“It’s one of those nights,” she said. She was lighting a menthol off the end of a smoking butt. The cash register hummed just underneath the buzz of the overhead fluorescents. Together, the noises almost masked the sounds of the crickets. Their little love song sang through the open door and it was getting on Little Liza’s nerves.

“Crickets again, huh?” That was Randy. He never offered much in the way of conversation, but he certainly knew what the midnight crickets sounded like and he certainly knew how Little Liza felt about it.

“It’s like they forgot to start coming on to each other when the sun went down and now they’re waking up all horny.” Daddy didn’t call her “princess” for nothing.

Randy wanted to laugh, because her little joke was a little funny. His tired mind had somehow conjured up a picture of a cricket with morning wood. He knew if he opened his mouth, the picture would spill out in words and he would be embarrassed as only a 34 year-old married man can be.

Teresa didn’t know that Randy’s first stop on his way to work was the L’il Cricket on Highway 29. She knew he had to buy coffee somewhere, but she never asked where and she never asked who he bought it from. She thought pretty highly of her trusting nature. She considered it a virtue above most others. And if some little slut came on to Randy, well, he certainly knew better than to come back on. He was married, after all.

“I figure it this way…” Randy could hear the girl continuing as he walked to the coffee machine. Past the frappa-whatever, past the latte, past the frothy-milky-whatizt and straight to the tarry stuff on the far right.

“The big lights at the diner go on about the time the sun goes down. Then the diner closes at eleven. Billy shuts off the lights. By the time midnight rolls around, they feel like they’ve missed half their night, and they’re screaming for some lovin’.”

“The crickets or the people at the diner?” That was the best Randy could do as he put the lid on his coffee.

“What do you think, Smarty?” Little Liza had laid her cigarette in an ashtray by the register and turned to the wall of smokes behind her. “Need them tonight?”

Did he ever. Teresa had sucked out his breath tonight as he was getting ready for work.

* * *

“I stopped by the L’il Cricket this morning,” she had said. “That Liza Gamble was there.”

Randy continued brushing his teeth and grunted in time with the flush of the toilet. Teresa walked out of the bathroom, talking as she went. “I don’t think she’s a very nice girl.”

Teresa opened the daycare in Anderson five days a week. She went in around 6am, a few hours before Randy got off, and about the time Liza Gamble was getting ready to go home.

Randy was spitting in the sink when Teresa poked her head back in the bathroom, “You know who she is, don’t you?”

“Um…no, I don’t think I do.” As he wiped his mouth, he looked around a room for a razor to cut his throat. Damned mouth spoke before he could think. What the hell did his mouth know, anyway?

“Little girl, about 5’3″ or so? Smokes those menthols and puts her elbows on the counter like a little girl?”

Think, goddammit.

“Jesus, honey. It’s almost midnight.” Randy rushed past her and out of the house into the driveway.

As he shoved the key into the ignition, he would’ve sworn he heard his wife call out from the porch, “I think she’s a slut!”

* * *

“Hard pack right?” Liza Gamble looked over her shoulder with her hand on the row of Camels. “One or two?”

“Two.” Randy fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a ten.

“So, you figure they like to get it on or nature just makes them do it? Six ninety.” She barely looked at her fingers as they punched in the prices.

“What do you think?” Randy laid his ten on the counter and watched her take a drag off the cigarette.

“I figure it’s a little of both. Three ten’s your change” Exhale, menthol smoke slipping under Randy’s hat and into his hair. He’d smell it there two hours later and be forced to take one of the three smoke breaks he was permitted during his shift.

“I guess you’re probably right,” he said taking the three ones and dime from the counter. He stood one half second longer then he’d planned to, then turned on his bootheels and walked for the open door.

“Your wife was in yesterday morning.”

Randy tried not to stop like a cartoon character, boots squeaking and coffee leaking out from underneath the lid. He was not very successful. How casual could he possibly be?

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, acted sort of strange. Said she thought her husband came in here every once in a while. Asked if I knew you.” The menthol was almost out.

“Oh, yeah?” Randy could think of no more to say. He almost made a joke about cricket morning wood just to change the subject.

“Yeah. I told her I didn’t think I’d ever seen you. Maybe you stopped at Elliot’s Exxon or something.”

“That right?” Randy was trying to hear the crickets over the breath in his chest.

“Yeah.” Little Liza lit another menthol off the butt of the one she was smoking. “See you tomorrow night.”

The air outside was warm and made his coffee cup seem warmer. Randy’s truck engine was still ticking when he got back to his parking space. Inside, Liza put her elbows on the counter and looked out the window toward him like she did every night the crickets sang their midnight song.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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