She inhaled sharply and jerked backwards into the bed, arching her back briefly before flipping onto her side and gasping for air. She closed her eyes tightly and clutched her pillow with terrified fingers. Another nightmare. Even thousands of miles away she still couldn't escape him. She closed her eyes and breathed heavily into the pillow which smelled heavily of dryer sheets. When she opened them back up into the dark room she turned over onto her other side to look at the clock, 3:25. She groaned heavily and cursed softly into the quiet room.
She laid for a long time on her back staring into the ceiling. She had thrown the sheets off of her, tossing and turning for the past hour had made her warm and sweaty despite the cool air of the room. She could already feel her stomach growling again and she frowned deeply. She just wanted to be home, texting her friends, going out to dinner, continuing school and graduating like every other person her age. She didn't want to be in this strange country in a strange room that she could barely afford paying for. The only money she had other than what she was carrying was money her parents had left her. Money that was supposed to be for her future, her degree and house and kids. Not this. She felt the tears in her eyes and for the first time in weeks let them fall freely. What was she supposed to do? She hoped the walls were not as thin as they probably were or that her neighbors could not hear her sob softly into the empty night air. She'd never felt so hopeless. She was Delani Johnson. She could get herself through anything. Or at least, she used to be Delani Johnson.
She rolled over onto her side realizing none of the people she met today knew her real name. I don't even know who I am anymore, she murmured in her thoughts before she shook with another poorly stifled sob. She knew her only option was to take Rosie up on her offer, but everything inside of her was screaming not too. Not to live with the strange guy who was recommended by the strange woman inside a bar. Not to move a ways out of the city where no one knows you well enough to tell if you are dead and gone. She sobbed again, but if I ever want to get out of here. It's the only way. Her fingers tightened on the pillow and she buried her face in the fabric as the tears rolled one after the other down her cheek and soaked into the fabric. She had cried herself to sleep well into the next morning.
When she woke up it was grey and cloudy outside, not yet raining but threatening enough in appearance to let loose one hell of a rainstorm. She stayed still in her bed, looking out the window through the crack the curtains left. She didn't want to move. She was comfortable. Safe. She sighed heavily and closed her eyes to block everything out, just for a moment. For a moment she was calm and happy. But that moment was shattered when her lids opened and reality slammed itself down in front of her. She had to take Rosie's offer. She knew it was the best thing she had, and on the bright side, a man with one leg couldn't possibly have that much of an advantage over her right? She sighed heavily and rolled onto her back. How did she get here?
After staring pointlessly at the ceiling for another half an hour she finally got up the nerve to sit up and throw her feet down on the ground. She could at least go get a bagel. She felt her stomach growling fiercely, or two. She slipped on a sweater over her nightshirt and pulled her hair back into an impromptu ponytail before slipping into some jeans to look presentable enough for the public eye. She made sure her key was in her pocket before heading downstairs to the lobby where no one was to be found except for the donut and bagel platter set out on the counter. She looked hungrily on them all and slipped one of the donutholes past her lips before trying to decide what else to take. She wrapped a cinnamon raison bagel in a napkin and slid it into her sweatshirt pocket before grabbing a long maple donut with another napkin. As she was lifting it from the tray Jack came out into the outside office area.
She looked up and smiled softly, "Good Morning."
"How did you sleep last night?"
"Great," she lied.
He nodded, "Good I'm glad to hear that. Go ahead and help yourself, they'll be out till twelve." He leaned forward a little more, "And we don't have that many guests here." He whispered.
She smiled crookedly before sliding another donut with sprinkles on top of her maple one. Jack smiled and she nodded in thanks before backing up towards the stairs and disappearing back up to her room. As soon as she got inside she sat down on the bed and scarfed the maple donut within seconds, taking her time on the sprinkles so she didn't find herself hungry again too fast. She sat back against the headboard of the bed and took her time with it and her cinnamon bagel as she flipped through the limited channels on the television. When eleven o'clock finally rolled around she slid out of bed and walked over to the bathroom to fix her hair and change her shirt into something she could wear that day. By eleven forty five she was leaving her room again to scour for another donut. As she approached the counter she saw Jack sitting in the chair and smiled politely.
"Do you need me out by twelve?"
He shook his head, "Nope, just by two if you can."
She nodded and grabbed another napkin, "I can."
"So where you from anyway?"
"Minnesota." She said, the lie came almost naturally this time, now that she had a story.
"How are you finding Ireland?"
She nodded, "Haven't stopped much to enjoy it but it seems like a nice enough place."
He smiled, "Yeah, other than that shit weather, it's not a bad stop on the globe."
She took a bite out of another maple bar and nodded.
"What brings you out here? We don't get many visitors in this town."
She shrugged, "Just hopped on a train to nowhere really."
"Ah, I always wanted to do that." He met her eyes with his soft brown ones. He wasn't a bad looking guy now that she actually took the time to look at him. Low set eyebrows and a strong square jaw with a full head of dark brown hair which was parted to the side and combed over neatly. He stood from his chair at least six feet tall. "Thought I'd go to Italy next year, you ever been?"
She shook her head, "No, afraid I haven't. This is the first time I've been out of the country really."
She nodded, "I had plans to a while back, with my parents but-" her voice trailed off, "Well things happened and it just kind of fell through."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Well at least you're getting out now yeah?"
If only it weren't like this… She thought to herself. "Yeah. Better late than never."
"That's the thinking. Now, if you need some work I know a woman who would know better than any where to look."
"Her name's Rosie, she runs that little shop Rosie's Rags, it's a hand me down store for kids clothes and stuff-"
"Oh you know Rosie?" She asked curiously.
He scoffed, "Well yeah, everyone knows Rosie. Fantastic woman she is, she's the one who got me grandfather this building here. If it weren't for her the Sleep Inn would never have existed. You met her yet?"
"She came up to me yesterday in the pub down the street-"
"Yeah, she'll do that if you're new here. Knows every face in town that woman. She'll know where to send you."
"Well, she offered me a thing cleaning for a guy I guess."
"Don't know his name she didn't say. She mentioned he had one leg?"
"Oh! That Aiden fellow. Yeah, he lives about thirty kilos from here, kind of a quiet guy, we don't see him around too much anymore. Used to go to school with him actually, in secondary school."
"He a good guy?"
"Yeah, he can be a bit of a prick sometimes but he's not bad. He really just keeps to himself mostly since the accident."
"JACK!" Jack and Suki both jumped inches off the ground at the sharp sound of his grandfather's voice.
He sighed and turned around to head for the doorway to the back office, "Yeah grandpa?"
Suki balled her napkin into her palm and tossed it into the trash can next to the counter. At least from the sounds of it this Aiden guy didn't sound so bad. She leaned forward to make sure Jack was preoccupied so she didn't feel as if she was abandoning their conversation. She made her way up the stairs again and back into her room, sitting down on the foot of her bed so she could relax for a moment before gathering the nerve to talk to Rosie.
It's your only option. She told herself as she closed her eyes and lowered her chin to her chest. You have no more money, and nowhere to go. You'd have a roof, food, and a temporary job. She flipped on the TV to pass the next hour but nothing interesting was on. By the time one thirty rolled around she was making her way down the stairs with her packed bag and key in hand. Jack greeted her at the counter again and checked her out with a friendly smile and wave as she left through the front door with a lighter wallet.
Rosie's Rags was a small grey little storefront shoved between two other buildings with the words Rosie's Rags painted in red on the window. Suki stepped towards the red door and the small brass handle, turning it slowly in her palm before pulling the door towards her. The bells hanging on the other side rang through the desolate silence inside and she looked around at the racks of clothes and containers of toys. There was a woman at the counter with a young boy sitting on her hip and another young girl holding onto her skirt and Rosie was standing opposite of her on the other side of the counter. Rosie smiled generously.
"Well speak of the devil," Rosie said putting her hand on her hip.
Suki furrowed her brow and met the other woman's testing gaze. She'd never seen her before, why were they talking about her? The woman adjusted the small boy on her hip that also turned his big blue eyes towards her and she couldn't help but smirk slightly at his young rounded face. He held one hand to his lips, nibbling on his fingers while his other hand wrapped in his mother's light brown hair.
"Come on in girl don't stand there in the doorway!" Rosie waved her hand and Suki stepped forward slowly into the store. "That's it, now this is the girl I was telling you about Irene-"
"I've never seen you before." The woman said sternly as Suki approached the adjacent side of the counter, "Who are your parents?"
"I'm not from here actually-"
"Well that much is obvious." Irene turned to glare at Rosie, "You hired an American for that man?"
"The girl has ears Irene." Rosie raised an eyebrow coolly.
"You cook?" Irene turned on her again.
Suki found herself becoming quickly irritated. "Yes."
Suki narrowed her eyes angrily, "I was raised to be civilized you know."
Irene pulled away from the counter in slight offense while Rosie tried hard to stifle a chuckle.
"Well, when you have to leave, you let me know." She turned to Rosie for the last of her statement, "My daughter is back home and she'll be here for a good long time and she can cook and clean better than any woman I know! I raised her after all."
"Well it's not really a contest Irene," Rosie started to say.
"You give me a call." Irene repeated, "I'll see you later." She turned on her heels, practically dragging the small girl behind her who was still clutching her skirt.
Suki watched her leave, then turned to face Rosie who had an amused smile painted on her face as she leaned into the counter, "She's lovely." Suki muttered.
Rosie chuckled, "She's a strong woman that one. I'm lucky you came in to save me. Aiden's a lucky guy too."
"Is her daughter as bad as she is?" Suki raised an eyebrow.
"She's got her head in the air and one toe on the ground that girl. Just got back from running away to England with the love of her life. Apparently it didn't work out." Rosie began to make her way around the counter, "If I know her mother at all, this job would have been some kind of offhand marriage proposal. You came at just the right time, love."
Suki meshed her brow together, "So, I'd be living out there?"
"Yes, he's got a guest house just to the side. You'd stay there and help around the house during the day."
She nodded once and Rosie caught the apprehensive look on her face, "I try to stop by once or twice a week, come to Friday night dinner and such. So you'll see me around and when you come into town. If he gives you any trouble you don't have to hesitate to call me you understand?"
"He only gives in to those he likes," Rosie grabbed a stack of folded clothes on the countertop, "And I'm sure he'll like you."
The door opened as she walked away and she looked up to smile at an older couple making their way inside, "Oh good to see you Mr. and Mrs. Petchuly!"
"Afternoon, Rosie," the older woman walked forward away from her husband, "How are you doing today?"
"I'm doing wonderfully thank you, and you two? Enjoying your day?"
"We're out shopping for Lucy's birthday gift!" The older man, who was shuffling around the rack by the door spoke up.
"Oh how lovely! What can I help you find today?"
The older woman turned to Suki, "Oh, I haven't seen you around before-" Geez, how small was this town? Suki thought to herself, "Where are you from dear?"
"Oh wow, not anywhere near home are you?" She chuckled.
Suki shook her head.
"Suki's going to be helping out at Aiden's for a little while."
Mrs. Petchuly turned her head over her shoulder and cocked one eyebrow, "I knew you cared for the boy I didn't realize you'd be shipping in someone from another country to go help him out?"
Rosie chuckled, "Nope, just a nice little gift from the Lord I'm afraid." She smiled at Suki who felt her cheeks start to heat up.
"How is that boy doing anyway? I worry about him being all alone in that house you know?"
"Last I saw him he was doing the same as always."
Mrs. Petchuly stepped over to her husband who was listlessly flipping through shirts hanging on the rack, "It's just a shame, all he's been through you know? Nick, these are too big for Lucy, come on, we'll go find her a nice stuffed animal or something."
"He gets by. Just had his drawing published in a big ole fancy kid's book last month. Going to be released in November." Rosie started sorting the clothes in her hand onto a nearby shelf.
"Oh yeah? That's good he's still got that then."
"He's a strong man, Ellen."
"Just like his father." Ellen said as she started looking through the teddy bears in a bin. "So how long are you here for then hun? You have family in the area?"
Suki looked up and shook her head, "No, just passing through really."
"Well I hope you enjoy your stay."
Suki nodded, half swallowing the lump in her throat.
"Oh Suki, you can put your bag behind the counter if you'd like, I'm closing a little early today to grocery shop and then we'll head out to Aiden's. You can help around here if you have no other plans?"
"No, I don't really."
"Which one do you think Lucy would like better?" Mrs. Petchuly held up a teddy bear in each hand.
"Oh get the girl both," Her husband waved his hand nonsensically.
Suki watched them in amusement as she placed her bag behind the counter. She helped Rosie sort the stacks of clothes she was hoarding behind the counter while Ellen and her husband took another half an hour to decide what it was exactly they were going to get their granddaughter Lucy. She walked out of the store with two teddy bears sticking their heads out from the top. The rest of the day went slowly with few more visitors who took their time to meander around the store looking for new contributions, but then leaving empty handed. Rosie kept Suki busy until closing, folding clothes, organizing shelves and picking clothes off the racks that had been there for over two months. Those clothes went to charity.
By the time it was four fifteen they were standing outside the building as Rosie was locking up, "Now, I told Aiden you'd be cooking, I hope you don't mind but I figured it would be a good introduction."
"We can get everything you need at the store, have any idea of what you want to fix?" Rosie straightened out her jacket and they began to walk down the road towards the train station.
"Well, I guess. I know a good recipe for stuffed bell peppers."
"The large green and red ones?"
Suki nodded. "Is he allergic to anything?"
Rosie shook her head, "No, he'll eat just about anything you put in front of him. Doesn't care for fish, nuts or sprouts. He says he doesn't like mushrooms, but he does, he's just too stubborn to admit it."
They crossed to road when they got to the pub where they met yesterday and Rosie led her down an alley to the right of it. There was a small parking lot out back where a small black sedan was parked next to a metal garbage can. Rosie unlocked the car with the buttons on her key and nodded to Suki to get in. After throwing her bag in the back seat she slid into the passenger side of the car and shut the door.
"Now I'll show you the shop I usually go to buy for him. Now, he doesn't like having a lot of different options because he can't use them so my main list consists of eggs, whole grain bread, butter when he needs it, pasta, sauces or oven lasagnas. Stuff for sandwiches, cereal, you'll see when you get there what he has so you know but I imagine you can buy whatever it is you need for what you want to cook. He loves ham and a good tri tip with marinade. And nothing beats a good roast he always says."
"A lot of meat then?"
Rosie chuckled, "Oh yes, it's hard to get him to eat anything but. Other than food, he does fine getting around on his own and taking care of himself but he just does things that have done more damage than good."
"He owns these horses, you see? And he has them come to him every other weekend, Louie down at the stables drives them up in the trailer. Every once in a while he falls off of them, first time he fell he busted his surgical wound and dislocated his shoulder all at once. So I'm just a little worried about him getting on them again without having someone to help him immediately. It takes a long time for our paramedics to get out to him."
"How long ago was his accident?"
"It'll be about a year now I think."
"Does he walk with a prosthetic?"
"No," Rosie sighed exasperatedly, "No, he refuses to get one."
"I have no idea why, every man, woman and child in this town has asked me and I can't give them an answer. He just refuses to have one."
The weight in Suki's chest seemed to lift an inch. No prosthetic. If this did turn sour, there's definitely a chance she could get away. The car ride to the grocery store was short. Rosie filled the silence talking about how she can never get him to try anything new and that he's filled his house with boxes of stuff from his family that he wouldn't get rid of. She mentioned how she hoped since Suki would be there maybe he would entitle her to help throw some of it out. As Suki stepped out of the car, she tuned out Rosie's voice, looking up at the large Super-valu sign installed above the two glass sliding doors. There were a large handful of people inside, spread through the aisles and produce.
Rosie stepped up beside Suki as they walked in past the registers, "This is rush hour time-" Suki couldn't help but look surprised as she looked around at the register lines which each had no more than two people and at the almost empty aisles, "So you'd be better off coming maybe earlier in the day."
"This is rush hour?" Suki asked incredulously.
Rosie laughed, "Never seen a rush hour so slow have you?"
"Are you kidding, this is what we hope our grocery stores look like."
Rosie grabbed a cart from the side and began pushing it towards the produce, "I can imagine. Now what do you need for these stuffed peppers dear?"
"Well, peppers." Suki made an obvious gesture with one shoulder, "I like the orange ones-"
"I'm afraid they don't have orange, will yellow do?" Rosie pulled up alongside where the peppers were lined up. Suki nodded and grabbed a yellow one from the stack, rolling it around in her hands briefly before looking up for a plastic bag to put it in. As she rolled the next one around in her palm Rosie watched her with a soft smile, "You seem to know what you're doing."
Suki shook her head softly, "My mom knew how to pick out the best of anything. It was just something she taught me."
"You cook with your mom a lot?" Rosie took the bag of two peppers from Suki as she was reaching for another bag.
She pulled it out slowly and bit her lip, "I used to."
"Oh, you two don't see each other much anymore?"
"She passed away a couple years ago."
"Oh hun, I'm so sorry."
"It is what it is." Suki shrugged.
"What about your father? He cook at all?"
"My father was never in the picture. He left when I was two."
"Well I am just bringing up all the right things tonight aren't I?" Rosie grabbed the last pepper from Suki's hand.
Suki let out a soft laugh and shook her head, "Don't worry about it. My mom and I never needed him anyway."
"So you say you studied nursing yeah?" Rosie pushed the cart forward to the potatoes and onions. Suki grabbed an onion herself for the recipe.
"Yeah, I was about to finish but things just got in the way. I did some short intensive courses in massage and dabbled in some physical therapy classes as well. I thought about continuing to double major in it actually."
"What did you want to do?"
Suki smiled softly, "Be a pediatric nurse." She rolled the onion around in her hand thoughtfully.
"Yeah, always loved kids."
"You ever wanted to have any?"
Suki nodded, "I always used to think I'd have three."
"Threes a good number."
"You have kids?" Suki asked, placing her bagged onion in the cart before they moved on.
Rosie shook her head, "I was never able to I'm afraid, but I take in strays." She smiled considerately at Suki as she turned around, "and keep my eye on everyone in the town. It keeps me satisfied."
Suki nodded as she approached the raw meats section, grabbing a pack of ground beef. Rosie picked out her own groceries and set them at the opposite end of the cart from the groceries she was taking to Aiden.
"So where's the lucky man you'll be sharing those kids with? I find it hard to believe you haven't been snatched up yet, pretty gal like yourself." She watched as Suki's face fell, her hands tightening on a pack of chicken breasts.
Suki felt a tremor crawl down her spine as she stood, fighting the flashbacks and the awaiting terror. She shook her head as nonchalantly as she could, "It just hasn't happened yet I guess."
Rosie instantly regretted asking. It was obvious something was there that she didn't want opened. "Well you're still young. Can you think of anything else you'd need during the week?"
"How many potatoes did you grab?" Suki asked.
"I'll go grab a couple more."
Rosie watched as she walked away and sighed lightly before turning down the breads aisle. After Suki caught up to her and they walked around the whole store, they made it to the check out lane with a full cart. Suki helped placed item after item on the moving conveyor belt behind the first woman's things. The cashier looked up at Rosie with an amused smile as the first customer walked away.
"Cooking a feast Rosie?" He smiled, showing teeth a tad too large for his boyish face.
She chuckled, "Not for me, this here is Suki. She's going to be cooking over at Aiden's place for a while."
"Well I'm glad to see you've picked more stuff out for him other than pasta and bread." He chuckled as he looked up at her and started to grab the first item. "I can actually see some vegetables in here."
Rosie chuckled, "Well I'd buy them for the man if I knew he'd eat them. If he doesn't fix it himself he'll eat anything you put in front of him."
The cashier, whose nametag said Karl, chuckled softly and shook his head, "It's a man thing Rosie, I wouldn't expect you to understand."
She laughed, "Oh don't tell me you don't eat your vegetables either."
"I do when I visit me mum's. She always cooks something green."
"She's a smart woman, your mum." Rosie dropped her purse onto the small counter on the side of the register and started to pull out her wallet.
Suki squeezed past Rosie so she could start placing the items into the plastic bags at the end. She made sure to keep Aiden's things separate from Rosie's, and placed them in the cart like they had been as they walked through the store. Rosie and Karl were chatting lightly as he continued to ring up their mountain of food. She really did know everybody, Suki thought to herself. She looked up as soon as everything was bagged and saw that she was pulling a few curious glances from the other customers who had obviously never seen her there before. She lowered her eyes again and tried to wait patiently for Rosie to run her card through the machine. She didn't like being the center of attention, she never had.
With a loud good-bye, Rosie started to walk away from the register, reaching for the cart to push it outside. Suki frowned, within the time they had taken inside it had started to sprinkle. Rosie didn't seem too phased as she pulled the trunk of her car open to load the groceries.
"Would you mind taking this back Suki?" She asked politely.
She grabbed the cart and ran it back indoors, sliding it in line with the others. The car ride to Aiden's took little longer than fifteen minutes. The rain on the windshield would alternate between falling heavily and softly, creating an off pattern of tapping sounds that clashed with the soft voice of the radio. Though Suki suspected neither of them was listening very closely to it. She was much too preoccupied with the ball of anxiety settled in her stomach and Rosie was lost in her own thoughts.
"Is the weather always so temperamental?" Suki asked softly, watching the dark scenery passing the window in flashes. There were few houses out this way, sitting on large acres of land. Each of their shadows were graced with only a few lights either on the porch or in the kitchen windows facing the road.
"It's been a particularly bad start to winter this year. Usually it's pretty level with itself. It'll drizzle for a while, rain for a while, be overcast for a while. A couple of weeks ago we had a thunderstorm."
"Those aren't very common?"
"Not big ones no. I have a feeling we're in for a rough December though."
"Oh." Suki continued to watch more houses and fences pass by.
"Here we are," Rosie said as she pointed in the direction of a small house on the left side of the road.
The rooftop and walls emerged from behind a short stone wall sectioning off the yard from the road as they got closer. It was a small house, with a two car garage attached on the right and a free standing guest house on the left which was a little bit smaller still. As Rosie turned the car into the driveway, Suki could see the stones on the outside of the house lit by the porch light and Rosie's headlights. The garage door was the same dingy white as the front door and window frames. Suki jerked softly with the halted movement of the car, staring at the house in contained anticipation. She took in a deep breath and released it slowly.
"Alright, let's get inside shall we?" Rosie smiled at her before letting herself out.