Until It Fades(4)

By: K.A. Tucker

My mother will be dead to me.

With grim determination and what feels like a lead ball in my stomach, I march up the steps to the station.

She’s wrong. Scott and I are meant to be together.

It is real.

And I will never forgive her for this.

December 2010

I sit with my hands folded in front of me, fighting the urge to shrink into my seat as I quietly watch Lou Green drag her pen down the length of my résumé. Misty warned me that the owner of Diamonds would seem a bit intimidating, with her stern face and harsh tone.

I so desperately need this job that I’ve been unsettled by nerves all last night and this morning. By the time I stepped through the diner’s doors fifteen minutes ago, overwhelmed by the buzzing voices and clanging pots in the kitchen and the potent smell of hot pancakes and sizzling bacon, my stomach was churning fast enough to make butter.

It doesn’t help that Lou’s interviewing me in a booth, smack-dab in the middle of all the bustle, where countless sets of eyes can survey me with abandon—some merely stealing glances, others downright staring.

Are they always so interested in potential new staff? Or is it just an interest in me, the high school slut who tried to put Scott Philips in jail?

“So you have no waitressing experience.” Lou says it so bluntly, I can’t tell if she’s merely stating a fact or pointing out a reason why this interview should end now.

“No, ma’am. But I’m a fast learner.”

“Aren’t they all,” she murmurs dryly, more to herself. “You livin’ with Misty?”

I nod. “For about three months now.” In the apartment she shares with her long-haul-truck-driving father who’s home one night a month. I moved out of my parents’ house on my eighteenth birthday, when my mother could no longer force me to stay. It’s her legal duty, after all, to house her children until they reach the age of majority. And Hildy Wright is all about the law.

“And how’s that goin’?” Lou asks.

“Fine.” For the most part. Misty isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and she rarely shuts up—a nightmare early in the morning when I prefer to drink my coffee in quiet solitude and she’s all bubbly. But I can’t complain because she’s given me a place to live and she’ll be the reason I get this job, if I do. Plus, she’s pretty much the only friend I have left.

From the expression on Lou’s face, I can only imagine what she thinks of Misty. Her opinion can’t be all bad, though, given she hasn’t fired her, and she humored her request to interview me.

“I see you were a cashier at the Weiss in Balsam, from November of last year until March?”

“Yes. That’s right. Five months.”

“What happened?”

“It wasn’t a good fit.” I swallow the knot that’s forming, thinking about the day the manager, Susan Graph, pulled me into her office to hand me my vacation pay and tell me that it would be best if I didn’t come in anymore, due to what was going on in my personal life. This, after only a month earlier giving me a glowing employee review. The worst part about it is that I have to shop there because it’s the only grocery store in Balsam.

“I can work any shifts you want. Early mornings, midnights . . . anything.” I’m trying not to sound too desperate, but I don’t think I’m succeeding. Then again, maybe employers like desperate employees—we’ll put up with just about anything. And I will put up with just about anything. Misty makes good money in tips. The kind of money I need so I can save up and get as far away from Balsam County as soon as possible. I’ve been waiting for a job opening here for months.

“How will you get here? Do you have a car?”

“With Misty, for now. And I figured I could buy something cheap after a few months.” Diamonds is a fifteen-minute drive from Balsam, on Route 33, way too far to bike.

Lou’s pen shifts back to my education. She frowns. “You haven’t finished high school?”

“No, ma’am.”

She peers up at me from behind thick-rimmed glasses, her curly mouse brown hair framing her face in a short crop. If I had to guess, I’d put her in her midfifties, though it’s hard to say. “Don’t you know how important having your high school diploma is?”

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