Well, after an amazing sunday, it was late afternoon, and I mentioned to Bill that I did have chores to do to get ready for work tomorrow. He said he still had stuff to do too, so I walked back to the farmhouse and inside. Well, I actually walked very slowly, and looked carefully where I was going. That rattlesnake really scared me. And, of course, my head started hurting right away once I was in the house. That couldn’t be helped. And I really was thankful it had not hurt for most of the day. Wow, I was thankful I was even alive. I could thank Bill for that… But the pain from my angry head was back now. I just tightened up my pony-tail and got busy. I ran a load of laundry so I would have clean clothes for this next week. Oh, and I took a very quick shower, then changed the sheets on my bed, the couch I slept on. Oh, well. This had been a very different weekend, but I had to work tomorrow. There was no way around that.

I sat outside on the steps to the front porch for a little while, and just thought. In the last 24 hours maybe, I had gone from a predictably, painfully monotonous day to day existance (barely)… I had so many questions now, and I just… Bill was… I wept softly most of that time. When the sun started to bury itself in the horizon, I got up and went inside. I… often sat out here for hours after dark, but after that snake… I wanted to be cautious. Well, I was easily scared now about that. With all the windows open and two fans running, I finally fell asleep.

The next morning, it was like the entire weekend was a distant memory. I woke up with the sun, looked at the clock, got ready, and walked the mile or so to the Diner. Well, I walked a little slower than I usually did, and I looked carefully for any snakes. Besides that, I had a full day ahead of me. I got to the Diner, unlocked the doors, and got to work.

It was a monday, and another stinking hot day, the first official day of summer I think I heard someone say. I absolutely had to keep the fans, windows and shades adjusted, almost constantly, throughout the day. Mondays are usually busy, and this one… We were swamped most of the day… And, of course, my head hurt the whole time. That was normal, though. I didn’t see Bill at all, so I decided I would bring some food home for him. Then the dinner rush hit. I was pushed to my limits most of the day. I was very thankful that most of the locals are so understanding.

Of course, a few salesmorons came through, but I think I am getting pretty good at ignoring them. During the dinner rush, one of them came back. I was swamped, and really didn’t care that it was 30 minutes before I could take his order. But, I did apologize. He answered, loudly “I don’t want any food, just you, Maude.” Well, I could tell he was more than a little drunk. That absolutely didn’t happen here; Edna swore the Diner would NEVER serve alcohol, and I had every intention… And things like this just underscored… But what he said made me angry. Like he could ‘get’ me just because he wanted me? I was patient. I left and came back in a little while, but he said the same thing. I left again. I worked through the dinner rush, and he was still there; he didn’t leave. I walked by and glanced in his direction with a quizzical expression on my face, I guess. He said loudly “I’m waiting for you, Maude. I’m not leaving.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh, yell or cry… I have had to put up with things like this before. I could usually ignore them or say something to clarify that I had no interest in what they had in mind. Usually, though, it was more the subtle “Hey, come with me to my motel”, or something similar; of course I refused that, too. But this guy was loud and obnoxious. This moron couldn’t tell that I was working my tail off just to get everyone served and fed, on a stinking hot day as well. All he cared about was himself, what he wanted. And, I guess he wanted the whole diner to know what, who that was.

While picking up one of the orders, the cook said “just ignore him Maude.” Well, I tried that. He didn’t leave. And when the rest of the locals left… One of the older ladies said quietly “Don’t give in to him, Maude.” I… There was no possibility of that, I was furious.

As politely as I could, I asked him to leave, so I could do the cleaning I needed to do for tomorrow. He said he wasn’t moving, so I had to clean around him. I knew he was sobering up now, but his attitude did not change at all. I said a little forcefully that he had to leave because it was closing time, and I had to lock the door. The cook had already left. I… didn’t want to risk the bathrooms with this guy around, and nobody else here. He begrudgingly got up and went out the front door. I followed him out and locked the front door. He was waiting for me, standing next to the open, passenger side door of his shiny new car. “Get in” he said loudly. It was a demand. I wanted to smack him, but he was bigger than me. He probably could have easily picked me up and thrown me into his car. And that would be the end. I just didn’t want to deal with that.

I took a deep breath, then started walking home on my usual path, around the side of the Diner to the back, then down the long, lone road to the farm-house, now my house. The moron said a few choice words, got in his car, and started it up. I knew what would happen next. He would follow me home. Well, he did that, but drove right next to me the whole way, talking non-stop the whole time. Part of that time, he talked nice to me to try to entice me to come with him. Other times, he was clearly upset, and he even threatened to run me over with his car once. I just kept walking, and said nothing, hoping for no rattlers in my path. I think not answering him at all just made him more angry. The closer I got to my house, the faster I was walking. Of course, I could not outrun his car. I just wanted home. I just wanted away from this jerk. With everything else I was holding inside, this whole thing seemed so blatantly unfair to me… And, when I realized I would have to physically force my way past him, and into my own house, I fought back tears. Now, I really wished I had one of those cell things most other people had, well one that worked well. I would call the sheriff as I walked. This moron would leave quickly.

I started down my long driveway, and was crying softly. Head down, I worked hard to ignore his verbal abuse, and make my way to my front door. I was still unsure how I would get into my own house but keep him out. That just made me cry more, which hurt more. He was laughing at me. He was saying the worst things imaginable about me, that I was a useless nobody. So, he was having trouble getting what he wanted, so he was going to emotionally batter me, rip me apart… It was working… And I knew I was very close to my front porch. I just didn’t know what to do. I saw the stepping stones… Head down… crying… I started to run…

…and ran straight into Bill. Well, I ran straight into Bill’s arms. Just like yesterday, he gently caught me with one of his arms, and pulled me to his chest. Just like yesterday, I grabbed his white t-shirt with my fingers, with both hands, right away, and clutched tightly. I buried my face on his chest, and sobbed loudly as Bill hugged me… tightly… It didn’t hurt…

I think that moron was as suprised by Bill as I was. But Bill was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. And, evidently, Bill had heard the last minute or so of what this moron had said to me. Bill minced no words and spoke sternly without yelling. “Son, didn’t your mom teach you anything? That is no way to treat a lady. Get off this property now, or we will pay a visit to the Sheriff.”

I was crying pretty hard on Bill’s chest. And it didn’t hurt my head at all. And Bill’s pointed rebuke to that vile moron quickly erased everything that moron had tried to crush down on my soul. And I didn’t sense much about what happened after that, except that the moron drove quickly off, and was gone. We stood there for a little while, but it was getting dark, and Bill just about carried me up on the front porch. He wanted to sit down, but I was not about to let go. I couldn’t. He sat carefully down, and I ended up sitting sideways in his lap as I cried. I guess he didn’t mind. I curled up into a little ball, I guess, pulling my knees up close, still burying my face in his chest, and just cried. I couldn’t move away… Bill wrapped both arms around, hugged me tightly, and was soon crying with me.

Something snapped inside. When Bill first caught me as I ran blindly for my porch, I was battered, frightened, surely an emotional mess… In the midst of that, Bill rescued me from certain doom at the hand of that vicious, self-consumed salesmoron, the second rescue in as many days, really. All I could do was cry. But at some point in the next few minutes, maybe when he had me sitting in his lap, in his tight hug… I… Something snapped inside. Edna had died at the end of last November. Since then, for 6 months or so, I was absolutely overwhelmed with just about each day, it seemed. Doing what Edna did, that was just so hard; making customers feel t’home as Edna would say… Doing that along with everything else involved with me even surviving… Add to that being terrified by a very long string of increasingly more harrowing encounters with these vicious piranha salesmorons, who only wanted to take away what nobody could ever give back, and who would surely leave before the next morning, and would probably leave me with… I absolutely couldn’t cry any of that out; my pounding head wouldn’t let me. All I could do was try to push it all away, each looming catastrophy and so many nagging fears… I just had to push each one away. And I couldn’t push them very far… But that had allowed me to continue to function, barely. Like I said, I would increasingly politely take an order, then be on the verge of tears soon after I turned away…

After only a few minutes sitting there in Bill’s lap, in Bill’s hug, with Bill crying softly with me… EVERYTHING I had been pushing valiantly away to an arm’s length… I absolutely could not hold it back… It ALL finally collapsed, blasted down on my shattered soul that night; I couldn’t stop that, I couldn’t hold the avalanche back, not any more… Maybe too many messed up orders on a bruiser hot day like today… Maybe this last salesmoron, coming so close… Maybe being around Bill, I could actually cry… And Bill was actually trying to protect me… Maybe all of these… What I had been trying to shove barely away, it all came crashing down, right then…

…But it was ALL rapidly erased in this man’s embrace… As he hugged me tightly, I cried that all out… Crying was all I could do as all that pain flowed, fell down forcefully, then just… evaporated… I cried loudly for a long time, hours easily, hanging on to the only peace I knew… this man… Bill hugged me tight the whole time, and wept softly with me. I was pretty sure he had absolutely no idea the emotional wounds he was healing inside me as he just held me… cried quietly with me… maybe even for me…

My crying tapered off at one point. Bill asked softly “Maude, can I come to work with you?” I didn’t even look up. I burst into tears again, and cried a bunch more. I think Bill understood that as a ‘yes’. It was. After tonight, I wanted him with me every second… the only man I knew who was fighting to protect me… I never wanted away…

Much later in the evening, I, my crying calmed, and I asked Bill if I could get up. He answered “of course”, and I carefully got up out of his lap, gave him another quick peck on his cheek, then sat down on the porch right next to him. It was quiet for a few minutes.

I wanted this to be funny. “You have this habit of saving my life, Bill.” Except that I burst into tears again after these words jumped out. I cried for a few more minutes as Bill hugged me, then it was quiet again.

“Maude, I think we need each other right now.” Bill said this softly. I would have said forever, but… Well, I really needed Bill, that was for sure. And three days ago, he wasn’t even on the radar, I think I remember someone saying. But I just didn’t want to look back. And, I didn’t ever want to be away from him again. It was quiet, except for the crickets off in the darkness. Bill had his arm around me as I sat next to him. Well, I had just stopped crying. I sighed, audibly. Bill ever so slightly hugged me. I sighed again. In my mind, I was back to realizing that only three days ago, I didn’t even know Bill. Thinking out loud, and without even realizing, I said quietly “I don’t ever want to go back…” Bill just hugged me ever so slightly again. I think we both sighed together after that.

A few minutes later, Bill said quietly “Well, Maude, if I am coming to the Diner with you, I think I need to get rid of this.” He grabbed a clump of his scraggly beard when he said that. I honestly didn’t mind it at all, but Bill had a point. He had already realized that he needed to be presentable at the Diner tomorrow. “Do you know if there is any shaving stuff around here?” he asked again.

I tried to get up and fell back down. Bill got up and helped me stand. “Bill, there is much I can tell you, but come inside, let’s see what we can find.” As we went in the front door, I explained that Ed and Edna were the older couple that used to live here, and that owned the Diner. When Edna died, she just left everything to me. After a pause, I said quietly “You probably know where to look better than I.”

It didn’t take long for Bill to find what he needed in the bathroom next to Ed and Edna’s bedroom. I had just closed the door to Ed and Edna’s (then just Edna’s) bedroom after she died, and I never came back in here, I don’t know. Well, after crying for hours, I needed to use the restroom (I went to the one out front), and left Bill there, with noisy equipment that he clearly knew how to use. Honestly, I wasn’t worried at all, about leaving Bill in there by himself. Right now, he was the only man on the planet that didn’t scare me!

The noisy sounds were still going when I came back into Edna’s bedroom, so I sat on Ed and Edna’s bed and waited. I realized that I had simply made this bed after Edna died, and left it just like it was, too. I just shook my head (which didn’t hurt). But I didn’t know what else to do. It was just me, and so I used what I needed, and left the rest of the house alone, I guess. Well, during the winter, I closed all the doors, and lived in the small living room. That room had the only heater that worked, as far as I knew. That’s why I slept on the couch.

After a while more, the noise stopped. I heard some water running for a little while, then the water stopped too. Bill came out, still drying his face with a hand-towel from the bathroom.

I… gasped loudly… Without the beard, and with his hair trimmed… Oh, my goodness!

Bill looked alarmed “Did I do something wrong?”

I smiled. “No, Bill, you look amazing.” These words spilled out before I even knew it. We both blushed when I said this. But I really meant it.

Bill sighed, then said quietly “It’s your turn, Maude.”

I wasn’t worried at all. Bill had already proven himself to be such a considerate, caring man, such a gentleman. Bill reached out his hand to help me up, then led me back into the bathroom, and promised to clean up the hair scattered all over, in a little while. Bill stood me in front of the sink, stood behind me, took some scissors, and cut the twine out of my pony-tail, and let my long hair fall down over my shoulders. Ordinarily, my head would have hurt so bad from just that, especially after last weekend. But… I was around Bill. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at ALL… Well, Bill had no way of knowing that, but I realized I needed to tell him, probably soon. Still, Bill picked up a hairbrush, probably one of Edna’s, and spent the next… hour or more, just… gently brushing my hair… Four days ago this would have been so unbearably painful, even for just a minute… But now… I… I didn’t want to even move. I just closed my eyes, and relaxed…. It wasn’t excitement I felt. Bill was giving… I was being… cherished… I was being cherished by a man I had only known for three days… That didn’t even matter to me, not any more. This was, this felt so new to me… I was soon weeping softly, and Bill was too. Bill switched hands often with the brush… I am convinced he brushed my hair until he simply could not hold either hand up any more.

Then Bill asked me to keep my eyes closed. I soon felt the cool of a washrag on my face. And after this hot day… Bill gently cleaned my face, even rinsing the rag a few times. That felt absolutely amazing too. Then Bill dried my face with the same hand-towel.

“Maude, open your eyes” Bill said quietly. I did this, and gasped loudly again. Was that me in the mirror? Bill shook his head ever so slightly. “Maude, you are very beautiful.” It was quiet briefly. And I just knew Bill was wrestling within himself after saying what he had said, but he finally said what he was thinking. “Like I said, Maude, you could do much better.” I knew exactly what he was trying to say, where he was going with that thought. And I knew this suspicion would nag at him until I…

I turned quickly around, looked him in the eye, and said resolutely “Probably not…” then stood on my tip-toes a little, and hugged him tightly around his neck. I wasn’t planning on this, but I started crying. Then Bill did. We stood there hugging, crying for a little while.

Bill eased me back a little, then looked into my eyes. I am convinced he almost started crying again. With great difficulty, he asked quietly “Maude, can I need you?”

I knew exactly what he was asking. Eye to eye, I answered softly “Bill, I need you…” and I amost started crying again.

It felt like Bill was shivering ever so slightly. He said this. “Well, Maude, let’s take this slow, but you are far more than I ever thought–” Bill stopped right there, broke down and cried… hard… And I guess for a man to cry like that… I realized I didn’t have any clue what pain he carried… It didn’t matter, I cried with him. I felt the same way, what he just said… Even in my dreams, I didn’t think I could ever find… And, maybe it was Bill’s turn. He barely made it to the edge of Edna’s bed, and sat down. He cried loudly for a while like that. I immediately sat right next to him, put my arm around his back, leaned on his shoulder, and cried buckets with him… It was a while more before we could calm down again, but we finally did.

Bill’s clothes needed washing too. He had more in his car, but his wardrobe was like mine, blue jeans and a white t-shirt. While I waited outside, he changed into some of Ed’s old clothes, taken from the closet in Ed and Edna’s bedroom. I gasped again when he came out; he still looked so handsome, even in Ed’s old things. He looked at me… looked me over, is the phrase I think… Bill said very quietly “Oh, Maude… You are so beautiful…”

It didn’t take long for Bill to clean up the back bathroom, and I sat on the bed as close to him as I could, and just watched. I told him where to find the broom and such. He was thorough, and did a good job. And it didn’t take him forever. While watching him do that simple task, I put together what he would do tomorrow at the Diner. I knew Bill would not just sit and watch. He would die unless he could help. Well, I needed his help. Having him there, just cleaning tables, and washing dishes… That would make my job so much easier. And if that same moron ever came back…

It was still hot inside, so we sat together on the front porch while the laundry was going. Bill had one of his arms around my back on and off. I cherished even that. Little was said, otherwise. Well, Bill said quietly “I know it is summ… summer, but I should really see if I can fix your water heater.” I laughed, and that didn’t hurt. Then I explained that Edna knew something was wrong with the hot water, but didn’t bother getting it fixed. And I had even forgotten it could be fixed. Cold water makes for some quick showers, especially during winter! Well, Bill thought he should see what could be done.

Then it was quiet again. I felt like I was in heaven… And I didn’t even want to leave… And at exactly that thought, I realized that when Bill went to his apartment out back, my head would be throbbing, only to fade to a dull ache when I put some twine back in. I didn’t want any of that… I started crying. And I knew Bill had used the phrase ‘take it slow’, but this…

While crying, and through tears… “Bill, I… Please don’t go out back… I want you in here tonight… I mean not in my bed, but in here with me… in the house… I don’t want… alone…” Even as these words spilled haphazardly out, I realized I wasn’t making a lot of sense. I just kept crying…

Bill was hugging me tightly, and I calmed down quickly. Then I sighed. I don’t think I was worried too much. I thought Bill would know what… Well, during the last three days… “Maude, you will sleep on Ed and Edna’s bed, and I will sleep on your couch. And you will use that back bathroom, and I will use the other one. I fully intend to treat you with respect, and will insist on you having the privacy you deserve.” It was quiet briefly, as I began to cry softly on Bill’s shoulder. Then he added this. “Maude, I want to be in here with you too…” Bill was still thinking. Then he explained, and I know it was hard for him. “Just three days ago, I was ready to drive out into the desert, find the closest rattlesnake, and just… die… But Maude, I really treasure you… It has happened so fast… I want to do everything I can to protect you, to take care of you, any way I can… I mean that.” Bill almost started to cry as he said this, but by the time he was done… He really meant what he said…

Through tears, I said simply “Thank you, Bill…” I think I needed that, needed him, too… We sat outside a little while longer, and I tried to calm down. With Bill right next to me, that was pretty easy. It was mostly dark when we got up and went inside. Bill carefully locked the front door, and even fooled with the “deadbolt” thing. Edna always used it, but I didn’t. Well, after that moron earlier this evening, I was glad that Bill did that. Yet, with Bill even around…

Bill had found some toothbrushes while looking for the stuff for his hair. I guess he knew about this, and he showed me how to brush my teeth, then he brushed his. He left his toothbrush in my bathroom, and I smiled inside when he did that. I have no clue why! I went with Bill as he brought in his load of laundry. The washer and dryer are in a little room facing the back porch. Bill didn’t want me out there alone, and I didn’t want to be in the house alone. We went together. And as we did, I realized that I couldn’t see this preference going away any time soon. I wanted to be around Bill every second, all the time. I was simply overjoyed that he would be coming to the Diner with me tomorrow.

After Bill put his clean clothes in an out of the way place at the end of the couch, we were both, well, just uneasy, I think is a good word. Bill broke this by saying “Maude, let me walk you to the bedroom door, then you can get some sleep. As hard as I saw you working last saturday, you probably need it.” Well, we spent a few minutes at the door just hugging. Well, maybe more than a few minutes. There was nothing questionable going on. It was like we both, all of a sudden woke up, and realized that we desperately needed each other. We just hugged. But I think we both really wanted to, maybe needed to do that. That was peace for me, and I think Bill felt the same way. Still, after a while, Bill said softly “Maude, you need your sleep. Let me know if you need anything.” With both his hands cupped around my shoulders, He gently walked me backwards into the bedroom, kissed my cheek, and closed the bedroom door. Without even turning around, I smiled, closed my eyes, and slowly backed up until I fell on the bed. I curled up right there and was quickly asleep, right where I fell.

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1. Maude: Meanderings is copyright 2017 by Shysage.

 

 

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