Brown Leather Jacket

April 18, 2014
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“This place is gross.”
I agree with her wholeheartedly but whining about it won’t make the sheets any cleaner or the windows less grimy so I drop my bag on one of the twin beds and rub my aching shoulders. The entire building has a “closet full of skin sombreros” vibe to it but right now we can’t afford more than thirty bucks a night.

“I’m gonna hit a couple bars I saw on the way in tomorrow. One of them has to need a bartender.” She nods in agreement and reluctantly sits down on the edge of her bed, rubbing the back of her neck with a sigh. I’m exhausted, starving and in a terrible mood but it feels good to finally be here. Life on the road is entirely glorified in movies and songs – in reality it’s a lot of stiff muscles, boredom and money spent in gas.

“Can we eat? I’m gonna die soon if we don’t,” she sighs, pulling out a hair tie and winding her blonde main into the perfect messy bun on the first try. I’ll never understand how she does it. Even with a mirror it takes me thirteen tries and no less than forty bobby pins.

“Yeah me too,” I agree, pocketing our room key, some cash and my pack of cigarettes. She stands up and we head back out the door that I check twice to make sure is locked before we emerge into the night, beginning the short walk down the block to a nearby diner that’s surprisingly crowded for this time of night. Apparently we aren’t the only night owls in Chattanooga.

We try to make ourselves comfortable on the cracked vinyl seats of a booth in the corner, keeping our eyes down on the menus as a fifty-something waitress saunters up to the table with a big grin and yellowed teeth.

“Hey y’all, how’s it goin’? she drawls, twirling a pencil between her fingers.

“Fine,” I nod, trying to catch Mykaela’s gaze but she’s stubbornly avoiding both of us.

“Somethin’ to drink?” she questions, looking pointedly at Myk who is too busy being difficult to catch her question.

“Two cherry Cokes.” I give her my sweetest Southern smile, digging the toe of my boot into Myk’s shin but she doesn’t bother to flinch.

“Where are y’all from?” she asks as Mykaela’s knuckles go white from the death grip she has on her menu. I have no idea why she’s being so obnoxious but I whip up a story on the fly.

“New Orleans,” I wink. “We’re up here for our cousin’s funeral actually. Car accident.” I give her my best woe-upon-us eyes, hoping it explains away any weird behavior. She takes the bate like a pro, throwing a hand over her heart with pizazz.

“Oh bless your hearts, I’m so sorry,” she frowns. “Let me get you those drinks. You girls just let me know when you’re ready to order.” I nod and she finally trots off but I wait until she disappears into the kitchen to rip into Mykaela.

“What the actual f*** was that?” I hiss. She covers her face with her hands looking as utterly defeated as I feel but I can’t be sympathetic. She isn’t alone in this.

“I know her,” she grumbles. Her brown eyes are dark underneath and I wonder if mine are as bad. Hell, they’re probably worse.

“So what? I’m pretty sure acting like you’re strung out on heroin isn’t any better than just letting her recognize you. You need to chill out,” I snarl as the waitress reappears with our sodas, setting down the glasses and straws with another smile.

“Ready to order?” she asks and we both nod.

“I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger with extra pickles and ketchup.” Myk manages a halfhearted smile and I order the same, waiting for her to leave before dropping my head onto my arms. I could fall asleep right here and now.

“Hey Shay?” her voice is careful and quiet like she’s afraid to bother me so I lift my head back up, her eyes etched with concern.


“How long are we staying here?” she asks tentatively, like she’s making a brave attempt to pet an untamed lion despite the warning signs. In her defense I’ve been a little short lately but I’m deeply grateful she’s with me. The whole insanity process would be accelerated tenfold if I was out here alone.

“I don’t know,” I shrug. And it’s true, I don’t know. I usually have a plan in place a good ways before we make it to our next city but this time has been different. I don’t know if I’m running out of ideas and backstories or if I’m just too tired to care. Either way it’s not a good situation for us. “Probably not long,” I add. She nods and we fall silent which is another thing I’m grateful for. I’m not someone who’s capable of small talk most of the time and although Mykaela is, she’s capable of silence as well.

I’m not sure how long I zone out for, letting myself suffocate under a blanket of both good and excruciatingly painful memories that are always one slip-up of my mental walls away before a gentle prod from Mykaela brings me back to this cheap linoleum table.

“Sorry,” I smile, taking a long drink of much needed caffeine. She has a smile on her own face that is far more cheerful than I’ve seen in a while so I’m instantly curious.

“What?” She darts her eyes to the left a few times, clearly motioning for me to look at something or someone so I casually play with a lock of my hair and glance off in the distance. I see nothing but a few guys sitting on stools at the counter eating various plates of greasy food and drinking yesterday’s coffee.

“Brown leather jacket. He’s been looking at you the whole time we’ve been here.” I’m impressed by her observation as the only guy in a brown leather jacket is sitting at a booth on the opposite end of the place, by himself, looking about as inconspicuous as we’re trying to be. I can’t make out much about him other than he’s probably around our age and is reading through a newspaper, absentmindedly twirling a spoon in a mug.

“So?” I ask, breaking my stare at him before he notices.

“So he’s really cute,” she presses, sounding a little too excited.

“That’s neat,” I nod, seeing her expression fall slightly at my dismal attitude about the whole thing. I know she’s trying to be lighthearted but she knows the rules.

“Sorry, I just thought it was funny,” she sighs.

“Yeah whatever, you just want to get rid of me for the night,” I tease and she gives me a heartbreaking smile that lights up her pretty face and tugs at my chest. I should really try to lighten up on her more often.

“And sleep in that creepy motel alone? Good joke,” she snorts. I steal one more glance at the guy across the diner and am embarrassed to see that like Mykaela promised, he’s looking our direction. Probably at her, not me, though. I haven’t looked in a mirror in days which is never a promising sign.

Our food arrives and we dig in like ravenous hyenas, dumping ketchup all over everything and eating fries three at a time, making enough noise to draw curious look s from a few people around us so I give her a look to throttle back the enthusiasm.

“So much better,” she groans, sitting back and rubbing her stomach. I suck down the last of my soda and nod in contentment before throwing down a twenty dollar bill and we both stand up.

“He’s still there,” she whispers. “Such a shame. He really is good looking.” I roll my eyes at her and we find our way out, me using a lot of self control to not look behind us as we make our way into the night and I light a cigarette, taking a deep drag as we cross the empty street and begrudgingly go back to the motel.

Mykaela’s still asleep when I get back from job hunting but I let her sleep. I’ve been up since half past five, chain smoking and brooding over ideas of where to go next, hunched over my worn map of the country. I’m trying my best to keep it sporadic, avoid any kind of predictable pattern but it’s growing more and more difficult. New Orleans one week, Dallas the next, then Denver for a couple of days. The longest we’ve been in one city was a month and that was strictly for the sake of saving up some money. And it almost cost us dearly.

I try to be quiet as I empty my pockets onto the tarnished old dresser but she rolls over and opens her eyes, squinting in the daylight, a guilty look on her face.

“What time is it?” she asks, glancing around for a clock this room doesn’t have.

“Ten thirty.”

“I’m sorry,” she pouts, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. “You should have woke me up.”

“It’s fine.” I cross off names of places I applied to this morning from my post-it note list, back to her.

“Any luck?”

“The only places hiring right now are the gas station on Jenner and the diner we were at last night and I don’t love either of those options,” I grumble, running a hand through my hair. I took a shower this morning but a combination of motel shampoo and hard water didn’t do it any favors.

“Well, one of us can take the diner and one of us has to figure something else out, “she shrugs. “I bet there’s a shop around here somewhere you can work at,” she adds, but my expression must tell her that it’s not an option.

“I don’t know if the diner would pay cash,” I argue. “I applied already but I’ll have to talk to them if they call me.”

“Alright,” she nods, standing up and heading for the bathroom. “I’ll figure something out. Promise.” With that she shuts the door with a snap and I’m left alone with silence and myself. Two old enemies of mine. I decide the room is already nasty so I light a cigarette and sit crossed legged on the bed with my map in front of me, trying to choose between Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Wisconsin is closer, but I’ve never been a fan of big northern cities and I know this time of year it’s probably cold. I don’t do cold well, but it isn’t a time to be picky about the climate.

I snuff out my cigarette in an empty water bottle when the motel phone on the night stand starts to ring and scares the fear of God into me. I answer it on the hope it’s the diner with good news for me.

“Is this Morgan?” a friendly male voice asks and I’m relieved. He’s using one of the fake names I give.

“It is,” I reply, going for cheery and normal.

“Name’s Greg,” a rough male voice barks. “We need a waitress and you applied. Can you start tonight?”

“Definitely,” I agree.

“Good. Paid by personal checks weekly and you keep the tips. That work for you?” The personal check thing makes me a little nervous but I’m sure I can find a bank or a Wal Mart that will cash it for me with the fake ID I have under the name Morgan. I’m in no position to negotiate.

“Yeah, sounds good. What time?”

“Be here at eight. Shift ends at two.”

“I’ll be there at eight,” I agree cheerfully and we hang up. I’m more than a little relieved – things usually don’t go so easy for us. I fall back down onto the bed, closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep before I can decide whether or not I want to.

The diner is exactly what I expected. Most of the waitresses welcome me with open arms and seem grateful for the help, although a few are distant, I don’t blame them. I offer very little about myself upon introduction which goes against every Southern value in the book. The customers are a mixture of truck drivers, farmers, drunken teenagers and drifters much like myself and Mykaela just looking for a place to briefly hang their hats and I respect that. I’m good at waitressing. It’s a comfort zone for me and I’m surprised by a couple of larger tips that will help us survive the next town.

I’m balancing several plates on one arm and concentrating on my destination when the front door bell dings and I almost tip everything I’m carrying straight on to the floor because it’s none other than the same brown leather jacket Mykaela was pointing out last night. I catch a better glimpse of his face before hurrying off with the food. She was right, he is beautiful and looks a little out of place here.

“If there’s anything else I can get y’all, let me know,” I smile, heading back for the kitchen when Linda, my waitress from last night, grabs my arm with a huff.

“Someone’s requesting you already,” she says, sounding more than a little displeased about losing out on a table. I’m puzzled until she glances over at him sitting in the same booth he was at last night, another newspaper in hand. What the hell?

“That’s weird,” I mumble, trying to keep calm. “I’ve only been here a few hours.”

“Yeah, well, a little slice like you is sure to be a hot commodity around here,” she shrugs. “Doesn’t surprise me none.”

I head over to him without responding to her commentary, putting on a smile and introducing myself.

“I’m Morgan, I’ll be your waitress tonight. How about something to drink?” He looks away from his paper and I’m forced to meet a pair of candy apple green eyes that could cut through diamond. My throat closes for a minute but I round myself up quickly while I wait for his answer.

“Coffee. Black.” His full lips part into a wide smile that causes the corners of my own mouth to turn upward. He’s infectious. I try to avoid people like him.

“You bet. I’ll be right back with that.” I hurry away to fill a coffee cup and return with a set of silverware as well because I remember him twirling his spoon last night. He looks at the little bundle wrapped in a paper napkin with marked curiosity.

“You’re new here,” he states. There’s no hint of a question about it.

“Yes sir,” I nod, praying I can keep the few details I told the other waitresses about my fake persona in order if he asks further questions.

“What has a pretty girl like you working in a dive like this?” This time it’s a question and he arches one eyebrow, waiting for my response.

“Just making ends meet,” I smile, hoping it’s enough to satiate him.

“A word of advice,” he starts, his expression alarmingly serious as his intense gaze pries into my own. “Run. It’s very easy for a girl like you to get trapped in a town like this.”

As soon as I hear the word run, my heart begins to hammer in double time, sending a rush of blood to my face and hands, adrenaline coursing through me like I’m a thousand feet in the air. The words themselves may sound harmless enough but something in his tone, his expression, the way he said ‘run’ and the long pause between that three letter word and the rest of his statement has me on high alert. I’ve gone from cautious to absolutely terrified in a span of five seconds but externally I am neutral. Panic attacks and mental breakdowns can wait for the motel room.

“You’re sweet,” I laugh. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll figure things out someday. But for now, can I get you something to eat?” I attempt to gracefully change the subject and although he continues to study me with those hypnotizing green eyes, he lets it slide.

“Surprise me,” he says, expression softening slightly. “I trust your judgment.”

“I won’t let you down,” I smile before turning away and taking a few deep breaths to calm myself. It could be nothing. He could just be some good looking guy with a little too much interest in small town girls, but my instincts tell me there was something very real in his words. Even his statement of ‘I trust your judgment’ felt like a double entendre, but I can’t dwell on it right this second. I won’t. I take one last calming breath, put in an order for his food return to the rest of my tables. I can do this. I can keep Mykaela and myself safe.

Mykaela’s sound asleep when I collapse onto the bed that I refuse to think of as ‘mine’ around two thirty, smelling of French fries and dead ends. I could wake her up and tell her about leather jacket, but I decide against it. Whatever is happening with him can wait until morning. I curl up on top of the sheets in my uniform and all, drifting into a restless sleep that involves dreams of haunting green eyes and a sense of impending trouble.

I’m not sure if it’s the baking sun on my face or a racket coming from the bathroom that wakes me up but I squint against the blinding rays and sit up, head pounding something fierce. There’s drool smeared across my cheek that I wipe off onto the sheets with a groan that must be loud enough for Mykaela to hear. She pokes her head out and give s me a goofy smile before popping out and twirling around.

“How do I look?” she asks. Her getup consists of jean shorts, a sparkly blue tank top and cowboy boots. I’m thoroughly confused.

“What did I miss?”

“I got a job,” she laughs like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I poked around in a couple of bars that are a little way farther up the road and one of them said they’d hire me as a bartender slash waitress if I could prove myself and I did. Cash job, only working nights. It’s perfect.” She’s positively beaming with pride at her success and I find myself smiling as well.

“Awesome. Just try not to raise too much hell,” I warn. “Noise attracts attention.” She rolls her eyes and fluffs her hair a little.

“I know, Shay. We’ve been doing this long enough, I’m not stupid. I’ll be careful. If the water gets hot I bail.” I nod, pulling a wad of cash out of my pocket from my shift last night. It amounts to thirty dollars, which is far from miraculous but every little bit helps.

“You can take the truck to work if you want,” I offer. I don’t really love the idea of her walking to wherever the hell this bar is. “I’m off tonight.”

“Why don’t you just drop me off?” she counters. “Then you have it if you need it. I’ll be off by three.”

“Sure. What time to do you need to be there?”

“Five. It’s only four right now so we don’t have to leave until a couple minutes before.” She looks content with everything right now so it pains me to think about laying what happened last night on her but I don’t have a choice.

“Sit down, I’ve gotta tell you something,” I sigh. Her expression falls and she sits on the bed across from me, legs tucked underneath her and a worried pinch to her face. “That guy you pointed out when were got here in the diner, the one with the jacket, he came in again last night,” I begin, praying she doesn’t interrupt me. “He asked for me as a waitress which I thought was weird, and then he told me to run. He said ‘it’s easy for a girl like you to get trapped in a town like this.’ I don’t know what it means but it scared the hell out of me. What if he knows something? What if it’s a threat?” I pinch the bridge of my nose waiting for her input.

“You think he meant it negatively?” she asks. “I mean, if he’s someone who lives in this town, there’s a good chance he sees people get stuck here all the time. Maybe he meant exactly what he said…” she trails off. The tone in her voice tells me she isn’t sold on her own theory.

“I don’t know how he meant it and that’s the scary part. He has these eyes, Myk. They stay with you. The way he said to run, I don’t know. I can’t get it out of my head. Why would he ask for me if it wasn’t meant as a warning?”

“Keep an eye on it,” she says, expression uncharacteristically serious. “See if he keeps coming around. If he does and he doesn’t ask for you again, maybe it’s nothing. I don’t really know what to think of that. It sounds shady but he could just be a creep. I don’t think we should pack up and bail right this second because one guy hit on you.”

I know part of the reason she’s saying it is because she’s tired of it all. I am too. This life was fun for the first couple of months. Seeing the country, wide open roads with no rules, loud music, greasy food, but having nowhere to call home and no way to have a connection with anybody else is difficult. No cell phones, no computers, no debit cards or steady employment. Nothing that could make us traceable, long story short. Neither of us knew anything about this life when we left home almost a year ago but when sink or swim is your only option we started paddling like Michael Phelps.

“I don’t want to leave yet either.” It was meant to sound comforting but even I can hear the depression in my voice. She stands up and planks herself down on the bed next to me resting her head on my shoulder. I rest my own on tops of hers and we sit like that for an undetermined amount of time because the only thing we have anymore is each other. Even though I don’t tell her often enough, sometimes I ponder what my life would be if I was in this by myself and I cringe at the reality. Knowing my reckless tendancies I’d probably be an alcoholic with a lot of narcissitic tendancies who wouldn’t be nearly as careful as I am right now.

“We can’t keep this up forever,” she says softly after a while.

“I know.”

“Maybe we should just stop. See what happens.”

“You know what will happen. It’ll be Oklahoma City all over again.” I’m surprised she needs reminding.

“And? Is that really any worse than living like this any more?” she questions. Of course I’ve had the same thoughts one hundred times over again, but it feels a lot like rolling over. So far we’ve done a pretty damned good job of staying alive despite our complete lack of knowledge in the subject and I don’t know how ready I am to give it all up.

“We’ll figure it out. We always do.”

We sit in silence a little longer until she needs to leave for work. It’s only half a mile up the road from our motel but at three in the morning no girl needs to be walking any distance, especially from a janky bar like the this one. It appears to have been a barn at one point in history but now it’s a smoky, dimly lit tavern with a couple young girls in shorts serving drinks to elderly men and bikers. She shoots me a ‘f*** it’ grin and hops out, slamming the door as I back out and head to the motel. Part of me wants to wander around this town and scope everything out but I’m tired. It might feel good to sit still for once.

I engineer a makeshift ashtray out of a broken beer bottle and light one up, flipping through the fifteen channels the television has a couple of times before turning it off and laying my head back against the wall, wishing I had some music, wondering if it would make me crazy to sit here and sing by myself all night, and then I realize there’s nobody around to call me crazy anyway.

I’m belting out the second chorus to “Jolene” like I wrote it myself when a crashing on the room door steals the wind from me and I put out my cigarette, fly off the bed and rip open my purse that contains all our money and my custom camo Ruger. The old familiar weight in my hand is comforting but whoever is out there has gone from knocking hard to practically kicking the door in so I pull it open and am instantly smashed into the wall by whoever was out there and they slam the door shut behind them.

I’m not as surprised as I should be to see the guy from the diner standing in front of me and he doesn’t look surprised to be staring down the barrel of my gun, either.

“Easy, tiger.” His deep voice is calm and he raises his hands, eyes never leaving mine.

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