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(The day that changed everything...)
"Hey, Jolene! Get your head outta the clouds and get your butt in gear! Come and get this order!"
Jolene Conaway gripped her order pad tightly and headed toward the back counter. She cut her eyes at the heavyset man leaning through the partition to the kitchen. "Archie, them eggs ain't going nowhere," she said under her breath, "so what's the rush?"
A rapidly balding Archie Dunbar wiped his hands on his stained apron and leaned over the back counter. "I heard you Jolene! If you don't like it, you know what you can do? You can walk, 'cause I sure don't need no sassy waitresses in here!"
Jolene grit her teeth as she snatched up the plate filled with runny eggs, greasy buttered toast and much-too-crisp bacon. Needing this week's paycheck to pay for her Grandmother's heart medicine, she bit her lip to keep from forming an even sharper retort.
"Don't worry about him," Alice said as Archie ducked back into the kitchen. "He's just being a jackass as usual."
For nearly a year after her high school graduation, she'd toiled at Archie's Diner with Alice, the second waitress, serving food with enough lard to make a person's arteries scream in submission. She also had to endure sore feet, low wages, even lower tips and Archie's alternating orders and come-ons.
Though it was Friday morning, there was no TGIF anywhere in Jolene as she delivered the hot plate to the older sheriff in the booth next to the front door. The thought of another long shift on Saturday made her let out a deep sigh as she went back to retrieve the next order for his deputy. Tears welled up in her eyes as she realized what her fate in life was actually turning out to be.
She sighed again. "Why in the hell am I here?"
"Why in the hell am I here?"
Eve Jessup sped along the highway as she again checked the GPS perched on the dashboard of her rental Lexus. She peered at the display. "Now I'm somewhere near Edgerrin, Tennessee?"
The new Janet Jackson album in the CD changer and the air conditioning on full-blast, she drove even faster, trying to make it to Nashville before sundown. "I hope this trip is worth it," she mused as she turned up the volume. She looked out the window and admired the late morning sun shining in.
"Of course, it's worth it," she smiled, remembering her mission, and went back to singing along with her favorite pop icon.
Then her stomach rumbled.
She sighed as she checked the GPS yet again. "I'm nearly lost and now I'm starving?" She gripped the steering wheel as she picked up speed again. "Fuck it. I'm stopping at the first food place I see."
She drove a few miles until she saw a sign that said "Restaurants, Next Exit." She took the exit and found herself heading down a deserted road for what seemed like forever. Finally, she saw a large, yet rickety structure to the side of the road. "Archie's Diner?" she murmured, looking at the rusted sign on top. "Great."
She parked in the gravel lot, cut off the radio and slowly got out. She drew in a breath as she looked at the forsaken building.
She guessed that the deep slate gray on the building's concrete walls had long ago been white. The roof was leaning dangerously to one side and the front steps had several large chunks of concrete missing. While the inside door was shut, the outer wooden screen door, fully off of its hinges, lay propped up right next to it.
"Oh, hell no," she said, shaking her head. "I'm not eating at this place."
However, just as she was about to get back in her car, she glanced right next to the diner. She was surprised to see a good-sized plot of land off to its side. She walked over, took a second look, and was surprised even more.
In the large space, were rows and rows of fresh fruits and vegetables planted in the rich soil.
Eve's mouth began to water as she saw rows of fresh spinach, peas, green beans, cucumbers and plump tomatoes, alongside ripe, luscious strawberries and blueberries. To the side, she saw rows of lettuce, along with sweet potatoes and collard greens. In the back were several stalks of what looked like fresh, sweet corn. She grew giddy at all the fresh produce.
Her hunger overtaking her, she went back to her car and got her briefcase and purse. "I guess I'll give this place a try," she said as she started up what was left of the steps.
Jolene heard the tinkle of the bell above the door and instinctively turned to see who walked in. She tilted her head at the striking black woman that strode inside and stopped at the front counter.
The curvy woman wore a chic navy pantsuit, with four-inch navy and white stiletto heels. Her white silk blouse was opened to the middle button, showing just a hint of a lacy black bra. Her makeup, in pretty gold and bronze tones, had been skillfully applied and her nails were mid-length and decorated in an artful French manicure.
She wore elegant, yet tasteful gold jewelry, had an expensive handbag slung over her shoulder and a matching briefcase in her hand. As she waited to be seated, she reached into her purse, pulled out her BlackBerry and began to tap on the keys.
But more impressive than the woman's wardrobe and accoutrements was her natural beauty.
Her dark mocha skin, smooth and luminous, gleamed in the intense heat. Her jet-black hair was cropped, leaving soft curls that kissed the nape of her neck. Her full, rounded breasts strained against her blouse and jacket. Her hips were curvy and her thighs were thick and luscious. The woman was elegant and graceful and had a businesslike quality that unearthed in Jolene a distinct sense of pride.
Jolene felt her palms begin to sweat as she studied the beautiful woman. Quickly, she shoved her order pad in her apron pocket, wiped her hands on her skirt and went to the front counter.
"Hi," Jolene said. "Welcome to Archie's. Can I get you a table?"
The woman smiled with pretty white teeth, sending a jolt through Jolene. "That'd be nice," the woman said. "Thanks."
Jolene scanned the room for Archie. Lucky for her, he was in deep in conversation with the sheriff and the deputy. She led the woman all the way to a small table at the opposite corner of the diner, right by the women's restroom, just out of his sight.
"Is here okay?" Jolene asked, her heart beginning to pound at the woman's beauty.
"Here's just fine," the woman said as she put her jacket onto the back of the chair. She set her briefcase and purse in the other chair and slid smoothly into her seat.
Jolene stood there for a moment, lost in the woman's deep brown eyes. Then she snapped back to the present. "Well, let me get you a menu."
The woman plucked a menu from the holder on the table. "Here's one here."
"Oh yeah, right," Jolene said, her voice cracking with nerves. "Anyway, I'll be back to take your order shortly."
"No need. I know what I want. I saw the fresh vegetables outside, so I want a salad."
"A salad? Sure," Jolene said, taking out her pad and writing it down.
"Yeah," the woman said, checking her watch. "It's a bit late for breakfast, so I'll have an early lunch, so a salad's fine." Then the woman grinned. "After that, however, I want a bacon cheeseburger and fries."
"A salad, a bacon cheeseburger and an order of fries. Got it," Jolene smiled. "Coming right up."
Eve stared at the petite honey-brown young woman as she walked away, and was taken aback at her ravishing beauty.
The girl looked to be in her early twenties and was slender and lean. Though her uniform was tattered at the edges, it was neat, clean and had been carefully ironed.
She also noticed the girl's natural beauty. She had soft, honey-brown skin and no makeup, not that she needed it since her skin was clear and radiant. Her dark hair was done up in thin braids that had been pulled back into a long ponytail. Her uniform fit like a glove, hugging her slight curves. Her skirt was short, showing off lengthy, sturdy brown legs.
She caught the girl's forlorn expression as she hustled around the counter, and back and forth to the kitchen. "You don't belong here," Eve mused as she watched the girl's hurried movements.
Eve kept her eyes on the girl, oblivious to the rest of the diner. "Let's see where this goes," she said as she settled into her seat.
A few minutes later, Jolene came back with both a glass of ice water and a glass of sweet iced tea. She placed them gingerly on the table. "It's pretty hot outside, so here's a cool drink of water. Or sweet tea if you want it." Suddenly nervous at the attraction that was growing in her, she turned to leave.
Eve spoke quickly, before Jolene had a chance to scurry away. "Thanks, but what's your name?" Eve asked.
Jolene turned back around. "Huh?"
"Your name. What's your name? You're not wearing a name tag."
"Oh," Jolene said, embarrassed. "I usually wear one, but I couldn't find it this morning. Anyway, my name's Jolene."
Eve smiled. "Jolene," she said, luxuriating in every syllable. That's a pretty name."
"Thanks. It's Hebrew. It means 'God will increase.'" She looked around at her modest circumstances. "I guess I'm still waiting on that one."
Eve smirked. "Don't worry. I'm sure your time is coming. Anyway, my name's Eve."
"Nice to meet you, Eve." Not wanting to break the contact, Jolene decided to try her luck. She looked into Eve's dark, sultry brown eyes again. "So...what brings you to town?"
"I'm a producer. I'm here scouting a location for a TV show."
Jolene's eyes grew wide. "Producer? You mean Hollywood?"
Eve chuckled. "Yeah, Hollywood. You ever been there?"
Jolene shook her head. "Never been out of Edgerrin. But I will someday."
"Good for you. You seem like a bright young woman. You deserve to have everything you want in life."
Jolene blushed. "Thanks." Then she paused. "That's the first time I ever heard someone say something like that to me. Besides my family, of course."
Eve pointed in the direction of the garden. "What's with the vegetables outside? I seriously doubt that Archie's responsible for that. Was that you?"
Jolene beamed. "Yep. That was my idea. No need of bein' in the country and not planting a few things."
"Very smart. You like to garden?"
"Yeah, and I'm a pretty good cook too. But he doesn't let me anywhere near the kitchen. But I guess that's okay. It's too hot back there anyway."
Jolene motioned over to the overweight man. "Yeah, him. Anyway, I've been here a year, ever since graduation, and I haven't cooked yet."
Eve paused. "Wait. So how old are you?"
"Nineteen. Graduated from high school last year. You?"
Eve laughed, surprised she'd missed Jolene's age by that much. She cringed at her true age, twenty-six. "Let's just say that I'm older than you. Significantly."
Jolene laughed. Then she looked at Archie again. He was still occupied with the sheriff and the deputy. "Let me go get your order. I'll be right back."
Jolene hurried into the kitchen and, conveniently disobeying Archie's orders, cooked Eve's meal herself. She used the utmost care, making the plate of food the best she'd ever prepared.
Just as she was finished cooking, Alice sidled up next to her. "You know, you really don't belong here," she whispered. "You're much too good for this place."
"Thanks," Jolene said softly.
"Anyway," Alice said, nodding toward Eve, "you want me to keep ol' Archie busy while you finish entertainin' your...your lady friend?"
Jolene nodded. "Please?"
Alice picked up the phone, dialed quickly then waited. "Hey, Mona," she barked into the receiver. "Tell Bobby Lee and Billy Joe to get on down here to Archie's. The sheriff and his deputy are here and I wanna hear some more of them fishing stories they got there."
Alice put her hand on the receiver. "That'll keep ol' Archie busy for a good little while," she whispered. "So go have fun!"
Jolene smiled as she took the plates and brought them to Eve. She watched silently as Eve devoured the salad, then went right in for the cheeseburger.
"This is great," Eve said between bites. "Tell the cook this is good."
"I cooked it," Jolene said proudly. "I said I could cook, so there you go."
As Eve continued eating, Jolene suddenly wanted to know more about the mocha goddess in front of her. "So what do you do in Hollywood, again?" Jolene asked as she stood there, shifting from one foot to the other.
"I produce a TV show for a cable network."
Jolene was intrigued. "What kind of show?"
Eve leaned in close. "I do a show for women."
"Oh, like the Lifetime Channel."
Eve smirked. "No, not quite."
"Like what, then?"
Eve's voice was curiously low. "Ever hear of The L Word?"
Jolene blushed. "The show about the...um...girls?"
"Yeah," Eve nodded, looking at her carefully. "The show about the girls."
"Yeah, I've seen it." Then Jolene frowned. "Not a lot of sistahs on that show."
"Not really," Eve smirked as she leaned back in her chair. She took a sip of water. "Then hopefully you watch my show, Pledges?"
Jolene gasped. Then she looked around for Archie. Thankfully, he was still at the front entertaining the sheriff and the deputy. She slid into the chair across from Eve.
"You do 'Pledges'?" Jolene asked. "The show about the black sorority? I watch that show every week," she whispered excitedly.
Eve laughed. "Yeah. So do a lot of people."
"How does a show like that get on the air? You know it's about...um...you know."
"Lesbians?" Eve winked. "Yeah, well, it started as an online series. You get the Internet out here?"
"Yeah, but we don't have a computer. Cable's all we got."
"Me and Grammie," Jolene answered, suddenly noticing the slight crinkle underneath Eve's eyes when she smiled.
"Grammie? You mean, your grandmother?"
"Yeah. She's seventy-one and just can't live alone."
"What about your mom?" Eve asked.
"She died a year ago," Jolene said softly, holding back her tears. "Cancer."
Eve gasped. "I'm so sorry to hear that," she said as she reached out and took Jolene's hand.
Though the pain of her mother's death shot through Jolene, as it always did, she was warmed by Eve's touch. Smiling, she decided to go with the warm feelings. "Tell me more about your show."
"Well, I heard about an amazing black lesbian author named Stephanie Rose and I became a huge fan of all her short stories. When she wrote the Pledges online series, I immediately thought it'd make a great show for cable. I contacted her, and made her an offer she couldn't refuse. She wrote the scripts for us and we started production for an Internet show less than a year later. When the Internet series became a huge hit, we got picked up by the cable network, and it's been smooth sailing ever since."
Eve's face fell a bit. "Trouble is, season one was a huge success. The best numbers for any show on that network, ever. But season two, which we're shooting in a few months, and I'm scouting locations for now, is in jeopardy."
Jolene was confused. "Why's that?"
"The network claims that our show costs too much," Eve said, looking sad. "It's bullshit, but it's hard trying to go up against such a huge machine like that network. We have tons of fans all over the world, and a huge online presence, but they don't want to pony up the extra money to make the next season even better. So now I'm here in Tennessee, looking to see if I can move the show here. I landed in Memphis a couple of days ago, and I've been looking at locations from there all the way to Nashville. I want to stay in Los Angeles, but it's so expensive to shoot there that I may have to sacrifice that."
Jolene couldn't hide her feelings for this lovely and smart woman. "Well, if I had the money, I'd give it to you for your show."
Eve's face softened. "That's such a nice thing to say."
"I like to help people I care about." Then she blushed. The words had tumbled out before she could stop them.
"You care about me?"
Jolene couldn't answer that. "I also care about my Grammie," she said, deflecting the attention. "If I could afford it, I'd put her up in a really nice house. She loves the water, so I'd get her a house where she can see it every day."
"And what about you?" Eve asked gently. "What would you do for you?"
Jolene was struck that a perfect stranger was interested in her life. Thankfully, she'd already decided what she really wanted to do. In fact, thanks to her mom and Grammie's instruction, she'd known since the third grade.
"I'd go to culinary school," she said proudly.
"Culinary school?" Then Eve pointed to her empty plate, having wolfed down everything on it. "Well, you certainly have a natural talent! That food was excellent!"
"Thanks!" Jolene blushed. "Mom and Grammie taught me everything I know!"
"And you learned well. And after culinary school, then what?"
"Then I'd start my own restaurant," she continued. "Right here in Tennessee."
Jolene grinned, elated to finally tell someone other than a family member about her dreams. And that fact made her want to know even more about Eve.
"So tell me more about this show," Jolene said. "The show about the...the..."
Jolene looked down at her hands and noticed them trembling. Unable to speak, she just nodded.
"You seem very interested in...lesbians?"
Jolene turned a deep red. Is it that obvious? she wondered. Could she tell how hard I was looking at her?
In the next moment, Jolene reached way down and got some backbone. "So are you if you're doing a TV show about them." Then she took a deep breath. "So are you a...a...well, you know?"
Eve laughed. "You're pretty forward."
Jolene blushed even harder. "Sorry."
Eve placed her hand on Jolene's. "Well, today's your lucky day. I just happen to be a...well, you know."
Jolene grew warmer at Eve's touch. "Really?"
"Really." Eve stroked her hand. "And what about you? Are you a...well, you know?"
Jolene gasped. Though she enjoyed the hot kisses she'd shared with GinaLynn Norwood in the stairwell between the third and fourth floors of their high school, that proved to be a one-time only event. And even though Gina never mentioned it again afterward, it didn't stop Jolene from dreaming about it every night since. She blushed as she thought about Gina's smooth, toffee-colored skin and soft lips and how much more she wanted to do to her if she had the chance.
"Let me get you something for dessert," Jolene said, needing a reprieve from the erotic tension she felt. She took Eve's plate, got up and went to the counter to slice a piece of sweet potato pie.
As she cut the slice, Jolene looked at the doorway. Archie was still trying to impress the sheriff. A few minutes later, she saw Alice open the door to let in the boys. In the next instant, she watched as Alice quietly and gently turned the Open sign to "Closed." Then Alice winked at her and went to sit with the men.
Once they were occupied, Jolene went back to Eve's table and set down the small plate of dessert. She eyed Eve carefully, looking for some sort of sign of attraction.
Eve lifted her eyes and caught Jolene's gaze. Almost immediately, Jolene sensed a camaraderie with this woman, and a deep sense of the companionship they could have.
Jolene decided to test the waters. "I don't know much about...well, you know," she said in a low voice. "But there's a lot I want to learn." Then Jolene held her breath and waited.
She didn't have to wait long. Eve looked her straight in the eye. "I could teach you."
In an instant, Jolene made her move. "Come on," she said, hurrying from the other side of the table. She took Eve's hand and led her to the women's restroom. Once inside, she locked the door, pulled Eve close and planted a sizzling-hot kiss on Eve's lips.