“Great!” John said, flashing her a smile with impossibly white teeth. “How about we meet down in the lobby at around noon?”
“Okay,” she said, ducking her head. She didn’t want this officer John to notice the heat which was creeping into her face.
“Good luck,” John said, touching her shoulder gently, making her glance up to his face again. “I’m sure it will go well. Tell him that John says hi, and he’ll go easy on ya.”
The next hour was nerve-wracking. Jacob Marley was a nice enough man. He even cracked a grin when Susan mentioned John’s name, but Susan couldn’t help feeling like she had been scrutinized from every possible angle by the time she left. She supposed that working for the police department was a big deal, demanding someone with a clean record and no skeletons in the closet, but some of the questions almost seemed impertinent. Did they really need to know all the intricate details of her personal life?
Still, Susan felt good as she exited room 301. She had been honest and straightforward, even through the uncomfortable questions. She hoped she could get the job. She was starting to feel a little desperate, not wanting to rely on her father’s credit card any longer.
John was waiting for her in the lobby, as promised.
“How’d it go?” he asked, standing up when he saw her come through the elevator door.
“Good…I hope,” she said.
“You up for a burger? Or are you more of a salad girl?”
“I am most definitely up for a burger!” she said, laughing. “This girl is a meat eater all the way!”
“Oh, good. I knew that I liked you for a reason,” John said, grinning.
They walked a block up the street to a little diner. The bell on the front door tinkled merrily as they swept into the crowded restaurant. It was evidently a favorite place for the county workers. There were a number of police officers, alongside men and women in business suits. The waitresses scurried around the room, a stack of orders balanced precariously in their hands, and wide smiles greeting their regular customers. Susan wondered how they did it. They made it all look so effortless, but she knew differently. She knew how back-breaking the work was, with few compensations for the effort.
Susan and John sat down at a booth next to one of the front windows. She began looking through the menu, but John seemed to already know what he wanted.
“What’s good here?” she asked him.
“What isn’t good here?” he laughed. “I usually get their daily special, but today I feel like a good old greasy cheeseburger.”
Susan laughed. “Sounds perfect.”
The perky waitress took their orders, two bacon cheeseburgers (hold the onion on Susan’s, extra pickles on John’s), with garlic fries and two cherry Cokes, without writing a single thing down.
“Sure thing, Johnny,” she chirped, winking at the now blushing officer.
“I think that I might be stepping in on someone else’s territory,” Susan joked, as the sixty-something waitress zipped off to the kitchen.
John chuckled. “I’ve known Prissy here since I was a little kid. My dad used to bring me to this diner almost every Saturday afternoon. I would get a chocolate milkshake, and he would order a stack of pancakes that seemed like it was never ending.”
The food came, and it was perfect, as promised. Susan hoped that she wouldn’t regret diving into the garlic fries, but they were too good to resist.
John asked about where she came from, and Susan found that her entire story was tumbling out. Her dreams of making it on her own. The excitement and thrill of a first love, only to be dashed by heartbreak and abandonment. The love and completion of meeting her son for the first time. The desperation and loneliness of starting over again.
She couldn’t believe that she had told John so much, but he was such a good listener, and she desperately needed someone to listen to her. It had just been so long.
“Well, I’m glad that your journey has brought you here, Susan,” he said softly, when she had finally finished. He reached across the table and took her hand.
“I’m glad too,” she said, looking down at their hands touching, because she was too embarrassed to look him in the face.
Suddenly a shadow fell across their table and a familiar self-assured voice said, “There you are, Susan. I’ve been looking all over for you. Do you mind telling me where my son is?!”