The Starstruck Pizza was founded on a singular claim to fame. Silver Screen legend Shiny Clemens had eaten there once and left a signed portrait behind. Before that, it had been Pizza Heaven. But after Shiny’s visit, the owners took the advice of a local politician and changed the name. It didn’t help flagging business. Now, Starstruck was a far cry from the bright, happy place it had hoped to be. The tabletops were peeling, the floor was beyond the powers of a mop, and the lighting had all the energy of Shiny himself.
Shiny had been dead for eight years.
Jemma came by with the mail, offering a warm smile and pretending not to notice the stale smell that permanently clung to the walls.
“Hey, Hank! How’s business?” It was her usual greeting and she was clearly expecting the usual response.
Instead, Hank nodded to the farthest table from the register.
Jemma’s eyes followed the nod, then widened, “Is that…?” She couldn’t manage the words.
“Mmmmm. Shiny’s daughter.”
“I thought she disappeared? All that talk about her killing her father.”
Hank nodded again, “Well sure and people will talk. There were a dozen different rumours and not a one of them with a lick of fact.”
Chagrin twisted Jemma’s smile a bit, “I’ll admit it. I’m a gossip hound. She doesn’t look so good. She order anything?”
“Nope. Asked if she could just sit a spell. Right by her Daddy’s photo.”
The rest of her route faded from Jemma’s mind as she stared. Shiny’s daughter was lovely, but worn. She had her father’s look, run through the grater of life. Not quite haggard, but not far off, either. All the stories swirled in Jemma’s imagination and she let a pang of guilt linger. If the woman noticed them watching, she wasn’t reacting. Jemma ached to go to her. Talk. Sit quietly. Offer comfort. And yes, gently nudge for the True Story behind all the whispers.
Hank tsked softly, “Nope. You leave her be. This is the last chance she’ll have to sit there, where her Daddy enjoyed a good meal and laughed with his friends. I’m shuttin’ down next week.”
Jemma started to protest, but saw the same worn expression in Hank’s eyes. This was a place of tired people and tired people deserved their peace. She nodded and leaned over on a whim to kiss his paper-thin weathered cheek, “I’ll miss you.”
He grinned, crooked and mercurial, “I’d say the same, but I’ve got my eye on a cabin in the hills, far away from people. Might see ya when I swing into town for supplies, though. Be good, Miss Jemma. Don’t feed your soul on too many rumours.”