The Labyrinth

By Steven Arnett All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Thriller

Chapter 5

A man from personnel took me and a few other new hires to a superintendent’s office, and after about an hour—when the assembly line was running smoothly, apparently—the superintendent came by and gave us a talk on how to be a good worker at Ford Motor Company that was so ludicrous I could barely keep a straight face. Then he took us out onto the shop floor and dropped us off at various points on the line where they needed new men. When he dropped me off, he introduced me to my foreman.

“How do you do?” he said, holding out his hand. He was short and muscular and had a thin mustache. His hair was slicked back and his eyes had a cruel, sly look. “How do you feel about batteries?” grinning and looking around at the superintendent and another worker who was standing beside him.

“I’ve never thought much about them,” I said.

“Well, that’s all you’ll be thinking of from now on. You’re going to be handling five hundred of them a day. You’re going to know what they look like and what they feel like, maybe even what it’s like to fuck one of them,” and he and the other guys laughed.

I was put to work installing batteries and solenoids. That may not seem like much, but I had to get them both in and connected to the electrical wiring in each car in only ninety seconds. Also, the batteries weighed about twenty pounds apiece and had to be carried from a rack beside the line to the cars. At first I just watched the guy who was teaching me the job do it, then I gradually started doing more and more of it myself. There’s so much work to do in the short time you have to do it on each job on the line, that when you first start you don’t think you’ll ever be able to work fast enough to keep up. Eventually, though, by eliminating every unnecessary motion, I got good enough so that if I worked as fast as I possibly could, I could just get one job done when the next car got to the position on the line where I was supposed to start working on it.

After two days I had to start doing the job without help. I got behind a lot at first, and when I did, the foreman came over and yelled at me to get my ass in gear. I sweat so much that I didn’t think there could possibly be another drop of water left in me, and had to take salt tablets to keep from passing out. I hated every minute of it and thought of quitting. At the end of the first day I had to do the job myself, I was so tired and sore and dirty that all I could do was go back to my friend’s apartment and crash until it was time to go to work again. But I stuck with it because of the high pay. I wanted to save enough money so that I wouldn’t have to work again for a long time.

Even when I left the plant after work, in a way I still felt I was there. I couldn’t get the smell of oil and exhaust fumes and rubber out of my nose, and the clang of metal hammering metal and the whine of air tools kept ringing in my ears. Strange and ugly images from inside the plant were always in my head.

Sometimes when I was on break I’d walk around the plant past the different assembly lines for the body shop, trim, paint, engines, and final assembly. When I walked through the body shop, I saw huge machines that looked like metal dinosaurs with giant metal claws at work. Body was considered the worst line to work on because it was hot as hell there, sparks were flying constantly, and the welding guns the workers had to use were heavy and unwieldy. The other lines had hundreds of air hoses by them that looked like black snakes and were used to power the tools that almost everybody outside the body shop and paint shop had to use. Each assembly line was in a corridor between tall racks that were filled with boxes of the parts to be assembled. Some parts of the line had nicknames, like “dog house” for the paint line where the cars went into a building that looked like a long dog house to be painted, and “merry-go-round” for an oval assembly line that had front ends hanging down from it on hooks.

To help break up the boredom the men on the line joked around and played pranks on each other, like putting a lighted cigarette in the back pocket of someone’s coveralls and waiting to hear him scream when it burned through to his ass. Everybody who was in on the prank would then burst out laughing, and the guy who got his ass burned would come over swearing and sweating and saying he’d get even.

Some of the pranks were dangerous. There was a rivalry in the plant between the men who worked on the line and the men who worked off the line driving tugs and forklifts. I worked near a corner of the plant by a big door that the tug drivers and forklift drivers often drove through. One day the boys I worked with got the idea of putting oil down in front of the door so that the tugs and forklifts would slip and maybe lose control and smash into the wall of the plant. They got a couple of hours’ worth of laughs out of that as they watched each vehicle slip when it hit the oil. The best part of the prank, as they saw it, was to watch the expression on each driver’s face as he slipped and lost control. The biggest laugh came when this maintenance truck with about eight foremen on it came by and slipped so much that the truck only missed the wall by an inch or so. All the guys on the truck got this horrified look on their faces at the same time, and the guys laughed so hard they got way behind on the line. You must have been able to hear them half way across the plant. But that was the end of the fun. A few minutes later a couple of janitors came around and mopped up the oil.

One of the funniest things that happened while I was there occurred when some guy working on the line hit the production manager of the plant in the face with a jelly sandwich as he was driving down the line in his golf cart. The big shots in the plant all had golf carts to ride on inside the plant. The production manager was a real bastard everybody hated, so it was funny to see jelly dripping down the side of his face and his face turn red with rage. Plant management launched a massive investigation to find the culprit, but none of the men would talk, so they finally had to drop it. Nonetheless, management came down with a rule after that that nobody could have any food by the line.

There were other bits of comic relief from time to time, too, like this “poem” written on a restroom wall:

Here I sit

Feelin’ fine,

Takin’ a shit

On company time

Every time the line would break down and stop, the whole plant would break out into gleeful pandemonium. The workers would hoot and holler and scream and bang metal car parts on the metal racks along the assembly line. About the same thing would happen when a woman from the front office walked through the plant, especially if she had on a mini-skirt. You could almost feel the woman wishing she could blend into the walls.

The noises of the plant were the hardest thing to get out of your head when you left. They haunted my dreams. The hollering and screaming, the eerie, hellish laughter, metal being endlessly hammered on metal. The roar of engines and the whine of air tools. I tried to block them out of my mind so I wouldn’t hear them anymore, but nothing could make them stop coming.

Before long I moved out of my friend’s place and got a crumby little apartment of my own a couple of miles from the plant. It was made of soot-stained brick and had tan walls on the inside and threadbare furniture, but it was all I needed. I didn’t want to waste any more money on rent than I had to.

Sometimes after work I’d stop in at a Dunkin’ Doughnuts on my way home. Usually I was the only one there or there would be only a man sitting in a corner who looked down and out who’d look at you with furtive, suspicious eyes, or an oblivious drunk coming down. I was always there before the morning rush, so it was never crowded.

A waitress worked there I got to like. She wasn’t friendly at all, but she was sexy in a careless voluptuous way and I had fun needling her. Her features were too big to be pretty, but they somehow added to her sensuality. Even on her best nights, her hair was never quite all in place—it was the kind of hair that isn’t really curly and isn’t really straight and that’s consequently almost impossible to manage—and it added to the harried, frustrated look she usually had. She was a little overweight and wore a uniform that was too small for her, like she’d taken the size she wished she was or hoped to be, rather than the one she really was. She did have a nice figure, though. I supposed she was in her early thirties. After a while whenever I went into the doughnut shop I’d try to joke around with her. Some nights even the most innocent question would make her mad.

“How are you doing tonight?” I said one night shortly after I’d come in, while she was pouring me coffee.

“The bums that come in here have been giving me a hard time all night,” Jan said. “So don’t you start in on me, too.” She brought me the cup of coffee and a cinnamon doughnut. “That’ll be forty-seven cents.”

I reached slowly into my pocket for the money, which I knew would make her furious, saying, “You know what you need?”

“Forty-seven cents, like I said,” scowling.

“You need a nice long vacation, like maybe a trip to Hawaii. I can picture it: You staying in a beach house surrounded by palm trees, lying in the sun all day listening to the waves roll in. Then at night you going into Honolulu to fancy restaurants and nightclubs, and maybe meeting a movie star, or at least a millionaire real estate speculator.”

I had two quarters out of my pocket by now, and was holding them just out of Jan’s reach.

“What do you think I am, a millionaire or something? Now how about handing over the dough?”

“You’re the one who handles dough, not me.”

I gave her the quarters by putting both my hands over the hand she had held out. She yanked the quarters out from between my hands. She glared at me and I laughed.

“Keep the change,” I said.

I kept thinking about Jan. She was one of the few interesting things in the dull routine of my life, now that I was working in the factory. I imagined us together in bed, and toyed with the idea of asking her out. That made me smile, but I kept thinking about it, and then one night I decided to give it a try.

“Come here for a minute, will you?” I said. She was standing by the coffee pots with her arms crossed. “I’ve got something important to say to you.”

“Why can’t you say it from where you are?”

“It’s too important to let just anyone hear it. Just come on over here for a second.”

“Well,” and with an exaggerated expression of reluctance and extreme skepticism she uncrossed her arms and walked over to me. “Make it snappy because I got to make some coffee. They’ll be a mob in here pretty soon.”

“Since we both work nights, I thought I’d ask you if you’d like to go out and see a movie with me tomorrow afternoon. There’s a—”

“What? Are you kidding? I don’t go out with customers. You never know what kind of perverts are going to walk in here in the middle of the night. You’re too young for me anyway.”

She had to talk that way to keep up her image, but I didn’t really get the feeling she was that unhappy I’d asked.

“All right then. It was just a thought.”

“Sorry, kid, that’s the way it goes,” and she went to make coffee.

I slipped a fifty cent tip under the saucer when I got up to leave, just to let her know there were no hard feelings, and as I went out she smiled at me, with her usual brassiness, shaking her head.

It was hard to act normal of course when I went back home that night. My sister was over at her boyfriend’s apparently. I didn’t see my father but my mother was in the living room smoking a cigarette with a martini in her hand. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” she said as she looked over toward me, slurring her words but seeming annoyed. “Dinner was over an hour ago.” I didn’t reply but instead went right up to my bedroom without eating anything. I went over and over in my head everything that had happened and asked myself what I should have done. I came up with about a hundred different things I could have done differently, where I could have stopped Ed from killing the guy instead of just doing every fucking thing he told me to do. I really tried to figure out what would happen next: Could he possibly get away with it? Could we possibly get away with it? I went over countless scenarios of what might happen. I imagined the cops coming to my door and arresting me and how shocked my parents and my sister would be. I imagined Ed getting arrested. I thought about how much everyone would hate me if they found out I was involved in the murder. I pictured myself sitting in jail, but there were no other people in the jail—I was the only prisoner, in a kind of cosmic isolation. Eventually I started crying but I really wanted to make sure no one in the house might hear me, so I turned on the radio. I couldn’t sleep but there was no way I would have left the room if it meant I had to talk to anyone or make anyone suspicious, so I kept getting up and walking around my bedroom for a while until about 6:30 am when I had to get up to get ready for school.

After a few weeks in the factory, I got in the habit of stopping before work at the Oasis Bar, which was across the street from the plant and was always jammed with workers from the plant before and after shifts and during lunch breaks. It was a crude brick building with a blue neon palm tree on it, and had dingy walls inside that looked almost slimy from lack of washing. The Formica topped tables were close together and barmaids, bored and sarcastic, went from one to the other taking orders, looking like they’d given up trying to keep up. In one corner there was a small dance floor and a stage where a country music band sometimes played at night, and a juke box from which rock or country songs played without letup. The mirror behind the bar had faded plastic signs hanging on it from beer companies like Stroh’s, Budweiser, and Miller. The main bartender was an ex-marine with a crewcut and a tattoo, who was big enough and strong enough to keep people in line when they drank too much and got rowdy.

I went in there the day after I’d asked Jan out and sat down with Louie and Rick, two of the guys I worked with on the line. Cigarette smoke drifted lazily, and there was a cacophony of voices and laughter. Louie and Rick—Louie especially—had already had plenty to drink before I got there. When Louie ordered up another double whiskey, I thought I should say something.

“You’d better take it easy, man,” I said. “You’re not going to be able to make it into the shop.”

“What the fuck do I care?” Louie said. “They can blow the mother fucker up for all I care.”

“He’s been having trouble with his old lady,” Rick said. “She’s been fooling around.”

“Oh, so that’s it.”

“I beat the bitch up last night, but she still wouldn’t admit it.”

“Maybe you’ve got it wrong,” I said.

“Wrong, my ass. I went home early last night and saw him leaving the house. And you know what that bitch told me? She said he was a salesman. Can you believe that shit? A salesman over at one o’clock in the morning?” slapping his knee and laughing painfully. “How damn dumb must that slut think I am? I don’t know why I didn’t chase after that mother fucker and kill him right there. So what’s this shit you’re giving me about being wrong? I ought to beat the shit out of you right here just for saying it.”

“Take it easy. You don’t want everyone in the goddamn bar to know.”

“That’s right,” Rick said. “It ain’t gonna do you no good to have everybody laughin’ at you behind your back.”

“I’ll kill her. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll kill the bitch.”

“Don’t even think about it, man. It’s not worth it.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, mother fucker. I’ll kick your ass.” He was so drunk that he was slurring his words, so that what he said seemed more comical than threatening. “I’m getting the fuck out of here, away from you assholes. I’m gonna go buy me a gun.”

“Go on and get your ass moving then,” Rick said, disgustedly.

Louie got up, sneering, leaving his whiskey half drunk, and staggered to the door.

“That’s all horseshit about him killing his wife,” Rick said, with a little smirk. “He don’t have the guts to do nothin’ like that.”

“That’s pretty much what I thought.”

We drank thoughtfully for a while after that without saying much, then got up and headed for work.

My interest in Jan didn’t go away. I’d suspected for a long time that she liked having me come into the doughnut shop to talk to her and tease her, though of course she’d never have admitted it. Then the perfect thing came along for me to ask her out again. I knew she was wild about Elvis, and I heard on the radio that he was coming to Detroit, so I bought two tickets to the show and brought them into the doughnut shop one night after work. Jan brought me my coffee and we got to talking.

“Did you hear Elvis is coming to Detroit?” I said.

“Are you kiddin’? That’s all I’ve been hearing on the radio. What of it?”

“Well, I just happen to have a couple of tickets to the show, and I was wondering if you might like to join me when I go see him,” taking the tickets out of my wallet, trying to sound as nonchalant as I could. She looked genuinely surprised but like she was trying to hide it, and she didn’t seem at first to know what to say.

“Didn’t you forget something? I don’t go out with customers.”

“You could make an exception. You know, since it’s Elvis and all.”

“I don’t make no exceptions.”

“All right then,” shrugging my shoulders. “I guess I’ll just have to throw the tickets away.”

“OK. But if you don’t sell them, as far as I’m concerned, you’re crazy.”

She went away to wait on a man in a suit who’d just come in. She got him a sugar doughnut and a cup of coffee, he gave her a five dollar bill, and she went to the cash register to get change for him. I thought about what had just happened as I watched her. I decided that if she wouldn’t go out with me to see Elvis, she probably wouldn’t go out with me anywhere, and that I’d just wasted my time and money. She was playing it as tough as ever, and I was out of twenty bucks and funny lines. I got up a few minutes later to leave.

“Hey, John, come here a minute,” Jan said just as I was about to go out the door. She crooked her finger for me to come over to the counter. She had on a slightly chagrined look, like she knew she was about to swallow a little pride.

“Is it too late for me to say yes?”

“Well—no, I think the door’s still open.”

“Well, I’m saying yes. But only because it’s Elvis and only just this once. And you’d better treat me right, understand?” But there was no bitchiness in her voice now.

“Sure,” smiling. “I’ll treat you like a queen.”

“Here’s my phone number.” She picked up a napkin and wrote her name and number on it. “You can call me, or we can discuss it when you come in some night. And don’t forget.”

“Oh, I won’t. Not after all that.”

“I hope I can trust you.”

“You can have me checked out with the FBI if you want to.”

“Just act like a gentleman.”

“I’d better go now.” I winked at her and smiled and she smiled back with just a hint of sassiness as she shook her head. But I knew she liked me. And I thought sure it was going to be all downhill after that.

When I went into the doughnut shop a few days later Jan wasn’t there, even though I knew she was supposed to work that night. She wasn’t there the next night either, or any of the other nights for the next week and a half when she was usually there. When I asked the woman who was working about her, all she did was shrug her shoulders and say, “Search me. Maybe she’s sick. The boss just called and said he needed me to work this shift for a while.”

I thought that, having changed her mind about going out with me, she might have changed her schedule to try to avoid me, but somehow that seemed too elaborate an evasion, and she’d been there the first night after I’d asked her out and didn’t seem to have any second thoughts. She wasn’t timid. If she really had changed her mind, I couldn’t imagine her having any qualms at all about telling me right to my face. I wondered if something bad might have happened to her, a car accident or whatever, but it seemed word of something that serious would somehow have got back to the doughnut shop. I kept calling the number she’d given me, but there was never any answer.

Three days were left before the concert. I’d given up expecting to find Jan in the doughnut shop and was about ready to try to sell the tickets. But I tried calling her again, and this time she answered.

“Where in the hell have you been the last two weeks?” I said.

“I had the flu real bad. I’ve been staying at my mom’s. I got fired out to Dunkin’ Doughnuts for being gone so long. The manager thought I was faking it after the first couple days, or maybe he never liked me and was just looking for an excuse to get rid of me. But I got a better job yesterday as a waitress at The Royal Inn. You ever heard of it?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You still wanna go see Elvis?”

“Sure.”

“I’m all right now. I didn’t think we’d ever go, because I didn’t think you’d ever find me,” laughing softly. “I thought you’d be mad as hell at me. But I would’ve called ya if I’d known what your number was.”

“That’s all right. We’ll go just the same.”

I had to call in sick to take Jan to the concert, because they still had us working Saturday nights at the plant. I knew it was going to be worth the lost pay, though, as soon as I went to pick Jan up. She really looked sharp. She had on a gray satin miniskirt with a matching jacket and an orange Western style shirt. She had on an exotic perfume that you could’ve smelled across a football field, too, but at least I liked the scent. I wore a cowboy hat, which was the first thing Jan mentioned when I came to pick her up.

“Well, I didn’t know I was going out with the Lone Ranger,” she said.

“You’re not. I’m not a good guy. Try Black Bart or Billy the Kid.”

“You’re a kid, all right. I still can’t believe I’m going out with you.”

I enjoyed the show more than I thought I would. Elvis was in pretty good form, though I thought he looked strange in his white leather outfit bespangled with stars, compared to the greaser I remembered. He strutted and gyrated across the stage to screams and cheers just like it was still 1957, singing “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” and when he really got into it sometimes, I thought Jan was going to swoon. I could see the envy in her eyes as Elvis bent down to give a kerchief to one of the women in the first row, bathed in the golden glow of a spotlight. When I asked Jan if she didn’t think it was too bad we weren’t in the front row, she looked at me disgustedly and said, “What do you think?” I liked the music some of the time, and was glad to see Jan was really getting into the show, and tried not to laugh at the women who were screaming and looking at Elvis with such desperate longing. Jan seemed emotionally drained when it was over, but happy.

“Wasn’t it just incredible?” she said as we were walking out with the crowd.

“It was pretty unbelievable,” I said, with a smile.

“You bum,” smiling back. “I ought to smack you right up side the head.”

“I sure wouldn’t like that.”

“You bet you wouldn’t.”

We ended up going out together to a pretty rowdy bar that Jan liked called L’il Abner’s, which had a country music band playing.

“This must look pretty funny, me out with a kid your age,” she said. “People are probably wondering if I’m your mother. I hope I don’t run into anyone I know.”

“This doesn’t strike me as the kind of place where people would care what you’re doing.”

“I don’t know,” skeptically.

“They probably think you must be a terrific lover to be able to hang onto such a young guy.”

“All right—”

“I was just trying to put the situation into a positive light. Every cloud has a silver lining, I always say.”

“Always looking on the bright side. If I was still working in the doughnut shop, I’d put Tabasco sauce in your coffee the next time you came in. Or give you a doughnut a rat had been chewing on.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Oh yes I would. Then you’d wish you’d been nicer to me,” and we both laughed.

After we had finished a couple of drinks we danced for a while. The first few songs were fast. Jan really seemed to enjoy dancing, and had better rhythm and better moves than I would have guessed. Then the band played a slow song and Jan and I put our arms around each other, even though she made sure to make some crack just before we came together.

“Who would ever have guessed when I first walked into Dunkin’ Doughnuts just two short months ago, that someday you and I would be dancing cheek to cheek in the L’il Abner bar.”

“Not me, that’s for sure.”

“Funny how life is, isn’t it?”

“Oh, it’s just a barrel of monkeys.”

After that song we sat down again and got another drink.

“Now admit it,” I said. “It hasn’t been as bad going out with me as you thought it would, has it?”

“Well, I don’t know. At least I got to see Elvis. And I guess you’ve been pretty good so far.”

“I might as well tell you now I’m not as young as you think I am. I’m actually sixty years old. I just got a hair transplant and a face lift a couple months ago.”

“No, you’re not,” laughing. “But you’re OK anyway.”

When we finished our drinks, we went back to Jan’s house. She wasn’t sure if she should invite me in or not, or at least she pretended she wasn’t sure, but she let me talk her into it. She turned her TV on to the Tonight Show and we sat down on her sofa to watch it. As soon as a commercial came on, though, we went to her kitchen to make drinks, and we went back to the sofa with two strong rum and cokes. The Tonight Show must have been almost over because there was a comedian on I didn’t recognize, and I knew the unknowns usually just come on at the end. He was fat and he was telling jokes about his wife that weren’t very funny. Jan laughed just a little. Pretty soon, I put my arms around her and we kissed.

“Getting pretty bold, aren’t we?” Jan said, amused. “I still don’t really know who you are. You could be an ex-con or just out of reform school and I wouldn’t even know it.”

“Come on. You’re as safe with me as you’d be with the pope.”

“Don’t give me that shit,” laughing. “All I know is that you’re a fast talking rascal who just happens to have the most adorable blue eyes I’ve ever seen.”

We kissed again, and I started caressing her thighs and stomach, brushing her breasts. She started breathing harder.

“This is getting too hot and heavy,” Jan said. “We better cool it and watch TV for a while, like good boys and girls.” She picked up her drink.

“I’m sure we can think of something more stimulating to do than that.”

“I’m sure you can.”

The Johnny Carson show ended and a cowboy movie came on. It was an old one with all the stereotypes: The Mexican was greasy and sneaky, the Indians were bloodthirsty and dumb, the hero was a tall white handsome cowboy who didn’t drink, smoke, swear or screw, but who shot about fifty Indians a day. I think it was Randolph Scott. The cowboy came to work for a wealthy rancher who was having trouble with Indians and cattle rustlers. The rancher had a daughter who was blonde and sweet and virginal who soon developed a crush on the cowboy. But the cowboy wasn’t interested. He was more interested in catching rustlers and shooting Indians. Fortunately, the movie was lousy and Jan got bored with it pretty fast. She turned off the TV and put a Charlie Rich album on her stereo, telling me that when it was over, I’d have to leave. When she sat down again we kissed and lay back on the sofa. I started unbuttoning her blouse.

“Ah-ah,” she said, taking the offending hand away and shaking her head. But she looked amused, not mad. “You’re quite a rascal, aren’t you? But I barely know you, so I’m going to have to say no.” She buttoned back two of the three buttons I’d undone.

“At least we can kiss. Why don’t you teach me how people use to kiss back in the Roaring Twenties?”

“All right. Don’t get smart or I won’t let you kiss me no more.”

“Oh yes you will.” And we kissed again.

After a while Jan said, “You’d better go home now. If you stay here much longer the sun’s liable to start coming up.”

“That’s no big deal. It does that every day.”

“Not with you here it doesn’t.”

I stood up and pretended I was having trouble walking.

“Christ, I’m drunk,” I said. I came back to the sofa and sat down. “I’m not sure I can make it back to my apartment all right.”

She laughed hard.

“You must think I was born yesterday or something.”

“You wouldn’t want to see me get arrested, would you? Thrown behind bars?”

“I might not mind so much. I bet you’d look cute in stripes.” She seemed fairly drunk.

“How about if I just stay here and sleep it off for a little while? I promise to be on my best behavior.”

“Which isn’t very good, as far as I can tell.”

She looked deeply into my eyes, but a shade of amusement never left her face. “OK. If you want to. But no more drinking and no more kissing,” pressing my nose in with her finger.

“Those thoughts weren’t even in my mind.”

We lay down on the sofa and Jan closed her eyes. Running my hand gently across the side of her head, I kissed her forehead.

“Don’t get me started,” she said.

A little later I said, “I’m too hot. Would you mind if 1 just took my shirt off?”

“I don’t care what you take off, as long as I don’t have to take nothing off.”

I sat up and took off my shirt and lay back down again. Jan put her arms around me and we kissed, but she was more passionate than before. In a little while our clothes were off and we moved to Jan’s bed. We made love, had a conversation in whispers about nothing at all, then fell asleep close together. When I woke up the sun was up. I lay there thinking about what had happened the night before, trying to decide what my next move should be, feeling a sadness that was hard to account for. Then Jan opened her eyes and looked confused for a moment.

“This is the last place I expected to be this morning,” she said.

“I wasn’t expecting it either.”

“Like hell. I’m sure it’s what you had planned all along.”

“You probably won’t believe this, but I wouldn’t have wanted to stay here if I didn’t think you wanted me to.”

“You’re damn right I don’t believe you. I suppose you’ll want to leave now that you’ve had your fun.”

“I haven’t made any plans. I never do.”

She really looked distraught.

“I can’t ever tell whether you’re serious or not.” She started crying, at first like she was trying to hold it back, and then hard. I held her and patted her on the back. Her tears fell onto my shoulder. After she stopped crying, we lay there for a long time without speaking.

“Why don’t we get up and go out somewhere?” I said, finally. “We could go get something to eat and maybe go to a movie or something.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “It don’t matter to me.”

I was finally able to get Jan out of bed. She took a shower and dressed and then we went to my place so I could shave and change clothes. From there we went to a restaurant where I knew they served a good brunch every Sunday. When we were trying out the cheeses and dips at the cheese bar, and the pastries and fruit that were laid out on a long table, Jan still seemed pretty down. By the time the main course arrived, though—steak and eggs for me and French toast with strawberry sauce for Jan—she seemed to cheer up a little, and at least felt good enough to eat quite a bit.

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