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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A drifter finds roots.

Submitted: April 27, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 27, 2019



 Driving down some country back road, I roll down my window farther to let in the wind. In my rear view, I can see the dust billow and rise, looking like a cloud of locusts ready to devour me. I’m running from it; I’m always running. I don’t know where I’m going, and I don’t know how long I’ll stay. I’ll find a place, settle in and get comfortable - that’s when I leave. Because I’m chasing something, and I can’t ever seem to catch up.

The radio is broken, but I don’t mind. Nature sounds visceral, real. It makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a moment that could explode into something, important if I let it. The air conditioning is broken too. The sweet summer air lays thick on my skin like crusted sugar. I’m perspiring through my thin cotton shirt and jean shorts. Maybe one day I’ll see the value in a dress and buy one. They just all look so girly and frilly and so much not like me, it leaves me sick to finger the price-tag.

Acres and acres of farmland, green and lush, sprawls out in front and around and behind me, dotted with the occasional house. The houses are impressive; old and sturdy. Most of them are white or pale yellow, two or three floors and all have porches. Big, wraparound porches that make me think of sun tea, rocking chairs and fireflies.

I like it out here. The peace, and the lazy sweep of hay on the breeze. Time moves slower, as if the rest of the world was way beyond it, and these people didn’t want to catch up. It appeals to me. I think of red barns, the whinny of a horse and the smoothness of an egg against my palm. There was always dirt beneath your feet, steady and earthy, and you knew you were home, if only for a short time.

Sometimes, I go back. A red apple plucked from a tree, fat and ripe in your hand. The distant hum of insect nightlife, and the promise of blueberry pancakes in the morning. There was the late-night reading of the Bible against the soft glow of a low-lit lamp, and the sturdy sound of my grandmother’s footsteps down the hall after the light went out. Maybe that’s why I always find my way back, even if it’s a different town with a different name.

I arrive just after five. The hostess gives me a room on the second floor, telling me about restaurant next door. Their meatloaf on Fridays is the best in at least two counties. I thank them, pulling my single suitcase behind me. The elevator ride is slow and solitary, and I set my suitcase on the bed before I realize I’m hungry.

Wanting to stretch my legs, I take the sidewalk to the restaurant. It’s build reminds me of a barn. The diner is on the bottom floor and living quarters above. The tables and chairs are wooden, with a worn polished look; likely, made by a woodworker in town. It’s surprisingly busy for a Friday night. The only waitress hurries between tables, pulling ketchup out of her apron like magic, tearing checks off a well-used pad and balancing a tray full of plates.

The meatloaf is probably some of the best I’ve ever tasted. When I finish, I watch the waitress struggling a little longer. Sliding out of the booth, it’s then that I make my decision. I’ve waited more tables in more restaurants in more towns than I cared to admit. But today it gave me the perfect opening. Though she bites her lip, about to tell me she ‘has it all under control’ probably, she seems to reconsider and instead opts for mouthing ‘thank you’ at me.

When things slow down, we meet behind the cash register. She tells me her name is Amy and the owner Gina is away for a few days. The waitress that was supposed to work with her tonight called in sick. She asks if I’m staying, or just passing through. I hadn’t intended it, but I guess I’m staying. Amy takes my phone number and promises to pass it along to Gina, with a good word for me.

Pushing through the front door, I am immediately assaulted by the thick, sultry heat. As I walk back to the hotel, I glance around. Shops line the narrow street, all jammed together in a row. People mill about, doing ordinary things on an ordinary evening. They seem at ease, knowing where they’re going. I wonder what that would feel like. I think, not for the first time, that someday I need to find out.

When I was young, we moved around a lot, my mother and me. It depended on how long her jobs lasted, and if she liked the neighborhood. During the summers, I would often visit my grandmother – if my mom was talking to her, that was. This town reminds me of the town she lived in, and the slow-moving way of life grabs at me as it always does. I only asked once if I could live with my grandmother. My mom’s vehement reaction, her stern no, with little explanation stayed my words and I only imagined what it would be like in my thoughts.

Now, I know it was pride. My Mom worked hard to make a decent life for us, and to move in with my Grandmother meant defeat. After a while, I gave up making friends. What was the point if we moved constantly? I guess the vagabond way of life stuck with me. My suitcase hasn’t closed since I turned 19 and I lost my mom and grandmother within six weeks of each other. The farm went back to the bank and I went on the road.

My mother had a heart-attack. She seemed healthy, so it came as a great shock. My grandmother, not so much. She was nearing 90 and I know getting frailer by the day. Sometimes, though, I think the loss of her daughter helped steal her drive for life. I hated the thought of being alone, but I also realized the deaths weren’t about me. They just happened to me.

When I get back to the hotel, the hostess Mandy asks me how the meatloaf was. She seems to want to say more, but I don’t engage. I learned a long time ago: keep your head down, work hard and zip your lips. Most people don’t want to hear what you have to say anyway. If they do listen, half their mind is running through a list of must-dos and the other half is thinking about what they’re going to say next. I don’t take it personal. The world is this fast-paced monster that’ll eat you alive if you don’t keep up. People don’t have a choice anymore. Between their 9-to-5, smart phones and deadlines, there’s little time left for anything but eating, sleeping and a side of family.

The next morning, I get up and go back to the restaurant for breakfast. I find out that Amy works the evening shift, and this morning, it’s Bridget. She’s bubbly and talkative, letting me know that Amy talked about how I helped her and how I’ll hopefully be working here after Gina gets back. I don’t say much, but it doesn’t seem to deter Bridget. These people don’t know me from the next stranger to walk through the doors, yet they’ve already seem to accept me. I’m not used to that.

I spend the afternoon exploring the shops. There’s a bakery with amazing donuts, and a second-hand clothing store I bought a few t-shirts in. Past the bakery, there’s a lawyer’s office, a doctor’s office and a coffee shop. Down the street, I’m told, there’s a grocery and a gas station. There are far more shops, some necessity, some frivolous, and I look at those too. I have nothing else to do.

Later that evening, Gina calls me. I have an interview set up for the next morning. It’s quick and easy, her questions not as difficult as some of the jobs I’ve applied for. Like Bridget and Amy, she seems to have already decided she likes me. She gives me a job. I work the evening shift with Amy, since she had to fire the other girl for calling in too often.

They have a uniform. It’s a dress with an apron.  I suppose I can get used to it. Gina gives me a note to take to one of the shops. They get me the outfit I need and I spend the rest of the day reading the hand-out Gina gives me about the rules and requirements for working at Gina’s Country Restaurant.

I’ll work there five nights a week and have the weekends off. Gina surprises me by offering me a small house to rent. It’s one bedroom and a few miles out of the main town. I like it. It’s cozy and has a flower garden in the back. The same day she hires me, Gina gives me the key. It all feels far more permanent than I expected.

One night, a few months in, Amy asks me if I want to do something with her and Bridget on the weekend. I immediately want to refuse; getting close to people isn’t wise when I know I’ll likely move on a few months from now.

“We like live band night at Bill’s Tavern. It’s kind of crowded, but the men are always willing to give up their seats for a lady. And dance,” she adds, winking.

I’m surprised she asks me. We haven’t done anything outside of working together. I’m even more surprised when I accept.

“Okay. What should I wear?”

Amy laughs. “It’s a girl’s night out. You need to get pretty. Wear a dress.”

“I don’t have any,” I admit. “Well, except for this,” I add, pulling at my skirt.

“No dresses?” Amy looks appropriately shocked. “You look about my size, I’ll loan you one. Come over to my house Saturday around 7 O’clock and we’ll get ready together.”

A part of me wants to pull back, to take back my answer. I never stay long anywhere. Still… I’ve never had people accept me the way the people in town do. Janet at the bakery saves me my favorite donut every morning and Ally at the coffee shop knows what I drink and makes it before I even ask. I don’t think I’ve ever met more genuine people.

Come Saturday night, we are all gathered in Amy’s bedroom. Bridget grabs dresses out, holding them up against me until she decides on a dark blue one with thin straps and a full skirt. Amy loans me shoes too. They’re a half-size too big, but I can manage. We share a glass of champagne as Bridget does our make-up and hair. When she’s finished, I don’t recognize myself. I’ve never been so fancy ever; I never went to school dances and my dates have always been casual. I look different. I look like a woman, I look pretty.

Another gal picks us up. I recognize her from one of the shops. She doesn’t drink, so she’s going to play designated driver. We pile in, Amy and I squished in the back seat. Amy looks amazing in her black dress, red hair piled up on her head. I can’t imagine any many that wouldn’t want to dance with her, or blonde Bridget.

We arrive early enough to claim a table. Connie, our driver, grabs a round of shots.

“To a crazy girl’s night out!” Amy lifts her glass, and we toast, throwing back the alcohol as if we’re pros.

Bridget looks out across the dance floor. “There’s a few cuties from out of town here. I think I’ll go ask one to dance.” And before we can say anything, she’s up and gone.

“That’s Bridget for you,” Amy says, shaking her head. “She doesn’t wait for anything. “

The next round is my turn, and I get fancy, buying us Martinis. As we sip them, Connie asks, “So, where are you from, Emily?”

This conversation could get uncomfortable. It usually does. “I’m from a little bit of everywhere. I’ve been traveling for the last ten years.”

Amy rests her chin in her palm. “That sounds amazing.”

For the first time, I think maybe not so much. “I guess.”

Connie drinks half of her Martini in one go. “Well… Do you like traveling?”

“I thought I did.”

Amy touches my arm. “You can always stay here in Rock Creek.” She says it tentatively, as if she’s sure I’ll say otherwise.

The alcohol is warming me, slowly sifting through my veins and filling my brain with cobwebs. “I could.”

That seems to be enough. She nods. Connie stands up, announcing it’s time to head for the dance floor. We form a circle, swaying together. The band is country, easy on the ears, and with a beat that keeps me moving. After a while, a stranger approaches me. He’s taller than me, with dark hair and blue eyes, handsome in a cowboy sort of way.

“Care to dance?”
The alcohol makes me bold. “Sure.”

We dance in silence for a few moments, before we exchange names and he asks, “Do you live around here?”

I nod. I can actually say that. I have a little house and a job and friends.

“I live a town over. Just a half an hour drive.”

I don’t know if he’s telling me that because he wants to see me again, or if he’s just making conversation. We talk a little more, about benign things and I learn he’s a rancher. His family has owned their land for five generations. He’s very proud of it, I can tell. I find myself wondering what it would be like to have something that goes five generations back. To have a family that you are that close to.

“That sounds nice,” I tell him. And find myself talking of my grandmother’s farm.

He gives me a look that makes me think we are kindred spirits. “What happened to your grandmother’s farm?”

I look away for a moment. “She died. It went back to the bank. I couldn’t afford what was left on the mortgage.”

“That’s too bad.”

We talk some more, dance some more. By the end of the second song, we have exchanged phone numbers. I join the girls back at the table. I think, if he doesn’t call me, I might call him.

“Who’s the cute cowboy you were dancing with?” Amy asks, gently elbowing me.

“Ben. He lives over in Glenbrook.”

We have a few more drinks. The third one in, Connie says, “You should definitely go out with him. He’s cute.”

I feel my cheeks color a little, whether form embarrassment or the margaritas, I’m not sure which. “I think I might.”

Amy giggles. She is definitely drunk. “You can tell me all about it at work.”

I laugh a little. “I haven’t even gone out with him yet.”

“But you will. And I’ll loan you another dress.”

I think of the shops. “I might try to get one of my own.”

“I’ll go with you.” She looks around. “Has anyone seen Bridget?”

Connie giggles now. “I forgot. She told me she’s going home with her dance partner.”

Amy rolls her eyes. “She should be safer.”

“You know Bridget!” Connie says, waving her glass before downing the rest.

I imagine going home with Ben, and it generates both heat and nerves. I can’t remember when I last felt that about a man on the first meeting. Then again, I’ve never had friends like these girls either. I’m thinking, I might stay a while. I know I can always leave if it gets too much. The open road is mine, but the choice to stay is also mine. It seems like years of traveling lead me to here – and for now, I’m going to stay.

© Copyright 2020 Jennifer Lewis. All rights reserved.

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