Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

We had an impromptu Thanksgiving break last week. Thanks for coming back this week!

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: During a group bowling date, Austin and SarahJane interrupt SarahJane’s brother and Amanda in a kiss. Austin and SarahJane return to their lunch. He tells her that his mother was a child actress with a hit show twenty-five years ago. No one else on the show has recognized her.
Chapter Forty-Two
Linda strode toward us. I searched her features, looking for the young Madeleine I remembered from when I was April’s age and watching Nickelodeon reruns while waiting for Mom to look over my homework.
“It’s confessional time.” She pointed to the side of the bowling alley. A camera and lighting umbrellas were clustered around a chair. “You’re up first. I’ll chat with SarahJane while you talk.”
She tucked her arm through mine and led me toward the soda fountain again. “How are you, SarahJane?”
I smothered a smile. She sounded so sincere, but according to Austin it was all an act. Or mostly anyway. How could I draw the truth from her? I’d always been fairly intuitive, able to guess if a student was cheating by looking at their neighbor’s paper or when April was intent on eating two desserts. “We had a lovely lunch,” I finally said. “Except for – well, never mind.”
“I heard Amanda has switched her attentions from Austin to Nathan. How do you feel about that?”
“News travels fast around here.” I sighed. “I’m not sure how I feel. I don’t like her, but who knows if it’s because of the falseness of this whole thing? If we taught at the same school or worked at the same Gap store or had something else in common besides this stupid show, who knows, maybe we’d be BFFs.”
Linda smiled. “Somehow I doubt it. But it’s a nice thought.”
“You know about all of us, Linda, but I really don’t know you at all,” I said. Maybe I could get a few questions in before it was her turn in the confessional.
The sounds of bowling balls rolling down smooth wood alleys and sending pins flying reached us. I closed the soda fountain doors.
“You know the thing I’m most proud of in all the world,” she said. “My son.”
I had to smile. “He’s special, all right. Where did you guys live when he was growing up?”
“Rancho Cucamonga, which is as much fun to live in as it is to say.” She perched on one of the stools at the counter. “Is there soda in here?”
I pulled a Coke out of the old-fashioned cooler and twisted off the cap before handing it to her. “Did you work?”
She shook her head. “I enjoyed being home and I was blessed to be able to.”
“You never got the urge to do anything different? Go on Real Housewives of Orange County?”
“Reality television is a pretty new thing, comparatively speaking. When I was raising Austin, the only real things on were the news and game shows.”
“My mother went on The Price is Right once. Did you ever do anything like that?” I asked it as casually as I could but kept an eagle eye on her expression.
She grinned. “I tried out for Jeopardy! once but didn’t make the final cut.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. Do you remember any of the questions?” I did a mental eye roll at my inane questions. This was ridiculous. So what if Linda was a former child actress. She was here to help her son find love.
“No, it’s been too long.” She sipped her Coke and looked through the glass doors to the games going on outside. And not just in the alleys. If I stood on my tiptoes and craned my head, I caught a glimpse of Amanda’s backside waving in Nathan’s face as she helped another girl sitting in front of the scoring monitor.
Linda followed my gaze and smiled. “Tonight’s another charm ceremony. We’re whittling you all down.”
I nodded. That’s right. Besides getting to know Austin and Linda and keeping an eye on Nathan and Amanda, I should be worrying about getting a new charm to add to my bracelet. I ran a finger over the smooth trinkets already attached. A volleyball. A horse. A champagne flute. Presumably each one meant something pertinent to that week’s episode, but since I wasn’t invited on all the dates, I had no way of knowing for sure. I could guess that Austin and Cassie and Amanda and a few other girls had gone horseback riding on their group date last week. Actually, I knew they had. Cassie told me all about it. But still, if I were a viewer at home, I’d be able to infer quite a bit from these bracelets.
“Okay, Mom, your turn.” Austin pushed through the doors. “And SarahJane, we’ve been told to get back to bowling. We’ve frittered away enough time talking, now it’s time for some action shots.”
I smiled at his enthusiasm. “We’re coming.”
Linda drained her soda bottle and tossed it into the blue recycling barrel behind the faux soda counter. “Indeed we are.”

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