Home > Beautifully Cruel(2)

Beautifully Cruel(2)
Author: J.T. Geissinger

She purses her lips, thinking. “Maybe the building could collapse on top of you?”

I consider it. “Yeah, but then I’d be flattened. I can’t look like a pancake when they pull me out of the rubble.”

“What difference would it make what you’d look like? You’d be dead.”

My sigh is heavy and hopeless. “The only thing my mother loves more than Dolly Parton are beauty pageants and Mary Kay cosmetics. If she saw her daughter looking like roadkill, even in death, it would be the end of her.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“You don’t know my mother.”

“And I’m counting myself lucky. Anyway, the guy on twelve wants a refill of his coffee.”

“Why can’t you give it to him?”

Carla looks at the carafe in my hand.

“Shit. Why doesn’t Buddy buy another coffee machine for this dump?”

“Because they cost money. You know this. Now go refill twelve.”

“I can’t. I’m hiding.”

“Why the hell are you hiding?”

“I know this is hard for you to understand because you don’t have the kind of personality that can turn a sixty-second conversation into an exercise in personal humiliation, but I can’t show my face in the dining room again until the big bad wolf leaves.”

Carla scrunches up her nose. She already knows it’s bad. “Oh no. What did you say to him?”

“Are you ready for this? Cheerio. Like I’m channeling my inner Julie Andrews.”

“You didn’t.”

My laugh is full of dark despair. “Oh, yes, I sure did. And that was after I shared a witty anecdote about the time my cousin Bubba Joe shot me.”

Carla stares at me in horror. “Please tell me you don’t really have a cousin named Bubba Joe.”

“Hand on the bible. I couldn’t make this stuff up.”

“Wow. My condolences. And he shot you?”

“I was fine, but that idiot peppered up the back of my fake fur with so much bird shot it looked like moths had gotten to it. By the way, thanks for being more shocked about his name than him shooting me. I appreciate the support.”

“You’ll live. Now go refill the guy on twelve. And try not to talk. I can’t have you costing me my tip.”

She turns and leaves, the heartless wench.

Squaring my shoulders, I promise myself I won’t speak to the wolf again. My crippling social anxiety has humiliated me enough for one evening.

Life is unfairly hard for introverts. Something as common as interacting with another breathing human can knock us off kilter for days. In fact, I’m not sure socializing has even one tangible benefit. If I didn’t have to work for a living, I’d never leave my apartment.

Unfortunately, I’m often mistaken for an extrovert because when I’m nervous, I chatter on and on. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to duck into a bathroom stall and do deep breathing exercises to try to calm down.

I return to the dining room without looking in the wolf’s direction. When I get to the bald guy at table twelve, he grunts his thanks around a mouthful of hash as I refill his coffee.

Then I feel a strange crackle over my skin. It’s like a current of electricity, prickling hot and stinging. I glance up.

The wolf stares across the room at me as if he’s got me in the sights of a gun.

Nervously tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, I hurry back to the counter and return the coffee carafe to the machine, then start wiping things down and tidying up. It’s late, and there are only two customers—one of whom isn’t eating—so there’s not much for me to do except busy work as I wonder what the wolf’s real name is, if he’s married, and if this is the last time I’ll ever see him.

He’s probably on his phone right now trying to find a new place for coffee that employs mentally functioning waitresses.

After a moment, a deep voice from behind me says, “I was shot by a half-blind, half-drunk hillbilly once.”

Startled, I jump and whirl around.

There he is, standing on the other side of the counter, dark and fierce and gorgeous, looking at me like nothing else exists in the diner. The city. The world.

“Except he wasn’t a hillbilly. Or half-drunk.” He pauses meaningfully. “Or half-blind, either.”

His dark eyes transmit a warning I receive loud and clear: I’m dangerous. Stay away.

Too late. His hungry eyes and hypnotic voice have already snared me. Despite my promise to myself, I have to know more. “So we’ve both been shot.”

“Aye. It’s an interesting thing to have in common, don’t you think?”

As if I could think at the moment, what with his blistering masculinity wreaking havoc on my brain. But I’m pretty sure his question was rhetorical, so I stay quiet.

His gaze drops to my nametag. “Tru,” he reads. “Is that short for something?”

I hesitate, but decide to go ahead and tell him the story. “It’s short for Truvy. I was named after Dolly Parton’s character in the movie Steel Magnolias. She ran a beauty parlor.”

The wolf tilts his head, waiting for me to provide an explanation that might actually make sense.

He’ll have to wait a long time for that.

“My mom’s a huge Dolly fan. All her daughters are named after a character in one of Dolly’s movies.”

It sounds even worse out loud. My nerves get the best of me, and I start to babble.

“My oldest sister is Doralee, who was a sassy secretary in Nine to Five. Then there’s Mona, the second oldest, who was named after the madam who ran a brothel called The Chicken Ranch in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I would feel sorry for Mona about that, but honestly, she’s a bit of a pill, very judgmental and self-righteous, so it serves her right to be named after a prostitute. Or maybe she’s self-righteous and judgmental because she’s named after a prostitute? I never thought of that.

“Anyway, then there’s Louisa. She’s another Steel Magnolias character, because that’s my mother’s all-time favorite movie. The name fits because the character was grouchy and short-tempered, and so is my sister.

“Finally, there’s me. Truvy. The baby.” I clear my throat. “I have four brothers, too, but my dad got to name them. Fortunately, he’s not a Dolly fan.”

As if everything I’ve just disclosed is completely normal, the wolf nods. “That’s something else we have in common. I’m one of eight, too.”

My self-consciousness disappears because I’m too busy being shocked. “You’re kidding.”

“My parents were Irish Catholic. Old school. For them, birth control was a mortal sin.”

I say drily, “I wish my parents had a religious excuse. I’m pretty sure they were just too poor to afford birth control.”

The wolf stares at me like I’m an alien. I’m sure I’ve said something wrong, until he says, “And that’s number four.”

Number four? What does that mean? “Um…”

“I come from a poor family. So do you. That’s the fourth thing we have in common.”

He seems disturbed by that fact. I don’t blame him. Time to make a joke.

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