“Who would you like to see again in December?”
“My 18 yo-runaway-self so I can show her that I find someone to love & own a home of my own - it did get better.”
Cherry shivered as she sat at the bar of the all-night diner. She was eighteen now, a full adult. She had been on her own for nearly a year and she didn't feel any less lost. She spent her nights here, nursing a cup of coffee, if she couldn't find a couch to surf. The night staff didn't care as long as she paid for something and didn't lay down in a booth to sleep.
She had enrolled at the local junior college, but couldn't handle a full schedule while she didn't know where she was going to sleep, and so wasn't eligible for financial aid or job placement. Without a job or rental history, she couldn't apply for any of the rooms on the housing board at the JC.
She shivered in the diner, but not because it was cold. Earlier that evening, when she had been trying to find a couch, an acquaintance had offered her more than a couch. He had offered her a bed. A permanent bed, if she wanted it; but he would be in it.
He wasn't icky, or anything, though she wasn't interested in him. It would solve all her problems; a stable address would allow her to get a job, to take more classes, to get set up eventually with her own place. She wouldn't let herself consider the obvious; that accepting his offer would make her feel like a whore, and she'd never ever feel like anything else. That wasn't logical. A job was a job, however it paid.
If that was true, why was she sitting staring into a cup of coffee and shivering in the diner instead of with him right now?
She picked through the bit of change she'd managed to pan-handle that afternoon. There was enough for the coffee and a buck for the server. She prepared to put the money down and leave.
An older lady sat next to her at the bar. “Don't go yet, kiddo.”
Cherry looked over at her. There was something familiar about her that she couldn't place. “Why not?”
“Because I want to buy you a piece of cheesecake and tell you some stuff.”
“Yeah, you like cheesecake, don't you?”
“Hey, Chris,” she called to the server. He walked over, then looked between the two of them. He seemed a little freaked out, but Cherry couldn't see why. Maybe he knew this lady and she was bad news? It seemed far-fetched. She was the kind of middle-aged suburbanite you never see in late-night diners. Totally wholesome and harmless.
“Two cheesecakes, please. And a coffee.”
“What's your deal, lady?” Cherry asked.
“Just a minute.”
“Wait for the cheesecake.”
Chris the server brought the cheesecakes. He seemed a little less freaked out. “You ladies enjoy,” he said.
The lady took a large bite of the cheesecake, and nodded at Cherry. She shrugged and took a bite, too. It tasted like one of those frozen cheesecakes you get at the grocery store; good, but not amazing. She sipped her coffee, which had been refilled, then said, “So, what's your deal?”
“I wanted to tell you that you don't have to move in with Jason.”
Cherry's eyes grew wide. “What?”
“I mean it. You don't want to, I know. I remember. And you don't have to. You're going to pick up a classified section tomorrow, and you're going to see a job there that will meet all the needs moving in with Jason would. You will find your calling, meet the love of your life, and in ten years, you'll be living in a house that you own.”
“How do you even know about that? Who are you?”
“You'd never believe me.”
“Whatever, lady.” Cherry ate the cheesecake; it was the best meal she'd had in days. She wanted to believe the woman, but things like that just didn't happen. “Thanks for the cheesecake. It's been a trip.”
“When you're nearing your fiftieth birthday, your youngest son, the little surprise, will invent a time machine in the basement. You'll know what to do.”
Cherry turned back to the woman, but she was gone; the only evidence of her having been there was an empty plate and a twenty dollar bill. She snatched up the twenty and looked at it. Just an ordinary bill. She sat back down. It wouldn't kill her to wait until tomorrow to see Jason, and this much money would buy her some breakfast.
Chris the server walked by again to fill her coffee cup. “Hey, where'd your mom go?”
“My mom?” Cherry said. “My mom's been dead for three years.”
“What? Hey, I'm sorry. Who was that lady then, your aunt?”
“No, I'd never seen her before. She was just some weird lady.”
“You're kidding me, right? She looked just like you.”
“What? No way!”
“Well, she was older, but yeah. She looked like you, but older.”
Cherry's eyes got wide. “Maybe she was!” she whispered.
“Heh, you're pretty weird. What's your name?”
“What are you planning on doing after this?”
“Well, the campus library opens at seven, so I was going to see if I could get some sleep there before my first class, but now...I think I might pick up a newspaper on my way. Have a peek at the classifieds.”