Excerpt from Milkshakes and Mittens
“Afternoon, Ms. Collins. What can I get you today?”
“Hello, Jaleen. Vanilla today, I think, with a hint of cinnamon.” Natasha watched as Jaleen White, one of few neighbors she’d met in her neighborhood, spun around to begin assembling her milkshake. Her full brown curls bounced as she worked. Reaching up to pat her own graying blonde tresses, Natasha pursed her lips. Adjusting to small town life in northern Nevada had been easier than accepting the intrusion of these gray hairs.
“Here you are.” Jaleen set the milkshake on the counter. Natasha reached in her purse and pulled out a couple of bills, placing them on the counter for Jaleen. She picked up the shake, but thoughts of the cold weather waiting outside kept her from moving toward the door.
“I don't know why I buy these shakes when it's so cold outside. Habit, I guess. Never was quite so cold in Phoenix this time of year.”
“Sunshine all the year round?” Jaleen asked as she dried some dishes.
Natasha nodded. “Pretty much. Winters there are more like late spring here.”
“Mother Nature definitely takes her time warming things up here. I hope you've got plenty of warm clothes.”
“Me, too!” Natasha laughed. “How are those girls of yours doing?”
Jaleen bit her lip and looked down at a stain on the countertop. “Good.” She paused, “I suppose you heard that Kelly's pregnant.”
“Oh, no, I hadn't. I'm so sorry.” Kelly was the oldest of Jaleen’s seven children and barely out of high school. Natasha’s heart ached for both Jaleen and Kelly.
Angry tears slipped down Jaleen's nose. “The father's run off. I guess he was one of those workers they bus in from the city to work at the casinos. Hasn't been back in nearly a month, just after Kelly found out.”
Natasha set her milkshake down. “Oh, Jaleen. Come 'round here so I can give you a proper hug.” She wrapped her arms around the younger woman running her hands up and down her back as Jaleen allowed herself a short sob.
“I'm okay,” she said, as she pulled out of Natasha’s embrace and took a step back, quickly wiping the tears from her cheeks.
Sensing Jaleen's embarrassment, Natasha searched for a way to change the subject and lighten the mood. She spotted Jaleen's black suede boots.
“Oh my, those are lovely boots.”
A faint smile lit Jaleen's features, and she propped her right foot up on the barstool right next to Natasha. “Yes, they are quite nice. Took nearly a year of saving to buy them, so I don't wear them too much. I thought maybe today they'd cheer me up.”
Natasha reached over and fingered the soft fringes of suede dangling from the cuffs of the boots. “Beautiful. Looks like we might wear the same size.” She paused a moment, then continued, “I used to dream about boots like these when I was a little girl. We didn't have the money then. When I grew up and starting teaching, they just didn't seem practical anymore.” She stood up and patted Jaleen's arm. “You wear them well.”
“Thanks.” Jaleen gestured toward the kitchen. “I'd better get back to work. Football practice is out soon, and I need to get some burgers grilling. Those teenage boys sure can eat a lot.”