­uled in the first place. I’ll stay un­til 8 and then I’m out of here.” He turned and walked away be­fore his fa­ther could re­spond.



He was shocked to see Amy sit­ting at her nor­mal ta­ble when he came through the swing­ing door of the kitchen. She nor­mal­ly on­ly came in at lunch.



“Hey, Amy.”



She jumped and looked up, re­lief and maybe wor­ry pass­ing through her yes. “Hey, Luke, how are you?”



“I’m okay. I’m sur­prised to see you here for din­ner.”



“I-I’m meet­ing some­one,” she replied, wring­ing her hands.



She looked es­pe­cial­ly tense. “Are you okay, Sug­ar?”



She smiled and barked out a sin­gle laugh. “I just don’t do this and I don’t want to do this.”



“Hu­mor me, Sweet­heart. What is ‘this’?”



“Oh, a date. A blind date.”



“Ah, I don’t blame you. Let me guess, your friend, what’s her name…Al­ice, in­sist­ed?”



“You got it in one.”



“What time is he sup­posed to be here?”



She looked at her watch. “15 min­utes ago.”



Luke cringed. Poor thing. This had to be a blow to the ego.



“I’ll give him a few more min­utes.”



He re­sist­ed run­ning a thumb over her flushed cheek. “I’ll bring you some tea in the mean­time.”



She gave him a shy smile. “Thanks, Luke.”



He de­liv­ered her tea and watched the door close­ly from be­hind the counter where he rolled the sil­ver­ware by rote.



30 min­utes lat­er, he saw her ad­mit de­feat when she put her head in her hands and mov­ing her lips as if she were talk­ing to her­self. He de­cid­ed then and there that he wasn’t go­ing to let her go home think­ing that she wasn’t wor­thy.



“I see the dread­ed blind date didn’t show.”



“Yeah, I’m ticked off but re­lieved at the same time. I’m go­ing to stran­gle Al­ice to­mor­row, though.”



“Hey, I was go­ing to go to the Bar to see a band tonight, would you like to join me?”



Amy looked sur­prised. “That’s where we were go­ing, too. I was look­ing for­ward to hear­ing Slam play. Are you sure you don’t mind me join­ing you? I don’t want to cramp your style.”



“How on earth could you cramp my style?”



“Well, you know…nev­er mind. I’d love to.” She gave him the first gen­uine smile he’d seen all night and he thought he’d nev­er seen any­thing more beau­ti­ful.



“Let me just fin­ish up and we’re out of here.”



*



Amy was so ticked at Al­ice that she could scream. On the oth­er hand, she would much rather see Slam with Luke than some ran­dom ‘friend of a friend of a friend’. At least she knew that Luke wasn’t a threat. She could lit­er­al­ly let her hair down and be her­self. Af­ter what hap­pened with her mom and step-dad, she was over­ly cau­tious around men.



As she drank the last of her tea, she heard raised voic­es from the back. The voic­es were muf­fled, but she thought she heard ‘worth­less’, ‘don’t both­er com­ing home’, ‘piece of shit’ and ‘or else’. She knew that the Land­ing was fam­ily run, but she had on­ly seen the own­er once. He pro­ject­ed a fake, jovial at­ti­tude, al­most like a car sales­man. A used car sales­man that on­ly stocked junkers and paint­ed them so that they looked new. She shud­dered. If she didn’t love the food and the ser­vice, he was enough to keep her out of there.



She watched as Luke came out of the back, his face pinched in anger.



“Luke, what’s wrong?”



He shook his head. “Just Dad be­ing Dad.”



Her eyes widened and she point­ed to­wards the kitchen. “Oh, good­ness. Is your last name Small, too?”



“Yep, the oth­er Small of ‘Small’s Land­ing’.”



“I had no idea. I thought you just worked here. So, you’re one of the own­ers?”



He barked a self-dep­re­cat­ing laugh. “No. But I don’t want to talk about that. Are you ready?”



She looked at him quizzi­cal­ly, but let the sub­ject drop. “Sure. I walked here, do you have a car?”



“Yep. I can drive.”



He led her to an old clunker. “She’s not pret­ty, but she’s re­li­able,” he said with a fond pat on the hood.



“I like it. It has char­ac­ter.”



“That she does.”



The drive to the Bar was fair­ly silent, but it wasn’t un­com­fort­able. When they ar­rived, the line out­side was wrapped around the build­ing.



“I guess we hur­ry up and wait,” he said with a grin.



As they wait­ed, more and more peo­ple be­gan to join them and Amy won­dered how they were all go­ing to fit in­side. The line start­ed to move and peo­ple start­ed push­ing to get to the door. Luke grabbed her hand and pulled her along so that she wouldn’t get lost in the shuf­fle.



When he didn’t let go, even when they were safe­ly in­side, she de­cid­ed to just go with it. It was nice to feel as if she were on a date with some­one she liked, even if Luke would nev­er want her in that way.



Luke leaned in close­ly to speak to her. “What do you want to drink?”



“Rum and Coke, please.”



“You’ve got it. Stay right here.”



He reap­peared about 15 min­utes lat­er with her drink and two bot­tles of beer. She reached in­to her pock­et to pay him for the drink, but he waved her away. “You can get the next round.”



He sat down a lot clos­er than nec­es­sary, but she de­cid­ed that it must be so that they could hear each oth­er over the ex­cite­ment of the crowd.



“Have you heard Slam be­fore?” he asked.



“Not live, but I have their in­die al­bum.” Slam, odd­ly enough, was a blue-grass band with enough of an edge that it ap­pealed to a much larg­er mar­ket than a typ­ical band of that genre would.



“I’ve seen them live once. They’re awe­some.”



She slow­ly sipped her drink and de­clined his of­fer for an­oth­er. She was buzzed and that was plen­ty. When the band took the stage, the crowd went wild and Luke pulled her in front of him so she wouldn’t get knocked over. She was on­ly slight­ly short­er than he, so he was able to keep his arms loose­ly around her waist and his chin on her shoul­der. She took the clip out of her hair so it wouldn’t poke him in the face and let her hair fall around her shoul­ders.



She thought she felt his breath on her ear, but again dis­missed it as noth­ing and just en­joyed the feel of him. They swayed to the beat un­til the band took a break.



“I’m go­ing to go get some wa­ter,” she told him, “can I get you any­thing?”



“The same, please.”



*



He couldn’t help but watch her ass in her snug jeans as she walked away. He loved that she had re­al curves. And that hair…he had to keep from groan­ing aloud when she took her hair out of that clip. The fresh scent of her sham­poo com­bined with her own unique scent was in­tox­icat­ing. He’d been very care­ful to keep his hips out of con­tact with her ass as he stood be­hind her. He might be small in most ways, but when ful­ly erect, as he had been most of the evening thus far, he was way above av­er­age. Though most men would rev­el in hav­ing a dick that size, it wasn’t some­thing that he was over­ly proud of. It was dif­fi­cult to hide even in the loos­est pants and the few wom­en he’d been with had been in­tim­idat­ed and leery of it.



He kept an eye out for Amy to re­turn and start­ed to wor­ry when he didn’t see her at the bar. This was where be­ing short re­al­ly sucked. He stood on his chair and scoured the floor, fi­nal­ly find­ing her pressed up against a very large man. He hopped down and made his way in her di­rec­tion.



“You gonna’ dance with me, sweet thing?” he heard the man drawl.



“Maybe some oth­er time,” Amy replied, “please ex­cuse me.”



“Aw, come on sexy, don’t be like that.”



“I said, back off, ass­hole!” she growled and tried to shove the man off of her.



“Hey, she’s with me.”



The man glanced over his shoul­der look­ing for the source of the deep voice. Find­ing no one, he con­tin­ued try­ing to ca­jole Amy.



“Hey, leave her alone, bud­dy.”



Look­ing around again, the man fi­nal­ly no­ticed Luke and his face mor­phed in­to a sneer. Luke could smell the al­co­hol seep­ing out of the man’s pores.



“What’s a lit­tle sis­sy like you gonna’ do about it, huh?”



Luke was tempt­ed to lay the man flat, which he was ca­pa­ble of do­ing, but that would even­tu­al­ly in­volve a po­lice re­port and he was en­joy­ing the evening to much to deal with that. In­stead, he ges­tured to the bounc­er who im­me­di­ate­ly came over.



“What’s the prob­lem here?”



Amy chimed in. “He’s not tak­ing no for an an­swer.”



“Jim­my, you’ve been warned too many times. Get out.”



Luke pulled Amy away as ‘Jim­my’ con­tin­ued to ar­gue with the bounc­er.



“Are you okay, Ames?”



“Yeah. What a jerk. It was kind of an ego boost, though. That’s nev­er hap­pened be­fore.”



He looked at her skep­ti­cal­ly. “You’re kid­ding right? You’re gor­geous. Any man would fall over him­self to get you.”



“That’s sweet of you to say. You’re such a good guy. Do you have a boyfriend?”



Luke groaned. “Let me guess. I’m short, thin, have some­what of a fem­inine, ba­by face and these damn dim­ples, so you thought I was gay?”



Amy’s eyes were wide and shocked. “Well, no, but…”



“Al­ice,” they said in uni­son.



“I’m start­ing to think your BFF is a pain in the ass.”



“Oh, I can con­firm that she’s a pain in the ass, but she means well. So,” she said hes­itant­ly, “she was wrong?”



In­stead of an­swer­ing, he reached out to run his thumb along her scar, tilt­ed her head and kissed her. Holy God in Heav­en, the wom­an’s lips were soft. He groaned and put a thumb on her chin to gen­tly tug her mouth open. He felt her gasp and then her hands were in his hair and she was suck­ing on his tongue. He pulled back and gazed in­to her half-lid­ded eyes, cra­dled her face in both hands and dove right back in­to the kiss.



At some point, the mu­sic start­ed back up and they be­gan sway­ing to the beat. There was no way she could have missed his erec­tion now, but in­stead of back­ing away as he ex­pect­ed, she got even clos­er, ground her hips against his and moaned.



“God, Ames…” he whis­pered against her lips.



“I love when you call me that.”



Luke smiled wide­ly and she licked each dim­ple be­fore turn­ing around and pulling his arms around her waist again.



Con­tra­dic­tions



Chapter 3



Amy was in heav­en. She had nev­er felt so com­fort­able with a man be­fore. She had wait­ed for the anx­iety to kick in when she found out that Luke was in­to her, but it nev­er did. The way he looked at her made her feel cher­ished and beau­ti­ful. And the way he kissed her, oh. His kiss­es were all-con­sum­ing and quite lit­er­al­ly, left her with­out breath.



As the band fin­ished its fi­nal num­ber, she turned back to Luke for an­oth­er soft kiss. “I guess it’s time to go.”

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