Long after Elena cleared away Angel’s dishes. Long after she’d refilled the coffee for the fourth time, Angel sat in the booth her feet up on the plastic-covered bench across from her, one hand resting on the duffel at her side, the other sliding fingers along the rim of the blue coffee cup. Suddenly, as if she’d just made up her mind, she called to Elena across the now empty diner.
“Any cheap hotels nearby?”
Elena walked over to the booth. “Sure. I know one that’s a bit safer than most not too far from here. You walkin’?”
“I’ll write down directions for ya. You don’t look like you know your way around.” Elena had tried earlier to talk to the girl, to get her to open up. Elena knew there was a story there. And Elena was a student of people, always trying to learn how they thought and why they did what they did. Which is why she loved her job so much. So many people coming and going.
But this girl, while friendly, just did not share any information. It was frustrating. And, Elena’s shift ended just before the sun topped the neighboring buildings. By the shifting darkness outside, that would be soon.
She scribbled directions on a napkin, grabbed the coffee pot and strode around the counter.
Maybe she had mistaken the time. Maybe it was later than she thought. The girl’s entire booth seemed brighter, as if rays of sunshine thrust over the curtains and clustered around her. The girl’s hands folded on the table, her face tilted up almost glowing, reminded Elena of those paintings of Jesus in prayer surrounded by God’s light.
Angel stared at the man sitting in the booth across from her. She put her feet on the floor to give him room, but he didn’t seem to notice. He touched her hand frozen over the coffee and held it. She slid her other hand beneath his, to feel his warmth, his comfort. Everything is going to be just fine. He seemed to say without moving his lips.
I desperately need guidance. She thought. Please, tell me what to do.
The words seemed to echo harshly through her bones. She could feel the tears building up in the back of her throat, feel them slipping up and filling her eyes. I’m so lost.
Everyone is lost.
Who am I?
You are blessed.
Angel stared in the blue eyes filled with empathy. His lips curved up gently. He placed her hands firmly on the metal table bolted to the floor between them. And something happened.
She could feel herself slipping through the pool of metal down to the floor and through the walls of the diner. There, she found a complex world she did not at first understand. Paths covered the building like web made by a spider with OCD. Perfectly straight lines connected here and there. Yellow, green and red lights flittered down the lines, blinking at the connections, traveling on or changing color and direction. Mesmerized, she watched the dance until a light picked her up and carried her forward.
She was in two places at once. In one, the man held her hands, warming them. In the other, the lights took over and she found herself flying, falling along the paths, pulled by the lights.
The warmth on her hands caught her, guided her, and kept her from losing herself in the kaleidoscope.
She found that she could follow the paths. And, at a connection, influence the lights.
The flames on the grill sank low then jumped high. The heater switched off then back on. The lights in the diner flickered. Elena felt a slight tremble from the floor and up through her legs. The glass cover on the three-tiered pie display tittered. She glanced at Buddy looking at her, his attention no longer on the grill behind the counter. They both stared at the only customer in the place, bathed in a gentle glow that could be sunlight, but shouldn’t be. Darkness still held sway before true dawn.