I went back to work for the temp agencies that week to keep out of Mom and Dad's house (and out of Mom's way) as much as to earn some money while I was there. I didn't like being beholden to anyone, and I liked it even less when I was a one woman audience for Mom's diatribes about paying my fair share, which usually amounted to my fair share and a hefty portion of everyone else's. That's the way it was every time I came back to Columbus and ended up staying with my parents. I didn't mind helping out with cleaning and dishes and cooking. I didn't even mind paying my share of the groceries, but being stripped to the bone so I couldn't put aside enough money to get my own place was too much for anyone, and especially me.
It was the usual tug of war with Mom about getting out and doing things her way while under her roof. I'd rather get out from under her roof as soon as possible just for the silence having my own place afforded, even if the silence was punctuated by the the sound of children -- or in this case, one child, my eldest.
Mom had custody, as she reminded me constantly, but I had the responsibility of paying his way as well as my own. Nothing like having a leash with a choker chain fitted with sharpened spikes on the inside pointing at my jugular.
So I worked.
Caroline wanted to go back to Club 3 again and I had promised to meet Daryl, so I agreed to let her drive this time. I'd leave my car at the Bob Evans at Westland and she'd drive us there -- as long as she promised not to run out on me again.
Deja vu all over again. The stiff was at the bar nursing a draft beer and Daryl brought a couple of friends. One of them was Caroline's date from the previous week. He wouldn't be leaving with her this week; she had her eye on his friend. Caroline did like to diversify.
Everything about Caroline was friendly, even the way her belly kept jiggling like a flying jelly long after she had stopped laughing. In the back of my mind I kept hearing Mom tell me no one would want me if I was fat. Caroline had me beat at least three times and she never had a problem with men. They drooled all over her wherever we were. I just didn't get it, but then I guess it was my problem. It certainly wasn't hers.
Daryl was attentive and danced with me most of the night with the stiff cruising by every ten or fifteen minutes, eyes glued to Daryl's back as if he were wearing a target. When Daryl had to leave early because one of his boys ended up at the ER because of a broken arm, he took my backup ride with him. The way Caroline was acting, I was afraid to go to the restroom. I just knew I'd come back and she'd be gone with the pick of the night and I'd be phoning for a cab and hoping I had enough money to cover the cost.
No more drinks and no more bathroom, I told myself, but my bladder had other ideas. Sure enough, I got to the restroom in just enough time to avoid embarrassing myself and back to the table just in time to see the note Caroline left fluttering to the floor. The stiff picked it up and handed it to me.
"Guess you need a ride home," he said.
"You guess right." I thanked him for giving me the note and walked past him to the bar to ask for the number of a cab. The bartender pointed to the pay phone.
The stiff got in my way. "Excuse me, please," I said, but I was not being polite. It was the first warning before a game of grab, twist, and pull that would end with him clutching his jewels while I walked over his writhing carcass to get to the phone.
"I'd get out of her way," the bartender warned.
"I just want to help," the stiff said.
"Help yourself." The bartender threw up his hands. He knew stupid when he saw it.
Even though it had been a few years since I'd been to Club 3, some memories linger. That particular bartender had seen me down a couple of grabby drunks with more booze in them than sense. He knew enough to stand aside and let stupid take care of himself.
The stiff got in my way again. I hesitated. He was already injured with his arm in a sling and he was obviously too drunk -- or too stupid -- to realize he'd been warned. "Excuse me," I said rather pointedly.
"How about a ride home?"
"I have it covered as soon as I can get to the phone."
He stuck out his left hand. "Nick Sherwood."
A polite drunk. A stupid polite drunk, but okay. "Hi." I shook his left hand. "Nice to meet you. Thanks for the offer, but I'd prefer to pay my own way." And not your way either.
"Maybe I'm going your way."
"Hilliard by way of Westland shopping center."
He checked his watch. "I think the mall is closed."
I took a deep breath and counted to ten. Fixing a smile on my lips without too many teeth showing, I gritted out. "The parking lot is still open. Thank you, but, no, thank you."
"You can pay for the gas if it makes you feel better. I'll even let you ride in the back seat."
"With you up front. Somehow, without a meter running, I won't feel any safer, Nick." My mind supplied dick.
"Can't do much with a dislocated arm."
Would you like your other arm dislocated to match? I took another deep breath and let it out slowly. "Look, I appreciate the offer but I'd prefer to get my own way home."
Nick looked at me long and hard, without the usual roaming glance down to my breasts. "I'd really let you buy my gas. No funny stuff. Just rescuing a damsel in distress."
I couldn't help myself so I laughed. He was persistent and a bit abrasive, but his heart -- what I could see of it -- was in the right place. "I'm no one's damsel and I'm not in distress. Stranded, yes. Distress, no. I can find my own way home."
"Aww, let him give you a ride. He looks harmless," the bartender said.
At another time with me in a different mood, I'd have shot Jake the bartender a pair of laser beams right between the eyes, but the situation was ludicrous enough as it was. I could still call a cab and then call the police if Nick decided to give me any trouble, but he did seem harmless, if a little on the brick shy load of brains side of things. I could handle him if push came to shove. His wounded wing was on my side of the car.
"All right, but straight to Westland and no funny stuff. I'll tell you how to go."
Jake sniggered. "And how fast to get there, too," he muttered just loud enough for me to hear.
Nick didn't even finish his drink, which at the time told me he wasn't there for the booze alone. We walked outside and he tried to help me on with my coat one-handed. I had to give him credit for manners.
His car wasn't a car. It was a truck with a camper on the back. "Where's the back seat?"
Even in the dim sodium vapor light of the parking lot I could see him blush.
"It has a very wide seat."
He unlocked the passenger door first and offered his good arm in case I needed help climbing up to the seat. I didn't. He shut the door and duck-walked to the other side, got in, and started the truck. It fired right up. Points for good maintenance.
The cab was curiously devoid of the usual bachelor debris of fast food wrappers and nearly empty soda cups, the straws brown with a glue of saliva and cola. Except for a couple scraps of paper that looked like receipts, the cab was spotless. The windows were even clean on the inside, and there were no brown spatters that resembled dried blood, and no fading aroma of bleach. The only scents I could detect were faded pine from the pine-shaped air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror and spent sunshine and what seemed like spray starch.
The ride was silent except for my directions. He drove far too slow on the freeway for my taste. It wasn't as if the roads were bumper to bumper cars. There was the usual west side late night traffic and little else, but he kept to about 45 mph the whole way . . . on the freeway . . . with the speed limit posted at 55 and what few cars on the road zipping by at 60 and 65. I'm surprised the cops didn't stop us for going too slowly, but they were busy chasing down speeders drunk on the open stretch of highway under a glittering night sky.
When we got to Bob Evans, he stopped the car and started to get out. "I can let myself out. Thank you for the ride. I appreciate it." I opened my purse and counted out five singles.
"No need to pay me," he said, suddenly shy. "I just wanted to meet you."
I felt suddenly a bit ashamed of myself. All through this, I hadn't offered my name. "Jackie."
"Will you be at the bar next weekend? I'll have my sling off."
I couldn't help laughing. "I doubt it. I usually don't go out."
"You're not meeting your friend again?"
"Probably not. If I do, I'll bring my own car."
He sounded so disappointed. I knew he was interested since he hadn't buzzed anyone else either time I was at Club 3. I really couldn't afford to spend every weekend out. I wanted to spend some time with my son and I needed to work extra hours to save enough money to get a place of my own. Of our own since my son was with me. Provided Mom didn't play her usual game of puppet on a string.
"Maybe for one drink."
He brightened. "I won't keep you out late."
"One drink. Not one night."
"Right. I got it."
He waited while I got into the car, fired it up, and drove away. He followed me out onto Broad Street and up the ramp at 270, but didn't follow me home. He went back toward Grandview and I headed west to the Hilliard exit off 70. He could've taken advantage of the situation, but he didn't. Another point in his favor.
I might even show up next week and have that drink. Who knows? I might have two or see if he could dance. Anything was possible. Anything at all.