This story is by Wendy Maston and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She sat at the bar looking into her cup of coffee. She wanted a drink but knew it was too early in the day. She’d wait until later. Looking in the mirror behind the bar, she could see the front door of the South Shore Inn. The Inn got its name because of its location on the south shore of Lake Helena in Wisconsin. It wasn’t a large establishment, but with its location, it was usually full by four in the afternoon. She’d beat the crowd. There were a few people here when the door opened, and ‘he’ walked in. She had no idea who he was, but she liked the look. He was tall with short black hair and wearing black jeans and a black leather jacket. Black boots finished the look. In his hand, he carried a motorcycle helmet that was ruby red. She stared at him in the mirror, watching as he walked toward her. She dropped her eyes looking back into the cup before her.
He picked a stool that left two empty ones between them and ordered a beer. As he waited he looked around and didn’t see anyone he knew. He didn’t come in here often, but he’d made a few friends. The bartender put his beer in front of him and the man tossed a five-dollar bill down on the bar. That’s when he noticed her.
She couldn’t look up even though she could feel his eyes looking at her. Finally, she couldn’t stand it and turned her head to the left.
“Hi,” He said.
“I haven’t seen you around here. Are you new to town?” He asked.
“No. I don’t usually come in until later, after work,” She answered.
“Why are you here now? Did you get off early?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” She snapped back.
“Hey,” he held up his hands in surrender. “I was just making conversation.”
The silence lingered. Neither one wanted to break it. Both glanced in the mirror at the same time and their eyes locked on one another.
He nodded his head, finished his beer, and started to walk away.
“Wait,” she said. “My name is Nora and I could use someone to talk to.”
He turned around and looked at her. Seconds or minutes, she didn’t know, he stared at her.
“Please,” Nora said quietly.
He walked back and sat on the stool next to her. “My name’s Matt.”
Nora put out her hand, he took it. She felt a warm shock run up her arm. She didn’t want to let go. Evidently he felt the same thing as he held on to her hand for longer than a normal handshake. When they broke, both acted as if nothing strange had happened.
Matt asked, “What do you need to talk about?”
“I lost my job today and I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Nora said, and a single tear ran down her cheek.
“That’s really shit,” Matt said as he slid his hand over covering hers.
“Yea, I agree. And the reason they gave me was they didn’t like my clothes. I don’t have any office clothes and I’ve been wearing clothes like this.”
He looked her over and said, “I like your clothes just fine. What’s their problem?”
She looked down at herself. Nora was wearing a neat, clean pair of jeans and a multi-colored blouse.
“I worked in an office, but we never had any contact with customers except over the phone. All the others always looked like they walked out of a magazine. The women all wear dresses every day with heels. I’m comfortable in my boots.”
Matt said, “I can see the comfort of your outfit and I don’t see where they have any right to dictate what you wear.”
“That’s what I told them this morning and they told me to clean out my desk and leave. My final check would be mailed to me. I don’t think I want to try to fight for this job. I was good at it, very good. I guess it’s their loss.”
“Their loss, but my gain,” He smiled.
She thought to herself, what a smile and look at those dimples.
“Nora, have you left?” Matt asked waving his hand in front of her face.
“What? Oh. I was dreaming about what I want to do to that boss, ex-boss, of mine. Is that a bad thing?” Nora said, startled when she heard his voice.
“No, of course not.”
“I’ll look for something where the look doesn’t matter,” Nora replied.
Thinking for a minute, Matt said, “There should be plenty of places like that.”
She replied, “But none at the salary I was making. I have rent to pay, utilities, etcetera. I’ll have to find somewhere cheaper to live and give up any entertainment expenses.”
“What if you took to the open road. I assume the motorcycle out there is yours?”
She looked at him, really looked. “Is that what you do? Ride around without a care in the world? How do you live?”
He gave her a wide grin exploding the dimples on his face. “Yep, that’s exactly what I do. The only thing I care about is seeing what’s over the horizon. I return here ever so often to see my folks and the rest of my family.”
“That’s nice,” Nora said sadly. “I don’t have any family. I was an only child and my parents died a couple of years ago. The furnace in the house started spewing carbon monoxide. It was during the night and they were asleep. They never woke up.” The tears fell faster in rivers down her face.
“Hey, hey,” Matt said, putting his arm around her shoulder. “It’s going to hurt for a long time. Maybe forever. I lost a sister back when we were teens, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her. You need to start thinking about all the good times you had and let that be their legacy to you.”
She looked up at him, feeling the warmth in his arm. “Thank you. That means a lot. We did have so many good times. I often thought that I would have loved a sibling, but I was glad as I grew that I had them to myself. I know I was greedy. I thought I’d have them many years. They were too young. What happened to your sister?”
He took several minutes to reply. “Sonya was only fourteen when they found cancer. At first, we all thought she would beat it. As time went on we knew she wouldn’t. By sixteen her body had been ravaged and she couldn’t hang on. We did get to say good-bye. The year following was rough on my mom. She’d taken care of Sonya up to the end and didn’t know what to do with herself. A few months later my older sister announced that she was pregnant and my mom, and dad too, were happy again. They dote on the twins. At six years old they are little hellions. They’re identical twins and they’ve already learned how to fool people. Sam and Jack run circles around their grandmother and she loves it.” Matt smiled thinking about it.
Nora laughed. “Now that’s a family I would love to meet. Do they live around here?”
“No, actually they live south of Milwaukee. I like to swing through here when I’m on my way home. I try to get there every three or four months. I’m looking for the elusive something,” Matt said. “That’s why I travel the country. I love being in the mountains. At first, it seems you can’t get there. The horizon keeps moving, but you finally catch up with it.”
“Do you ever plan on settling down?” Nora asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe once I find someone to spend the rest of my life with. Someone who can share my dreams. I’d like to have a house with a large dog,” He grinned.
“I had a dog once. He was from a shelter and just a mutt. He was in the house when my folks died. I’d like to think he’s with them.”
Matt couldn’t say anything for a few minutes. He looked at his watch.
“I’ve got to go soon. I’m meeting one of my buddies from the service.” Matt started to get up, but Nora stopped him.
“How long are you going to be in town?” She asked.
“A few days. Why?”
“I didn’t think about a road trip, but that might be just what I need,” Nora mussed.
“I know you would love it. How about you come with met? You could get to meet my family and then I’ll ride back with you,” Matt looked at her with a little sparkle in his eyes.
“A road trip it is,” Nora smiled.