Until It Fades(9)

By: K.A. Tucker

“Watching that gorgeous figure of yours, aren’t you.” He grins and reaches across the table. I panic and quickly occupy my hands with my dishes.

“Thanks, doll. But I’ve got it,” the middle-aged woman chides with a wink, collecting the cutlery from me, freeing my hands for Gord’s waiting grasp.

I tuck them under my thighs instead.

He finally relents, leaning back into his side of the booth, checking his sparse blond hair in the window’s reflection. He’s not fooling anyone with that comb-over. “So . . . Catherine Wright.” His emerald-green eyes—really, the only appealing attribute this man has—study me with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. We’ve sat at this table for almost an hour and he has yet to ask me a single thing about myself.

And I know exactly what he’s thinking right now.

The Catherine Wright.

Gord may be a decade older than me and from the much larger Belmont, but I’d be stupid to think he doesn’t remember the stories from way back when. That he hasn’t heard all about me. Or at least the troublesome teenage version of me. The one who couldn’t possibly have changed enough after all these years for people to just forgive and forget.

Hell, for all I know, that’s why he agreed to this blind date. Maybe he’s banking on the hope that I haven’t changed at all and that he has a chance of getting laid tonight. I’m betting it’s been a while for him, too.

“Yup. That’s me.” I meet his gaze with a hard one of my own. One that says, “I dare you.” Actually, I do want him to dredge up things better left in the past. It’ll give me a good excuse to walk out and end this train wreck of a date.

I see the decision in his eyes a moment before he averts his gaze to the bottle of ketchup on the table, his fingers wrapping around it absently. “My aunt Lou says you’ve been working at Diamonds for seven years now.”

I guess we’re not taking a trip down memory lane just yet.

“Six and a half years.” Since the day after I found out I was going to have Brenna, through my entire pregnancy.

I was carrying a plate of grits in one hand and an open-face turkey sandwich in the other the day that my water broke. As far as truck stop owners who have to deal with amniotic fluid all over their tile floor during the dinner rush go, Lou was pretty sympathetic.

He lets out a low whistle. “I don’t envy you, on your feet all day, servin’ tables for tips. I mean, Aunt Lou’s doin’ all right, but that’s because she owns the diner. But I see those older ladies who’ve been workin’ at it awhile and”—he ducks his head and glances over his shoulder for, I assume, our waitress—“they don’t weather well in that kind of job, all haggard by the time they hit forty.”

Working at Diamonds when I’m forty is not something I want to be thinking about right now, so I push that fear away and offer a tight smile. “It’s a job for now.” It’s more steady than seasonal work at the resort, more stable than the Hungry Caterpillar café or the Sweet Stop or the dozen other little tourist stops in Balsam, and it pays a lot more than a place like Dollar Dayz. I shudder at the thought of standing behind the counter at the local dollar store all day, ringing up discounted nylons and aluminum foil for the local elderly, for $7.25 an hour.

Sure, between the housing subsidy, the food stamps, and other government help I qualify for each month, I’d still get by, but just barely.

Gord drags the last of his Dr Pepper through his straw, making a slurping sound. “Not exactly a dream job, though.”

“Some of us don’t have the luxury of chasing after our dream job.” Our parents don’t hand us businesses and futures. Truth is, there aren’t a lot of career options in Balsam, Pennsylvania, to begin with. Sure, we’re the county seat, but we’re a tourist town of three thousand—a lot more during the summer and winter seasons—with one grocery store, one gas station, two schools, two churches, a few inns, a main street of tiny shops, cafés, and restaurants that operate on limited hours throughout the week. Oh, and a pool hall to give the locals something to do. Plus, I didn’t exactly win over Balsam-area employers enough early on in life with my “false accusations” to warrant much consideration from anyone who’s hiring. I still count myself lucky that Lou ever gave me a chance when she did.

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