Friday, December 24, 2004
...well aware of the popularity of the series, although he rarely ran out of stock. That might not be true for the next book, though. A television show based on "The Adventures of Billy and Buster" was in the making, and the two-hour pilot would be aired on Sunday evening, the night before Christmas Eve.
The television network had persuaded the publisher to hold back the next installment until the day after the show premiered. That move promised one day of overflowing cash registers for book sellers and some very frustrated parents if the books should sell out. Just tonight, the local news featured an opinion piece accusing the reclusive author, who went by the name Francis A. O’Hanlon, of caring more about money than his young audience. Most people seemed to agree.
Deep in thought, Aiden folded the newspaper and laid it on the seat next to him. He picked up the dessert menu and signaled the boy’s mother, who responded with a friendly, if exhausted, smile.
“Can I get you some Dutch apple pie? It’s fresh from the oven. How about coffee?”
“Coffee, please, and I can’t resist Frida’s pie. Would you join me?”
She looked flustered. “Join you?”
He sat back and smiled, doing his best to radiate seasonal good cheer. “I’m the last customer. Put your feet up – join me for a slice of apple pie, my treat. One for your boy, too, if it’s not too close to his bedtime.”
The pretty waitress held her order pad against her chest as if it were a shield. “Oh, thank you, but I couldn’t. It’s my first day – I don’t want to get fired.”
She jerked back as the kitchen door swung open. Frida, the diner’s owner and cook, gave them both a knowing glance as she bustled over to Aiden’s booth. “You want more goulash? I’m closing up the kitchen, but I can pack some up for you to take home.”
“You spoil me, Frida. I can’t eat another bite – I’m saving room for pie.”
“That’s my boy.” Short and wide with rosy cheeks and eyebrows like furry caterpillars, Frida was one of Aiden’s favorite people in Fair Meadows. For her part, Frida had always treated him like the son she never had, even though she was no more than ten years his senior. “So, you didn’t like the goulash? Too much pepper, right? I knew it. Could have used more carrots, I think.”
“It was perfect. No one makes goulash like you do.”
“How do you like my new waitress? A real looker, isn’t she? I knew she was coming today – saw it in my horoscope. She’s a good mother.” Frida’s highest praise – the new waitress didn’t know it yet, but she’d found herself a champion.
Frida urged the waitress forward. “This is Aiden. He works too hard, forgets to eat. He’s a good man, but he always has his head in a book. It’s not healthy – he needs to get out more.”
Aiden laughed at the waitress’s obvious discomfort. “Welcome to Frida’s matchmaking service. She’s a great cook, and a closet romantic. It’s her life’s goal to match up everyone in town. No one is safe.”
Frida turned beet red. “Oh, go on with you. What are you doing, keeping me from my work? I’ve got bread to bake for tomorrow. You’re off the clock, Ginny. Keep Aiden company while he has some pie. Don’t forget to have some yourself – might as well finish it off.” She turned to the little boy who was watching her with wide eyes. “Well? What are you looking at? Don’t just sit there – go get yourself some pie!”
Muttering to herself, Frida waddled back into the kitchen.
“Please join me?” Aiden raised his hands in mock surrender. “I promise I won’t bite. Here, let me pay you so you can go off duty.” He took a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet. “There, that should cover it. Keep the change.”
She took his money as if it burned her. Aiden watched the sway of her hips as she walked to the front of the diner. She glanced back at him and smiled nervously as she handed the twenty to Eddie, the teenager who was acting as cashier during winter break. Apparently that was all Eddie had been waiting for, because he flew out the door as soon as he handed the waitress a five dollar bill and some coins.
Aiden gave her a reassuring smile as she walked back to his booth. “Relax, have a seat.”
A blush pinked her cheeks and drew Aiden’s attention to the clear blue of her eyes. His stomach tightened at the surge of protectiveness that hit him.
“I . . . I guess that would be okay.” His waitress – what was her name? – cast a furtive glance toward the kitchen, where there was a loud bang as a pan dropped, followed by a no-doubt explicit Hungarian curse. “Is she always like this?”
“Frida?” He grinned. “She has a heart of gold and a mouth like a Hungarian sailor. You’re going to love working here. She’ll make sure you and your son are well fed, too.”
“It was really nice of her to hire me. It’s not like I had references or anything.” She flashed a quick look at her son as she walked to the counter and took out three plates.
Aiden smiled as the cute waitress cut three slices of pie – the one for him more than twice the size of the others. Her son was bent over the paper, his tongue pushing out between his lips as he concentrated on forming the words of his letter.
She slid a plate in front of Aiden along with a clean fork and a couple of paper napkins. He waited until she poured coffee for them both, then dug in as soon as she sat on the opposite side of his booth.
Aiden became uncomfortably aware of her nylon-clad legs nearly touching his under the table. He was stunned to feel... Read On...
Posted by Michelle Buonfiglio at 5:44 AM