Part 2: The dinner
Babs looked out through the passenger window at the Denver dusk."It seems so flat," she commented.
John Jones chuckled, a surprising sound. "She says in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains."
Color rose in Babs' face. "Well, I guess-" She stopped, unable to explain what she meant.
"You miss your canyons-buildings blocking your horizon to all sides. When I first explored Earth, I found the idea of skyscrapers so very *alien.*" There was a wryness in his tone. "And so I came here-a city, but with horizons, and those mountains like home..."
"Home," Babs echoed. "It must get terribly lonely for you here."
"Sometimes. Less so now than earlier. What I've lost can't be replaced, but what I've gained-I'm coming to understand that home is less a place than a feeling."
Babs glanced sharply at her companion, feeling a powerful sense of recognition in what he said. His eyes were on the road as he downshifted to stop at a red light. His flat, Midwestern features wore a calm expression, simultaneously at ease and at ready. He braked, and when the car stopped, he turned to her. That quirk of his lips appeared again as he met her eyes, an understated smile that she was finding increasingly endearing.
"How long-?" she faltered, breaking eye contact.
The light turned green, and his eyes returned to the road as he turned left.
"Longer than I thought it could," he replied, understanding implicitly what she was asking, "but not so long that I thought it would never end."
She nodded, appreciating his honesty. It was as if he understood the nights when she wanted nothing more than to have her legs-her old life-back, and the guilt she felt for wanting it, for not being "over" it.
"It is a different sort of thing, to taste an adult life, to have your dreams, and then have them ripped from you." He signalled and turned right. "You know enough then to know you don't want that loss to define you, and yet it is hard to see how it cannot."
"Yeah," Babs agreed, unable to avoid looking at her still legs.
"We're here," he announced, pulling the car up to the curb in front of a storefront diner. Flaking gold paint outlined in red traced out the word "Nora's" in script.
John hopped out of the car and was at Babs door with her chair almost as quickly as she had her door open. "Hope you like diner food," he said conversationally as she began the process of transferring herself to the chair. He hung on the open car door as he spoke, once again radiating the air of city-edged detective now that they were more in public.
She glanced at him briefly. "They got-" she paused as she pulled her body from car to chair "-open-face meatloaf sandwiches?"
"With mouth-watering gravy," he confirmed. "Ready to roll?"
His faint smile didn't waver as he spoke the casual phrase that usually left people blustering over their faux pas. He just waited for her to nod and back away from the car so he could shut the door. Then he darted past her up the shallow ramp to the front door of the diner and opened it for her, bowing her through with a flourish. "After you, m'dear."
Babs laughed. "A girl could get used to this."
"Hey, they teach us manners out here-not like those big East Coast cities," John teased as she rolled past him.
She hesitated as she confronted the inner door of the foyer, but before she could worry about how John would ease by her chair in the narrow space, the door opened. "-bring pictures!" a laughing man was calling to the waitress. He turned to step through the door and his eyes fell on Babs. "Oh! I'm sorry-too busy yakkin' to watch where I'm going. Please-"
He stepped back, allowing Barbara to pass, then looked past her. "Jones! This dish with you?"
Barbara felt herself blushing.
"As long as she'll put up with me," John answered. "How ya doin', Otis?"
"Oh, you know. Same old, same old." His eyes returned to Babs. "If you get tired of this old stick in the mud-"
"Otis Johson, Barbara Gordon," John interrupted, making introductions.
Otis shook Babs' hand. "Well, Barbara Gordon, as I was saying-"
"Otis, leave the lady alone!" the waitress scolded. "Get out of here."
She swatted at him with a menu, and he ducked out of the way. "Fine, Irene. I'm gone. Later, John. Nice meeting you, Barbara Gordon."
Irene was shaking her head. "That Otis hits on every girl that comes through that door, I swear. Pay him no mind. How ya doin', John? Ya want the romantic booth?" she asked with a wink in Babs' direction.
"Yep," John agreed. "Candlelit dinner for two, a bottle of your finest, and keep the photographers at bay."
Irene laughed. "Anything for you, John." Her warm smile returned to Babs. "What about you, hon? Ya wanna stretch out in a booth, or pull up and set the parking brakes-'n case you need to make a hasty exit?"
Babs looked around the homey cafe with its dozen or so booths and scattered tables, then looked up at John. He wore an expression that said the decision was entirely up to her. "Booth, please," she decided.
"Oh, John, she trusts you!" Irene joked. "Then we'll go for romantic. Follow me."
They did so, ending up at a booth near to the kitchen, tucked enough away from the others to ensure some privacy from other diners. Babs transferred herself into the booth and slid across the seat until her back rested against the wall. She lifted her legs up onto the seat, imagining she had flopped herself there with the same insouciance of her teenage years. John, with an approving smile, mimicked her pose, and Irene wheeled Babs' chair under the end of the table. "Handle free," she remarked. "Woman after my own heart. Ya never get anywhere in life by lettin' folks push you around."
"Irene's motto," John added.
"Don't give me any lip, Detective," Irene warned. "And don't give *her* any lip, either." She again turned to Babs, handing her a menu. "He plays the silent type so well, but *I* know better. Don't let him fool ya."
Babs smiled and accepted the menu. "Oh, I won't," she assured the waitress. "I'm wise to the chameleon act."
Irene gave her an appraising look. "I like this one, John. She can stay. Coffee?"
"Yes, please," Babs answered as John turned over both their coffee cups.
"Great. Back in a jif."
And Irene was gone, swinging by other tables on her way to the coffee pot.
"Eat here often?" Babs teased.
"My partner introduced me to this place. They make our lunches when we go on stake outs."
Babs nodded and opened her menu. "I like it."John watched her for a second before opening his own menu, appreciating the surprised contentment she radiated. It felt like-home.