Dori was surprised and a bit scared when she couldn’t get herself out of bed the next evening. After getting a ride home from the hospital from a frantic Aunt Andrea and sleeping like a baby all night (and some of the day) she’d felt fine. When Smile called that afternoon and left a message that he had sent a mechanic over to fix her Oldsmobile so she would have transportation, she had felt fine, had even told Smile thank you and asked again how he was. He was distant, and seemed to be annoyed with her.
When the mechanic got the car running (it took him about ten minutes of poking about), that was fine too. But when she woke up from her afternoon nap, she couldn’t move. Dori’s eyes opened, and she stared at the ceiling and couldn’t move. It was as though one arm was held down by her wrecked Neon, and the other by the fact that she had to move out, and one of her legs was trapped under the shit with stupid Chris Sinclair and his fans who seemed determined to make her life miserable through pranks and occasional threats. Her other leg was stuck under the whole Smile situation, even though that was technically resolved. And she couldn’t get up.
She could hear the television in the other room; Aunt Andrea was watching the news. And she knew she had to work at seven, so it was time to get up. But the order was issued to her legs, and they just ignored her. A message came back from her feet. Who gives a shit? it said. Everything sucks. And her feet didn’t move.
Dori sighed and tried to wait it out, even though she was more than a bit frightened. She’d never been paralyzed by…whatever…before. She thought again of the EMT telling her that sometimes a tiny fracture would cause the spinal column to just be severed without warning, and wondered if maybe she’d rolled the wrong way and paralyzed herself while napping. They had given her a clean bill of health last night, but you never knew.
That was when she started to panic. Dori tried again to sit up, but the thought dissolved into some murky riot of emotions and frustrations about her wrecked car, which insurance would probably cover the loan on, but the money she had put down was just gone and she was stuck with the stupid fucking Oldsmobile that only started when it felt like it. And she still couldn’t move.
She moved a finger, just to be sure she could, and that succeeded. She could move her arms, too. She just couldn’t get up. See? the voice inside her said. You’re not a fucking hero, you’d have never been able to deal the way your grandfather did. “Aunt Andrea?” she called. After a couple more calls, Andrea came to the door. “Hey,” she said, not sure what to ask.
“How are you feeling?”
“Okay, sort of.”
One of the things Dori liked about Aunt Andrea was that she knew the different meanings of “okay, sort of.” She came in and sat on the bed next to Dori. “What’s on your mind?” she asked.
“I dunno. Just kind of overwhelmed, I guess. I could have died,” she said.
“Smile feels terrible about it,” Aunt Andrea said.
“I know. Still, it might be better if we split up for a while. I really think we should’ve done it a month ago or something.”
“You’re both old enough to work it out together,” Andrea said noncommittally. Dori knew she liked Smile a lot, liked the things Smile was trying to do with his life and respected him as boyfriend material. And she was probably glad he was a boy, too.
“I know. But I’m all fucked up. I could have died,” she said again. Was that what was bothering her? It was what fell out of her mouth when she opened it.
“You’re very lucky,” she said, patting Dori’s shoulder.
“The insurance people are supposed to call tomorrow. Lucky I didn’t trade my other car in, I guess,” she said, not particularly convinced. “I can still find a new place, too.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Dori.”
“No, I will. It’s just a damn car crash, it’s over and I’m okay, I should get on with my life. It’s not an excuse to lie in bed all feeling sorry for myself.” Dori almost believed that. Telling Aunt Andrea what was bothering her seemed to help. “I have a lot of shit to do. I have to call the newspaper in Ypsi about the football thing, too. I keep forgetting to.”
“We’ve gotten a few calls today,” Andrea said reproachfully. Dori didn’t feel like she was being blamed, but it didn’t feel good, either.
She tried to sit up, and found that she could. “I’m going to be late for work,” she said. “I should go.”
The restaurant was busy when she arrived, and thinned out only a bit over the next half-hour or so. The clamor of a dozen different conversations almost–almost–drowned out the awful cheesy pop music coming out of the jukebox. There was a table full of fratboys who worried Dori at first, because of their U of M football sweatshirts, but after a few minutes it was obvious that they were more interested in seeing if she wanted to have sex with any of them than in exacting misguided revenge in the name of Chris Sinclair. It was busy enough that they were an amusing distraction. There was something funny about guys who thought they were being clever and on top of the world, when they weren’t.
There were other tables to tend to, of course. Dori sauntered up to the latest arrival, a big bearded man in a suit. “Welcome to Pandora’s Pizza–oh, hey, I remember you.” It was the man from about a week ago, the one who’d been with the bald Asian girl.
He smiled back. “Couldn’t help myself,” he said. “Looks like you’re not working the whole place by yourself this time, though.”
That was right, he had been here on Daniel’s first night. “Yeah, the new guy’s learning the ropes. Or at least, he’s not trying to do deliveries tonight, which is good. ‘Zit just you tonight, or is your friend coming?”
“No, it’s just me,” he said, picking up the menu and looking at it without really reading anything.
“Uh-oh, I know that look,” Dori said, grinning. She could almost smell the remains of the argument on him, whatever it had been about. “I just broke up with my boyfriend, too. If you want, I’ll pretend that I didn’t notice, and put some depressing breakup song on the jukebox. I can even, um, get you a beer to cry in, or something. I’m still Dori, but if you come here twice you have to tell me your name, too.”
He laughed, and so did she. “It’s Charles, and you’re half right,” he said. “We weren’t really dating, but we did have a bit of a…disagreement. It’s a long story.” Dori looked down at him, nodding. “Do your customers often pour their hearts out to you?” he asked.
“Actually, yeah. I don’t know if it’s a waitress thing, or if it’s just me. I’ve had it happen like in line at the post office, too. People think I’m a good listener or something.”
“You have a very engaging manner,” Charles said. “I should let you get back to work, though.”
She stomped her foot and smiled. “Aw, man! I want to hear what the disagreement was about! And then I can tell you all about how my ex-boyfriend wrecked my brand-new car and almost killed me, and he wasn’t even in it at the time. It’s more interesting than pizza toppings.”
“I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
Dori rolled her eyes. Like Daniel was going to care. He got all mooshy about how she was so good with the customers all the time. It was embarrassing. Besides, she was still feeling moody and wanted to talk.
Charles relented. “Okay, okay. But go and take care of some other people, first. One of my pet peeves is feeling like my waitress is ignoring me.”
She smiled. Dori grinned a wide, silly grin. “Cooool,” she said, drawing out the ‘o.’ “Watch this, when I go over to check on those guys over there,” she pointed to the fratboys, “the dude in the faded blue baseball hat will call me over and hit on me because he’s trying to prove to his friends that ugly chicks are desperate. Guess they don’t know that I can hear them talking from the register.” She laughed, an infectious, breathy chuckle, and departed to check on that table.
“So Dori, have you ever been to the stadium after dark?” he guy in the ballcap asked her.
“Only to bury my ex-girlfriends,” she said with a smile like a raunchy wink. “Can I get you guys anything else?”
After refreshing their sodas and leaving Faded Ballcap to be mocked by his friends, she returned to Charles’ table. “Okay, now I’m on break so you don’t have to feel all guilty.” She took off her name badge and laid it on the table. “Do you want to go first, or should I?” It was kind of fun being all aggressive, and something about the way the guy sat invited it. Dori could see him getting into S&M as a submissive, if he could let himself go. Even though he was a big guy, he seemed to like the way she was taking charge of the conversation, to the point of being rude almost. Dori was comfortable that he’d say something if he really thought she was imposing. Besides, they were just talking, it wasn’t like she could blackmail him or something.
Or, maybe it was, she realized as Charles began to spill his guts. He told her how he was a lawyer (which made sense) from San Francisco, and he had come out to Michigan to find his sister who had disappeared three or four years ago. He had some new lead, and was pretty sure she was here, and in fact he’d found an old friend of hers, who didn’t know whose brother he was. Then, somewhere in the middle of trying to get to know her better and find out if this chick (the bald Asian girl Dori had seen) knew anything about Charles’ sister’s whereabouts, they’d fallen into bed together, which wouldn’t have been a serious problem (never mind the creepy aspect of porking your little sister’s friends) except that Charles was engaged. But before his fiancé could even find out what was going on to begin with, not that she would according to Charles, the Asian girl had found out that he was her friend’s brother, and been really pissed off about it. And she’d stormed off, leaving him with no more leads as to where hissister was. Hence the ‘just-lost-an-argument’ look on Charles’ face.
Dori thought his story was much better than hers, but she told Charles about her car situation anyway. Then, because he had said he was a lawyer, she mentioned the Chris Sinclar issue, too. She didn’t ask for help specifically, because that was tacky, but she figured telling him about it would get a response if there was some obvious thing she should do, that she wasn’t doing.
“You’re doing the right thing,” was all he said. “Make sure you document everything, and you’ll have a case against the paper when the time comes. Make sure there’s a way to prove that it’s connected to the football fans.” That wasn’t a great deal of help, since she had figured that much out by watching some boring-ass Law & Order reruns, but then she had made a point of not asking Charles for help anyway.
“So, um, what else? Oh, wait, I should get your pizza.” She got up to get Charles’ food. Yeah, she was on break, but so what? When she took it to him, she sat back down again. “So there’s the football thing, and the car thing. And there’s this fifteen-year old girl who has a big crush on me and is using it to piss of her hyper-religious parents, who of course think I’ve corrupted her or something, and all I ever did was try not to have anything to do with her. Oh, and there’s the dog thing. My friend’s dog attacked me. It’s just a cockapoo, but it totally bit my face because I was sitting down.” She showed him the mostly-healed scratches. “And then my aunt goes and gets the exact same kind of dog. I know she didn’t do it on purpose or anything, but she’s telling me I should move out and I can’t help but feel like this is some kind of hint, you know? And I’m usually kind of slow on the uptake, but I got the message this time, I mean really. Oh, and there’s also the grandfather thing.”
Charles raised his eyebrows. Dori could tell that he was much happier listening to the story of her weird-ass life than he was in thinking about his own problems, so she kept going, and told him about the Korean War veterans.
“And this is the thing that has really fucked me up, you know? My grandfather died when he was like, 21, like two years, three years younger than I am now. He was just a guy, he didn’t do anything, he wasn’t an artist or a politician or a civil rights champion or anything any history book would talk about. He just died. And forty-something years later, there are all these people who think about him every goddamn day. I mean, is that insane, or what? He didn’t get to do any of the things he might have aspired to in life, and yet he lives on, kind of. And I think it’s cool and everything, but I keep wondering, why don’t I have friends like that? Why don’t I feel like that about anybody? All these people I used to hang out with a couple of years ago, going to clubs and stuff, I can barely remember their names. High school? Forget it. Coworkers?” She rolled her eyes. “Please. I want friends like my grandfather’s friends. It’s like love and intimacy without sex. Not that sex is a bad thing either, but it’s not part of…whatever this is. I just want to be closer to people. Everyone’s so closed off and into themselves and it’s sad, we should be more open, at least with some people. More attached to people. Maybe everyone should have to be in the army.” Charles appeared to have glazed over. “Did any of that make any sense?”
“Some,” he said, nodding. “Although, for the record, I was in the Army, and I didn’t form any attachments like the ones you’re talking about.”
For some reason, that was hugely disappointing, and she played with the salt shaker for a while. “I’ll be okay. My life is usually pretty quiet,” Dori said finally. “When the cops asked me about Chris Sinclair, I couldn’t tell them anything because I hadn’t done anything interesting in about four months. It all blurred together. And now, this past week or so has been like a train crash. You know how there’s that Chinese blessing slash curse, ‘may you live in interesting times?’ I think I must have gotten it on a fortune cookie.”
He laughed, sitting back in his chair. Charles’ tension seemed to have disappeared, in spite of everything he had told her about and the fact that he was so far from home, and Dori felt like she had accomplished something. It felt nice.
“So are you going to stay in Michigan for a while longer, or what?” she asked him.
Charles shook his head. “It’s time for me to head home. I may stay another day or two. I think the best thing to do right now is to put this whole episode behind me, before it gets any more complex.” He shrugged, with regret in his eyes. “I feel badly, for deceiving Liz.” That was the bald girl’s name. “If I could do just one thing before I left, I’d apologize to her.”
“Aww, that’s sweet. But don’t worry, we women forgive you most of the time anyway. We understand you can’t help it,” Dori joked, and Charles laughed again.