I lived in Wartville, Alabama, which was just about as bad as it sounds. The northern side of town was rural, with big green longleaf pines and farms that stretched out for miles. It was peaceful. At night, you could hear the sound of frogs singing on the other side of the river, their songs pitchy and alive. But if you went down to the other side of town, you’d find yourself knee-deep in a broom sedge, which is tall and, as my Aunt Christie used to say, a pain in the ass.
I lived in the northern side of town, with Mom and Aunt Christie (who isn’t my aunt by blood, but a former crack addict who my mother took in and converted), but I worked at a dumpy old diner near the broom sedge side. I attended college at Wartville Community (go boars!), and lived off of the cheap sodas and double cheeseburgers I got from work. For free, by the way.
My name is Blaire Bones, and my life was as boring as they get.
“Happy nineteenth,” Mark — my boss — said dismissively. He stared up at the Birthday Board, which was posted right next to the Employee of the Month Board. I’d seen my tired face on that Birthday Board four times.
Unfortunately, it’d never been pinned up to the Employee of the Month Board. Not once.
A loose strand of dark hair clung to the back of my neck from sweat. “Thanks.”
I’d been bussing tables for hours now, which wasn’t an ideal way to spend your nineteenth fucking birthday, but I wasn’t really in a position to complain.
Mark finally walked away, his big beard and belly bouncing with each step. I took a plate in one hand and a glass of Coke in the other, shuffling out of the kitchen when I heard one of my coworkers swoon (although it sounded more like an excited shriek), and the Coke nearly slipped out of my grasp.
“Holy shit,” she hissed, tugging my sleeve. I instinctively whipped around for any sign of Mark before whispering “What?” back.
“Look.” I followed her outstretched finger to this guy, who was sitting awkwardly at one of the booths. Alone.
I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. “Looks like a normal guy to me,” I sighed. I nudged her hand off of my shoulder. “C’mon, Alice, I’ve got shit to do—”
“No,” Alice said, her voice low. “Look again. He’s gorgeous.”
I gave him a second look. Golden, shaggy hair that fell delicately to his shoulders. Sharp gray eyes that stared blankly at the space in front of him. Slim build; rocker-type. Yeah, Alice wasn’t wrong, but chances were we’d forget about this guy by the following morning. Alice had a gift for scoping out all the attractive people that had ever entered the diner, and yet she couldn’t recall how any of them looked.
“Oh my God,” Alice said, pointing at the plate and the Coke I was holding. “What number is that? Fourteen?”
I nodded. Sure enough, the table number that the guy was sitting at was also fourteen. I groaned, put on my faux waitress-smile, and quickly set the food down in front of Mister-Calvin-Klein-model-at-table-fourteen.
“This is vegetarian, right?” he said, poking the bun of his burger. He looked almost prettier up-close.
“You’re sure?” he prodded.
“. . . yeah,” I say, but my voice quavered. I’m not fond of talking to good-looking people, mostly because they’re fucking terrifying. The ones that know they’re good-looking are even worse, and I was one hundred percent positive that this guy knew.
“Because it looks like beef,” the guy said, raising an all-too-well-groomed eyebrow. “Which is meat. From an animal. Which isn’t vegetarian.”
He was smiling. I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, or what he was trying to say, exactly, but I did know that I needed a birthday nap ASAP before I lost my goddamn mind. “Sorry. I’ll get you a new one.”
“Hey, hey,” the guy said, laughing a little. “I was just joking around. I didn’t order a vegetarian burger.”
“Okay,” I said, stifling a yawn. “Enjoy, then.”
“Wait!” the guy said. I turned around, my eyes unfocusing so that the singular glass of Coca Cola morphed into two. “When do you get off?”
I checked my watch. “Thirty minutes, give or take.”
“I can work with that,” the guy said, grinning. “Listen, do you think you can meet me after? Maybe behind this place?”
This was when fight-or-flight mode kicked in, only my brain decided on something that was neither fight nor flight but more akin to making blatant lies. “Sure.”
I smiled and left. I felt the smile fall right off my face when I found myself in the safety of the kitchen, where the smell of hot, greasy french fries wafted through the air and soothed the cockles of my frightened heart. I’d seen enough true crime documentaries to know that this was how people disappeared and never turned up afterwards. I’d watched enough horror movies to know that hot people were more than capable of murder. In fact, it was almost always the hot person’s fault.
There was no way in hell that I was meeting up with this guy.
And I didn’t.
I drove home in my beat-up truck (which I’d lovingly named Beverly), not once bothering to go anywhere close to the back of the diner. I didn’t even go there when it was free of weird strangers, mostly because of the garbage that Mark let rot there, and because Alice and her friends smoked e-cigs that turned the place into a sauna.
And this is where the story of Me gets weird. This is where the painfully average life of Blaire Bones becomes almost extraordinary.
When I got home, I found Mom and Aunt Christie on the porch, routinely drinking whiskey while listening to the hum of the cicadas and the hyperpop that played quietly from Aunt Christie’s iPod. I parked Beverly on the dirt patch in front of the garage, and Aunt Christie waved at me.
“Hey, Bee,” she croaked. “We got you a cake.”
“You didn’t need to do that,” I said, shedding off my work uniform. I had a tank top on under it, but no pants — except it didn’t matter as we had no neighbors to see me. I don’t think I would’ve cared if we did, anyhow. Walking around in my underwear on a red-hot summer evening seemed like the most logical thing to do.
“It’s got pink icing,” Mom sighed, leaning back into her rocking chair. “Buttercream. Your favorite.”
“God, I’m exhausted,” I said, sitting across from them. Mom swatted my hand when I reached for the whiskey.
“You’re nineteen, not twenty-one,” she said.
“Do you know how old you have to be to drink in France?” I challenged. “Or Germany? Ma, if you’re so open-minded, the least you could do is keep the drinking age universal.”
“Fuckin-A,” Aunt Christie added.
“Language,” Mom frowned. “And I am open-minded, Blaire. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about your health.”
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