The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 8, 2010

Chapter One


_ — Editor’s note: This is the introductory chapter of a serialized novel, “As a Small Town Turns,” which will appear in Lifestyles every Sunday until the staff decides it’s time to call it quits. Successive chapters will be written by our readers.

No one had ever told her how hard it could be being a single mother of two kids under the age of 4.

A long-haul truck driver who looked like a young Elvis promised her a Viva Las Vegas ride, but the hunka-hunka burnin’ love was no Teddy Bear.

After the youngest one, little Roxanne Marie, was born she learned the marriage wasn’t even legal. He had at least two other wives out there in Podunk America, and no telling how many kids.

Hope he chokes on a peanut butter and banana sandwich. But pray he pulls off the road before he croaks. No use ruining some other folks’ lives.

Rock Roddenheimer had been bad news, all right. But was it any wonder she fell for someone who looked like Elvis? Her mom, who grew up in the 1960s, is still one who travels to Memphis for the annual Graceland grave vigil.

Growing up, her mom had a gold-framed 8-by-10 glossy of Elvis on her dressing table. She figured it was an unconscious thing when she first locked eyes with Rock at the truck stop where she was waiting tables.

It was like one of those destiny deals. She’d already been looking into those eyes for 21 years.

The photo of Elvis had been the only male presence in the house when Dad went off to Desert Storm.

She’d split after Rock left on a haul to Jackson, snatching up the sofa cushions and the TV remote on her way out, knowing where to hurt him most. Now that she was back living at home with the two kids, she wished her mom could part with the Elvis photo because little Roxanne Marie kept patting the glass and saying “Da-da.”

So here she was, Raquel Traubenkraut Roddenheimer, 25, working an eight-hour shift five days a week waiting tables, coming home too tired to even play with the kids let alone have any kind of social life.

When her dad urged her to go with him to the first Saturday morning Coffee Call at the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives, it was like big whoopy deal. But she figured, what the heck, it’s free.

Gee, how do you dress for Coffee Call? She rummaged in her dresser drawer and came up with a pair of light gray leggings and pulled them on. Next, she slipped a maroon oversize Alabama T-shirt over her head and tied up her tennis shoes.

She’d let her naturally curly hair air dry and brushed the unruly mass atop her head, securing it with a rubber band. She didn’t apply lipstick or her usual foundation to hide the sprinkle of freckles across her nose. For a natural blond, she had unusually dark brows and lashes, so she rarely bothered with eye makeup.

War stories were generally not her thing, but she drank orange juice and nibbled a sausage biscuit, then got up and wandered around the museum looking at the exhibits. The Victory Garden kitchen was her favorite. Her grandmother used to tell her about some of this stuff like a meat grinder that housewives used in the olden days before they had food processors.

She wandered back to the meeting room to see if her dad was ready to go home. Blocking the entrance was a pair of shoulders as wide as Aunt Lucille’s hips after six kids, near to busting the seams on his desert camo.

“Please excuse me,” she murmured, sidling around the massive warrior.

She glanced up into a pair of penetrating black eyes and quickly dropped her gaze to his lantern jaw and cleft chin, darkened by a five-o’clock shadow. His high-and-tight had just begun to grow out.

“No, excuse me,” the giant rumbled, revealing even white teeth above a full lower lip.

She decided to have another glass of orange juice.

“Who’s that guy, Daddy?” she asked.

“Buck Welch,” her father answered. “Just home from Iraq.”