Exchange Rate: 1-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 2-Allyson
Exchange Rate: 3-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 4-Allyson
Exchange Rate: 5-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 6-Jeff
1 – Jeff
Maser, Franklin, Waters, & Charles. Jefferson Taylor Charles loved the sound of it. He said it out loud a few more times, each with a different accent or enunciation. He’d finally made full partner, and only seven years after joining the law offices of Maser, Franklin, & Waters. Karina was going to erupt with glee when he told her. Jeff thought about calling her from the car, but he wanted to surprise her.
He watched the glare of lights from the Snake Flats Oasis & Rest grow from a dim glow to the equivalent of a NASA launch pad in less than a minute as he drove south along SR50. “The Rest” was what the locals called it. Karina called it “the eternal eyesore,” since the lights never turned off, never dimmed, and typically had what seemed like a thousand other lights from cars and trucks orbiting it at all hours. Jeff was inclined to agree with Karina’s assessment, but it was incredibly convenient at times to have it anchoring I-84’s eastbound off-ramp. Not to mention he passed by it every night on his way to their new home on the south rim of the Snake River Canyon.
How many times had Karina called after he’d left the office in Borah and needed milk, eggs, even Diet Pepsi? Jeff Charles was a wise man, and a wise man didn’t deny the love of his life a one-liter, ice cold plastic bottle of her favorite soda when she asked for it. Besides, he might be an attorney, but he fancied himself an amateur sociologist, psychologist, and human geographer. The sheer amount of different types of human beings he had ended up in line with at The Rest was infinitely interesting considering that it was located on the Snake River Plain in rural southern Idaho. About as far from real civilization as one could get, according to Karina.
Jeff’s BMW pulled into an empty parking space in front of the convenience store section of The Rest. The party his new partners had thrown for him had left him full of shock, happiness, and triumph. It had also lasted until almost midnight. Karina had been slightly miffed at first because it would be another dinner Jeff wouldn’t get to share with her or Jessica, their nine year old daughter. His little girl was growing up and seeing less and less of her father.
One of the welcoming bits of news from his partners had been that once he worked through his current caseload, he’d be out from under the yoke of staying until after nine or ten P.M. As a partner, he would be assigned a senior attorney, a junior attorney, and two paralegals, as well as his own secretary. They’d do all of the heavy lifting for him. He’d still have to work hard, his new partners had assured him, but as a partner himself, his check-out time from the office would almost always be before six. Most of his day would now be signing papers, negotiating with other lawyers, and making an appearance in court to settle or ask for a continuance.
He might even get to try a case in front of a jury, though there wasn’t much chance of that happening in southern Idaho. Family planning, wills, and estates wasn’t the kind of high-profile legal work that all of the television attorneys dramatized. They were all criminal and personal injury types. Very rarely Jeff would end up with a client that wouldn’t settle out of court, and the case would end up in front of a judge. As a partner, he’d finally be the lead. He’d get all the glory (along with the extra perks and benefits), Jeff’s partners assured him, now that his name would grace the letterheads (and soon, the sign above the door to the building).
Jeff turned the purring sedan off and grabbed his phone. He watched the travelers wander in and out of the convenience store as he waited for Karina to answer.
“Jeff? Where the hell are you? It’s almost midnight,” she scolded without even saying hello.
“I’m sorry honey. I told you the partners wanted me to stay after to talk to me. I didn’t think we’d be this long either,” he answered.
“Did you boys have a stripper and a cake or something?” she joked, her voice feigning anger.
“No, but almost as good,” Jeff said, afraid his grin was so wide that she might see it from the house.
“Are you going to tell me why they had you there this late?”
“When I get home, hon.”
“Don’t want to waste minutes boring me to death over the phone about tax codes or estate laws?
He laughed. “Our phone bill would be astronomical.”
Karina would pretend to snore within twenty seconds of him explaining some loophole or statute that he was working on. Jeff understood. The real work attorneys did was much more mundane than the exciting, often explosive Law & Order plots that she loved. She’d been thoroughly disappointed after learning that Jeff’s area of expertise was as exciting and explosive as watching paint peel.
She’d become even more annoyed when he’d begun criticizing the show while they watched it, explaining how all the motions, procedures, everything about the show other than the fact that the second half of each episode featured lawyers and courtrooms, was overly dramatic, mostly unrealistic, and made a mockery of the real work those of his craft did. Karina had banned him from watching Law & Order with her by the second episode.
“I’m at the eyesore,” he said into the phone. “You want a DP?”
“I love it when you talk dirty to me,” she cooed.
Neither could remember when they’d started calling Diet Pepsi “DP,” but thanks to the prevalence of internet pornography, his friend Chad had informed them what else “DP” meant. Karina had turned red, and Jeff had laughed at both the connotation as well as Karina’s reaction.
The joke had stuck since then, though they made sure to keep from calling it that around Jessica. While other nine year olds might not know what else those two letters meant, neither of them wanted to have to sit down with her principal and her teacher to explain that when Jessica told everyone, “My dad always gives my mom a DP,” it actually meant her father was giving Mom a bottle of soda. Jeff didn’t think he or his wife could even come close to explaining it without dying of embarrassment.
“Love you, “ he said. “See you soon.”
“Love you too. Hurry up. I’m tired. And curious, though I know it will bore me to tears.”
He pressed the End button on the phone, and exited the car. The Rest wasn’t exactly the place to find fine wines, but at midnight, it was the only place open for fifteen miles. As he was reaching for the door to the convenience store area, a girl caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. An African-American teenager leaned up against the far corner of the massive, one-roof complex, smoking a cigarette.
A teenage girl smoking at a truck stop wasn’t abnormal, but a black girl dressed in all black clothes with half of her head shaved, the other half a color that started out pink and turned to red by the ends… that was unusual. A black face of any kind was a rarity in southern Idaho other than Twin Falls, the only decently large city in the entire region. Even in Twin Falls most of the faces were white, with a scattering of brown, mostly from the large Hispanic demographic.
Jeff had roomed with an African-American at Penn State before he went off to law school, and about half of his group of friends at Harvard were black, as well as a good number of many other skin colors, nationalities, and cultures. It was one of the reasons he loved people-watching so much. Growing up, he had led a sheltered life where whites were the overwhelming majority, and Mexicans and other Hispanics were just the people who worked on the farms or cleaned motel rooms.
His parents weren’t racists at all. At least, Jeff had never heard them say anything racially insensitive that he could remember. They’d had the unfortunate luck, or maybe it was desire, to live in Fairfield, Idaho. Fairfield butted up against the southern edge of the Sawtooth National Forest, and was the last bastion of civilization before heading up to Soldier Mountain, one of the most popular ski resorts in the state. Since it was the only incorporated city in Camas County, and with a population of maybe four hundred (during the growing season), there hadn’t been a lot of racial (or cultural) diversity.
He had the overwhelming urge to run over to the girl and ask her a ton of questions. Where was she from? What was she doing in this part of Idaho? How much of a culture shock was it for her? Why did she shave half of her head and dye the other half instead of doing what most African-American females did with their hair? The thing that stopped him was the knowledge that he would be seen as some crazy white guy running at her shouting questions. Even if she were white, the whole “crazy white guy running and shouting questions” would more than likely end up with a sheriff’s deputy questioning him instead.
Jeff stood at the door watching her, letting other customers go ahead of him. She stubbed out her smoke, looked around, then began walking toward the road. He figured she was going to walk down to the bridge that crossed the canyon. Almost everyone that stopped at The Rest ended up walking the quarter mile to the bridge to see what standing four hundred feet above a narrow gouge in the earth looked like. There was a pull-out on the other side of the canyon, but since the only reason to exit the freeway in the middle of nowhere was to get gas, some grub, maybe some smokes, those just passing through enjoyed the walk to get the blood flowing through their legs again.
When she passed out of sight, he went inside and hunted down a bottle of wine. Jeff wasn’t sure what twelve dollar wine should taste like, or if it really tasted any different than three dollar wine (or three hundred dollar wine). He didn’t feel like celebrating making full partner with a twelve-pack of beer. He snatched up a couple of cold DP’s and waited in line. A beautiful woman that looked to be of Middle Eastern descent waited ahead of Jeff, and a long-haul trucker with a thick, white mustache stepped into line behind him.
One thing that he had noticed as a self-proclaimed amateur sociologist was that humans had a compulsion that couldn’t be stopped when it came to glancing back to see who had fallen into line behind them. He’d tried it himself on many occasions, and the curiosity always won out. It was the same for everyone he’d ever stood in line behind as well. When the woman ahead of him realized someone was behind her, she looked back. Jeff greeted her with a smile and a nod. Her dark eyes bore into him for a moment, then she smiled back at him before turning around to step forward.
He wondered if she was surprised that he’d smiled at her. 9/11 had been brutal to anyone who looked Arab or Persian, even Hispanic. Jeff and Karina both would rage to each other about the ignorance of Americans when it came to nonsense like “every Muslim is a terrorist,” along with their nescience when it came to the differences between Arabs (most of the Middle East) and Persians (Iranians). Too many of the idiots he’d met or read comments on the internet from couldn’t even tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese, and Korean persons, and most seemed to take pride in labeling anyone of Hispanic descent a “Mexican.”
The instant the trucker stepped into line behind him, Jeff looked back, unable to stop himself. He gave the trucker a smile and a nod. The trucker smiled back, but nodded toward the woman ahead of Jeff, the smile morphing into a leer and a wink. Jeff decided to be thankful that at least it wasn’t a frown and an automatic condemnation that she probably had a bomb strapped to her chest underneath her clothing. The woman definitely was beautiful, but to Jeff, she was no match for Karina. It also put another mark in his mental notebook of how stereotypes propagate. The long-hauler might not have been a racist or a religious bigot, but like most men Jeff had observed, he sexually objectified women. The trucker verified it as his gaze locked on to the woman’s backside and followed her all the way out the door, his eyes slightly glazed the whole time.
Jeff shook his head, stepped forward to the counter, and paid for his twelve dollar wine, a couple of sodas, and a pack of Marlboros. He always felt guilty about his closet smoking habit, but sometimes he needed the nicotine to calm down, to soothe his mind, and to relax. As Jessica had grown older, they’d given up their habit of smoking marijuana, but he hadn’t been able to cut the cigarettes completely out. That he’d cut down to maybe one or two per day seemed like a good compromise. His first would be during his morning cup of coffee before jumping into the shower, and if he had a second, it would be after Jessie was asleep. Karina always shriveled her nose at the stink, but she didn’t nag him about the habit. It was another reason he loved her more than anything in the world.
Jeff got back in the car, buckled his seat belt, then pulled out of the parking lot and back on to SR50. One of his favorite songs from Led Zepplin was on the radio. He kicked on the high beams, then thumbed the volume control on the steering wheel until Robert and Jimmy drowned out the world as he started down the gentle descent to the canyon and the bridge that crossed it.