"A few of my friends are prostitutes," Xander informs me from the front porch, rolling his beer bottle back and forth along the top railing. "That's why he said that. Not 'cuz of how you look, or anything. That was just Nathan being a dick to me and catching you in the crossfire. Don't take it personally. You wanna go get breakfast? We gotta walk 'cuz Nate's got the truck, but it's not far."
There are a lot of things I want. Breakfast could be one of them. I find myself nodding slowly. The absurdity of it all feels like it's standing right in my shadow, breathing down my neck, and I swallow as I have to admit, "I don't have any money."
Xander just laughs at that. "Uh, yeah, Highway Girl. I can tell. It's no big, this place is just local and it's like three bucks for pancakes. D'you like pancakes?"
"I like pancakes."
"Cool." He flings his beer bottle vaguely in the direction of a cluster of trash cans that crowd beside the mailboxes, misses by a mile and the bottle bounces off a railroad tie and into a struggling flowerbed. Weeds choke out whatever's trying to grow there, and this latest addition isn't the only beer bottle present. Instead of taking the three short stairs down, Xander vaults the railing of the porch and lands in booted feet on the gravel. The tongues loll out of a pair of undone boots, military surplus by the look of them. I step back into my stripper heels, and follow him as he ambles away from the trailer park office, out towards the stretch of highway that curves into town.
Catching up, even in heels, I'm still not as tall as he is. I keep pace as we walk along the shoulder of the highway for a short distance, as it slowly gentrifies its way into Strangerville proper. The trailer park, associated RVs and campers, and mobile homes turn into refurbished old houses, of a fifties and sixties vintage, and then the highway becomes the main drag through the sort of charmingly old fashioned downtown that Oasis Springs is too young a city to actually have.
Our destination turns out to be the only building that looks out of place---a monolith of teal stucco with a modern sans-serif font above the door, when all the other buildings have quaint old-timey story fronts of real brick and mortar. The single word name of the place is "Tumbleweed", and it's very clearly trying too hard.
The illusion shatters as soon as the door swings open, and whatever choices the owners over-committed to on the outside apparently couldn't hold up to follow through inside, because the inside seems like it belongs to another building entirely. There's nothing trendy about this place, all the furniture is mismatched and looks cobbled together from at least three other restaurants, the menu is scrawled on a chalkboard posted on a wall, but not in a cute, trendy way. There's a patio off of the (tiny, cramped) main dining room, where the only tables are the tiny two person sort, and it's shaded by the sort of over the top southwestern pergola that is probably exactly the vibe the owners were trying to avoid. A single waitress buses tables, and two or three leathery looking gentlemen sip coffee and read newspapers, all ignoring each other. A staircase leads up to a loft, where a wonkily printed vinyl sign promises an INTERNET CAFFE.
"Hey, Hollis!" Xander fully yells the greeting the length of the entire restaurant, phasing none of the clientele as he waves vigorously to the dude who pokes his head out of the kitchen window.
"Yo, X! Usual?"
"Yeah, man, hook me up! Plus an extra side of pancakes and---" At this he turns to me, and cocks his head. "Anything with your pancakes? Don't get bacon, Hollis burns it. Sausage's good though."
"Hey, fuck you!"
Xander grins and flips the bird towards the kitchen and I shrug, still not wanting to impose. "I'm a vegetarian," I lie, to exempt myself from any further offers of breakfast meats from questionable diners.
This was the wrong move, because he lights up. "Me too! I tried to go vegan for a while, but I just about shit myself inside out. Cool, so okay, go pick some place to sit on the patio, s'way too crowded inside. I'll be along in a sec."
As quickly as I entered the building, I'm back outside again. The patio is enclosed but empty, and the road that runs alongside it doesn't seem to suffer from much traffic. I still don't know what time of day it is, but I'm beginning to get the idea it's later than I thought. What I took for late morning sun might be early afternoon sun, as I find a place to sit in the shadier part of the patio, taking a seat at a table for four against the wall.
Xander comes along too quickly for me to have any kind of existential crisis, and pulls out the chair kitty-corner from mine when he reaches the table. He drops into it with a thud and gives me that big goofball grin again. "Shelly'll be out with coffee in a minute. I don't have anything much to do today. You don't have a wallet, or a phone, or even a name as far as I know. So why don't we start there? What's your story, Highway Girl?"
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