Highly Strung

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“Ugh.” I turned to the left and right, trying to find some way the uniform made me look even remotely attractive.

The short pink dress buttoned down the front, and had a doily-like collar and apron with a pocket that resembled something of a kangaroo. It was a size too large, but I’d gotten Mrs.Hays to take it in for me the night before. She’d been so excited that I’d been fitting in in town that she’d snatched it out of my hands and hurried off to her room.

“Knock knock!” Alex sang, hurrying into the room.

“You know, you could just actually knock, Al.” I giggled, slipping on my white ballet flats while pulling my hair back into a tight ponytail. Multi-tasking was my specialty.

“Oh, Tay. You know that’s only for lame people, like my parents.” She laughed, holding out the keys. “I’m off today, Marla just called. So you get to drive yourself to work.”

“Okay.” I sighed in my sad voice, taking the keys from her.

“I’m helping mom clean out the attic today, so feel free to switch places.”

“I’m good.” I patted Alex’s head and headed downstairs. I grabbed my purse off the table and waved to Mr. and Mrs. Hays who were eating breakfast together, chatting and laughing.

“Have a good day!” Mrs. Hays called after me.

“Thanks, will do!” I let the screen door fall shut and skipped down the creaky wooden stairs.

The car was still in the driveway from the day before, so I unlocked the door and slid behind the wheel, feeling weird about driving myself into town.

“Hey.” Cole pulled open the passenger door, causing me to jump and hit my knee off the steering wheel.

“Shit.” I muttered, rubbing the sore spot. “What do you want?”

“I need a ride into town.”

“Fine, whatever. Get in, I’m going to be late.”

****

The half hour drive into town felt like days. Cole had his guitar case taking up the entire backseat, I could barely see out the back window to reverse while he asked annoying questions incessantly.

“Can we turn on the radio?” He asked for the billionth time in five minutes.

“No. It distracts me.”

“From what!” He demanded, slamming his hand down on the dashboard. “There aren’t any other cars!”

I looked around, and it was true, the road was deserted but there was no way I would give him the satisfaction of being right.

“From driving the right way. Now, please be quiet.”

The car elapsed into a peaceful silence, causing me to relax in my seat and focus on the drive.

All of one minute later, Cole’s voice invaded the quiet. “Can we please turn on the radio?”

“No! We cannot!” I shrieked, just as the car started rumbling and popping, rolling to a stop on the side of the road.

“You made the car angry.” Cole stated seriously, eyes wide.

I slammed my hands on the steering wheel over and over, angry. “How am I going to get to work now!”

Cole pushed open the door leaping out to inspect the damage. I suspected it was more to get away from me than to actually fix the car. Smoke was rising from the hood, and even with my limited knowledge of vehicles and their inner workings, I knew that it couldn’t be good.

I scrambled out of the car, squinting against the sun glaring off the hood.

“Do we know what’s wrong?” I bit my lip, peering around Cole into the engine. To me, it was just a jumble of twisted pieces of greasy metal.

He made a few random sounds, poking around the engine. “Not sure.”

“You don’t even know what you’re doing!” I snapped, pulling my cell out of the pocket in my dress.

I dialled in Alex’s cell number and rolled my eyes when Cole touched something and jerked away, burned. “Ouch!”

“Aloha!” Alex answered.

“Al, I need you to come pick me up for work, the Civic broke down.”

“Damn thing is useless.” She huffed, the sound of jingling keys in the background. “On my way.”

I ended the call, noticing the time read 7:45. “I’m going to be so late.”

Ten minutes later, the Hays’ family van pulled up behind the car. Cole’s head popped around the hood at the noise, but he rolled his eyes and disappeared. Alex rolled the window halfway down and stuck her whole torso out.

“Get in loser! We’re going shopping.” She burst into hysterical giggles, smacking the side of the van.

I rolled my eyes and grabbed my bag from the car, slinging it over my shoulder and hurrying to jump in the passenger seat. I slammed the door shut, and Alex pulled up next to Cole. He pulled the door open, throwing his guitar in the back and jumping inside.

“Drive faster. I’m already late.” I urged, bouncing up and down in my seat.

“Chill out, there’s like fifteen minutes more. I’m driving as fast as I can, this thing is huge.” She grumbled, “I cannot believe I have to go in now. It’s my day off.” She pouted.

“Sorry. Maybe if your idiot of a brother knew how to fix the car.” I muttered, crossing my arms over my chest and ignoring them for the rest of the ride.

****

I pulled open the back door to the restaurant, dropping my bag on the bench in the office. There was silence throughout the place, so I assumed nobody had arrived yet even though the place had been open for almost half an hour.

“You’re late.”

I winced, spinning on my heel to meet Conrad’s eyes and gave him my lame excuse. “Car trouble. Is Jeff in?”

He shook his head once, dropping a notepad and pencil into the pocket of my apron and turning to leave the kitchen area.

It wasn’t until an hour later that my first customers entered the diner. They sat at the same booth I’d sat in with Alex the day before. The two women looked like sisters, with curly red hair and thin figures. They were laughing about something as they sat down, red in the face with watery eyes.

Taking a deep breath, I put on my perkiest smile and ventured over to their table. “Hi, I’m Taylor. Can I get you something?”

They both turned to look at me, still smiling huge. “Oh sweetie!” Cried the older looking woman in a deep southern accent. “You must be new around here!”

“Yeah, I’m staying with the Hays for the summer.” I explained, tapping my pencil against my notepad.

“Oh, darlin’ Colleen Hays is the nicest woman I ever met.” The other exclaimed, clapping her hands together.

“I’m Darla.” The first one smiled, “And this is my little sister Clara.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” I smiled genuinely.

“Oh, the pleasure is mine sweetie!” Clara smiled.

“Clara, the girl wants us to order.” Darla chuckled. “You can just tell Conrad to get us the usual for our food, and two black coffees.”

I scribbled it down on the notepad, making sure to follow all the rules Jeff had left and clipped the note to the spinner in the food window. “They said they wanted the usual.” I called through to Conrad, who apparently worked as the cook. He’d seemed more bus boy-sque to me.

I grabbed two red mugs from behind the counter, scooped up the pot of coffee and made my way back to their table. “Your food should be right up!” I chirped, pouring their coffees.

“Thanks darlin’.” Clara’s grin stretched even wider.

****

Nobody else came in while the sisters were eating, and they bid me goodbye like I was one of their old friends while they paid their bill.

“Now, if you need anything don’t hesitate to find either of us!” Darla offered, halfway out the door.

“Anything!” Clara backed her up. “I hope you love it here!”

“I think I will!” I agreed, waving to them.

Turning to where Conrad was sitting at the counter staring off into space I asked “Are they all like that?”

He glanced up, and nodded once.

Well, at least they were welcoming.

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Cast

Megan Parkas Taylor Robins
Taylor Kitschas Cole Hays
Rachael Tayloras Alex Hays
Logan Lermanas Conrad Stevens

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