Some people will hug a person they haven’t seen in a decade, like it’s only been three days since they’ve seen them. Not the people in my hometown. I’ve spent the last decade in New York, a place they believe smells of piss and garbage, despite never having stepped foot in the city. They wouldn’t dare leave the mountains of West Virginia.
I’m tainted by association.
And I’m an actress, which makes it worse.
“What TV show do I know you from, girl?” Terry Buchanan asks me in the Mountain Laurel Convenience Store and Deli.
God, I can’t believe it’s him. He has that Mountaineers baseball cap Daddy bought him for his seventeenth birthday. It’s all dirty and stained now. He even has the same smirk and still stinks of Calvin Klein’s CK One.
“Girl”? I’m nearing forty. Plus, he knows my damn name. We dated all four years of high school.
I’m in line holding an egg and cheese biscuit and a bottle of chocolate milk. “I know you remember my name, Terry.”
He’s standing behind me, all gruff and bearded. He’s still slender, and instead of the football jersey he used to wear, he’s in a car mechanic shirt. He’s holding a newspaper under his arm. “Oh, I’m sorry, Patsy,” he says. “Is ‘girl’ one of those words I’m no longer allowed to say, according to the politically correct police?”
I roll my eyes and place my food on the counter.
Candace Hopkins, cashier and owner, snorts. “I bet you’re glad you didn’t marry him.” She didn't remember me last Tuesday, the day after I moved Mama into the nursing home. I’ve been here the last week clearing out the old house, and now every morning Candace nods and says, “Great day to be alive,” just like she used to all those years ago when I'd come in for pop rocks and cherry soda. Her hair’s grey now and she has fine lines around her mouth and eyes from smoking too many menthol cigarettes, the smell sticking to her clothes, but she’s the same Candace.
The whole town is the same.
I’d be, too, if I had stayed and married Terry.
“Hey,” he says, like he can’t think of a single reason why a woman wouldn’t marry him. I don’t see a wedding ring, so I’m assuming he’s still single. Join the club. If I did have someone, it’d make staying here for the next two weeks tolerable.
Candace hands me my receipt, and I scoop the items back into my arms, but Terry steps in front of the door. He sips from his steaming Styrofoam cup of coffee. Jesus, I miss my coffeeshop in Queens. I tried Candace’s coffee, and I don’t think my stomach lining has recovered.
“I remember now. One of those Law & Order shows,” Terry says.
“F.B.I.,” I say. I’ve done both, and plenty others, but F.B.I. is the most recent. I’ve been typecast as “victim #1.” Or, “Jane Doe,” until the detectives learn my character’s name. I get to do a little acting before I’m killed in the first few minutes. Sometimes I do what we call “corpse duty.” It’s easy money in the bank.
I wave for him to move.
Terry steps back, saying, “You’re good. Always were though.”
“Thanks,” I say. I had one short scene where I liked the way I made my body go slack and dropped the phone after a murderer slit my throat.
Even though he tried to convince me to stay after senior year, Terry was always my biggest cheerleader. At the curtain calls for the high school plays, he’d be the only student giving a standing ovation while hooting and hollering. I know it’s pathetic, but I miss that kind of validation. In New York, nobody’s impressed by the number of times you’ve played a corpse.
“I always knew you’d make it. Acting is what you always wanted. I’m glad someone got out of this town and did something to make us proud.”
He always knew how to make me feel confident, like I was somebody who mattered.
“Speaking of crime,” Candace says, “Be careful up at your house.”