I stopped at the front desk on my way out, the woman with the painfully tight bun back at the counter, busily flipping through a stack of papers. When I let her know I’d be leaving earlier than I’d planned she appeared genuinely concerned as she said, “Oh no! I hope everything was to your satisfaction.”
She promptly pulled up my final bill on her computer as I replied shortly, “Yes, thanks. Something came up and I just need to go.” I signed the paper she laid on the counter and had turned away by the time she had printed my copy.
“Ma’am, your receipt,” she called after me.
Glancing back I could see I had offended her in my haste. I sighed, frustrated with myself. None of this was her fault. Returning to the desk I apologized, “I’m sorry for being so rude. Something urgent has come up and I’m not thinking clearly.” I pasted a smile on my face and added, “Thank you.” I took the page from her and forced myself to walk instead of running out of the lobby.
I threw my backpack on the front passenger’s seat as I slid behind the wheel. I felt some relief just being in my car, but I still had no destination planned. As anxious as I was to get away, I knew I should stop at the diner. Not only would I be able to get a hot meal but I could look at a map and pick a direction at least.
The clock on the dash read 5:42. Would the restaurant even be open this early?
After exiting the hotel parking lot, I cut through the gas pumps at the Citgo station so that I could get to the diner without turning onto the road, not that there was much traffic that morning. Pulling into the empty lot I could see lights on and Alice moving around inside.
I admired her energy. This woman must have worked until the diner closed the previous evening yet there she was bright and early still bustling about.
When I reached the glass door I found it locked, the small sign listing the hours indicating that they didn’t open until six. Before I could even consider walking away Alice was there unlocking the bolt and gesturing me inside.
“Morning sweetie! What has you up and about so early?” Her affectionate tone left me feeling like a close friend instead of a virtual stranger.
My heart warmed at her greeting. How I wished I could stay!
Repeating what I had told the hotel clerk I said, “Something important came up and I’m going to have to head out.” My disappointment was evident in my voice.
“Aw, well I hope everything’s okay,” she replied with concern. Brightening she added, “You can always come back.”
I nodded in agreement, even though I was fairly sure I would never return.
“Take a seat and I’ll bring you some coffee,” she offered, turning away without waiting for a response.
Returning with a steaming mug of coffee and a small pitcher of cream she asked, “What can I get for ya.”
Since I hadn’t seen a menu I wasn’t prepared to order, but I was grateful for her efficiency. Maybe she somehow understood my need to hurry. “What do you recommend?”
“Well, I like the French toast personally. We use a cinnamon swirl bread you’ll love!”
“Sold!” I declared with a laugh. “That sounds perfect!”
As she left I pulled Google maps up on my phone. Dragging the map in all directions I was no closer to an answer until I saw the town where Lilly lived. It was only about 30 miles from my apartment, but Clay had never been there. He had no idea where she lived, had never taken an interest in my friends after that disastrous weekend. I didn’t assume I was welcome to stay with her, as I would have one day not that long ago, but maybe I could work on that friendship while I was there.
With that determined, I looked around the empty restaurant. Alice must have been in the kitchen because there was no one at all in the dining area. Spotting the restrooms I realized that I left in such a hurry I hadn’t bothered to shower or brush my teeth. Deciding to clean up I grabbed my bag and headed to the far back corner.
Several minutes later I headed back to my table feeling refreshed and more optimistic about the day. Before I had a chance to sit down Alice banged out of the kitchen carrying a brown paper bag, rushing to my side with such earnestness a lump formed in my throat.
Shoving the bag into my arms she said with worry, “I don’t know what’s goin’ on, but there was a man in here asking about you. I got rid of him…he didn’t seem the sort you’d want to mess with if you ask me. I told him there was no one here and that you’d had car problems last night so you’d gone to the hotel. I thought you might like to take your breakfast to go, you know, in case he comes back.”
Impulsively I hugged her, my gratitude for this woman more than I could contain. I wanted to reassure her, tell her everything was fine, but I couldn’t muster the bravado. “Thank you,” I said with all the sincerity I could load into those simple words. “I don’t know how I can repay you,” I added reaching into my bag for my wallet.
“Nah, just go. It’s on me. Get out of here, now….but if you get back this way stop by and see me.” Her eyes glittered with unshed tears.
I paused, not sure what to say or do. I had never experienced such remarkable kindness from a stranger.
“Go,” she urged, tilting her head toward the door.
Unable to think of anything else, I nodded at her and dashed out the door to my car.
This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Bravado and is part of something longer I’m working on.
This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after How Coud I Escape This Time?