She could see the light over the door of the service station’s restroom. It wasn’t far now, they would make it. Shifting the weight of the sleeping child in her aching arms, she looked at the child wearily walking at her side and said, “Almost there!”
Cautiously stepping up to the door she turned the doorknob. Relieved to find it unlocked she ushered the children quickly inside, closing and locking it behind them. “We should be safe tonight,” she said, hitting the button on the hand dryer, and praying the heat would warm their chilled little bodies. Pulling an old pillow, several ragged blankets and a tattered tarp from her oversized backpack, she settled the children onto the pillow, gently wrapping the blankets and tarp around and under them for maximum warmth.
“Kimmey,” she said, to the little girl looking up at her with big frightened eyes. “Honey, Mommy’s going to that Deli we saw on the other side of the parking lot. I promise I won’t be long.” Kneeling, she gently and lovingly drew them close. “You’re safe here,” she said, giving them fierce hugs and kisses before cautioning them to lock the door behind her.
Stepping outside, she scanned the area then dashed across the parking lot. In less than a minute she was standing in front of the Deli. Hastily pulling her coat around her, she stepped inside, took the roll of bills and change totaling six dollars and ninety-three cents, from her pocket, and stepped up to the counter.
“We’re closed,” said the man behind the counter. “Grills off, sorry, all we have left are a few fries and about three dried up burgers to feed the old dumpster, ha-ha!”
“Oh no!” said Mary, “Is there someplace else I could buy sandwiches and milk at this late hour?”
The man looked at Mary for a long moment, as if considering her question. Then just as he opened his mouth to speak, a very loud voice from in the back of the store yelled, “Henry, come here, please?”
“Coming, dear,” he said as he winked at Mary, shrugged his shoulders, and was gone.
Mary shifted her gaze from the man’s retreating back to the counter. In his haste he had forgotten to close the cash register, which tempted her with stacks of ones, fives, tens and twenty dollar bills, sighing she forced her gaze away from the tempting sight.
The man returned almost immediately with a large paper sack in his hand. “Wife said to give you this,” he said.
“Why in the world would she do that?” asked Mary. Besides, I can’t possibly pay for all that!” she stammered looking longingly at the bag with all the good smells coming from it.
“I didn’t say sell you, I said give you,” stated Henry gruffly, “So here I’m giving.”
Mary looked at the bag, “But why?” she asked again, confused and bewildered by their generosity.
“Aw shucks,” said Henry with a grin. “The wife happened to be looking out the window and saw you and the children go into the restroom. Right now she is in the back with her nose pressed against the pane. Believe me, if anyone goes anywhere near there, she’ll call the cops.”
His words astonished and terrified her. “No one’s ever befriended, or helped us before. Why would you?” she asked, puzzled by his concern.
“We, the wife and I, know practically everyone in this part of the country, and we know you’re not from around here. A simple deduction says you’re homeless or runaways, either way you look as if you could use a good hot meal.”
Her eyes grew bigger and bigger as she listened to him. Suddenly terrified she bolted for the door, leaving the bag of food behind.
What was I thinking, she thought bitterly scolding herself, the minute she stepped outside. If someone comes snooping around asking questions, what’s to keep him from telling them where we are? I wish I’d never gone in there. But I had to get the children something to eat. It’s been two days since they’ve eaten anything except a handful of berries! I had to try! Though I still don’t have anything for them to eat. She thought bitterly.
Tapping softly on the door, she said, “Kimmey it's Mommy.”
What was I thinking taking Billy and Kimmey away from their home! She asked herself. I’ve put them in danger, not only from their father and his monsters, but from possibly starving or even freezing to death.
Will we ever be safe? How can I take care of them, if I have to keep looking over my shoulder? I hate being on the run, of always being afraid I can’t stay one-step ahead of them.
“Hey Miss!” said Henry staring at the girl’s back as she fled out the door, and disappeared in the night. Shaking his head he crossed to the restroom.
“I’ve got your food,” he said, tapping on the door. “I’ll just leave it here. Please eat it while it’s hot.”
Cautiously, Mary opened the door wide enough to take the bag from him. Giving him a shy smile, she thanked him before shutting the door. But she wasn’t quick enough to keep him from seeing the children huddled under the hand dryer trying to stay warm.
Saddened by what he’d seen Henry returned to The Deli, jumbled thoughts racing through his head. He knew they’d be safe tonight. Tomorrow he’d make it his business to find out who they were, who they were running from, and what he could do to help. He knew he’d have to tread carefully. Knew the girl was as skittish as a doe. Knew it wouldn’t take much to scare her into running.
Removing the wonderful smelling food from the bag she gasped in disbelief as she stared in awe at the food. To her amazement the first go-plate was heaped full of roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed peas and carrots, two hot buttered rolls and a large piece of apple pie with cheddar cheese and melting vanilla ice cream. The two remaining plates each held four large chicken tenders, creamy mac-n-cheese, cinnamon applesauce, peanut butter stuffed celery, a hot buttered roll, three chocolate chip cookies and chocolate Ice cream in a cup. The bag also contained three half pints, and one quart of milk with three Styrofoam cups.
"Ice cream!" Said Billy and Kimmey unable to believe their eyes. "Look Mommy. Ice cream!"
Mary sent a prayer of thanksgiving heavenward, as they slowly devoured every savory, delectably delicious, crumb of food and drank every drop of milk. For the first time in many days my children will fall asleep with their stomachs full, thanks to the generosity of the man and his wife at the Deli. Thought Mary, sighing thankfully!
Mary, desperately needed some sleep and a plan. She knew she was getting paranoid. Knew they must leave before dawn. Knew her husband’s henchmen were hot on their trail. Knew what would happen if they were caught.
Tucking the blankets securely around them. She prayed, "Father, You gave us the strength, courage, and means to escape, please keep us safe and show us the way home.”
Blinking back tears she looked at the woman and mansion in the tattered old photo she lovingly held in her trembling hand. She had always kept the photo well hidden, fearing being punished for having it. On the back of the photo, were the faded words:
F~b r~~r! 7 - 19 5 ~
A~l ou~ ~em~~~i~~s L~~ e,
G ~lf ~~d ~ F~ l l~, ~e~~~y~~~~ia.
The words and photo were Mary’s only link to her home and family. To her it seemed as if they’d been looking forever although they really hadn’t been. She desperately needed to find her childhood home. She was running out of hope, time and money. She’d gotten careless tonight and would have to tread cautiously in the future. She hit the button on the hand dryer and then the light switch. Almost immediately, she fell into a troubled, restless sleep.
Henry and his wife Myrtle lived in the house behind the Deli. After a long discussion about the temporary tenants of the restroom, they’d finally gone to bed. Wanting to talk and unable to sleep Myrtle refused to let Henry sleep as well. Every time he’d closed his eyes, she’d poke him with her elbow.
Usually a yes dear would suffice, but not tonight. He guessed seeing the homeless young lady and children had brought back fresh memories of their missing daughter, who’d been kidnapped along with five other children twelve years ago.
“Those poor kids,” said Myrtle. “I’ll bet they’re scared to death! How could you just leave them there, Henry? Now you just get out of this bed and bring those children back here. Henry? Henry! Wake up! Henry - - -
“Ouch!” roared Henry, as Myrtle poked him again, “stop poking me and go to sleep.”
“I can’t,” sighed Myrtle, “and I wouldn’t be poking you, if you didn’t keep falling asleep while I‘m trying to talk to you.”
“Myrtle, we’ve discussed those children enough tonight. Tomorrow you can take them under your wing, if they haven’t disappeared by then. Now, please go to sleep!”
“But Henry, those poor - - -
“But nothing!” roared Henry. “Go to sleep!”