Jodie has a real opportunity to leave the pressures of home, community and religion. She can hardly wait, but will she really take a chance given to her to get away from it all? Is the opportunity too good to be true? Sometimes Jodie’s imagination encourages her, mostly it doesn’t. Which thinking will win out, and how?


From the house, Jodie listened to the car drive away and for the bumpy sound when vehicles struggle onto the main road. It never came. Idette must have slowed down.

She sat on the edge of the bed, sweat dripping from edge of her hair and onto her forehead and down her cheek. She had wanted to leave, she had seen it in her mind, and because of Idette it was going to happen.

You’ll make a good waitress…As a fact, it meant expectations, that without trying she would prove wrong. But Idette is patient. She’ll be silent in her criticism, which sometimes, but not always, hurts less than any verbal ones…

There wouldn’t even be a chance her classmates would visit that much, or at least not many, not Al and Cort. Most went to the west and south of town during the summer, not straight north, to Lake Heron.

A feeling tickled her heart and she felt lighter for a Moment. Even without witnesses to tease her and remind her she was not allowed to be happy, her face stayed plain.

“Jodie! Where are you, where are you, where are you!” Her mother sang through the vent.

Rising from the bed, Jodie smeared sweat. “Comin’, Ma. Comin’.” She walked down the stairs onto the cold floor.

“Well, you played that one right,” Ardis said as Jodie walked behind her armchair. Her Ma chuckled. “You’re a smart one when you put your mind to it.”

It was true Jodie was top of her class. Great grades in everything except science, and even those grades were better than her classmates’, just not as good as her other marks. But the principal had reminded Jodie it didn’t mean much; it wasn’t like she had taken the SAT. “Well, your grades are looking great, but you know the teachers around here—a little ‘A’ happy.

Everyone knows that. I’m just waiting for your ACT scores. Don’t worry. As long as you get a 20 in English you’ll be eligible for the teacher’s program. You still want to teach, right?”

The woman tilted her head toward the girl, and looked over her glasses. “Right?”

Jodie shifted in her seat. Then she sat up with discomfort, as straight as her back would allow.

“Jodie, I can’t help if you aren’t willing to help me. Okay? Now, you still want to be a teacher? I think your grades are fine. I do. And it just depends on a decent score. The average for last year’s class was…well Ric—” The woman coughed. Then she whispered though no one else was in the room. “One kid— I’m not supposed to give out names, you know, of course— got a nine out of 33 on the science part. A two…we’ll still graduate him of course. It’s not about that. The exam has nothing to do with grades. Thank god for that, right?”

Jodie wondered if Mrs. Bartel’s god was with a small or large “g”. Her thoughts shifted backwards. There was only one “R” student in her class of eleven, and only two other classmates had taken the exam. She straightened her back again and tried to look towards the woman’s right eye. Good posture and eye contact make a good impression, she had read that somewhere.

The guidance counselor continued. “If you get the bare minimum and you get one part as low as Ric—others, you might be able to swing an 18, which with the programs you’re interested in, I have to tell ya…” The woman shook her head. Then she straightened herself in her seat.

Is she mimicking me?

The woman finally made eye contact and winked. She whispered again, “They like a minimum of 21. I’ll talk to the dean at Johnsville, pull some strings. I’ll make sure.”

I wonder what they serve at the diner… Jodie had never been there, and literally brushed the thought away with a knife, and then cut a slit in the plastic wrap. The food needed to breathe while it cooked. She had heard of food exploding onto people’s faces if they ignored the directions. Her dad had taken her to a diner in Johnsville once, for his birthday, and before The Night, Jodie ate on Main Street as often as a teammate offered the tip.

She wondered if she would need to figure out a way to shave her legs in order to help out at the diner. Will my legs show? Just a fuzzy inch of an ankle? That will be enough to be a new punch line for everyone to use. Do the waitresses wear short skirts like the ones on TV?

She shook her head briefly from side to side as if her head were a snow globe. The weather needed to change. The two frozen cardboard against the backdrop of the countertop.

Punctured sheet of plastic atop. Solid gravy and hard potatoes touched the plastic and asked Jodie why she ate it.
Before her was the evening meal, which meant at least two hours had passed since Idette left, time that had passed without her mother’s show on TV changing.

“Better than nothing, than nothing,” Jodie said, but not loudly enough for her mother to hear.


Her stomach felt empty though she had just eaten a piece of white toast. She toasted another and then added a glob of greasy peanut butter. She had more than once felt the same way before each game back then, and she remembered the first time she ever got on a school bus and someone taking her where she needed to go. She knew the rules: 1) Do whatever the driver tells me to do. 2) Anticipate what the driver is going to tell me to do. 3) Don’t bother the others; it will make them mad and the driver too.

Getting into Idette’s car appeared like trying to step onto a ton of metal tight rope; balancing carefully or falling to her final demise being the only options to reaching what waited at the other end. A car’s not a rope. But as the vehicle began moving and stayed between the yellow lines and the white one, she came to accept the image.

“…Most families don’t move to the lake till after Memorial Day. But that’s good; we’ll air out the place and get stuff acclimated,” Idette said.

Jodie nodded. She liked the multi-syllabled word, acclimated, and thought that when she messed up too bad, like with other things, at least her vocabulary might improve.

She wanted to close her eyes, to finish the night’s sleep, but keeping Idette happy was more  important. Her eyelids dropped again, and her body jerked to attention to open them.

“…It’s not that it’s hard work; now beekeeping, that was hard work. The hardest job I ever done. End of the summer, honeycomb coming in all day, and we’re scraping, and its spinnin’ and, man, tired just talking about it, but the diner, it’s a different hard…”

Jodie listened, but her thoughts were on what waited for her, what would make her wobble enough to fall and make it impossible to keep up with Idette who obviously floated.

Idette turned her face briefly towards her, then back to the road. “You can sleep, ya know.

“Huh?” Jodie said. She shook her head. “I’m, uh, sor…sorry. I’m okay.” She had visions

of sleeping on the floor of the diner. But that’ll make Idette angry.

“I’m a chatterbox. Sleep if you wanna sleep. I’m a big fan of it. We’re an unrested nation.” Idette laughed. “Hmph. More ways than one.”

The new rule allowing sleep allowed Jodie’s head to nod in a new way, and within seconds her chin rested closer to her chest and Idette’s voice faded away.

Jodie had awakened at three that morning without an alarm clock, before her mother and four hours before Idette would arrive. Drinking a cup of instant coffee back at the house let her think caffeine would prepare her for the day, but later, just before leaving she noticed the green label—decaffeinated, and the brown water in her stomach lost any value. The dusty jar had been previously hidden in the back of the cupboard. She knew other jars better.

The rare sound of a car door clicking woke her; she expected doors to slam. It was one of the ways people expressed anger, she knew, and Idette would eventually have to share hers.

Coach had found his. To say I’m disappointed in you…Then it had been over. Out of his system.

She expected him to be polite, and he was—never tripping her, bringing it up again, but then again, he was a man. Area women were more creative in weaving a strand of rage into an afternoon conversation otherwise comfortable.

I’m sexist! Nothing challenged her thought.

Before Idette would have a chance to reprimand her, Jodie lumbered out of the car and felt her legs wobble to find their equilibrium. She followed, not quite catching up to her pace, but not far behind either. Her pinky toe tried to wake from a prickly and sluggish sleep.

Idette stood at the front of the diner and held its door open. “Now, no hurry, girl. We’re just gonna take it easy today.”

Jodie quickened her steps.

When Idette turned on lights inside, the floors gleamed even under a thick layer of dust that became noticeable after a chair and revealed four coin sized protected spots. In the corner an empty bucket held a mop with its head resting against the wall. It was smaller than the one at school that swept the gymnasium floor, but larger than the hardened kitchen sponge on the end of a broomstick back in the kitchen at the farm.

Idette, already towards the back of the diner, yelled from somewhere. “C’mon back.”

The yelling sounded kindly and Jodie heard herself breathing as she touched the metal towel rack to the right of the stainless steel counters by her hip.

She glanced back at the painted lettering on the door. The lake began only thirty or so feet away. No water mark above the base board—the place has never flooded. That’ll make cleaning easier. No water damage. No smell to figure out.

Then Idette read her mind. It had to be what happened. Just like Coach had. Like her mother. There was no other explanation.

“Place ‘as flooded a couple springs. Not a big deal. Not like other parts of the state, the world. Can’t complain. People have volunteered their lives to get here a place to eat regularly.

The two spent the morning wiping away the winter dust from booths and chairs. Jodie would sit at a booth and put her forehead on the table when Idette left the room. Soon it was noon, and time for a longer break.

Idette stood in the kitchen and pushed food through the open window. “For lunch and snacks…My staff will join us tomarra, and the next day.”

The fact Idette wanted her to like it made it more likely that Jodie would. She would do anything to keep any niceness.

If I try to walk back to the farm, I’ll pass out and fall and roll into the ditch where no one will find me until it’s too late, like harvest.

From a previous day, a “You’ll do great” squeezed her hand.

After eating lunch, the two split from one another, each starting at a different end of the counter.

“There’s water here and some snacks. Help yourself.”

The thought of water from the tap made Jodie’s lips tighten together. Back at the farm she only drank skim milk and or sometimes Diet Coke if her mother shared. During basketball season, eating became religious. Jill picked her up early for school and they ate at different teammates’ houses. Al challenged them to give up dairy for the season, like she had, and the team worked out together too. There were few choices to make, and decisions all focused on whether or not it would help them win the next game. Tap water, yuck.

She watched Idette drink a long gulp, who said, “Ahh,” after finishing.

Jodie became curious, and a question must have appeared on her face unless Idette was reading her mind like Coach. Or are they going to finally admit they see the words too?

“Go ahead. Try it. If you don’t like, I’ll bring some lemon tomarra, that oughta help.”

Jodie wanted to be obedient, and poured from the Mason jar. Its coolness moistened her mouth and soothed her dry throat. It tasted almost sweet, and she finished the glass and poured another, though she waited to drink it.

The day that Idette had given Jodie a bottle of water at the track, the plastic had been untampered, impossible to be a cruel prank.

“Wh-wh- what’s in…?” She pointed downward at it.

For a second that frightened Jodie, Idette’s face showed judgment in its confusion. I knew this was too good to be true. She knows I’m stupid.

Idette’s split second of uncertainty turned into a smile. “Nothin’. Just water, well purified. The idea of purified water puzzled her. If it’s better or safer or whatever, why do only some drink it?

In her mind, Jodie put purified water on her It’s Okay list and then continued onto wiping down the tables. Each time Idette moved onto a new table, she wiped extra fast to finish the one she was on, and then moved as well. She wanted to give reasons to keep her there and she wanted to accumulate points for the days when she would receive demerits from customers and coworkers, if not Idette herself. The woman has to have her bad days. The armor has to have a hole or a dent somewhere. I think I see one if I squint a bit, maybe. She squinted.

When Idette stopped for another sip of water, Jodie continued working.

“You should stop too, ya know.”

At the command, she stopped.

“How ya feelin’?”

“Fine,” Jodie said. She realized she had left her stutter back at the first table where it awoke when it saw her standing still and started scurrying toward her. No other words came out of her mouth. When Idette left the room again, she rested her head on the table and welcomed it.

Idette suddenly reentered the room, and Jodie raised her head just as suddenly, waiting

The woman smiled. “Ya know, we can take a break now. We’ll sit,” she said. “C’mon. It’ll be good for ya. Tell me a story, entertain me.”

Any apologetic words that may have been about to come out of Jodie’s mouth moved further back. There was no reprimand, but it had happened. Not as soon as she expected. It was confirmed. Her first day at the diner was her last, and there was nothing that could be done to change it. Idette had asked Jodie for something she could not provide.

Idette switched topics, and Jodie wondered why.

“Well, my story for you today is that I’m glad you’re here. After my daughter—you remember Laura? Stopped by and said hello to the team once?”

At the reference, a blonde haired, blue eyed daughter seemed to appear before them. She had been smiley and laughed easily. Coach said she lived 85 minutes away in the next state and taught special education students during the year. For parts of the summer she helped out the

“Well anyway…when she said she was going to Dominican Republic or somewhere like that, to serve orphans, I just thought…well, to be honest, I wondered why give all school year to special needs kids only to give her summer away too? My second thought was, what am I gonna do without her, ya know, here?”

Recognizing the expectations as high enough to think Jodie could possibly replace Laura, Jodie wanted curl up on the floor and sleep. The job is over.

“Then you came to mind. Gregg and I both agreed you’d be perfect…”

Think I’m awful. Think I’m the last resort…Give me something where I can exceed your expectations. Like other times, Jodie’s thoughts spoke louder than others and made her miss some of Idette’s story. I quit.

“…So Gregg said he’d talk to you, but he told me you didn’t seem interested. Mish mash! Huh! If I had been around, we wouldn’t have had to wait so long to get this little arrangement

To Jodie’s surprise, Idette abruptly stood and returned to her work. “Take your time. Really. I’m just gonna keep on truckin’ over here…” Her voice sounded pleasant and contradicted her movements.

Though she wanted to rest more, Jodie rose and returned to wiping. She kept even with Idette’s movements, and they both moved onto new areas at nearly the same time.

At the end of the afternoon, the two got back in the blue car and drove the thirty minute drive back to the farm. The soil and the crops alongside the road escaped Jodie’s attention as she again found her eyelids drooping. Idette stopped talking and Jodie fell asleep like she had that morning except her lack of adequate sleep was assisted by the cost of exertion.


“Jodie, Jodie! Help!”

The cry filtered through the vent and gave a mismatched voiceover to the dream. In it, she was in her childhood house, the one in town where she had spent her elementary years, and she had been exploring a pantry she had never actually seen but her dad told her the previous occupants knocked out. She had always wondered about it and her dream allowed her to explore its small area and strangely dusty canned food that she guessed had been pickled way back during the Great Depression. She looked behind her to see her dad mouthing words with her mother’s voice. Then the pantry and her bed coexisted for a Moment, before the cry became

Jodie moaned silently, and blindly reached for a shirt to cover the tank top she had worn . She found her shorts and stood at the top of the stairs before stepping down. “Whattsa

In the living room, her mother sat in her chair, but she sniffled.

“Ma, it’s okay. What’s the matter?”

Her mother pointed. “Sp-spider!” She sniffed as if trying to prevent her nose from running.

Jodie followed the direction her mother pointed. “Here?”

Her mother nodded repeatedly.

“Ah. I see him. I’ll just pick him up by one ticklish leg and, oop.” She cupped her hands, then peered inside into emptiness. “Yup. All taken care of. I’m just gonna escort this little bugger outside. He’ll be happier there anyway.”

Her mother giggled.

On other days, occasionally a centipede wiggled out from the edge the floor, scurrying across a part of the wall, and disappearing. Jodie had heard of a missionary who had established an orphanage in India way back. She had said that critters that stayed outdoors could not be harmed, but if they chose to enter the house they were asking to be exterminated. Jodie liked the guideline, but in general attempted to remove insects and other critters to the outdoors rather than kill them.

Outside, the air felt good and she breathed in deeply, still waking up. She stretched her arms and felt the sun on her skin. The warmth on her legs let her forget their appearance, and the In the distance, she saw the door of the barn still open and as her uncle walked out of it, she waved to him briefly before turning back inside. She had thought she saw him nod before she closed the front door behind her.

That night when it wasn’t quite 5:30, she began preparing supper. She had once heard that in other parts the meal was called “dinner”. She liked that idea, and in her own mind she called it that. But, the dinner label was reserved for the noon meal in that area, and supper for the evening. Supper didn’t exist in other parts. She liked that idea even more.

“Jodie, I need ya. What if…”

Jodie welcomed the words; they comforted her. But her thoughts betrayed her. “You’ll do fine Na, you have the kids.”

“What about after you leave? What if I see another spider?”

“Ya know, Ma, I’m planning on telling Id…Mrs. Jorrissen today. It’s not gonna work. She’ll understand. She’s a nice lady, isn’t she Ma?”

Her mother sniffed and didn’t say anything.

Jodie planned on how she would help Idette finish setting up the diner and then thank her and let her know she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to continue. She was too tired and did not want to be paid for sleeping. She’s just trying to be nice. She’ll find another waitress; people like her up there. Maybe there’s even a guy around who wouldn’t mind waiting tables. After supper, she considered going out to the barn and waiting for the moon to rise higher than the trees. But a strained feeling in her thigh directed her to walk the stairs to her bed. She fell asleep before complete dark.


At the diner the next day, her leg still hurt and occasionally she stopped and pulled her foot behind her the way Coach had taught her to warm up.

Idette noticed of course. “Hamstring? Gets me every spring when I start crouching and stretching around this place. As if I don’t get enough of a workout in the winter with all the stuff The last physical Jodie had received from the physician’s assistant who volunteered time to the team had told her she was “fit”. She had wanted her to tell the rest of the school that so that after the season ended they might remember her. Her size became weight to them, and instead of being stronger she was too big.

The diner reminded her of this as her arm lacked the ability to reach certain corners to clean behind the oven, and then she knocked over porcelain cups stacked in the pantry. Though unscratched, she grabbed her head as if it hurt. “Uh, uh, I’m sorry! You can. You can take it out of my paycheck, when I…” She realized she would have to work at the diner longer if she wanted to pay for the damage.

“What? What are you talkin’ about?” She looked at Jodie. “It’s just a cup. I mean, I don’t want them to break, but it happens. Wait. Ya know you’re being paid to help set up, right?”

Being paid to clean. If she had been paid to clean in her life, she would be filthy-rich, she laughed at her own pun and stopped herself from watching Idette watch her laugh to herself. She would be able to buy a spaceship and shoot out of state and land wherever she wanted. It wouldn’t really be flying, but space travel. There’s a difference, she reasoned with herself.

Though no words came out of her mouth releasing the pressure, her head stopped hurting.

It was the opposite of all other experiences where words entered her ear and began to pinball through her mind and smooth all the creases in the way.

She swept up the shards of glass, and within the dustpan a larger piece caught her attention and pulled her closer. She picked it up and studied its shape, like one of the rectangle-like states of the country, a smooth edged piece of a 50-piece puzzle, not quite equilateral, but resembling a shaky rectangle of some sort, an awkward one. She liked it and wanted to keep it, to put it in her pocket knowing it was meant for her, like it had been given to her as a consolation for the chalky dust she had just shoveled. Lines of a design were scribbled on it. She carefully rubbed her thumb on the rough edge that lacked a shiny finish, the part that no one ever saw unless it broke, the part that never touched coffee until the user chipped it.

I’m keeping this. It’s been given to me. Her thoughts didn’t make sense to herself, but she believed them and promised herself not to speak.

Putting it in her pocket would hurt. “I’ll—I’ll be right back…” she said. She hurried over to the door and set the piece on the window sill, but as she did the corner poked her finger and a bead of blood immediately rose to the surface. She managed to push back an “ouch”, but not her sucking the air.

“You okay over there?”

She held her thumb against the finger next to it. She nodded.

Idette walked towards her wiping her hands on a dishtowel, which she threw it onto her

“Here, let me see that.” She took her hand and held it up to the light streaming through the window. The fluorescent lights off, the woman squinted. “We better take a look at this. A little hydrogen peroxide, maybe some Benadryl and a band aid, and it’s gonna be tender, but not like your finger will fall off when I’m done with ya.”

It’s just a pin prick. The difference between Ardis and Idette saying the same thing troubled Jodie. The words were the same, but felt different. Like an accent. She wondered if maybe Idette had ever been an exchange student from another land that spoke exotically and stuck around after her year. Eventually began to look like everyone else, but different, like maybe they had those back then.

When Idette stopped in front of the farm, Jodie thought, “I’m sorry. I won’t  be able to help you after all. Ma needs me.” And shut the door with an intentional slam. She’ll know what I mean…


There were only two more days until the diner officially opened. If Idette showed up, she would get the picture as she observed Jodie trying to remember the menu. It just isn’t going to work out.

Jodie needed a label thrown at her, a bad one, something familiar that would help her leave the place more easily. Most labels put on her were sticky and rubbery. She knew because she once peeled one off, and then tried to drop it; it bounced off her wrist and landed as a cover for her mouth. She kept breathing, like one of her Ma’s shows taught, and air went through her nose and exhaled from her mouth. The label stuck but it outflated and inflated until she was able to gently hold on at its neck and twist it like the opening of a balloon. Then she held on wanting it to carry her away, low to the ground but not touching.

But that’s exhausting, and so she often allowed the labels to stay where they were and felt comforted by her awareness of her option, and maybe one day a label would inflate well enough to take her many miles south, all the way to Texas. She thought it a straight line, and in the air and low to the ground for safety, she would ignore traffic and speed limits.

But there were no labels lurking at the diner, though she needed just one. Fresh air blew in through the fine mesh screened windows, keeping out the bugs and dust.



There were only two more days until the diner officially opened. Idette would get the picture as she observed Jodie trying to remember the menu. It just isn’t going to work out.

She needed a label thrown at her, a bad one, something familiar that would help her leave the place more easily. Most labels put on her were sticky and rubbery. She knew because she once peeled one off, and then tried to drop it; it bounced off her wrist and landed as a cover for her mouth. She kept breathing, like one of her Ma’s shows taught, and air went through her nose and exhaled from her mouth. The label stuck but it outflated and inflated until she was able to gently hold on at its neck and twist it like the opening of a balloon. Then she held on wanting it to carry her away, low to the ground but not touching.

But that’s exhausting, and so she often allowed the labels to stay where they were and felt comforted by her awareness of her option, and maybe one day a label would inflate well enough to take her many miles south, all the way to Texas. She thought it a straight line, and in the air and low to the ground for safety, she would ignore traffic and speed limits.

But there were no labels lurking at the diner, though she needed just one. Fresh air blew in through the fine mesh screened windows, keeping out the bugs and dust.


The other waitresses joined Jodie and Idette and helped unpack, clean and stock the shelves for the opening day of the diner. They were nice to Jodie, but she knew they were

On her first day of kindergarten when the school bus rolled into the farmyard, she hesitated. Her mother prodded her with doughy hands and threatened with words. What finally motivated her was a kindergartner’s deep thought. If other kids can do this, I can too.

Standing at the diner’s kitchen door and remembering that thought she was struck with what a deep insight it was for a five-year old child, and it motivated her to take a few steps closer to the an occupied table. How many hundreds of waitresses have had their first day? Easy enough, but she stood at the kitchen door and eyed the couple with uncertainty.

She walked over to the table with heads of gray hair sticking up from it. The woman’s was silvery and pulled back into a bun, and a pearl sat on each ear. From where Jodie was standing she could tell that the earrings weren’t pierced, but ones tightened like tiny clamps.

“Hi. I mean, good morning. I mean, are you ready to order?” her mouth stayed small. Her teeth might clatter if she opened it up more.

“Good morning! In case you didn’t know, we’re new around here this summer,” the man said, his voice good-natured though it sounded loud at 7:30 in the morning. “What would you The woman across from him said nothing and faced her expectantly.

She considered giving the couple Idette’s “I’ll ask Idette herself.” It was too soon, but her instant words surprised her enough she almost gasped. “I’m new too, actually. But all the food’s good. Idette makes it herself. What do you like?”

The woman startled her by being able to speak up. “Harry’s an eggs and bacon man and I like oatmeal actually, but not instant. Do you have anything along those lines?”

“There’s lots of eggs and bacon combinations. They’re listed on the table right there. I can ask Idette herself about the oatmeal. And our juices are all freshly squeezed.” Her own words surprised her again. She hid a quizzical look by hiding her mouth inside itself.

At the mention of freshly squeezed juices, the woman raised an interested eyebrow.

“These look really good, actually. Nicer than prices in Florida,” Harry said.

The woman said, “I think we’re ready!”

Jodie reached for the pen in her apron and couldn’t find it. With her order pad in her left hand she felt the front of her apron again. Both pockets were empty. She felt a familiar steam rise on her face. It had been going okay…“I…I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I forgot my pen. I’ll be right back.” She quickly walked back to the kitchen and heard soft chuckling behind her.

“I lost the pen already,” she said with an apologetic look on her face. Idette seemed amused and handed her another red felt-tipped pen. She imagined Idette’s thoughts though, Whatwere Gregg and I thinking that she was up for the job? We made a huge mistake…

Jodie hurried back to the couple and announced her presence. “Okay.” With her confidence slightly increasing, her hand posed with the pen.

The couple chuckled again and the woman spoke, “Dear, we can’t help but tell you. It’s behind your ear. It was there before you left our table.”

Jodie groaned and quickly grabbed the pen and put it in her apron pocket as a back up, just in case she misplaced its replacement anytime soon.

“Is the oatmeal slow-cooked or instant?” the woman asked again kindly.

Jodie groaned silently again. In her hurry, she had forgotten to ask about the food.

Before she could say anything the woman said, “It’s okay. Not a problem. How about this…I’ll take the oatmeal if it’s not instant, and some freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, but I don’t want the juice if a machine juices it. Only if it is freshly squeezed by hand. It tastes too

metallic if a machine does it. If the oatmeal is instant, then I’ll have a piece of sourdough toast almost burnt instead, with no butter, but some real butter on the side. Does that make sense?”

Jodie tried to write it all down. She turned to Harry, who laughed.

“I’ll have the Dragon’s Dozen,” he said. “I’m hungry!”

His wife groaned. “Harry, your cholesterol!”

“But we want you to live as long as possible, Harry…”

“Eggs over easy, wheat toast with margarine, silver dollar pancakes instead of regular, and crisp bacon. And a refill for my coffee. Jeanette over here will have more hot water for her

tea and another slice of lemon and some honey for it as well. Why do they call it Dragon’s Dozen?” The question at the end of his order ignored his wife and he smiled.

She surprised herself by explaining. “Menu stuff is named after school mascots around here. Dragons are in Drayton. It’s Idette’s way of not showing any favorites,” she said without looking up from her order pad and writing and trying to fit the words lemon and honey.

Then she walked quickly back to the kitchen. She looked at her cramped writing on the order sheet. Next time she would write smaller. She faced Idette.

“Well?” Idette said with a hand on her hip. “How’d it go?”

“Ugh,” Idette said. “I bet the Winnebago out in the parking lot is theirs. From Florida? I can tell roadies’ orders from a mile away. Surprised the man didn’t ask for egg substitute…” Her eyebrows knit together, but her eyes sparkled, her movements fluid, not jerky with genuine “Ya did good, kid. Here’s a hint,” she said frying the eggs, “Don’t write down anything that comes with the order. Simply, that means you don’t have to write down ‘lemon & honey’

because as you’ll see over there, and as you get used to stuff around here, all the tea pots have a slice of lemon and a small container of honey and there’s extras on the tables. Not every order will be this complicated. You’ll usually write down a three or even just the first names of the regulars, and I’ll know what they want.” She never glanced at the list a second time.

Memorization had never been Jodie’s strong suit; she was glad for the pad. She eyeballed the effortless cooking performance. On the burners three eggs and some strips of bacon cooked.

Others stayed warm on another cast iron griddle. Oatmeal bubbled in a small pot on the front “If she wants hand squeezed instead of my wonderfully efficient electric juiced, I’ll give

it to her.” She aggressively twisted a grapefruit half onto a juice squeezer made of glass that she

already rinsed the dust off of and dried. “As if Idette Dunford Jorissen gives anything less. You

go back out there and bring an entire pot of coffee, an entire thing of hot water.”

“Dunford” was Idette’s maiden name, and the name she made her middle name when she

married Coach, her second husband. “I wasn’t about to lose my real name twice!” she had once

confided. Jodie giggled at first hear it pronounced. It reminded her of a character on a children’s

Jodie gripped a carafe in her right and left hand and headed back out to the table feeling

lighter. Her steps slowed when she saw that someone had joined them.

It was the strange boy from the track meet, who had been wearing corduroys and the

black t-shirt and standing with Connie. She couldn’t see his pants, but he was wearing another

long sleeve shirt. Good for this frozen AC temp. His elbows rested on the table awkwardly.

Connie wasn’t with him, and Jodie wondered how everyone knew each other or were related, if

Jodie set the carafes on the table, and then switched the hot water closer to Jeanette and

the coffee nearer to Harry. She stood there.

The boy stared at his forefingers that he twirled forward and backward.

The man said, “Well, now, this would be a good opportunity to introduce you, Nice

Waitress, to this here, our Nice Grandson. This is Tony. Tony, this is our Nice Waitress, who

doesn’t have a nametag, but we assume…” He waited for his waitress to respond.

But everyone knows me. “Jodie. It’s my first day. Idette hasn’t made me a nametag, but a

lot of people already know. I’ll be a senior at Randall High School in the fall.”

“Well, la-di- dah! So will our Tony!”

Jodie was stunned, although it wasn’t hard for her to be silent. Her class had been the

same nine people since seventh grade, when then at ten students, Dingo had left with his migrant

farming family, literally, for greener pastures, dropping the class to nine. No one expected the

number to change ever again, especially entering their senior year. She waited for the boy’s

“Same as Grandpa,” the boy said without looking up.

“Our Tony will be working for his Uncle Conrad this summer over at that gas station

Everyone knew everyone. Siblings, spouses, relatives, cousins, second cousins, cousin-

once-removed, exes and steps, you name it. Plenty of ways they could be related, especially since

Connie was with him at the track… She returned to the short-order area.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Idette asked.

“Is that boy over there hungry or not?”

“Oh yeah,” she said feeling foolish. “He’ll have what his grandpa had, but I don’t…”

“Another Dozen, coming up…” Idette said.

Idette rang an orange bell, making Jodie jump.

“It’s good practice. I ring the bell and you know the food is ready,” Idette said with a

mischievous grin. Jodie balanced the food onto a tray and attempted to carry it with one hand

balancing it all on her shoulder. After a wobbly start, she held the tray on her shoulder with two

Other waitresses appeared to be hopping from table to table. They’re probably covering

my tables too. Which ones are mine again? She came back to Harry and Jeanette’s table with

their breakfasts. Tony shuffled a nickel between his hands with his index fingers.

“Your order will be ready in a few minutes,” she said in his general direction. He only

“Thank you, Jodie,” Harry said with a concerned frown.

I knew he didn’t like me. She left the table to wait on others.

Six hours of waiting tables later, Jodie felt like a water buffalo making its way from the

watering hole back to its nest, the kind she saw on cable when babysitting.

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