“I promise this time!” Louisa cried as she watched the man across from her, desperation clogging up her throat. Eric’s shoulders sagged, as if the weight of choosing his next sentence might crush him. He looked up, his eyes covered by a watery film. “I can't do this anymore. I’m sorry,” he said softly. He slowly got up, pushed his stool back in and gently closed the door.
It would have felt better if he had slammed the door.
But no, that wasn’t Eric.
Louisa stared at the door. She wasn’t crying, but there wasn’t a trace of happiness left on her face either. She was too stunned to do, feel or say anything. She wanted to feel and say everything, but her mind seemed to not know which to do first. She wanted to fling the kitchen door open, beg him to stay. She wanted to crawl under the tall stainless steel table and weep. Heck, Louisa even wanted to run after Eric and punch him square in the nose, but no. That wasn’t Louisa.
Instead, Louisa turned and looked across the wide expanse of glistening tile and large countertops to the thing that had been there for her, everyday of her life, dead or alive. Sure, it might have looked out of place in the ginormous and futuristic kitchen, but that was why she loved it. Louisa stood up from her stool, and walked right up to the wall. She gently lifted the picture frame off of the hook, and hugged it close to her.
What would you do Mimi?
Even though it had already been a year, the pain that came with the death of Louisa’s great aunt had been unbearable. It was Eric, who had helped her out of mourning, reminded her of the fun and excitement that still lived on in the world. Eric is gone now. He was more dead in Louisa’s life than her great aunt.
Maybe what happened next was just a placebo effect, or maybe it was wishful thinking, but Louisa didn’t care. She looked down at the picture of Mimi's gentle face. With a shaky breath, Louisa let out a whisper.
Mimi… What should I do?
Louisa tried to steady her quivering lip by biting it, but that just barely worked as a floodgate for what Louisa knew would be the blubbering meltdown that was sure to come later in the evening. However, she knew the picture frame worked. She knew that her great aunt would be there for her. No matter what. Life or death. Mimi made a promise that the frame would allow them to communicate.
Mac and Cheese.
“I’m sorry what?”
Honey, I said Mac and Cheese. Eat some Mac and Cheese. The Kraft kind. Rest tonight.
“Mimi, I’m a chef now, give me something harder.”
No. Yes. Fine, chicken nuggets, and if that isn’t hard enough try dipping it in some ranch.
“Mimi, I don’t think that’s going to help me. I don’t even own chicken nuggets. Or ranch. Come to think of it, the last time I had Kraft Mac and Cheese I was probably twelve. “
Honey, do you trust me?
Louisa sighed and shook her head, but she felt the corners of her mouth being gently pulled up.
“Okay. I will.” Louisa whispered.
Oh, and get them from the little shop on Maple Street, will you?
Louisa laughed. “I wouldn’t get them from anywhere else. Bye now.”
I promise, this is the beginning of something good.
A giggle escaped from Louisa’s mouth. Maybe it was the effects of her great aunt, or maybe it was because Louisa knew anyone watching her would think she was absolutely insane, but it didn’t matter. Talking to Mimi worked just as well as it did twenty years ago when Louisa needed her the most.
Louisa thrusted the front door open, as the small gold bell above her head, tinkled in an almost giggly way. “I promise, I’ll be out in five minutes!” She shouted.
Albert laughed, his usual jolly, rosy-cheeked, smile peeking out from behind his white, cropped, beard. “It’s fine, Lou! Take all the time you need. I have a few other customers hanging around here anyways. You know I don’t like kicking people out, especially new customers. Oh, that reminds me, I still need to teach Terry how to close up.”
“Terry? Are they a teen hire or something?” Louisa called as she scanned the aisles for the ingredients (if you could even call them that-“ingredients”) that would make up her break-up dinner, which was arguably more depressing than the break-up itself.
“Haha! No, though he sure acts like it sometimes!” Albert chuckled a little at his joke, reaching up on his toes to put a can of mushroom soup on a high shelf. “He’s my son.”
“Huh, I didn’t know you had a son. Why’s he working here?” Louisa asked as she emerged from aisle four. Her arms were laden with a small, white, plastic bottle, a box of macaroni and cheese, and dinosaur chicken nuggets, the box glazed with a thin layer of ice crystals which left Louisa’s crisp, white, button-down shirt with a slightly soggy splotch.
“Well, he runs a restaurant, like you, actually. It's one of those quirky, specialty places that you always see in the city nowadays. Anyways, Terry hasn’t been able to get any customers through the door, and he said he needed a more predictable job for a few weeks, so I said “why not here?” Albert said pleasantly.
“Oh, I’ll let you go-” Louisa started, but was suddenly interrupted by a “Did I hear my name?”
Normally, Louisa would’ve yelped at the sudden and silent appearance of someone standing directly behind her, but today was turning out to be anything short of normal. This included the undeniable romantic spark that Louisa felt in her right pinkie toe when she looked into the strangers eyes. She had never felt anything like this zap before, but she had felt like she had known those eyes forever.
Albert said something in response to his son, but Louisa’s ears had been blocked by the rush of this new emotion. Louisa knew it. It felt too soon after Eric, but she knew it. She was already head over heels for Terry.
This can’t be happening. Not now. How am I in love already? Louisa thought as she rapidly scrolled through her camera roll to distract herself. It was pointless though, she wasn’t even really looking. Her eyes had also been blocked by the rush of this new emotion.
“You can do better than that.” A voice to her right side said. Louisa snapped her head up from the selfie of her and Eric, her finger hovering over the delete button.
“Oh, uh, we’re not together.” The words stumbled out of Louisa’s mouth, almost like they were lost, and didn’t know where to go or what to do.
“I meant your dinner. You’re that chef right? The one who just won that big award? I also cook, so I keep up with that stuff.” Terry said smoothly.
All Louisa could do was nod. Apparently, she couldn’t talk anymore either.
“Hey, I just opened a restaurant down the street. I would love it if you would want to try some of the food and give me some feedback? It’s only a two minute walk from here, and I have a feeling you might want to eat there tonight too.” Terry continued, Albert laughing at that last remark.
“I didn’t even notice that! You are so right Ter!” Albert said, chuckling some more. “You two go ahead, I’ll close up then maybe I’ll stop by the restaurant too.”
All Louisa was able to muster was a garbled “Fine” that easily could have sounded like a curse word, as she handed the items in her arms to a very confused passing store employee, and ran out the door, slipping on a patch of ice outside. In a desperate attempt to regain her composure, Louisa sprung herself back up, and kept running down the sidewalk.
“Um, it’s this way! Unless you don’t want to go, and that’s fine too!” Terry politely called from the door to the shop, pointing the opposite direction than where Louisa had just run.
Louisa laughed, ran back, slipped on the ice again, got back up, and ran some more, this time in the right direction.
“You just passed it!” Terry shouted as he fumbled a set of keys out of his pocket, and jammed them into the doorknob of a dark glass door. He pivoted slightly to his left, hitting a lightswitch which illuminated all of the diner- light reflecting off the bright teal walls, black and white checkered floor, white countertop (which he quickly disappeared behind), and black leather booth seats that sat firmly on either side of a few tables. Oddly enough, each of the tables were not dressed with the familiar red and yellow bottles of ketchup and mustard, but instead wore white bottles of ranch.
Slightly out of breath, and still slightly in pain from her slip, Louisa stumbled into the restaurant, taking it all in, including the walls, which upon further inspection, had golf ball size paintings of cartoon chicken nuggets dancing scattered amongst the wide blue expanse. If Louisa was surprised before, then she was now utterly flabbergasted as Terry reappeared from the kitchen with a steaming plate of none other than chicken nuggets and what looked like Kraft mac and cheese. Louisa quickly slid into a booth and watched in wonder as the plate of salty comfort food was placed in front of her.
Terry stepped back from the table and excitedly starred in anticipation. “Try some, tell me what you think! Ooh, ooh, wait” He quickly jumped towards the table, picked up the bottle of ranch, and drizzled it across the crispy, golden, tops of the chicken nuggets. It took a few moments, but a laugh finally crawled out of Louisa’s mouth.
“Oh, uh, haha… I don’t normally eat this. I mean, you don’t need to get me chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. Or um… do you have a menu?” Louisa cringed at the rudeness as the words fled her body, and a slightly confused (or was it amused?) look crossed over Terry’s face.
“I would give you one… if I had one! See, I only eat exactly this- chicken nuggets, ranch dressing, and mac and cheese. The Kraft kind. I know, I sound childish, but… Anyways, that’s why it was so funny when you went to my dad’s store to buy just that! Please, just try it.” Terry said, looking way too starstruck as he sort of jumped up and down.
Louisa tried to disguise her grimace as a smile as she carefully picked up a nugget and popped it in her mouth. The flavors came together in a new way that Louisa had never tasted before. In Louisa’s eyes, it wasn’t a culinary disaster. Maybe it was her great aunt Mimi working her magic, or maybe it was Terry’s cooking, or maybe it was Terry’s presence itself, but Louisa knew that this was a combination of flavors that was meant to be. At first Louisa was hesitant, even in denial of how well they worked together. Something as goofy, and even childish like chicken nuggets, paired with something a little more fancy and respectable. Louisa didn’t even realize how destined these flavors were for each other until the last moment when the culinary concoction had reached her taste buds. She couldn’t let it go.
“They’re perfect together.” Louisa said, looking deeply into Terry’s eyes. “I have to go, but we’ll see each other again?”
But Terry didn’t hear her, his phone had rudely started ringing, breaking the fragile strand of electricity that Louisa was sure had formed between them. Louisa paused for a second, and looked at Terry from across the room as he happily chatted into the phone. It was now or never.
Quickly pulling a napkin out of the dispenser that waited in front of her, and swiping a pen out of her bag, Louisa scribbled away.
I know it’s mac and cheese-y, but I think chicken nuggets and ranch are a match made in heaven. Are we?
Call me. 1-555-555-5555
After reading over her writing one last time, Louisa stood up, grabbed her purse and strode out of the diner, the small bell happily giggling above her as the door closed.
Posted in response to the challenge Picky.