Over the Faery Hill - Jennifer L. Hart

Chapter 1

“If its got tires or testicles, its gonna give you grief.

That’s why I always neuter the dogs.”

-Notable quotable from Grammy B

“Joey, you’re fired.”

I stared over the paper-strewn desk to where my employer—now ex-employer—Rodney Carmichael squatted like a homely little toad. Surely, I had misheard what he just said.

“If this is about the plates that I broke last week, I told you I would pay for them.” I pasted a smile on my face and tried to look like the epitome of an excellent waitress. “It was an accident.”

Because my bad wrist had locked up at precisely the wrong moment when I had been transferring the stack of plates from the dishwasher to the service line. The crash heard ‘round the mountain. As was the nature of small Southern towns, my mother heard about it before my shift ended.

Rodney removed his glasses and polished them with the tail of his untucked shirt. “It isn’t just that. You’re always late—”

“My car got impounded. I had to use my mother’s and it wouldn’t start.”

He sighed, effectively shutting off my protests. “And I’ve had complaints that you were rude to customers.”

“They were jerks! They left me a twenty-seven-cent tip on a forty dollar bill!” And one of the boneheads had swatted me on the ass. Twice.

Rodney put his glasses down and just looked at me. Outside birds twittered in the trees, a promise of spring that was still a month and a half away. In the kitchen, I heard Steve say something to Amanda. The scent of homemade chili filled the space. Steve’s chili was a local treasure, especially on a brisk winter day. I’d been looking forward to having it for lunch but my stomach had morphed into a ball of ice.

“Can I at least finish my shift?” I needed those flimsy tips if I ever wanted to see my beloved VW bug again.

Rodney shook his head and sighed as though he didn’t have a choice and he was the misaligned party. “Greta is coming in to cover for you. Joey, I’m sorry. We gave it a shot. It just didn’t work out.”

I put up a hand. He could feign sympathy all he liked but that wouldn’t change my reality.

That Joey Whitmore had been fired from yet another job.

Rodney handed me an envelope. “I wish you luck.”

“Luck, right,” I snorted. But I took the envelope. Pride wasn’t a luxury I could afford.

Slowly, I rose to my feet and shuffled out of the office and into the hall closet where I’d stashed my purse, coat, and umbrella not even ten minutes ago. The mirror on the door presented me with my reflection. Gray roots showing about two inches long against my dark brown mop of hair because I hadn’t had time to grab dye from the pharmacy. Crow’s feet around my blue eyes. A big bump on my nose from where it had been broken at the same time as my wrist. A mouth that had forgotten how to smile. Sagging D cups, a midsection that looked like rising bread dough, and stretched the scoop neck t-shirt with the restaurant’s logo. I felt a hundred years old, not the smidge past forty that I was.

Could humans age in dog years?

“Look at the bright side,” I said then tried to find one. Nothing came to mind. “You can legally drink?”

There. Bright side. Nailed it.

I glanced back toward the kitchen where Amanda and Steve were busy with prep for the lunch rush. The factory across the road would be emptying out in fifteen minutes. All the hungry recycling workers would descend on the diner, which was little more than a greasy spoon for chili cheese dogs and pie to clog their arteries before returning to saving the planet one pickle jar at a time.

Not wanting to see their pity, I decided not to draw out a goodbye. I’d only worked at the place for three weeks. We weren’t exactly lifelong chums.

After stuffing the envelope inside my coat pocket, I pushed out of the rear door to the small battered deck and down the three steps that led to the gravel parking lot. I didn’t look back at the diner, didn’t want to see the patrons eating in the big picture window. Happy people who would head home or back to work, who had lives that were moving steadily forward.

Mine seemed to be on a broken conveyer belt that no one made parts for anymore. Back home to mom’s house with the unwelcome news that her divorced