The jukebox whispered out a gentle melody as Miley shuffled around the room, wiping up tables and stacking chairs. She didn't make much money waitressing, but she needed all she could get. She had just finished a double shift and her bones ached with weariness by the time she was done.
Four years. Four years of doing the same dead-end job, scrimping and saving and still never having enough. It had been two years ago that she finally realized that she couldn't keep going on like this, so she started going to night school, trying to get an associates degree.
"Goodbye," she said with a friendly nod at her coworker. As she opened the door, all she wanted to do was go home and go to bed, but knew that she still had studying to do for her final tomorrow. She pulled out her keys and made her way to her car. It was a warm night, the air fragrant and the darkness inviting. Miley remembered a time when she would have luxuriated in this kind of night, laying in the grass outside until she would fall asleep, right under the stars. Reaching her car, she closed her eyes for a moment and breathed in deeply.
"Miley." Startled, she was alert in an instant and looking around for the source of the voice. She saw his car before she saw him, one of those little sporty numbers, it was expensive and sophisticated. The man to go with it matched completely. His casual tee-shirt and jeans gave a laid back impression, but it was all too obvious that they were well made and costly. Here was a man who had done well for himself.
It took Miley a minute to realize who it was, and when she did, she didn't know what to say. He had gone off to college right after graduation, but she knew that he must come home for holidays and such. She had often thought about seeing him on the street, just strolling along, or perhaps at the movies or the grocery store. She had long ago stopped expecting this, however.
"Do you remember me?" Nick asked, as if they were old friends or something. Miley nodded. He looked exactly the same, only a little older. "How have you been?" "What are you doing here?" Miley snapped out. She had gotten over her shock, and now felt an overwhelming anger.
"I—" He trailed off, and Miley thought he wasn't going to say anything else, but then he added abruptly. "I came to say I was sorry." Miley snorted. "Well thanks, that means a lot," she said sarcastically, and moved to unlock her car door. Nick was beside her in an instant, blocking her from getting in her car.
"Get out of my way." "Miley," his voice sounded like a plea, but he didn't move. "What are you going to do?" her voice was venomous, "Force me to a motel?" "I said I was sorry," he accused, as though by saying those two little words everything was okay and she should just forgive him. "You've said what you've come to say, now get out of my way," she said, pushing him aside and turning her key in her car door. "Stop and talk to me a minute." "What? What do you want from me?" she demanded, turning to look him square in the eye. "I want you to forgive me."
"It's not that simple Nick," she spat his name out like a dirty word "You can't just come find me four years after the fact, and say your sorry. You expect me to forgive you to clear your conscience, and you can continue on with your charmed little life. Well I don't forgive you. Now get out of my way," she said after he stepped back between her and her car door. "Fine, it was unfair of me to ask you to forgive me. Miley," he said desperately, "At least talk to me for a minute. Let me buy you a drink."
Miley looked at him incredulously. "Now why would I want to do that?" "Maybe there's something you want to say to me? Get some sort of closure?" he said hopefully. She stared at him. She did need closure, but she didn't think that talking to him would bring it, in fact just seeing him brought to the surface emotions and memories that she had been able to bury. Still, it couldn't hurt to talk to him for a minute.
"Fine," she said, turning around and walking into the diner she had just left. She didn't turn around, but she could hear him following her. Fran, the other waitress working that night gave her a quizzical look as she was just opening the door to leave for the night. "We're just going to sit down for a minute," Miley gestured to Nick. "I'll lock up when we leave." Fran looked at Nick then gave Miley a knowing smile, "Okay," she said in a singsong voice "Goodnight."
Miley gave an inward groan at what she knew the other woman was thinking. At least she didn't ask any nosy questions, though Miley supposed she would be getting them the next day. She flicked on the light and slid into the nearest booth, Nick sat down opposite her.
"Okay, what do you want to say?" He took a deep breath, leaned forward then sat back again. "Miley," he said, lacing in fingers and placing them on the table. Miley hated the way he kept saying her name. "I want to explain. I'm not trying to condone what I did, but I just want you to know that I'm different now. God, I was so young and arrogant. I thought that every girl would want to get with me. I know that my apology isn't worth much now, but for what it is worth, I've felt guilty for it every day since."
Miley found that hard to believe. "Why now? Why did it take you four years to come say something to me?" She tried hard to keep her voice calm, not wanting him to know how much this conversation was affecting her. "I tried to before. I've written you letters that I've never sent. I've come as far as your front door, but never had the courage to knock." Miley stared over at him. He was so perfect. She remembered when she used to hate him for being perfect, for having the perfect life. She had resented him and everyone like him. In a way she still did.
She wanted to punish him, to tell him how much she hated him still, but what was the point? It wouldn't make her feel better, not in the long run. "I forgive you," she said. They sat there for a moment or so in silence. Miley stood up and walked to the door. Nick just sat and watched her, "I have to close up now," she finally said when he still didn't move. "That's it?" he asked. "What else is there?"
Nick stood up and walked over to her, about to leave through the glass door, but then something stopped him. He abruptly turned around and opened his mouth, then seemed to make a decision. "When I think about that night, I don't just feel guilt. I remember how beautiful you were, how innocent," he was standing so close that she could feel his breath, he cupped her soft, wispy hair. Then all of a sudden he was kissing her. And she was letting him. He wrapped his arms around her petite frame, and she stood on tiptoe to better reach his searching mouth.
The kiss was gentle and soft, but intense all the same. Nick pulled back and gazed down at her flushed face. "Come home with me tonight," he asked, stroking her hair. That seemed to wake Miley up from a trance. She pushed him away from her. "No!" she said, shoving him out the door so she could lock it shut. "Why?" he said confused, after the way she had just responded to his kiss.
"I have to go home," she said, walking back to her car. "You don't have to," he followed her. "I have to go home now!" she said sternly, opening the car door and slipping in without looking at him again. "Can I see you again?" he asked through her rolled down window as she started the engine. "I don't think that will be a good idea," she said as she pulled away. Nick stood staring after her, and Miley watched his figure in the rear view mirror until she turned the corner.
She wasn't quite sure how she felt about tonight. Why hadn't she said something more? There was so much that she should have told him, but found that she just couldn't. Now she would never see him again, her chance was gone.
"Sorry I'm late," she said as she opened the door to her apartment. "Hardly late at all," her neighbor Ben said with a kindly smile as he stood up from the couch and walked over to greet her at the door. "How was he?" "An angel. He's in bed now." He said as he made his way to the door. "I have to get going, an early day tomorrow." Miley felt guilty. Her babysitter had cancelled at the last minute, so she had been forced to ask Ben to come over. He was such a nice guy, she knew he would do it all the time if she only asked him, but she also knew how busy he was and didn't want to bother him too much.
"Thank you so much," she said sincerely. "Not a problem," he said as he exited the room, "See you later," he closed the door behind him. Miley set down her bag and walked over to her son's room. Opening the door she peeked through the crack just until she saw his little brunette head lying peacefully on his pillow. Quietly closing the door, she walked back to the living room. She really needed to study, but she just couldn't keep her mind on her work.
Miley and Fran stood close together by the coffee pot, talking quietly. Fran had pulled her over there the first chance she got, and Miley simply let her, knew that she couldn't get out of the interrogation that was coming. "So?" Fran said expectantly, "Who was that last night?" Miley took a deep breath and raised her eyebrows as though to say 'Do you really want to know?'
Fran nudged her impatiently. "That was Luke's father." "What?" Fran almost shouted, and Miley glanced around the room to see if anyone had heard then lowered her voice. "That was Luke's father." "I heard you the first time," Fran said impatiently, then after a moment, "That son of a bitch." "What makes you say that?" Miley asked surprised, she had never mentioned anything of Luke's father before.
"He thinks he can just walk into your life whenever he wants to? What did he want? Did he want to see Luke?" "No—" Miley said hesitantly. "That bastard!" Fran spat out. "And you don't need to tell me he doesn't pay child support, I know how much you struggle." Fran was shaking her head with furry now. "Fran, I'm afraid that it's really not his fault," Miley spoke quietly, knowing that Fran's anger would soon be directed at her. "How can you say that?" Fran asked gently, placing a comforting hand on Miley's shoulder, "You didn't do anything wrong." Miley felt guilty at her friend's automatic loyalty.
"He doesn't even know that Luke exists." Fran didn't seem to hear her for a second. Her mouth had opened to deny whatever self-condemnation Miley had been about to say, and to comfort her. She stopped in her tracks, however. "What do you mean he doesn't know Luke exists?" "I mean I never told him he had a son." "Miley! Why?" Fran groaned out. Miley couldn't meet Fran's questioning eyes. She didn't know what to tell her. "I-I. We weren't dating or anything when it happened, he went to college and I got pregnant. I didn't even know him—he wasn't part of my life."
"You have to tell him," Fran whispered vehemently, "Miley, he deserves to know he has a son, and once more, he can help pay for the things Luke needs." "No!" Miley said desperately, "What if he tries to take him away?" She couldn't stop the tears from falling down her cheeks now. "Oh Miles," Fran grabbed her and held her comfortingly in her arms. "It's too late now anyway. I sent him away yesterday." Fran pushed her away slightly and wiped the tears off her face. "You should go home; you've had a long day. Oh, I haven't even asked you how your test went?"
Miley let out a little laugh, "I think I did pretty well." "Good, good," Fran said gently, "Now go home and get some rest. I'll cover your shift." Miley gave her a hug and left the building. She smiled at Fran's mothering ways, so unlike her real mother. She did rest when she got home. She was asleep the instant her head hit her pillow. A loud knocking came on her door. Miley groggily sat up and wondered who it could be. Probably Ben, she thought. She opened the door.
Nick. He was just turning to leave by the time she got to the door, and he turned back to face her. "I didn't think you'd be home," was all he said. "What are you doing here?" Miley asked, careful to keep her body positioned between his eye line and the room behind her. She wasn't sure if any of Luke's toys were still lying around the room. "I came to see you."
Miley didn't know what to say. She thought that he would be gone forever after last night, yet here he stood, in her doorway. "I wanted to see you," a long pause, "Come have dinner with me tonight." "You want us to be friends?" Miley questioned him. "No. Yes. I don't know." He seemed different from the Nick she remembered. This Nick was unsure of himself, and careful. Just then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the yellow bus pull onto her street through the window. Glancing quickly at the clock, she realized that Luke was coming home from kindergarten. "Okay," Miley rushed out.
"Okay?" "Yes, we can have dinner tonight. Now please leave." She pushed him out of her doorway, following him and closing her door behind him. "Are you going somewhere?" he asked her curiously. "Yes, and I'm in a hurry. Just meet me back here at seven." She pushed him into the elevator. "Aren't you coming?" "No, I'm going to take the stairs."
The elevator door closed, and Miley ran down the staircase. The bus was just pulling up in front of her building when she got outside.
Luke was jumping happily out of the bus, just as she saw Nick's car pulling out of the parking garage. "Come on sweetie," she urged her son, picking him up and rushing back toward the building, hoping that Nick wouldn't see her.