I think the waitress, Shelley, thought she was giving me the hook up with the meat, even though all I asked for was the two egg special with an English muffin. She sat it down and smiled at me and made some kind of remark about how I looked just fine as it was but I could use some fattening up and did I like my scrapple with molasses.
I was looking at the map, tracing the line from Buffalo to Albuquerque, thinking about you and the hippie and what he might be doing to you, which underwear you were wearing or maybe if he had you in some kind of organic new age kind of thong variation that I didn’t even know about. I looked down and there was this brown slab of something drooling grease onto my eggs.
“Wait,” I said. “Molasses? Scrapple?”
She laughed like I was joking and I noticed that Shelley was tall and good looking in a hard, diner waitress kind of way, like all that slinging eggs and scrapple had sharpened up all her edges.
I thought about you telling me you were a vegan now, how that was the first sign and how I didn’t notice until it was too late. I thought about the way the old hippie nodded and put his hand on the small of your back and then carried your tacklebox full of make up and your suitcases and shit out to his van, and I forced a piece of the stuff into my mouth, washed it down like a pill, and then cut another.
I played with my ring and felt for yours in my pocket while Shelley filled me in on the latest with her teenage daughter, Shelley Junior, and Junior’s boyfriend Vance, going on about Vance this and Vance that and isn’t that just like Vance to leave Shelley Junior alone on a Friday night and therefore leave Shelley Senior alone with Shelley Junior and nothing to do but sit around and watch the Gilmore Girls all night.
“I hate that show,” I said. And then, “I can’t eat this. This scrapple. This tastes like shit.”
Shelley stopped talking, took my plate, and marched into the kitchen. “It’s just a show,” she said. “It’s cute!” She threw something on the griddle, something that sounded and smelled suspiciously like more scrapple.
“That’s not how it turns out,” I shouted. “The witty banter and the new clothes and going to fucking Yale, everybody good looking and clean and best friends forever.” My voice sounded funny in my head, like something muffled and faraway. I was about ten hours on the road with no sleep and a broken radio in the truck and once the first word got out it was hard to stop talking.
Shelley gave me a look like I was not the kind of guy she thought I was, and let my check float in wavy jiggles to the floor. I watched it fall and Shelley stomped out the back door, cigarettes in hand.
There wasn’t anybody else in the whole place, which is why, in the beginning there, before I started talking and then couldn’t stop, I was thinking maybe Shelley was thinking we’d actually do it right there on the counter like we were in some kind of rock video from the Eighties, and after we were finished these bearded dudes would give me the keys to a kick ass car and all I’d have to do is cruise on down to Albuquerque and stand outside the hippie’s van, twirling my keys and looking slick, and everything would be rock and roll from there on out.
I looked at the parking lot. Snow was swirling around in little tornadoes and there was just my truck, faded and lonely like the stranded truck of a teen dad on the run for justice.
I knocked on the register and it opened like sesame. I scooped up everything in there — about a hundred and twenty — left five on the $4.45 and slipped out to the parking lot.
When the truck started I caught sight of Shelley in there, cleaning up my plate and shaking her head at the fifty-five cent tip. I hit the gas and burned rubber out onto the highway.
The Gilmore Girls DVDs — first season, forty bucks at Wal-Mart — were sitting on the passenger seat and I looked at that mother and daughter. This is when the mom was hotter than the daughter, Rory, the same name you gave our daughter. They were smiling and clean and best friends forever.
The truth is I watched the whole goddam season night before last, and that’s the real reason I was speeding away from a Pennsylvania diner and heading west, looking for you — the teen mom, they’d call you in the Entertainment Weekly writeup to our series. The credit card says you’re in New Mexico. The computer says I’ll be there in about four days.
I looked at that mom and daughter again. I thought about you and the hippie and the way you sat there in his van, looking straight ahead while he threw your suitcases into the back, about Rory maybe waking up around now, looking around at my sister’s basement and maybe not even scared about it anymore. I was riding through the mountains, rolling up and down, up and down, and it seemed like a whole shitload of road between here and smiling and clean and best friends forever. I heard a siren behind me and I pulled into a little turnoff, a place that could’ve been the beginning to a park or a dump, and pointed the car toward home. I threw the Gilmore Girls DVDs out the window, watched them settle into the wildflowers and weeds and the snow, and I waited.