“I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it.” Rosalia de Castro
The drive from Hot Springs to Dallas seemed to be the longest leg of our journey. We sang, we laughed, we talked; nothing was too serious, nothing was too intimate. We seemed to dance around one another and Bill’s secret. I respected him enough to give him the space he indicated he needed. My curiosity was pricking at my brain and I had to concentrate not to say anything that sounded like I was pressing for information. I believe Bill was as aware as I that a space had grown between us.
After a while I heard Bill’s breathing become deep and regular. Glancing over I saw that he had dozed off. He had turned slightly in his seat, his head resting against the headrest. He looked incredibly peaceful, almost childlike. It occurred to me as we grow older we begin to look more and more like the children we once were. I took several quick peeks at him trying to imagine what he looked like as a young man. He still had a full head of hair. It was silver now. Had it been black or brown, or perhaps blond? I tried to remember what he had looked like when he first moved in next door to us but the image in my mind was fuzzy.
I did recall how he and George had first become “acquainted” for lack of a better word. It seemed we hadn’t seen much of him that first couple of years. I know we had all been curious about the stranger who kept to himself. When someone in the community would see him outside mowing his grass or puttering in his garden there would always be a friendly greeting. While he had been polite he never stopped to chat and just went on about his business. He often rode a bike in to town to one of the smaller local stores to get groceries, carrying bags in the basket on the front of his bike. All of us had offered him rides at one time or another but he had always graciously declined. After a
while we stopped asking and would just wave as he pedaled past. We all simply considered him eccentric and harmless. George, who was not really very social himself, would chide me to leave the fellow alone. A person was entitled to his privacy. I could tell George was as curious as the rest of us but he had a way of letting things happen on their own. Somehow or another things would happen and his friendship with Bill followed that path.
It had been a particularly stormy winter and we had one of the few bad snowstorms that hit our area. The power had gone out for close to two days but we had a “genny” that George had insisted on buying “just in case”. George had been out shoveling snow and spotted a bundled up Bill walking past our yard toward town. I was watching from the window and laughing at George who was having entirely too much fun in the snow and saw him lean against his shovel and wave as Bill passed by. Bill had slipped and George ran to help him up and see if he was alright. They stood talking for a few minutes. I never knew what was said but suddenly George ran to the front door, shouted he was headed to town to pick up a few things and pulled the four wheel drive out of the garage. Bill got in and off they went, just like that. I never had a chance to react or ask anything. I stood at the window watching the red taillights disappear into the white snow and I remember swearing because I rarely did that. “Well I’ll be damned.”
When they returned Bill came in with George and they had their first of many coffee talks. They were talking about fishing and I sat in for a few minutes before giving up and going upstairs to read. After Bill left, declining to stay for dinner which I was very grateful for, I asked George what he had said that persuaded the recluse to accept a ride. George just shrugged and said, “Just asked if he needed a ride because I had to go and pick up a few things. Told him I was feeling cabin fever after being stuck inside with you watching soap operas for days.”
I hit George lightly on the arm. “George you know I never watch that trash. You old lying snake.”
George had grinned, swept me into his arms and laughed. “It worked though, didn’t it?”
Sometimes I missed George so much it made me feel sick. I swallowed hard, glanced at Bill who was still sleeping, and blinked hard to keep from crying. I wondered what George would say now, seeing me driving cross country with his best friend on a crazy journey to satisfy an itch. I wondered how much George had known about Bill, about Bill’s secrets. I guess I knew the answer to that. George knew everything worth knowing about Bill. And he would probably tell me I was a silly old bird to be taking this trip but at least I had enough sense to take Bill with me.
It continued to rain on and off as I drove. Bill slept for a very long time and I saw no need to wake him until my stomach rumbled loud enough to accomplish that for me. My eyes were on the road but I heard his breathing change and realized he was staring at me. I shot him a quick look and smiled. “Hey there, sleepy head.” It had become our wake up greeting.
“You’re supposed to wake me up,” he scolded me softly.
I shook my head. “You’re not the boss of me.”
“Where are we?” He sat up straighter and stretched as much as he could in the confines of the seat belt.
“In Texas.” The flat road stretched out before us and dull flat land stretched out along both sides of the road. This was nothing like my beautiful Smoky Mountains. “Not a very interesting place, is it”
“It can be,” he murmured. “Any idea how far we are from Dallas?” He picked up the Tom Tom to check the small map that charted our course. “Looks like we are outside of Sulphur Springs.”
“Is that good?” I yawned.
“It is if you’re tired. We could stop for a bite to eat,” he suggested.
I had to agree. I felt incredibly tired. “Yes let’s do that. Maybe that’s what I need.”
I drove along until we reached Shannon Road where Bill told me to turn off. “Do you have any idea where we’re going?”
He laughed at me. “Yes. We passed a sign that said there’s a restaurant along here.”
“I really must be tired; I never even noticed. How much farther do you think it is?”
He pointed out the window. “Right about there. Looks pretty decent.”
I pulled into the parking lot of an old fashioned looking diner. “It looks beautiful to me. I turned off the car and rubbed my eyes. “I could definitely use some coffee.”
“You know Olivia if you’re still sleepy after dinner we can stop for the night. One more evening isn’t going to make that much difference. It will be too late to see anything when we get to Dallas anyway.”
I yawned again. “Let me see how I feel after I get some food and coffee.” I started to get out of the car but before I had both feet on the ground Bill was there, taking my arm and helping me out. “I’m really fine Bill. I promise.”
He studied me closely in the bright lights from the diner sign. “If it’s very important to you that we reach Dallas tonight I can drive a little. There isn’t any traffic.”
I offered a smile. “Bill you are a most amazing man. But I think that would be terribly foolish. If I’m that tired we will get a room for the night and get to Dallas early tomorrow.””
With that we went into the diner which smelled of fresh coffee and home baked bread. There was no hostess and no waiting. We grabbed a booth toward the back of the diner and I was aware of the stares as we passed by the locals. I almost laughed when I saw the older waitress (not a server but an honest to goodness waitress complete with little white apron and peaked cap and a name tag that read “Wanda”. At least she wasn’t chewing gum.)
She handed us two plastic menus proclaiming “Parrish Diner-Best Breakfast in Town” with a sketch of a smiling man holding a steaming cup of Joe.