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The following story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between actual persons, living or dead (or just confused) is entirely coincidental. Please do not copy/redistribute the story, in part or in total, without the author’s permission.
However humble, this story is dedicated to Colleen Thomas. Her recent passing served up some bittersweet memories, as it was her work that greatly influenced my own desire to give writing a shot as well as influencing my writing style to first and foremost tell a story. Rest in peace.
Taylor Richards listened to the crackling of gravel and ground underneath the tires of her 1964 Plymouth Sport Fury. She ran her hand over the bumps in the steering wheel, smiling whimsically. She and her dad had spent a lot of time restoring that car. She remembered the first soft caress of the black velvety interior, perfectly adorned with the burgundy frame. It was the best time she had ever spent with her father. He had passed away a few months after they had finished. But somehow, she always felt that he was still with her whenever she sat behind that wheel. The car had become her refuge whenever her thoughts or heart had become heavy. That’s what had brought her to that little gas station and diner in the middle of nowhere; her car’s engine still gently rumbling and idling in front of what looked like an old hitching post that separated the lot from the main building.
She sighed as she finally turned the key in the ignition and let the car rest. Without the hum of the engine, her noisy thoughts were free to intrude into the tranquility. She certainly remembered the screaming that had been the prologue to her exodus . . . her now-ex-girlfriend screaming obscenities down the stairs as she strode crying out the front door.
“You cow! How could you let yourself go like that?! Who do you think you are, you worthless bitch?!” And that was the nicer stuff that had been said. Things between Taylor and Amy had been bad for a while. Amy was a high-end investor at a high-end firm, and as a result had expected perfection from everything in her life, including her lovers and her booze. Taylor was an artist with a talent for urban landscape photography and for finding bad relationships. She had gone up one dress size and Amy had flipped a wig . . . her pet artist had developed an imperfection, at least in Amy’s eyes. Taylor knew she shouldn’t have let it bother her. Her friends, or what ones that she still had after being with Amy all that time, would have told her that she looked fabulous. But in Amy’s eyes, Taylor might as well have been wearing a circus tent. And being someone who had struggled with her weight when she was a teenager, Taylor felt every stinging word.
But that was so many miles ago in another place. She had gone down to the garage, pulled the cover off her baby and gone for a drive. She didn’t ever remember how she had gotten there, but supposed it didn’t much matter. Somewhere along the drive, she seemed to have cried herself out.
She looked around. There were three other cars in the parking lot. There was a Porsche, a beat up Ford F-150 from what appeared to be the Stone Age, and a cute little VW Bug. It was one of the new ones, but Taylor didn’t hold that against the poor thing.
Taylor leaned up against her car. If she strained her eyes hard enough, she could see the extra fat around her waist that Amy had been talking about. ‘Why do I wear this crap?’ she thought, referring to her bare midriff. She had always loved that look . . . snug low-rider jeans, a bare midriff and a torn tee-shirt. But she should have stopped wearing it when she put on those five pounds. Maybe then Amy . . .
“Screw Amy,” she said out loud, leaning her head back and letting her long brown hair dangle in a warm desert breeze. Saying that had made her feel a little bit better.
She stepped up on the creaking wooden planks that made up the front walk of the store that accompanied the two antiquated gas pumps. The boards groaned under her feet as she walked inside, a little bell dangling from a string announcing her entrance. Inside, a little radio on the counter was playing Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” The shelves were mostly empty and a single cooling unit stood next to the register, humming contentedly. She glanced over its contents . . .
“Tab?” she whispered amusedly, looking at one of the off-pink cans on the top shelf. She hadn’t had one of those since she was a kid at her Grandma’s house. Bittersweet memories . . . her grandmother had never quite forgiven her for being gay. Things had been civilized after Taylor had “come out,” but the magic was obviously gone.
She glanced over her shoulder. The other half of the room acted as a little restaurant, though Taylor didn’t see what kind of business it could do out here. Surprising, several tables were occupied. There was an iron-jawed and arguably handsome middle-aged man in a business suit right in the middle of the room, apparently arguing Çankaya Escort with his palm-pilot. A younger man in a United States Marines uniform was nibbling on a rather crisp looking salad at another table, while a pretty eighteen year old girl with a golden pony-tail and a cheerleader uniform was sitting at a third. ‘Is this a diner or a meeting of the New Age Village People?’ she thought, trying to amuse herself.
“Have a seat sugar, and I’ll be with ya in min,” came a delightfully Southern accent from behind a pair of swinging doors that separated the dining area from the kitchen. As soon as that voice was heard, the Marine and the man in the suit both looked towards those doors a little too eagerly.
Taylor wasn’t even all that hungry, but the idea of kickin’ back and relaxing for a minute didn’t seem all that bad. So she pulled up a chair and leaned back, grabbing a menu from underneath the salt-shaker. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught both of the men in the room sneaking glances at her, and suddenly she was self-conscious again and instinctively placed her arms across her midsection. She was saved from her embarrassment, at least temporarily, by the squeaking hinges of the kitchen doors. And Taylor quickly found herself without the benefit of oxygen flowing to her brain.
The woman walking out carrying a tray of grub was . . . amazing. It was the only word that Taylor could think of. Curly dark hair tried desperately to escape that little waitress cap that the woman had on, and it wasn’t the only thing trying to escape its confines. The woman had a set of curves that would make the Pope rethink his vows, and a face . . . oh that face. Taylor had seen women described as beautiful . . . this was the first one she had seen that DEFINED beautiful.
The woman dropped off a salad for the cheerleader, a club sandwich for the businessman and a plate of chicken strips and fries for the marine. Taylor noticed the businessman’s gaze caught on the woman’s perfectly rounded backside for a little longer than might be deemed appropriate, but Taylor couldn’t blame him. She was enchanted by the view from the front as the waitress wandered over.
“Sorry ’bout the wait, hun. I’m the only one here today, so I’m pullin’ double-duty,” the woman said with an ear-to-ear grin. “What’s yer pleasure?”
Taylor knew she had to say something; otherwise she’d look like a total fool. But she was so captivated by those beautiful green eyes and olive complexion . . .
“Uhm . . . what would you suggest?” she asked quickly. She had long ago discovered that it was easier just to let someone else decide.
“Would you like to take uh look at the menu?”
“Nah,” Taylor said, leaning back and trying really hard to look relaxed. “Just bring me out whatever you think would make good traveling food. Oh, and . . . never mind.”
The waitress looked puzzled. “What? Sumphin’ you want?”
“A Tab?” Taylor asked meekly before she could stop herself.
“Not a prob,” the woman replied. “We got it on tap.” She offered her hand. “My names Lilly, by the by. I’ll be your chef, server and con-fi-dante for the afternoon.” Lilly grinned again. “You want sumphin’, just gimme a holler.” Then Lilly turned around and headed back into the kitchen. And Taylor got a good-if-brief view of what the businessman had been looking at, and Taylor appreciated it just as much.
Then she noticed that the Marine had seen her checking the waitress out, and his face was disapproving.
‘Whatever,’ she thought, though she quickly averted her gaze. If he couldn’t handle being in the same room as a lesbian, then . . . well, heck with him. But she fixed her face on her table . . . she didn’t want a confrontation. But when those doors swung again and Lilly swayed over to put a fizzling glass of pop on the table, Taylor couldn’t hide her gaze.
“Take a picture hun,” the waitress said. “It’ll last longer.” But Lilly was still grinning, and Taylor didn’t feel so bad at being caught staring directly at the woman’s cleavage.
“Sorry,” Taylor replied. “It’s rude.”
“Rude? Sweetie, any day when I can still catch a youngin’s eye is a good day for me.”
“At my age . . .”
“But you can’t be a day over twenty-five!”
“Looks can be deceivin’.”
“Ma’am,” the Marine said shortly, “could I get a refill please?”
“Polite even in disdain,” the waitress muttered. She went to get a pitcher of iced-tea as the young man shook his head.
“What’d you do that for?” the businessman said. “You ruined the floor show!” He was grinning, but his smile held much less appeal for Taylor than Lilly’s had. He had directed this comment directly and loudly at the younger man.
“It’s indecent,” the Marine replied. “In public, anyway,” he added hastily.
‘What? Suddenly you don’t want to be seen as a bigot?’ Taylor thought. She was so tempted to give him a piece of her mind. But she knew she wouldn’t. She never did. She just sipped her Tab and went back to staring at the ceramic Keçiören Escort salt & pepper shakers in the center of the little round table. Then Taylor heard another chair at her table being pulled back. She looked up and saw the cheerleader.
“Hey,” the girl said shyly. “Mind if I sit with you? I hate eating alone.”
“S’okay with me,” Taylor said. The girl wasn’t giving off any gay vibe as far as she could pick up, but she wasn’t picking up any of the same feelings of resentment she had gotten from the young man.
“Thanks,” the girls said, going from shy to bubbly in the beat of a heart. She plunked her salad down on the table. “This is so yummy,” the girl started to say. “This dressing . . . like, oh my God . . . It’s some kind of fat-free Italian I think, but it’s SO better than anything else I’ve ever tasted and . . .”
Taylor was completely unprepared for the never-ending stream of conversation that poured forth from the young girl. ‘Where is it all coming from?’ she thought. Then she remembered. ‘Wait . . . teenaged girl. Enough said.’ It had been a decade since she had been a teenager, but some things you just don’t forget. She noticed that she was getting leered at by the older man and stared at by the younger . . . ‘To hell with you both.’
“Nice to see y’all gettin’ along,” Lilly said as she walked up to the table with a bowl of some soup that smelled delicious. “Green chili stew,” Taylor said. “Never done wrong by me yet!”
“God, it smells wonderful!” Taylor said. “That was fast!”
“I had a feeling that someone would be wantin’ it, so I’ve had some stewin’ up all day. Want anything else?”
Taylor looked up at the angel in the waitress smock. ‘Apple pie,’ she thought. ‘A nice cold beer. You.’ “No thanks,” she said out loud.
Lilly nodded, and went over to talk to the marine. He may not have approved of her interactions with Taylor, but no one could mistake that he was eyeing her as well. He was just more polite about it.
“Save some for the rest of us,” the businessman whispered to the girls with a creepy wink.
“What jerks,” the cheerleader “whispered,” making it just loud enough for the two men in the room to hear. “My name is Laura, by the way.” She offered her hand.
“Taylor.” She smiled at the young girl. “Thanks for coming over, by the way. Things were getting . . . uncomfortable.” She looked at the younger man who was now completely captivated by the waitress.
“I know,” Laura said. “It’s why I came over.” The girl blushed.
“My knight in shining armor,” Taylor said. “You do this a lot?”
“Nah. I just . . .” The girl stopped and looked away.
She sighed. “It’s just . . . I always want to stand up for people . . . I just never do. My parents got rich ’bout four years ago, and suddenly I was one of the popular kids. Being popular apparently means looking down on other kids and not caring about anyone but yourself.”
“Kinda deep for salad-talk,” Taylor said, trying to lighten the mood. She wasn’t great at dealing with problems . . . hers or other people’s.
“Sorry. Not your problem.”
Taylor felt uncomfortably warm. The girl was just reaching out . . . “No, go ahead.” She took the girl’s hand and let her flinch (as people who were “okay with that lifestyle” often did), but then Laura relaxed.
“It’s just I ran into a friend at school a few days ago . . . an old friend anyway. I hadn’t talked to her in a year, but she was one of those girls that we said ‘Best friends forever’? You know the kind? But she’s a bit overweight and has glasses and . . . and she was getting ragged on by other kids. I wanted to tell the all to fuck off, ya know? I didn’t though. I was afraid they’d turn on me . . . my new ‘friends’ would. I got home and I kept picking up the phone to call her . . . but what would I say?”
“That you were sorry?” Taylor said, a tad obviously.
“That doesn’t even begin to cover it. How do you apologize for something that you knew was wrong when you did it and . . . worse . . . know you’ll probably do again?” Laura looked like she was going to cry. “So I said I would go over to her house and apologize and that would make it real. I guess I just chickened out and started driving around . . . wound up here.”
“Well I’m glad you did.”
“Me too. At least I finally got to stand up for somebody . . . even if just a little bit.”
Taylor noticed that Lilly had taken to staring at the table with the two girls and was . . . smiling. But not her usual happy and jovial grin. She seemed satisfied for some reason. She stood up and with a quick sway of her hips she wandered back towards the kitchen. The businessman stared intently after her.
Taylor turned her attention back to the young girl at her table. Laura was looking a little spaced out. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” the girl said, blushing a little . . . no, not blushing. Glowing. The girl was glowing. “I . . . sorry,” she said. “I just think it’s time for me to be going.”
Taylor was confused, but Laura Etimesgut Escort didn’t look like she was uncomfortable or unhappy with Taylor, so . . . “Well, it was nice to meet you,” she said, shaking Laura’s hand.
The cheerleader stood up and reached for her purse.
“Don’t worry,” came a voice from the kitchen. “On the house.”
Laura looked whimsically in that direction. “She’s nice,” she said, walking out the door.
Taylor didn’t know why, but she got up and followed the younger girl out. Laura had climbed into the Bug and pulled out. Taylor looked down the road. She noticed that the fork to the right had some barrels in front of it . . . and a detour sign. Taylor stayed on the front porch until the little car had swerved to the left and faded into the distance after heading up the side of a mountain.
She just stood there for a moment. There was a warm breeze and the moment just felt right. ‘Right for what?’ she wondered.
The air was quiet for a moment. Then she heard the sound of a couple of pots falling in the kitchen. She waited. She expected that Lilly would say something witty about being clumsy. But nothing. She looked back inside. The businessman wasn’t at his table, and the Marine was looking a bit perplexed. He was looking toward the door to the kitchen.
Taylor was feeling very uneasy. “Lilly? You okay?” She took a step forward. ‘Just go sit down,’ she told herself. ‘Don’t get involved in anything.’ Her feet ignored her thoughts and took another step. A chair grated, old metal legs with plastic caps bumping over a rough floor. The Marine had stood up. He looked pale. He took several steps towards the kitchen, and then both he and Taylor heard a muffled grunt. Both of them started to run.
Taylor got to the door first and threw it open. She saw Lilly, pushed up against the wall with her uniform ripped in front, and the businessman had his hand over her mouth. His pants were pushed down just below his butt, and he was pushing up against her. Lilly had a look of panic in her beautiful eyes . . .
“Get the fuck off of . . .” Taylor started to say, before being cut off by the man’s backhand. Her face erupted in pain and she slammed against the wall, smashing her head on a shelf.
The Marine looked down at Taylor and then at the other man.
“Hey, one of ’em for each of us. What do you say?! Let’s teach these bitches what they’ve been missing!”
The Marine’s face clouded over and he started to growl. He reached towards Taylor, who was too stunned to do much of anything. But the young man’s hand went past her face and grabbed a wrought iron skillet. He turned and swung.
The businessman saw it coming and leaned back, taking most of the blow on the forearm. “What the fuck are you doing? They’re dykes!”
The younger man swung again, his face set. The older man stumbled away, clutching his arm. The Marine looked at Lilly. “Are you okay?” She nodded. But in the moment of his distraction, he was bum-rushed. The businessman bowled his way past the others and out the door. The Marine made as if to give chase, but Lilly caught his arm.
“Don’t,” she said with surprising calm. “He’s not a threat anymore. Just let him go.” But despite her warning, Taylor and the Marine stumbled and walked to the front, watching the other man jump in his Porsche and tear off. Even with a bit of double-vision, Taylor saw that the barrels that had been in front of the road to the right had blown over and were blocking the road to the left now.
The man in the sports car gunned the gas as he sped out of the parking lot. He grinned wickedly. He had gotten away with it! He felt . . . hot. He reached down and punched the AC. Nothing but hot air came pouring out of the vents. “Fuck!” he said. ‘Oh well,’ he thought. He could get it fixed down the road, he was sure. But as he drove, the sun just seemed to be beating down harder as the car descended into a valley.
“Why . . .” Taylor said, and then had to sit down. The Marine put a surprisingly gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Why do you want us to let him go?”
“Trust me,” Lilly said sadly. “The proper authorities will catch up with him soon enough.” She opened the door. “C’mon back inside.”
The two guests sat at the same table while an abnormally poised waitress fetched a pitcher of iced tea. She returned and poured all three a glass.
“I guess ah owe you some thanks,” Lilly said. “Mr. . . .?”
“Sorry. Bill Jenkins. And no you don’t. I was rude earlier.”
“You stopped him from doin’ evil things,” Lilly replied. “I think that makes you more than square by me.”
“I thought you didn’t like . . . our kind,” Taylor said, trying to find a non-confrontational way of saying “lesbians.”
“I don’t,” the Bill replied. “But sometimes . . . sometimes it’s like that girl said earlier. To you,” he said, looking at Taylor. “Sometimes you just gotta stick up for someone that needs it.” He looked confused. “I think I forgot that somewhere not long ago. I was . . . I was on patrol just outside of Baghdad. Wound up in a firefight along with local police against insurgents. Made short work of ’em, but captured one alive. Watched as one of the cops walked up and put a gun to his head. I knew we were supposed to take him in at that point. Knew it. But I kept thinking, ‘Who gives a shit? This guy would’ve killed me if he had the chance. Why should I stick my neck out for him?'”
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