"Trust me, Dorie," Mick had said, holding himself above her, those big blue eyes burning into her, and she'd thrown all of her inhibitions out the window, flushed her parents' rules right down the toilet, and given in.
Two months later, Mick left town, snuck right out in the middle of the muggy June night, and he wasn't there to walk across the stage to pick up his diploma and sit down next to her.
He wasn't there seven months later to hold her hand while she sweated and screamed and pushed two little boys out into the world.
It wasn't like she knew anything about little boys. Big boys, yes; that's how she got landed with the little ones after all. How stupid was she?
Okay, so that wasn't the last stupid thing she'd ever done. But she was damn sure not going to let anyone make the boys feel bad about having a dumb mama.
She got Professor Martinez to lend her old copies of the books he used in the world cultures course he taught at the community college, and did her best to get through them during her breaks or while the boys were asleep. Every once in a while, Professor Martinez would linger over his fried chicken platter and deliver a cut-rate version of one of his lectures. She'd pour him cup after cup of decaf coffee and try to absorb as much as she could.
Professor Martinez croaked before she could ask if maybe they could arrange some more regulated sessions once she got the boys into daycare.
She still has the books, the covers splattered with grease and the pages going tattered from more than twenty years of being flipped open, scribbled on, and crushed in the depths of her purse. Her bag-lady purse, the boys call it, the little hooligans. She'd like to see them manage to feed three mouths off of one tiny paycheck and the kinds of tips Old Man Pickett tends to leave, and that's only when he's not twisted up with rage at the world.
She's glad they don't have to, that they were smarter than she was; they both graduated pretty much on time, went out into the real world and landed suit-wearing jobs.
The book about the Amazons has always been her favorite.
Cal's looking up at her with pleading eyes, and even though she knows her boys have never relied on the kindness of strangers, she can't help feeling like being there for Cal will earn them points somehow, that someone will put out a hand to save them if they ever need it. Dorie keeps her tone light. "What'll it be today, hon?" she asks, pretending she can't smell him from a few feet away.
Cal pushes a quarter over to her, fingers shaking a little from hunger and whatever he's coming down from, and she hands him the plate of white toast the skinny girl in the back pushed away, claiming she'd ordered wheat. There are little packets of grape jelly topping the toast. Dorie flips over a coffee cup and fills it to the brim for him too before she moves away.
She checks the clock. It's early enough that Judge Myers will have time for a cup of coffee and a jelly donut to take away the taste of his milk and his cottage cheese salad. She's at his side, clearing away his bowl, before he can beckon her to get to it. "A donut and something hot to drink, Judge?" she asks, and he smiles and pats her arm.
The only thing that ever really changes around here is that her uniform is getting a little dingier and a little tighter with each passing day.
It's important not to fall into a rut. Dorie knows it, and she makes an effort. There's a new movie with that adorable Ashton Kutcher coming out; maybe she'll go see it, not even bother calling up Marie or Inez, just go and sit and watch someone else's life for a couple of hours.
Or maybe she'll use that coupon from the book that gets delivered to her every Monday, full of carpet cleaning services and retirement homes and when exactly had someone put her on the AARP mailing list? She gets up during the commercial to rummage through her junk mail again. There it is. "One free lesson at Tony and Edie's Archery Range."
She draws herself up, all five foot four of her, and imagines herself in the Trojan War, one sure hand guiding her arrow and letting it fly true, because she is the queen of the Amazons and cannot miss.
The boys are always nagging her to get out of the house more anyway. She might as well give it a shot.
Cal's dragged himself back in, slumping on one of the stools with his head ducked down, like he thinks maybe she won't notice him if he just sits quiet. The bell over the door dings.
The shakes give him away. She tries to sound kind. "Can't stay unless you order something, Cal; you know the rules."
This time it's a dime he slides over; she slaps her hand over it to keep it decently covered. All she can offer him today is a cup of coffee. She pours it out and leaves the coin on the counter when she goes.
Turning away, she can see two boys sitting in the booth where she likes to take her breaks. Dorie heads over, wondering what they're up to with their newspapers and earnest conversation. They're dressed plain but clean, big handsome boys, clearly completely familiar with each other's rhythms. They look tired, like they've been working for too many days straight, but she doesn't remember seeing them before, and they definitely would have stuck out in her mind.
They could be boyfriends, but the face the bigger one makes at the short-haired one's order is what convinces her that they're brothers. Each of her boys used to do that too, act as if there was some invisible, impartial judge who'd surely be on his side instead of his gross brother's.
She wanders back to tell Ron their orders - one hearty, one sweet - and heads over to clear the bowl of fruit and cottage cheese from Judge Myers's table.
These two handsome boys walk in like broke-down movie stars, only they're wearing too many layers of proper work clothes and there are no cameras following them anywhere. At least not anywhere that she can see, though who knows what they can do with satellites and all that fancy digital stuff these days. Dorie smoothes her hair down and thanks her lucky stars she put in the earrings the boys bought her for her fiftieth.
Up close, the two of them are even more adorable, and she wonders if the skinny girl in the back would recognize them if she looked this way. The one in dark blue puts in an order that should last him until this time tomorrow, but the other one, the one with the long pink neck says, polite as can be, that he doesn't want anything. The camera might add ten pounds, but he's got nothing to worry about; he's not her kid, though, and she can't say anything.
Dieting hasn't dulled his reflexes, she'll say that much for him.
The two of them sure are cute.
It's been a hell of a day already, and it isn't even ten o'clock. The deep fryer's had a temper tantrum and blinked itself out of existence, and they're down to their last pack of coffee filters.
Two guys walk in like they own the place. Maybe if they did, the place would be better run. She's been working here since she was sixteen, under four different managers, and most days she likes it just fine, but Woody can take his "little economies" and cheap, itchy uniforms and shove them right up his ass.
The guy who looks like he'd maybe be good for a little conversation is shut up real quick by the other one, a bossy giant with a face like a baby. Too good to talk to her, apparently, and she takes the hint and turns away.
A little hot sauce in the lap ought to teach him some manners. Damn.
She should have known a guy that good-looking could only spell trouble. Yeah, she felt a tiny thrill when he called her sweetheart, yelled it out in the open air like he had no reason at all to keep it under wraps, and she happily switched his order without a second thought.
It wasn't like it would make any difference when his bill came due.
Woody screamed at them all for forty minutes straight for not having a step-by-step poster of the Heimlich Maneuver up on one of the walls. She wants to just get up and quit, then go home and cry over that boy young enough to be her son, but it's not like her mortgage will pay itself.
And that other boy, the one who looked even younger - what is he going to do, now that his boyfriend is gone?
Dorie sets a jug of strawberry syrup by Ed's plate and goes to take the orders of the two tall boys who just walked in.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.