By Mark Ready
Two degrees colder, and the biting rain would be snow. Misty shivered in the pink crop top, and tiny shorts Brother Dave made her wear. The phony preacher forced all the girls he prostituted to dress in as little as possible. It showed off their bodies and compelled them into trucker’s cabs to stay warm and turn tricks.
Dave had repainted the Heavenly Hands Massage Parlor sign to read The Church of the Heavenly Hands: services Sunday at ten. He praised the Lord for a few hours on the Sabbath and pimped her and her friends to different truck stops the rest of the week. Misty didn’t want that kind of life and had snuck away from the other girls. The nineteen-year-old had hidden behind the convenience store’s smelly brown dumpster for so long that her fingers and toes had lost their feeling, and her legs felt wooden.
A semi-truck and trailer outlined with red and amber lights rolled toward the truck stop’s exit like a giant etch-a-sketch drawing. Its brakes whooshed to a halt, idling in the shadows as if it were waiting for her. Now’s my chance! Mistyremoved her flip-flops and gripped the cold, wet asphalt with numb toes. She stretched and prayed her frigid muscles were limber enough to run.
Brother Dave stepped from the convenience store a dozen yards away, wearing a red wool coat and holding a steamy cup of coffee. Misty dove behind the dumpster and landed on her stomach in an icy puddle.
You’re a real son-of-a bitch, aren’t you? I’m freezing, and you’re wearing a warm coat and drinking coffee!
“Misty!” called the street preacher. “I know you can hear me. Come back to the van and get warmed up. This rain is dangerous, and you’re not dressed for it.”
Misty pulled her stringy hair away from her eyes. Don’t you think I know that? I’m freezing my ass off. I have two choices. Die from exposure or be chained up, except when servicing truckers. I’d rather be dead. She waited for the preacher to move or look the other way, but he didn’t. She started to cry.
I’m not going to make it. I’m too cold.
A girl with light brown hair approached Brother Dave from the parking lot. “Could you please help me, sir? I’m lost?” She maneuvered the preacher so his back was toward Misty. The lost girl looked at her over Dave’s shoulder. Her eyes said run, and Misty did. She clutched her pink flip-flops with her left hand and ran as fast as her frozen legs would carry her. Her right hand hooked the grab bar of the waiting semi, and her momentum carried her up the steps to the driver’s side window.
A man resembling a bloated old Elvis jerked when he saw her and rolled the window down. “What the heck are you doing out there? You must be freezing.”
Misty kept her eyes on the preacher’s silhouette and pleaded in stuttering gasps. “I’ll do whatever you like. If. If you take me with you.”
The trucker’s eyes went to the sodden crop top and then her face.
“Okay, run around and get in.”
The preacher yelled as she crossed through the headlights. “Misty. No! You’ll ruin everything.”
Adrenaline boosted her up the steps and through the passenger door. “Go. Go! I don’t know what he’ll do if he catches me.”
The driver let out the clutch. “Who is that guy?”
“A fake preacher. Now go, mister, please! I’ve got to get away from him.”
Fat Elvis raced through the gears, and the semi slowly picked up speed. Misty stared into the side mirror and saw the preacher appear from the rainy gloom. He leaped for the passenger side handgrip. She screamed, “No, God, please.” Dave’s face contorted in rage, and his fingers curled around the chrome grip as Bloated Elvis caught another gear. The truck lurched forward, and Misty watched the phony preacher take two giant steps and then tumble to the asphalt. She sank into the seat and shuddered.
Bloated Elvis merged onto the interstate. “Why was that guy after you?”
Misty’s eyes ran around the shadowy cab, and she listened to the windshield wipers flip-flap back and forth. “It’s a long story.”
“You’d best get out of those clothes.”
She looked at her see-through crop top and trunks. What have I done? I’m alone with a strange man going, I don’t know where. Could it get any worse?
The fat man’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “I told you to take those off.”
Misty shifted so the hair between her legs was less visible and put her arm over her rigid nipples. “Look, mister. I said I’d do anything you wanted, but I don’t feel safe while you’re driving.
Bloated Elvis laughed. “I’m concerned about hypothermia, not sex. The quicker you get out of those wet clothes, the sooner you’ll warm up.” He pulled a wrinkled black and tan sweatshirt from behind his seat and tossed it to her. “Name’s Rafe.” He placed a fleshy hand with dirty fingernails and the letters LOVE tattooed across its knuckles next to his left eye to block his vision. “That’s the best I can do for privacy. What’s your name?”
Misty held the jumbo sweatshirt in front of her. “Misty. You want me to put this on?”
“Just Misty? No last name?”
“Uh, Smith. My last name is Smith. I’m putting this on, right?”
“Yeah, you need to get warmed up.”
The giant sweatshirt looked as big as a tent. Misty climbed into it, removed her wet clothes, and then poked her head and arms out. Rafe’s eyes never left the windshield.
“Why don’t you want me naked?”
The trucker took a deep breath. “I got the impression you wanted to escape that, Miss Smith. Was I wrong?”
“No, but most guys, um…, you know.”
“I imagine,” he replied. “Are you dressed?”
“Yeah. Thanks. I was freezing.” She shook her things out. “Do you mind if I dry my clothes by the heat vent?”
Rafe lowered his hand and put a cigarette between his lips. “Go ahead.” His stainless steel Zippo lighter opened with a flick of his wrist.
“Uh, Rafe? I know I’m asking a lot, but please don’t smoke. I have terrible allergies.”
The big man made a sour face and snapped the lighter closed. “Anything else I can do for you, Miss Smith?”
She tucked her legs under the sweatshirt. “Could you tell me where we’re going?”
He put a stick of Juicy Fruit in his mouth and handed one to her. “I’ve got a delivery and pick up in Lewiston, Idaho’s only seaport.”
Audrey Olson unlocked the back door and switched on the lights to start her day at Don’s Riverside Tavern. A woman with short, graying blond hair waited at the front door. She handed Audrey the rolled-up morning paper when she let her in.
“Good morning, Audrey.”
“Good morning, Vivian. You’re here bright and early.”
The middle-aged woman’s blue eyes smiled. “I appreciate you letting me in before you open. I left your payphone as my contact number, and I could get a call anytime.”
“We’ve all been there,” said Audrey. “Are you waiting for a callback on a job interview?”
The blue eyes looked away. “It’s something like that.”
Whatever it is, I hope you get it. A Coke as usual?”
“Please.” Vivian handed her a dollar and a quarter.
“I’ll be right back. Sit anywhere you like.”
Vivian stared out the tavern’s front window and then studied the inside of the building. Wooden booths lined the walls, and four-legged tables covered in wood-tone Formica with sturdy chairs filled the middle of the room. Beer signs and the mounted heads of deer and elk hung above the bar. The payphone rang, and she answered it.
A girl’s voice spoke. “She’s on the way.”
Vivian made sure Audrey wasn’t listening. “Is she okay?”
“Cold, but she’ll be fine. How’s everything there?”
“She’s perfect,” said Vivian. “Thanks for sharing.”
“I couldn’t leave her alone,” the phone went dead.
Vivian kissed a gold pen, set it on the counter, and headed for the door.
Audrey stepped out of the kitchen. “Are you going? What about your Coke?”
Vivian smiled. “I got my call. Why don’t you give it to the next person who orders one.” Vivian grasped Audrey’s hand. “Thank you for everything.”
“You’re welcome. Are you sure you don’t want your soda?”
Vivian started for the door. “I’m fine.”
“Good luck with your interview or whatever you were waiting for.” Audrey watched her leave, then noticed the gold pen. I wonder where this came from. She dropped it into her apron pocket.
The warm sweatshirt, the rhythmic motion of the truck, and the softly slapping wipers made Misty’s eyelids droop.
She heard a key slip into the lock of her bedroom door, and footsteps squeaked slowly across the floor.
Her stepfather, Vern, called her name. “Misty? Are you awake? Misty?”
Oh, God! How did he get a key? She didn’t open her eyes until he touched her.
She turned the light on and sat up with the sheets wrapped around her. “What are you doing here? How did you get a key to my room?”
Vern mumbled. “I miss your mom.”
“I miss her, too, Vern. But you don’t see me sneaking into your room in the middle of the night.”
Vern grabbed her. “It’s different for men. We have needs.”
Misty tried to push him away. “Stay away from me. I don’t want anything to do with your needs.”
He pinned her to the bed and grabbed her throat. “I know you’re not a virgin.” He slid his pajamas down. “We’re not related. You might even like it.” He shifted his grip. “Just lay back like a good girl, and everything will be fine.” His lust-filled eyes leered down at her, and she knew she couldn’t stay there.
She woke to sunlight shining through the window and Slim Whitman playing on the eight-track.
“Did you have a good rest?” Rafe steered the Freightliner along a highway bordered by stands of evergreen trees interspersed with rolling fields and grasslands.
Misty pulled the sweatshirt down, drew her knees close, and wrapped her arms around herself. “Yeah. How long was I asleep?”
“A couple of hours. You can sleep some more if you like.”
“I’m good.” What was I thinking? I’m the most vulnerable I’ve ever been and, except for this sweatshirt, naked. Rafe could have easily overpowered me. She leaned back in her seat and watched the landscape transition to rolling hills and wheat fields.
Misty opened her eyes and realized the truck had stopped at a weigh station—a broad valley at the confluence of two rivers spread out below her.
Rafe opened the door and lumbered up into the cab carrying his logbook. “Impressive, isn’t it, Miss Smith? The city of Lewiston is on the left, and Clarkston is on the right.”
Misty lowered the window and felt the cool morning breeze. “It’s spectacular. Is that where we’re going?”
Rafe shifted gears and pulled onto the highway. “Yep. We should be at the port in fifteen or twenty minutes.”
A long grade led to the valley floor, and Rafe followed the signs for the port district, where they ended up in a large gravel parking lot. Dilapidated houses on their right, a levee covered with caramel-brown basalt brick-a-bract on their left, and massive concrete grain elevators towered before them.
“Yes, Miss Smith.”
“Can I borrow your sweatshirt until I get something else to wear?”
“I’ll do better than that. You can have it.”
“Thanks. I didn’t want to walk around dressed like I was.”
He picked up the cigarette he’d put down earlier. “Don’t mention it. Lewiston might be a great place to start a new life.”
She slipped her flip-flops and damp trunks on and shoved the crop top into her purse. “You’re my Guardian Angel.”
Rafe laughed. “Shh. It’s supposed to be a secret.”
The truck stopped with a hiss of air.
Misty squirmed in her seat. “Uh. Do you know where there’s a bathroom? I need to go.”
“Check at Don’s Riverside Tavern. They’re not open, but someone is usually there by now.”
Misty climbed across the center console and kissed his cheek. “I’ll never forget you. I think you saved my life.”
“Good luck, Miss Smith. I hope things work out for you.” He gave her the Boy Scout salute.
She opened the door and raced to the bathroom.
Audrey stepped out of the kitchen when Misty burst through the tavern door.
“We’re not open, but you can sit and wait if you like.”
Misty hopped from foot to foot. “Can I use your bathroom?”
“Sure. They’re in the back. You want coffee?”
“Could I get Coke instead?”
“I’ll bring it out when you finish.”
Misty shouted, “Thanks,” and raced away.
Audrey returned to the kitchen and spoke to the portrait of her daughter hanging over the doorway. “That’s a coincidence, isn’t it, Jules? Vivian leaves, and a girl shows up a few minutes later and asks for a Coke. She looks like a Lot Lizard—a prostitute who hangs around truck stops. I don’t know if I should feel sorry for her or call the police. What do you think?” Audrey listened. “Give her a chance. Okay, I will because of the day. I’ll try and talk to her. Maybe she’ll tell me about her sweatshirt.”
Misty flushed the toilet, washed her hands, and stared at her reflection in the mirror. A five-foot-two girl looked back with disillusioned brown eyes, long dark-blonde hair, and trashy makeup. I look disgusting! She scrubbed the makeup off and blotted her face dry with course brown paper towels.
A movement caught Audrey’s eye, and she noticed the young woman leave the bathroom and sit in the farthest booth with her back to the door.
She put a can of Coke on a tray and walked over. “You look a lot different. Younger.”
Misty didn’t look up. “I got rid of the makeup.”
“I see that. What did you use?”
“The hand cleaner in the bathroom.”
Audrey made a face. “You must have wanted it off.”
“I couldn’t stand the way I looked. How much for the soda?”
“It’s free. A woman paid for it but left before she drank it. It’s your lucky day.”
“Thanks.” She popped the top and took a sip.
Audrey didn’t move.
“You want something?” asked Misty.
“Are you a working girl?”
“You mean a prostitute?”
Audrey nodded. “I was trying to be delicate.”
“Thanks. But I thought it was okay because I was doing it for God.”
Audrey harrumphed. “I haven’t heard that one before. What if I trade you breakfast for your story?”
Misty hesitated. “Why would you want to hear about my screwed-up life?”
“I’m writing a book with the anecdotes I’ve heard over the years. I’d like to include yours. I’m Audrey Olson. My husband Don and I own the place. May I ask your name?”
“It’s nice to meet you, Misty. Will you tell me your story? I won’t use your real name if you don’t want me to.”
“I guess so.”
Audrey smiled. “Great. What can I get you?”
“Are your biscuits and gravy made from scratch?”
The older woman smiled. “Every morning.”
“Great, I’ll have those.”
“Perfect. I’ll be right back.” Audrey returned a few minutes later with breakfast, a notebook, and a cup of coffee.
“That’s what Julia Child says.”
Audrey sat across from her. “Are you a Julia Child fan?”.
“Oh yeah.” Misty used her fork to cut a piece of gravy-covered biscuit. “I watched her on PBS. I always wanted to make her Beef Bourguignon. Did you know she’s like six foot two?”
“I did,” said Audrey.
Misty took a bite. “Very nice. Your biscuits are tender, and your gravy isn’t too salty.”
“Are you a cook?”
“Kind of. I haven’t done much of it lately.”
Audrey recognized her daughter in the girl sitting across from her. She looks young and innocent, but her life experience differs significantly from her appearance. Was her youth and naiveté enough of an excuse for becoming what she had? Audrey remembered something her mother used to say. “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
Misty noticed Audrey staring at her and stopped chewing. “Do I have something on my teeth?”
“Oh, sorry, no. I got lost in thought.” Audrey opened the notebook and picked up her pen. “Let’s start with the sweatshirt.”
Misty told about freezing in the rain, Brother Dave, and escaping in Rafe’s truck.
Audrey quit writing and looked up. “Brother Dave?”
“Yeah.” Misty poked at her food. “Have you ever done something stupid?”
“Sure. Everyone has.”
“I mean super stupid. Brother Dave let my friends and I crash at this old massage parlor he called the Church of the Heavenly Hands. If we listened to his sermons, he fed us spaghetti or peanut butter sandwiches. At first, it was fine. Then Dave started preaching about Rahab, a prostitute in the Bible. He convinced us to use our bodies to extract money from immoral men. Dave said he’d take what we earned to fund a soup kitchen for the homeless and that we’d get our reward in Heaven.”
Audrey stared at the young woman. “Are your friends still having sex for soup?”
Misty frowned. “Sex for soup? It sounds idiotic when you say it that way. I thought I was helping the less fortunate. When I figured out Dave had duped us, I tried to get the other girls to quit, but they wouldn’t. I told Brother Dave I wanted to leave, and he took my clothes and kept me locked up except when I was working.”
Audrey scowled. “I hate it when people pervert the Bible. Did you call the police?”
“Yeah. The cops said they’d send someone when they had time. I don’t know if they ever showed up.” Misty took a few bites and watched the older woman make a note.
Audrey lifted her pen. “How old are you?”
“Geez. All I worried about at nineteen was college.”
Misty laughed. “I’ll never have that problem.”
“Why? You don’t want to go to college?”
“I suppose I could.” She shrugged. “I graduated high school. Imagine the remarks I’d get on my English 101 essay, ‘What I did last Summer.’”
Audrey sputtered. “You have a deadpan sense of humor like my daughter.”
“I bet your daughter didn’t do anything like this.”
Audrey tilted her head. “She made her fair share of mistakes.”
Misty cut another piece of biscuit. “Did she go to college?”
Audrey’s smile faded. She gathered her things and got up. “She planned to.”
“But she didn’t?”
“My daughter, uh, died before she had the chance.”
Misty lowered her fork. “Oh wow. I’m sorry. That’s terrible.”
“Everybody says that.” She started back to the kitchen.
“My mom died when I was seventeen,” said Misty.
The older woman stopped and looked back. “That had to be tough.”
“I thought I was doing okay. I mean, I graduated and everything. Mom’s death made things, uh, more complicated. That’s how I got mixed up with Brother Dave.”
“I’m sorry,” said Audrey.
The teenager sighed. “Yeah. Everybody says that.”
A man with short gray hair and black plastic-rimmed glasses shuffled into the kitchen.
“You okay, Don?”
“My neck’s stiff, and my arm hurts a little.”
“You should slow down. Remember what the doctor said.”
“Aw, I’m fine. I used some Atomic Balm.”
She nudged him. “So that’s what I smell. I thought this bag had a rotten potato in it.”
Don growled. “Rotten potato! I’ll show you a rotten potato.” They kissed.
“You want coffee?”
“I’ll get it.” He looked at the picture of their daughter. “It’s hard to believe it’s been two years.”
“Two years to the day. It’s May eighteenth.”
“She died in seventy-eight. I still miss her.”
He looked out the pass-through. “The girl in the sweatshirt looks a little like her. Did you check her out?”
“I did. Her name’s Misty Smith. She’s nineteen, her mother died a few years ago, and she got tricked into being a hooker.”
Don raised his eyebrows. “How the hell do you trick someone into becoming a hooker? Is she stupid?”
“She thought she was doing it for God.”
He opened the door to the basement. “How’s being a hooker helping God.”
Audrey sighed. “Believe it or not, it makes sense. I’ll tell you more about it later.”
Don’s head shook. “This I gotta hear.”
Audrey flipped an order of pancakes. A few regulars were coming in, but the morning was slow for a Sunday. She looked at her daughter’s picture and froze. You sent Misty, didn’t you? You did. I know it! She looked at the nineteen-year-old hooker.But why? Why did you do it? Audrey focused on the photo. Oh no. She’s old enough to be on her own. She doesn’t need me telling her what to do. She doesn’t need a mother. She plated the pancakes and added a dollop of whipped butter. I know she got tricked into being a hooker, but that doesn’t mean she needs me … She looked at Jules. Misty doesn’t need me. Your father wouldn’t allow it. She’s fine on her own. Audrey looked at Misty and sighed. Okay, I’ll talk to her. But your dad isn’t going to like it. She delivered the pancakes and stopped at Misty’s booth on the way by.
“Any idea what you’re going to do?”
Misty fiddled with her can of Coke. “I’m not sure.”
Audrey fiddled with her tray. “You don’t have any plans?”
“Everything happened kind of fast.”
Jules, you’re not making this easy. Audrey took a deep breath. “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Misty’s eyes darted to hers. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No. But you’ll fall back on your old ways if you don’t have a plan. Come on.” Audrey led the lost young woman to the door. “We don’t let working girls hang out here.”
Misty grabbed the door frame. “But, but….”
“No buts. You need a plan. Join the military or get a job. Or how about college? Think about it and come back and tell me what you decide.” Audrey pushed her out and motioned her away. Misty stared back like a lost puppy. Audrey gave her a stern look and crossed her arms until she walked away. I hope I’m doing the right thing, Jules.
An hour later, the door jingled, and a black and tan sweatshirt with long wavy hair, bare legs, and pink flip-flops stood by the cash register.
Audrey stepped out of the kitchen. “Well?” She could tell Misty had been crying.
“I don’t know what I want to do. But I know I don’t want to do this.”
“Do you mean that?”
Misty nodded. “Yes. I never want to do this again.”
“Good, let’s get you cleaned up and into different clothes. Give me a second to tell my husband.”
Misty’s forehead wrinkled. “You’re going to help me?”
Audrey took a breath. “Yes. I’ll start with getting you out of those clothes. I’m not sure what else I can do.”
Misty pushed through the door and ran outside.
Audrey followed. “What’s the matter?”
“I didn’t expect this.” Misty wiped her eyes. “You don’t have to. I’ll be okay!”
The older woman bit her lip. “Do you want my help or not?”
Misty sniffed. “I don’t deserve it, Audrey. You should help someone more deserving than me.”
“More deserving?” Audrey shook her head. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” She walked into the kitchen.
“Darling?” Don looked up from the flattop. “That’s never a good sign. What do you want?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal.”
Don tapped his spatula on the grill. “I know you. Mrs. Olson. Darling means it’s a big deal.”
“Uhm. I want to take Misty over to the house to get cleaned up. Can you take over the place for a little while?
Both his eyebrows went up. “Are you nuts?”
She hugged him. “She’s a good person at heart.”
“Why do you care?”
“I think Julia sent her.”
Don swished mushrooms and diced ham around the flattop. “She’s dead, Audrey. She died two years ago today. Do you need more counseling?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but Julia sent her. I know she did.”
Don took a deep breath. “Don’t let her scam you. She probably told you a sob story to get money.”
“Misty hasn’t asked for anything.”
He flipped four strips of bacon. “Be careful. Please be careful, okay?”
Audrey glanced out the window at Misty. “Jules sent her. I know she did.”
“She’s dead, Audrey,” said Don.
Audrey kissed him. “I know.”
The two women crossed the street to a green stucco house and went inside.
“You have a nice place.” Misty pointed to three large paintings. “Did you paint those?”
“Uh-huh. I majored in art at college.”
One of the paintings depicted the dilapidated houses in the pastel colors of Easter Eggs. Vertical loaves of Wonder Bread represented the enormous concrete grain elevators in another. The third showed Don’s Riverside Tavern on a riverbank with four primary-colored canoes tied to a NO PARKING sign.
Misty glanced over her shoulder. “Very cool. You’re good.”
“Thanks. I enjoyed doing them. Come, I’ll show you the bathroom.” Audrey led her to an open door and flipped on the light.
“Wow! It’s pink!”
“Pink’s my favorite color.”
Misty smiled. “Mine too.”
“Here’s a towel and washcloth. The shampoo and soap are in the tub.” She opened the vanity drawer. “Here’s a new razor, and uh, do you need pads?”
“No,” said Misty. “But thanks for offering. It’s embarrassing to have to ask.”
Audrey smiled. “I know. I’ll set a change of clothes outside the door.”
Misty cleared her throat. “Will they be your daughter’s?”
“Uh-huh. You and Julia are about the same size.”
“Your daughter’s name was Julia? Like Julia Child? Are you sure it’s okay if I wear them?”
Audrey put her hands on Misty’s shoulders. “Do you want to change?”
Misty nodded. “I do.”
The older woman took a deep breath. “Then, I’m sure. But I’m trusting you.”
“You won’t regret it.” Misty shuffled her feet. “Uhm. Can I tell you the real reason I’m here?”
“Is it different than what you told me earlier?”
“Yeah. After mom died, her husband, Vern, thought I should meet his needs.” She swallowed. “Sexual needs. I put a lock on my bedroom door, but he had a key made. That’s when I started couch surfing until I graduated. After that, well.” She looked at Audrey with downcast eyes. “A girl can always find someplace to sleep, if you know what I mean. Becoming a prostitute didn’t seem like much of a leap. When Brother Dave said, we’d be helping the homeless….” Her voice trailed off.
Audrey wanted to scold her. To tell her how foolish she was, then hug her and tell her everything would be okay. But she didn’t. “Look, take all the time you want. You need a break. There are cookies in the jar and food in the fridge. I’ll leave the clothes by the bathroom door. Take a nap. The couch is pretty comfy. Come over when you’re ready.”
Misty stared at Audrey, then lurched forward and hugged her. She let go just as quickly and closed the door.
“I knew you sent her,” Audrey whispered.
Julia’s room was like a shrine. Nothing had changed since Audrey shut it up. She picked up Julia’s Teddy Bear from atop a neatly made bed. “Hi, Jules. I’m going to help that girl you sent. She picked clothes she thought would fit and chose a unique sweatshirt to replace the jumbo black and tan one.
Audrey tapped on the bathroom door. “I put the clothes on a chair. Have a good soak.”
“Thanks.” Misty threw the tiny top and trunks in the garbage and slid down so the water washed over her. She looked at the tent-like sweatshirt. Why shouldn’t I go to college?
Misty noticed her wrinkled fingers and toes. I better get out. I don’t want to run Audrey’s power bill too high. She brought the clothes in and stared at Audrey’s dead daughter’s white cotton panties, bra, and socks. You can’t get much more personal than wearing another person’s underwear. Come on. They’re clean. What else are you going to wear? Why does this bother you when you let strangers have sex with you? Misty looked from Julia’s white cotton panties to her reflection in the mirror. “That kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it.”
Misty dressed in Julia’s clothes, and a young woman in a blue and white Lewis-Clark State College sweatshirt stood in her place. Very subtle, Audrey. Her mother never suggested she go to college or try and better herself. She thought it was a waste of time. All she needed to do was find a man to care for her. Just because it hadn’t worked for her didn’t mean it wouldn’t work for her daughter. She thought of Vern, turned off the bathroom light, and closed the door.
Misty opened her eyes and closed them again. She opened them a few minutes later. Where am I? Oh yeah, I’m at Audrey’s. I must have fallen asleep. She got up from the sofa and looked out the window. The world was dark. It’s only two o’clock! What happened? Fine gray ash fell from a cloudy sky, and the streetlights looked like giant amber traffic cones. Semi-trucks and trailers filled the big parking lot, and music poured out of the tavern whenever someone opened the door. Misty ran across the ash-covered street and stepped inside. Audrey motioned to her to come.
“I like the sweatshirt.”
Misty yelled over the room’s din. “Me too. What happened?”
“Mount St. Helens erupted. The highways are closed. Nobody can leave. It looks like you’re stuck here.”
Or do I belong here? Misty looked at the packed room. “Can I help?”
“Do you know how to wait tables?”
“Then it’s a great time to learn.” Audrey took her behind the bar and handed her an apron, a notepad, a pen, and a tray. “I’ll give you the short course.” She patted Misty on the back when she finished. “Congratulations, Miss Smith, you’re officially a waitress.” Audrey tied her apron and hugged her. “Now go get busy.”
Misty got better the more orders she took and began feeling comfortable as the night ended. After they closed, she swept and mopped while Audrey tallied the day’s receipts.
“You got fifty-five dollars in tips. Good job!”
Don stepped out of the kitchen, wiping his forehead. “Whew, I’m glad we switched to paper plates and red Solo cups. How’d you do out here?”
“Great, Misty helped a lot. How are you doing?”
He looked at Audrey. “Are those Julia’s clothes?”
“They weren’t doing anybody any good in her closet.”
He studied Misty for a few seconds. “I guess you’re right.”
Audrey touched his sleeve. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
“I’m just tired.” He plopped down on a stool and turned to Misty. “You sure look different. Like a normal teenager.”
“Thanks, Mr. Olson. Your daughter was lucky to have you and Audrey as parents.”
Don’s eyes and face went blank, and he slumped to the floor.
Both women knelt beside him.
“He’s not breathing,” said Misty, “Call an ambulance. I’ll start CPR!”
Misty tilted Don’s head, pressed her lips against his, and gave two breaths. She timed her thirty chest compressions to the beat of Rock This Town by the Stray Cats and repeated the breaths. She burst into tears when the paramedics finally showed up with the defibrillator and shocked his heart into rhythm.
Audrey grabbed her. “What’s the matter, Misty? You saved him. Why are you crying?”
“I was giving blow jobs to smelly truckers a few hours ago. Now, I saved your husband’s life. I don’t want to go back to that.”
Audrey stroked Misty’s back. “Yes?”
The paramedic gave the ex-hooker a curious look before addressing Audrey. “We’re leaving for the hospital. You’ll need to follow us to do the paperwork.”
She squeezed Misty. “Are you okay with going with me?”
Misty wiped her tears and nodded.
Audrey grabbed her purse. “We’ll be right behind you.”
Misty didn’t wake Audrey when she got out of bed. Her eyes had only closed an hour earlier, and Misty had lain with her until dawn colored the window. Don hadn’t made it. His heart stopped again and wouldn’t start. Audrey sobbed uncontrollably and wouldn’t let her do anything but bring her home. It worried her, and she didn’t know what to do.
Misty twisted. “How are you doing?”
Audrey joined her at the window.
Yesterday’s dark clouds had vanished, and a sunbeam peaked through the purple and pink dawn. Miniature woodsmen, made of tin cans like in the Wizard of Oz, hung around the patio.
“I usually get up around this time.” She pulled on her robe. “What do you think of our creations?”
“Julia, Don, and I made them.”
“You’re very artistic.”
Audrey stared at the tin sculptures. “I’ve lived through Don’s death a million times. We both knew it was coming.” She swallowed. “He tried to get more Life Insurance but couldn’t. As much as I miss him, I must focus on keeping the business going. That’s what he wanted me to do. Without it, I’d be penniless.” She looked at the young woman. “If you’re interested in staying, I could use your help. I’ll give you free room and board. You’ll have your tips. I want to help you go to college, too. What do you say?”
She held Audrey’s hand. “I think that’s too much. We hardly know each other.”
Audrey patted Misty on the back. “There are too many coincidences. We both love watching Julia Child. I named our daughter after her, and you walked into the Tavern two years to the day she died and within hours of me losing Don.”
“I feel the same way. I climbed into a truck with a man I didn’t know. Rafe could have raped or killed me. Instead, he gave me an old sweatshirt and brought me to you.” Misty looked out at the new day. “I’m not your daughter, Audrey. I do stupid things. I was a prostitute for God.” She looked at her and started to laugh. “I still can’t believe I did that.”
“Oh, Misty. You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. You don’t have to stay and help me. But I still believe Julia sent you.”
“As I said, the coincidences. I know Julia wasn’t perfect. She snuck out sometimes to be with boys. I’m sure she used to party, and she probably had sex. I did the same thing when I was her age. I can’t abide thieves or liars. Other than that, I’m pretty understanding. Anyway, you have a place here if you want it.”
“No strings attached?”
“There will be a few rules, but you’re nineteen. You’re not a little girl anymore. Most of what you make of your life will be up to you. I couldn’t help Jules, but I can help you.” Audrey took a framed photo from the vanity table. Her apron slid off the chair. Vivian’s gold pen fell on the carpet. She picked it up and carried it and the picture to Misty.
“This is Jules.”
Misty felt a shiver. “This girl distracted Brother Dave so I could run to Rafe’s truck. I just saw her yesterday.” Misty reached for Julia’s picture, and Audrey dropped the pen. Misty picked it up and turned white. “Oh, my God! It’s mom’s pen. Where did you get it?”
“I think a woman named Vivian left it yesterday. She was waiting for a call, and I said she could use our payphone as her contact number. Are you sure it’s hers?”
Misty nodded. “Vivian was my mom’s name. Her initials are on it, V.M.S. Vivian Marie Smith. She won it for being the employee of the month.”
Audrey seated herself on the edge of the bed.
Misty perched next to her. “This is too weird!” They studied the picture and gold pen. A
diesel engine cranked to life.
Audrey hurried to the window. “Who would be stupid enough to try and leave with all this ash?”
Misty joined her and saw a Freightliner with Guardian Angel Transport painted on the
side of the trailer. It pulled out of the many stranded big rigs and stopped by their window.
Vivian, Don, and Julia waved and Rafe gave two blasts of the air horn. Black smoke poured from the chrome standpipes on either side of the cab and the semi disappeared into a cloud of ash.
They looked at each other. “Did you….?”
Audrey nodded. “I did. Was that your mother?”
“Yeah.” Misty shook her head. “Guardian Angel Transport?”
Audrey started to cry. “I knew Julia sent you. She didn’t want me left alone. Your mother must have seen you were in trouble and helped her.”
“Perhaps it was Rafe,” Misty replied. “I thought he was an angel.”
Audrey wiped her eyes. “Does it matter? Don and Julia will be together. You and I aren’t alone. It makes losing Don a lot easier.”
Misty looked at Julia’s photo and her mother’s pen. “What are you going to say about this in your book?”
Audrey sighed. “Maybe you should write it.”
Misty put her arm around the older woman. “Couldn’t we write it together?”
Audrey hugged her. “I’d like that, except we can’t.”
“Because it’s only the beginning, Misty. You can’t write a story until you know how it will end.”
Misty smiled. “That could take years.”
Audrey nodded. “Let’s hope so.”