Chapter 3: Simple Twist of Fate
For the next four days Janie stayed tucked under a crocheted afghan on Dee’s couch. She slept, ate bowls of Cocoa Puffs, and watched TV with the volume off so Dee could sleep. Time slipped by. Janie was waiting for Paul.
The day after he brought her home from the club, he showed up on his motorcycle. He didn’t knock, walked inside carrying an armload of wood, and built a fire. Then he stood in the living room shifting from foot to foot until she asked him if he wanted to watch Bonanza with her. It turned out Paul Jesse had a thing for old Westerns.
That first night Janie had been too sick to notice more than his kindness. The next afternoon she took in his features when he wasn’t looking. His hair was long and the color of taffy, worn in a thick braided rope that hung down to the middle of his back. He was tanned and had some weather to his face. His Fu Manchu was neatly trimmed, and dimples framed his mouth. His warm brown eyes had crow’s feet from laughing or squinting too hard in the sun.
Every day he showed up just after Delores left for work and stayed until Janie fell asleep on the couch during Johnny Carson. He didn’t offer to comb her hair again. He didn’t touch her at all. He talked very little, but the silence between them was comfortable.
Janie didn’t mention Paul’s visits to Delores. They were small in themselves and probably didn’t mean anything to anyone but Janie. She found herself holding her breath waiting for the sound of his bike on the gravel each afternoon.
On Monday Janie knew she’d be well enough to go back to work. She hoped going back to The Habit wouldn’t end whatever was happening between her and Paul. That morning she made spaghetti like her dad used to make using a page torn from her mom’s cookbook. She almost never got a chance to cook and the times she had were special to her. Once she had her own home she would cook every day and love it.
* * *
Paul had no idea what he was doing. Every day he told himself to get back to work and quit going to see that girl. Come three in the afternoon he’d get restless. He couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t concentrate. He’d get on his bike with every intention of heading over to The Habit to do some business, yet somehow he’d find himself pulling into Delores’s driveway to see the girl with the blue eyes, and the four freckles across the bridge of her nose, and the lips that needed no extra color, and the acres of wavy brown hair that smelled clean and shone like polished wood.
When he walked through the door, his intentions disappeared. She felt familiar as old tunes on the radio. She didn’t talk much, but when she did she wasn’t coy and didn’t come on to him. She had a habit of twining her hair around her fingers when she watched TV. Anybody would think he had a crush on her but she was at least ten years younger than him.
He parked his bike and went inside through the backdoor to the kitchen. She stood at the stove stirring red sauce. Her hair was pulled back, her face without make-up. Her worn shirt was almost the same blue as her eyes.
“I hope you’re hungry.” She smiled at him. “I made my mom’s secret sauce. The secret is bacon. Don’t tell.” Janie lifted the spoon to her lips, blowing on it before she held it out to him. “Want a taste?”
He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t look away from those eyes. Paul put his hand over hers, bending to bring the spoon to his mouth. He didn’t let go of her hand as he brought the spoon down. He didn’t look away.
The smell of coffee and Delores stomping around woke Paul in the morning. Janie slept next to him, her breath deep and even. He got out of bed to go shut Dee up and get a cup of coffee to bring back. He’d like to lie beside Janie and watch her sleep awhile longer.
Delores sat at the kitchen table tapping her cigarette into an ashtray. She stared as Paul poured himself coffee. Her voice was harsh. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Getting some coffee. What’s wrong with you?” Paul leaned back against the counter.
“Are you sleeping with that girl?”
“Is that your business, Dee?”
“What happens in my house is my business.” Her voice rose.
“Look, I didn’t plan on spending the night, and I didn’t figure it’d piss you off so much if I did.” Paul picked up his cup. “It’s too early for this. I’m going back to bed.”
“Not in my house you’re not.”
“Lighten up Dee. Look, it was just a night. I’m not looking for an old lady. You want me to say it was mistake? Okay. I got carried away or some shit. Now can I go back to bed?”
The clock on the wall clicked. A drop of water splashed in the pan left to soak overnight in the kitchen sink. Delores looked past him down the hall. Paul knew before he looked that Janie was there. She didn’t say a word. Before he could stop her, Janie was gone, the door to her room shutting behind her.
* * *
Janie worked the rest of the week, staying for the payday crowd to top off her savings from the past two months. Paul came to The Habit twice and never looked at her. She felt more alone than she had in a long time. She thought something real had happened between them. She’d learned that when she gave her body away she lost a piece of herself, so she didn’t do it often. She’d bartered with sex as a trade for something she needed before, but that was different. When she was in bed with Paul, she felt as if she belonged there with him. She thought she’d be alone forever. The only cure was the road. She didn’t talk to Dee about Paul or about leaving. She just wanted to go. At the health food store on their way to work one afternoon, Janie read the bulletin board while Dee bought some Tiger Balm. The Oregon Country Fair was in Veneta, outside Eugene, two weeks and three hundred miles away from The Habit and Paul Jesse. Janie had almost five hundred dollars stashed. She’d leave that week.
Friday morning she packed her things and asked Delores for a ride to the freeway. Dee didn’t seem surprised and didn’t try to talk her out of it. The past week had been strained. Delores kept trying to bring up Paul and Janie stayed quiet.
Delores pulled over on the shoulder of the northbound on-ramp to I-5. “Well, here you go. Take it easy.”
“See you.” Janie felt lighter than she had in a week. She faced the direction of traffic and extended her thumb, hoping for a gypsy trucker who wanted company and might be going straight through to Eugene. Nothing like miles and a new scene to get your head back. She’d moved on from so many places and people over the past two years that staying put, no matter how much she thought she wanted to, scared her, made her feel trapped.
There wasn’t much traffic so she waited, standing patiently wondering if she should have gotten a ride from Dee to a different on-ramp. Hitching from small towns could be hard. A station wagon slowed down but didn’t stop. Finally, as despair was setting in, a white delivery van with Oregon plates pulled over. The driver, a youngish guy, got out and adjusted the passenger side mirror. “So, where you headed?”
Janie looked him over. “Down to the Country Fair in Eugene.”
“I’m going to Portland. That’s about halfway.” He opened the door for her. Fast food wrappers and a metal clipboard holding some papers were on the seat. “Go ahead and put your stuff in the back.”
Janie didn’t usually ride