Chapter Three ~
Jim pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot and everybody got out and headed to the take-out window.
Ethel materialized instantly and Faith said, "Ethel, how are you? I'm glad to see the tornado didn't get you."
"How about you, did it miss your Daddy's farm? I heard it was coming down your way."
"It got the farm," Faith said with a catch of emotion in her voice. "But Daddy's here with me." She gestured behind her.
"I'm so sorry, Arnold," Ethel cried as the older man walked up behind his daughter.
"I am too. It wouldn't matter so much if it wasn't for losing all of Bette's stuff. Now all I've got are memories, and they're fading fast."
"You let me know if there's anything I can do for you, you hear?"
Arnold nodded in obedience, not even daring to disagree.
Ethel’s attention settled on Jim. "Well hello handsome. I should've known you'd be in these parts today. Will it be the usual for you?" She gave a hearty grin.
"Not today Ethel, just throw me on a burger and fries. No onions, pickles or mustard," He ordered with a return grin. "How's the other half?"
"He went into town this morning to get a haircut. He quit drinking Jim," She said, her voice full of enthusiasm.
"That's great Ethel, How long's he been straight?"
"It’s been almost two months now. It's like my honeymoon all over again. I have the man I married back and I thank the Lord with everything in me. Nothing else could've made me happier." Her smile brightened her wrinkled face.
"How'd you two meet up?" Ethel asked with a mischievous grin as she pointed with her eyes toward Faith.
"I was coming down the road when the twister took her house. I came upon them right after it happened."
"That's a great gal there, Jim. You oughta try your luck." She guffawed.
Faith reddened and replied, "Now Ethel, you know better than to try to match-make for me. You remember what happened with Jimmy Johnson..."
Ethel laughed again and said with meaning, "Jim Anderson is no Jimmy Johnson."
"You got that right," Arnold cut in. That was one rascally little boy."
"Who is he?" Jim asked just as the rest of his crew pulled up in their vehicles.
"He was the star quarterback, and he had a massive crush on me. He was also the town flirt. He was with every girl in our class but me," She said.
"Oh, surely you jest?" Jim gave a skeptical look.
"Nope, there were only five girls in our class." She joined in the laughter. "I was actually saved by Ethel's matchmaking. If she hadn't tried to set me up with him I might've been tricked like all the other girls, but because she wanted me to go out with him I didn't want anything to do with him. See, I was right to turn away from her matchmaking ways." She giggled.
"Ethel, could you fix me a bowl of that potato soup you make? Maybe you could throw in some biscuits, too?" Arnold asked.
"I sure can Sweetie, and it's on the house." As soon as the words were out she gasped in embarrassment. "I am so sorry, there truly was no pun intended."
"None taken Ethel, I know what you meant." He shrugged and turned away.
"I think I'll have a pizza burger and an order of fries," Faith said. She turned to Jenny who had just walked up behind her and asked, "What’re you having?"
"I think I'll have a cheeseburger, fries, and a Mountain Dew.”
"What's a pizza burger?" Jim asked, giving her a questioning look.
"Yeah, I never heard of that," Alex said as he walked up and laid a casual arm over Faith's shoulder.
Faith shrugged roughly to get his arm off and Jim said sharply, "Alex that's enough. I'll thank you not to put your hands on the lady."
"Well okay, I won't then. I didn't mean anything by it." He gave a smug smile.
"Son, you should know you don't put your hands on a man's daughter without her giving you permission," Arnold told him as he took a step toward the younger man.
"Wow you guys are just silly. I said I didn't mean anything by it. I won't do it again."
Bobby stepped up and said, "Do you have Pork Barbecue, Ethel?"
"I sure do, son. Do you want it with relish, or without?"
John and Vince walked up to the counter next and ordered their meals. The sky was going green again. Jim gave Jenny the look that said, 'go check the radar.' He hated to be rude, but knew he'd have to hurry and drop Faith and her dad off if they were gonna see any action that evening. "Hurry and eat crew, the sky's lookin' like it wants to chat." He grabbed the bag Ethel handed him through the window of the building and walked over to a scarred wooden picnic table and sat down. They would have to hurry so they could get in front of this storm system. The Cumulonimbus clouds were abundant overhead and lightning was flashing in the distance.
Everyone else got their food and ate, and less than thirty minutes later they were back on the road, heading out of the small town called Axton.
"Your job must be exciting," Faith said into the quiet of the SUV.
"It's exciting sometimes, sometimes not so much. You have to sit around and wait on the storm systems to develop before you know which way to go. Other times you find you've gone the wrong way and missed the storm totally. There's also those times when you get too close and debris hits the vehicles, or you're in so much rain or hail you can't see a foot in front of you."
"It still sounds exciting to me. I'm gonna do it someday," She told him for the second time that day.
"Maybe there's a way for you to chase and still get paid by your work. It's possible if you suggest being a meteorological spotter, or offer to help complete some ground-breaking research, they'll finance your adventures."
"I doubt that'll happen. My sister is my immediate boss and she holds tight purse strings." She gave him a wry smile. "She's a great meteorologist though, and she's taught me a lot of what I know."
"Why isn't she here with you?"
"She's the head meteorologist at the station so she had to stay and give out warnings and talk to the public.”
They were coming into the city proper now. There were businesses, apartment buildings and skyscrapers passing by in a blur. Jim was driving fast and Faith figured there must be a tornado near. He kept pulling his phone up and looking at it, but all Faith could see was a red blur before he'd lay it back in his lap.
"Is there a tornado close?" The meteorologist in her was excited by the prospect while the human in her felt sympathy for the ones who would lose homes, and even their lives because of it.
All the sudden Bobby's voice came through the radio, "Boss, there's an enormous mile-wide wedge on the ground two miles south of our position," He yelled.
"I still have to drop Faith and her father off at the station. We're almost there now so you guys go on to the storm and I'll meet you there.
"I'm sorry we're keeping you from your job. We really appreciate you giving us a lift today. It was nice to meet you, too. I've been watching your show ever since it's been on the air," She told him as he pulled into the parking lot of the TV station.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, too. Would I seem too forward if I asked for your phone number?"
"I don’t think so.” She grabbed a pad off the seat, scribbled her number and said, "Thanks again. I'm glad you were there." She got out and followed her Dad into the station.