Excerpt from “Lucky”…
The waitress came then and took their orders. When she was gone, Danae pulled the little truck stop brochure from between the salt and the peppershakers. It was something for her fingers to do, and somewhere for her gaze to go. Neither of them said a word for the length of time it took her to read most of the front and back. Seeing no way to further that stall tactic, she put it back. “Huh.” Her gaze chanced across at him, and her heart thudded forward. “So…”
He looked at her, and those gray-blue eyes looked both tired and nervous. “So…”
It became clear that having come this far, he didn’t want to push her into anything—even conversation.
“You’re from Nashville then,” she finally said.
When he nodded, his hair slid down around his face. It was then that she realized how thin he really was. His hair made his already thin features look almost razor-like. Even his hands looked all fingers. “For about six months now.” His accent danced across her heart.
“Really? You’ve only been there a few months, and you’re already in the business? That’s impressive.”
He pulled himself forward and examined his long, thin hands.
“I’m sorry,” she said, seeing she had made him uncomfortable. “I just… I mean they said…”
“No,” he said with the slightest of smiles, “it’s okay. I’m just… I’m trying to get things to work out. It gets kind of tough sometimes.”
“So, you’re not from here then?” she asked, hating how stupid that question sounded.
Skepticism jumped to his face. “Have you ever heard a native Tennessean talk like this?”
She laughed. “Okay, dumb question number one. Sorry.”
His gaze couldn’t hold hers. “No, it’s okay. I’m from Canada. I just made it back—”
“Well…” Every word he spoke seemed to take monumental amounts of effort. He laid an arm over the booth back, clearly trying to look calm and collected although that wasn’t at all what she saw in his eyes. “I was here about five years ago.”
“You were here? What happened? Why’d you go back?”
The waitress picked that moment to bring their drinks, and when she was gone, Kalin downed his soda as if he was a man dehydrated in the desert. Danae waited until he set the red plastic cup back down and then pursued the conversation.
“Why’d you leave?”
He looked at her like he would’ve gladly been anywhere other than there at that moment. “My visa ran out. I didn’t have a choice.”
“Oh.” She contemplated that information, not totally sure what to do with it. “Where you in the business back then, when you were here before?”
He pushed the material on his legs down nervously. “Yeah.” He took a long breath. “Let’s just say things didn’t work out quite the way I thought they would.”
“But you’re back now… older and wiser.”
“Older, yes,” he said, and for the first time he cracked a tiny smile. “But wiser? I wouldn’t go quite that far.”
“Leaving something to aspire to, huh?”
His smile widened. “Yeah. Something like that.” Then he looked at her quizzically. “How about you? What do you do in the great city of Knoxville, Tennessee?”
It would’ve been easier to talk about him. Her smile faded as life descended on her shoulders. “I’m in school… college.” Her gaze bounced from the table up to his face. “University of Tennessee.”
“Wow. That’s cool. So, you’re like what then? A freshman? Sophomore?”
She leveled a horrified look at him. “How young do you think I am?”
“I’m sorry. I just thought…”
“No.” She reined in the offended tone. “I’m a senior.” She took a long breath to stabilize the thought of her looming future. “After I get through this semester, all I lack is student teaching in the fall.”
“Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.” He sounded happy about that—just like everyone did.
“I guess so.” She picked up her knife and spun it end-to-end.
The awkwardness left his demeanor as he looked at her, and he leaned forward and laid his forearms on the edges of the table. “You don’t sound too thrilled about that.”
She tried to look at him, but her gaze barely touched his face before it fell back to the table. She shrugged. “It’s just one of those things I guess.”
“What things?” he asked as though he genuinely cared.
“Oh, you know,” she said, staving off the admission. “Gotta do something with your life.”
“So I take it teaching wasn’t your first choice.”
She laughed softly. “More like 73rd. Right after being shot from a cannon at the circus.”
“That good, huh?”
When she looked across the table, it took all of a second to decide that it didn’t matter if she was honest with him or not. After tonight, she would never see him again anyway. “Mom says it’ll be a good fall-back-on job. Plus, it’s not something if you quit to have a family, you can’t get back into. They always need teachers.”
The waitress brought their food, but Danae had lost a good amount of her appetite. On the other side of the table, Kalin cut into his chicken fried steak with a vengeance.
“Well, if teaching is 73rd, what’s 52nd?” he asked.
She laughed as she cut into her pancakes. “I don’t know, NASA?”
“Controller or astronaut?”
“Controller,” she said definitively. “Can you see me in a Space Shuttle?”
He smiled as he picked a forkful of mashed potatoes up. “Hey, you rode a motorcycle didn’t you?”
“True,” she said, pointing the tip of her knife at him.
“Okay, so what’s 22nd on the list?”
For a moment she scrunched her face, thinking. “I don’t know. Rock star?”
Interest descended on him. “Really?”
“Yeah, but seeing as how I don’t play anything and I can’t sing to save my life—I’m thinking that’s not going to get me very far.”
He laughed and sawed more meat off. “Okay, what’s eighth on this list of yours?”
“Eighth? Hmm…” She cut a chunk off her pancakes, took the bite, and chewed thoughtfully. She took a drink to wash that down. “How about a big city crime reporter?”
His eyebrows shot for the ceiling. “Crime? That sounds a little dangerous, don’t you think?”
“Ugh. I think it sounds exciting. You know, Perry Mason without the law books, figuring out whodunit and why. Sounds pretty cool to me.”
Kalin, however, didn’t look entirely convinced. “Well, you don’t look like the criminal stalking kind to me, so what’s number two?”
Her eating slowed as she realized that all but one slice of her pancakes was gone. She shrugged. “I’d always kind of thought about nursing.”
“Nursing? Really?” He stopped eating to gaze across at her, and her pulse jumped into her throat with the intense interest in his eyes. “So, why didn’t you do that?”
Again she shrugged as if it meant nothing to her. “Long hours, late nights away from your family. It just didn’t seem very practical.” With all the energy of a dead leaf, she cut the last two bites of her pancakes in half. However, they didn’t even look appetizing anymore. Suddenly she was very tired, to the point of wanting to fall asleep right there. She laid her fork and knife down and sat back.
“So,” he finally said after he took a drink of the soda the waitress had come to refill at some point, “that brings us to number one. You, Danae Scott, can now be anything you want to be… the world is your oyster. What is your number one?”