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Hairpin Curves
Author: Elia Winters


      Chapter One

   Megan Harris checked the industrial-style clock on the wall, adjusted her glasses, and checked again. How was closing time still an hour away? She could count on two hands the number of tables she’d served since the diner had opened at six. After trying to avoid the clock since her midmorning break, she’d finally caved—and it was barely one. Well, damn. She adjusted her headband, washed her hands, and left the back room to greet the probably-empty diner with a cheerfully insincere smile.

   Instead of an empty diner, though, a familiar face looked up from one of the oversized menus, light brown curls pulled up in a pair of retro Princess Leia buns. Scarlett Andrews caught Megan’s gaze, her expression turning cautious. Their entire history flashed through Megan’s mind all at once: childhood best friends, competitive but loving all through high school, their whole story coming to a swift end when Scarlett bailed on Megan right before college and left her scrambling to find another roommate at the last minute. They hadn’t spoken since. Of course, Megan had seen her around now and then, because in a town like Crystal River, you always saw people around. But they hadn’t been face-to-face like this. And they certainly hadn’t spoken.

   Scarlett gave her a closed-mouth smile, no teeth showing, the smile that indicated she was not really happy. “I hoped I might find you here.”

   Megan leaned against the edge of the booth and folded her arms. She would ignore the little skip in her heart at the idea of Scarlett hoping to see her. That time had passed. “You want breakfast? Or lunch?”

   Scarlett licked her lips and opened her mouth to talk, but then hesitated. It was so rare to see Scarlett look hesitant about anything; she had always been a bundle of confidence when Megan knew her well. Funny how a moment’s conversation would take her right back to their friendship, back before everything fell apart, back when Scarlett was the person whose approval Megan craved most desperately. “I was hoping to talk to you, actually. You got a minute?”

   Megan glanced over toward the open kitchen, where Winston was whistling while scraping the flat-top grill, his cloud of white hair tucked under a hairnet.

   “Come on. There’s literally no one here.” Scarlett gestured around. “Whose table are you gonna wait?”

   Megan slid into the booth, her back to Winston. “Tell me if he starts looking grumpy.”

   Scarlett raised an eyebrow. “Winston never gets grumpy. Even I remember that.”

   “Yeah, well, it’s changed a little since you worked here with me.”

   Scarlett glanced around. “Hasn’t changed that much.”

   Before Megan could respond, Scarlett folded her hands on the table, all business, the menu still lying open in front of her. “So, I assume you checked your email today.”

   Megan shook her head. “A couple of days ago maybe.”

   “Don’t you have it on your phone?”

   “Yeah, but I don’t check it much. It’s mostly spam and mailing lists.”

   Scarlett’s lip twisted. “You know, you can unsubscribe from those.”

   Really? They weren’t even friends and she was going to give Megan organizational advice? “Thanks. I never thought of that.” Megan flushed in annoyance. “Why should I check my email?”

   “We got an email from Juliet last night.”

   “Juliet... Letourneaux?” Megan hadn’t heard that name in years. The three of them were best friends as kids, back before Juliet moved away to Quebec halfway through high school. “She emailed both of us?”

   “Yeah. She wanted to know if we could get online tonight for a video chat.” Scarlett shrugged. “I don’t know what she wants. The email was vague.”

   Megan tried to remember her last communications with Juliet, back in senior year, slowly trailing off over time. “Does she...does she know you and I don’t really talk anymore?”

   There it was, on the table where they both had to acknowledge it. Megan hated confronting stuff, but some stuff had to be confronted.

   “She must not. Otherwise she wouldn’t write to both of us on one email.” Scarlett looked like she wanted to say more, but didn’t. She sat back instead.

   “Okay.” Megan had no idea why Scarlett was even asking her about this. “So that’s it? You wanted to know if I knew what the email was about?”

   “I didn’t want you to miss the video call. It must be something important.” Scarlett’s lightly tanned skin turned pinker, a few freckles standing out on her cheeks with the blush.

   Megan waited for something else, but Scarlett didn’t say much. She just looked across the table at Megan in a way that made Megan feel weird and scrutinized and judged, and she didn’t like it. Before Megan could slide out of the booth, though, Scarlett moved like she wanted to put a hand over Megan’s. It was a weird, stilted gesture, that ended with Scarlett putting one hand over her other hand instead. “How have you been? Work treating you well?”

   “Sure.” Megan answered in a knee-jerk positive way, like she always did, but then found herself giving more info without planning to. “Another of the servers quit right after Christmas, so I’ve been taking his shifts, and Winston and Martha haven’t made any moves to replace him. So it’s been busy.” She’d been meaning to ask them about that, but it never seemed like a good time. Scarlett might say that Winston was incapable of looking grumpy, but lately, Megan had been frequently seeing him poring over papers at his desk with a contemplative frown, or talking quietly to his wife Martha in the back room when Megan was busy waiting tables or covering the grill.

   “Right.” Scarlett nodded. “Sounds busy.”

   “I’ve been busy, but the diner hasn’t. It’s been dead.” Megan looked out the glass front of the diner, out into the parking lot of this strip mall where the Starlite Diner had carved out a tiny niche between Winn-Dixie and the Top Coat Nail Salon. The parking lot was sparsely dotted with cars, and most were over by the Winn-Dixie.

   “That’s a shame. The Starlite used to be the place to be.” Sympathy filled Scarlett’s eyes, sympathy that made Megan itchy and uncomfortable. She was never settled under Scarlett’s intense gaze. Megan didn’t want to talk about this anymore, so she slid out of the booth. “Do you want food?”

   Scarlett looked down at her open menu. “Yeah. Sure. thanks. Pancakes and sausage? And a large OJ?”

   “Sure.” Megan slid out of the booth. “Don’t say I never did anything for you.”

   The words were intended like a joke, a throwback, but she regretted them as soon as they were out of her mouth. They didn’t tease like that anymore. They didn’t even talk anymore.

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