Tracy sped out from gravel to blacktop, spitting rocks from her back tires. She was going to be late. Again. And Lulu had told her the next time would be the last time. Even though it was a crap job it was still better than nothing. She floored it and the truck jerked in response.
Already, the heat from the sun shimmered on the road ahead of her. It was going to be another scorcher. Tracy hated working the lunch shift at Lulu’s Burgers. It was a manic job – hot as hell, orders being shouted at her from all directions, burgers popping, onion rings sizzling, customers waiting impatiently. She left there every day smelling like grease.
She hazarded a glimpse at herself in the rear view mirror and cringed at what she saw. Twenty eight was way too young to have that kind of dark circle action. She thought of what her Granny used to say about people whose hard living had caught up with them: that they’d been “rode hard and put up wet.” After another late night of drinking, spending the night at Luke’s had seemed like the best decision. I’ve got to get a grip.
Pulling into the parking lot on two wheels, Tracy ran in the back door to find Lulu herself standing there, arms crossed.
“I’m not late. It’s 10:00 right on the dot, so I’m not late.”
Lulu tightened her lips and looked Tracy over from head to toe.
“Girl, the trouble with burning the candle at both ends is sooner or later you’re the one burned. You look like hell.” She shook her head. “All right, get in there and get busy prepping. And keep your mind on the job; I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Tracy did as she was told. One good thing about working at Lulu’s was it didn’t leave room for a lot of rumination. It was mid-afternoon before she had a chance to step out the back door for a break. There was a picnic table under some shade trees, and she gratefully sat. Although hot, the air was moving and she closed her eyes and savored the sensation as the breeze tickled the hairs at the back of her neck.
“Tracy.” She looked up to see Lulu standing there.
“Yes. Hell, yes. Something is wrong, girl. With you.” She sat down at the table with Tracy.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve known you since you were born. Your parents and I go back for years even before that. I know it’s been tough losing them so young, and I—”
“Look, Lulu. I’m fine. I’ve had bit of a rough patch lately, that’s all, but I’m handling things.”
“No, you’re not. Look at you. You’re a mess. Bill and Barbara were so proud of you when you enrolled in culinary school. They used to tell me, ‘That girl of ours is going to really make something of her life. She’s bound for greatness.’ They couldn’t wait to see you as head chef in some swanky restaurant; hell, even owning your own someday.”
“Yeah well, things change sometimes. Life doesn’t always work out like we think it will.”
“Girl, you think you’ve got the market cornered on suffering?” Lulu stood and took a few steps toward the tree, then turned back. “When George died, I wanted to curl up and die right along with him. I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. But you know what? I had two little mouths to feed so I didn’t have a choice. I had to get up, wash my face, go to work.” She blew out a sigh and sat back down.
“I knew I could make damn good burgers and fries, so that’s what I did. I built this business up from the ground, with my own blood and sweat and tears. I know it’s just a burger joint, but it’s my burger joint. It put my two kids through school and got them set up for life.” She leaned forward and locked eyes with Tracy.
“And it provided a place for you when your parents died. Tracy, I know losing them both in that accident shook you to your very core. I was happy to have you come work for me. But, girl…” Lulu’s eyes softened. “Your folks were right. You are meant for something more. You just need to find the courage to take the first step.”
Tracy looked down at her hands. “Lulu, I just don’t know if I have what it takes. Besides, Mom and Dad never said anything like that to me. I always got the impression they wanted me to go to university and be a…I don’t know…a social worker like mom or an accountant like dad.”
“What they wanted was for you to follow your dreams…wherever those dreams take you. They wanted you to be happy and successful living the life you choose.” Lulu stood and headed back inside. “I want you to think long and hard about this, Tracy. The rest of your life just might hinge on what you decide. Now, get out of here for an hour or two. I’ll prep for the supper crowd.”
Tracy headed home in her beat up truck, windows down, humming along to some old-school Iris DeMent, whose plaintive voice always put whatever emotions she was feeling front and center. “…and I brought joy to my mother, and I made my lover smile…” She thought about her mom and dad and what she’d always believed their expectations to be. Her truck changed course almost without her even consciously deciding to, toward to the cemetery where they were buried. She walked up the slight hill where they were buried under a pretty shade tree and she thought again how it wasn’t a bad spot at all to spend eternity.
“Mom, Dad… I know it’s been awhile since I’ve been here. I guess I wanted to be in a better place in my life before I came back.” Her voice thickened and she felt the tears gathering behind her eyes.
“It’s been …. God, it’s been so hard on my own. Growing up I always wished for a sister, but after you guys were gone, so suddenly—” Tracy’s voice broke and she sank to her knees in the soft green grass, silent tears sliding down her face.
“I know I haven’t handled things very well, and I’m sorry. I know you both want me to be strong and successful and happy. And, even though I’m not all of that right now, Lulu helped me see that I can get there. I just have to get off my butt and work for it.” She took a shaky deep breath and smiled through her tears.
“I promise you both, I’m going after that life. I really believe I can get there now.”
Brushing off her jeans, Tracy headed back to the truck. She had plans to make and people to call. But she had one important first call to make.
“Hey Lulu. You were right. About everything. I’ll be in later but I just wanted you to know. I’m going after my dreams.”