She sat in the last booth in a long row of booths, the one right by the kitchen and the bathrooms. The light from the hallway back to the bathrooms was bright, but the booth kept her in the shadows.
She had a water glass, another glass full almost to the brim with a pale pink liquid, and a shot glass of whiskey.
It was a Wednesday night. She should be in school tomorrow. But she was hours from home at a bar. She kept thinking about how she’d deal with this and who knew. She’d been too mouthy about taking off like she did.
“Fuck this town,” she said. “I’m leaving. I’m catching a ride outta here tonight.”
It was big talk. But she followed through all the way to Kansas City, hitching a ride with the kid, Jimmy, who drove a delivery van to convenience stores.
“Sure,” he said, “I’m heading for Kansas City.”
The drive lasted forever and he wouldn’t stop talking. He was a sweet guy, but she couldn’t wait to get out.
“Drop me here,” she said. She was in front of a gay bar called The View. He’d gone out of his way to get her there.
“Here’s 10 bucks,” she said throwing it on the passenger seat and slamming the door.
“You want a ride back?” he earnestly asked through the rolled down window. “I can come back by in an hour and then I’m going back to Lebanon.”
“You do that,” she said, “But without me. I’m never going back.” He drove off.
She walked in and slumped down at that table. She knew she’d be ok there. She wouldn’t be hit on and she’d be served. She and some friends had been here before when they snuck away from town. She decided she’d just take her chances. But she was afraid.
“Hey sweetie,” the waiter said.
She ordered and now she was sitting with her rosé, water, and whiskey. She loaded the jukebox.
“That’s my song,” she said to no one but herself when Cowboy Junkies’ Sweet Jane started. “And that’s me.”
You’re waiting for Jimmy down in the alley
Waiting there for him to come back home
Waiting down on the corner
And thinking of ways to get back home
Sweet Jane, Sweet Jane
Oh Sweet, Sweet Jane
She was in it now all the way. She was four hours from home. She had some cash but not much. She had some connections in the city, but not many.
“I’ll be fine,” she kept telling herself feeling her hair growing back on her scalp. It had been a few weeks since she shaved it off. And she reminded herself that she’d gone all the way to New Mexico when she wasn’t even a teenager.
“I went all the way down there myself,” she thought. “I can do this.”
A Boy Named Sue started to play. Now it hit her. She all of a sudden missed home. And her dad. But it was home, her dad, and her family that made her run away. She drank the whiskey and followed with the water.
“Another one sweetie?” asked the waiter.
“Yeah,” she said. “Another.”
He took the glasses and she sipped the rosé. She discovered rosé last summer with her boy friend. They drank it on the back of his truck. They watched the stars. It seemed like things could work, like she’d figured out how to manage herself to get through graduation.
Madonna’s Holiday started playing. She loved watching Madonna. She wished she could be Madonna, powerful, confident. Loved. These were all the things she didn’t feel.
“Here you go, baby,” said the waiter. He dropped another shot of whiskey and a glass of water. She was feeling that pleasant static, that lowering of inhibition, that easing of the pain.
She sat like that for at least an hour until her music ran out. The place was starting to get busy. She had enough money for one more drink.
Someone sat down across from her.
“Is this seat taken?” he asked.
She looked up. It was her dad.
“No, it’s not,” she said.
“What are we drinking here,” he asked. “Is that rosé?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I love dry rosé, real light pink.”
“I guess you’re in the right place for that,” he said. “Whiskey?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Hey,” he said to the waiter, “How about a couple of the whiskies. And two beers off the tap.” He handed him money.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” she asked.
“Hey!” he said. “That’s my line. I’m you’re ride home.”
“How did you know where to find me?” she asked indignantly.
“Jimmy blabbed all over hell that he was giving you ride,” he answered. “Telephone, telegraph, tell Jimmy. So here I am.”
They sat there for a while.
“Hey, I gotta pee,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He left. The drinks arrived. She was relieved in a way. But she was angry. She wanted to be a runaway. She wanted to be on a milk carton. She laughed at that.
I Ain’t Never by Webb Pierce started playing on the juke box.
He sat back down.
“You hit the juke box didn’t you?” she said.
“Well, what the hell,” he said. “Why not?”
“Can’t I have a fucking nervous breakdown without you?” she asked.
“Is that what’s going on here?” he said, “A nervous breakdown. You know your grandma . . .”
“Fuck you!” she said. “That’s not fair.”
“What’s fair, honey?” he asked. “You’re four hours from home in a damned gay bar.”
“So what,” she said “You’re here too!”
“True,” he said. “But I’m having a good time. You’re pissed off. What right do you have to be angry, Jonah?”
“Don’t fucking preach to me, old man,” she said. “I like your music better than your sermons.”
“But you need one don’t you?” he asked. He took a drink of the whiskey. “An exhortation. A come to Jesus.”
“I don’t need God or Jesus,” she said. “They need me!”
Just As I Am from the Red Headed Stranger started playing on the juke box.
“This is yours?” she asked. “Perfect fucking timing.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I love this album. And maybe they do need you. But you’re not going to do much for them if you don’t finish high school.”
“I hate you so much,” she said. “I hate my life!”
“I know,” he said. “I do too. But you’ve got a future out of here, out of there. You’re going to change things.”
She started to cry but stopped. She found something inside, grabbed a hold of it and herself.
“How do I do that?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I can’t wait to find out how you do it.”
They finished their drinks. She felt like she was giving in, admitting defeat. Going back home with her dad was like crawling back.
“You never knew your mom,” he said. “But she acted like she knew you. Like I’ve said, when she’d talk about how you’d grow up it was like she’d looked into the future.”
“That’s not enough,” she said. She looked at him. “That’s not nearly enough, but it’s what I’ve got. You and her memory.”
After that, they got up and walked out. His last song, Am I losing Your Memory or Mine? by George Jones started to play.