The Flying Saucer wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. From his booth beside the splintering, wood door that served as an entrance to the diner, Jerry found himself recounting his life choices. His search for love had brought him all the way to the Texas panhandle — to this little diner, in fact — a good hour east of I-27, north of Lubbock.
For love, search here.
He could still hear that upstate New York accent in the old woman’s voice. She called herself a fortuneteller (not a psychic, the emphasized), and she’d been more than happy to take Jerry’s money and send him on his way south.
Now here he was, seated inside a musty building, inside a cramped booth with a laminated menu clutched in his fingers. He focused on the menu — anything to get his mind off his problems — and adjusted his grip on the menu and blanched. They were sticky.
In truth, Jerry wanted to scream. He’d been looking for love his entire life, a fruitless search that had taken him all over the world. He wasn’t a bad looking guy, or someone down on his luck. He certainly had the money, and he’d turned more than one set of pretty eyes in his day. But he didn’t love any of the women he’d dated.
“You ready, sir?” the waitress came back over to him, stared down at him over her too-wide girth and overly large bosom.
“Just the special,” he said, handing his menu back. His fingers made little pops as she jerked the menu into her own hand and broke the suction against his fingers. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” She started to leave, then paused. “Sir, I hope that I’m not intruding when I ask this, but are you here looking for love?”
Jerry perked up at that. “I am.”
“Thought you might be. It’s easy to recognize out-of-towners when they come bustling through these parts. You should check the phones on the wall. They might be of interest to you.”
Then she was gone. Jerry hardly noticed, too busy studying the far wall where a row of pay phones stood at chest height. Among all of them, one was bright pink. Even from this distance, Jerry could see the little red heart plastered on the handset.
Jerry’s heart caught in his throat. Could this be the place after all?
He eased out of the booth, stepped over the phone and, as casually as he could managed, lifted the handset off the cradle and held it to his ear. It didn’t ring. In fact, the machine gave no indication that the line was working. Jerry was a half-breath away from shrugging the handset away from his ear when a nasal voice squawked onto the line.
“Mister Jeremiah Tory?” a woman asked.
Jerry tensed. “Yes?”
“Good morning, sir. I apologize for the wait. It took a moment to find your file. A lot of people looking for love today, you understand.”
“Of course,” Jerry said. He didn’t understand, though. Not really. How many people were having so much trouble finding love that they needed to travel halfway across the country to do it?
“Looks like you’re in the right place,” the woman said. “The love of your life should be showing up around 9:35 this morning.”
“That’s oddly specific. How do you know?”
The woman was silent a moment, then replied. “It’s what we do, sir. Do you have any questions?”
“What? Yes!” Jerry said.
There were so many questions. What should he say? What should he do? How should he talk to this woman? Did she know he was the love of her life, too? Some tiny portion of Jerry’s mind whispered that this might be a trap, just another scheme to take advantage of his longing and affection, but Jerry wasn’t about to accuse a telephone operator of something like that.
Before he could even get a word out, the voice stopped him. “Just take a deep breath. Be yourself. It’ll all work out.”
She said all the right things, but there was no empathy in her voice. Jerry imagined her filing her fingernails and chewing gum as she spoke the same script into the microphone that she’d said to every other desperate schmuck over the past year.
“Okay,” he said. “Thank you.”
The line went dead.
It was a scam. It had to be. But then, what was an hour to a man who’d spent a lifetime searching for love? In that time, Jerry at his meal, lamented over what he was going to say, went to the bathroom three times, thought he was having a heart attack, and, finally frantic, stepped outside for some air.
He noticed a blue truck in the gravel parking lot outside the diner, one that hadn’t been there when last he looked. Jerry’s heart caught in his throat, and he was just about to say something when a black Labrador hobbled out from around the passenger wheel well and sprinted toward him at full tilt.
Jerry barely had time to bend down before the puppy launched itself into his arms, writhing with joy as Jerry struggled to hold on. He was smiling before he realized it, already in love with the wily beast.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Jerry wondered if this was the love he was looking for. It would be a sour turn of fate, he thought, but as he scratched the dog’s belly and ears, he figured it might not be so bad. In all the excitement, Jerry nearly missed the footsteps rushing toward him, the gravel crunching with each stride.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” a woman said. “He got away from me! He’s never done that before.”
The voice rang in his ears like a sweet bell. Jerry looked up at the woman. She stopped short, taken aback by the intensity of his gaze. A flush of red rose up around her neck and a smile touched her lips.
“It’s fine,” Jerry said.
But they both knew it was much more than that.