- 1992 -
"How was your first day at school, honey?"
The new house was still in shambles; brown boxes were open in every room with most of the contents spilling out on to the floor. I tossed my bookbag down on the floor and sank down beside it. I watched mom, perched on a small stepladder, loading rarely used plates onto the upper shelf of one of the new, admittedly pretty, glass cabinets.
"Do you like your teachers?"
"They're okay, I guess."
Mom paused in her straightening and looked my way. "Just okay?"
I shrugged. She turned and sat down on the top step, her long jean-clad legs swinging slightly. "What about the kids?"
Immediately, I conjured up a picture of Brian. The guy had been in almost every single one of my classes, succeeding in making me laugh in all of them, which was no small feat considering he was all the way across the room in English.
"I didn't meet many people," I said, skirting the issue. "I was too busy surviving."
Yes, it was dramatic, but I was sixteen. Everything about my life was dramatic. Mom put on a good sympathetic face. "Honey, I'm so sorry about the timing of all this, but at least you have a couple weeks to get your face out there and then when you start your senior year--"
"I'll still be a strange face, mom," I sighed.
"You've got a beautiful face."
I rolled my eyes. Mom meant well, but I was pretty sure all mom's told their children they were beautiful. Hell, I would bet my lunch money that even the mole secretary's mom had told her she was beautiful.
"How's it going here?" I asked, deciding to just change the subject completely. Mom looked around as if she hadn't really taken it all in.
"It's...a mess," she admitted. She laughed. "We just brought twenty-one years of accumulated stuff across two states to get here and figuring out where to stick it all, jesus, we're going to have to have a yard sale."
"A yard sale," I repeated, a wry smile tweaking my lips. My mother was the world's largest packrat. She was the type of person to take stuff other people were throwing away just because she thought we might be able to use it sometime, somewhere, someplace.
"Yes, a yard sale," she repeated. "I can get rid of stuff y'know."
"Uh-huh," I laughed. "Sure."
"You just watch me," she said stubbornly. "In fact, you can help me. It'll be our summer project."
I blanched. Just what I wanted to do...spend a month over-pricing stuff just so mom and I could haul it back in when she wouldn't part with anything.
"We'll talk about it," she said, reading my face. She hopped off the ladder with ease and headed towards the granite- topped kitchen island. The kitchen was almost twice the size of the one in our old house and yet, the extra space made me feel just that much more like this place could never be home.
"Dad will be home soon and there's no way I can cook with everything like this," she said, blowing a piece of hair out of her face. She wore a bandana to keep back her curly hair, dark curly hair that I had inherited. She slid a small square of paper my way.
"Pick up a family pack," she said, adding a ten and a five on top of the paper. I removed the bills and looked at the coupons.
"Mom, I don't even know where Long John Silvers is. You expect me to drive there? I don't even have a Kentucky license yet."
Mom didn't bat an eye. She produced a phone book and flipped through the beginning pages. She leaned forward, too stubborn to admit her eyes were getting bad, and studied the map in front of her. She began to trace with her finger and I knew it was a lost cause. A minute later, she flipped the book around.
"It's less than ten minutes away, I promise. No highways. Just buckle up, drive a little below the speed limit, and you'll be fine."
"So you're telling me to do something illegal?"
"Jill, you know I would never...well, yes. I think. Is it really illegal?" She waved her hand in front of her face as if brushing the thought away. "Anyhow, just this one time. I mean, look at everything I have to do." She held her arms out and spun in a circle. I sighed.
"Fine," I relented. She shoved the phone book in my hands and walked with me to the heavy oak front door. I was tempted to ask her how I was supposed to drive and refer back to a phone book at the same time, but I thought that it was best not to test out my smart tongue too much in one hour.
"Now, ask for extra tartar sauce. You know your daddy uses about twenty packets. Did you know the very first Long John Silvers opened in Lexington in 1969?"
Mom was a nut for useless trivia, especially what she called landmark and historical trivia. Thus, I hated playing Trivia Pursuit with her. For that matter, she was ruthless when playing any board game.
"Huh, I didn't know that," I said. "If I go to that one, I hope the hushpuppies aren't from 1969." I spotted the car keys recessed in a burner on the stove and scooped them up. Mom swatted me with her dustcloth.
"Be careful," she said.
I gave a mock salute and headed towards the door. A humid breeze smacked into my face the moment I opened the door and I took a second to blink and take in my surroundings. The street where our new home sat wasn't that much different than the street our old house had sat on, except for the fact that everything was bigger in scale. Yards were larger, house were bigger, and more people were out and about. Sensing that my pause would entice a neighor or two to stop and offer a greeting, I hustled to the car. I was just about in when the front door flew back open.
"You forgot the phone book!" mom called. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the pages flap as she waved it in my direction, but I feigned ignorance, cranked the engine, and pulled out of the drive. Aside from my complaining, I knew where the Long John Silvers was already. Eight minutes later, I turned the car into the relatively empty parking lot and stepped out with money and coupon in hand.
The moment I stepped inside the restaurant I was assailed with the smell of fish and frying oil. As bad as the food was, the smell made me hungry. I loved the batter crunchies that the fish always sat on and the coleslaw was creamy and could be duplicated by no one. I walked the narrow wood hall on the left, blocking out part of the restaurant with a 3/4's wall. After a rather large advertisement with a picture of some new dessert, I turned right and came to the main part of the counter. A bored teenage girl wearing the trademark blue LJS shirt was leaning on her elbows against the white speckled top, studying her fingernails. It took her a moment to realize I was standing there.
"Hi, welcome to Long John Silvers, what can I get for you today?" she said in a bored drawl as she stood up. I handed over the coupon.
"Chicken or fish?"
"Fries and cole--"
From behind the tall stainless steel fryers, a hushpuppy came sailing right at me and smacked into my cheek. Even though it didn't hurt, my hand flew to my face like I had just been pelted with shrapnel. The laugh that followed pulled me out of my stunned state.
"Hey, you're stalking me."
Brian's Peter-Pannish face popped out from behind the friers. The impish smile he wore immediately erased any possible irritation I held regarding the 'puppy pelting.
"You work here?"
The moment the question came out of my mouth, I cringed. I hated stupid questions with obvious answers. Sure enough, Brian jiggled his nametag.
"Nope, they kidnapped me and I'm going to be forced to walk the plank in about ten minutes."
I laughed. "Nice."
He put his hands together as if they had been bound by rope. "Tell mama I love heeeeerrrrrrr!" he yelled, throwing his voice so he sounded like he was falling, he sunk down below the counter.
An old couple dining nearby looked our way. I felt myself blush, but couldn't help the soft snort that escaped from my nostrils. Horrific!
"Littrell, waiting on your part of this to-go order!"
He bounced back up, quickly recovered from his fall, gave me a wink, and dodged back behind the stainless steel. The cashier rolled her eyes. "What were you saying?"
It took me a second, but after remembering what I'd been saying before the interruption, I finished the order, paid, and then stepped to the side to wait on the bags.
Brian didn't pop back out from the back. The cashier removed her gaze from her nails and her reflection in the pop machine long enough to dump copious amounts of tartar sauce in my bag and thank me for coming. I headed past the older couple and a family with three small kids. On my way out, I couldn't resist ringing the "Thank You" sailor's bell.
"ARRRGGGH, THANK YOU!!!!" an unmistakable voice rang out.
I was sure the smile I wore all the way home was ridiculously huge, only to get bigger as mom was opening up all the containers.
"Awww, how cute is this?" she said.
"What?" I asked, my mind still about eight minutes away.
"Someone got creative in the kitchen," she said. I leaned over to see what she was talking about.
And there, spelled out in twelve hushpuppies, was the word "Hi."