Vision of the Spirit Ch. 17bywilderness©
Tom woke up in a good mood.
It wasn't as good as an I-just-got-laid great mood, but it was the best he'd felt since Hannah disappeared. He'd dreamt about her again. Then, he got out of bed and ogled the naked pictures she'd sent the night before.
Tom was so happy he decided to make breakfast. But the eggs were a month past their expiration date and the whole wheat bread was an unholy-green. Instead, he taped a note onto the office front door that read, 'Will return at 2:00,' and then drove to the village diner.
"Hiya Stud. Where ya been? Are you here to take me away from all this?"
"Good morning, Delores. Not today. I kinda like it around here. I'm not going anywhere, for a while."
"Really? Well, you ain't as smart as I thought." She placed a napkin roll of silverware in front of him. "Do you know what the difference is between genius and stupid?"
Tom thought a moment, and said, "No, what's the difference?"
"Stupid has no limits." She winked a creased, ocean blue eyelid and then pulled a pencil out of her beehive hair. "What'll ya have?"
After placing an order of buttered toast, crispy bacon, sunny-side up eggs, and black coffee, Tom read the newspaper, mostly looking at sales ads for things he needed at the motel, like sheets, towels, paint and a digital camera. "Hey Delores, where would be a good place to buy a camera around here?"
She set down his food, and said, "That's easy. No place. If I were you, I'd drive over to Chester. They got a discount mall. That's where I go when I'm looking for a good deal."
"Thanks, I'll check it out."
Delores was right. Tom haggled a good deal on an 8 mega-pixel Canon. It cost more money than he wanted to spend, but the high quality was worth the extra green. Plus, leisure-suit-Larry the salesman knew what he was doing. "You'll be very pleased with this little beauty, and I'm sure the tripod will come in handy. Most guys come back a week later for that." He glanced left and then right, before leaning close and whispering, "I think they're taking boudoir pictures, if you know what I mean." He elbowed Tom suggestively.
When Tom didn't answer, Larry continued, "You look like an outdoorsman. Do you hike?"
"Yeah, I like to hike."
"Man, then you gotta have this telephoto lens! It'll bring the wildlife up close and personal. I'll take 20% off, if you buy the extended warranty plan on the camera. You gotta have that, especially if you're taking it into the mountains. It's like an insurance policy. If the camera breaks, just bring us back the pieces and we'll give you a new one."
Tom left the store with a big hole in his bank account. His truck was parked at the other end of the mall and, as he walked in that direction, he saw a late model, black, Dodge pickup truck stop briefly along side his rusted out Ford and then speed away.
Suspicion made Tom duck inside a doorway when the pickup turned in his direction and drove by. A split second glimpse of the driver made his heart rate jump. Hannah Roundtree was behind the wheel. She wasn't hundreds of miles away like he thought; she was only a few yards. Quickly, he peeked around the doorframe to watch her taillights. She stopped in front of a grocery store, where a twenty-something man pushed a shopping cart out and began loading bags into the truck bed. He yelled something at Hannah and gestured like a wild man, but she stayed hidden inside the cab. After shoving the empty cart into the wall, he stalked around to the passenger side and got in. Hannah drove away fast and the tires squealed left onto the street.
Mind numb, Tom wandered to his truck and sat for a while, wondering what, if anything, he should do. Obviously, Hannah had recognized his truck and wasn't ready to see him. That hurt. But who was the pissed off guy? Tom saved Hannah's life once, did she need saving again? Was she making bad choices all over again?
Fate seemed to be playing a prominent role in their crisscrossed lives, so Tom decided to let events unfold in accordance with the spirit powers he believed gave Hannah to him in the first place. With deliberate calmness, Tom unpacked his camera and attached the telephoto lens. He took several experimental pictures of people at the far end of the parking lot. When he was satisfied with the results, Tom drove off in the direction of Hannah's hasty departure.
Chester wasn't much bigger than Antler Forks, but it did have an interstate off ramp, which meant truck stops and bars. Tom spotted the black pickup behind a strip club called 'Bouncing Betty's'. The lunch crowd had filled the lot with tractor-trailers. From across the street, he took several pictures of the bar and the black truck. The discovery of Hannah's place of employment darkened his mood considerably. Of course she'd strip. It made perfect sense. What Tom didn't understand was how taking her clothes off in front of strangers helped her become a healthier woman. His almost I-just-got-laid good mood instantly downgraded to an I-just-got-screwed, crappy mood.
By the time Tom returned to the Midway motel he was depressed, angry, and feeling betrayed. He groaned at the sight of Penny Skinner's Suburban parked in front of his office. "Fucking great. Now what?" The motel owner's daughter usually let him know days in advance when she was coming. He looked at his watch. 'At least I'm back an hour early.'
Penny couldn't be found in any of the obvious places. Maybe she was in the barn. She liked the horses. Sure enough, the side door was open. The barn looked empty, but he heard the faint rustling of straw and a muffled groan. Tom noticed that the last stall on the right was inexplicably open. As he approached, the distressing sounds grew louder and unquestionably came from in there. Tom grew worried, so he ran. "Penny?"
Suddenly, the rustling became thrashing. Tom looked through the bars and spotted Chief Morris' white ass and Penny Skinner's impressive boobs, as they scrambled to cover up.
After fearing the worst, the bare facts struck him as funny. Turning away, Tom laughed, and said, "Hi guys, I'm back. You don't have to stay in the stable. There is room at the inn, and I could really use the business."
Chief Morris came out first, buckling his pants. "Very funny. Now leave us alone."
Tom almost asked the Chief how his wife and new baby boy were doing, but thought better of it. "Sorry, Chief. It's none of my business. I'm just glad Penny is okay. I thought she was dying in there," Tom said, all smiles. "But the offer of a room still stands. It's kind of cold out here."
"No, thank you!"
"Okay then... I've got work to do." Tom strolled away. "Bye, Penny."
A small voice from inside the stall said, "Bye."
Tom tried to stay calm and collected, as he readied his new camera to take pictures of the motel. The incident in the barn made him think he should have a tag line for his new website. Maybe he would rip off the Las Vegas motto, 'Whatever happens at the Midway, stays at the Midway', but that line had become cliché. Maybe a play on words would work, 'At the Midway, you can enjoy the rides like an adult', but that demeaned the Battle of Midway memory Tobias Wentworth intended for the motel's name. He'd have to think it over some more.
After several pictures were taken of the cabins, Chief Morris and Penny wandered out from the barn, acting standoffish. Tom ignored them.
They huddled next to her Suburban and whispered conspiratorially. Finally, Penny sheepishly walked over. "I don't know what to say, Tom. That was... pretty bad. I'm sorry."
Adjusting the camera angle, Tom said, "Sorry for what? You didn't do anything to me." He smiled and winked. "But I'll have to change the straw in the stall, later."
She blushed and shifted her weight a few times, apparently unsure of what to say next. Then decided to change the subject. "What are you doing?"
"I bought a camera today. I think the motel should have a website."
"That's a great idea!"
"Does business pick up during ski season?"
"Well, it depends on how much snow we get. Sometimes the resorts fill up and we get the overflow crowd, but there's never as much business as in the summer."
"I'm going to paint the cabins. I was trying to decide how many I could close, without losing a lot of money."
"Don't worry about it. Dad doesn't need the money. Do whatever you want."
Tom looked at Penny and smiled appreciatively. "Thank you!"
"No... thank you, for your sensitivity and understanding, about our little indiscretion." She squeezed his arm appreciatively, before joining the Chief in the Suburban and driving away.
Tom waved, and thought, 'That worked out nice.'
Once the excitement was over, Tom continued to snap pictures of the motel and brood over Hannah. What should he do about her, if anything? What he wanted to do was drag her out of the strip club, caveman style, and talk some sense into her, make her stay away from bad influences, like seedy bars. But, then again, was the motel business any better? How many cheaters and two-timers rented rooms from him? Did people think of the Midway Motel as seedy? Shit, the Chief of Police was just cheating on his wife in the damn barn. How much more disreputable can it get?
Tom climbed up into the hayloft and took some photos of the spot where he made love to Hannah. He couldn't bring himself to disrobe for a portrait, but he did use the tripod and timer for one picture of himself sitting on a hay bale -- a piece of straw dangling from his lips. That would have to do for now. After everything that happened today, he was feeling practically asexual.
At the end of the day, Tom felt lonelier than usual. After a shower, he emailed the photos to Hannah, turned on the 'No Vacancy' sign and drove off into the night in search of human companionship. The asexual funk disappeared. He'd thought it over, and wondered: why would Hannah come back to this area, if it weren't to be close to him? What other reason could there be? Well, there was only one way to find out. He'd have to spy on her.
By the time he got to 'Bouncing Betty's' the place was already hopping. The only parking he could find was on the street, a block away. Inside the club, smoke hung like a cloud over a sea of ball caps and cowboy hats. The bump and grind music shook the floor, and the idea of Hannah dancing in front of this howling pack of horn dogs turned Tom's stomach. After just a couple of minutes, he decided this wasn't going to be the reunion he'd hoped it would be, and left.
The night air smelled clean and crisp, perfect for walking. Downtown Chester deserved a little exploration. Everything was closed for the night, except the bars. He passed by the crowded dance clubs and stepped into a small back alley bar called Moe's. He bought a beer and relaxed on a stool to think about his next move. By the time Tom drank half the bottle, he'd determined from the stares, and the affectionate couple kissing by the pinball machine, he'd wandered into a gay bar. Time to mosey on to the next watering hole.
Cranberry's Pub looked inviting. The crowd appeared young and professional. Both genders were in attendance. It was busy without being confined. After bumping his way to the back, Tom found an empty hubcap sized table with one barstool. He parked there, facing the wall. That way he could remain aloof, but still watch people in the strategically situated mirrors.
Somehow, a waitress snuck up on him. "Hi, I'm Janice. Can I get you something from the bar?"
She had a charming smile. Tom returned it. "Hi Janice. I'd love a Sam Adams from the bar... and a big greasy cheeseburger from the kitchen. What are my chances?"
"Pretty good, I think. I'll put in your order and bring back the beer right away."
Janice tipped her head and brushed the hair from her eyes. "You're welcome."
Tom watched the reflection of Janice's tight jeans tick-tock away. It reminded him of Hannah, and he sighed. Flirting wasn't fun like it used to be. Tom behaved cordial to Janice the rest of the night. He didn't parry when she jabbed him with a tease. Soon, Janice got the message and kept the beers coming without the come-ons.
Around ten o'clock, Tom needed another drink. No waitress had approached him for a while, and he didn't want to get up. It was such a comfortable, padded stool, with a hard wooden back that dug into his spine enough to keep him awake. The people in the mirrors drifted with a hypnotic, slow motion. And then there was the whole full bladder dilemma that was about to become a crisis. Life got complicated.
"Screw it." Tom stood up and held onto the table for a few seconds, until the floor stopped rolling. The path to the men's room was twisty as a mountain path and almost as uneven. The relief of urinating felt just as rewarding as reaching a mountaintop, although the view not nearly as fine.
Graffiti at eye level read: 'Why are you looking at this? The joke is your hand.'
"Ha, ha. That's so fucking original." Tom left the men's room and headed for his stool. But the stool was gone, and a cuddly couple had taken his table. They held hands, leaned across, and whispered nose to nose.
"Shit!" Heads turned briefly at Tom's outburst. The realization 'I'm shit-faced,' dawned suddenly. Normally, self-control was essential, but the day had turned out to be more than Tom wanted to handle sober.
Yesterday, his future looked like a clear road, and then suddenly a crack appeared and started to spider web across his mental windshield, threatening to shatter and wreck his great American adventure.
Tom felt out of gas, and made a pit stop at the bar. Placing two palms on the damp surface for stability, Tom asked for another beer, to soften the inevitable crash ahead.
The bartender glanced at him, while filling a shot with Jack Daniels. "Chief, I think you've had enough firewater for one night."
The flannel shirted, John Deere caps, standing on either side of him, laughed.
Bleary eyed, Tom gazed up and down the bar. The patrons had changed over the past hour. Redneck shitheads had replaced the yuppies. "What's so damn funny?" he demanded. "My ancestors saved your lost asses, and then you white fucks thanked us by stealing our land, and raping our women. This place is built on Indian land. Take your firewater and get the fuck off it. If any of you are related to Lewis and Clark tell me now, so I know who to scalp first."
Someone yanked Tom's braid, but when he spun around everyone feigned innocence. Seconds later, two hulking gym rats dragged him out by the arms and left him on the sidewalk in a pile. "Fuck you!"
He got kicked for that.
Time passed slowly, until two pink sneakers appeared in his watery vision. An annoyed voice said, "Nice performance, Horse."
He rolled onto his back and saw Hannah, standing with hands on hips, glaring down. "Thanks. But don't expect a bow, and don't expect an encore."
"Glad to hear that!" She knelt and helped him sit up. "That's not the way to make friends, in case you hadn't noticed."
Tom felt rejuvenated, just sitting next to Hannah. "What are you doing here?"
She ran her hand over his hair. "I work here. What are you doing here?"
"You work here? I thought you worked at 'Bouncing Betty's'."
"That dive!" She gripped his chin firmly. "I told you I was a waitress."
"I followed you in that black truck--"
She let go, stood and glared again. "Tom, have you been spying on me?"
"Well... yeah! I saw you check out my truck at the mall and then take off, like I was the last person on earth you wanted to see. What was that all about? Why are you hiding out in Chester, if I wasn't supposed to find you?"
Hannah sighed, and said, "I can't do this now. I just started my shift." She dug into her jeans pocket and held out a key. "Here. You're too drunk to drive."
Tom wobbled to his feet, his stomach still cramped from the size 13 sendoff. "Thanks. Is this the key to the city?"
Hannah gave him the impish grin he loved so much. "No. It's the key to my apartment."
"I hope it close by, because I can't walk very well, either."
She placed a stabilizing arm around him and pointed across the street. "I live above the flower shop. There's a touch pad by the outside door. Press 4,6,7,7,3 to get in. At the top of the stairs, I'm apartment number 2. Leave the key under the mat for me."
Hannah's touch felt wonderful and he didn't want to leave, instead he buried his nose in her hair and breathed deeply. "Okay, I'll go in a second."
When it was obvious he wasn't, she pushed free. "See you tomorrow, Babe."
"That sounds... so good." He grinned stupidly. "What was that door code?"
Hannah came back and tickled his ear with a whisper. "The key pad looks just like a phone pad. If you can spell 'horse', then you can get in."
Tom watched her walk away, the long braid swayed opposite to her hips. "You're beautiful, Hannah!"
She smiled and waved before going inside the bar.
Tom felt a rush of childlike anticipation, as he cracked open Hannah's apartment door. The first thing he noticed, even before the lights were on, was the herbal scent. Maybe it came from the flowers downstairs, but it smelled like her hair.
The entryway led to the kitchen. There was an old, white enamel sink -- worn and chipped down to the cast iron. Not a dish in sight. The dishtowel lay neatly folded on the drain board. Everything in its place.
The tiny living room had a sheet covered couch and a threadbare overstuffed chair next to a floor lamp. Again, there was little evidence anyone actually lived there.
He went inside the orderly bathroom and peed, then moved on and stepped into her bedroom. This was the only room that looked lived in. The double bed was pushed against the wall and covered with pillows of different sizes and shapes. A one-eyed Teddy bear sat up against the headboard. Clothes were piled on a desk chair. The ratty John Denver tee shirt hung on the chair's back. A black dressing table was littered with exotic bottles and tubes. Their combined aroma made a heady bouquet of Hannah's different fragrances -- maybe different scents for different moods. Tom picked up a few perfume bottles and sniffed. This was a side of her he'd not had the pleasure to know, and he was thrilled with the chance to finally learn all about her, over time -- lots of time.
Tom fought the urge to open drawers, because this was her private space. He wouldn't intrude until she invited him in. Suddenly tired, he went back to the living room, laid down on the couch, and fell asleep.
A while later, something woke Tom. At first, it was part of his dream, but gradually he became aware that someone was really touching his shirt. There was enough streetlight filtering in through the window shade for Tom to identify his companion. "Hannah?"
"What are you doing?"
"Taking off your clothes."
"Okay." The sensation of her fingers working loose the buttons felt so nice, he laid there half awake and reveled in her attention.
"Tom, stand up. It's time for bed."
He was almost fully awake now, if not fully sober. Able to stand up under his own power, Hannah led him by the hand into her bedroom and began removing his clothes. She pulled away his shirt, and asked, "Where's the beer belly you told me about? And where's the rash?"
Tom chuckled, "I lied."
Hannah pressed against his chest, while her hands worked on his belt and zipper. "I can't bear a liar." She pushed down his pants and briefs, until they were piled around his ankles. When she stood up, her fingers brushed his cock. "Kiss me."
Tom leaned into the sweetest pair of lips ever made. A wintergreen breath mint passed into his mouth. "Thanks."
"My pleasure," she said, and moved away.
As she unraveled her braid, Hannah grinned seductively, while looking him over. Tom sat down on the bed and watched her completely disrobe. When she began to throw the pillows on the floor he helped by hitting her with a couple.