Chapter 2

'Strangers in the Dark'
Part 2

"Er..Are you all right, Miss Gooding?" James asked courteously despite her rude demeanor upon their meeting. The woman had been sitting insensately still for the past four hours.

"And why, " she began coldly, "does that concern you?" She turned to look at him. He felt invisible roots hold him where he stood. Her eyes were a dead blue. Her face was weathered through the course of her lifetime and though he couldn't begin to grasp the lament, in her there rested memories she never thought about, sharp and bitter words on her tongue and a life that concerned nobody but herself. Young James struggled to find a suitable reply for the old woman. He opened his mouth two or three times before answering.

"The Renaissance Hotel cares for it's customers." It was the only thing that came to his mind. He regretted saying it aloud from the moment it left his mouth. He knew it sounded cold and condescending. It was a harsh and frigid and all together...uppity(for lack of a better word).

Ruth Gooding smiled a bitter smile, a knowing and reproachful smile. She leaned back in her chair and turned away from the boy once again and resumed her place in the abyss. She then said, "I'm fine."

James knew she wasn't. He knew she was lying. He knew she was aware that he realized this, and yet he walked away. He walked away because he was sure that he was of no help to her, just as he was of no help to anybody else.


"It's been over five hours now! Why can't they fix it?! Whatever it is..." Steve Martigue out bursted, frightening everyone in the room. He broke the mist of silence that casted over them, and quite loudly at that.

"Calm down, Steve." James said absently from where he leaned against the reception desk next to him. "You're scaring the guests."

"Well too fu-" He started to exclaim.

"Steve!" James suddenly became active and threw his hand over Steve's profane mouth. "There's children in the room." He whispered pressingly. Steve mumbled something that James could distinguish as obscene from under his hand and thus didn't bother to remove it.

"Steve," he smiled mendaciously as he looked into Steve's narrowing eyes. "Just. Watch it." Martigue's eyes returned to normal shape and after a slow and surrendering nod James removed his hand from his incautious mouth.

He said nothing as James returned to his absentminded yet critically thinking state. It was quiet again in the lobby. Guest were no longer collaborating in frantic activity but were scattered about the lobby. They lean against walls and sit in sofas and chairs, reading and talking quietly to themselves. James turned his head once again the peculiarly indifferent Ms. Gooding. He was having difficulty fathoming how she could be so apathetic in such a severely dire situation.

"Hey, Steve." He nudged his mortal enemy/best friend with his elbow. Steve swatted his hand away with a grunt.

"Hey, Steve." James said a bit more definite this time and nudged him a bit harder.

"What?" He moaned indignant under his breath.

"You see that woman over there?" James nodded his head toward Ruth.

"What, that old bag?" Steve glanced over nonchalantly.

"She's not an 'old bag', Steve." James lightly reprimanded his friend. "Doesn't she seem a little...I don't know, imperturbable to yo-"

"Say what?!" Steve proclaimed loudly straightening, no longer leaning on his elbows languidly. He received a wave of shushes from the guests. There wasn't a reason for it, though. It wasn't an obligation to the situation to be quiet, it was just something they adapted to; not talking. "Say what?" Steve whispered in James' ear after the guests resumed their small talk. James sighed a bit.

"Doesn't she seem a little too calm." He said blatantly.

"Oh, geez, Jay. Why didn't ya just say that for crying out loud. Just say that." For the majority of the time, Steve was as everyone else in Cleveland. However on occasion, as that one, his Brooklyn background would creep up in accent or behavior. "You use too many book words James, just say the point and be done with it, really..."

"Sorry," James smiled at his friend's intimidation for words that had more than three syllables,"but really, doesn't she?" Steve glanced over at Ruth's still rock like form.

"Geez, did some one press the freeze frame..." He muttered under his breath.

"That's my point, Steve. " James looked over at her, too."Do you think something's wrong with her?"

"Nah, probably just the regular senile old bat, that's all." Steve voiced casually.

"I don't know..." It was when Ruth turned her head and stared directly at James did he realize they had been visibly staring at the elderly woman. They turned away quickly and faced the wall behind them, their backs turned to Ruth.

"That was smooth. We're real slick, you and me." Steve shook his head at their behavior.

"Tell me about it." James agreed before checking the reflection of the mirror hanging on the wall over the reception desk. She had turned away again. They slowly turned back around and were careful not to do anything so unmannered. Well, James did, Steve was cautious not to get caught. He was staring at everyone in the room. He looked the guests over and assessed their person and backgrounds.

The next half hour or so was Steve quietly pointing out to James random guests and giving a full background on them, as if he hadn't never spoken nor seen them in his entire life. James chuckled as he was directed to various people with humorous histories(none of which he thought were true). Still, Steve made him laughed as he always could. They were the odd couple as friends, completely opposite in every way. Steve brought out James' "inner child" as a professional would call it and he would laugh harder with Steve than he ever had with anyone else. In turn, James was slowly introducing intellectual matters to Steve, very slowly. He was progressing though, just a few days prior he had used the word "conglomerate".

It wasn't long however for them to fall into another lapse of silence. James checked his watch his watch, 5:37 and twenty-one seconds, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four...He sighed and placed his head in his hand. Out the window the day was beginning to end. The sun wasn't setting but it wasn't far away, and what would they do until then? Nobody thought about it, they were enjoying what light they had. So most of them sat there, just gazing around the room, at the strangers in the dark.