Gary writes “Grit Fiction,” because life isn’t always smooth. His stories are characterized by wit, wordplay, and plot twists that will leave the reader guessing.

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Arby’s

Just a short drive from the historical O.C. Stonestreet Column in Statesville, NC, the Arby’s at 255 1826 East Broad Street was exactly where I headed when I looked up at the grand clock and saw it read “Dinnertime.” I had a real “hankerin'” as they say in those parts, for a Buttermilk Buffalo Chicken sandwich and Jamocha milkshake, before I drove back up Interstate 40. I pulled into the parking lot nearly salivating for the fresh and delicious fare that Arby’s always delivers. It was impossible to notice, on this evening, a large brightly colored hobby horse in the parking lot nearest the entrance. The oddity slipped my mind quickly, as I passed beneath the red awnings that endear me to Arby’s, and headed for the brightly lit menu marquee and smiling service personnel. They were quick, polite, and very persuasive, which is why my tray had an order of piping hot Jalapeno Poppers that I hadn’t even thought of, and whipped cream atop a shake two sizes larger than I’d planned on. I stopped mid-slurp when I looked at the table across from me, more specifically, the man who sat at it, enjoying an order of golden brown crispy curls. He, too, was impossible to miss, with a bright red Western shirt, and an undersized plastic cowboy hat atop his head, secured by a strap. I knew I was looking at the owner of the horse I’d seen outside. What was his story, I wondered, as I enjoyed my dinner, which had just the right amount of heat, and just the right amount of spice. The man was weathered, short in stature, and apparently, alone. I would have slid my tray next to his and asked to join him, but the enraptured look on his face each time he took a bite of those delicious curly fries dissuaded me from interrupting him. My mind concocted a billion stories about the cowboy sitting inside Arby’s that night, and I hadn’t settled on one, even by the time I’d finished the last sip of my refreshingly icy and creamy chocolate/coffee concoction. Who ever dreamt up Jamocha, I wondered, taking one last look at the man in the red plastic cowboy hat and matching shirt. Bless him. I thanked the Arby’s team, and rang the bell in appreciation as I left. When I passed the toy horse, I paused. I couldn’t leave without knowing the man’s story, so I waited for him. I checked my texts and emails on my phone, and signed up at www.arbys.com, because, as their site says, “Everyone Likes Deals.” The man still hadn’t approached the horse, so I looked inside. He and his tray were gone. I turned around just as a Race Red Ford Mustang GT roared around from the back side of the building. It paused for a moment, and the driver’s window rolled down. I saw the grinning face of the old cowboy gawking at me. “You ain’t gonna get far on that there horse, Pardner,” he crowed. The ‘Stang roared off onto Broad Street, the man’s laughs echoing, me standing befuddled in the glare of an enormous red cowboy hat sign.