Max burst out into laughter and AJ’s face lit up.
“There it is!” he yelled. “The laugh I’ve been waiting for. You actually make noises!”
Max kept laughing and tears formed in her eyes. She had to try and take deep breaths to calm down.
“See? This is what friends do Max.” AJ told her. “They hang out, one of them cries and the other one makes them laugh.”
She shook her head. “Thanks for the laugh but I really should be heading back in.”
They started the walk back to the diner and as they hit the parking lot, he stopped her.
“Think if I bring some lunch by tomorrow you’d be up for some cloud watching?”
Max thought about it for a minute. “Maybe?”
AJ grinned. “I’ll take that. See you tomorrow around two.”
She nodded and went back into the diner; he waited to leave until he was sure she got in fine. Plans were already forming in his mind as to how he could make this goes well.
AJ showed up the next day at two and was pleasantly surprised to find Max waiting out back for him.
“Hey.” she replied and he noticed it was the first time she smiled at him. “I decided to take you up on your offer.”
“I’m glad you did.”
AJ set the basket he brought down and spread a blanket out for them to sit down on. He pulled out container after container of food, plastic plates, napkins, silverware and bottles of water.
“Are you feeding an army?” she asked him.
“No,” he chuckled, “just the two of us but I like to eat and I wasn’t sure what you liked.”
“You don’t have to go out of your way for me. I can eat whatever you brought.”
“I’m not going out of my way. I wanted to make sure I had enough to choose from so you could enjoy your lunch.”
“Thanks for doing this.” Max said quietly. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem.” he said as he took a seat next to her. “What would you like?”
He served up the food and they chatted about her day and the diners inside while they ate. Bob happily gave her an hour for lunch and silently thanked AJ for putting a smile on her face. She was a terrific girl and a hard worker; he was glad she was opening up to someone.
She started to clean everything up but AJ reached out to stop her.
“I can do that once you go back in. I want you to just sit back and enjoy yourself.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I know but you have to clean everything up in the diner; I got this.”
AJ scooted further down the blanket and lay down, motioning for Max to do the same. Once they were both looking up, AJ pointed out the different clouds and what they looked like to him. She argued that some looked nothing like he said and by the end of the picnic, she found herself less anxious about their interactions.
As her lunch hour was winding down, Max stood up, brushed off her uniform and helped him fold up the blanket. AJ noticed some sand on her face but when he reached out to brush it off, she pulled back a little. He was disappointed because he thought they’d made some headway but he decided not to push her.
“Sorry.” she told him quietly.
“Thank you for the lunch.”
He started cleaning up as he watched her walk back towards the diner. Before she managed to get out of his line of sight completely, he called out to her.
“Think you might be up for a movie?”
She turned around. “I didn’t see a TV on the beach.”
“Wise guy.” he teased and she smiled again. “I meant that there’s a drive-in not far from here and I wanted to see one of the movies playing there. It’s cheap and I hate going by myself.”
“Can I think about it?”
“Sure. I’m going two nights from now so let me know if you want to come.”
AJ had been home for a few hours when his cell phone rang. Normally, if he didn’t recognize the number, he didn’t answer but something was telling him to do it just this once.
“AJ?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
His face lit up. “Hey, where are you calling from?”
“The diner. I hope you don’t mind but Marjorie gave me your cell number.”
“I don’t mind at all. What’s up?”
“Is the invite still open for the movie?”
AJ pumped his arm up and down. “Of course.”
“Good. I’ll see you then?”
“You definitely will!”