Today's Reading

With a wink and a smile, she moves on to table two, where a group of rowdy taxidermists beg for ketchup. Softhearted little thing that she is, Boof knows just when to ask a table if they're all done. Not aggressive-like. Nobody leaves a fry in the basket in this town. No, she says it in a way that makes people feel noticed. 'You all set, Bud? How's that kidney stone, by the way? Let me clear that away so y'all can get the tarot cards out.'

"Don't you start with me," Linda advises an out-of-towner with an attitude.

We don't get many of those around here. The ones we do get either respect the Chickie Shak as the holy temple it is or die trying.

"I'm just asking if anything on the menu is vegetarian."

"You're gonna need a veterinarian after I'm through with you. Pick something or get lost."

In this case, the fella decides to get lost. Sure, Linda can be a little testy, but I reckon most Lindas are. Every now and then she'll call somebody sweetheart in a way that makes you want to piss yourself and die. I don't catch the 'sweetheart's very often. Back in the kitchen, I've got the handy excuse of being busy and the useful armor of being good at my job. If I just take the yellow order slips and follow them, no shit can hit my fan.

Linda's first day occurred sometime before the advent of cell phones, but Boof's I remember. I'd been working at the Chickie Shak for approximately two months when the old waitress, Daphne Smutt, skipped town to star in a State Farm commercial without so much as an 'au revoir'. Boof showed up the next day with a disposition so sunny it called for SPF. Bright red ringlets, little white apron. She kept a pencil behind one ear and a stack of bracelets on her arm that chirped like birds when she walked. She even wore a skirt. I remember how it clung to her like a promise. Point is, I thought she was cute, and part of me even considered asking her out, but a larger constituency of brain cells voted 'no siree bob'. Not when Mamma was just getting back to work and Daddy's bait of the month subscription was still arriving in the mail.

"I've got a real name," she told me, "but everybody calls me Boof."

"Roger that, Boof."

"Linda says you're from around here. Is that right?"

"Born and raised."

The way she leaned against the kitchen door, all warm and familiar, scared me.

"Sounds like you're exactly the girl I'm looking for. I just moved down here last week."

"Whereabouts from?"


My heart picked up faster than Swiffer on skates. I wanted so badly to say

'Me too! Ain't it wonderful? Did you ever take a boat around the Cumberland River when the sun was setting and hear the hopes and dreams of every would-be Reba pour from the honky-tonks like a country-fried symphony? Did you ever walk the Civil War trails or eat at the Donut Den or complain about the potholes on I-440?'

"How about a drink?" she said. "What?"

"You can tell me where to find a dentist and a good cup of coffee around here."

"Bobby Jennifer's Stain and Restore."

"Is that the dentist or the coffee shop?"

"Both. First they get your teeth nice and yellow and then they fix 'em up. I think that's what the bigwigs would call vertical integration."

"Genius." She laughed. "So, what do you say?"

If my poor heart had any power to say yes, it was trapped somewhere deep down next to my breakfast, my guts, and my grief. So I lied.

"I've got a big lasagna thawing. Better get on home and check on it."

"Oh, okay. Rain check?"

"Sure," I said, but every time she asked again, I made sure it was still raining.

Nothing wrong with keeping things professional. Truth be told, when it's packed, me, Boof, and Linda don't talk hardly at all. We've got a system. I cook, Boof serves, and Linda takes orders. In the busy times there ain't no nooks and crannies for conversation, so we just move things along and refill the salt and pepper like we're supposed to.

This excerpt is from the ebook edition.

Monday we begin the book WHEN THE JESSAMINE GROWS by Donna Everhart.


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