Chapter 1

  • Chapter 1:

    The most liberating thing about desert driving is the open road and the spacious horizon, lacking in obstacles, unlike the reality of life.  The worst thing about driving in the desert was the distance from horizon to horizon that made one want to glue the gas to the floor and just ride.  She wasn’t in the mood for the interstate and besides, there was a staircase in Santa Fe that she was determined to see for herself before she left the west side of the country for good.  Salt Lake in the rearview was a bittersweet experience that she couldn’t believe she’d had the courage to make.  She was fairly sure he’d expected her to be his round trip ticket back to the glorious south where they’d both left his ex-wife and children. 

    Ed was a cheater, but Olivia knew that when she’d left there for Salt Lake with him in the first place, at the time she hadn’t really cared, weren’t they all?  She listened to Rod Stewart at a reasonable volume, “Have I told you lately…….”  It was their song that he’d chosen and it wasn’t lost on her that when she told him she was leaving he hadn’t told her.  Oh, he’d wanted to come with her, but the survey says he’d only have found another side chick once they got there, assuming he hadn’t left one behind in the first place.

    Ed had brought Olivia through this way when they’d migrated from Mississippi back to his home town.  The trip was full of expectation for her, expectation and fun.  She remembered the warm July air and how they were traveling on the fourth from town to town as the sun was setting and all the fireworks displays along the way.  She’d felt as if the whole world were celebrating with her as she finally got to make her way west.  Who knew a rebuilt motor in a B210 could pull a U-Haul trailer across the continental divide in the night wind?  Who knew that one day she’d be returning in a black 280Z with nothing to show for her trouble but memories and barely more than the clothes on her back?  Who knew that Mormons were NOT updated Amish or that their belief systems were very far removed from her own.

    The route she was taking should bring her to a place she’d seen on the way through Moab called ‘The hole in the rock’.  The place had captured her attention because it was built literally inside a large rock with nothing outside it but a sign to let you know it was there, such a place would be worth writing home about, she was sure of it.  Unfortunately it had been closed when they came through on their way to Ed’s parents’ house but as it happened, it was open now.  It seemed they had added some attractions to it, hopefully they would have coffee.

    “Where is the coffee?” she asked the brunette behind the counter.

    “Through that door over there,” she replied, “Pappy’s in the back.”

    Olivia did a double take as she made her way to the back of the store to stretch her legs and look around wondering if ‘Pappy’ was part of the attraction.  They had all the usual tourist things, various keepsakes, shot glasses, t-shirts and a few odds and ends she figured you couldn’t find anywhere else.  They had a flyer with details about the house that was built inside part of this rock that made the place famous, it was closed at the moment but the petting zoo was open. 

    Then there was Pappy.  He was an aged man without the stoop of the aged.  He was wearing a flannel shirt and a fisherman’s hat, the only remarkable thing about him was what he presented in his hand.

    It was a silver foil box balanced above a platform of sorts that didn’t show a reflection of the things around it.  The box hovered and didn’t appear to sit on anything.  Olivia tried to study it closer as Pappy said, “look” and then tapped it into a spin.  It seemed to have a light of its’ own apart from the light in the room as it spun rapidly, capturing her attention and then seducing her into a trance.  One moment Olivia was blinking at the flashes and the next she was in a dark cavern with no lights other than a torch that Pappy somehow had acquired.  They were in a passageway that arched gently in either direction and Olivia wondered if she was dreaming, had something happened to her?  Pappy gestured that she follow him as they made their way downhill through the tunnel.

    She knew that rounded ceilings made for a safe cave and despite the fact that this had to be a dream, she was grateful to see these were rounded.  She noticed as they passed through that there were alcoves carved into the sides of the tunnel that were just about right for maybe a small family to sleep in but all of them were empty and pristine.  In due time they came to some worn steps that were distinctly lacking in sharp edges, as though this place had been lived in for centuries.  The steps were intermittent as were the turns until they finally arrived to what could only have been a commons of some sort, a gathering place for all the inhabitants of the caverns.  There were ledges around the room that would be fairly comfortable for sitting despite that they were made of rock and beside the far wall there was a cistern the size of a small pool reflecting the light on the rest of the room, it wasn’t hard to imagine everyday life going on in here.

    Pappy said, “This way,” as he turned and went uphill down another corridor and into the shadows.

    Olivia followed the light more so than Pappy, he paused after a few twists and turns, then handed her the torch with a gesture that told her to progress further into the darkness.  After a few minutes of exploring the cave, she turned to ask him where they were but he was gone.  Olivia panicked.  Without Pappy, how was she going to find her way out of here?  She backtracked to find him, past the common area and back down the tunnel from which they’d came.  She counted the recesses in the walls, wondering if he was hiding in any of them but they weren’t deep enough to hide anyone who might have been in there from the light. 

    Finally she reached just about where she thought they’d appeared in the cave and there was the light, flashing and flashing, she was back in the store watching the box slow on its’ axis as it came to a lazy stop.  She looked at Pappy and said, “Was that real?”

    “I don’t know,” he told her, “You’ll have to decide for yourself.  Do you want to buy it?  I have several.”

    She looked at the various shapes and sizes of boxes and wondered about them.  She was pretty sure she couldn’t afford any of them as she asked him how much he wanted for one.

    “Twenty-five dollars,” Twenty five dollars was nothing for an object that had hypnotic powers. She didn’t feel as though she’d been hypnotized.  Still, there was no other explanation for what had happened and she wondered even as she doubted, whether such a trance was possible without the old man’s help.

    “I’ll take it,” she said.  “Do I pay you or the lady up front?”

    “You pay the lady up front,” he said as he packed the box into another box with a paper inside.  “These are the instructions, you must be careful to follow them.”  Then he handed her the package and she examined his eyes looking for a clue, what sort of clue she wasn’t sure of only that she might find some sort of explanation for what had just happened, but his eyes were unreadable.

    She tucked the box under her arm and went to find the coffee machine.

    Olivia liked a little coffee with her cream and sugar; she smiled, thinking of an uncle that used to tease her about that.  She finished it off with a couple of ice cubes from the soda machine as was her custom when she bought coffee from convenience stores as they always seemed to either make it too strong or else it seemed to have sat a long time and wasn’t fresh, her last cup of coffee had been about two hours ago.

    “Is there a place to eat around here?”  She asked the lady at the counter.

    “Down the road a mile or two,” the lady said, ringing up her purchases.

    Olivia paid with her card, grateful that Ed hadn’t canceled it yet.  He seemed pretty reasonable most of the time, she hoped he wouldn’t mess with the bank account since the bulk of it was her savings and she still had a long way to go before she reached her parent’s house in Mississippi.  She felt normal enough but still spaced as she walked out the door and almost plowed over a young man in a hurry.  She noticed he was blonde and scruffy but only the amount of scruffy one night on the road would provide.  His eyes were blue; too bad they weren’t piercing, had they been he might have been mildly attractive.  They only locked eyes for a moment in passing before she headed for her car with her arms full.  She sat the coffee down on the hood as she fished out her keys to unlock the door; it was a habit of hers to place anything like that on the hood so she wouldn’t drive off and leave it.

    She placed the coffee in the cup holder and opened the box containing the box.  Inside were instructions on parchment that had been singed at the edges, “fancy,” she thought.  She put it back together and decided to wait until later to read them, right now she was hungry.

     

    The small diner wasn’t what she’d expected exactly.  It was a mom and pop place but mom and pop were Asian and the red and white table cloths were protected at each table with a glass pane that probably saved a lot on laundry and was actually much more sanitary than a plain cloth.  They brought the menu and it was redneck heaven instead of Asian food, the waitress was either not carrying her extra weight very well or she was half-way through a pregnancy.  Olivia guessed it was the latter.  She thanked the waitress and then explored the menu to decide what she wanted.

    Country music was playing softly in the background, not her favorite genre but not surprising when one looked out the picture windows at the scenery.  This part of the state had random outcroppings of rocks and mesas, assuming all flat-topped hills were considered mesas, the coloring of the land seemed harsh until sunset and then the light would set the land on fire.  She wondered how it must have looked during a thunderstorm but since she was planning on passing through rather quickly, she doubted she would ever know.

    She turned her attention to the lunch section of the menu seeing as how breakfast hours had long since passed and few places served breakfast all day.  Olivia couldn’t decide between the chicken fried steak, which she knew she’d never finish, or the cheeseburger and fries, which she also knew she’d never finish.  She opted for the burger and waited to order as she glanced around at the other patrons.  Work boots and plaid shirts was the going apparel so she assumed this was the normal lunch crowd as the men sat around discussing local politics across tables. 

    This was the kind of place she was used to as a child and missed while living in the city where you only talk to the people at the table where you are sitting unless you met with friends for drinks at a bar.  Salt Lake had felt safe and secure and yet a little exotic in its’ own way.  The church had imported culture from all the places the missionaries visited which made life interesting and still, somehow inclusive, depending upon your religion.  She was perfectly aware that the country she was now visiting was peppered with fundamentalists who still believed in polygamy and practiced it so far as the law would allow.  Polygamy was something the LDS did not like to talk about and yet somehow, due to the fact that both King David and King Solomon had many wives and the Lord had never complained, polygamy was not her idea of the worst sins one could commit.

    Olivia doubted that her true thoughts about polygamy would sit well with the Mormon hierarchy seeing as how she believed it was rather demeaning to women to think that every man needed several wives to take care of his needs while the women were limited to one husband.  She didn’t think the Lord had created women to be handed out as door prizes for good behavior but she’d had the good sense not to vocalize these thoughts while embedded within their culture.  She knew it would have created irritation had she voiced her opinion that if it was good for the goose, surely it should be good for the gander and women should be allowed more than one husband as well.  As adulterous as some of the men seemed to be, she knew there was something wrong with their doctrine.  She hadn’t even been able to take a decent walk in that town without being propositioned and at times, with money in hand.

    The pregnant lady appeared, “Have you decided yet?”  Olivia smiled.

    “I’ll take the cheeseburger and fries but can you guys put mustard on there instead of mayonnaise?”

    “Will do,” the girl replied, “and what would you like to drink?”

    “I’ll just have my coffee, thank you.”  The girl disappeared with the menu.

    Olivia noticed the sounds coming from the kitchen, they used real dishes.  So many places had gone to disposable stuff, or maybe, she thought, I’ve been eating too much fast food.

    The older men were discussing the various health problems of their neighbors, who’d been in the hospital and who might need to go to the hospital, the younger men were talking about some construction on the highway, making jokes about how long it would probably take.  Olivia supposed the local women must be at home tending to children since the place seemed devoid of them.  The bell on the door sounded as someone walked in from the heat of the day.  It was the young man she’d seen earlier at the hole in the rock.  He glanced around the room and took the nearest booth to the door, sliding all the way around so that his back was facing the wall.  No one greeted him so Olivia assumed he was not a local and if he was, not a popular one.  They locked eyes again for a moment and then he looked away.

    “What would you like today?” the waitress asked him as she handed him the menu.

    He waved it off, “I’ll have what she’s having,” he said as he pointed to Olivia whose eyes flickered in surprise.  “I trust her judgment,” he said.

    “She ordered a cheeseburger and fries,” the waitress never skipped a beat, “would you like mayonnaise or mustard?”

    “Mayo,” he replied, “and a coke?”

    “We have that,” she said, shuffling back to her station with the menu, and quickly returned with his drink.

    Olivia asked him, “What if I had ordered liver and onions?”

    He looked surprised, “They have that here?”

    “Indeed they do.”

    “I like liver,” he said with a smile, “but I like it fried, no onions.”

    He had a nice voice, low and soothing yet somehow it didn’t fit him, she would have expected it to be much higher.  Was she stereotyping him?  Olivia grinned at herself and supposed she was. 

    The burgers arrived close together and the strangers ate in silence while the locals carried on their conversations as though the tourists weren’t even there.  Olivia supposed they were accustomed to seeing strangers in town with so many attractions nearby.  She would have liked to see a trading post near the reservation but had decided against it because she wanted to make good time on her way to Santa Fe.

    Olivia stopped eating her burger about half-way through.  She seldom ate until she was full, but only until she wasn’t hungry anymore and just a tad beyond.  The time in her life had come and gone when she could eat all she wanted without gaining weight.  She pulled out her computer and hoped they had Wi-Fi, which they did.  It showed that Monticello was the next place on the map where she would have to make a decision whether to go through Bluff city or Cortez Colorado.  She decided she’d have to wait till morning before she would decide which way to go and spend the night in Monticello.

    She looked up and noticed that the other stranger was watching her while pretending not to.  He had finished his burger and didn’t appear to be in any hurry.  Since she was the only woman in the place it didn’t surprise her that he was sizing her up, typical male behavior.  It was time to go pay and hit the road so she stored her computer back in its’ case with the map saved and went to pay her bill.

    “It says your card is declined,” the waitress said, “You’ll have to pay in cash unless you have traveler’s checks.”  They still make those?  Olivia pondered.  Olivia didn’t have any cash.  “Is there somewhere nearby where I can use my card to get some cash back?”

    The cook came to the front, “What’s the problem?”

    “Her card was declined.”

    “If you’ll tell me where I can go to get some cash back……..”

    He interrupted, “How do we know you’ll come back and pay?”

    It was the voice of the other stranger, “I have cash, I’ll spring for the lady’s meal and mine too, ring it up.”  Olivia looked irritated but didn’t know what else to do.

    “I’ll bring you the cash back,” she said, not wanting to owe a complete stranger anything. 

    He smiled, “I’ll let you.”  He handed the waitress a hundred dollar bill and told her to keep the change.

    They walked out of the diner together into the sunlight and he said, “Which car?”

    “I didn’t tell you I’d give you a ride.”

    “I didn’t ask, but why should I trust you?  I’ve been walking for two days ever since my ride got stolen from the last motel I was sleeping in, which direction are you going anyway?”

    Olivia didn’t like the direction this conversation was going.  “If you think I’m paying for half that tip, you’re out of your mind.”

    “Oh, come on lady, you saw she was pregnant and tired, the least we could do is give her a big tip.”

    Was he trying to say she was heartless?  “It’s the Datsun, over there; shake your feet off before you get in.  So, are you goodness or mercy?”

    He smiled sheepishly, “Maybe I’m both.  Was that a Bible reference?”

    Olivia started to laugh, something she often did when she felt indecisive and uncomfortable but something in his smile set her at ease.  He wasn’t broke so she wouldn’t have to worry about him asking for a handout, besides, she owed him a favor.  She opened the hatch and put her computer inside then glanced at the roadway to remember which way to turn.  Driving long distances alone was not something she was used to.

    “I like your car,” he said.

    “Most guys do.  It’s shaped like a phallic symbol but just girly enough for the ladies to like it too.”  He raised his eyebrows but didn’t say a word. 

    “Where do you need to go?”  She asked him.

    “You tell me and we’ll both know,” he replied.  “I’ve got two months off from work so I’m flexible.”

    “Do you have a name?”

    “Alec, Alec Tailor.”

    “Pleased to make your acquaintance Alec, I’ll take you as far as Monte-cello.”  She said, splitting the word in two forming a name and a musical instrument. “There should be an ATM somewhere there, if not before.  Someone really stole your car?”

    “What difference would it make if someone stole my car or if I’m just a hitch-hiker?  You still owe me money but if it would make you feel better I’ll blow it off and get out right now.”

    His eyes, there was something about his eyes that made her want to trust him and there was something about the open road that made her wish she had some company along the way.  She sat in silence contemplating what to do.  “Life is a crapshoot,” she whispered, and started the Z.  She felt it “get set” as it did when you put an automatic Z into gear and smiled,  heading south and closer to home with just a few stops along the way.  As she pulled out onto the highway, she heard the glove box open.

    “Just WHAT do you think you’re doing?”  He was reaching inside to pull out the paperwork.

    “You didn’t tell me your name, …..uh…….Olivia?”

    “I should pull over right now!”

    “If I’m gonna be riding with you, I’d like to know I’m covered in case of an accident.”

    Olivia decided this man was going to be frustrating but he had a point.  “Alec three, Olivia zero,” she thought to herself.  “You need to mind your own business.”

    “What’s in the box?”  He asked, indicating her new purchase.

    “Just something I bought at the hole in the rock.”

    “Is it a gift for someone?”  He was looking at her wedding band.

    “Not exactly, you could call it an impulse buy.”  They rode along for a while in silence.

    Olivia’s phone sounded with a John Cougar tune that signaled Ed was calling.  “Be quiet,” she told Alec and he made a zip/key motion over his mouth.

    She put it on speaker phone, “Hello?”

    “Olivia.  Really?!  Couldn’t we have discussed this before you left?  Why did I come home to a note and an empty house?”

    “You stayed gone overnight, Ed.”  Her voice was calm.

    “You’ve been acting weird so I went to my sister’s house………”

    “…….and she can vouch for me.”  Olivia finished his sentence.  “No bias on her part, right Ed?”

    “How much money did you take?”  His voice became calm.

    “I took my card, I’m at your mercy,” she dryly replied.

    “Let me know when you get to Mississippi.”

    “It’s gonna take a little while,” she told him, “I have a few stops to make along the way.”

    “I knew it!”

    “Chill out Ed, it’s just a staircase and the center of the universe.”  She replied, “I’ll call you when I get to Mississippi.”  She hung up the phone.

    Alec was busy looking out the window, purposefully ignoring the phone call.  “You want to tell me about your purchase?”  He asked.

    “I guess I would if I knew much about it myself, I haven’t even read the paperwork on it yet, did you see the old man in the store?”

    “Guess I missed that,” he said.  “I was afraid I would miss my ride, those are few and far between when you are a guy you know.”

    “Why didn’t you rent a car?”

    “What would be the fun in that?”

    They rode along in silence as he browsed through her music without comment.

    Olivia leaned toward soft rock, classical rock and some contemporary, but she had some hard rock tossed in there for special occasions.  She lit a cigarette.

    “Stuff’s bad for your health,” he said.

    Olivia said, “I remember when people could smoke everywhere and anywhere, way before they put the additive in to make them go out if they are dropped or neglected. They market that additive like it’s supposed to be for fire prevention,” she said, “But I think it’s the reason so many of us have breathing problems now, personally, I think I have an allergy to that additive.  But the elites are always finding new ways to reduce the population, ironically, in the most civilized nations mostly.”

    Alec was stunned; he hadn’t expected a conversation about conspiracies.  “You may be right,” was all he said.  He had no idea what kind of trials they had done before they marketed that product.  “So you’ve looked into this, have you?”

    “I don’t have to, it’s just logical.”  Olivia made a mental note to look into it sometime.

    “I don’t really know how to follow up on that Olivia.”  He said her name.  Olivia liked when someone used her name, but then she was perfectly aware that most people did.

    They passed Wilson arch and she noted that she was getting good gas mileage.  Olivia had a habit of stopping frequently for gas because in this part of the country stations were fewer and farther apart than other places.  She briefly considered stopping to site see, but then decided against it.  If you’ve seen one arch you’ve seen them all, she thought.

    “Want me to read the paperwork on whatever’s in that box?”  Alec asked.

    She thought about it and curiosity won out, “Sure.”

    Alec opened the box and examined the paperwork, then he placed it over its’ platform and it hovered there just as it had in the store.

    “DON’T touch it!” Olivia said with alarm.

    Alec took it back apart and set it in the container.  He took out the paperwork and began to read.    “Let’s see, it says to spin it while gazing at it, it says you must have another person present to keep it spinning until you finish your journey.  It says to return to starting point to exit the game.”

    “That’s all?”

    “That’s all,” he said.

    “That leaves some questions,” she pondered out loud.

    “What does it do?” he asked.

    “It puts you into some kind of trance where you have visions of being somewhere else; in the store the old man was in the trance with me.  I wonder if he would be there again.”

    “Well it makes it clear you shouldn’t be alone when you mess with it.”

    “Clearly,” she said.

    “So, a staircase and the center of the universe,” Alec prompted.

    Olivia glanced at him and he genuinely seemed interested so she picked up the conversation.

    “The staircase is legendary.  It was built by a traveling carpenter for some nuns who couldn’t reach the choir loft in a space where the original contractors didn’t think they could fit a staircase.  It appears to have been built without nails and no visible support system.  It’s in Santa Fe and I intend to see it with my own eyes.  The center of the universe is a place in Oklahoma that I want to revisit; somehow I missed the attraction when I was there before.”

    “Sounds interesting,” he said, “Mind if I tag along?”

    “I was planning on dropping you off as soon as I have the money to pay you back for lunch.”

    “Including the tip,” he asked.

    She hesitated, “Including the tip.”

    “Are you Catholic,” he inquired.

    “Why would you ask me that?”

    “The staircase, it’s in a Catholic church.”

    “It’s more of a museum now, the Catholics donated the entire place to tourism, why, do you think I would have to be Catholic to want to see it?”

    “Oh, no, not really,” he replied, “I just assumed you might have to be Catholic to believe in miracles.”

    “Miracles,” she mused, rolling the word around in her mind.  “I’ve read about them in the scriptures, but I don’t generally believe they still happen.  Probably for every ‘miracle’ that’s been reported there is some sort of logical explanation but I would like to believe in miracles, I really would.”

    “What about magic,” he asked.  “Do you believe in magic?”

    “Is there a difference?”

    “Moses’ staff became a serpent and ate the others at Pharaoh’s court,” he said.  “One could argue that what Moses did was a miracle and what the magicians did was magic.”

    “Is this a ‘consider the source’ argument you are suggesting?”

    “You might say that,” he replied.

    Olivia drove along wondering if she believed in miracles or magic either one.  She thought about the box tucked in the back now, was that magic?  The scriptures said to avoid magic, she reminded herself.  Olivia was not a religious person but she did believe in the scriptures.  “Consider the source,” she thought, still with the box in mind.  Should she toss it out the window?  “Not yet,” she told herself, “not yet.  Maybe I will later.”

    “I want to see the staircase,” Alec interrupted her thoughts.  “I don’t have anywhere to be or anything to do.  You’ll take me with you.”

    Normally a declaration like that might have put Olivia off but somehow it didn’t.  The thought of driving alone cross country had seemed fun to her before but had proven boring until Alec had become part of her adventure.  Besides, the instructions on the box said not to be alone when you, when you what?  Played with it?  Not being alone when you operate something is how they describe machinery, not spinning shiny boxes with hypnotic powers.  Alec was right; she’d take him with her.

    “Based on what I overheard, this trip wasn’t planned?”  Alec asked.

    “Based on what you heard, I guess not.”  She replied.

    “So…..are you running from something or to something?”

    Olivia injected Rod Stewart into the tape deck and turned the music up.

    Alec reached over and turned it down, “Are you avoiding the question?”

    “No,” she replied, “I just figured if you didn’t like silence I’d fill in the space with something to listen to.”

    “You don’t like questions.” It wasn’t a question.

    “I don’t know how to answer that just yet.”  Olivia replied.

    “What about the center of the universe?  What’s that all about?”   He inquired.

    She hesitated and then began, “It’s near a place I stayed at with some friends and I didn’t know it was there.  It’s supposed to be a circle that if you stand inside and talk it echoes and no one outside the circle can hear it, it could come in handy to have you there as a control to stand outside the circle and tell me if it’s true.”

    “So you just up and decided one day to go site-seeing and leave your husband behind?”

    “He’s not my husband.”  She said as she fought back tears.

    “You’re wearing a ring,”  Alec said.

    “I forgot to leave it in a shot glass.”

    “But he is your husband.”

    “A husband stops being a husband when he starts staying out all night with another woman,” she said quickly, “A husband stops being a husband when he and the other woman have more in common than he does with his wife.”  She lost her battle with the tears.

    “I’m sorry I pried.”  He sounded like he meant it.

    “It’s alright.”

     

    “I refuse to talk to him about it.  He would just lie about it anyway.  Besides, he can’t give me what I need in life.  It’s for the best.”

    “How long are you gonna string him along?”

    Olivia smiled bitterly, “Well, he strung me along about four years, how long do you think would be fair?”

    Alec raised an eyebrow and focused on the road.  “There’s a bar up ahead, could you use a drink?”

    That sounded good to Olivia and the place looked inviting so she pulled in.

    “The scalded dog” was made of stucco with the traditional arched doorways and windows.  It looked bigger than a house but had a wraparound porch and tables outside but it was a bit too warm for patrons Olivia supposed.  You could hear top forty music from outside the door.  Inside the lighting was dim because the windows were tinted and the recessed lighting was soft.   She noticed candles in glass containers with fishnet webbing around them accenting every table and booth.  The bar was well lit but mostly for the tender.  It was too early for most people to drink so it appeared they would mostly have the place to themselves.

    “You gonna sit or stand,” Said a bearded man who sat near the door and was big enough to take up almost two chairs.  Beside him was a German shepherd mix that surely must have been their mascot, Olivia noticed he didn’t wag his tail.

    “Where do you want to sit,” she asked Alec.

    He looked around and decided to take the table near the wall closest to the stage.  She finally had time to really look at Alec.  He had a medium build, dirty blond shoulder length hair and the kind of face that would be hard to describe simply because there was no prominent feature, he looked like the boy next door, only older.  Alec had had plenty of time in the car to familiarize himself with Olivia’s appearance.  Her eyes were tired; her lips were full, oval face and platinum blond hair that shone in the candlelight.  Her only distinguishing feature other than her hair was the crook in her nose depending on which side of her you were standing.  He wondered had it ever been broken and not set properly.  Both of them were average, not the sort of people anyone paid attention to other than the waitress who now approached them hoping to get a good tip since business was slow.

    “What’ll you have?”  She asked.

    “Ladies first,” Alec smiled.

    “I’ll have a bloody Mary,” Olivia said.

    “Beer, whatever you have on tap,” said Alec.

    They didn’t say anything until after the drinks arrived.  “Would you like a menu?”

    Alec looked to Olivia, who said, “Not for me thank you,” Alec nodded his agreement.

    Olivia was glad to discover that the bartender knew how to make a proper Bloody Mary as so many of them did not.  “How’s your beer?”

    “Beer is beer,” he said, “I’m not much of a drinker.”

    “Yet you are here.”

    “You seemed a little upset; I thought you might need a time out.”

    “I keep it together for the most part, I’ll keep it together even better once the new wears off.  Do you have someone in your life?”

    “Not really,” said Alec, “I travel too much and I’m gone too long, that’s the nature of government work.”

    “Does someone have you in their life,” she asked with a wicked laugh.

    “You think all men are like your husband?”

    “In a word, yes,” she replied.

    “You really know how to start off on the right foot,” he said dryly.

    “Alec……….I’m not looking for a pick-up.  We are just friends.”

    “We haven’t known each other long enough to be friends.”

    “True,” she said, “but that’s all I need at the moment, a good friend.”

    “Didn’t you have any at home to turn to?”

    “Not really.  Ed only introduced me mostly to his family the whole time we’ve lived there.  Salt Lake was his stomping ground, not mine.  The people asked me to leave and he stayed out all night with someone, then my mother asked me to come home before we broke up.  With that many indications of what I should do, this was a no-brainer.”

    “Who are ‘the people’ who asked you to leave?”

    “I assume they were Mormons, at least half of them, I assume the other half were friends of his girlfriend.”

    “You assume?  You don’t know?”

    “It mostly happened online in a chat room and I can’t prove the other stuff meant anything…….can we talk about something else?”

    “So you answered my question.”

    “What question,” she asked with surprise.

    “You’re running FROM something.”

    “Can we call it a really brisk walk instead?”  They laughed.

    “So why sightseeing instead of just going home?”

    “Honestly, I think I need time to think before I get home,” she said.

    “So Mississippi is home?”

    “Not really, I only lived there a year if that.  Mississippi is where I met Ed.  Home isn’t somewhere I can go back to unless I want to be miserable and limited.  Don’t ask me about it.”  He put his hands up in a defensive gesture.

    When the waitress came Olivia asked for another drink as the girl topped off Alec’s beer and left the pitcher.  They talked about his job in the military and how he was on leave at the moment, they talked about religion which seemed to be very important to Olivia and once a few other couples had warmed up the floor, they danced to a couple of songs.  They talked about movies and books and before they realized it, the place had a pretty good party going but not so thick that everyone was rubbing shoulders.

    “You shouldn’t drive,” Alec said when she asked for the tab.  That’s when she realized he’d only had the one pitcher of beer while she’d had plenty to drink.  “I’ll get the tab,” he said, “after all, this was my idea.”

    Olivia stood on the porch watching the sun go down, she realized she wouldn’t be returning to Ed or Salt Lake.  “The first day of the rest of my life,” she thought bitterly as she took off her ring and hurled it at the day’s goodbye.  “Maybe some lucky man will find it and save himself some money,” she thought, “maybe he will be twice the man Ed was.  Or maybe he won’t.” 

    “Sunset?” Alec was standing behind her.

    “Sunset,” she replied.

    He took the driver’s seat and she took a nap.

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