The Last True FanbyNigel Debonnaire©
Dan Harris looked out of his window on a clear Thursday summer morning. May is always a fickle month in Missouri, so he took a look at his thermometer: it was 70 degrees at 8:00AM, so the day promised to be on the warm side after the previous night's storms. Glancing across the little trailer park, he saw his buddy Alan's fan swirling inside the screen window of his tiny trailer, and there were signs someone had moved into the third trailer across the way. There was no car in the parking space, and a couple of new flower pots rested by the front steps. Dan took this has a hopeful sign: maybe the new tenants weren't going to be cooking Meth like the last ones did.
He put on his little coffee pot and turned on Good Morning America. There wasn't anything he was particularly interested in watching, other than the weather, so he sat and watched the hummingbirds at his feeder while Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts kept him company. Picking up his wallet, he counted the bills and made sure he could afford his weekly indulgence: the big breakfast at Josie's Diner in town. Between his service pension and driving the OATS bus 6 days a week, he was able to pay his bills with a little to spare; even though he was 68, he still put money aside for his retirement, or rather, for the day he'd be completely unable to work.
Glancing out the window, he saw his little garden was in good shape, so there was no need to weed that day. Three tomatoes presented themselves ripe for picking, so he made a mental note to get them before a furry poacher could. A farm boy, he never liked the taste of canned or frozen vegetables unless he could can them himself, and when something was in season he was always ready to stock up and preserve.
Good Morning America transmuted into Rachel Ray, so he went down the little hallway to his bathroom to shower and shave. His trailer wasn't large, but neither was he: shorter than average with a grey crew cut, his eyes were bright blue and bright, his face weathered by time and the elements, his body lean. His metabolism burned calories at a pace that his service buddies marveled at, but he rarely ate much even though he mostly ate fresh food and drank occasionally.
Dan put on a plaid shirt and overalls, with his sole fashion statement being a pair of well shined cowboy boots. As he moved toward the door, he flipped off the TV and grabbed a Massey Ferguson cap from his little hatrack, letting the door swing mostly shut behind him. His little trailer park was 10 miles from town, far off the main road, so he never locked his door. Anyone who found there way there would find little of value to steal, and its seclusion made locks irrelevant anyway.
His 12 year old truck, lovingly maintained, roared to life and he started his winding way toward town. The sun made the freshly greened trees shine in the light as the track wound between them. A deer was grazing by the side of the road; Dan honked his horn to encourage it to move aside for him to pass. Occasionally, a fluting bird call floated in through his open driver's window. Life was bright and beautiful.
Josie's Diner was a local institution, and when Dan arrived around 9:30, the morning crowd was finishing up their food and coffee. A group of local men waved as Dan came in and greeted him. He nodded at them and took his normal booth in the back corner of the restaurant. Josie peeked out from the kitchen and smiled hello before ducking back.
A new waitress bustled from the kitchen. She was average height and build for a woman in her late 40's. Leaning over, she greeted him with a friendly smile and beaming eyes: "Hi, honey. You want coffee this mornin?" Dan startled at the familiar voice before he nodded and she returned to fill a cup for him.
He was astounded; she looked like one of his favorite actresses from the '70s. Brenda Keans was a second lead on his favorite sitcom: a sharp shapely brunette who both made him laugh and stirred his manhood. This woman could have been her twin, although the hair was now grey and around 15 pounds had accrued to her already wide frame. Her voice was a fourth lower than he knew it, but it was still the same rich voice he remembered from 30 years earlier.
She returned with the coffee and set it down in front of him. "Cream and sugar's right here on your table. You need a menu?"
"Naw," he said, shaking his head. "Want th' Farmer's breakfast, eggs over easy, biscuits 'n gravy, hash browns an' tomato juice." She nodded and turned to go before he touched her arm. "Hey, miss. What happened to Sandy?"
"Oh, her dad's sick and she had to go back to St. Louis to take care of him. Won't be back for a long time." The waitress was a perfect match for Brenda Keans: the same little smile, the same glint in her eye, the same grace moved her body across the room. Dan sat looking at her intently until she got uncomfortable. She broke his gaze and asked; "You a regular around here?"
"Yeah, since I came down here 12 years ago." His eyes were fixed on her, trying to decide if she was related to the forgotten actress.
She looked at him quizzically. "I'll put your order right in, honey. You let me know if you want some more coffee."
The rest of the meal was a daze to him. He watched her every moment she was in the dining room: as she poured coffee for the men's group, as she wound paper napkins around sets of silverware and refilled catsup bottles. She ignored him except for furtive glances until his food was ready, then served it with a bright smile.
As he ate his breakfast, he looked at his neighbors across the way. They took no notice of the new waitress other than needed. His thoughts went back and forth, and he whispered to himself under this breath: "No, it can't be her, they'd recognize her. But it's got to be her, she's got that mole next to her eye and those dimples are like no other. Can't believe those guys don't know who this is. Guess it's not her. But it has to be."
Finishing his meal, he paid her at the register, pausing to leave a huge tip before he left the place. As he continued his day off routine of stopping at the hardware and the garden store, her face stuck in his mind all morning and all the way back home. Her smile peeked at him as he went down the trail from his trailer to the little lake behind his house he called Peachtree Lake.
He skipped stones on the placid water, and he tried to let his mind wander from his preoccupation. "There's no guarantee you'll see her again," he said out loud, "Josie takes girls on for a day or two as they're working their way cross country. Maybe this gal's just here for a day or two. It was nice to see her, but that's gotta be it." Hope melted in the early spring afternoon, to the acquiescence of the status quo he had learned to live with.
As he was returning to his trailer, an old van puttered down the track and parked. He stopped before emerging from the treeline to see what his new neighbor looked like, and was astounded to see the waitress from Josie's emerge with a bag of groceries in her arms. Frozen in place, he watched her unlock her trailer and go inside, coming out immediately to unload several dirty filled pots from the back. Inside his mind, he was kicking himself for not helping her, but he was afraid to move let he trip over himself like a moonstruck teenager.
After she was obviously finished with her task, he gathered up the courage to dart inside his trailer. He sat in his chair and watched her trailer out his window for several minutes before his body got restless. Looking out the window, he remembered the three tomatoes on his vine ready for picking: he hurried out his door to pluck them and back lest she catch him outside.
The temperature was around 80, and Dan was sweating in his little living room. His heart was racing, and decided to lay down to settle himself. Taking off his overalls and shirt, he lay on his bed in his underwear, his shorts tenting with thoughts of the waitress. He was too stirred up to sleep, so he started stroking himself to relieve the tension, but a fulfilled fantasy the night before kept him from getting fully aroused. After a few moments, he gave up and sweated on the bed.
A few moments later as he lay frustrated, there was a knock at his door. He bolted from the bed and put his clothes back on, shouting: "Be right there." He got to the door to find his new neighbor, the waitress from Josie's, standing there in a silver and black halter top, black shorts and barefoot.
"Hi, I'm you new neighbor--oh, we've met already, haven't we?"
"Yeah. M'name's Dan. Come in, please ma'am."
"Okay, thanks. My name's Brenda."
He stepped back into the room to let her enter. She followed him cautiously, looking around, and noticed he was trembling. "Nice little place you have here, Dan. Very neat, you take care of it well. Oh, please don't be nervous, I won't bite. Let's just get acquainted now we're neighbors."
She took a seat at the end of a small table next to his little kitchen, which occupied the area next to the door. He sat at the other end of the table. "Can I get you somethin', Brenda?" he said at last, "Coffee, water, iced tea?"
"Iced tea would be nice if you have it."
"I make sun tea all th' time. Sugar? Sweetner?"
"No, I'm as sweet as I need to be and more. Diabetes"
He chuckled as he went to the counter in the kitchen: he got out 2 glasses, loaded them with ice, and poured them full. Taking her glass, she rubbed it across her head and closed her eyes. "I forgot how hot and sticky this part of the country gets. Guess I'll have to get used to it again."
"Where you from?"
"Fort Smith, Arkansas. Went to school in Fayetteville, then to the West Coast for a while."
"Yes," she said, with an inquisitive look on her face. "But I've spent a little more than 25 years in New Mexico most recently. How about you, Dan? Where are you from?"
He ran his hand over the grey stubble on his head. "I'm from Glidden, Wisconsin."
"Wow, northern Wisconsin, right? I heard it gets extremely cold up there. You're a long way from home."
"Yeah, we got 2 seasons up there: Winter and July."
She smiled and giggled. "What brought you here?" she continued.
"I was in the Air Force, master sergeant, mechanic. Last posting was Whiteman up at Knob Noster, so when I retired, I figured I was too old for the cold an' started looking south of the base as far as I could 'til I found a place I could afford."
"A little while a long time ago. Wasn't for me."
"I can relate to that. Children?"
"Where does he live?"
Dan's voice grew very quiet. "Lost 'im 5 years ago. Roadside bomb in Iraq."
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, reaching out to touch his hand.
He gave a small, dismissive shake of his head and continued: "It's all right; he died servin' his country. Got a grandson in Virginia, but I can't afford ta go see him and he can't afford to come see me. His mom sends me pictures at Christmas." He pointed at a school picture of a seven year old boy on his refrigerator. "His name's Vernon. Sharp kid, his mom says."
"Nice looking boy." She took a nervous sip of her tea and looked around. "What can you tell me about living here? It's been a while since I've lived in a small town and I need all the help I can get. Who's our other neighbor?"
"Oh, his name's Alan Drake, served with him in the Air Force. Not a bad guy, pretty quiet. He don't get around much anymore, just to the Doctor's and the store. Got a drinkin' problem, starts first thing in the mornin' every day but he's a quiet drunk, so he won't bother ya. Don't go into his trailer: stinks like seventeen diff'rent kinds o' shit."
Brenda wrinkled her nose and made a face. "Point made."
"He may look out at you when you're putterin' around outside, but don't worry, he's harmless. Pay him no mind if he's watchin' you, just smile and wave and you'll be all right." Taking a sip of tea, he thought for a moment before continuing. "Almost nobody comes down here, so ya don't have to worry about lockin' your door. We keep an eye out here, so if anybody tries any funny business, we'll call the sheriff; one of his deputies, Jeff Schmitz lives a couple miles away, an' he's pretty good at comin' over quick when we need 'im."
"That's good to know. How about the lake? Any good for a swim?"
"Well, Frankie the owner calls it a lake, but it's really a pond. Good sized pond, good fishin', guess you can swim in it. Nice bass and crappie, and if you like somethin' different, a few good frogs."
"Yeah, frog's legs. Got a great recipe for 'em." She shuddered delicately, her nipples erecting in her halter top. Dan's eyes went up, and revolved to look out the window. "The ground's pretty fertile 'round here," he continued nervously, "Your flowers oughta do pretty good. I got a nice garden out back. Little bit of everythin', even stuff like basil an' tarragon. Ya like fresh tomatoes?"
"Oh sure, who doesn't?"
"I got a couple nice ones today, take one or two as you go out. Will have those things runnin' out of my ears in a coupla days."
"Where do you go shopping?"
"Sewell's the only grocery store around. They're all right, but I don't go there much. Just for flour 'n tea 'n a few other things. There's a farmer's market most Saturdays on the square, that's where I get my produce. Most of my meat comes from the pond or the woods; there's lots of squirrels."
"Great," she said cautiously. "You got cable? Satellite?"
"Nope. Cost too much. Alan had it a while, but he didn't pay his bills so they cut 'im off. If you can get a deal go ahead, but it'll take'em forever ta come out and install it. TV reception's all right here, got my converter box and plenty of channels, but I don't watch too much. Course a DVD player helps."
She shuddered again. "Guess I can get used to that. Anyplace good to eat besides Josie's?"
"The golf club is the only other place worth anythin', pretty fancy, but I can't afford it. When I want somethin' special, I just go to th' store and pick somethin' out, bring it home, an' cook it." Brenda nodded, pondering. She looked at him, trying to probe his forehead for more data: "How often do you come into Josie's?"
"Once a week, on my day off."
"Yeah. Josie's a saint."
"What's your job?"
"I drive th' OATS bus."
"Older Adults Transport Service. I drive old folks 'round to different towns who don't have cars or can't drive."
"That sounds wonderful, Dan. I bet they really appreciate your help."
They took another sip of tea and he nodded. "I guess. They're usually pretty nice to me," A couple nervous moments passed before he continued the conversation. "You got a good boss in Josie: she won't give you no trouble."
"I've figured that out already. A friend of mine recommended I move here just to be around her, and set up the job."
"So you had some trouble, Brenda? Sorry to hear that. You're such a wonderful actress. Don't know why anybody'd be ugly or mean to you."
Brenda nodded and looked down. "Yeah. My life fell apart three months ago. Had it all: nice house in the mountains, the love of my life I'd been with for 30 years, three kids to take care of, then it was all gone and I had no place to turn."
"What? All alone? No family?"
"My mother's in a nursing home in Arizona: Altzheimer's. I'm an only child."
"Sorry to hear that. But didn't ya have anybody else? Famous girl like you?"
She looked around the room and Dan followed her look. Her eyes rested on his small DVD collection and her mouth opened wide: "I didn't know they had DVD's of _Grape Stompers_."
"Yeah, that's my favorite show. Watched every episode 10 times."
Brenda shook her head in disbelief. "_Grape Stompers_, what a crazy show! The stories I could tell you. Nobody remembers it any more."
"I don't understand that. It was great in every way. Almost cried when they cancelled it."
"You and me both. Well, I really did cry. It was so wrong, they should've kept us on."
He looked at her closely. "You were on that show, weren't you? You played Betsy Simmons, that smart brunette girl. You're Brenda Keans."
Brenda smiled and nodded. "I don't get recognized anymore." Taking a sip of her tea, she looked out the window and back at him again. "I hated that when the show was on: I couldn't go anywhere, and now I kinda miss it. I really loved acting."
"You were so good at it," Dan gushed, "Betsy was my favorite character on the show. Carrie got the most attention, blond dimwit, but my eyes was always on you. If there'd been a fan club, I'da paid a hundred bucks to join."
She smiled at him. "You're so kind. Acting is such a hit or miss thing. One day you're famous and the next you're history."
She looked around some more. "Hey, wait a minute. These movies up here, from the 70's, these were the ones I did after my show was cancelled."
"Yeah. You were good in them, too."
"But I wasn't a star in those movies; I was on screen a total 5 minutes in these 3 movies." Her eyes searched his, and he grew uncomfortable under her gaze. Her voice caught, and she smiled broadly at him. "You really were a fan of mine. A big one, maybe the biggest one. How sweet!"
Dan shifted in his chair, looking down. "You were great," he mumbled. "Don't know how you endid out here in Podunk."
Sighing, she touched his hand again. "What kind of luck is this? For three months I'm a vagrant, hopping from one house to another, looking for a place to stay, strangers all around me. I end up moving to the middle of nowhere to find the only fan I've got left. I'd call that good luck, very good luck indeed."
Sitting up, Dan asked: "How come you stopped acting? I don't understand, you were cute and funny and sexy and I don't know why you didn't do anythin' since."
"The last thing was a 'Where Are They Now' show 10 years ago. No calls after that. Oh, I had trouble with the system; got tired of the casting couch. Here I'd been a star player on a moderately successful series for three years, and casting directors still wanted sex to put me in anything. I know, a lot of actresses have enough clout to avoid that, but I didn't, I was all by myself. My agent was no help: he loved sticking me with the creeps just because of what I was, just to get even for not sleeping with him. So I got into dinner theater, had a lot of fun and saw the country, but got tired of the road. Then I met Becky in Santa Fe, and my life was different from then on."
"Becky? She a friend o' yours?"
"A friend would be putting it mildly. We were committed to each other, we were life partners."
"What about your ex-husband, Pete Keans? You said in an interview back in the '70s you'd like to find another boy like him. Didn't ya want ta get married agin'?"
"Oh, that's right. You'd have no way of knowing. It's a long story Dan."
Dan sat up straight in his chair, his eyes wide open. "A long story? Well, I've got time, Brenda, tell me."
Brenda looked down and bit her lip. "Tough to talk about, and most folks still don't understand. I was in Hollywood at a time you couldn't talk about it." She paused for another moment to sip her tea, and passed it across her sweaty forehead.
Dan leaned forward, interested. "Talk 'bout what, Brenda?
"I'm a lesbian, Dan, a lesbian. I'm attracted to women." Dan slumped back and sat dumbfounded, his face growing pale. "I put an ex-husband, Pete Keans, on my resume and changed my last name as cover, talked about him enough to fool the general public, but everybody knew. He never existed, he was fake. Of course, you had to hide it publicly if you were gay, and sometimes people took advantage of you if you were weak." Another nervous sip of her tea and she went on: "Becky was the love of my life, she's an architect and we had a wonderful time for a while." An hysterical laugh, then a deep, sarcastic voice: "For a while, shit it was 25 years." She passed the icy glass around the curve of her jaw and settled down; Dan sat rapt as she talked. "Adopted 3 children, nice house in a nice neighborhood and I was a happy Susie Homemaker. God, I miss those little buggers. Probably got too preoccupied with the routine and forgot about my relationship. Never thought I'd get dumped like so many wives when my hair turned grey and my boobs sagged and my butt inflated. But that's what happened." Tears started flowing down her face, and Dan sprinted down the hallway to fetch a box of Kleenexes. "Thanks, Dan."