As Louisa bustled off, Jessica fished the $100 bill out of her makeup case and took it to the counter.
The waitress beat her to the antique-looking register and started keying in her order. “That’ll be five-ninety-eight, unless you want to take a fresh cinnamon roll for later,” she said with a wink.
Jessica shook her head. “Thanks, no. But I do have a question,” she ventured before handing over the money. “I lost my cell phone and I really need to get ahold of my fiancé. We were driving to Yellowstone, but he, um … we were separated. So I need to borrow a business phone, if it’s possible.”
Louisa’s expression shifted from curious to sympathetic. “The phone in the back only makes local calls. Donny there—” she tossed her head toward the burly cook visible through the window behind the counter, “—he owns the place and makes long distance business calls from a little office he’s got set up at home.”
Strike Option A. Okay, on to Option B.
“Is there anywhere in town can I buy a cell phone? One of those cheap pre-paid things would work fine.”
Louisa gave her the kind of smile one might give a lost child. “Honey, nobody around here sells cell phones. Nearest place’d be in Cody.” She thought for a moment. “Why don’t you get a room over to the Coyote Call? They’ve got phones in the cabins. You could charge it all to your credit card.”
With a disheartened smile, Jessica’s shoulders slumped. She could walk over and see if a room had opened up. Still, there went Option B. With some effort, she put on a brave face. “Okay. Thanks.” She unfolded her money and handed it over.
Louisa studied the bill. “I can’t take this, honey. It’ll clean out my till. I could take a twenty, no problem.”
“I … I don’t have anything smaller,” Jessica spluttered. “Can’t you break it and go to the bank before the dinner rush?”
Louisa shook her head. “Bank’s not open again until tomorrow. I can take a credit card, but,” —she paused to haul out a bulky imprinter from under the counter— “we’ll have to do it the old, old-fashioned way. Donny hasn’t gone high-tech yet.”
Jessica gaped at the archaic machine. How had her day taken such a ludicrous turn? “I don’t have my cards with me.” She fixed the waitress with an anxious stare. “What kind of bank doesn’t keep regular hours?” Her voice had gotten louder than she’d intended.
Louisa gazed back at her, serene. “Town’s not big enough to give the bank business all day every day.” She kept her tone low, slid the bill back across the counter. “They’re open most mornings Monday to Saturday, and all day on Fridays.”
Jessica looked around. The diner had gone quiet and all eyes were on her. Except Jared’s. He was still sitting with his back to the front door, studying his half-empty coffee cup.
The day replayed in Jessica’s head. The million little arguments with Warner throughout the morning. His cold dismissal of her ideas about the construction site. Dumped in the middle of nowhere with no phone, no credit cards, and practically no money.
Jessica grabbed the $100 off the counter and stuffed it into her pocket. Embarrassment burned on her face as she started back to her booth, but a gentle hand on her shoulder nudged her around.
“Honey,” a kind voice said. “Is there something we can do to help?”
Jessica blinked and waved a dismissive gesture. “No … I just … I’ll be fine.”
“You sure?” Steady and calm, Faith studied Jessica. “Because, it’s not my business, but—”
“No, it’s not our business, Ma,” Jared interjected, keeping his gaze down.
“I couldn’t help overhearing,” Faith continued, disregarding her son. The warm smile she offered matched the kindness in her tone. “We’d be happy to buy your lunch.”
Jessica chewed at the inside of her lip. What choice did she have? Eat and run wasn’t really her style, especially for a $6 meal. “That is so nice. Thank you,” she relented, offering a stiff smile.
“No problem at all.” Faith took some cash from her purse. “This should cover our pie and the lady’s lunch, too.”
“And then some.” Louisa took the money and added the pie and coffee to the sale she’d already punched into the vintage register.
“Keep the change,” Faith said before turning back to Jessica. “Where you headed now?”
Her tentative plans in pieces, Jessica huffed out a heavy sigh and cast a glance at her belongings still piled in the booth at the other end of the diner. “I guess I’ll finish my tea and figure something out.”
“Do you have a car or a place to stay?”
“No car, but I was going to check out the little motel a block over. If there’s a vacancy, maybe the manager will hold my money until the bank opens tomorrow.”
Faith tsk-ed. “Between the tourists and the construction going on outside of town, you won’t find a room.”
At that, Jared stood, his face a mask of unease. He drew a set of keys out of his pocket and reached to take Faith’s arm. “Sure she will,” he said in a too-cheerful tone. “Tourists don’t stay on for more than a night or two at a time, and even the construction guys come and go. There’s bound to be at least one cabin—”
Faith brushed Jared aside, took a step toward Jessica. “Until the resort opens up, there’s nowhere else to stay. So, if you need a place, even just for the afternoon, you’re welcome to come home with us.”
“Ma, maybe she—”
“You can use our phone. And, if it’s necessary, we have more than enough room for you to stay a night or two.”
Jessica looked from Faith’s cornflower eyes filled with concern to Jared’s gray ones gone steely with annoyance. It wasn’t his reticence keeping her from accepting Faith’s offer. She didn’t even know these people. Who got into a truck and went home with perfect strangers? Neither Faith nor Jared seemed the psychopathic murdering types, but it still didn’t feel right. Jessica needed to work out her own solution. One that didn’t involve groveling to Warner or calling her father to rescue her and, preferably, not taking charity from strangers.
“You’ve done more than enough already.” Jessica shook her head.
Deep etched lines appeared between Faith’s brows. “You sure?”
“Yes. But thank you. For the offer and for lunch.”
Jared exhaled and twirled his keyring. “We should get going.”
“You take care.” Faith placed her palm fondly on Jessica’s cheek.
The gesture surprised Jessica and brought a lump to her throat. She’d been so long without a mother; she’d forgotten what maternal affection felt like.
“You, too.” Jessica said, her voice faltering. She turned to walk back to her booth before anyone saw the pesky tears shining in her eyes. As she passed by, the women in the middle booth averted their gazes. God, she’d be glad to get out of this town and this mess.
Jared herded his mother out the door while Louisa brought over a fresh glass of sun tea.
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