Olympic Peninsula, Washington State
“Got a son about your age, up at Bellingham, majoring in computers but I think he wants to teach. I tell him, Brad, no money there, think Microsoft or one of those companies, still, must be a lot of competition for those jobs, huh? You in college, kid?”
He shook his head, had no idea what the man was asking, but it didn’t seem to matter.
“Yah, that coat and boots, bet you’re hitching, what, take a year off to see the country? Where’s your backpack? Lose it? Damn woods, too wet for camping, always are.”
His head snapped forward and he realized he’d been asleep. They were stopped now, off the road, and the lights kept flashing by.
“Get a little shut-eye, son? Well, we’re here and I'll be heading south at the next exit. You go in and tell Ella you’re looking for a ride to Seattle. Should be a another trucker along soon.”
“Where am I?”
“At the diner. Best place to get a ride. That seatbelt caught?” The man reached over and did the clicking and the strap fell away from him.
The door made a noise and he turned to look at it.
The man said, “Pull it out.”
He couldn’t see anything to pull, then saw a gleam in the dim room, a shiny bar, and he pulled on it and almost fell when the door swung open away from him.
This large metal box on wheels, with its bright lights that had no fire or smoke, would have delighted him at another time. He would have questioned its purpose and its source of power. There were no horses pulling it.
Tonight he was too tired, too hungry. His hunger was partly for food. The hunger chasing him out of his own land and into unknown places was so much stronger. He would go anywhere, do anything, to find her.
Carefully he held onto the edge of the doorway and jumped down to the road. As he walked in front of the thing, squinting against the glare of its lights, he saw a building, and he could see right into its brightly lit interior. He walked around to the man’s door, looked up at him, didn’t know what to say and so he said, “Thank you.”
“Sure. Good luck. Uh, listen, you got any money on you?”
Not knowing what that meant, and he was learning fast that he had a lot to learn, he said, “No.”
“Lost your wallet, too? What’d you do, leave it in your backpack? Okay, son, better take this and go get yourself some supper.”
He said thank you again and guessed that was the right thing to do because the man said something about take care of yourself. Then the man and the metal thing on wheels crunched across the gravel and went back out to the road.
He watched the red lights move faster, rush away from him and disappear in the distance.
Turning, he headed toward the building. It was down the road a short way and as he walked along the roadside, he saw a woman come out of the door and then the building went dark. He blinked, squinted into the night, saw her move toward a dark shape. Small lights went on, another box on wheels. He heard a low humming, more crunching gravel, more lights flashing past and away.
When he reached the building it was dark and the door locked.
He stood looking out into the night, thought about walking back to the roadside to see if someone else would stop. He wasn’t sure he could stay awake on his feet and he didn’t want to fall down asleep on the road. With his back against the closed door, he slid slowly down until he was sitting on a step, then leaned sideways until his head rested against the doorframe.
Sleeping sitting up was something he had always been able to do. With the narrow strip of roof above him, at least the rain wasn’t actually falling on him.
“Hey, you. Move it.”
When he looked up, rubbing at his wet face with his balled fists, morning light reflected off the mist and the woman was a dark silhouette shape.
He said softly, “I am sorry. Are you Ella?”
Standing, he slid sideways out of the doorway, his back to the building.
“Yah, so?” She walked past him and opened the door .
“The man who brought me here last night said that you might know someone who would take me to Seattle.”
Her expression reminded him of the man, harsh at first, then softening into a smile when she peered closely at him.
“Come on in,” she said and waved him toward a row of tall stools that faced a waist-high shelf. “Let me get the coffee going.”
Holding out his hand, he said, “I am to give you this for supper.” Then he grinned at her. “I think that I have missed supper.”
She grinned back. “You been here all night? You’re soaked through. Okay, sit, give me a chance to get the grill heating.” As she bustled around him, hanging her coat on a hook, grabbing pans down from a rack, she kept up a steady stream of questions. “Where you headed? Seattle? Live there? No?”
He said yes and no until she stopped in front of him and banged down a mug of something steaming and black.
“So what’s in Seattle?” she asked.
She was a tall woman, thin-faced, her hair scraped back from her head, his father’s age, he guessed.
He said softly, “A girl.”
“Duh. So where does she live in Seattle?”
“Is it a big place?” he asked.
“Well yah! Never been there?”
“What’s the accent? Are you Canadian?”
Not knowing what that was, he shook his head.
Placing her hands on the shelf, she leaned toward him. “So how do you figure you’ll find her? Have a name, an address, a phone number?”
He thought about that, then reached inside his cloak and pulled out the blue thing, tossed it on the counter. “That belongs to her.”
“You have her billfold?” She picked it up, looked through the little pockets. “It’s empty, no credit cards or driver’s license, don’t see anything here that’s much use. Wait, there’s a card here, hmmf. Neighborhood Center and Referral, what’s that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, it’s got a street address in Seattle. You could ask for her there, but it seems like a long shot.”
“Could you tell me how to get there?” he asked.
She slapped a plate down in front of him, fluffy eggs and crisp bread in thin slices, and other things that smelled wonderful, even though he didn’t know what they were and didn’t want to ask. When he looked up at her, she said, “Eat before you pass out.”
He picked up the fork and bent over the plate, dug into the eggs, then worked his way through the rest of it. As hunger finally lessened, he realized that someone else was in the room now.
“Yah, he needs a ride into the city,” he heard the woman say. “I don’t know, looks like some kind of costume, one of those medieval fair things probably. Met a girl there. He wants to get to this address. You know where it is?”
A man’s voice said, “Yah, okay, it’s not far off the I-5, maybe twenty minutes out of my way. He’s a friend of yours?”
“A friend’s kid,” she said, which surprised him because of course he wasn’t.
They all called him son or kid, odd that, but everyone was tall, even the woman, and so he guessed that they thought he was younger than he actually was because he was shorter than they were. He was too tired to care. They could call him whatever they wished if they would help him reach Seattle.