Shelly looked around for the source of the line and one of the better looking bar flies met her gaze. He wore a faded t-shirt with a swoosh graphic that read ‘Just Do Me‘. True to its mystical nature, her indefatigable heart skipped a beat. She poked Jim next to her and cracked, “I think he’s talking to you.” That broke up everyone at the bar, and Shelly couldn’t suppress a smile as she sipped her Bud Light. The new guy left his stool and walked her way. “I’ve always been a sucker for a smart ass”, he drawled in a deep, smoky tone that caused the blood to leave her legs. “I’m Travis.”
“Save it, Travis,” she said wearily. “I’m not your girl.”
“You might be,” he winked. “Of course it would be nice to know your name.”
“What’s the holdup, Shelly?” someone in the crowd called out. “You’ve usually left with them by now!”
“Is that right?“ Travis slid in next to her and called to the bartender, “Ed, give us two of what Shelly here is drinking.”
Shelly sized him up. “I haven’t seen you here before.”
“I retired from the Army six months ago and came back to town. I grew up here, went to the High School. I’m sorry I didn’t stick around, now that I see what I’ve been missing.”
They were on their third round when Ed said, “Last call, folks. I’m closing the place in fifteen.”
Travis pulled out his wallet and handed Ed a bill. “Keep the change, Eddie. It’s great to see you again. We’ll have to get together.” Ed nodded. Travis stood and held out a hand to Shelly. “You’re coming home with me, aren’t you?”
“I should really go,” she said shyly. “I have to work tomorrow.” “That shouldn’t be a problem, Darlin’. I’ve got a few miles on me. We’ll be finished with whatever we end up doing well before seven AM.”
“I don’t have to be there until eight,” she smiled as she threw on her jacket. “I’ll follow you.”
As it turned out, Travis only lived about two blocks from the bar. Shelly was pleased to see that the house was well kept and quaint. He was a gentleman, showing her to the bathroom and offering her something to wear before leading her to the queen sized bed. Travis put her completely at ease, and although they finished all that they did well before seven AM, Shelly was very satisfied.
Where has this guy been all my life? She couldn’t help but wonder. Don’t ask questions, she thought drowsily as she drifted off to sleep. Just thank the Lord that he finally came through.
Sometime in the early morning, Shelly was awakened by something licking her face. Feeling somewhat hung-over, she looked up to see a ratty looking, one-eyed little wirehaired terrier standing over her. “Christ, Travis!” she shrieked. “What is that?”
“That,” he said, rolling onto one elbow, “is Pretty Boy. Good morning, Buddy!”
“He is the nastiest looking dog I have ever seen!”
“Yeah, well, I fought in Desert Storm,” Travis pulled on his boxers and sat up on the edge of the bed. “I’ve got a lot of banged up friends. Come on, Pretty Boy, you need to go outside. We’ll be back in a minute.”
Shelly sat up and looked around. She was dying for a cup of coffee and wondered if Travis kept any in the house. Everybody in the Army drank coffee, right? She yawned, stretched and decided to go out and explore. She looked down at the t-shirt he’d given her to wear. “Soldiers Love Hummers,” she read. “Nice.” She made her way down the hall and into the clean, sunlit kitchen. She had the coffee brewing within minutes, and was pulling two mugs out of the cupboard when she heard footsteps coming down the hall. “I’m in here Travis,” she called. “I hope you don’t mind me helping myself!”
“I’d say my son is what you’ve helped yourself to,” sniped a sixty-something woman with jet black hair and bright red lips. She wore skintight jeans that were less than flattering and her fluorescent pink tank top read “Cougar.”
“I’m Yvonne Richards. Who are you?”
Travis entered the kitchen and grabbed one of the mugs from Shelly’s hand as she stood, motionless and speechless, wondering how she had managed to get screwed by Cupid’s fucked-up stepbrother yet again. Pretty Boy lapped water from his bowl on the floor.
“This is Shelly, Von. She’s a new friend of mine. I didn’t plan for the two of you to meet this way. I thought you stayed at Gordy’s last night.”
Yvonne's blue eyes, crepe-draped but bright, surveyed the situation. She nodded to Shelly. "I suppose he told you this was his house."
"He didn't say it wasn't," Shelly realized. She had her eyes focused sharply on Travis, who stood with arms crossed, staring at the floor. Honestly, did a man ever say or do what you hoped they would, or needed them to, in a situation like that? Just stood there like the lying jackass that he was. While she stood there in an extra-large t-shirt and a thong that seemed like a good idea when she got ready to go out last night, but now allowed the frosty breeze of Yvonne's disapproval to blow up her ass.
Travis crossed the room and put an arm around his mother. "We hadn't gotten around to discussing real estate, Von." Yvonne chuckled and swatted at him. "Damn it, Travis! Don't you make me laugh. I can't have you dragging every tramp you meet back here! I mean it; I am too old for this shit, Mister."
Shelly set her cup into the sink and turned to face Yvonne. "Don't fight on my account. This tramp is late for work."
________________Shelly sped down Main Street, racing to work. She’d have to show up in jeans; there was no time to run home and change. She turned on the radio and Bonnie Raitt belted through the speakers, "Let's give 'em somethin' to talk about!" Shelly shut Bonnie up with one slap of the button. That's all I need this morning, she thought. Oh, great, caught behind a school bus. She picked up her cell and dialed the nursing home.
"Thank you for calling Lakeside Care Facility, this is Nichole speaking. How may I help you?"
"Well for starters Nic," Shelly said, "please put some coffee on. I haven't had a drop yet this morning. Long story, but anyway I'm running late. What’s going on?"
"Nothing, it's quiet. Barney tried to get out again last night, but Seth from Maintenance got him to come back in. Cal came down looking for you. He wants to know what you plan to do about Barney's 'wandering behaviors'. Your interview for 10 o'clock is canceled. Heather and I are trying to decide if we want to order out for lunch today. Are you in?"
"To tell the truth, I'm not feeling the greatest. I'll pass on lunch. Is the weekend schedule ready?"
"It's ready, but you won’t like it. It's shaping up to be another short one. We've called all of the part-times, full-times, and per diems; nobody will come in. Cal looked at it, and said you might have to supervise on Saturday."
Shelly took a slow, deep breath. This new administrator was going to be the death of her. DON's and administrators were rarely bosom buddies, but this guy was a walking anus. Twenty-eight years old, and thought he knew every-damn-thing, including how to occupy her weekends. "All hands on deck!” he loved to say. His were usually in his pockets.
"Don't worry," she told Nichole. "I'll get Norton to do it. He’ll cave for me. You'll have to come up with another day off for him later this week, though. He won't do overtime. Can you get Tracy to come in Monday maybe? It's a holiday, so she won't have school."
"Will do," Nichole laughed. "Thanks for solving that problem!” "I just hope it works out. I need to hang up now, before I get a ticket to add to my already delightful day. See you soon, Nic." She stashed the phone and focused on the road.
The bus braked to pick up a motley looking crew of kids. A pale, skinny boy flicked a cigarette butt and stomped on it before climbing on. That brought back memories! Shelly remembered sharing a smoke with her brothers at the bus stop, back in the day. Her mother never knew, because she was already an hour into her shift at the factory. Shelly, Mark and Matt would roll out of bed about ten minutes before the bus pulled up, throw on clothes, brush their teeth and pat down their hair before running to the corner. No breakfast, no lunch. Other kids got on the bus smelling like bacon and eggs; the Davis kids smelled like Newports. They'd go to the office and borrow money for lunch tickets, and then their report cards would be held until their mother went to school and paid off the loans. Poor Mom. Shelly missed her. "Not going to do this now," she said to no one, fighting back tears. Her mother had raised three children on her own, and had worked hard to give them a better life than she'd had. Matt was a lawyer and lived in Chicago. Shelly graduated with honors from nursing school, and worked as a staff RN in ICU at the hospital until the position of Director of Nursing opened up at Lakeside Care. What could she say; it had seemed like a good idea at the time. Mark, the youngest, trained as an electrician and made more money than any of them. Sarah Davis died four years ago; two months after she was forced to retire "due to ill health." Years of smoking and hardship had taken their toll, and she was gypped of her golden years. How ironic was it that her wayward daughter now devoted her life to caring for the elderly? It gave Shelly the opportunity to give others the love and attention that she would never get the chance to share with her own mother.
"It would surprise you, Momma," she whispered as she pulled into her parking space at Lakeside. "But I try to make you proud. I do. I just can't seem to stop fucking up."
That Travis was cute, though. She couldn't help but giggle as she punched in.
____________________Travis looked across the kitchen table at his mother. Yvonne sipped her coffee and took an occasional drag on the plastic cigarette she'd been using, trying to quit a forty-year habit. Maybe that's why she was such a bitch this morning, he mused. Of course she'd put up with quite a bit from him. He’d married his high school sweetheart, Dinean, who Von could never stand (she'd been right about that one, he had to admit) at eighteen. Moved to California without a pot to piss in and joined the Army at nineteen, and, later, was deployed to the Persian Gulf. That worried her to death. He was, after all, her only child. Got a divorce from Dinean after Yvonne paid her a surprise visit, in an attempt to bond and show support while he was in the Gulf War, only to find her shacked up with a musician and dealing drugs. At least they hadn't had any kids. It was bad enough she ended up with Bruiser, the couple's Chihuahua. That almost broke his heart, but the dog was pretty near all Dinean ended up with. Yvonne went after her like an angry grizzly whose cub had been threatened, and Travis came home to an intact bank account and all of his property in storage. Von always had his back. She might get frustrated with him, but let anyone else do him wrong, and she let them have it. Her forceful temperament had chased his father off years ago. She’d raised Travis on her commissions selling Mary Kay, and he never wanted for a thing. Now, as a retired U.S. government employee, he was back under her roof, which meant living by Yvonne's rules. It didn't matter if he was forty-six, or sixteen. She was the boss. Travis wondered how he was going to go about setting this morning's debacle right.
"What say, Von, should we go out to breakfast? I'll buy. I'm starved."
"I'll bet you are," she smiled bitterly. "I'm sure you had a busy night." She picked up the newspaper and held it high in front of her.
"It wasn't like that, Mother. This girl was different. I really liked her, and you and I behaved like such assholes, she couldn't get away fast enough. You could have been decent. You don't even know her."
"All I needed to know I could judge with one look. Trash is what she is, Travis. She's the Davis girl; didn't you remember her from school? She's lived with half the eligible men in this town, and slept with the other half. Everybody knows it. Runs that Lakeside dump that I wouldn't put my worst enemy into. Not even your ex-wife."
"Low blow, Von. I seem to recall spending many an evening here alone after Dad left. I didn't know any better at the time, but now I can figure out that you weren't going to book club. Nobody's perfect. You least of all." Yvonne tossed the paper down, cheeks blazing. Travis met her eyes with a level stare.
"Fine," she snapped. "You're a big boy now. Have it your way. But if you think you're going to conduct your affairs under my roof, you are sadly mistaken! And for the record, you don't have the first clue what it was like to raise a child alone. I got lonely sometimes, but I was discreet." So she thought. He'd never told her about the fights on the bus, or the trash talking he'd endured on the football field. Yvonne Richards was no angel, and her liaisons had been no secret; especially the one with Coach Maxwell. She never knew that, for several years, her son had had her back. She'd be devastated if she knew, and for some reason he still wanted to protect her. It was muddy, stinking water under the bridge. He'd left town as soon as he could, and only twenty-seven years of life experience could bring him back. He didn't give a damn what anyone here thought of her, or of him.
"That you were, Mother Dear. Why don't you hand me the classified section. I need to start looking for a place to rent."
Hannah Martenson sat on the edge of her bed in 204A, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Shelly took a seat next to her, placing an arm around the resident's bony shoulders. She'd lost more weight, Shelly registered. Something was going on with her. "Hey, Miss Hannah," Shelly soothed. "I stopped at the nurse's desk on my rounds, and Becky told me you didn't touch your breakfast this morning; or your supper last night. Are you feeling alright?""I'm just fine," Hannah's voice was a watery chirp. "I wish everyone would just leave me alone. I told the dietitian that I've never eaten much, and I hate to say it but the food here is nothing to write home about."
Shelly pulled a notepad from her pocket. "I'll have Sarah come back up and talk to you about what you'd prefer to have for breakfast. I'm sure she would do her best to order what you liked, if you let her know."
"Well, I did let her know, six months ago, that I wouldn't mind a hardboiled egg and a piece of toast, but heavens, I had no idea that I'd get it every day from then on!" Hannah sniffed. "That's one problem you have here, Shelly. No variety. Same foods and nothing to do, day in and day out."
She was right about that, Shelly thought to herself. She would bring it up at the next department head meeting, just as she'd done every month for ten years. Stella, the food service director, had been at the facility for over thirty years, and was past her prime. She wore ace wraps around her legs, for crying out loud; looked like she needed to crawl right into a resident bed and stay there. Although there had been some major changes in the field of institutional dining in recent years, Stella continued to rely mostly on pre-packaged, processed foods, and a menu with a four-week rotation that hadn't changed since Shelly’ d been there, and probably not for years before that. And as for things to do, if a resident didn't like Bingo they were pretty much screwed. Tiffany, the activities director, was twenty-one years old. Her previous job had been in retail, at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in the mall. Tiffany was a nice enough kid, sweet, but she didn't have a clue about therapeutic activity, or the needs and interests of the elderly. One time Shelly asked her to have a movie night for the residents, and the kid brought in The Matrix! Cal wouldn't get rid of her though; he said because they needed to give her a chance and follow proper disciplinary procedure, but Shelly suspected it had more to do with the way Tiffany looked in her Lakeside polo.
Mindy, the CNA, emerged from Hannah's bathroom wiping out a bath basin with a paper towel. She tossed the basin into the bedside stand before walking over and kneeling in front of Hannah, gently resting a hand on her knee. "Hannah, can you tell Miss Davis what you told me while we were getting you washed up this morning?" Mindy smiled up at her and Hannah began to cry in earnest. Shelly shot an inquisitive glance at Mindy, who only nodded. "Go ahead now, you can trust Miss Davis," she encouraged. Hannah straightened, shrugging off Shelly's arm.
"I thought Mildred was my friend, but last week she took my seat in the dining room! Just rolled her walker right up to the table and sat down before I could get there. She knows I have to go to the bathroom before I eat!"
Shelly knew that the residents liked to keep to their routines, but crying over a place at the table? "I'll look at the seating chart, Miss Hannah. Maybe we can sit you at another seat at that table. Would that be alright?" She noticed that Mindy was staring at her as though she was clueless. What could she be missing?
"I liked the seat I had," Hannah's voice faltered. "Mr. Philips was nice to talk to, and I always helped him open his milk. We enjoyed our meals together, until Millie Johnson decided to plant herself beside him!" Now you get the picture, Mindy's eyes said.
Millie Johnson was a pain in the ass, Shelly knew, and she liked the men. She already kept company with Olaf Franken in the chapel, and Doug Chapman in the activity room. Leaving poor Lionel Philips to Miss Hannah shouldn't be too much to ask. Hadn't Millie been coughing a bit after she drank her liquids? Shelly could send a Speech Therapy referral. A screening evaluation would identify the problem, and Millie would be moved to an assist table. Call it geriatric justice.
"Give me a day or two, Miss Hannah," Shelly smiled reassuringly. "These things have a way of working themselves out, you wait and see. Mindy, would you please give Karen a call in the beauty shop? I think Hannah's going to want to look pretty tomorrow."
Shelly's pager sounded." I have to run. I'll see you ladies later." She hurried to the desk and grabbed a phone. Sandy, the receptionist, sounded exasperated. "It's an outside call, Shelly. Some guy's called here three times this morning. I tried to tell him you were busy."
Probably a sales rep., Shelly sighed. "I'll take it."
"I'll bet you will, Sunshine," Travis teased, and her body went numb.
"What are you doing for lunch? I owe you a cup of coffee."
____________________Shelly nosed her Ford Ranger pickup into the parking lot at Uncle Joe's Diner on Main. The place was packed; why had she agreed to meet him here? She'd be lucky to get back to work in two hours, let alone one, which was all she could spare. She took a quick look at her hair in the rearview and looked up to see Travis leaning near the diner entrance. He noticed her at the same time, and walked over to greet her with a smile that made her dizzy. What was it about this guy? Shelly smiled back and waved, doing her best to appear nonchalant. That lasted about two seconds, until she closed the belt of her jacket into the locked door of the truck. She pulled at it helplessly as Travis gently took the keys from her hand, opened the door and set her free.
"Don't worry, Hon," he said. "You make me nervous too. You hungry?”
"I didn't think I was, but I always have an appetite for Joe's barbecue. It's awesome."
They stepped inside, allowing their eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Shelly scanned the room for an empty table.
"Travis Richards! Is that you?" squealed Tonya, Joe's waitress. "I haven't seen you in ages!" Her smile faded when she noticed Shelly.
"Oh. Hi Shell. You and Travis know each other?"
Shelly forced a smile. "We do, Tonya. And I need to get lunch and get back to work. Have you got a table?" Travis watched the exchange with amusement. Tonya showed them to a small booth in the corner and disappeared.
"That was pleasant," he smirked, picking up a menu. "Bet she spits in your food."
"Let her try. I take it you two have a history?" Shelly sipped her water and waited for an answer.
"I took Tonya to the prom, back in '82. She was a fox back then. Unfortunately, her hair's the only thing that still looks the same. I'd rather talk about you. How's your day going?"
"Better than it started out," she blushed. "Thanks for warning me that you lived with your mother."
"Sorry about that. I would've told you eventually. Besides, it's only temporary. As a matter of fact, I rented a place this morning. It's on Chase Street, 529. I hope you like it."
"Whoa. Isn’t that rushing things? We’ve only gone out once.”
Tonya returned and stood ready to take their order.
"'Gone out'? Is that what we're calling it? I thought it was more than that." Travis leaned back, crossing his arms. Tonya listened for Shelly's reply.
"I'll have the pulled pork sandwich, with onion rings and a Coke," she said, handing back her menu. Travis ordered the same before Tonya retreated, reluctantly, to the kitchen.
“As I was saying, I thought we had something going,” Travis challenged.
"What do you want me to say, Travis? I like you, but I barely know you."
“You know where I came from. That tells you a lot about who I am. I’m sitting here telling you I want to be with you. There’s something special between us, Shelly. It's just a feeling I get."
"That 'feeling' is a hard-on. It doesn't last,” she snorted. “Sorry. I'm afraid I'm not used to sincerity."
"And I’m new to being sincere," Travis winked up at Tonya as she set down their plates. "The hard-on's the easy part." Tonya stared at him with her mouth open as Coke poured over her shoes.
Shelly shook salt over her onion rings and knew she was in love.