“Daddy Sheriff and me? We knew the second we met that we were perfect for each other.” Lilly Jean took a straw and tapped it against the counter until it burst through the paper like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon; reminding Lilly Jean of the way she felt when she first met Daddy Sheriff. She grabbed another straw and opened it the same way before putting both in her milkshake.
Bitsy raised her eyebrows. “How do you think Connie felt about that?”
“Connie shouda’ paid Daddy Sheriff more mind when they were together, ‘stead of hounding him now that she’s lost him.”
“Seems to me Daddy Sheriff shouldn’t have been going to the fair without his wife. Connie loved the fair.”
“She can still go,” Lilly Jean said, rolling her eyes at Ellie. “The woman ain’t helpless, from what I understand.” She took a sip of her milkshake and continued. “He came up to me when I was standing in line at the Ferris wheel, Ellie; all in that uniform of his, clean and fresh pressed…”
“…by his wife,” Bitsy put in.
“… told me I was in danger.” Lilly Jean put a hand to her chest. “Told me that I was too beautiful to be alone at the fair.”
Bitsy laughed. “Was he speaking to your face or your other assets, Lilly Jean? You bottle all that hot air we’d have ourselves a new natural resource. Put everyone back to work and build this town up to what it used to be.”
“You hush yourself, Bitsy, you’re just jealous.” Lilly Jean’s eyes took on a faraway look. “He took my arm and led me to the front of the line. The very front! Ain’t that sweet?”
Ellie nodded and continued buffing the spoons before her.
“Don’t you all get tired of that buffing, child?”
Ellie looked up. “I like it.”
“I like routine.”
“Buffing that silver kind of breaks up the monotony of having to listen to you ramble on about your relationship with Connie’s husband, Lilly Jean. Hand me a towel, Ellie. If I buff hard enough, maybe I can drown out Lilly Jean’s stories.”
“Everyone needs stories, Bitsy. It’s what we hang on to, those stories of our lives.”
“But nobody needs to listen to your tall tales, Lilly Jean.” Bitsy took up a handful of spoons and began polishing them, rubbing so hard, Lilly Jean wondered if she might rub away the surface.
“It’s a good thing you never had kids, Bitsy. You’d wipe their faces clean off at bath time.”
Bitsy’s face reddened, she polished even harder before setting the towel and the spoons on the breakfast bar. “I’ll just see how Spank’s doing with that sausage.”
“I haven’t finished my story…”
“I’ve got a business to run, Lilly Jean.” And Bitsy pushed her way through the swinging double doors back into the kitchen.
“Fool,” Lilly Jean said. “She left spots on all them spoons. Here.” Lilly Jean took up Bitsy’s abandoned cloth and dipped it in her water glass, avoiding the print her lipstick had made on the side.
“Lilly Jean, I don’t think…”
“Never you mind, Ellie. I don’t mind earning my keep once in awhile. Apparently some people ‘round here think that paying customers ain't allowed to talk. What’s the purpose of a diner if not for people to get together and socialize once in awhile?” She raised her voice. “It certainly ain’t for the food.”
“I heard that, Lilly Jean.” Spank’s voice emerged from the kitchen over the noise of his blasted oldies.
Lilly Jean shook her head. “He’s another one. What’s his story? Old man, never married, working at the diner. Is he…” She raised her eyebrows at Ellie.
Ellie grabbed more silverware and resumed her incessant buffing. The girl certainly was efficient even if she didn’t have the gift for gab.
Lilly Jean settled back into her story. It was comfortable, this story. It was like settling onto her armchair and putting up her feet after a long day of sorting mail. “We rode the Ferris wheel three times in a row. Didn’t even bother getting off the ride! And then, after I told Daddy Sheriff I was feeling sickish, we got off. Daddy Sheriff took me to a beverage stand and ordered one lemonade with two straws. That’s when I knew, Ellie.” She nodded, and wondered if that nod was to convince herself. “That’s when I knew.”
She took another sip from her milkshake but it tasted bitter; the way lemonade tasted to her now. “And then, Connie showed up. She ranted and raged at him. Told him she’d given him the very best years of her life; told him that she’d put up with him for too long. Daddy Sheriff took my hand then. And we walked away, hand in hand. He chose me, Ellie. Daddy Sheriff chose me.” She resumed buffing the spoons, rubbing harder than necessary, the way she’d just seen Bitsy do. She wished she could rub the smirks off the faces of people who’d heard; wished she could just rub away the stain of the truth. But she knew. She knew.
Daddy Sheriff was holding someone else’s hand now. Daddy Sheriff was walking away hand in hand with another woman.
And Lilly Jean was just telling stories.
Labels: Fiction, Indie Ink