Waking up, John could feel the slight pressure of a quilt pressing down on his body. He looked at the cloth draped over his body, and saw that it was covered with images of starlit cities, exotic animals, and vast landscapes. John pulled the quilt from his body gingerly and turned to sit on the couch.
"Finally, you're awake," Lissie spoke from the kitchen.
"What time is it?" he asked.
Lissie peeked her head out of the kitchen.
"Look at the clock." she said.
"It's broken," Lissie replied. "The time is really eight."
"Do you always do that to your houseguests?"
"You're the only guest I've ever had."
"Oh," John responded. "Really?"
"Yeah. As you can probably tell, I'm not exactly the most social person."
John stood up from the couch and walked to the kitchen.
"I guess I should be heading back to Bill's house." John spoke. "He's probably wondering where I am."
"I'm sure he's figured out by now. Now, do you take your coffee black?"
"I thought you could read my mind," John replied.
"Decaf, right?" Lissie asked.
"So, John, do you have a guitar, or am I going to have to loan you mine?"
"Well, just the other day, I bought a guitar from Mark Douglas."
"Is it in good shape? Instruments don't fair too well in this salty air."
"It's actually in pretty good condition. There are a few nicks and scratches, and I had to replace the strings. It's playable."
"Why don't you bring it over to the restaurant? I'll meet you there."
"Sounds like a plan."
Walking to the restaurant from Bill Hodge's home, John had a great deal of time to think about his predicament. According to Bill, Dave Bruner's winch could take a week to fix. John's truck would take even longer to repair. It really all depended on what was wrong with it. He guessed that it would be over two weeks before he could get back on the road.
His thoughts were drawn to Lissie. Rather than redirecting his mind towards the broken truck, he let it think about the girl. She appeared desperate to get out of Salton. "Of course she is," he thought, "she used to live in New York City, and Salton has just a few hundred people." He reflected on the excitement she displayed just at the mention of the words "Los Angeles." Was she really that sick of this small town? Before he was able to delve deep into this question, he reached the restaurant.
Lissie looked up from her chair by the stage to see John entering a weathered guitar case.
"Good! Now we can jam!" she exclaimed.
John smiled, placed the case on the stage, and began to undue the latches. As he pulled the lid up, Lissie peered in.
"Like what you see?" John asked.
"Yeah. I mean, it's a gorgeous instrument, but you can't judge a guitar by appearance. Let me play it."
John complied, and Lissie pulled the strap over her shoulder. She strummed a few notes of her own compositions. The notes, though soft, filled the room. After only a minute, Lissie handed the instrument back to John.
"It's a damn fine guitar. I'll give you ten dollars for it."
"Give me a new truck and I'll consider it."
"You drive a hard bargain don't you?"
Before John had a chance to reply, Lissie removed her own guitar from its case.
"You wanna jam?" John asked.
The two spent some time accompanying each other. Occasionally, Lissie's voice would carry above the sound of the two guitars and fade away, almost as quickly as it had risen. Unbeknownst to the two musicians, a man had slipped into the restaurant. The man watched for some time, and waited for a lull in the music before speaking.
"John!" the man spoke, "You never told me you were a musician."
Both Lissie and John looked towards the door to see Bill grinning from ear to ear.
"He's great at it too." Lissie replied.
"Is that true, John?"
"I can play a little bit."
Lissie whispered to John. "Don't be ashamed of your talent."
She turned towards Bill and loudly proclaimed "John and I are going to go to Hollywood and hit it big. We're gonna get famous and play in Carnegie Hall. Isn't that right, John?"
"That's right, Lissie!" replied John enthusiastically.
"Anyway, Bill, what brought you here?"
"Martha told me she wanted my help tasting her chili recipe, but I managed to escape."
"Ah," the girl replied. "So do you want a cup a coffee, something to eat?
"No, thank you. I think I'd rather just listen to you two play."
Lissie smiled and said "Should we give the man what he wants?"
"Sure," John replied.
The two quickly returned to their playing. The room was once again filled with the sound of soft melodies. Bill sat quietly at a table near the stage, listening contently. The duo's music slowly faded after some time and John and Lissie smiled at each other.
"We're gonna hit it big."
"First, though," John replied, "I need to get my truck repaired."
Bill stood up from his table and said goodbye to the two musicians.
"I guess I'll see you at the cook-off?" Lissie asked.
"Of course. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Tell Martha to not get her hopes up."
Bill smiled and said "Goodbye, Lissie."
As he walked out of the restaurant, Lissie turned to John and spoke to him.
"You know the chili contest is tomorrow. I've already got the recipe prepared, but I want you to be the first to taste it. It won't take very long to cook."
"I'd be happy to try some," John responded.
Lissie walked into the kitchen and remained there for some time. Sitting in his chair patiently, his thoughts were once again drawn towards the girl in the kitchen. The music they had played removed any worry from his mind. Now that the music had faded away, he began to worry about the weeks ahead. He knew that Lissie and he would be driving to Los Angeles within weeks. This was a given. Her excitement at the prospects of going to the city had persuaded John to change his position on this matter. He had yet to tell Lissie of his change of heart.
As he considered this situation, she walked from the kitchen carrying a large silver pot. Steam rose form the container and John could smell the rich aroma of chili. She placed the pot and a bowl on the table. Taking spoonfuls from the pot, she was able to quickly fill his bowl. The vessel was hot to the touch. John held the bowl to his lips and blew.
Once the chili had cooled enough, John took his first bite of Lissie's recipe. Putting a spoonful in his mouth, he could easily tell why her recipe had won the contest so many times. The balance of ingredients, the spices, and the heartiness all contributed to a chili dish that, in John's mind, was the greatest thing he had ever tasted. He finished off the chili in his bowl and set the container back on the table.
Lissie asked, "Is it good?"
"Is it good?" John replied. "It's the greatest thing I've ever tasted."
"I knew you would say that."
Lissie looked at her watch and saw that it was nearing evening.
"We sure played for a long time, didn't we?"
John nodded in agreement.
"I think it's time for me to get back to the Hodge house. I don't think they want me missing another night."
Lissie studied the look on his face as he said this.
"You're warming up to the Hodges aren't you?"
"They remind me of my grandparents."
"No, that's not it. There's something else but I can't quite place my finger on it."
John looked furtively at Lissie. She had figured something out about the relationship between him and the Hodges that he had yet to discover.
"Well, anyway," John said, "I guess I'll see you at the cook-off tomorrow."
Lissie requested that she walk back with John.
"Sure." he replied.