The young woman is as thin as a rake, but holds an unfading beauty to her. Her shadowed eyes skate nervously around the sudden quiet diner, her hair streaked with proof she’d seen her days of the summer sun pelt throughout. Half sticking straight up, the other half tangled in hellish twisted knots. Skittishly, she tiptoes up to the empty barstool on the right side of me. Ray, on my left, mumbles something under his breath but his mutters go mute.
The woman clings her skeletal-like hands against the metal edge of counter and whispers, “It’s out there…” Her hushed words are so voiceless that I’m not even sure I heard her, but as I bite into my burger, leaning farther forward I hear her say it again. “It’s out there…”
I sway a look over my shoulder, wondering what’s got her so spooked. The diner’s speckled with fewer customers, only a handful sit in booths near the glass door. The darkness outside creeps up starving off most of the light that once shined from the aging street lights. The highway wasn’t much to see unless a Greyhound or a truck shined their daring headlights along the shrouded lifeless road. But I can’t pin point what has her clutching the molding of the counter so desperately. I jump my eyes back over to her and see terror bathed deeply inside the green-eyed girl. It takes me a second to swallow down the bite of my cheeseburger I had just taken, simply because I had never seen someone so damn attractive, yet so damn terror-stricken at the same time.
Her unkempt loose-fitting clothes are not enough protection from the bite of the chilling late night breeze outside. She keeps her head tilted slightly downward so that I can’t see the complete view of her pale face. Her frightened eyes shift anxiously through her disheveled hair, and I try not to stare. She uses the counter as her anchor as she eases herself timidly on the barstool. The nostalgic waitress never delivers herself over to the young woman, never even gives her a welcoming comment like – ‘Be right with you, sugar’. Instead, she wanders off to the opposite side of the diner as if to give a pronounced space between them.
“Don’t listen to nothin’ she says,” Ray rumbles in a low grouchy tone. I catch his subtle head gesture toward the girl. She looks lost and afraid like a doe standin’ smack dab in middle of a hectic highway. A light sound of silverware clanks against a plate and she practically jumps ten feet out of her seat. She curls her skinny body forward and chews on her short frail fingernails feverishly.
I narrow my brown-eyed glare over to Ray and ask with the same low restrained tone, “Is she from around here?”
He grunts and blows out a cynical snort through his nose as he leans on the counter. Keeping his head, his unreadable whiskered expression forward, he replies, “She’s crazier than shithouse rat and it’s best you’d stay far, far away from her.”
I’m not sure what to make of what he just said, so, I steal another curious glance her way. There’s no way someone like her could be ‘crazy’ maybe she lacked good common sense and a decent pair of clothes but then I drop my gaze down to her feet and realize they’re bare and covered in mud. I stop my mind from overrunning with assumptions and judgment but Ray bounces his meaty elbow against mine and mumbles, “She’s gotta a few screws loose up in the head, they had her admitted to Reidhaven when she was young.”
I whisper back quietly and tactfully as I possibly can, “Reidhaven?”
His bushy camouflaged eyes dart my way incredulously. “You know, the hospital they kept sick people in, but…” he shrugs his broad overalled shoulders and says, “…they closed it down. Said they’d run out of funding or something to that effect. I just think it’s a damn shame really, but whatever you do… don’t let her get to ya.”
I’d only eaten three-quarters of my food when I finally had to stop and wipe off my mouth and force myself not to look over to her as she sputters, “They’re everywhere… in-in the dark… wa-waiting…” She cradles her shivering bony hands like a child that’s been hiding from the boogie man all night. Has she been living in this fearful state all her life? The question floats to my mouth, wanting to ask, wanting to interrogate Ray how could some so young lookin’ as her, someone so uncommonly pretty be so distraught?
“I know what you’re thinkin’, Sgt. Knight,” Ray announces as he cranes his head closer to me. Still keeping his voice as low as possible he swallows slowly and informs me. “She hears voices, they say she never could tell which ones were real. So, nothin’ coming out of her makes sense.”
I mentally chew around on his words for a moment, nodding lightly to him so that he knows I hear him. The outdated waitress eventually saunters around and angles a flashy red nail toward my barely touched coffee. “You wanna have me reheat that up for you, honey?”
I idly scratch the side of my jaw and start to answer ‘no’ to her when the woman beside me says, “He wants it heated… it’s cold, isn’t it cold?” My weary eyes connect with her sober green and for the life of me if it wasn’t for her strange, out of the ordinary appearance, I’d never claim her crazy. Her voice as she spoke was clear and concise. And just as soft and polite as anyone else here in the diner.
“Yeah, it is kinda cold,” I evenly reply never taking my eyes away and the waitress quietly hustles herself back to the kitchen, coffee cup in hand. I study her features now that I can, and I find that she bares no trace of someone once locked inside a psychiatric hospital. But something, whatever it is has it’s claws sunk so deep inside her that I can plainly see she’s truly afraid. She tucks her bottom lip beneath her teeth, nervously she looks over me, searching my own features, tryin’ to decipher whether or not I’m someone trustworthy.
“I’m Jason Knight…” I mention and point at my last name stitched across my Army jacket.
To be continued…