For the Waitress
Mr. Pink knew he was dead and strongly suspected he was in Hell.
He knew he was dead because the pain was gone, and he was floating in a strange void of blinding white light. But this couldn't be Heaven, because the angel staring down at him was butt-ass ugly. Granted, "ugliness" was subjective; but surely if this were the Pearly Gates, his celestial tour guide would be tailored to his personal idea of "beauty:" petite build, cute features; black, white, pretty much any race would do; not "bubbly," but with a hint of spunk. The broad staring down at him was a moose, with a big mannish face, lips too long and wide for Pink's taste, squinty eyes, blonde hair that looked like it hadn't seen a hairbrush in God-knew how long, and…holy god, that chin. No female should ever be cursed with a chin like that.
Actually, she looked vaguely familiar. Like someone he saw around every other day. Someone who'd never rubbed him right. Who the hell was she?
The gunshot victim was regaining consciousness, and Lindsey Schultz was the only nurse in the room. She had no idea what she was supposed to say to him. When the paramedics had rushed him into the E.R. unconscious, they'd said he was a criminal who'd been shot trying to resist the police, and that was all the information Lindsey had been able to get out of anyone. She had no idea how much sympathy she should offer this guy. He could be a petty thief, worthy of all the sympathy she had, or a child-rapist, who deserved to be smothered with his own pillow. The distress on his face yanked at Lindsey's heartstrings, and she sincerely hoped whatever crime he'd been arrested for wasn't something too heinous.
"H-Hey," Lindsey began, as her patient blinked up at her. "You awake?"
Those eyes, where had she seen them before? She knew this guy. Those enormous clear blue eyes, sitting in those undead-looking sockets. That pale skin. That thin pointed facial hair. Those horrific teeth. Where did she know him from?
Weakly, he breathed, "…I dead?"
"No," Lindsey said, as clearly and softly as she could. "You're not dead. You've been given painkillers, so that might be what you're experiencing."
He closed his eyes and gave a soft laugh. With difficulty, he spoke again. "I knew…angles…wouldn't be that fuckin' ugly."
As soon as Lindsey realized what he'd just said, she remembered who he was. "Oh my god it's you."
His bulbous eyes flew opened, and shifted towards her nervously.
"Do I know you?" he managed.
"I'm one of the 'broads' who brings you your coffee and waffles every other weekend. You know, the ones you never tip."
His face contorted into an expression that might have been angry defiance, or a silent Oh, crap.
Lindsey worked part-time at the hospital, unable to get full-time hours. To make ends meet, she had another job at a family restaurant, busing and waitressing. She did everything she was supposed to: smiled, asked customers if they wanted anything extra, and at least tried to remember to check up on each table. Her tips were usually mediocre; she wasn't like her friend René, who just had that magical ability to seem bubbly and natural whenever she spoke. With Lindsey, you could usually tell that she was just being polite. But René probably wouldn't have so much extra energy either, if she'd had a rowdy six-year-old boy to raise by herself.
But God help you if you ever brought your kid up as a reason. It wasn't exactly that people chastised Lindsey for it; aside from the occasional judgmental snob, most people were pretty forgiving of the fact that Lindsey had gotten knocked up at nineteen, especially since she'd gone on to nursing school, taking care to turn her life around. The problem was that, from there, it would just be an aggravating chain of unwanted questions. "Well, can't your parents help you out?" "I don't want to keep living with my parents, I don't want my kid living with my parents, I want us to have our own place." "Why? Are your parents abusive?" "No, I just don't get along with them." "Why?" "None of your fucking business!" Except you could never say that last part to a customer or a patient, so Lindsey usually finished the conversation in her head.
Even now, Lindsey felt somewhat trapped, because she still had to live close enough for her parents to watch Trevor while she was at work. She was far too attached to her son to ever fantasies about winding back history and undoing it; but the constant contact with her parents—and having to leave Trevor there, with her mother's yowling temper and her dad's cynical, quasi-racist attitude—she didn't like it. But no way in hell was she going to try to get out the easy way, buying lottery tickets, or waiting on "Mr. Right." Too many friends and coworkers of hers had done that, and the results were never good. The ones who looked to a man to save them usually ended up with another kid, and abandoned by the father, yet again. Fuck that.
There were kind people in the world. People like Lindsey's parents, who watched her son for her, despite all the bad blood between them. People like that cute old couple who came to the restaurant every Sunday after church, and left her great tips. Or her supervisor Bonnie, here at the hospital, who'd go easy on Lindsey when she knew she was having a rough day. And then there were people like this douche nozzle. The prick who never tipped, unless the waitress was "special," whatever the hell that meant. She'd caught enough of his snide remarks, when he'd thought she or her co-workers were out of earshot. According to him, Lindsey was "one of the ugly ones" (as if he should talk), and her smile was "fake."
"So what're you gonna do now," the guy asked in that insufferable nasally voice. "Pull my plug?"
"Why would I do that?" Lindsey left his bed and took a seat in the nearby chair. "I'd get fired. And maybe arrested."
"Perfect, we can share a jail cell." He leaned back in the bed and closed his eyes.
Lindsey gave him a look under her disheveled blond hair. "I don't think—wait, now I think of it, yeah, they probably would send you to the women's prison. They'd at least be stumped for a while."
"Aren't you clever." He shifted in the bed. "I'm sorry I don't look like Harrison Ford. Let me guess, you heard there was a criminal who got a gunshot wound and volunteered to treat him, expecting some kind of handsome rogue?"
"I expected a patient whose first words out of his mouth wouldn't be about how ugly I am. And who tips."
He groaned. "Christ, you get how many tips every day for a job you get paid to do, and you're cryin' because one guy who pays his bills won't give you a little extra? Listen honey, I worked a minimum wage job, one society didn't deem tip-worthy—"
"What kind of job?" she snapped. "One that requires you to work fast-paced, memorize five tables worth of orders or write them all down in a 'timely' manner, deliver food in a 'timely' manner without spilling, and do it all with a giant smile? You do all that at once? While raising a kid? Mr. …what'd you say your name was?"
She sighed inwardly. "I guess I'll find out when I read the newspapers, after they lock you up."
"Yeah, so karma caught up with me, for not tipping the waitress. You happy?"
But she wasn't happy. And honest to god, Lindsey couldn't put her finger on why. She had the upper had here. God, this douche bag's life was about to be ruined beyond repair; she was officially infinitely better off than the asshole who'd treated her like human garbage so many times. And she didn't even have to feel guilty about this schadenfreude; she could gloat and had a right to. Because he'd done this to himself, probably with some morally reprehensible act.
She suddenly remembered she had no idea what his crime was.
"What'd you do anyway?" She shoved her messy blond hair out of her face. "You kill someone? Rape someone?"
He snorted. "Don't get your hopes up Doll. I stole some diamonds." He wrinkled his nose at the ceiling bitterly. "And I woulda' pulled it off, if I wasn't doing it with a bunch of unprofessional dipshits who thought it'd be a great idea to bring a bona fide psychopath along."
He sighed weakly. Lindsey remembered that it was her job to keep him medicated.
"Do you need more painkillers?" she asked, as diplomatically as she could.
He shook his head. "No, I'm not in any physical pain. It's just the existential horror's kicking in."
She liked how he worded that. She liked a lot of the ways he worded things. If only she could meet a guy who did that without being such a self-centered ass. That was when she realized why she wasn't happy about this situation. She was just pissed by the reminder that there were no decent guys around. None that were her type anyway. She'd never allow herself to become one of those pricks who blamed all their romantic woes on the opposite sex; but she'd come to discover that finding a guy who was a proper balance between interesting and reliable was next to impossible.
In high school she'd gone for the interesting guys, and wound up an abandoned single mom. So then she'd tried nice guys, and wound up dating a string of men she had little in common with, who bored her to tears, and who often ended the relationship by coming out of the closet. (One of her ex-boyfriends was now her ex-girlfriend.) And every once in a while, there'd come along a cute mousy guy, who wasn't too masculine or threatening, but who still had a decent amount of testosterone, and wouldn't you know it, he'd be married; or have the wrong ideals; or too closely match the conventional idea of "attractive" so she'd have to get in line. Or, like this guy, they'd just turn out to be colossal losers and assholes.
"How old's your kid."
She blinked out of her silent rant and looked back at her patient. "What?"
"I said how old's your kid." He was staring at the wall.
"Why do you ask?"
He held up a bony hand, his pale blue eyes rolling irritably. "Cuz I'm probably gonna spend the rest of my life in jail and this is the last conversation I'll have with an actual human being, so you can just humor me, okay?"
Lindsey scratched at itch on her face, thinking her response over. "He's just started kindergarten."
He made an acknowledging sound.
"You have any kids?" she asked him.
"Not that I know of." He frowned at her. "You say your kid just started kindergarten?" When she confirmed it, he asked, "How old are you?"
Lindsey was all too used to that question. "Twenty-five. Spent the last five years turning my life around, after my son's dad took off."
She half-expected some cruel retort from him, but instead his blue eyes just darted away, his mouth moving in an uncomfortable grimace. Her anger at him was beginning to mellow out. She found herself actually pitying him, just a little.
"You know I never got to talk to an actual, real live criminal before." Lindsey said abruptly, causing him to look back at her. "How'd you get shot, if you don't mind my asking?"
He glanced inadvertently at his chest. "I tried running. Driving, actually." His bony hand passed over his mouth, and he worked to organize his thoughts. "We were hiding out—this right after the robbery. Apparently all the other guys thought a great way to end a conversation's by shooing each other. It was an actual, fucking, Mexican standoff!"
He became more animated as delved into his long, wild story. And none of it sounded exaggerated or rehearsed. He told it out of order, forgetting some parts, and having to jump back and explain various details. He seemed almost as surprised by some of the turns his tale took as Lindsey was. When his story was finished, it posed more questions about his life, and the criminal underworld, and that led to more stories. A lot of it he was reluctant to talk about, but the stuff he did reveal…wow. Then he started asking Lindsey about herself again, and she began telling stories, recounting memories she usually only shared with friends or particularly chatty customers. And under his dickishness, he seemed to be listening with a sad, tranquil sincerity.
By midnight, Lindsey came to the reluctant conclusion that there was no way in hell she was letting this one get away. For what a dick he was, she was going to give him a chance. Any other prick, hell no, but this time she'd make an exception.
"How late 'you work tonight?" he asked curiously.
She glanced at the clock. "Another half-hour, probably."
He made a face. "Well thanks for a decent conversation, I guess. It's nice to talk to someone without having to worry about them pulling a gun on you." As an afterthought, he added, "Feel free to write me in prison."
Lindsey eyed him dubiously. "I'll kind of need a name for that."
He looked hesitant. He probably wasn't used to telling anyone his real name.
"Randall Valentine," he said finally.
"You make that up just now?"
"Why would I make it up?" he asked, almost sounding offended. "I'm headed for the big house anyway. The cops all know who I am now."
Lindsey responded with an animated shrug. "Maybe you're planning some kind of escape?"
He scoffed. "Because that worked so well last time." He added, bitterly, "You think I couldn't do better than 'Randall Valentine?' It's almost as bad as 'Mr. Pink.'"
Lindsey sighed, and tugged her ear. "Look…I don't know how police procedure works when a guy they arrested's in the hospital. But no one bothered to give me any details. So for all they know, for all I know you're just another random patient."
His eyes narrowed, as he worked to follow what she was implying.
"I mean, far as I know, there's no law against offering to take a patient home. And no one's gonna pry if I don't take him directly home, you get my drift…"
He was out of the bed before she'd even finished talking. "Where're my clothes?" he asked, searching the room almost frantically.
She pointed to a counter, where his clothes sat folded up. God, hospital gowns were a form of abuse unto themselves. No one looked good in them. Randall Valentine in a hospital gown kind of reminded her of a naked mole rat in a dress. She didn't blame him for stalling on freedom the few extra minutes it took to get dressed.
"Do you mind?"
"Sorry," she averted her eyes.
After a few moments he suddenly exclaimed, "What the hell happened to my shirt?"
He was wearing the pants from the day he'd been shot. He held his undershirt, still stained with blood. The shirt hung open, cut clean down the middle.
Lindsey's eyebrow crept up. "What, you think they're gonna postpone surgery on a gunshot victim so they can carefully take all your clothes off?"
His large eyes traveled around the room in exasperation. Finally, he threw the shirt on backwards, tied the top and bottom shut, and buttoned his black suit top over it. "Good enough." He threw on his socks and shoes, and they headed out the door. "I'll pay you back for this, I promise."
"Yeah, yeah, come on."
She led him out through the back, and into the parking lot. She was already asking herself what the fuck she was doing, helping a wanted fugitive escape justice; helping a patient leave the hospital without checking out; what she'd say to her employers the next day (much less the police). Whatever, she told herself, cross that bridge when you come to it. You'll think of something. He'll think of something. He's a pro at this, he knows how to "disappear" doesn't he?
She drove him home to her rat-hole apartment. Not quite sure what was proper etiquette for hosting a fugitive, she simply treated Randall like any other guest: reminded him her son was asleep before leading him inside, letting him take off his shoes, and offering him a drink.
"I'll take anything alcoholic," he said. "And not to intrude on your hospitality, but I am famished."
She pinched two beers from the fridge, and stuck a frozen pizza in the oven. They talked some more. Worked out a story for her to tell the cops, and her employers. (She was "off her meds," and "under lots of stress," and making sure her patient was checked out before driving him home had just slipped her mind.)
"You got a location in mind," Randall asked between bites of pizza, "for when you last saw me?"'
"Wallace Street, between one-thirty and two." Lindsey replied without missing a beat. "I dropped you off, and you said you could walk the rest of the way from there. There's no lights anyone could've seen you with."
"Except your supposed car lights. Guess we'll just have to hope no one was peeking out their window between one-thirty and two."
"If they did one of us is just remembering wrong, simple as that."
Randall chuckled through his odd teeth. "You're good at this. You should help fugitives more often."
"I'd consider it. But I'm kind a busy, got a boy to raise. Who hopefully won't grow up to be a fugitive, no offense."
After a moment of awkward silence, Randall said abruptly, "You know you're not really ugly, right?"
Lindsey knew she'd be a hypocrite to call him out on this obvious flattery; she hadn't just invited him home to hide him from the cops and feed him pizza. Still, she couldn't resist.
"You were saying, about not wanting to intrude on my hospitality?"
He stared wearily at her. "Look, I'm male. That's not the point. I don't suck up to people when I wanna have sex with them. I just ask them if they wanna go to the bedroom and fuck. I never bought into all that fake romantic bullshit. I want to make this real clear. Whether I want to fuck you tonight is a separate issue from whether I think you're ugly."
"And you've changed your mind."
"Yeah, maybe I have."
"I don't look like a, how'd you put it that one time," she tried to recall the insult she'd caught him saying once, at the diner, "'a cow that just rolled in a barrel of hay it just pissed all over'?"
He chewed his pizza slowly. "Truth, I seen a few cows that were adorable." He explained, "My grandma took me to a petting zoo sometimes when I was a kid." His eyes flicked to her hair. "As for the piss-hay, I just figured you could do something with a few of those split ends. But I know you got a kid and everything now, you don't have time to make yourself up like a supermodel every day." He rubbed his face. "God. Now that I think of it, maybe I am a tiny bit of an asshole. I've been told that…"
Deciding to give him a break from the guilt, Lindsey said, "I'm told I'd clean the floor in a bitch contest."
Randall honestly couldn't say what had changed. The same features that had repulsed him at first sight were sexy now. He didn't have to close his eyes and imagine Christie Love (his default for emergencies). He was actually attracted to the waitress. Her saving his life probably had something to do with it. Finding out she possessed a devil-may-care attitude akin to his own probably helped too.
After ten or fifteen minutes, Lindsey finally talked Randall into using a condom. She pointed out that not using one would leave "evidence" inside of her, possibly allowing the police to confirm that she'd helped him escape. It was a flimsy excuse, but he decided to let her have it. He couldn't blame her for being cautious; the last thing the poor woman needed now was a second kid out of wedlock, by a wanted felon. Well condom or not, it was some good, enthusiastic sex.
"I'm not gonna see you again, am I," she asked, stroking his hair.
They were still on the couch, and Lindsey was using Randall as a mattress. He had his arms wrapped around her, paying absentmindedly with her wild hair.
"Probably not." He added, "But who knows."
"Where you gonna go?"
"Far as I fucking can. Christ, I'll have to come up with some money. Without attracting more cops."
"Don't look at me." she said warningly.
"I wasn't gonna ask you."
She shook her hair out, and leaned her head against his thin chest. "You could get a job."
"I know a few places around here are hiring. Jack Rabbit Slim's, I know."
He let out a long, winded groan. "You're just fucking with me."
"Am not. Look into it. Call them tomorrow. If you work there you'll be wearing a costume, so people won't recognize you. Come to think of it, that'd probably be the perfect place for you to work, while you're saving up for your big getaway."
Unfortunately, she was right. It was perfect. Perfect job. Perfect karma.
The cops ate up Lindsey's "off-my-meds" story, as did her boss, and Randall got the job at Jack Rabbit Slim's. Obviously he used some fake name to get hired, but Lindsey had no idea what it was; not that it mattered, since she "didn't know him." (She also had no idea where he'd gotten fresh clothes for the job interview, or the painkillers and bandages needed for his gunshot wound. She figured she didn't want to know.) On her way home from work one day, she stopped by the fifties-themed restaurant, and innocently wormed some information out of one of the workers, about a certain new member of their staff. That Friday, she decided Trevor had been a particularly good boy that week, and took him out for a milkshake at Jack Rabbit Slim's. Trevor requested one of the booths shaped like a '50s car, and Lindsey requested the Buddy Holly waiter.
For a moment, Lindsey feared she'd got the wrong night; he was that unrecognizable in his costume. Randall was downplaying his voice, speaking softly, and working to hide his New York accent. The glasses and crazy wig overshadowed the eyes and teeth that normally gave him away, but when she looked carefully, it was definitely him.
When he saw her, his jaw dropped a little, revealing those unique chompers she'd come to love, and he was a split-second away from blurting out "Hi!" before catching himself. She allowed her lips to rise to a tiny smile, just briefly.
"What can I get for you two?"
They ordered one five-dollar shake to split, "Amos and Andy." While she and her son sipped and talked and watched all the funny going-ons in the unique restaurant, Lindsey stole glances at Randall, as much as she could. For all she knew, this was the last time she'd see him. He seemed humbled, in this new position, taking orders quietly, with downcast eyes. And she knew it wasn't just his fear of being recognized that was to blame. There was really a sense of poetic justice, here.
On one of his trips back from the kitchen, Marilyn Monroe stopped "Buddy Holly," and pointed at Lindsey and Trevor's table. The gesture wasn't accusing; Marilyn just seemed to be telling her co-worker that one of his tables looked like they wanted his attention. He glanced over his shoulder and locked eyes with Lindsey, his lips tightening into something not quite a smile. He returned to their "car" with the cheer of a waiter just checking up on his customers.
"How's the shake?"
Trevor declared, "Awesoooome!"
Lindsey folded her hands under her chin. "Delicious. I might even leave a tip."