Cam settled for the Hungry Man platter. The bacon double cheeseburger with fixing's, French fries, onion rings, and hush puppies should not only fill him up but also give him indigestion. Her chef salad order received a censorious look from Doreen. Stella’s desire to eat any meat died on when she spotted the buck. The grim line of the server’s lips announced her oddity by not ordering something fried. No way, she could explain how the deer’s eyes made her reconsider her eating habits, at least for a day.
Order tucked into the pocket of her bright smock, the woman started the burger on the grill. Apparently, the place was a one-woman operation. It explained why she remembered Cam. Didn’t look like the place merited too many customers.
Cam reached across the table, grabbing her hand that rested on the paper menu. “I know it doesn’t look like much, but the food is good. It can be our place.”
He flashed his usual grin, before releasing her hand and sliding across the vinyl bench seat. She thought he might be moving to her side, which would be somewhat romantic. He stood and headed for the jukebox. He dropped in some change and punched a selection before turning back to her. “It only seems right that we have our own song.”
A bell when off somewhere in her heart, but that could have been the fries alarm, too. The man was trying. The rich, mellow sounds of The Temptations singing My Girl filled the diner, causing the two hunters to glance back at them.
One chuckled, while the other commented, “Yeah, I used to be an operator like that. Had all the girls swooning.”
Cam held out his hand to her. He wanted to dance, right here in public, in the tiny area running in front of the booths. Okay. She put her hand in his and stood. He placed one hand on her waist and held her hand as they slowly box stepped around the room. She sighed a little, as he brought her closer. Close enough for her to rest her head on his shoulder.
When other girls were picking out prom dresses, her family disintegrated in full view of the neighbors. No time for romantic moments, especially with her entire attention focused on getting scholarship-worthy grades. Even though, they were dancing cheek to cheek in the middle of nowhere, it still reigned as one of her best dances. A faster song came on, sending them both back to the table.
Cam shrugged as he sat. “Jukebox is some relic from the sixties. All they have are ancient songs.”
Did that mean My Girl wasn’t their song? Could mean that was the closest he’d come to expressing his feelings, and then again, he’d probably never heard it before. Most people didn’t have a mother like hers. Before her religious conversion, her mother played the oldies station aloud and sang along energetically. In retrospect, her singing reflected the state of the marriage. Whenever, her parents fought, her mother’s singing lacked energy, or she’d only sing the angry girl songs. Near the end, she’d quit singing altogether. Occasionally, she’d whispered the lyrics to a melancholy song. Stella knew something was wrong then, but pretending she didn’t was easier.
Doreen arrived with their food, placing a large steaming platter in front of Cam. The grease glistened under the fluorescent light turning Stella’s stomach a little. The plastic bowl the server shoved in front of her barely merited the name salad. Strips of American cheese and lunchmeat ham covered the wilted lettuce, without another vegetable in sight. As an afterthought, Doreen placed a bottle of ranch dressing on the table, not asking what she wanted. Ranch might have been all they had since it didn’t look like the type of place to attract healthy eaters.
Cam bit into his cheeseburger with enthusiasm. Picking up her fork, she stabbed at hers, forcing herself to swallow the slimy cheese and overly salty meat. She wasn’t sure what the appeal of the place was unless it was the absolute assurance you’ve never run into anyone you knew. Kind of reminded her of a location a drug deal might go down. Then again, Doreen would remember whoever came in.
Between the burger and fries, Cam hesitated long enough to speak. “Did you think about what we talked about?”
“What did we talk about?” Her fork loaded with week old lettuce hesitated on its way to her mouth. Sure, she thought about it. Hoped he’d forget the whole idea.
Another record dropped in the machine. The Supremes crooned about Baby, Where Did Our Love Go. She had to wonder if Cam picked the records in any particular order. If not, then Fate must have taken a hand in the serendipitous placement. Her expectations of today being an incredible romantic day showed what a gullible fool she could be.
“You know.” He gestured with a fry. “The grade changing to keep my scholarship. Got some friends that need grading changing too. Six of them.”
Her fork dropped from her hand, pinging against the table and drawing an annoyed glance from Doreen.
“Something wrong with your salad?” She snarled the words daring her to complain.
“No, nothing,” Stella squeaked, causing the hunters to chuckle.
“Yeah, that one has no backbone,” Doreen told the hunters loud enough for Stella to hear. “Not like the redhead.”
Part of her tried to track the conversation while the rest of her wrestled with the scope of the outrageous suggestion. She picked up her fork stalling. “Six friends, really?”
“They’re on scholarships, too.” Cam explained as he bit into an oversized onion ring.
Yeah, and they probably partied hard never considering the consequences. “I don’t think it can be done. One person, maybe, but Financial Aid makes quarterly checks. You can’t have a D-, and then finished with an A.”
Cam stopped eating; his eyes rolled upward. He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “Don’t give me an A, but something high enough that it averages out to a 2.5. That’s all I need to keep my scholarship.”
“Why should I do this?” Never mind, that she did not intend to do so.
The music changed again to Eleanor Rigby, a Beatles tune about a lonely woman no one cared about, especially poignant lyrics. Could it be her life story?
“Looks to me like you’re getting real chummy with Mitch. Did you know he has a DUI?”
Mitch defined straight arrow.
“I can tell by that look on your face you don’t believe me. Go ask him. Back in the summer, in Michigan. Apparently the awards board doesn’t know, or he wouldn’t have received a scholarship.”
Her heart sank as the Beatles sang about all the lonely people. It gave her a sudden desire to kick the machine. The worn record caught, repeating, “Nobody came.”