I catch her eye and smile. She smiles back but that’s about it. She’s occupied talking to some beet-faced regular who looks like his idea of a grand old time is driving his pickup through mud with half a load on.
She sees me staring at her. So does the wind-burned farmer-looking dude. After a second he goes back to his meat loaf. She comes down my way.
“Can I get you something else, hon?” Her dark hair’s tied back, an escaped strand sways loosely against her left cheek. Her lips are glossy red and her name tag says JACKIE.
“Jackie,” I say, “I got fired today basically because my boss is an asshole, and I got in my car and drove 78 miles my odometer tells me. I ended up in your beautiful burg and walked from one end to the other and back again and found myself in here looking at you.”
“Well, I suppose I should be flattered that nothing else in this dogshit town caught your eye enough to make you sit down and take notice 'cept me.”
I laugh. “You miss the part where I said I got fired?”
“If gettin’ fired or bein’ unemployed was a disqualiflyin’ factor, this town would be filled with old maids, spinsters and lesbians. What kind of job was it you got fired from?”
“I was a newspaper reporter up north.”
“That sounds pretty impressive to me. Our paper here is a one-man show. The same guy, Burt Winkler, writes the stories, the editorials, takes the pictures, lays out the pages and sells classified ads to yahoos trying to make a few bucks off their old refrigerators. He’s the father knows best with a megaphone that nobody really pays much attention to. Did you sell used appliance ads?”
She smiles, those lips curving up at the corners.
“That’s one degradation I managed to avoid. I couldn’t avoid saying no to going easy on a less than upstanding politician who happened to be the publisher’s college buddy, though, which put me on the road here. Telling your boss to go fuck himself in the middle of the newsroom’s not the path toward career advancement.”
“Jackie, can I get more coffee?” The ruddy guy calls over.
“Duty calls,” Jackie says, and turns to go.
“Hey,” I say. “Is there a decent place I can get a beer?”
This place she sent me to is kinda cool. It’s a brewpub populated with the town’s version of hipsters and college graduates, the local intelligentsia and book readers. I’m on my fourth beer contemplating my next move, which is leaning toward getting a motel room — I’m not driving home tonight — when a hand softly rests on my shoulder. I turn my head. Those ruby red lips from the diner are a couple inches from my face.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Jackie says, smiling.