“Every time you tell me something interesting, you look at me like you anticipate a bad reaction from me.”
“I just keep expecting you to say something about cutesy small towns and how we’re so backwoods or something.”
“Have I said anything like that at all?” I asked. “Or have you got me confused with somebody you saw in a movie?”
She just looked at me.
“I mean I’m not going to treat you like you just walked off the Beverly Hillbillies if you’ll quit looking at me like I’m some heartless corporate villain from a movie.”
“What kind of movie has the Beverly Hillbillies and a corporate villain?” she asked dubiously. “I would watch the hell out of that.”
I laughed. “I’m not judging your community just because it’s different from the city.”
“No, you’re just going to eat our potato casserole and then shut down the factory anyway,” I said a little petulantly.
“Is this your casserole?”
“Yes,” she said.
“So tell me something interesting about the cook. You have for everything else.”
“Let’s see…” she said, thinking it over. “my favorite color is blue, I love my mama’s biscuits and gravy, and I don’t want to lose the business I worked so hard to create to go up in smoke when you shut down the factory.”
“Maggie—” I started.
“What? You don’t like my list? I’m very interesting, don’t you think?””
“You left something out.”
“Are you seeing anyone?” I asked. She frowned at me. An actual frown, not a fleeting look of displeasure. Then she shook her head.
“No. I’m not.”
“No. No boyfriend. Unless you count Garrett.”
“Who’s Garrett?” I said.
“He wants to marry me,” she said, with a half-smile. “But he’s a little young for me.”
“He’s four. Real charmer though. Blue eyes, can put on his own shoes if they’re Velcro,” she laughed. I couldn’t help laughing too.
“Well, what more can you want in a man than that?” I said.
“It’s my Bumble profile. Female seeking male who can put on shoes, tying not necessary.”
“I’ve seen worse profiles,” I said.
“What? No way do you do dating apps.”
“I have. I travel a lot for my job, which makes it difficult to meet someone in my home base,” I said simply.
“So I’m supposed to be too mature to make a dirty joke about getting to third base here, right?”
“Exactly. I find it challenging to meet women I’d be interested in. I meet people everywhere, of course, and I have no objection to a long-distance relationship, but I haven’t found a woman who made me worry I’d regret leaving her behind.”
“Well, that sounds pretty callous,” she said, scooping more potatoes onto my plate for me. “These are really good. You’ll thank me.”
“What about you?”
“I have a plate. See?” she said, showing me her piled-up plate of food.
“I mean why aren’t you seeing someone?”
“I’ll tell you what I tell my mom. Apps don’t work when you grew up with every guy in a twenty-mile radius. Let’s face it, if I saw you picking your nose at the football games in high school, I’m just not gonna be attracted to you as adults.”
“So the profile gets longer. Female seeks male who can put on shoes. No nose pickers. That’s going to narrow the field considerably,” I teased.
“I’m a woman who deserves the best. Plus, I deal with enough nose pickers at work. Probably the thing I say most besides, “Do you need to potty?” is “Get your fingers out of there!” she said.
I laughed, “That could apply to a lot of things, not just the nose.”
“Ha-ha,” she said flatly, “Little boys stick their hands down their pants. I’ve noticed. We just say, that’s not something we do at school, and then we go wash hands.”
“Sounds like a winning strategy. So you don’t have to add ‘keeps hands out of own pants’ to your list. You’re already prepared to deal with that if it happens,” I said, stifling a laugh.
“Yes. I have skills,” she said, nibbling a dinner roll and balancing her plate. We made our way to a table covered with purple and green plastic tablecloths and set our plates down on it.
“Mardi Gras?” I asked.
“School colors,” she clarified. “We’re the Cougars.”
“And cougars are purple and green?” I said dubiously.
“’Round here they are. We are the purple and green, best that you’ve ever seen—” she cheered, ending with two claps and her arms outstretched.
“You were a cheerleader?” I said.
“No way. But I went to games, so I know the cheers. Lots of school spirit around here. The basketball team went to regionals three years ago. We lost in game one, but it was an exciting time.”
“Okay,” I said, taking a bite of my burger. It was very good, and I said so.
“Yeah, Cecil’s is great. My friend Sarah Jo is married to the owner’s son, Luke. He’s on the fire department. Those ribs are from Jake, my friend Cat’s cousin. He’s another fireman. He’s got his own meat smoker and does the best turkeys at Thanksgiving. And that cookie you have there, Macy down at the grocery store bakery counter makes those. They’re amazing.”