Gina was wiping off the diner’s long, linoleum counter towards the end of her shift, when Cody walked in. It had been years since they’d seen each other, but Gina could tell it was him by his deliberate walk, and his familiar faded jacket: a blue, plaid insulated hoodie. She wondered if the jacket still smelled of pine needles.
Cody’s piercing blue eyes took her in as he surveyed the dining establishment.
“Table for one?” Gina asked, twirling her hair as she leaned against the counter. A cleaning rag dangled idly in her right hand. Cody nodded.
Still the strong and silent type, Gina noted to herself. The young man seated himself at a table that overlooked the nearby rock quarry. From this distance, the sound of drilling and scraping was faintly perceptible.
“I’d like…” Cody paused as he squinted at the menu. “A black coffee. And a slice of your best pie.” He gazed at her intently as he handed her the menu. Gina nodded curtly, and walked away. As soon as she was in the back area, she took a deep breath and leaned against an adjacent table.
“That your new boyfriend?” the cook grunted from his position over the grill.
“Ex-boyfriend. From high school,” Gina replied. She went over to the mirror outside the staff bathroom, and smoothed down her uniform, making sure that nothing on the pink dress and faded white apron was out of place.
“Ain’t that the one what washed up out of some good school, and moved out to the wilderness? What was he studying, rocket science?”
“Quantum mechanics. At Princeton,” Gina said, twisting up her golden brown hair into an elaborate bun. “But I guess he’s back now.”
“I don’t trust them smart types what decide to up and run off like that. What must his parents think? All that money wasted from schoolin’.” The cook flipped over several burgers, splattering grease against his heavily stained apron. “An’ what you think you doin’, gettin’ all gussied up for a smart fool like that?”
Gina said nothing, pulling a slice of blueberry pie out of the refrigerator. She placed it in the toaster oven, running out to pour coffee and attend to a newly arrived customer.
“You done heard me before,” the cook said when she returned to the kitchen. “What you think he has to offer you? The same craziness what made him run off?” Gina tried to ignore him again, but he blocked her way to the toaster oven.
Gina folded her arms, glaring at him. She wasn’t intimidated by his nicotine breath, his two-day stubble, or his large assortment of tattoos. “Andy, you don’t get to tell me how to live my life. Not anymore.”
Andy glared at her for a full twenty seconds, then stepped out of the way, sighing. The next batch of hamburgers was noticeably overcooked.
Back at his table, Cody was glaring blankly out the window. He had not taken off his hoodie. The brim of a ripped, red and white New York Yankees ball cap poked out from under his hood.
“Pie for the ex-rocket scientist,” Gina said as she dropped off the slice at Cody’s table.
He said nothing. He didn’t even look up. Gina stood and watched as he picked up his fork and started eating. He was clearly savoring each bite.
“Well?” Gina asked, a bit too loudly. Some of the other customers looked over briefly.
Cody’s eyes flickered up to her briefly. He paused, laying down his fork. “This right here is the best blueberry pie that I have had in ages.” He resumed eating.
“Is that seriously all you’ve got to say?” Gina lowered her voice. She sat down across from him, facing the diner’s front door. “After the way you left all those years ago? How worried people got for you? How worried I–” Her voice faltered.
“I’m sorry Gina, but it had to be done. Great changes are coming around here.”
“Changes? What in the world are you talking about?” Gina asked.
“Stuff that’s bigger than this crazy little town,” Cody said quietly. “Bigger than this world, even. Do you know why I left Princeton?”
“You ran out of money. Your father cut you off when you said you didn’t want to study science.”
“It was more than that. Look.” Cody stabbed his fork into the remains of his slice of pie. “There’s something mysterious happening at the center of this universe. Mysteries that are about to be solved. Tell me,” he said, gazing at her with an expression that made her heart beat fast. “Have you ever heard of a dark neutron star?”
Gina could feel Cody’s breath on her face. She wanted to reach over and grab his hand, but at that moment the town sheriff walked into the diner. He was headed straight for their table.
Cody glanced back towards the door. Seeing who it was, he instantly straightened up and pushed back his hood. Gina stood up from the table, straightening her uniform.
“Everything all right here?” the sheriff asked Gina. She nodded and went off to attend to other tables.
The sheriff turned to Cody, who was pretending to be oblivious to the officer’s presence as he finished the rest of his pie. “Son,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.”