by Diane Crawford

“It doesn’t seem like Christmas here with all the sunshine,” my daughter Megan said over the phone. “I can’t believe I actually miss the snow there in Minnesota.” She and her new husband moved to Florida when his company promoted him.
I laughed. “There’s plenty of it coming down right now.” The predicted storm arrived mid-morning, snowing off and on throughout the day
“I’ll call you tomorrow morning, Mom,” she said. “Merry Christmas Eve.”
Megan was my only child and I missed her a lot. We already planned on my visiting for week during the summer but in the meantime, phone calls filled the hole in my life she’d left behind.
“Same to you, sweetie.” I closed my cell phone and grabbed a heavy coat and gloves from the closet. Tonight, with Megan on the other side of the country, I’d have my evening meal at Chet’s Diner, where I usually ate at least once a week. Tomorrow the restaurant was closed so I’d sit down to my extra-small turkey and trimmings all alone. Nothing like the holiday dinners I used to cook, even after my husband Dan passed away five years ago. And with all those delicious leftovers we all enjoyed so much.
Only a few vehicles were parked in front of the diner. I seated myself, catching the eye of a lone man sitting a few booths away. He was a regular too, and I’d seen him several times – always alone. About my age, with graying dark hair and blue eyes in a handsome face, he nodded a greeting. I smiled and removed my coat before glancing at the specials menu.
“Hi, Laura,” my favorite waitress Jenny said. “Chet’s honey baked ham is especially good tonight.”
“Then I think I’ll try some.”
My mind spun back to holidays past, when my family gathered around for the holiday meal. Most years, like this one, we had plenty of snow to add to the special feeling. As much as Dan and I grumbled about shoveling the driveway every winter, we loved our town and the quiet pace, especially at Christmastime.
I caught Jenny’s reflection in the window and turned around.
“Sorry to bother you,” she said, “but a bus full of holiday travelers is detouring to the diner and we need every available table.” She pointed to the attractive man I noticed earlier. “Would you mind sharing a booth with Tom? He already said it was fine with him.”
I nodded, gathering my belongings. My heart skipped a bit at the idea of sitting with the nice-looking stranger.
When I neared the table, Tom stood while Jenny introduced us.
“What brings you out on a stormy night like tonight?” Tom asked after Jenny’d set a place for me. People from the bus out front started filling the diner.
“I didn’t want to spend Christmas Eve alone,” I told him honestly, explaining that I was a widow and about Megan’s recent move. “What about you?”
“I’m used to spending holidays alone,” he said. “I’m divorced and my two bachelor sons always take a week vacation this time of year and go skiing in Colorado.” He smiled without any sadness about his situation. “Chet cooks a lot better than I do, but I admit to being an expert when it comes to frozen dinners.”
“I confess to eating a few of those myself,” I said as Jenny set our food in front of us. I took a bite of the ham. “And I enjoy Chet’s cooking too. The only bad part is not having any leftovers to enjoy afterwards.”
“Yeah,” Tom said almost wistfully. “I always liked those leftovers from holiday dinners.”
We talked our way through our meal, then coffee and dessert, discovering we both liked Chet’s chocolate cream pie. I’d made something similar for tomorrow.
When Jenny placed our checks on the table, I was surprised at how quickly the time passed and how much I’d enjoyed myself. Tom hadn’t felt like a stranger at all, but an old friend, easy to talk to with a pleasing personality.
Tom cleared his throat. “If you have no plans for next Friday night, would you like to have dinner with me?”
“I’d like that,” I said, slipping into my coat. I paused, then asked, “And if you have no plans for Christmas dinner tomorrow, would you like to join me for some home cooking?”
His eyes lit up like the mini-lights hung over Chet’s back counter. He nodded enthusiastically and took my address and phone number. I didn’t mention that with the two of us enjoying a very small turkey, there wouldn’t be any leftovers for either of us. I looked into Tom’s face and knew I didn’t mind a bit.

The End

Diane Crawford has been writing since childhood but only seriously since she
reached age 30. She’s had 3 young adult books published as well as
non-fiction articles, a cookbook and several short stories which have
appeared in such publications as Byline and Woman’s World magazine.

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