This fic was previously posted, in full, on AO3. I wanted to share here. I hope any who haven't read it before, enjoy it!
Jack pushed through the door of the small, out of the way diner; always his first stop upon arriving home from weeks out at sea. The door was framed with frosted string-lights – the same bulb always flickering just at eye level – moss grew on the deck rail just by the corners, where an old apple tree loomed over the entrance; and inside the temperature was warm and cosy, a stark difference to the damp chill hanging over the sleepy town.
"Hey Jack, you're home early. Coffee?" He smiled at the portly woman behind the counter – her hair was pulled up in a tight bun on the top of her head, her reading glasses sitting on the bridge of her nose.
"Yeah, thanks Rosy, we got in a day ahead of time. But what can you do, when the load is full?" He leant against the counter, smirking at her and winking his eye.
"So, a successful catch then?"
"Best this year." He grinned broadly. "So how about a piece of pie to go with that coffee?"
"Sure, celebratory pie coming right up!" She grinned, patting his arm as though she were reassuring herself that he was really there, in the flesh. "What kind would you like?"
Something caught Jack's eye as Rosy spoke, his attention being drawn to the almost always empty booth right up the back of the diner where a woman currently sat. She had a dark coat on, with a blue scarf wrapped tightly around her neck; her hair was short and dark, flicking out at the ends, brushing against her cheeks.
The diner wasn't a large place, tucked down a side road just shy of the woods with a dirt track up the side and a clientele that consisted of local fisherman and farmhands; rarely even noticed by their next-to non-existent tourism scene. The chairs were all a dark minty-green, straight off the floor of a nineteen fifties, New York diner and the wall's were littered with pictures of the local heroes; sepia stained, blurry images dating back generations. Jack's father was up there, right by the bow of the Mary-Jane, and his grandfather too, holding the largest Swordfish ever caught off the coast of New England.
Rosy followed his line of sight; a small knowing smile tipping the corners of her mouth up as she watched him study the woman. "She wandered in about an hour ago," Jack turned back to her, noting the worried crease of her brows. "Poor thing must have been walking a while and in those shoes." Jack looked down beneath the table, where the woman had her feet set firmly together in a pair of shiny, black patent pumps caked with a layer of mud. "She almost hobbled in here but refused to take them off. Hasn't said much, just been sitting there reading that same magazine. I finally got her to have some cocoa just before you came in, warm her up a bit."
"What's her name?" He looked Rosy in the eye. "Do you know where she's from?"
Rosy shrugged. "Don't know, darling; how about you go find out."
"Yeah," He spoke absently, watching the woman put a finger to the whipped cream on top of her cocoa and slowly, almost hesitantly, take it into her mouth; frowning as she pulled her finger away. "You'll bring my coffee over?"
"Sure thing, sweetheart; and how about that pie?"
Jack grinned, patting her hand against the counter. "Surprise me."
He watched the woman twitch in her seat, she turned away from his approach; not noticing him cross to her as she gazed out the window at the trees that came right up to the building. Damp, moss-covered saplings next to thick-trunked Mountain Maples drew the eye out to the dense forest beyond.
Jack caught her frown as she turned her eyes back down to her cocoa, her lips pressed into a thin line as she stared at the cup.
"Best in the state, that cocoa." He stated, smirking when she startled just slightly and looked up at him. Her large eyes were a rich chocolate, framed with dark liner and her lips – pressed firmly together – were a full and deep red. She looked like a professional woman; on closer inspection he could see that her coat was tailored and her gloves were of a genuine, dark leather – not the cheap vinyl kind they sold down at the nearest Wal-Mart, which was at least five miles away – her entire image she presented was of a woman on her way to a business conference. But from the look in her eye, he wondered if it was something entirely different.
"It doesn't taste quite right." She stated simply, smiling as best she could as she shivered and pulled her jacket tighter. It surprised him that she could be cold when Rosy had the heating right up and the hot cocoa she had pressed between her palms, was still steaming.
"I like mine with a little whiskey," He smirked, gesturing to the seat across from her and with a brief but genuine smile, she allowed him to sit. "But don't tell my boss that, he'll never let me have cocoa on the job." The quip earned him a small chuckle, her lips parting just slightly with an earnest smile before she stared back down at the table between them. "Honestly though, you should drink it, it'll warm you right through." For a moment she just blinked at him. "Also the name's Jack, by the way, Jack Wallace."
She nodded slowly with a small smile. "Do you know," She looked across to the counter – Jack noticed that she didn't respond with her own name, but he mentioned nothing of it – where Rosy was pulling a piece of pie from the display and popping it on a plate with extra cream. "Do you know if they have cinnamon here?"
"Cinnamon?" He laughed. "On cocoa?"
"Yeah," She twirled the mug in front of her, shrugging her shoulders. "I don't know why, I just think that might make it a bit better."
"Well then, let's get you some cinnamon" He clicked his fingers, gesturing to Rosy who was already halfway over with his coffee and pie. Rosy just rolled her eyes, mock-ignoring him as she cast the younger woman a long-suffering smile. "Rosy," She feigned annoyance and the dark-eyed woman across the booth blushed just a little at the display on her behalf. "Some cinnamon for the lady."
"Mm," Rosy grinned. "Cinnamon on cocoa? That sounds wonderfully decadent, I'll grab you some."
"Thank you." The woman's thanks were genuine and Jack winked at her as Rosy left them alone once more.
"Character quirk, is it? The cinnamon."
She cleared her throat. "Oh, I don't know." She shrugged off the question quickly, averting her eyes and twisting the edge of her scarf with her fingertips. Jack just watched her for a moment, making note of how nervous she'd suddenly become.
They were silent for a time, Rosy returned with her cinnamon and he watched her as she sprinkled it lightly on top. He took a pause to shovel a few forkfuls of Rosy's famous apple pie into his mouth, before gulping down at least half of his coffee then looking back up at her with a broad grin. "So," He smiled around a mouth still full of pie, attempting to chew it away and swallow as politely as possible. He'd just forgotten how much he loved Rosy's pie. "What's your name?"
"I -" She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat, shifting back against the frame as far as she could as she placed the mug back on the surface. She had finally raised it halfway to her lips, when he'd stopped her with his question and he internally kicked himself for not even allowing her that one sip he had been hoping she'd take. She looked into his eyes then and he noticed a sort of pain there that was both startling and intriguing at the same time. This woman was a mystery to him, a strange, rather beautiful mystery that had him wanting to know where she'd come from. She glanced around the diner and he could deduce only that she was studying her surroundings, wondering – as he was – over every little detail. But where he was studying the stranger in his midst, she was studying a world from which she sat outside.
She took a few moments, her eyes drifting from one person to the next as she worried her bottom lip. He glanced over his shoulder, catching sight of a few of his crew wandering in the door for their own share of Rosy's signature hospitality and this woman watched them all, her dark eyes wide and dare he believe it, almost fearful. "You know, I," She looked down at her hands and he could see that she was fiddling with something in her lap, but with the table blocking his view he wasn't sure what it could be. "I don't really know, who I am, actually."
She laughed nervously and Jack was taken aback for a moment. She looked so calm and put-together, her appearance was so immaculate and so professional, he'd assumed she was just a businesswoman who was going to tell him that her Mercedes had broken down back on the main road.
To say he was shocked was an understatement.
"I'm sorry," He blinked. "You mean, you don't know who you -" She raised her hands up onto the table suddenly – effectively cutting him off – and he caught sight of what it was she'd been fiddling with. It was a small piece of paper, a note, folded in half just once and dog-eared at the corners.
"I don't remember anything. I have this, I mean, it's not much but there's a name on it and I've been sitting here wondering if it might be me. You know, it was just," She twitched. "I found it in my pocket as I was walking and it looks like it's been there a while," She held it out to him and with a tentative hand, he took it; unfolding it with care as the paper – kind of like parchment writing paper with a thick, almost fabric-like weave and the ink slightly bleeding – was quite old and worn at the folds.
"Regina, meet me at the stables. Xx." He read the note aloud, staring down at it for a long moment before folding it back up and placing it back in her out-stretched hand. "And that's all you know?" He questioned and she nodded, folding the piece of paper into a satin handkerchief before placing it back in her pocket. "You don't have anything else on you that'll tell you who you are?"
"I've checked every pocket of my coat, my trousers," She sighed, her eyes starting to glisten. "I don't have anything else. Just enough coins in my pocket to pay for this," She looked forlornly down at the cocoa with the cream slowly melting into the mug as the liquid cooled.
He leaned forward just a little. "Do you know where you come from?" She shook her head, her eyes just slightly glassy. "What about your family?" She shrugged.
"I don't know."
Jack looked around the diner for a moment, licking his lips, wondering what could possibly be done. He hadn't thought when he sat down across from her; that this would be the outcome. She looked so calm about it, as though somehow she knew that there was no one to miss her and she'd made peace with it. Were it not for the almost-tear in her eye, he'd think she actually believed that, but something was telling him it wasn't true. He couldn't believe that she had no one; he didn't want to believe it.
"How long has it been since you ate?"
She looked up at him, blinking. "I," She paused, glancing down at his empty plate of pie, seeing the crumbs and the remnants of the cream he'd all but inhaled. "I honestly don't know."
"Did you drive here?"
"No," She shook her head. "No, I was just walking. There were trees all around, no road, just trees until I found this place."
"You walked through the forest, in those shoes?" He scoffed and she shrugged her shoulders, the smallest smile on her lips as she shuffled in her seat. He studied her for a long moment, frowning as she fidgeted and twirled the mug where it sat before her. "You don't have anywhere to go, do you?"
"No," Her voice was a hoarse whisper and he noticed that she pressed her eyes closed tightly for a moment, glancing out the window to avoid looking at him. Clearly the whole ordeal was causing her a great deal of pain, but seeing as she wasn't entirely sure who she was, she didn't seem to know what to feel. There was pain in her eyes, but also emptiness in her stare where he imagined something profound used to be. He had the overwhelming feeling that there was something special about this woman; he just couldn't quite put his finger on what.
"Well then, Regina," He cleared his throat and she looked up at him again, her eyes wide when he used the name she only wondered belonged to her. But he'd decided that he liked it and that somehow, it suited her, so he was going to use it. "I have a spare room and some clean sweats back at my place; might even have a pair of thick, fluffy socks if you're lucky."
"Oh, no, I couldn't."
"Hey, you can't stay here forever and I promise you I'm a total gentleman. It can be just for one night if you want; but judging by the look of you, you're not too accustomed to sleeping outside, are you?"
She looked down at what she was wearing; he smirked as she inspected her nails and raised a hand absently to the gold necklace hidden just beneath her scarf. "No," She smirked. "I guess you're right."
"Okay," He clapped his hands together. "Burgers to-go, on me, and I'll give you the grand tour of our misty little cove. How's that sound?"
She looked at him through her lashes and he caught the faint blush on her cheeks as she nodded her head. "Okay," she smiled then, averting her eyes as he called Rosy over to order their burgers. The older woman didn't say a word about them leaving together, just smiled gently at Regina as the pair made their way from the diner. He caught sight of Rosy squeezing her hand gently and Regina answered the gesture in kind, thanking his older friend with a sincere smile before they made their way out to his truck.
His rusty old pickup was parked just out front; it had a missing hub-cap on the front right wheel and there was a deep indentation in the passenger side door that he'd never really thought about fixing.
Being the absolute gentleman he'd promised to be, he opened the door for Regina, taking her gloved hand gently and guiding her into the cabin with a flourish. He figured it wouldn't hurt to treat her like a queen, at least until she was a little more comfortable with what was going on. She looked lost and whilst he could see strength in her – whatever it was that was keeping her from breaking down into tears – he could see vulnerability too.
To Be Continued.