“Because,” Gwen said, “I need something greasy to soak up all the norepinephrine.”

“The what?”

“My nerves are shot. Time to eat.”

“It’s . . . getting late,” Isobel protested. “My parents are probably wondering where I am. Dad especially.”

“Send him a text. Ask him if he wants something.” Gwen swiveled the Cadillac behind a minivan already idling next to the freestanding back-lit menu. “Tell him I see they’ve got something called a Classic Melt and it made me think of him.”

“Gwen, please. I have to play by his rules until Baltimore. You know that.”

“I’m thinking onion rings and an iced tea,” she said. “What about you?”

Isobel sank into her seat again. She shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”

“What’s that?” Gwen hooked a hand around one ear in a “didn’t quite hear you” gesture. “Fries and a milkshake?” she asked. “Very Sandra Dee of you.”

Isobel started to argue, but the car in front of them pulled ahead and Gwen pressed down on the gas pedal. They jerked forward to the intercom. Switching off the heat, Gwen cranked down the window, hung an elbow out the door, and leaned into the cold.

“Welcome to Mighty Burger,” a jaded male voice broke through the speaker. “Would you like to try one of our Mighty combo meals, or perhaps our two-for-two Mighty drink special?”


Gwen’s breath puffed out in small bursts of white as she spoke. “You know,” she said, “I can almost hear the little TM implied after every time you say the word ‘Mighty.’ You’ve got great inflection.”


“Uh, yeah, can I get a large onion rings, large fries, large chocolate milkshake, and a large unsweet—that’s no sugar—as in I come back and challenge you to a plastic fork duel if I even think I taste a hint of sugar—iced tea?”

There was a pause before the monotone voice returned through a crackle of static. “So I’ve got a large Mighty onion rings, one large Mighty fries, a large Mighty chocolate shake, and a large Mighty extra unsweet iced tea. Will that be all?”

“Now he’s trying to get on my nerves,” Gwen muttered under her breath. “Yeah,” she barked at the speaker, “that’s all.”

“That’ll be nine sixty. Please pull through to the second window.”

Gwen eased off the brake, allowing the Cadillac to glide past the first window to the next.

“Tea was never meant to be sweetened,” she said, more to herself, it seemed, than to Isobel. Reaching into her patchwork purse, she scrounged before pulling out a ten. “Soon as you cross the Mason-Dixon it’s like everything turns into molasses and corn syrup.” She smacked her lips. “I can feel myself getting a cavity just thinking about it.”

Beside them, the drive-through window squealed as it swung open. A greasy-haired guy in a blue apron and white envelope hat handed Gwen their drinks in exchange for the ten. Ducking inside for change, he pulled the window shut again.

Isobel took the foam cup and straw that Gwen thrust her way, while Gwen slid her own into the holder next to her. With hurried and nervous fingers, Gwen ripped the paper free from the straw, jabbed it through the plastic lid, and leaned down to suck in a gulp.

As though tasting for poison, she swished the liquid back and forth in her mouth. Then, with a satisfied nod, she swallowed.

“Good man,” she said. “Mighty man.”

A moment later the drive-through window opened again. Grabbing the grease-stained bag, Gwen tossed it into Isobel’s lap. Then she stuffed her change into her purse, rolled her window up, and pulled out of line.

“And you had better drink that shake,” Gwen said. “You’re starting to look a little waifish.”

She steered the Cadillac toward one of the parking lot’s tall lampposts and slid into a slot just underneath the wide circle of light.

“Wait,” Isobel said, “why are we parking?”

“Because, talented as I am, I can’t shift and stuff my face at the same time.” She pointed at the milkshake. “That’s not going to drink itself.”

“I told you, I’m not—”

“Straw in cup. Now.”

Taking in the strained, almost panicked expression on Gwen’s face, Isobel bit back her objections. She slid the straw from its paper sheath and, after shoving it through the plastic lid of her shake, forced herself to take a sip. After a few attempts to suck the cement-thick substance through the straw, the creamy liquid finally made contact with her tongue. Though the coldness of the drink made her shudder, Isobel had to admit it did taste good.

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