TAKING CHANCES • by Karen Laine

Starla drew a coke from the tap and considered adding a shot of Bacardi to soften the blow.

On Wednesdays, Buzz always arrived after the noon rush. Starla smoothed her short blonde hair, pinched her cheeks for color, and carried the cola to the corner booth. The scent of Altoids and Old Spice hit her before he did.

“You gettin’ fat?” Buzz said. He jerked a menu from her hand, whacked her ass, and plopped down. “What’s the special? French Dip? Fish and Chips?

Starla poised her pen over her order pad and smiled. “Today’s special is I’m Pregnant with a side of It’s Yours.”

Buzz choked on his coke and slammed the plastic cup on the formica table. “I hope you’re lying. Because no whiskey-tango waitress is ruining my chances.”

“I prefer the term white trash,” Starla said. “But what should I tell our child about daddy’s gene-pool? That he came from a long line of social climbers? Brown-nosers? Or imposters?” She covered her mouth with her hand. This wasn’t going at all like she’d planned.

“I’ve lost my appetite.” Buzz rose, dug his spray-tanned fingers into her upper arm, and pulled her close. “I suggest you lose something too. Or I’ll see to it that you lose your job.” He yanked five hundred dollar bills from his wallet. Then he littered the cash on the floor and was gone.

She lowered herself to the carpet, making sure to bend her knees and support her back with one hand. “You said you hated your life. That I made it better,” she informed the gravy-stained patchwork pattern. Then she gathered the bills and picked herself up off the floor.

After her shift, Starla walked the length of the mall. She passed the escalator and climbed the stairs to the second level. Exercise was supposed to be good for the baby.

She reached into her coat pocket and crinkled the fold of bills. The light-blue pique polo still hung in the window. She draped her arm across her belly, patted the white-trash social-climber growing inside her, and waddled into Baby Gap.

Karen Laine earned her degree in English Literature from UC Berkeley. Her first flash fiction story recently appeared in Apollo’s Lyre. She writes overlooking a creek while her toddler sleeps.

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