A Love Between

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Set your story in a roadside diner.... view prompt


LGBTQ+ Contemporary Fiction

Nina’s eyes followed the clock’s hands. 3:03. 

Seven months ago they decided they would meet every Sunday at 3:00, but Ryan was always late. Nina twisted on the barstool and tapped her nails against the counter, pretending that Ryan was just that: late. Pretending she wasn’t afraid that this time, Ryan wouldn’t show up at all.

Nina glanced at Beth, the restaurant owner, in the kitchen from the bar. She was cooking two burgers for her and Ryan, and Nina’s stomach flipped with guilt. Beth probably had more faith in her and Ryan than she did. How wrong was that?

How could she think Ryan wouldn’t show up after all this time? Last week, Ryan had laughed so much, so hard, and clutched Nina’s hand like never before. They were okay.

But the truth was, no matter how okay she thought they were, every Sunday, Nina felt like hands were squeezing and pinching her insides.

She looked at the clock again. 3:05. 

Nina heard tires on the gravel and her fingers stilled. She didn’t dare turn around. It didn’t mean it was Ryan. It could be someone driving through, hoping to stretch their legs and grab a coke at Stop N’ Talk before getting back on the road.

The car door slammed.

The diner door opened.

The bell rang.

Nina’s heartbeat rocketed. 

Footsteps walked into the diner, closer to Nina—and then the stool beside her slid back smoothly.


Nina turned and before saying anything, she launched for a hug and dug her face into Ryan’s neck and long hair. The familiar scent of peach mixed with whatever made Ryan Ryan made Nina dizzy. 

“You came,” Nina whispered. She pulled back and put her thumbs to Ryan’s face, but before she could rub her cheeks, she stopped at the worried look in Ryan’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”

Ryan looked away. “I almost didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”


Nina dropped her hands. “Oh.”

Beth appeared in front of them and placed a burger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake in front of each girl. “Good to see you today girls.”

“Thank you,” Nina said, forcing a smile. She turned to her meal and just stared at it. 

I almost didn’t.

Ryan grabbed a bottle of ketchup and murdered her fries before popping one in her mouth. Last week, Ryan had scarfed down the fries in under five minutes and stained her chin with ketchup.

“Do you still think I’m cute?” Ryan asked. 

“I think you’re even cuter now.”

Ryan had given her a look that made mini fireworks explode in Nina’s chest. A look that said, “How the hell did I get lucky enough to find you?”

Nina turned toward Ryan. “Did something happen?” Her eyes widened as a movie started playing in her mind: Ryan’s mom had gotten suspicious, and she started asking Ryan about where she goes every Sunday. Maybe she was forced to tell her mom everything, and now Ryan was living on the streets and—

“Hey,” Ryan said, putting her hand over Nina’s. 

Nina blinked multiple times, feeling like she was putting on a pair of glasses as reality became clear again.

“I’m okay,” Ryan said. 

“Are you sure?”


“Then what’s wrong?”

Ryan sighed. “I just—” She ran a hand through her hair and glanced at Beth in the kitchen. Ryan jumped off the stool, grabbed her plate and milkshake, and walked to the booth in the far corner. She sat down and put another fry in her mouth. Nina rolled her eyes, but she grabbed her meal and followed.

“Scoot,” Nina said.

Ryan slid herself to the edge, and Nina sat beside her. 

“Eat first,” Ryan said. “Then we’ll talk.”

“I don’t want to eat.”

“You’re hungry.”

“How do you know I’m hungry?”

“Because you always get this crinkle on your eyebrow, right here,” Ryan booped the edge of Nina’s eyebrow, “when you’re annoyed. You’re hangry-annoyed right now.”

“How do you know I’m not annoyed with you?”

“Because even though I just told you I was thinking about not coming, you sat beside me instead of across from me.”

Nina stared into Ryan’s eyes for a long time. Neither girl looked away. “I need to know what you’re thinking,” Nina eventually said. Ryan opened her mouth, but Nina lifted her hand. “But I’ll eat first—in quiet, if that’s okay.”

Ryan nodded and ate her food in silence.

Halfway through her meal, in between sips of her milkshake, Nina stopped and looked at Ryan. “Are you going to break my heart?”

Ryan’s eyes widened. “I don’t want to break your heart.”

“That’s not what I’m asking you.”

“I came.”

“I know. Why?”

“Because I want you.”

Nina raised an eyebrow. “But?”

“But… look,” Ryan said, pushing her plate away. “Everything between us is perfect. I feel seen and comfortable with you. I can complain and you’ll listen. I can laugh with you. When you kiss me, I feel like I can fly. I’m so in love with you, Nina, that sometimes I don’t know what to do with it.”

Nina grabbed Ryan’s hand. “Then what’s the problem?”

“The problem is that everything is perfect in here. In this diner between our two closed-minded small towns.

I had the greatest time with you last week, and after I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair it is that I couldn’t have fun with you again the next day. In a different place. Every week I see the inside of this diner, I know it’s every corner, it’s every flaw. I want to take a walk with you at the park. I want to kiss you on a picnic.”

“So this isn’t enough for you? I’m not enough for you?”

“What?” Ryan said, looking genuinely surprised. “That’s not what I’m saying.”

“I’m more than happy to spend my Sunday in this freaking roadside diner for a couple of hours just to see your face.”

“Nina, listen to me,” Ryan said, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her close. Nina closed her mouth when she saw the desperate look on her face. “It’s not about you. I hate hiding. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

The diner door opened suddenly, and Nina quickly pulled apart from Ryan and looked in that direction. When she saw a man walk in hand-in-hand with a five or six-year-old boy, and not someone she recognized from her small town, she relaxed and turned back toward Ryan. Her eyes were fallen, her eyebrows pinched in: the expression punched Nina in the stomach. 

“You see?” Ryan said. “Even in this place where we don’t have to hide, we still have to hide.”

They were silent for a moment. The restaurant was mostly empty, so they could hear the man and his young boy ordering their food. 

“Tell me honestly,” Ryan said. Nina turned to her. “Don’t you ever get tired of hiding?”

“I love you, Ryan,” Nina said, grabbing her hand in between her own. “I want to be with you.”

“That’s not what I’m asking you. We’re not being realistic, don’t you see? We meet once a week after driving forty-five minutes to see each other for a few hours. When I’m with you, this feels so right and safe. When I leave, I feel like I’m hiding a dirty secret.”

Nina couldn’t even feel hurt. She couldn’t feel her heart break—because she felt the same thing. And she hated it.

Instead of replying, Nina stood. She got up so fast she knocked her knee on the table and let out a string of curse words. She didn’t let Ryan finish asking if she was okay before storming off and leaving the diner. 

As soon as she stepped out, Nina felt the hot air envelop her skin in an unwelcome hug. How can she be standing in the middle of a clear open sky and still feel like she’s suffocating? 

How can she be in such a beautiful, loving relationship and feel dirty once she’s back in her small room in her small town?

She wanted to scream. Instead, she walked past the parking lot and toward the edge of the road. She looked left and right, the road empty and quiet. 

Maybe she should run away. She’d thought about it before. Packing her bags, getting in her car, driving off, and picking up Ryan. 

The gravel crunched behind Nina, and Ryan appeared at her side. Together, they stared at the endless desert in front of them. 

Nina stuck out her thumb. “Maybe we should just hitch a ride and go to the city,” she said.

Ryan didn’t answer for a few minutes, but then she stuck out her thumb. “We can get a place of our own.”

“Yeah. I’d like that.”

“Get a dog, perhaps?”

Nina snorted. She hated dogs, and Ryan knew that. 

“A golden retriever. Or a pit bull?” Ryan asked.

“We are so not getting a pit bull.”

“Golden retriever it is.”

“What? No—that’s not what I meant. No dogs.”

Ryan laughed. They stood together like that for five minutes, agreeing that they would get a place with great lighting and a beautiful view, and access to a swimming pool. They would have more plants and books than furniture. 

“What will we sit on?” Nina asked.

“You can sit on my lap.”

They both laughed so hard they dropped their arms and hugged their stomach. Eventually, the laughter died and suddenly neither of them remembered what was funny. Reality wasn’t a bucket of ice water thrown over their heads—it was heat so thick they could choke.

“Let’s go back inside. It’s burning out here,” Ryan said. She extended her hand, and Nina looked at it before grabbing it tight and walking back inside. 

They sat back at the booth, where their food and milkshakes had been cleaned up. Nina sat opposite Ryan. 

“We don’t deserve this,” Nina said after a moment.

“I know.”

“I just want to walk around with you while holding your hand. I want to take you to dinner. I want to introduce you to my parents. Why aren’t I allowed to do that?”

“I don’t know how to answer that, Nina. But how long do we do this? How long do we hide?”

“I don’t know how to answer any of those questions either,” Nina whispered. “I just know that I would rather have you like this than not have you at all.”

“It’s hard hiding who I am, Nina. But hiding the person I love is harder.”

“So what?” Nina said. “We’re just supposed to quit? Pretend we don’t exist?”

Ryan groaned and hid her face in her arms. Nina wanted to reach over and touch her, but what good would it do now?

The diner door opened then and a tall man walked in. Nina hadn’t even heard the car pull up. His eyes immediately went to the man and the boy in the corner, and he smiled. 

“Daddy!” the boy said. Nina’s eyes went to him as he ran to hug his dad. The tall man picked him up and kissed his cheek. Then he walked to the booth and kissed the other man on the lips—a quick peck. 

Nina’s heart felt like it was being yanked out of her ribcage with ache and longing. She turned toward Ryan, but Ryan was already looking at the family in the corner. 

They were both seventeen, living in conservative towns. They’d never seen a queer couple before in their lives. Could they really be that free one day? Could they create their own family, outside of what they knew and their terrible towns and unaccepting families?

Nina looked away even though she didn’t want to. She leaned against the glass and stretched her legs across the bench. “What if we just come out?”

Ryan snorted.

“No, seriously,” Nina said. “What if you come and meet my parents, and we tell them everything? Ryan, the way you look at me is everything. There’s no way they can see a look like that and think that there’s something wrong with us.”

“Nina, your parents are—”

“Maybe they won’t be homophobic when I come out. I’m their daughter. You don’t just stop loving your daughter.

“If they kick me out it’ll only be for a little bit. I’ll give them some time to wrap their heads around it. I can stay with Lena meanwhile, right? If she asks, I’ll just tell her that—”

“Damn it, Nina, listen to yourself,” Ryan said. “None of that is possible. You can’t live with Lena. You can’t give her a good enough reason that won’t spread rumors and lies around town. You can’t come out to your parents—not now, when you still need them to literally survive.”


“But nothing. You can’t come out. No buts.” Ryan stood, muttering that she had to use the bathroom, and walked away. 

Nina slumped back against the wall. Was she losing her mind? She felt like she was stuck in the middle of a cliff, with nowhere to climb and nowhere safe to land.

She looked at the couple in the corner again. She could just imagine her mom’s face, her dad’s words if they saw them. Ryan was right, of course. She was always freaking right. 

She wished so badly that she could be wrong. 

Nina stood and walked to the bathroom. Ryan was in the middle of washing her hands when Nina grabbed her by the shoulders, flipped her around, and started kissing her. Ryan kissed her back immediately and sat on top of the counter before wrapping her legs around Nina’s waist. They kissed each other hard and fast and desperately, clinging to everything they felt.

It wasn’t until Nina felt foreign tears on her cheeks that she and Ryan slowed down the kiss. She pulled away and kissed her girlfriend’s tears until they stopped. It’s okay lingered on the tip of Nina’s tongue, but she knew those words would be a lie. And they don’t lie to each other. Instead, she said, “I got you, babe. I got you.”

Ryan leaned her forehead against Nina’s. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“Me neither.” 

“So what do we do?”

“I don’t know.”

They stayed in each other’s arms until Ryan said. “I have to leave early today, remember?”

Nina nodded and then she removed her head from Ryan’s and dug it in her t-shirt. “I know. But I don’t want to let you go.” Now or ever.

“Are you going to go home?” Ryan said. Nina pulled away and shook her head. Ryan’s eyes were shiny and tired.

“I think I’m going to stay here for a little while longer. Down another milkshake.”

“Okay. Come on then.” They dragged their feet out of the bathroom and went back to the bar. Nina glanced at the booth where the family had been sitting, but they were gone. Even her heart was exhausted as it fell like a feather.

Nina sat in the same place where she’d been waiting. Ryan sighed beside her. She leaned in and kissed the side of Nina’s head, and Nina closed her eyes against her lips.

With nothing left to say, Ryan turned and walked away. 

Nina remained alone.

. . .

Nina swung on the stool and tapped her nails against the counter. If she was honest with herself, she was surprised she’d come. What was she hoping for?

One week gone. Would they have another?

Her eyes followed the clock’s hands. 3:00. 3:01. 3:02.

Beth cooked, and Nina’s stomach churned at the idea of eating anything at all. Even if Ryan came, what would happen? Would they see each other again after today?

She should leave. Ryan wouldn’t come anyway, would she? She put her hands on the counter, ready to lift herself and get off. But then—

Outside, a car door slammed. 

Nina froze. She stayed in place.

She didn’t dare turn around. 

September 10, 2021 14:28

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