Wil left for school with her father, as usual. They’d left Jakob staring moodily into his cereal, as usual. The car had needed some coaxing and choice words under Rob’s breath, as usual. The morning was dark and mysteriously misty, however, which was refreshingly unusual.
The world outside their dirty car windows was nearly invisible. They traveled through familiar streets and landmarks, unfamiliar and quieted.
Perhaps made bold by the awe she felt traveling through floating land-clouds, Wil looked over at her father and asked, “Dad, can you tell me about when you and Mom met again?”
The brief disturbance her words made in the air was filled again with the sounds of car tires slushing over winter road debris as she hoped he heard and thought about her request. Rob sighed, as usual, but then began talking.
“Well, I had just started working at the factory and had a swing shift.” He cleared his throat a bit, to clear the cobwebs of disuse.
“I had a short break, so I thought to go get some food. It was late at night, and the only nearby place that was open was a truck stop.” He paused a bit, getting his memory going.
His eyes focused distantly past roads, traffic, and fog; to see instead the neon signs of an unfamiliar, dirty truck stop late at night in August. The night had been quiet; he had been anxious over his new job and mounting life responsibilities.
To Wil, though he knew she liked details, he was only able to elaborate with, “I was tired and didn’t know anyone there. The neon sign was broken on the building, so I wasn’t sure it had a restaurant.” He smiled a bit.
Wil caught the smile, and that he had felt some hopeless humor that night. Always impulsive, she asked, “And she was working there?”
Rob looked over at Wil briefly, quieting her questions and fidgeting with a pointed look. He didn’t like talking for a long time. He certainly didn’t like interruptions.
“I went through the doors that were under this broken sign, and saw that it was a restaurant. And there,” he paused, knowing this was Wil’s favorite part, “There stood the ugliest and scariest person I’d ever seen.”
Rob smiled at Wil’s giggles. It reminded him of her reactions when he would relay this story to her at bedtimes, so many years ago.
“You couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman,” Wil prompted.
Rob cleared his throat pointedly, then continued, “I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. It nearly scared me out of the restaurant.”
He smiled again, and said, “Then, I saw the only other worker at the restaurant. She was mopping the floors.” This was his favorite part. “She looked up at me and our eyes met. I think we smiled. She had blonde hair and I thought she was beautiful.”
Wil sighed with satisfaction. Sometimes, Rob envied her ability to express whatever she felt.
“I think I ordered something from the counter. I must have. I do remember that I decided I’d have to talk to her.” He paused, as they paused at a traffic light. “So, that’s why I went back so many times to eat at such a scary place.”
They had reached Wil’s school. Rob eased the car near the curb and waited. She grabbed her backpack, then leaned over to kiss her father quickly.
“Thank you, Dad.” She said. Before he could reproach her, she opened the door and skipped away.
He watched Wil dancing into the fog with her scarf waving goodbye behind her. He tasted bittersweet memory: she reminded him so much of her mother.