Authors: Jodi Thomas
AS THE OLD FORD PICKUP STOPPED AT THE FIRST STREETLIGHT past the city limit sign, Reagan jumped off the back. Harmony, Texas, population 14,003.
She doubted the driver even noticed her departure. At the truck stop in Oklahoma City he’d only looked at the pint of whiskey she offered him in exchange for the ride.
That was the way Reagan preferred it. In the sixteen years of her life, any time someone had bothered to watch her closely, trouble followed. No one could track her this time. By morning the farmer would have a hangover and little memory of her.
For once, no one would look for her—thanks to a runaway who’d taken her bed at the shelter. Even if the impostor was discovered, foster care wouldn’t search too long or hard for her. In fact, if she guessed right, they’d mark Reagan Moore off their rolls by noon as if she were resting in Resurrection Memorial Cemetery in northwest Oklahoma City. The druggie who’d climbed in to sleep in Reagan’s bed had found a place to rest, and Reagan had found a way to disappear.
Flinging her backpack over one shoulder, Reagan slipped into the shadows. Harmony had been her goal for almost a year and, finally, she was here. It didn’t matter if the place measured up to her dreams—nothing ever had—but at least she’d made it. She’d accomplished what she set out to do. She found the little town in the middle of nowhere. Reagan couldn’t help but smile.
Six months ago she decided this place was her hometown, so she had to at least see the small farming community. No one would ever know this was her first time to set foot in town. For her, and for them, she was simply and finally coming home.
Walking in the shadows, she took in the place like an art student taking in the Louvre. Brick streets. Storefronts without bars that pull down at night. A movie theater at the far end of Main with lights blinking. Traffic moving as slow as if passing time and in no hurry to get anywhere. She felt like she’d stepped into an enchanted world.
This street was called Old Main, she remembered from an article she’d read. New Main was at the other end of town, where tire stores, a shopping mall of four one-story stores, and five small restaurants had been built. But here, on Old Main, was the way she always imagined the town to be.
The jukebox music from a diner, almost a half block away, drew her like a pied piper toward the center of town. A painting of a midnight sky and a full moon ran the awning. Above the shade were the words BLUE MOON DINER. Reagan felt as if she’d stumbled blindly into a picture-book story. She’d heard the words but never seen the drawings, and now they were coming alive around her.
The place was ten years past needing a coat of paint, but the light glowed golden from windows in need of washing just as old Miss Beverly at the Shady Rest Home had said it would.
The old lady would always say, when she talked of the diner, “You ain’t been to Harmony until you’ve eaten at the Blue Moon.”
Reagan walked inside feeling like a preacher who’d studied heaven all his life and finally set foot in it. The diner even smelled like she thought it would. A mixture of grease, baked apples, and burned toast.
A year ago she’d been cleaning rooms in a nursing home in Oklahoma City for eight bucks a room when she’d found a newspaper, the
’s Centennial Edition. Reagan had read every article, what happened in the past, what was happening in the fall of 2005, what folks hoped would happen in the future. Somehow, the town filled a place inside her. A place that had always been empty.
“What can I get you?” The waitress startled her as Reagan stuffed her backpack under the table. “We ain’t got much pie left, but if it’s fries and drinks, we’re still open.”
Reagan looked at the menu written on the wall. “Fries,” she said, “and a water.”
“Chili or cheese?”
Reagan stared at the chubby middle-aged waitress who looked like she’d already had a long day. Her apron was spotted, her eyes tired, but her smile was real.
“You want chili or cheese on them fries? It doesn’t cost extra after ten.” The waitress tapped her pencil on her pad in rhythm to an Elvis tune.
“Both,” Reagan answered, thinking the doughnut she’d had for breakfast had been far too many hours ago.
The woman winked. “You got it.”
Reagan leaned back in the booth and took a deep breath. “Finally,” she whispered as if she could wish it true. “I just know this time I’m home.”
She’d cleaned that nursing home room for a week before she’d met Miss Beverly Truman and began to stay after work to read the old woman her mail. Beverly must have been pen pals with half the town.
After they’d read all the gossip, they’d talk about Harmony. Miss Beverly might forget where she put her teeth, but she remembered every detail about the town where she’d lived most of her life.
Reagan closed her eyes as if filling in a blank on an invisible test: The night waitress at the Blue Moon Diner was named Edith. Miss Beverly always said she had a good heart and a husband who wasn’t worth the iron in his blood.
She pulled her tattered manila folder from her pack and spread it out on the table. Someone had handed it to her years ago when she’d been moved from one foster home to another. It had a big label on the front with her name and nothing else. Like no address had ever belonged to her long enough to stick to paper.
She’d hidden the folder away while in transport and kept it. One envelope held all that was her. Birth certificate listing father as unknown, a copy of her mother’s death certificate, a school picture from the fourth grade, and an award she’d won once in an art class. Tugging out a pencil, she scratched out her last name and wrote
in its place, then, with a bold hand added
under her new name.
“I put the chili in a bowl so it wouldn’t get your fries soggy.” The waitress was back.
Reagan slid the envelope aside. “Thanks, Edith.”
The woman seemed in no hurry to leave. “You from around here?”
“Yes.” Reagan ate, chewing down the lies along with the fries. “But I’ve been gone a long time.”
Edith studied her for a few minutes. “You must be one of the Randall kids that used to live north of here. Their youngest girl would be about your age.”
“No,” Reagan said just before she shoved another spoonful in her mouth. “This is great chili.”
The waitress was on a quest and refused to be distracted by the compliment. “You Willa May Turner’s granddaughter? I heard you might be coming to live with your grandparents.”
Reagan shook her head. “As far as I know, I don’t have a single living relative here now. Not one that would claim me, anyway.”
The woman smiled. “You never know. Everybody’s related in this town. We laugh and say if the gene pool gets any shallower in these parts we’ll have to declare a drought.”
Reagan swallowed down water and began her new life with another lie. “I’m Beverly Truman’s granddaughter.”
“I thought I saw Truman blood in you. Don’t know where you got that red hair, but your nose is shaped just like every Truman I ever knew. Old Jeremiah Truman still lives on the homestead place a few miles out on Lone Oak Road. He’s as mean as Beverly is nice; it’s no wonder no woman in the county would marry him. We all miss Beverly, but we don’t blame her for moving a state away just so she wouldn’t have to live with him and clean around his collections.”
Edith slid into the booth across from her. “How is your grandmother? We used to buy all our cream pies from her. Folks would come in here after the movies just for a slice of Miss Beverly’s coconut pie. Cut our profits in half when she moved.”
Reagan chose her words carefully, thinking of how Beverly would have answered. “I haven’t heard lately; she may have passed on to be with the Lord.” In the year she’d known the old woman, Reagan had never seen a visitor and, when she died, Reagan was the only one who cried. She guessed that made her more a relative than anyone else.
Edith leaned over and patted Reagan’s hand. “We all have to make that journey, child, and you can bet your sweet grandmother made it on the express flight if she passed. Both her grown children and her husband going before her must have left her in a powerful hurry.”
Before the waitress could start asking questions Reagan didn’t have the answers to, the front door bumped open and the number of customers in the diner doubled when one man entered. He looked like he could have been a model for western wear except for the anger in his eyes. Tall, broad shouldered, and furious.
Reagan took one look and fought the urge to slide under the table.
The waitress just smiled at him as if he were cute as a newborn pit bull.
“Edith!” he yelled from the doorway. “Get a thermos of coffee ready. I’ll be back for it.” He plowed his hand through jet-black hair and shoved his hat down hard as if about to face a storm.
The Blue Moon Diner door slammed closed and he was gone.
“Who was that?” Reagan asked, figuring this would be the first name on her list of people to avoid.
Edith laughed. “That’s Hank Matheson. He’s headed across the street to Buffalo Bar and Grill to break up a fight.” The waitress laughed. “It’s Saturday night and Alex McAllen is either passed out drunk or starting a brawl. One of the bartenders calls Hank every time to come get her before she gets in too much trouble.”
“Why don’t they just call the police?”
Edith giggled. “You
been gone a long time. Alexandra McAllen has been the sheriff for three years. Barely had time to accept her master’s in criminal justice down at Sam Houston State before she pinned on the badge.”
Reagan smiled and quoted a line from the Harmony paper she kept. “Three families settled in to work at the Ely Trading Post in 1887: the Trumans, the Mathesons, and the McAllens. When old Harmon Ely died, he left a third of his land to each family and together they founded Harmony.”
“Good.” Edith smiled. “You do know your history. Most folks driving by think we was named Harmony after a mood, but in truth, folks just got tired of calling the town Harmon Ely and shortened it to one word. Kind of a private joke for locals, being the old man was as mean as a two-headed snake on a hot rock.”
Edith stood and moved around a long counter to make the thermos. “If you know that much, you also know the three families have never gotten along.”
“But Hank’s helping Alex, and she’s a McAllen.”
Edith wobbled her head so far from side to side she almost tapped her shoulders. “Yeah, and she’ll hate him for saving her in the morning. Once she got so mad he rescued her that she tried to get him fired as the town’s volunteer fire chief. When that didn’t work, because it’s impossible to fire someone who’s not paid in the first place, she blacked his eye with a wild punch.”
“And he still goes into that bar on a Saturday night to save her?”
Edith screwed on the top of the thermos. “I guess he figures it’s the best way to irritate her.”
A scream and a string of swear words could be heard from outside.
“That’ll be Alex.” Edith rushed to the door.
Reagan watched through the window as the waitress hurried out with the thermos to give to Hank. He was shoving a woman, fighting and kicking, into the passenger side of a Dodge Ram.
He slammed the door and climbed in on the driver’s side.
When he opened the window to accept the thermos from Edith, the wild woman he’d trapped managed to open the door and was halfway out before Hank jerked her back.
Edith didn’t seem concerned. She just nodded at Hank and hurried back toward the diner.
Two feet inside, she ordered, “Truman, if you want a ride out to your great-uncle Jeremiah’s place, Hank said hop in and he’ll take you. He’s headed that way anyway.”
It took Reagan a moment to figure out who Edith was yelling at. Then she remembered. She was a Truman. She’d been one for at least ten minutes now.
“Great,” she said, and pulled her pack out from under the table. She couldn’t stay here; it would look strange. Maybe she’d just hop out of the truck and find somewhere to sleep until morning. Down the road seemed as good as any place to go.
Edith walked her out and held her pack as she climbed into the bed of Hank’s huge pickup truck. Reagan settled in between saddles and serious-looking riding gear.
She noticed that Alex, looking tall and blond, sat perfectly still in the passenger seat, but Hank was swearing that he’d handcuff the sheriff if she tried to get out again. Reagan wasn’t sure either of them even noticed her hitching a ride.
She leaned toward Edith. “Doesn’t anyone think they’re a little strange?”
Edith frowned and looked at them, then shook her head. “He’s the only one brave enough to stand up to her when she’s had a few, and she’s the best sheriff we’ve had in forty years. Besides—”
Hank threw the truck into drive and roared down the road before Edith finished.
Reagan leaned back on one of the saddles and tried to figure out the couple yelling at each other just beyond the back window. Somewhere in an old paper she remembered reading that a McAllen had died in the line of duty. A highway patrolman maybe, or a marshal. Or maybe, she guessed, the last sheriff of Harmony.