George’s voice rang across the small diner and he slammed his hand down on the bell a few times to emphasize his urgency.
“I heard you the first twenty times, George,” I said and rolled my eyes. “Seriously, I’m right here.”
“You never know, you might be reading one of your romance books or something,” he said with a grin.
I picked up the plate piled high with fries and our house special, the Roadside Burger, and grinned back. “You never know, I might fire your ass one of these days. I am your boss, after all.”
George chuckled and went back to the grill as I walked Lenny’s burger out to him.
There were exactly three customers in the diner that afternoon, all regulars and all people I’d known since I was a little girl.
“Here you go, Lenny,” I said, setting the dish in front of the old timer. He looked up and me and smiled.
“You got any plans for Christmas this year, Millie?”
“Not a damned thing,” I replied.
“It must be hard, your first holiday without your dad.”
“Yup. I suppose it is,” I said and forced a smile before I asked if he needed anything else.
He didn’t, so I headed back to my spot behind the counter where I could pretend to polish the cutlery and ignore the creeping sadness that threatened to take over if I let it.
I was all alone in the world, that was the fact of the matter. My mom had passed when I was a teenager, and my dad had been my only relative.
We lived in a small mountain town, Rocky Lodge, and I barely had any friends left, seeings how things were shutting down left right and center around here as everybody left for the city and better jobs.
I felt like a hold out, and it hadn’t bothered me as long as I’d had Pop in the picture, but he’d slipping on the ice in the late spring and hadn’t quite recovered from the head injury he’d sustained.
A week later, he’d had a stroke in the hospital and I was officially alone.
I didn’t know where to go or what to do with my life, so I’d rented out his house to a nice family I knew, kept his diner and kept working here as usual.
I had my own little log house down by the river, and life wasn’t that bad actually.
But the holidays were hard. Damn, they really got me.
We used to be a thriving resort town with an Olympic level ski hill, but in the economic collapse it had gone under and the entire town had just folded up, one shop at a time.
I made a decent enough living as the only diner in town, and Roadside was a landmark. The occasional tourist we did get around here always had to check it out. It had been in business in the same little location for forty years now, opened by my mom and dad long before I was even a spark in his eye.
“You know Anna said you could have dinner with us,” George said. He’d been cooking at Roadside since the first day and I felt proud that I was still able to keep him employed. I didn’t know what he and his wife would do without me.
“That’s okay, George. You’ve got your kids and grandkids coming up from the city. I wouldn’t want to impose.”
Translation: I didn’t think I could handle seeing them enjoying their family time together and might end up bawling like an idiot at Christmas dinner, missing my dad.
“You’re being silly, of course you wouldn’t be imposing. You’re like family to us, you know.”
“I know, thank you,” I said. But ‘like family’ wasn’t family, so I knew I wouldn’t go. “I’m going to open the restaurant I actually, have dinner for anyone in town who doesn’t have somebody.”
George’s eyes lit up. “That’s a nice thought, Mills. Maybe I’ll pop in and help out.”
He used the nickname my dad always used, and it hurt. Only a few people in the world had ever called me that, and now they were all gone.
“Never you mind, George,” I replied with another forced grin. “You’ve got family depending on your turkey carving skills, I’ll be able to handle the three or four people who show up.”
George didn’t reply, he ducked out of sight and came back with yet another Roadhouse burger and fries.
What can I say? It was our most popular item from a menu consisting mostly of burgers and fries and good, old fashioned breakfasts.
I set the next plate in front of Mickie, an older woman who was new to town.
And by new, I mean she’d moved in about a year ago but I still hadn’t had a chance to sit down and really get to know her.
“Did I hear you say you’re doing a Christmas Day dinner?” she asked.
“I was thinking about it,” I replied.
“Oh good, I don’t really have anywhere to go. Count me in. Do you need somebody to bake some pies? I’m real good at it, my dear departed husband always said mine were the best.”
“Oh that would be fantastic,” I said with a smile, but again it felt tight and forced.
I just couldn’t get into the Christmas spirit no matter how hard I tried or how kind people were around me.
The little bell above the door jingled merrily and I turned around to greet my new customers.
And found myself staring right into the gorgeous, twin, smug faces of Sterling and Logan Murphy.
They barely looked at me, they were deep in conversation as they walked past the front counter to a booth at the end of the restaurant.
They might not have noticed me, but I couldn’t help it…I noticed them.
The Murphy twins had always been my secret crush when we were teenagers, their parents had owned a huge chalet at the ski hill and I’d worked there at the time.
I had grown up on the hill, spending time between the diner and as a ski instructor, happily giving lessons when I wasn’t waiting tables.
At first it seemed like the Murphy twins and I would get along, we were friends and spent time on the hill racing and having a good time.
But something had happened around age fifteen, that winter they’d developed into the tall, gorgeous Greek gods who knew they were smoking hot and began to act like it.
I had been left behind, me who was tall and a tomboy and ungraceful. They’d been surrounded by flocks of gorgeous girls and even women old enough to be our mothers…and the Murphy twins had eaten it all up.
The attention had gone to their heads, and they’d become mean after a while, condescending and rude when they’d seen me working here in the diner.
“Silly Milly,” they’d called me because back then I was flipping burgers with George just to keep up with the supply of the busy restaurant.
Then out of the blue when we were all about eighteen, after a drunken Christmas party at the ski lodge…we’d kissed.
And by we, I mean all of us, I’d kissed each of the hot brothers, one after the other until my head felt as if it was going to float away.
But I’d been drunk and they’d walked me home, and when I’d woken up in the morning I’d been so horrified that I’d done such a dirty thing that I hadn’t been able to even talk to them after that.
And of course shorty after, the hill had shut down and I’d lost contact with them long ago.
I cringed and wished I had enough money to hire a waitress, somebody I could send their way so I didn’t have to face them.
I didn’t know why they were back in town, the best thing to come of the ski hill going under had been the Murphy twins disappearing from my life, taking the memory my humiliating behavior with them.
But I was the only one on shift to handle the front of the diner, so I grabbed a couple menus and tensed up as I headed over to their table, bracing myself to deal with their arrogance and listen to their cocky banter.
It wouldn’t be so difficult if they weren’t still so absolutely stunning.
And it wouldn’t be so awful if I didn’t feel a thousand butterflies in my stomach at the sight of them.
After all this time, and all their rude behavior and my shocking desires, I still wanted the Murphy twins.
And I hated myself a little because of it.