William was just sitting down to eat. He had developed a habit of frequenting a local diner for most of his meals. It was small and comfortable, several booths along one wall with a handful of tables in the center. The little TV over the counter was alive with the arrest of Jeffery Dahmer. A few regulars were there for lunch. William sat quietly in his booth. It was late afternoon, and he was hungry.
As he waited for someone to come take his order, he saw her. The distressed lady of the night he had encountered the week before. She hovered outside, glancing at him and looking around. She had the same caramel skin with blonde braids falling across her shoulders. She wore jeans and a snug purple shirt, sandals; and sunglasses that covered a black eye and scuffed cheek. In the light of day, she was thin; worn and frayed from the life she lived. She seemed a bit older than him, although it was difficult to be sure given her circumstances. William turned over his coffee cup and opened up his menu when he heard the bell over the door announcing her arrival. She walked over to his booth.
“Hi,” she said.
“You remember me?”
“I do,” he replied.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Um, they didn’t seem like all that,” she said. “I still got a place. I ain’t forgot.” William said nothing. The waitress approached and interrupted them.
“What you want today?” she said to William and then added, “You eatin’?” to the girl at the table.
“Would you care to join me?” William offered, gesturing to the seat across the booth. The girl glanced over her shoulder and sat down. William told the waitress, “We need a minute, please.” She departed.
“I’m Angel,” the girl said.
“You live around here?”
“Yeah, I seen you around. I stay over by the KT. Ya know, that liquor store. We could go there?” she offered. “I got your money,” she glanced out the window and added, “I mean I got most of it. Had to use some; been slow,” she shrugged and waved toward her now fading black eye.
“You are not obligated to sit with me,” William said.
“I’m good,” she said. “I just, I should be working, ya know? Nathaniel said we need it.”
“We’re goin’ to Portland, soon,” she continued. We need the cash. My kid’s out there. He’s four. You got kids?”
“No,” he said. William pushed his still empty coffee cup toward the end of the table and his waitress was there in an instant.
“You ready?” she asked while pouring coffee.
William looked at his guest and offered, “Would you like something?”
“Ah, yeah,” Angel said, “Coffee?”
The waitress obliged and took William’s order. Angel declined anything else.
“Here,” she shoved a picture across the table of a small, dark haired little boy. “That’s Russell. Cute, right? He’s with my aunt. We’re goin’ there, though so we can get a place for us. Nathaniel says we almost got enough.”
As she spoke, a young girl walked up to their table. She had messy brown hair and was wearing a bright yellow shirt. In her hand she held a few mints from the counter. She looked to be about eight years old, and she stood there silently looking at the red, jagged, line that snaked down William’s face.
“Hello,” he acknowledged her.
“What happened to your face?” she asked him.
William gave her a smile and said, “I was injured as a boy and now I have a scar.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, little one, it doesn’t hurt. See?” William said and ran his fingers across his cheek. He added, “You want to touch it?”
“No!” she giggled. “I got one on my arm, though.” As she talked, she flipped up her arm to reveal some small scratches.
“I see,” William agreed. “Yes, that looks like it hurt.”
“It didn’t hurt that much,” she said. “I was running and I fell, but I didn’t cry.”
William caught the eye of who he assumed was the girl’s mother. She gave him a warm, but cautious smile before calling her daughter to leave. The girl said a quick goodbye and ran out.
“You probably sick of that,” Angel said. “I guess people probably ask a lot, huh?”
“Almost never,” William said. “Little children and drunk men. I give them similar answers.”
“Drunk men don’t care. Little boys think it looks cool. Little girls ask if it hurts.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes,” William said. “Heat, like from an oven or the sun; wakes it up.”
“You could try some lotion? Sunscreen?” Angel suggested.
“Does that hurt?” William asked her and nodded toward her eye.
“Not any more. Just looks shitty.”
“Why did he hit you?” William asked.
“Fuckin’ ask him,” she shrugged and relented, “Sometimes they do.”
“I believe you,” William said, “But I think this was different.”
“What do you know about it?”
“I know you were frightened,” he said. “Frightened enough to ask me to walk you home.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. She rolled her eyes and sneered, “Okay, so like, yeah some guys like to be rough and whatever. That guy wasn’t into rough sex, he was into hittin’ me and I’m pretty sure he just figured that out when he hit me.”
“You were witness to his epiphany,” William said.
“You talk weird,” she said. “I gotta go. You stayin’ here? I’ll get your money.”
“For what?” Angel asked and added, “Come on, dude that’s a lot of cash,” she shook her head.
“You caught me on a good night,” William said. “That night is over. I propose you forget about the money and move on.”
“If you agree.”
“Yeah, I agree!” she said. “Shit, I need it.”
“I am going to hold you to that, Angel,” William said.
“Ah, okay, thanks,” she replied quickly and stood up. “I’ll see ya.”
William nodded. Angel left.