“Good morning. Here’s a look at your weather. In Charleston, things will start and end a little cloudy, but the middle part is going to be beautiful.
Expect early morning fog in the low-lying areas and near the river, which will burn off before noon.
After that, though much of the state, sunny skies into the late afternoon with temperatures climbing into the lower 80s.
Toward the north, however, we’ll be seeing some rain by mid-afternoon, as a storm system moves through the region. Highs in the upper 70s and lower 80s.
Rain tonight throughout the state, with most of it hitting the northern and eastern panhandles as that storm system sweeps east.
Overnight lows around the state should be in the upper 50s or lower 60s.
Tomorrow, rain through the first half of the day and some cooling but clearing before nightfall. Highs for the day around 75.
For WVPB, I’m Bill Lynch in Charleston.”
There’d been two cars waiting in the parking lot when Rose arrived. At least one of them had been waiting for a while.
Standing arms crossed, next to a pump, a man in a plaid flannel shirt and WVU ballcap muttered, “You’re late,” as she was getting out of her car.
Rose turned her pregnant belly toward him and scowled.
The man looked down, put a hand to his furry face, aghast, and said, “Sorry.”
Rose nodded and then walked slowly and with great, even exaggerated, difficulty to the entrance, where she turned on lights and got the pumps working.
The man in the baseball cap got his gas and left.
As she was counting her drawer and making coffee, customers blew through on their way to who knows where, grabbing chips or cookies for breakfast as they went. They noticed her about as much as she noticed them, exchanging good-mornings and how are yous automatically.
Sipping a mango colored can of Monster Energy, Rose dully marched through her day. From the beat-up stool parked behind the counter, she decided she wasn’t doing jack today. She wasn’t even going to pretend it had anything to do with being seven months pregnant.
“Crap rolls downhill,” she muttered, took a swig and felt the unpronounceable chemicals from the can bounce around inside her blood.
The baby liked it, too.
No, Greg could up the boxes and sweep up after he got in at two. He’d whine about it, but he’d do it. At least, he didn’t have to come in on his day off, his weekend off.
Still, Rose knew this could be much worse. The neon sign above the glass door that read “Open 24 Hours” reminded her.
Rose had never seen it lit. Matt put that thing in long before he hired her two years ago.
Originally, when he and Marge opened the Shopaminit, they intended to compete with the Pilot station just up the road that was closer to the highway, but overnight traffic this far off the main road never amounted to much after about 10 at night.
Matt and Marge had a hard time finding people willing to work through the night at the pay they were willing to pay. They had a hard-enough time finding people willing to work for what they paid during the day, but after the Pilot station added a Subway, Matt gave up on trying to compete for highway traffic or make any money on the strays looking to save 2 cents a gallon more on their gas.
There was a switch under the counter that lit the sign, but the switch was taped-down and no one was supposed to touch it.
“It would probably burn the place down,” Matt had told her.
She’d asked him why he didn’t just have the thing taken out if he thought it was dangerous.
He’d just laughed and told her, “It’s on the list.”
Matt said that often. Somewhere in the back of her employer’s nearly empty skull, there was an imaginary list he kept of things he should do and things he should fix, like the water heater for the bathrooms or the self-serve air pump at edge of the lot.
You could drop quarters into that thing all day and never get enough air to fill a soap bubble –but no refunds. Not many people tried that any more –maybe one or two a month. The pump looked kind of rough. Some customer had taken a bat or a stick or something to it at some point and dented the thing.
Still, about every other month or two somebody would pull on the lot with out-of-state tags or a slightly bewildered look on their face –a stranger. The visitor would park their car by the pump and spend a dollar or so trying to get it to work before coming in to the store to complain or inform whoever was on duty of “the problem.”
They’d want a refund, which was against store policy. Matt’s logic was that since they couldn’t verify whether or how much money had been spent trying to get the pump to work, they couldn’t refund it.
Half the time, whoever stomped out of the store and drove off, looking for actual, legitimate service. The other half, they stood there at the counter looking all sick and sad.
Staff was told to direct these customers to a nearby display that included Fix-a-Flat and a couple of foot pumps.
By mid-morning, the stream of customers into the Shopaminit had slowed to a trickle. Rose made a microwavable burrito and had a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup for the protein. Then she stood outside the front entrance, watched the cars pass by the lot and smoked her second cigarette of the day.
She meant to light a second one after that, a treat for having to put up with all of this, but then Ryan Seacrest pulled up in his beat-up Dodge Neon; heavy metal bleeding through the sealed car door windows.
“Oh hell,” Rose spat, saved her cigarette and went back inside.
She hoped he just needed gas.
Ryan Seacrest was the manager at the Pizza Hut 25 yards down the road and across the little bridge. Before the past couple of months, Rose hadn’t thought much of him, except that she felt lucky to not have to wear that kind of uniform to work.
He hadn’t paid much attention to her, either, which seemed like a good arrangement.
Since Rose got pregnant, since it became apparent to everyone that she was pregnant, Ryan stopped in almost every day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes more than that.
At first, Rose thought it was cute. The Pizza Hut manager would come in, buy something small and then chat with her for a minute, ask her how she was doing, ask her about the baby.
At the time, this was kind of nice. Rose and her boyfriend, Jake, had just broken up. He’d told her he wasn’t ready for fatherhood. She’d tossed a lamp at his head and told him he could go live in his car.
A few days later, Jake called and told her he wanted to talk, maybe work through things. Rose told him there was no point. She’d already burned all his things in a barrel out back, but he was welcome to sift through the ashes and look for his X-Box, if he wanted.
Not having Jake around meant there was nobody even nominally concerned with her well-being or the well-being of the life growing inside of her. Nobody she knew asked how she was doing or if she was taking care of herself. So, it was nice to have someone to lie to again and Ryan was easy to talk to because she didn’t care that much about what he really thought. It was just good to speak the words “I’m doing great” out loud.
After a while, Ryan’s interest took a turn. It stopped being enough for him to just stop by, get a package of Nutterbutter cookies and ask her if she was drinking orange juice every day, like she was supposed to, because it was good for the baby. He started wanting to know if she needed any help around the house or if he could come over sometime to make her dinner.
There were plenty of women, Rose knew, who would see someone like Ryan as a golden opportunity. Rose’s mother would certainly think so, but she’d been wise enough not to mention it. Otherwise, she’d never hear the end of it.
She hadn’t even told her mother she was pregnant. She thought she might bring it up over Christmas.
Rose understood that her circumstances were not ideal. She was seven and a half months pregnant and without anything approaching a husband, boyfriend or reliable partner to help her get through the next couple of months or beyond that.
This was not to say that Jake would have been much help, but he might have been convinced to turn off his stupid video games long enough to watch an infant while she showered.
Ryan seemed friendly and attentive. He wasn’t bad looking. He had his hair, and despite working at a place where melted cheese was the main attraction, he wasn’t fat. He also had a job, which wasn’t always the case with the men Rose occasionally paired up with, but she didn’t like Ryan.
In better times, Rose didn’t think she’d even bother to make eye contact with him.
(to be continued)