The Lucky Day
by Richard Band
The girl was perched on a bar stool at the soda fountain of the faux-fifties diner off I-26 East. A tall man in his mid-thirties walked in. He leaned into the counter, looked to catch the eye of the waitress, and took a seat. Two stools over, the girl cleared her throat.
“Can’t believe it,” she said. “My horoscope says I will meet someone today who will change my life. And in you walk.”
The man managed a forced grin. “Well, actually we haven’t met. I just sat down,” he said. The red vinyl seat sported a ragged strip of duct tape down the middle.
The girl extended her hand. “I’m Melanie.”
“Matthew, nice to meet you.”
“Good, now we have met.” She trailed a limp French fry through a puddle of ketchup.
“No offense but I didn’t come in here to change your life, just to pick up a coffee.”
Melanie’s smile was playful, easy. “That’s what you think. If it’s meant to be, your intentions are kind of beside the point.” She wiggled on her seat and took a bite of her hamburger.
Matthew felt unsettled and amused at the same time. “Melanie, I think you have me mixed up with somebody else, like maybe Mr. Goodbar or Mr. Right.”
“Who said anything about picking you up? How you change my life is not revealed, just that you will.”
A tired waitress slapped a menu on the counter in front of him. “Coffee black to go, please. Wait, I’ll have it here.” He looked at Melanie, her pretty face like a distant memory of high school, blond bangs and a white blouse. She looked like the brash suffragette he had seen in a movie.
“Do you have pie?” The waitress indicated a plastic carousel of pie slices and stale donuts.
“I’ll have apple.” Elvis was playing on the retro jukebox. Just tell her Jim and she’ll know . . .. Melanie hummed along.
Eyeing the girl suspiciously, the waitress brought the pie. “Here you go, Hon.”
“Where you headed anyway, Matthew?"
“Charleston for a job interview. I live in Spartanburg.”
“I’m from here in Columbia. Looking for a job myself, well, a better one.”
Matthew thought the pie wasn’t half bad. He finished eating, more slowly than he might have.
“Guess I better head out,” he said. He left two dollars on the counter and walked to the register. Melanie was right behind. “Walk you to your car.”
They both paid and walked past the neon Drink Coca Cola sign and the outsized Roy Rogers and Trigger poster as Elvis crooned . . . just tell her Jim said Hello.
Melanie said, “I think us meeting like this is pretty cool, don’t you?”
Matthew played along. “We’ll string this out to the parking lot and then bye bye,” he thought.
At the door, she stopped to say, “How would you like to give me a ride to Charleston?”
“Why does this not surprise me? And how do you know I’m not a serial killer who picks up little girls like you and leaves them in a ditch, dead.”
“That’s a laugh. Your job is to change my life, not end it. I’m twenty-four. You aren’t dealing with some teenage ninny, you know.”
“I don’t know about your horoscope. Mine probably says beware of witchy women, only I didn’t read it, never do.”
“Matt, can I call you that? I’m serious about that ride. My sister lives in Charleston. She can drive me back because she owes Mom a visit.”
“Are you going to just leave your car here?”
“Sure. Let me make sure it’s locked.” She turned toward the parking lot and froze.
It was a split-second thing. The ancient Chevy minivan careened out of control and headed toward them at a crazy tilt, hit the curb and plowed to a screaming halt. Before Melanie could think, Matthew grabbed her by the hip pocket and yanked her backward, both landing hard against the siding of the diner. A customer and a man in a paper soda jerk cap ran out and managed to pull an elderly man out of the van, shaken and rubbing his shoulder. He was almost pleading: “Damn tire blew. All I could think to do was brake, couldn’t stop the slide. Are those people all right?”
“We are breathing,” Matthew called out, still collecting himself on hands and knees “Close call, close call.”
A soft voice beside him groaned, “What just happened?”
“Not sure but are you OK?”
“I think so. You?”
A small crowd had gathered. Someone called 911. The waiter guided the old man inside to a booth. He was handed a water by the waitress.
Matthew stood. He brushed himself off and took Melanie by both hands, lifting her gently.
His words had a nervous edge. “If you are all in one piece, I guess we are good to go.”
“My insides are jelly but I’m good — like you said, that was too close. I could have been killed. Normally I would object to some guy sticking his hand in my jeans like that, but thank you, kind sir.”
He did not reply but held her gaze and shuffled his feet.
“So, now what do you think?” she said, and the wide grin was back. “About my horoscope?”
“I think that old gentleman tried to be the guy. Who would change your life. And not in a good way. He missed his chance, so I’ll take my shot. Let’s head out and see what happens. The day is young.”
Richard Band is a librarian, book collector and trustee of the Arras Foundation in Lancaster, SC. His work has appeared in South Carolina Review, Kakalak, Charlotte Writers Club Annual Awards Anthology, Furman Magazine, and Light Quarterly.
Taking Up Residence
Rue stirred the tomato sauce simmering on the stove as she thought about the arrival of Sophie and her mom. They’d be coming to live with her today. The house had been so quiet and still. Hearing a car door slam, Bea ran to the window for a peek.
The realtor lifted the heaviest suitcase from the trunk, eager to get Sue and Sophie’s reaction. “It’s sat empty for a while, but the whole place has been remodeled — new carpet, paint, the works. You’re really gonna like it.”
Sophie spotted the translucent figure standing in the window and waved back.
Sara Jordan-Heintz is an award-winning journalist based in Iowa. Her short stories have been published in 101 Words, Red Planet Magazine, 365 Tomorrows, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Friday Flash Fiction, and The Mambo Academy of Kitty Wang.
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