© 2008 by InSilverShadows
WARNINGS: Warnings include male on male sexual activity, liberal Deep South swearing, and hints at racism. I myself am not a racist. Don't be a dick--it's all part of the story. Don't like it, don't read it. -I.S.S.
The easiest way to spot a someone who wasn't a local around Donalsonville was to find the person who wasn't driving a pickup.
A lone, sleek black Chrysler—classy, but not indulgent—bumbled slowly down a winding road, under the shade of tall, wide trees that framed in freshly tilled farm fields, and rattled over the worn out expressway bridges over mayhaw swamps and into town. It earned odd looks from most of the people out on the streets—short, plump people in cutoffs under hats, who were perfectly happy with their charming little town as it was—and snorts from others. It drove down the main street of town, and turned off onto a rumbling dirt road, where it lost the interest of most of its viewers and pulled into the dusty parking lot of a small side-of-the-road diner.
Inside, the place was mostly empty, and the servers lingered around the hostess's podium, all waiting to leap for the opportunity for something to do as they quietly fanned themselves with paper menus. The menus were really quite unnecessary—no one in Donalsonville ever needed one, as they all knew exactly what they always ordered, and the servers already knew the habitual requests of nearly everyone in town—but they were slowly lowered from hands into a neat stack quickly when one of the waitresses said they were going to need one. As the curious staff watched through the front window, the black car pulled in neatly between two blue-black behemoths of pickup trucks, and sat there placidly.
"Look at that, Meriwether," said one of the lanky, tan youths who worked there, with a shock of red hair and a gap in his teeth. "Just ain't natural. It looks so small. You hit that thing at a real speed, it'd go right off the road, or jus' crumple up like a piece of paper." He sniffled, wiping his nose on his wrist.
The boy next to him let out a small snort, and graced him with a grin. He was a sturdy youth of about eighteen, with freckles and blue eyes, and a ruffled mop of syrup-colored hair to his earlobes that was relentlessly being told to be cut. "Ain't never seen it before," he said, "must be one of them rich 'uns from up in Savannah."
The redhead snorted, peering through the blinds as the car door opened. "The plates are from Massachusetts."
Meriwether stared at him, and leaned into the blinds. "Naw," he said incredulously, "no way."
"Yep. Massachusetts. Says it right there." The redhead tapped the window.
Meriwether whistled. "That's a damn long way t'drive. Who is it? What's they look like?"
"He's gettin' out," the redhead said, and pulled his fingers from the blinds with a snap. "You better get his table, Meri, 'cause I don't think I can deal with a Yankee."
"Only 'acause you're a right dick, Will," Meriwether teased him, shoving him lightly and picking up a menu, before going back to the window. "What's somebody dressed like him doin' in Donalsonville?" he wondered aloud.
Will shrugged, and brushed some crumbs off of one empty table onto the floor. "Maybe he owns a football team." He looked up, with a grin at Meriwether. "'At's the pride of Donalsonville, right there. Phillip Daniels. Used to be on the Redskins, but I think he got drafted back in '96."
"Naw, he still plays. Defensive end. But this guy don't look the football type," Meriwether said, returning the smile and watching the man outside. He wasn't tall, but he wasn't short either, and was lanky, dressed pin-tightly in a deep blue suit and red tie, buttoned neatly to under his chin; his hair, however, wasn't quite as uptight and stern as his dress was, swept loosely and attractively towards the side. He was holding up a phone in the air, and frowning, as if trying to get a signal. "He's too skinny. He sure looks like a Yankee, though. Cummere an' look at him."
Will came back to the window, and watched the man with mockery in his bright eyes. He whistled. "Wonder if he's late for some kind of important lunch here." He grinned at Meriwether, who returned him a snorting laugh. "I mean, we got loads of them, you know. All scheduled together."
"If he don't put that phone up and get in here, he's gonna be late for his meeting," Meriwether joked, elbowing his friend, and the both of them laughed, even as the Yankee outside turned around and pocketed his phone, the frown not leaving his face as he headed for the door to the diner.
"He might not get that big ol' promotion if he's late all the time," Will sniggered, blocking a light swipe from his friend with his elbow.
"Shh!" Meriwether laughed, shoving Will back towards the kitchen door. "Shh! He's commin' in!" Will gave him a grin, and went into the kitchens as Meriwether ducked under the podium to grab one of the better, less crinkled menus. He was still half-squatting when he heard the bell over the door ring, and the Yankee clear his throat slightly from overhead.
"Gimme just one minute," Meriwether said absently, grunting slightly, and holding up one finger to him. A small stack of menus slid out over his hands, and he swore rather coarsely, stuffing them back into the slot. He made to straighten, and whacked his head clumsily off one of the shelves built inside the podium, cursing.
The Yankee sucked in a breath, wincing, "are… you alright?"
Meriwether made a silent face, rubbing his head before forcing on a smile and popping up with a clean blue menu in his hands. "Fine. Hi," he said brightly, "jus' you?"
"Yes," the Yankee said, and frowned a little, peering over the podium. Meriwether handed him the menu, and gestured around.
"Well you can pick any table y'want," he said warmly, "I'll be with you in jus' a minute." Once the man nodded absently, Meri turned away from the Yankee, and screwed up his face in pain, rubbing the back of his head. "Ow…"
The well-dressed Yankee paused, and looked back at him in concern, "You're sure you're okay?"
Meriwether jerked up. "Oh, me?" he said, and gave a little laugh. "I'm fine. Perfect. You jus' make yourself comfortable now."
The Yankee gave him something of an amused smile, and went to the table in the far corner as Meriwether breezed past Will in the kitchen doorway.
"Smooth," Will said snidely, with a smirk.
"Shut up," Meri said, shoving him, looking over his shoulder to the Yankee in the corner. "Of course he's gonna make me walk all that way."
"Well tell him to move," Will teased, "You yerself said 'any table.' Maybe y'shoulda thought of that before y'said that."
Meriwether stuffed the pad of paper and pen into his apron pocket, wiping off his hands quickly on a rag. Will leaned towards him with a somewhat smug grin.
"All that trouble to get it, and y'forgot to give him the menu."
"Shit!" Meriwether grabbed it off the counter, and trotted out and across the diner, skidding to a stop at the tableside. The Yankee, somewhat startled, looked up at Meriwether as the Southern boy pulled his hair from his eyes with a breathless smile, forking over the menu.
"Forgot t'give you this," he said. The Yankee humored him and took it with a small smile, running his thumb absently along the spine.
"I'm sorry to have put you through the trouble, but I'll just have—"
"Ah, ah," Meriwether cut him off, "don't embarrass me in front of my friend." He jerked his head towards Will lingering at the kitchen door, chewing on a piece of wheat. The Yankee leaned back in the seat, glancing beyond the youth to the redhead, and then looked back up at him, leaning on the table with his elbows.
"I beg your pardon," he said, with almost flirtatious politeness, gracing the boy with an easy smile, "you do your part, then."
Meriwether smiled warmly, and straightened. "I'm Meriwether, an' I'll be your server this morning." He grinned, and pointed the end of his pen at the Yankee, "an' don't you make fun of my name now. Can I start you off with a drink?"
"Coffee," the blond Yankee said. "And I think it's a fine name."
"Regular's fine," the man corrected him, and made to hand him back the menu. "That's all."
Meriwether looked a little surprised. "You don't want nothin' to eat?"
"Coffee," the Yankee reminded him gently, nodding slightly, "that'll be fine."
Meriwether folded his arms stubbornly. "Our special this mornin' is a bacon biscuit with a sausage patty, done up right with hash browns and eggs however you like." He finished almost in singsong, biting his lip and rocking back and forth almost expectantly.
"No, thanks," the Yankee said, "I'm fine."
"It's real good," Meriwether added, "I had it myself this morning…"
"You're persistent, aren't you?" the Yankee teased lightly.
"Whatever that means," Meriwether said, sucking on the end of his pen. "But I'm determined." He held up his pad of paper, and the pen, lifting his eyebrows keenly and waiting for the Yankee's order. "One Monday mornin' special?"
The Yankee held up his hands in mock-surrender. "All right. You win."
Meriwether scratched it down cheerfully. "How'd you like your eggs done?"
"Over easy," the Yankee said, handing him back the menu.
"All right," Meriwether said lightly, "that'll be out for you in just a bit. Let me know if y'need anything, all right, now?"
The man nodded slightly and smiled at him placidly as he whisked off into the kitchen. Meriwether watched him absently over his shoulder as he pinned the order on the little clothesline waiting at the kitchen window. The Yankee thumbed through one of the newspapers tossed nonchalantly on the tables for breakfasters, and then looked up and around as if making sure the coast was clear. He reached into his coat, and pulled out his phone again, glancing at it almost as if he was afraid for anyone to see it. Meriwether watched him for a few seconds as he switched the coffee machine on. It poured hot brown liquid almost agonizingly slowly, and as soon as it was done, he swept up the pitcher and a mug, tucking a bowl of cream and sugar packets under his arm, and butting his way out of the kitchen.
"You need t'use a phone or somethin'?" he asked. The Yankee jumped, startled, and stuffed it hastily away.
"No," he said, "no, it's just hard to get a signal down here is all."
Meriwether smiled at him as he set down the Yankee's mug and poured the coffee. "Well, that's how it is when ain't nobody 'round here got none of them fancy phones." He gave a little laugh, setting the coffee down. "Well you obviously ain't from around here. You passin' through on your way to Florida?"
"No," said the Yankee, looking amused, "no."
"Or somewhere else?"
The Yankee laughed, and slid the coffee towards himself, sloshing a few droplets of it onto the table. "No."
"Cream and sugar?"
"I take it black."
Meriwether looked pleasantly surprised. "Oh?" he said, and then put on a teasing grin. "Most Yankees can't take it straight up." He stuffed his pad of paper into his back pocket and slid into the booth in the seat across from the other man.
"Well I'm not most Yankees," the man chuckled warmly, taking the first deep sip of coffee. His brows furrowed a little, and he licked his lips. "Mm."
"It's strong," the Yankee said glancing up at him. "Stronger than I expected, at least."
Meri grinned and leaned forward, eyes lingering briefly on a pink scar only half-hidden against the Yankee's hairline on his left temple. Meriwether wondered for a moment how it had come to be there. "Too strong for you?"
"I'm afraid not," the Yankee said, eyes dancing. "But very nearly."
"You could do things the way we like it in Donalsonville an' skip the sugar packets, put in a dollop of honey instead, and skim off the beads that float up to the top."
"Is that how you take your coffee?" the man teased.
Meri shook his head, wrinkling his nose a little. "I don't like coffee."
"How do you make it through the day?" the Yankee wondered aloud. Meriwether only smiled at him, a little evasively, and leaned forward across the table, leaning on his elbows.
The Yankee laughed out loud at that. "I don't believe you."
"I'm only kiddin'. Well, if you ain't headed somewhere else, what're y'doin' all the way down here in a little town like Donalsonville?" he asked, keenly.
The Yankee smiled placidly, testing the coffee gingerly with his fingertip, and taking another deep sip. "I bought a house here."
Meriwether looked shocked, and then outright laughed.
The Yankee shook his head, smiling. "I did."
"Naw!" Meriwether said incredulously. "Which one?"
The blond man reached inside his jacket and dug around for a moment, pulling out a folded up piece of paper and handing it over. Meriwether unfolded it, and smoothed out the creases on the tabletop. It was printed off a computer, the real estate flyer for a grand white farmhouse, nestled amid trees.
"You bought the old plantation house?" Meri said, looking at the streaky photograph.
"On a whim," the Yankee amended, "I fell in love with it. I didn't realize it was so far out into the country, but I think a little solitude will be healthy."
"It ain't far into the country at all," Meriwether said, "it's halfway between here an' Bainbridge. It's only ten or fifteen minutes outside of town."
"I got lost looking for it," the Yankee admitted, folding the piece of paper back up and tucking it away. "I'm supposed to meet the real estate agent for lunch, but I doubt I'll make it."
Meriwether glanced at the clock, "well it's only ten o'clock," he said, "You've got plenty of time until lunch."
The Yankee smiled down at his coffee. "Shouldn't you be in school?"
"I'm home-schooled," Meriwether said smugly, though he kept a smile on his face. "I work here, and then on a farm in the afternoons."
"I thought farms were mechanized these days."
"Even if they were, someone got to push the buttons an' drive the machines," Meriwether said. "An' machines just don't ever quite do it all, do they?"
The Yankee sat back in the booth. "I'm Kasey," he said, as if this had been what Meri had been after in coming over to the table. "Kasey Fergusen." He held a hand across the table, which the freckled Southern boy shook warmly.
"Well it's nice to meet you, Kasey Fergusen." Meriwether let go of Kasey's hand, a twinkle in his Carolina blue eyes.
Will whistled from the kitchen, "Breakfast's up, Meri." The Southern boy gave Kasey an apologetic look, sliding out of the booth to go get Kasey's order before returning to the table with two arms full of plates.
"All right then," he said in one breath, "we've got one Monday mornin' bacon biscuit, sausage, hash browns, and there's your eggs over easy." Meriwether grinned at him, setting it all down carefully, but the plate of hash browns wobbled dangerously on his arm. Kasey's hand darted up to catch it before it fell.
"Thanks," Meriwether said sheepishly, flushing pink and setting it down, "You know I ain't never dropped nothin' before, not since I started workin' here."
"Happens to everyone," Kasey said, with a forgiving smile.
"Not to me," Meriwether amended, tilting his chin up mock-haughtily, before he smiled. "Salt an' pepper's both right there…" He looked around, checking the table. "You need some more coffee?"
"I think I'm fine," Kasey said, taking a sip of the hot brown stuff.
Meriwether tossed his pad of paper nonchalantly on the table, and sat back down across from him. "So you're movin' down here, then?" he said, almost with an air of wonder.
Kasey nodded. "When I told some of my coworkers back in Boston they thought I was nuts."
"You probably are," Meriwether laughed, "what's so special 'bout Donalsonville anyway? You got family down here?"
"None," Kasey said, shaking his head, "Both of my sisters thought I was nuts too." He chuckled, a warm and rolling sound. "I fell in love with the house," said Kasey, "and I flew down for a tour as soon as I could. I bought it right away." He laughed, a little more bitterly, "now I can't even find it."
"What time y'got t'be there?" Meriwether asked curiously, thoughtfully chewing on his bottom lip. Kasey's eyes lingered on the meeting of teeth and skin briefly, and he slurped down the last of his coffee, clearing his throat slightly.
"Eleven forty-five, at the house."
Meriwether looked up at the clock. "Well shoot, you got plenty of time. Enough time you could see the whole town, come back, git your little car out there and make it to lunch half a' hour early."
Kasey smiled wryly, "this place is that small?"
"Jus' 'cause there ain't much to see don't mean it's small," Meriwether said, "Donalsonville's plenty charming. Y'know the defensive end for the Washington Redskins was born here. And if y'stay, you'll have to see the Olive Theater, downtown, an' the country club, if y'like to golf."
"You think because I'm wearing a suit I like to golf?" Kasey asked him, with a mischievous smile.
Meri leaned towards him slightly. "Well you sure don't look the type who likes to drink whiskey an' go shootin' deers."
Kasey laughed again. "And we're back to whiskey."
"It's a way of life," Meriwether replied, looking in a tempted manner at Kasey's hash browns. The Yankee smiled placidly and edged the plate towards him.
"I thought you said you already had breakfast."
"I did," said Meriwether, and took a bite of hash brown, "athix is morin." He swallowed when Kasey gave him an uncomprehending look, and grinned sheepishly. "At six this morning. Besides, a boy can get hungry around here."
"That's coming out of your tip, I hope you know," Kasey teased.
"Then you'd better leave me a good tip," Meriwether taunted right back, whip-fast. His eyes twinkled, and he added around another bite of hash brown, "If you want, I could show you around town, an' help you to find your house. I'm pretty sure Will can handle all these tables."
Kasey's eyes creased in a smile behind his coffee cup, and he wiped his upper lip politely, swallowing. "You say that, and if you leave, I'm willing to bet this whole place will fill right up."
"It's ten o' clock on a Monday," said Meriwether pointedly, standing up. "Everyone who works is already at work, an' everyone who don't stays home an' cooks their own breakfast."
Kasey looked up at him. "I see," he said, taking an almost polite bite of the eggs, and making a satisfied noise. "Mm. These are good."
"Thanks," Meriwether said brightly, "made them myself. The bacon's real good too." He winked, wiping his hands off on a dish towel he had slung into his back pocket.
"You make that too?"
"Nope. Somebody else fried it up this morning," Meriwether corrected, with a gentle smile. "You let me know when you're done, an' I'll take you out on the town." He grinned widely, revealing a slight gap in his front teeth.
"I'll take the check now, then," Kasey said, around a mouthful of eggs over easy, wiping his mouth politely after he swallowed, "to move things along."
"Well shoot, don't rush. Take your time," Meriwether said graciously. "Bainbridge ain't but twenty minutes away, an' your house is only halfway out there. Y'got to learn ain't nobody ever in a hurry down here. Makes people nervous." He paused to think for a moment, "the hurryin' does, not the not hurryin'. You know."
Kasey's smile stretched in amusement. "I know."
"An' you gonna have to do somethin' 'bout them there license plates," Meri said, leaning over to the window and forking the blinds open with two fingers. He smiled. "As if y'don't look an' sound enough like a Yankee."
"That's why I'm getting those odd looks, then?" Kasey said, shoveling in breakfast in the most classy and corporate way a person could shovel. Meriwether laughed at him.
"Well that, an' the fact you're wearin' a suit when it's eighty degrees out."
Kasey looked down at himself. "Am I overdressed?" he joked. "I had no idea."
Meriwether pinched his fingers together. "Just a little bit. Not to mention how shiny and clean your little Massachusetts car looks out there with all them mud-covered trucks."
"We'll have to take it through a nice mud-hole then, won't we?" Kasey mused, with a smile that didn't part his lips and eyes that danced.
"Yup," said Meriwether, tossing the dish towel over his shoulder, as Kasey finished off his breakfast, "we're gonna have to dirty it up."