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Thank You

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I recognized the faint air of death as fast as I used to be able to recognize Johanna's homemade pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving -- when she didn't fuck it up, that is. Even when she fucked it up I still loved it. And suddenly I was in the mood for pumpkin pie.

I had Kyra's hand wrapped tightly in mine as we were led to a booth near the corner of the diner, her skipping along merrily in front of me, right on the waitresses' heels. I slid in the booth that was up against the wall so I'd be able to see the rest of the diner. I don't think there was any real reason I did that, but it was always good to keep an eye out, especially after all we had been through six years prior. I was still fairly paranoid about what happened that summer, my mind still not able to wrap itself completely around the situation.

Kyra was happy just to crawl into a booth and slid around on the giant plastic cushions, back and forth, the waitress grinning at her and setting a kid's menu in front of her along with some stubby crayons.

"She's cute," the waitress said with grin, shooting a look at me before walking off.

I could only nod and smile, a little too proudly, most likely, but so what.


"Hmmm?" I was studying the menu when she called my name, and as I peered up over the top of it, I could see she was holding her own up.

"Can you help with the maze?"

"I will once you figure out what you want to eat, Ki."

She looked defeated for a brief moment before turning her attention to the list of food, and that was when I caught a glimpse of exactly what had caught my attention when we entered the little dining establishment. There was a woman at the booth behind Kyra and she was seated on the same side as Kyra so she was facing me. It wasn't hard to tell that she had been crying recently. Her eyes were red and bloodshot and she was focused intently on some spot on the table, gaze glazed over and fingers tightened around an old, stained coffee mug.

"Not nice to stare, Mike."

Kyra hadn't even looked up from coloring some clown man on her menu when she said those words. How did she know I had been staring? Kid was pretty bright for an eight-year-old. There were some instances where her insight practically shocked me.

"Hahaha, I made his face purple."

Other times, she was just a normal kid. If you could call her that. She had lost a lot in her life. More than any three year old should ever have to lose. I helped pick up what pieces I could and I figure right now she's healthier and saner than what she could've been.

Setting my menu down, I casually glanced back up to the woman at the next table again. Her eyes had moved. They were locked on the window now, staring out into the darkening sky and the cars driving by the diner. She had moved one elbow up on the table and was now resting her chin her hand. Looking like she was about to shift again, I had to look away from her because our waitress had approached and was ready to take our order.

"Just a cheeseburger, medium well."

She nodded.

"Thanks." I looked across the table to Kyra, who had her pointer fingers over her lips, still in thought. "You ready, Ki?"

"Macaroni and cheese, please."

The waitress walked off to place our order and Ki was busy with the menu again, scribbling furiously at the balloons the purple-faced clown man was holding. I watched her for a few moments before I noticed the waitress heading back towards our table. I thought maybe they had run out of something or she forgot to ask something, but she ended up stopping at the table behind Kyra. The one with the woman. I moved my eyes back down to the table and if I concentrated, I could barely hear what was being said over the low murmur of the diner.

"Can I get you another coffee, Mrs. Landon?"

"Yes, please. That would be great."

Her voice was shaky and tired, and cracked slightly with the last word.

"We're all really sorry about your husband here. He came here a lot and was nothing but polite."

I looked up at the waitresses' words, noticing that one of her hands was now resting on the woman's shoulder. A cordial gesture of connection. The woman looked grateful for the words, but still very exhausted.

"Thank you. He talked about the place often. Scott said you all had good pumpkin pie this time of year."

The waitress had a sort of morose smile across her face as she gave the woman's shoulder another squeeze. "There's actually one about to be put in the oven. When it's ready, I'll get you a piece on the house."

Something in my chest panged and writhed at that exchange. I had been there. I had felt that. I understood it. I had no idea how her husband died. But I understood it.

Her husband. Once I pieced her last name and the name the waitress mentioned together it hit me. Scott Landon.

Sure, there was probably more than one Scott Landon in the world -- hell, probably more than a hundred, but in this area?

I sat and absently watched Kyra for a few minutes, my eyes drifting through the maze on the kid's menu. When I was almost to the end, a plate full of steaming hot macaroni and cheese covered the maze and I found a cheeseburger in front of me.

"Thanks," I smiled up to the waitress and then grabbed at the burger. Kyra and I ate in almost complete silence, except for the few minutes where she yammered endlessly about how well she could jump rope. Which I already knew, since the previous day was spent standing outside, the end of a frayed rope tied to a log and the other end in my hand as I turned it and she jumped for a little under three hours. Three fucking hours. The kid was a powerhouse.

I felt a little numb. If it was the Scott Landon I was thinking of, then the world had lost a great author. A little eccentric and off the wall, but great nonetheless. I had read all of his books and I had even seen one of his lectures once. He was a smart kid. And now the literary circles and the bookstores and all the readers of the world weren't going to be able to experience his odd little remarks and off-kilter theories. Sure, they'd have all the books he had published, but they would get nothing new. And Landon had seemed to be getting better and better with each passing release.

The thoughts spun around in my mind as I ate and finished my burger. Kyra had already finished her mac and cheese (which surprised me, since I usually ate faster) and announced to me that she had to use the restroom. She asked the waitress where it was as I paid the bill and bolted off, yelling that she would meet me at the door. With a tired chuckle I stood up and started to the front of the diner. My feet stopped when I was by the woman's table and my head turned towards her. What was I doing?

"I'm pretty sure you're sick of hearing this, but I'm sorry about your husband. I'm a huge fan of his." I nodded and continued before she could respond. "And I know what you're going through."

She was looking up at me in a sort of questioning way, and I suddenly felt like a total dipshit for letting that all out.

"My wife... she's... she passed away." I shoved my hands into the pockets of my worn jeans and blinked. I think I was about to the point where I wanted to turn and just walk away but that was when she spoke up.

"It's pretty surreal, isn't it?"

The aroma of pumpkin pie hit my nose as the waitress leaned around me and set the piece down in front of the woman. I apologized to her for being in the way of her and her job and we gave each other a polite smile as she moved away from the table. Once I turned back, the woman had her hand out in front of her, her fork in the other.

"Lisey Landon."

"Mike Noonan." I stuck my own hand out and shook hers, forcing a smile. Her grip was surprisingly firm and her eyes grew the tiniest bit brighter.

"Like The Red-Shirt Man Mike Noonan?"

I chuckled. "Guilty."

"I'm a fan of your work, I know Scott was too."

I could feel my cheeks flushing slightly, for some reason. "Thank you very much."

"Hi!" Kyra had returned from the restroom and was leaning against the table now, her curious eyes running all over Lisey's face.

"Hi there," Lisey said. She smiled gently at Kyra, and I briefly wondered why her and Scott Landon had never had any children of their own. When that thought hit me, her eyes had pulled themselves back up to mine. "Is she your daughter?"

Before I could answer, Kyra did it for me, a smile pasted on her round cheeks. "Kind of!"

"Long story." I nodded to Lisey.

"Maybe you could tell it one day," she said. The tone in her voice was serious and the slight upturn of her lips caused me just to grin in return. She was onto something. As much as it would hurt to recall every little aspect of that summer, and even if I didn't submit it to be published, it would be good just to release and record it all. Like a sort of therapy.

The last thing I said to Lisey Landon though was something that didn't pass through my mind before I spoke it -- it just escaped my lips. And later, as I sat in the car in front of the diner with Kyra and told myself exactly that, thinking she wasn't paying attention, the girl just responded with, "Your heart said it, Mike." It made sense, somehow. Where else could it have come from?

"If you ever talk to Scott again, tell him I said thank you and tell him he was lucky to have you as a wife."

I saw Johanna again, so why couldn't Lisey see Scott? Somehow it felt like she would one day. Like somehow we were in the same fucked up boat floating through the rank sea of life.

"Thank you," she had said.

We had stared at each other for a moment more and then with the aroma of pumpkin pie masking the lingering and depressing and all too familiar scent of death, I exited the diner behind Kyra.