Wow, Bill and I were moving slow the next morning… Once we were awake, Bill hugged me tightly, and said “just a few more minutes” and snoozed (he called it) just a little more. He did that a few times! I think we were both still beat from yesterday. But we needed to get up and go back to the Diner and do that again if need be. We finally did. The snake was mostly gone as we made our way carefully to the wagon. Bill said it was probably some other animal’s dinner. Wow, that sounded so gross to me… Bill opened the door for the wagon, stopped, then sighed. He said the wagon needed gas, so we should probably walk after all. Still, we walked slow and kept an eye out for snakes until we were safely inside the Diner. And we made sure to bring our big flashlight for the way home. The lunch rush hit before we even had the AC cooling, and we stayed pretty busy. Nothing like yesterday, but it did feel like a rush. When it slowed some, Bill hugged me close for a few minutes. That felt so nice… And the music weaving softly in the background(2)… at quiet times like this in my man’s hug… I just enjoyed it. We spent those few minutes locked in the office, with chocolate chip cookies this time. Bill likes them too, and the cook had been ordering us a steady supply. Bill laughed and said it is a lot easier to eat a cookie while hugging, than to try and eat some ice cream. Yes it was! Our break was short, and we got back to work.
I actually had to stop and think… Since Bill blazed brightly into my zombie eyed food service worker drudgery, we really had helped a number of people. We got more involved with the locals, and actually jumped in a time or two to help. And also, we had stepped out and helped travelers, visitors… Gas money, paying for overnight lodging at the motel across the street, free meals — more than we have recorded. Maybe our reputation was spreading. Well, Bill and I had only been married less than two months…
That tuesday afternoon, Bill was in the kitchen washing dishes. Midweek afternoons are generally slow, well slower, and I was at the register. A visiting couple had just paid, we chatted briefly, and I watched them head out the door, and climb into their car. Reflecting on what Bill had explained to me once, I was pretty sure they started their car, then left the doors open to make it easier on the AC in their car? Well, we do that every morning for the AC in the Diner. I was still at the register, watching, thinking. Wrenching me back to reality, another car drove dangerously fast into the parking lot. They almost hit those customers, now backing out. The other car roared up to the steps out front that came up to the front door of the Diner, and screeched loudly and abruptly to a stop. A younger woman got out, crying, quietly, as the man in the car was yelling, screaming, swearing at her. The man didn’t even wait for the door to close, and roared noisily off, letting the car door slam shut all by itself. The woman walked in, crying, and sat quickly down in booth 7, next to a front window. She wasn’t sight-seeing. She buried her head on her folded arms on the table in front of her, and just cried.
I had the time, and I knew she needed help. She was about my size, with light brown hair like Bills. I squeezed in next to her. “How can I help you?” I asked quietly. I really meant that.
“Men…” she yelled quietly, but clearly exasperated. “Men… They… All they want… I just wanted help getting across this stinking desert… Why did that mean… He was furious because I wouldn’t let him…” That was all she could say. Then she just cried. It sounded like the man in that car was a salesmoron. That was exactly how they treated me.
“Miss, we will help you any way we can” I said, trying to comfort her. I thought briefly, then asked quietly “Are you hungry?” But I noted that this woman’s voice was a lot like mine. There was too much going on for that to matter. I felt she was hurting a lot.
She worked on calming down, and only slowly looked up at me. The look in her eyes… It so yanked on my heart… inside me… “I… don’t have any money…” she said quietly, her voice reflecting her pain.
I just smiled. “I don’t think that will be a problem. This is my Diner, and I want to help you.” She smiled when I did, and I gave her a hug. I think this helped her calm down. I got up to leave, and hadn’t taken more than one step yet. Bill walked up, hugged me… But when he saw the woman, he was immediately… Well, I think he was trying very hard not to cry.
The young woman that I had just calmed down… She stood up right away, and yelled “No…” then “How did you do that?” She was looking straight at Bill… We all stood there, looking at each other. I took Bills hand, and he squeezed mine tightly right away. I am not sure why, but that made me feel better. The woman, still yelling, now more than quietly, tried to explain. “For over a year… My stupid head… It always hurts a lot, so I have to tie my hair back so it doesn’t hurt quite as much” She looked straight at Bill… “What did you do?” Nobody said anything, so she said it again, maybe a little louder “Please tell me… what… did…” Then she sat down again, put her head back down on her arms on the table and just cried.
I could tell that Bill was still having a lot of problems with this, with this other woman. But he tried… “Miss…” he said quietly.
The woman worked on calming down. “Yes…” she said quietly, but her head was still down on her arms on the table.
Bill continued. “Your head has hurt you brutally until I walked up, and you can only remember from a little over a year ago…”
The woman slowly looked up at Bill as he said this, and her eyes got bigger and bigger. “How…” this was all she could say.
I just gasped… There were unanswered questions about both Bill and my past; we couldn’t remember anything previous, and from exactly the same point in time. And my head also hurt fiercely until my Bill showed up. This woman… The same things fit her too… I should have expected what Bill said next. “Maude… the guest room…”
I just wanted to help this poor woman… She was in the same boat Bill and I were, and she seemed to have been cast off too, and all by herself… For a woman, in this place… “Miss, we want you to come stay with us for a while, tonight anyway. We can help you try to decide what to do. And there are none of those disgusting men around.” I reached over and pulled her chin up with my hand, and looked into her blue eyes. “Please?” I said softly.
“My name is Irene, at least I think… Oh, I don’t know anything…” She said this much, clearly very frustrated. Then her tone softened, and she sounded like a scared little girl. “I think I need some help…” she said quietly, then she leaned over, and began to cry on my shoulder.
I looked over at my Bill, and smiled. He smiled back at me, then said calmly “Maude, you are amazing…” Bill stopped in thought, then added “And, you are right, I think.”
Bill addressed Irene next. “Irene, Maude and I have been married for a little over a month, and we would really like for you to come stay with us. Maybe we can help you. And, it will be safe there.”
Irene looked over at Bill. “Thank you both, you are very kind… Maybe the first…” then she cried some more on my shoulder. I just hugged her tightly. But now, I wanted to cry. I was not sure why. This was, this woman was doing things inside me I just couldn’t understand. But we would help Irene. She needed us.
We explained to Irene that we had to get back to work. I also pleaded with her to not leave. She answered very simply. “You are the first people I have met that actually want to help me. I’m not leaving until I know where I need to go.” I don’t know why, but I hugged her again for a little while, and that made me feel like crying, again.
Bill and I got back to work. Working together, we were quickly caught back up, and glided through the dinner rush. I think I was realizing having cooler air in the Diner, it really helped Bill and I get more things done. I could thank my Bill for that. And we always seemed to work so well together, anyway. When the last customer left, we started cleaning. Well, Bill started cleaning, and Irene said she wanted to help. Wow, they don’t make girls like that any more! Bill showed her about washing the tables then putting the chairs up. She had that done efficiently, and did a good job too. Bill had her mop the floors while he did the bathrooms. I just followed Bill around. My end of the day chores did not take very long. With Irene helping Bill clean, we were soon walking home. The sun was still up. Bill hugged me tightly as we walked, just like we always do. I expected nothing less. Helping Irene was something Bill and I were doing together.
It was really quiet until maybe half way home. Bill was deep in thought, I knew that much. I wasn’t worried. Still, Bill explained quietly “Irene, Maude and I, we really do want to help you. And this world is just not safe for younger girls…”
“Oh, my goodness yes…” I added quietly. Irene agreed, I think, and seemed to have to work hard to avoid crying just then.
Bill kept going. “But, I think you need to know… And this really needs to be kept among just us…” Well, now I knew what was coming, what Bill had been thinking about. And, I guess there was no reason not to tell Irene this. Bill did. “Maude and I, we could only remember back to the same point in time that you can. And, when I first met Maude, her head hurt fiercely up until the day I wandered in for my last burger…” Bill had to stop there. I hugged him tightly. We had both come so close to…
“Then… You both… Whatever it was, you both…” Irene got this much out and just stood there, crying. Well, we were all quickly crying together… None of us knew… The three of us hugged together, and cried softly for a little while, then we tried to finish our walk home. Nothing more was said. And walking up the steps; there was little left of the snake Bill had killed. Even the blood was mostly gone… Yuck…
Bill let us all in. It was a hot day, and so it was hot inside, but we got some fans going. The guestroom had not been used since, I don’t know… The bed had clean sheets and such, as far as we could tell. And, I found out it also had it’s own bathroom, just like Delores’ guestroom. Bill excused himself as Irene and I… She knew about brushing her teeth, and we found what we needed for that. She detested the clothing she was wearing, so I offered her one of my clean jeans and dark blue ‘the Diner’ t-shirts. Then she took a shower. She didn’t need any help for that. I closed the door to the guestroom, and walked out.
Bill was sitting on our bed. I jumped in his lap, and we hugged tightly right away. Bill started crying. “What’s wrong, honey…” I asked lovingly.
“I was hoping for swing time tonight with you… It will start getting cold soon, and I just don’t know…” Bill wasn’t whining, but I sensed his need. I had other plans, but still.
I replied honestly. “Well, there is always our rocking chair. But, I think some time out on the porch just relaxing together might be helpful to Irene. I sense she is pretty hurt.” I just was not sure how I knew that last part. Well, again, helping Irene was something Bill and I were doing together. I got up, took his hand, and led him out to the living room, to the front door. We turned the porch light on to check for snakes, and just left it on. I sat on the swing, and Bill brought out another chair for Irene to sit in. While he was doing that, Irene came out, and sat on the swing next to me. I would rather… Except that Irene was quickly crying buckets on my shoulder. She cried that way for a long time. And, the longer she cried, the more I cried. I… Like I said, this whole thing was doing something inside me that I couldn’t understand. I just cried with her. Bill was soon crying quietly too, and joined us on the swing. The only space was next to Irene, so Bill sat there. His arm was around Irene, but his hand was on my shoulder, and he gently rubbed my shoulder the whole time. I really appreciated that.
We all calmed down at around the same time. Irene apologized, and got up and sat in the chair Bill had brought out for her. Bill moved immediately right next to me. I think I needed that. He hugged me close, tightly. I knew I needed that too…
I was in thought this time. “Irene, we would really like you to stay here for a while. We can’t force you, but still. We want to help you. We have to work at the Diner the rest of the week. You are welcome to come with us, and I guess we would prefer that. The rattle-snakes around here can be deadly, and we found one on the front porch earlier this week.”
Irene sounded pretty needy still, and said honestly “I think I can find my way… I would really like to get caught up on my sleep. Telling you my horror stories wouldn’t…” That was all she could say. She cried briefly, then tried to calm down. Then she said “Let’s do this. Let me sleep in, then come to the Diner once I wake up. I think… I feel like I just need a break…”
“Dear, that’s fine” I said quietly. It sounded awkward to say that, but it was how I felt. “Sleep as long as you want, but come to the Diner at some point, and we will feed you. Then please wait for us, and walk home with us after we are done. Is that ok?”
Irene smiled, and that gave me fits. “Thank you both. I think I really need this… need you… both…” she said quietly. Then she got up, gave us both a hug, and walked into the house, into the guestroom, and closed the door.
“I… Can you sit in my lap?” Bill asked sounding so vulnerable. I guessed that this was hard for him too. He started crying softly right away. I asked Bill if being a true friend was ever hard. He just cried more, and hugged, well he was clinging to me like his life depended on it. I hugged him back.
After a while we got up, went inside the house, locked the front door, then headed into our room. I left Bill sitting on the bed while I went into the bathroom and got ready. I was hoping for that. I came out with my hair down, and with nothing on except my cute short lady shorts that he likes so much. We cherished each other that night. I will explain that later. But I think we both needed that too.
The rest of that week, everything went basically like we planned. We headed to the Diner at our normal time. We walked so as to avoid worrying about gas, or trying to fit the three of us in the front seat of the wagon on the way home. That would have been tight. Irene usually wandered in after the lunch rush, and just hung out. She ate but was pretty careful what she ate. But at least she was eating. That was good. And she always helped Bill with the end of day cleaning, and did a good job, too. Irene was clearly a hard worker. And it seemed to me she was calming down with each passing day. That was very good.
Still… the three of us… We just didn’t know…
1. Maude: Revelations is copyright 2017 by Shysage.
2. “Angelic” from the “Exodus” CD copyright by Andy Hunter.