Just when I thought the pages were getting easier to read…sorry this post isn’t longer. It took me forever to make out the handwriting on these pages.
She smiled and produced a damp rag from her back pocket methodically wiping the slick counter. “I’ve done some running too,” she looked at me her eyes blinking once for confirmation, I met her gaze, willing myself not to look down as she continued, “and finally some settling down. I know what it looks like.” She folded the rag placing it behind her back. “You’ve stumbled into a good place, good people. Don’t bring your troubles – whatever they are, and you’ll be ok here.”
I wondered when I’d become so transparent. If it would be a lingering side effect of trying not to constantly look as if I should be being chased. I wanted to say something, anything in response but words wouldn’t come. Instead I tucked the slip of paper into the pocket of my jeans. Susan patted the top of my hand squeezing it gently.
“You’re going to be just fine. We always are.”
“Thank you Susan.” The words escaped rounded and full. She smiled so easily it seemed impossible to imagine her having to run from anything. She reached into the top of her shirt pulling free another piece of paper dangling it from her fingertips. She gave her wrist a slight twist resting the note in the center of her palm.
“Last bit of meddling I promise,” she extended her hand closer, the back of her palm hovering over my empty plate, “Niko and Stephanie own the cabinet shop a few doors down. They’re looking for some help, I wrote down their number. Go by there tomorrow if you plan on staying awhile. They’re honest, salt of the earth folks.”
I closed the paper in my palm laughing softly under my breath. “What are you an angel?”
She smirked, a look I couldn’t quite pin down running over her face. “No hon far from it, far from it.” She cleared her throat again one hand running over her cropped curls. “Now that’s done. How bout I clear your plate, bring you some cobbler. Eddie always says one bowl of his cobbler promises sweet dreams.”
“Can’t argue with that, plus I feel like if I say thank you one more time I’ll sound like a broken record.”
She laughed. “I don’t need your thank yous hon but tips are always appreciated.” Winking a dark brown eye she disappeared into the back of the restaurant my empty plate in hand.
I looked around at the handful of folks still biding their time at stainless diner tables and cherry red booths. It seemed possible to settle down here. To imagine eating at this diner, sharing local gossip with Susan, hosting spades games at a postcard house with, I glanced at the paper to refresh my memory, Niko and Stephanie and whoever worked at the auto shop and the stationary store down the street. I liked the thought.
Finishing the tea, ice cubes clinking against the glass I imagined sipping a full glass on a porch swing. Imagined being happy without feeling indebted for it.
In the time I’d been sitting at this shiny bar I hadn’t thought about Josh once, not about Essex or the balance. My mind flashed again to Doc with his kaleidoscope eyes and Sara who used to leave Sleepytime tea by my bed at night. I missed them. People who knew me. But I was also excited at the prospect of carving out space in this town, of becoming whoever I might be outside of shouldering responsibilities I never expected to have.
Susan silently reappeared with the cobbler kind enough to leave me with my thoughts. The dessert was perfect, buttery crust soft against ripe fruit slightly firm and satisfyingly sweet. All of it soothingly cooled by an ample scoop of rich vanilla ice cream melting on its side. I scraped the small bowl clean before throwing crumpled bills on the table and standing to stretch, rubbing hands over my full and slightly extended belly.
Susan was nowhere to be found as I got ready to leave. It wasn’t until I was almost at the door that she materialized, leaning on the wall to the left of the doorframe. I opened my mouth. She instantly held up her hand. “No thank you’s remember?”
Grinning I bowed my head shaking it slightly shaking from side to side and took her hand when she offered returning the firm grasp. She leaned back against the door frame again folding her arms easily over her chest. “I’ll see you around. Drop by anytime.”
I looked up at her beautiful face. “I will. Please tell Eddie the food was amazing.”
She rolled her eyes playfully easing me out the door. “He knows girl, he knows. Now go see Liz at the hotel. Get some sleep. Looks like you could use it.”
The hotel was easy to find. The parking lot was small and mostly empty. Inside the walls were washed in beachy blues and sandy beiges more modern than expected from the Victorian-like exterior. Liz sat behind a shiny white Eames claw-foot desk, a tabloid magazine in her hand, bright shiny red hair braided loosely down her back. Hearing me approach she dropped the open magazine against her chest the pages ruffling softly. “So you’re why Susan called in the welcome party.”
I fought a yawn escaping my mouth not sure I had the energy to banter back and forth. Reaching into the desk she dangled from her hand an old fashioned key suspended from a large blue sea glass key chain shaped like a horseshoe.
“Of course. You’re exhausted,” she further extended the key, “you’re in room number 6. Up the stairs third door on your right. I’ll get the other info I need from you tomorrow. Go on, head up. Get some rest.”
I let her drop the key in my hand straightening my meager duffel bag on my shoulder. She noticed her mouth lifting lightly at the corners.
“I’d offer to help with your bag but it looks like you should manage just fine.” She looked me up and down, fingers fiddling with the end of the braid draped over her shoulder. “You’re pretty,” she said as if I should be ashamed to be, “clean”, she continued, “do I even want to know what brings you to our neck of the woods? What would make Sue grease the skids?”
She was excited. I felt she regarded me the same way she did the tabloid stories in her magazine. Curious. Hopeful for a juicy tidbit at the core of the story. I was quiet, key dangling expectantly from my hand. She stared at me for loaded seconds then shook her head as if waking up. “Of course I don’t want to know, not my business to know,” she walked from behind the counter her hand on the back of my neck propelling me towards the steps, “go. Go right up stairs. I promise to try and keep my nose to myself.”
I yawned again sleep becoming harder and harder to carry. She patted my back as I lunged onto the stairs, her voice carrying as I was halfway up. “Remember, third door on the right, call down if you need anything. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”