Until It Fades(6)

By: K.A. Tucker

The other two women have the decency to look away, but Dr. Perkins spears me with a haughty glare and then offers loudly, “Wives will have to hold on to their husbands when they come in here, with that one serving them.”

“You know what? I think we’re better off talkin’ in my office.” Lou heaves her squat, plump body from the booth, collecting my résumé on her way past, not so much as glancing Ramona’s way. She leads me through the kitchen, where a heavy-set, ebony-skinned man is flipping pancakes through the air with one hand and stirring a pot of grits in the other with deft precision. “That’s Leroy. He’s the head cook around here.”

“But she takes me home at night and does my laundry. Occasionally refers to me as ‘husband’ too.” Leroy winks, and then his face splits into a wide grin.

I force a returning smile, but I’m afraid it’s unpleasant at best because the overpowering stench of grease from the deep fryers is making saliva pool in my mouth.

“Three tables of four just came in,” Lou warns him. “Don’t know why it’s so damn busy all of a sudden. I should be out there coverin’ tables. We’ll wrap this up quick. Here’s my office, right . . .”

I lose her words as I shove through the door marked STAFF ­RESTROOM, making it just in time to dive for the toilet before my oatmeal makes its reappearance.

Lou’s waiting for me when I step out a few minutes later, her arms folded over her ample chest, the look on her face unreadable but alarming all the same.

“The smell of sausage must have gotten to me.”

“You can’t handle the smell of breakfast sausage and you want to work in a diner?” I can almost hear the “you idiot” that she mentally tacked on to the end of that.

“I don’t know what happened. I guess I’m just really nervous.” I really need this job. “I promise it won’t happen again.”

She twists her lips in thought and then heaves an exasperated sigh. “Stay here.” She disappears into her office and returns a moment later. “I keep a box of these in my office. Between all my waitresses, we have at least five scares like this a year. I’d rather make my girls know one way or another than have them droppin’ dishes and forgettin’ orders all day long because they’re eaten up by worry for the wonder. So do me a favor. Go on back in there and pee on this.”

I stare at the thin foil-wrapped package she just shoved in my hand, feeling my cheeks burn. “No . . . I’m not . . . This isn’t . . .” I’m on the pill.

“You a hundred percent sure of that?”

I quietly do the math in my head. It’s been how long since . . .

Oh, my God.

“Yeah, thought so. Go on, now.” Lou ushers me through the door with a forceful hand, pulling it shut behind me.

With a flushed face, I quietly fumble with the wrapping, though I don’t know why. It’s not like she doesn’t know what I’m doing. “This must be the worst interview you’ve ever had?” I call out with a weak giggle as I position myself on the seat, stick in hand, hoping I’m doing this right.

“Nope. A girl from out near Sterling has you beat. Cops came in and arrested her right after she finished tellin’ me how trustworthy she is. Turns out she robbed her previous employer the weekend before.”

“I guess she didn’t get the job.” And, I suspect, neither will I.

Over the flush of the toilet, I hear Lou call out, “Two minutes for the results!”

I take my time washing my hands as I wait, avoiding the little strip that sits on the back of the toilet, forming its answer. The sense of failure overwhelming me. I spent a lot of time getting ready for today’s interview, ironing a simple white blouse I borrowed from Misty, curling the ends of my ash-blonde hair so it falls nicely over my shoulders. Misty said Lou likes subtle makeup so I skipped the black eyeliner and stuck with lip gloss rather than the bright pink that I usually wear.

Pots are clanging and loud voices are calling out orders in the kitchen. “I know you’re busy. It’s okay if you have to take care of your customers. I’ll show myself out.”

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