I'll Just Add That To The List

Sonia was greatly annoyed to hear somebody knocking at her door so late at night. She glanced at the clock on her bedside table and saw that it was after midnight.

"Oh, for Christ sakes," she grumbled as she rolled out of bed and stumbled in the dark to the front door of the apartment. "What the hell do you want?" She growled when she threw the door open to find some strange guy standing in the hallway.

"Er, I was looking for Art Sebert," the guy announced.

"That asshole doesn't live here anymore," Sonia announced as she started to close the door in the stranger's face.

"Wait!" The guy yelled, sticking his foot in the door to stop her from shutting it.

"Que?" She asked with annoyance.

"What do you mean he doesn't live here anymore?" The guy asked.

"What's it to you?" Sonia barked.

"I'm his friend," the guy explained. "I came to see him."

"Well, he's gone," Sonia yelled.

"Gone?" The guy was shocked. "Gone where?"

"How the hell should I know?" Sonia groaned. "He took off. Left. Vacated. Hit the road."

"And you have no idea where he went?" The guy asked, sounding almost desperate.

"Don't know, don't care," Sonia revealed. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I was sleeping."

"Wait," the guy pleaded sticking his hand out to stop her from trying to close the door again.

"Que?" Sonia growled.

"I really have nowhere to go," the guy sighed. "It's late. I'm broke. Do you think I could stay here?"

"You're kidding, right?" She almost laughed.

"No, I'm not kidding," he replied with a frown. "Art said he'd put me up for a few days."

"What are you talking about?" Sonia demanded suspiciously. "He's been gone almost dos months."

"Well, it's been a while since we talked but he told me to show up and he'd help me out," the guy said, digging a folded wrinkled envelope out of his pocket and showing it to her, pointing to Art's return address on the corner – which was her address!

"Who the hell are you?" Sonia asked.

"Miller Dobbs," the guy said. "Art and I were in the Navy together."

"Oh, manficico," Sonia sighed. "Let me guess, you saved his life once."

"No, nothing like that," Miller admitted. "But we were shipmates and he said he'd try to get me a job where he works."

"He doesn't work there anymore," Sonia told him. "He quit and ran off with some chick."

"I thought you were his chick," Miller said with surprise.

"Not anymore," Sonia replied bitterly.

"He broke up with you?"

"He dumped me," Sonia clarified. "Cheated and humiliated me."

"I'm sorry," Miller sighed.

"I'm sure you are," Sonia said sarcastically.

"Are you okay?" Miller asked.

"You're kidding, right?" Sonia asked with disbelief. "I just told you the asshole cheated on me, dumped me, and ran off with some chick and you're asking me if I'm okay!? Are you friggin' loco?"

"Sorry," Miller mumbled. "Stupid question, I guess."

"Damn straight!"

"Anyway, do you think I could bunk out here for a few days while I try to figure out what in the hell I'm supposed to do now?" He asked, sounding very polite and sincere.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Sonia said.

"Why not?" Miller asked.

"Because you're a total stranger for one thing," she groaned.

"I know Art and you know Art…"

"I hate that asshole," Sonia told him.

"I'm a Vet who's a little down on his luck…"

"I have my own sob story, Senor," Sonia let him know.

"I just need a place to regroup for a few days," he pleaded. "I have no where else to go."

She stared at him for a long moment. "How'd you get here?" She frowned.

"Bus."

"From where?"

"Wisconsin."

"Wisconsin?"

"Yeah."

"Look, I don't have no room for you," Sonia said. "No bed."

"Don't you have a couch?" He asked, glancing over her shoulder and trying to peer into the apartment.

"I have a couch," she confirmed. "But you can't crash here."

"Why not?"

"I have a roommate," Sonia told him.

"Well, ask her if it's okay…"

"She's not here right now which is another reason why you can't stay," Sonia insisted.

"Can't I please stay?" He was begging now.

"No! Go away!"

"I don't know where else to go," Miller sighed. "I'm not from around here. I don't know anybody. I don't have any money."

"It's not my problem, man," Sonia said firmly.

"You'll hardly know I'm here," Miller attested. "I'm cool, I swear. I promise I won't rob you. I'm not a dangerous guy. I'm not a serial killer. I'm asking you to trust me and help me out."

She finally realized how pathetic he looked – tired, beaten, depressed, frightened even.

"What ship were you on with the asshole?" She tested.

"Truman."

She chewed on her lip for a moment. "Loco..." she finally sighed.

She stepped back and gestured for him to enter. He picked up a green sea bag from the floor and followed her into the apartment.

"Thank you!" he said earnestly. "I really appreciate this."

"I'm sure you do," she mumbled, running her hand through her hair.

"No, really," he said with sincerity.

"Alright, alright," she barked, brushing him off with a hand gesture. "Don't worry about it. There's the couch." She pointed to the sofa in the corner of the living room. "There's a pillow and blanket behind it. Bathroom is down the hall. Kitchen's right there but there's not much food so don't go snooping around."

"I bought some cupcakes out of the vending machine at the bus station," he said.

"For supper?"

"I ran out of money."

She shook her head and headed for her bedroom down the hall. "There's nothing of value here to steal so don't bother casing the joint."

"I just want to get some sleep," Miller assured her.

"Right," she replied as she closed the door to her bedroom and Miller heard her locking it behind her.

"I can't believe that asshole Art dumped her," Miller said to himself.

### ### ###

Miller was still fast asleep when Sonia came out of her bedroom in the morning. He had slept through her shower and her making coffee in the kitchen. She noticed that he was too tall for the couch and his feet were dangling over the arm on the end. His clothes were on a heap on the floor and she saw his hairy legs sticking out from under the blanket.

"Hey, wake up!" Sonia ordered, giving the couch a kick.

"Huh?" He mumbled.

"You need to get up," Sonia told him.

"What for?" He mumbled, not bothering to open his eyes.

"Revile and all that jazz," Sonia replied. "I'm ready to leave for work. I don't think you should stay here alone."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want to return to a robbed apartment."

"Right, there's so much to steal here," Miller muttered. "Look," he said, leaning over and fishing for his pants on the floor. She could see his underwear as the blanket slipped off. "Take my wallet," he said. "As a security payment. That way you'll know I'll still be here when you get back. And all your stuff too."

"The point was I don't want you here when I get back," Sonia grumbled.

"That's not very nice," Miller pouted.

"Can I really trust you?" She sighed, waving away the wallet he was holding out to her.

He gave her a hand salute from where he lay on the bed. "Navy honor."

She shook her head and grumbled something Miller couldn't make out as she headed for the door. Then he promptly fell asleep.

It was nearly noon when Miller finally dragged himself out of bed. He hadn't been getting much sleep lately and it felt good to catch up. He was embarrassed to think about how far he had sunken since getting discharged from the Navy a few years ago. The job market had dried up and he had a hard time making it. He couch surfed for a while working odd jobs and he tried to network with old friends and Navy buddies to find job opportunities elsewhere.

Art was one of the few who actually answered his SOS, inviting Miller to come to Hillsboro and stay with him because he was sure Miller could land a job in this area. It took Miller a few months to save up enough money to make his way across the country and he arrived with just a few bucks left in his pocket only to find that Art was long gone, leaving him stranded in an unfamiliar town with no prospects and no clue what he was going to do next.

"Bastard," Miller grumbled as he sat up on the couch in the unfamiliar surroundings of the girl's apartment – he realized he didn't even know her name.

It was a nice enough apartment, attractively decorated but the furniture was second hand and the building itself older. He rose from the couch still in his skivvies and went to the window to check out the surroundings in the daylight. He was on a side street off the main street and he saw a couple of storefronts across the street. If memory served, there was a bike shop on the ground level of this particular building when he arrived in the dark the night before.

Miller dug a towel out of his sea bag and walked down the hall to use the bathroom – 'shit, shower and shave' as they used to say in the Navy although there was no reason to shave. He also washed his socks, shirt and skivvies in the bathtub, wanting to keep his clothes clean not knowing if he'd be on the road again soon.

Miller was refreshed and dressed when Art's dumped girlfriend returned to the apartment at the end of the work day with a couple of bags of groceries in her arms to find her uninvited guest sitting on the couch reading a book he had taken from one of the bookshelves.

"Oh, you're still here," she said, sounding disappointed.

"Sorry," Miller said, feeling guilty for imposing on her.

"Ah, it's the asshole's fault, not yours," Sonia decided as she headed for the kitchen with the groceries.

"You never told me your name," Miller said, following her.

"Sonia."

"That's a pretty name," Miller said, knowing better than to add 'just like you' out loud even though that's exactly what he was thinking.

"You hungry, Cupcake Boy?" Sonia asked.

"A little," he admitted, not wanting to tell her he was half-starved and hardly had been eating in the last few weeks.

"I'll make some chicken soup," she said, digging some chicken out of one of the bags.

"Sounds good," he said. "Thanks for your kindness."

"Do I have a choice?" Sonia asked, semi-sarcastically.

He took a seat at the kitchen table and watched her prepare the meal. Art had good taste in women and Sonia was no exception. She was taller than Art (who was probably about 5'6") with Hispanic features, including a shade of skin that made her look like she had a permanent tan. She wore her black hair long and straight, she had a full figure with wide hips, and although he really hadn't seen her smile yet, Miller thought she had a lovely face.
"So what did you do in the Navy?" Sonia asked glancing at him over her shoulder as she prepared the food. Miller decided she had a sexy Spanish-tinned accent.
"Internal communications," he replied. "Ship phones and intercoms and that sort of stuff. Art was computers so we were in the same division. Then I did two years in Afghanistan as part of a supply and security detail."
"Well, thank you for your service," she said with sincerity.
"Where'd you meet Art?"
"At The Bullpen Tavern here in town," she said. "We're both Yankees fans."
"I thought this was a Red Sox nation zone," Miller commented
"It is but there's twelve screens in there." Sonia laughed for the first time. "We get the Yanks on one of them once in a while!"
"You from New York?"
"I was born in Brooklyn," she said. "My mom moved to South County when I was about eight."
"South County?"
"It's part of this area, south of here," she explained.
"What do you do now?"
"Medical billing at a local community health center," Sonia told him. "I got my degree at Blue County Community College."
"Good for you," Miller said.

"The asshole was making all the money," Sonia said. "He had a great job in the IT department of a local company but he gave it all up for..." Her voice broke and she sucked in her breath. "I had to get a roommate to make the rent," she sighed. "A girl from work moved in a few weeks ago. She went home for a visit this week."

"I've pretty much been homeless the last year or so," Miller revealed shamefully.

"What happened?" Sonia asked, turning and resting her backside against the counter, her arms folded across the chest as the soup was cooking now.

"My story isn't that much different from yours really," Miller sighed. "I had a girl back home I was crazy about. I was sending most of my money back, assuming she was banking it and saving it for our future - down payment on a house and all that."

"She left with all the money," Sonia guessed.

"Ran off with some guy a month before I got discharged," Miller confirmed. "I couldn't find a good job and I was basically living in my car – until the bank repossessed it!"

"What about your family?"

"Dad died when I was six and mom died last year," Miller sighed. "I got a brother in Michigan but he's got his own family and I didn't want to be a burden on him." He chewed on his lip. "Sorry I'm a burden on you."

She seemed embarrassed for a moment. "It's okay," she said sheepishly. "I didn't mean to be a bitch about it."

"No, it's okay," Miller said. "I realize how strange it must have seemed to you last night but I really had no where else to go. I couldn't believe Art wasn't here."

"Were you two close?"

"We got along," Miller acknowledged. "Shipmates and all that. We had stuff in common so we hung out together. I thought he was a good guy. Sorry he screwed you over."

"What are you going to do now?" Sonia asked, turning to stir the soap without acknowledging his last comment.

"Get some sort of job to make some money," he said. "Go back to Wisconsin, I guess."

"Is there anything for you there?" She inquired.

"Not really," Miller admitted. "But I don't know if there's anything for me here either."

He watched her stirring the soup and suddenly he began to wonder.

"Anyway, thanks for letting me stay here." Miller said one more time.

She turned to face him. "It's okay," she let him know, sounding hospitable and friendly.

"I know I sound pathetic," he sighed. "Probably look even worse."

"You don't look that bad," she smiled.

He was taller than the asshole with dark hair (to Art's blond), a scuffle of a beard, a crooked nose, but penetrating eyes.

Miller collaborated a couple of Navy stories Art had told Sonia and added a few of his own as they waited for the meal to be ready. When it was, Sonia served him a large bowl of soup and a chicken breast on a plate with raw carrots and she joined him at the table to eat as well.

"So, you're planning on staying another night?" Sonia asked as they ate.

"If you wouldn't mind," Miller replied hopefully.

Sonia smiled. "I guess it will be okay," she said. "For a few days anyway."

"Your roommate won't mind?"

"She's not here so it's kind of hard for her to say anything," Sonia pointed out.

"I guess that's true," Miller agreed.

They watched a movie on the old television (Art had taken the wide screen with him!) and then Sonia went to bed. Miller was heartened that she didn't lock the bedroom door this time.

It was the middle of the night and Sonia heard muffle moans and half-screams coming from the living room. She was frightened by the noise but she knew she had to investigate. She tiptoed into the living room and saw Miller sprawled out on the couch, thrashing around a bit. He was obviously sleeping and perhaps in the midst of a nightmare. Sweat was pouring off his forehead and there was a look of anguish on his face.

Sonia cautiously approached him. "Hey," she whispered.

She waited a few moments but Miller was still in the throws of his nasty dream.

"Miller!" She shouted, giving him a push.

"AAUUUGGG!" Miller sat up straight on the couch and had his hands clutched in fists in a defensive posture in front of him, causing Sonia to jump back defensively, frightened.

"You were having a nightmare," Sonia told him nervously.

He glanced around in dazed confusion for a moment until he remembered where he was. "Huh? Oh…..ah…..sorry."

"You okay?" She worried.

"Sometimes I have flashbacks from the war," he admitted. "I never thought I'd see some of the stuff I saw over there."

"In Afghanistan?"

"I joined the Navy to fix phones not to watch people get blown to pieces by roadside bombs," he sighed.

"It must have been terrible," Sonia said with sympathy.

"It was," he said, shivering as he lay back down. "Sorry I woke you."

"It's okay," she said. "You couldn't help it."

"Good night," Miller said as he tried to get comfortable on the couch.

"'Night," Sonia replied while slowly walking to her bedroom seeing this guy in a whole new light now.

### ### ###

Miller was still sleeping when Sonia was ready to leave for work the following morning. She didn't blame him for wanting to catch some extra zzzz's if he had frequent nightmares so she slipped out the door without waking him.

All through the day at work, Sonia found herself thinking about Miller. They were a lot a like, really – both struggling to make it, both losing fathers early in their lives (hers left, his died), and both getting dumped by partners rather unceremoniously. Sonia found it troubling that a talented veteran like Miller Dobbs who served his country and put his life on the line would be having so much trouble adjusting now that he was back in the civilian world. It didn't seem fair that he didn't have a job. Despite his troubles and lack of stability, Sonia felt good about this guy and she hoped her instincts were right (in this case, anyway).

Miller felt guilty when he awoke to an empty apartment knowing poor Sonia was out slaving on the job while he was sitting around, unemployed and useless, freeloading on her charity and good will. He was used to sleeping on couches and in unfamiliar places and being alone a lot but he couldn't afford rent or even a motel room right now.

Ashley had definitely taken him for a ride and played him for the sap he was and it was going to take him a long time to get back on his feet financially and to pull himself together emotionally too. The continued nightmares were concerning to him and he wondered if he'd ever get over the trauma he was still feeling from his experiences in a war theatre. He had joined the Navy (instead of the Army or Marines) specifically to avoid such drama on the frontlines of battle but he found himself there anyway and the aftereffects of such duties haunted him.

Miller used the bathroom and as he returned to the living room he couldn't help himself, stepping into Sonia's bedroom to check out her tastes and living space. He had resisted the temptation yesterday but now that he was feeling a little closer to her he wanted to see if there were any clues to help him figure her out better.

Sonia's bedroom had some pretty and colorful Spanish-themed artwork and a large comfy double bed which she had neatly made prior to her departure that morning. It smelled of perfume and other girly odors and was clean and well kept. There was a photo of her and (Miller guessed) Sonia's mom on the bedside table but any evidence of Art being around were long gone.

He felt slimy invading Sonia's privacy so he quietly returned to the living room. That's where Sonia found him when she got home from work that night, sitting on the couch watching television.

"Have you moved at all today?" She accused, sounding annoyed.

"I realized I couldn't leave the apartment because I didn't have a key and I didn't want to leave the door unlocked," he explained sheepishly. "Do you think I could borrow a spare key so I can get out tomorrow?"

"Oh, you're staying another night?" She asked, sounding slightly sarcastic.

"If you wouldn't mind," he mumbled, feeling totally worthless.

"Whatever," she groaned.

"How was your day?" He asked.

Sonia looked at him as if he was crazy, realizing how familiar and comfortable the question sounded as if they were in a relationship and he was genuinely interested in how she was doing. Still, it was nice to be asked.

"It was okay," she decided with a half-smile. "Hey," she said, mostly on impulse. "Why don't we go out tonight? I don't feel much like cooking."

Miller realized he should have prepared a meal while she was at work and he immediately felt guilty. He was also embarrassed that he couldn't afford to go out.

"I don't have any money," he muttered.

"I'll treat," she said cheerfully. "You can pay me back."

"Um….."

"Come on, you need to get out of here after being cooped up all day," she said. "I'll show you around."

"Okay," Miller reluctantly agreed and a few minutes later he found himself sitting in the passenger's seat of Sonia's twelve year old Corolla being driven around town.

She showed him where Fontaine's Family Grocery Store was and a few other businesses of interest. She mentioned that there was a temp agency in Greenville that hired by the day for various odd jobs and where to catch the bus to get over there. After the ride around town, Sonia pulled the car into Johnny C's Diner, which was crowded, busy, and friendly.

"I was thinking about you today," Sonia admitted once they were situated in a booth after a five minute wait.

"Oh?" Miller replied with surprise.

"About your service and your story and your nightmares," she said. "I'm sorry you have trouble sleeping."

"Hopefully, I'll get better," Miller said with some encouragement in his voice. "My life really has been shit since I got out of the Navy though."

"I'm sorry," she sighed. "You deserve better."

He smiled and they ordered dinner when the cheerful waitress came to their booth. Sonia went with a taco salad while Miller had an open-faced hot roast beef sandwich with fries and corn.

"I wish my life wasn't so melodramatic," Miller sighed once the waitress was gone with their order.

"You seem like a nice guy," Sonia replied. "I'm sure things will get better for you soon."

Miller wanted to tell her they already had just by looking at her but he didn't think she'd appreciate his flirtatious overtones so he didn't go there.

"I'm just having a little bit of trouble," he admitted. "I know things will improve."

"I know they will too," she smiled.

"No matter what happens, I'll always be indebted to your kindness," Miller said. "You could have shut the door in my face. I know you can't afford another mouth to feed and that it's inconvenient having me on your couch.

"Well, I couldn't let you sleep on the street or in a shelter, could I?" Sonia remarked.

"Actually, you could have," Miller replied. "But I'm glad you didn't."

"You can stay until you get your feet on the ground," Sonia decided.

"What about your roommate?" Miller worried.

"She'll just have to deal with it," Sonia said. "It's my name on the lease."

"Thanks," he said one more time with sincere appreciation. "I'll move on as soon as I can."

Sonia wondered if Miller saw himself as a failure the same way she often felt about herself. Sure, she got the billing certificate and she had a job (that barely paid the bills) and her own apartment (with a roommate) but she came from a broken home and she faced the stigmas and challenges of being a Hispanic woman, always feeling second best, always doubting herself.

She thought Art was going to be the answer to some of her problems and loneliness and they had a good time together for a while but she never saw it coming when he left her for another woman, a white woman of course with an education, a prestigious job and a middle class background. How could Sonia compete with that?

Art wasn't her first failed relationship and she was certain he wouldn't be her last. She didn't need to start feeling sorry for this guy sitting across from her. She needed to avoid men and concentrate on her job, maybe even returning to college to improve herself and perhaps get a promotion at work.

The waitress brought their meals and Sonia told Miller about the diner as they ate. It was one of Hillsboro's best places and she loved coming here for the atmosphere, good service, and terrific food.

"I like to treat myself once in a while even though I buy half my stuff at the Dollar Store," Sonia remarked. "You should check out Donovan's Department Store if you make it over to Greenville," she added. "It's a neat place."

"I will," Miller replied. He glanced at her. "You sure you have enough money to pay for this?"

"I'm pretty frugal," Sonia bragged. "I'm the coupon queen. I can smell a sale on any item a mile away. Don't worry about it."

"I'll pay you back," Miller promised. "I owe you and I'll make sure I pay you back when I can."

"I know you will," she said, sensing that he was a man of honor, integrity and his own word. 'I'll just add this meal to my list," she said with a smile.

"I'll never get used to living like this," Miller sighed. "Out of my sea bag. No home. No car. No money. It's degrading and depressing."

Sonia nodded sadly and he almost resented her pity.

"I shouldn't be complaining," Miller realized. "I'm just bummed out and humiliated."

"I'm happy to help you out, Miller," Sonia assured him. "Plenty of nice people helped my mother and me out along the way."

"Where's your mom now?" Miller asked.

"She lives with some guy down in Springdale," Sonia answered. "She seems happy."

"That's good."

"What happened to your mom?" She asked gently.

"Cancer," Miller sighed. "She died a couple of months before I got out."

"You've had a rough time of it between that and your girlfriend's betrayal."

"Yeah, nothing seems to have gone right these past few years," Miller agreed. "My mom had been sick for a while but she really didn't tell me how bad it was. I guess she didn't want me worrying about her while I was away."

"Mothers don't always tell their children everything," Sonia commented and Miller got the sense she was speaking from experience.

"She didn't exactly give me the chance to say goodbye," Miller sighed.

"Did she leave anything that could help you?"

"There wasn't a lot of money after Dad died," Miller revealed. "My mother didn't have a lot of assets and the health expenses near the end wiped out most of her savings. But I could care less about that stuff. I really miss her."

"I keep waiting for my father to walk back into my life," Sonia said sadly.

"Do you know where he is?"

"Not really," she sighed. "My mother refuses to talk about him but I think he's down in the Miami area maybe. I've thought about going down there to look for him but I'm not sure if it's something I should do after all this time. I mean, he never came looking for me, right?"

"You'll know if and when the time's right," Miller said.

"At least both my parents are still alive," Sonia said. "I'm sorry you've lost yours."

"I've lost a lot in my life, it seems," he said.

They finished their meal and Miller felt worthless watching Sonia pay the bill and leave the tip. She drove them back to her apartment and they watched some show on the old television for a while until Sonia went to bed. She was awoken in the middle of the night (again) by the sounds of Miller's yelling.

"GET DOWN! GET OUT OF THERE! DON'T..."

She stood in the middle of the living room watching the war veteran toss and turn on the couch, his face soaked with perspiration but this time she didn't wake him up, not sure how he might react and not wanting to risk getting slugged, punched or attacked in his disorientated state.

In the morning, Sonia left a spare key to the apartment on the coffee table on her way out the door, hoping Miller would check out job possibilities or at least get out of the apartment for a few hours. He again felt guilty when he awoke to find Sonia gone and he got up and really did shave when he shit and showered.

Miller didn't have any money for the bus (he had forgotten to sponge some money off Sonia) so he walked the five miles to Greenville (guessing where the downtown was by following signs) and he applied for daily labor work at the temp place. Unfortunately, he didn't have a cell (he ran out of minutes months ago and never paid his bill) and he wasn't sure how the place could contact him. He took a business card and promised to call once he got Sonia's number.

Miller walked the five miles back to Hillsboro, forgetting to check out Donovan's Department Store like Sonia had suggested. It was a cold March day but definitely not as bad as Wisconsin with the wind coming off the great lake and Miller didn't mind so much. The cold air and the long walk gave him a chance to clear his lungs and get some much needed exercise, as well as kill time. He didn't want to sit around the apartment watching mindless daytime television anyway.

Miller was grateful for Sonia's kindness and hospitality but he couldn't take advantage of her goodness much longer, especially with the roommate coming back. He wondered why Sonia wanted to find her father who had deserted her when she was a little kid but he understood her need to reconnect and he often thought about his own father, twenty-years after his death.

Miller saw that there were a couple of pork chops in the refrigerator when he got home so he cooked dinner this time to help Sonia out. By the time she got home, he had the meat prepared, the frozen French fries baked, and a salad made. He even set the table, lit a candle, and poured her a glass of wine, finding a half empty bottle in the frig.

"Oh wow," Sonia said when she came home and saw what awaited her. "Gee, gracious, Miller."

He told her about his walk to Greenville as they ate.

"You walked to Greenville?"

"Yeah.

"And back?"

"Yep."

"Geez."

"It wasn't that bad," he said.

"Here," she said, getting up and digging some money out of her purse she left on the counter. "Here's some bus money." She handed him a twenty.

"You can't afford this," he said.

"Don't worry, I'm okay," she assured him. "You can pay me back. I'll just add it to the list"

"The list is starting to get kind of long," he said.

She laughed and resumed eating.

"I don't have a phone," Miller told her. "I was thinking of giving the temp place your number."

"That's stupid," Sonia replied. "Even if they call me, how am I supposed to get a hold of you if I'm at work or something?"

"I hadn't thought of that."

"We'll get you one of those cheap disposable cells," she decided. "I think the drug store has some."

"I can't aff…'

"I'll just add it to the list," she smiled. "Anyway, I'm glad you got out and are trying to line up some possibilities."

"I can't sit around here all day doing nothing," Miller said with sincerity. "I'd go nuts."

"The happiest day of my life was when I got this job," Sonia said knowingly. "Of course, that really doesn't say a whole lot about the quality of my life!"

"You're doing fine," Miller said.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right."

"What, because Art dumped you, you mean?" Miller wondered.

"It's not just about the asshole," Sonia pouted. "It's just that my life seems to be…stuck."

"Everybody goes through ruts," Miller theorized. "I happen to be in a canyon right now….."

"What a loser I am!" Sonia wailed, catching Miller by surprise.

"You're not!" He insisted.

"What do you know?" She accused.

"Nothing," he admitted with a sigh. "Look, I know we just met and all that but from what I see you are a very caring, sensitive, giving person. You dress well for work, you're proud of your accomplishments, you're very beau…."

He stopped, not sure if he should go in that direction.

She gave him the eye, waiting for him to finish his thought.

"I…um…" Miller stumbled for the right thing to say.

"Its okay, Miller," Sonia told him, playing with her food now.

"Would you really want Art still around knowing what you know now?" Miller asked.

"No, of course not, she answered. "Why would I want to be with someone who didn't want to be with me?"

"You have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about," Miller said.

Sonia sighed. "You just don't understand." She stood and brought her plate to the sink.

"I don't?" Miller frowned, remembering everything they had in common.

"Oh, okay, maybe you understand a little," Sonia conceded. "But you're still a guy so it's different."

"Different how?"

"You could go down to The Bullpen Tavern right now and pick up a chick if you really wanted to."

"Yeah, so many are going to be interested in a homeless, broke, unemployed stranger with PSTD issues," Miller groaned.

"I go down there to look for a guy and I'm a sleaze," Sonia pointed out.

"Are you looking for a guy?" Miller asked.

"Not really," she admitted.

"So what are you looking for?" Miller wanted to know.

"It doesn't Miller," Sonia sighed.

She looked depressed as she left the kitchen and Miller cleaned up alone. Sonia stepped into the living room about twenty minutes later, after Miller had finished with the chores.

"Okay, let's go get that disposable cell phone," she said, looking more cheerful than the last time he saw her.

That night, Sonia woke up before she heard the screams. She tiptoed out into the living room to see Miller sleeping as peaceful as a baby and that made her feel good but she knew it was only a matter of time before he had another bad dream. How could she feel sorry for herself when she thought about the hell that guy had to be going through?

Sonia was surprised to find Miller already awake when she left her bedroom in the morning to use the bathroom.

"The job place opens at 7:30," he said, holding up his cell phone.

"It's only 6:45," she said.

"I want to be the first one there," he explained.

Sonia got ready for work, had some coffee and was about to leave for work when Miller burst out of the bathroom with the cell phone in his hand.

"I've got a job!" He yelled happily.

"Great!" Sonia replied.

"Moving furniture out of an old closed school. Should take most of the day."

"Come on, I'll drop you off on my way to work," Sonia said. "County Medical Group is only a few miles from there."

"Finally, a chance to do something," Miller said as she drove him.

"It's just a one day deal, Miller," Sonia reminded him.

"Yeah, but every day I get a gig is a chance to network and maybe find something that will last longer," he explained.

"So you can make enough money to go back to Wisconsin?"

"And pay you back," he said. "That's the first priority."

Miller and two other guys (who looked even more down on their luck than Miller was) were picked up by an older gentleman in a pick up truck and they were brought to a closed charter school in an old former public school building. Their job was to lug out tons of trash, rubbish and other junk and dump it into a large dumpster left on the property. It was physically demanding work but it felt good to be doing something in Miller's view and he looked forward to receiving some pay for his hard work. His co-workers weren't very talkative and Miller mostly kept to himself.

The guy with the pick up truck returned at the end of the day and brought the trio back to the job place, letting them know there was more work tomorrow if they were interested. Miller said he'd be back no questions asked. Sonia picked Miller up on her way home from work and she was amused by how excited and happy he was after working all day.

"It just feels good to be doing something again, no matter how menial," he explained.

Sonia cooked some sort of Hamburger helper mix while Miller took a shower and got cleaned up from his long day. She showed him where the washing machines and dryer were in the cellar of the apartment building and he did a load of laundry (Sonia did too). It felt kind of comforting to be 'domesticated' and he enjoyed being with Sonia in such a familiar way even if she seemed oblivious to such observations.

Miller had another bad dream that night but it didn't last as long and when Sonia got up in the morning her house guest was already up, dressed and ready for another day's work. They sat together at the kitchen table and had a bowl of cereal but they didn't talk much. It occurred to Miller that Sonia just didn't seem to be all that happy with her life, and he knew the reasons were more than just being dumped by Art.

Sonia went through the routine of her day without much fanfare, emotion, excitement or even cheerfulness – getting up, going to work, coming home, watching a little television, but that was about it. She didn't seem to have any friends or much of a social life.

"Do you like your job?" Miller asked.

Sonia looked up from her Cheerios. "It's fine," she replied. "Kind of boring but you have to know the system and pay attention to detail."

"Do you like the people you work for?" Miller wondered.

"They're fine," she replied with a shrug. "I tend to keep to myself most of the time."

"How come?"

"Because I'm paid to do a job, not hang around the coffee machine gossiping and talking shit," she replied with annoyance.

"You have your own office?"

"My own cubical," she replied. "In a room full of fifteen cubicals."

"Oh."

"I have a computer and a phone on my desk, manuals full of billing codes, instructions, regulations and guides, and that's about it," she explained. "I show up, process the bills, and go home."

"So, you don't like your job," Miller deduced.

"I don't even like my life," Sonia admitted sadly. Then she burst into tears and excused herself, rushing into the bathroom to clean up and regroup. Miller felt awful.

Sonia tried to smile when she returned from the bathroom. Miller had cleaned up the breakfast dishes and was waiting for her in the living room.

"Okay, off to happy land," Sonia said sarcastically, motioning for him to head for the door.

It was a quiet ride to work. Miller desperately wanted to say something upbeat to cheer Sonia up but nothing came to mind.

"Have a nice day," was all he could think to say when she dropped him off at the job place. It sounded kind of lame.

"I'll just add that to the list," she said unhappily and he felt bad as he watched her drive off.

The work day went surprisingly quickly. Once all the trash and junk was removed, they had to box up all the books in the small school library, most of which were hopelessly out of date and probably useless and that took up the rest of the day. Miller had worked through lunch for the second day in a row so he was famished when Sonia picked him up at the end of the day.

"How you doing?" Miller asked cheerfully, remembering how they parted that morning.

"I'm fine," she replied. "How was your day?"

"Great," he said, looking exhausted and spent.

"Man, aren't we the two?" Sonia said, shaking her head sadly as she drove them home.

She pulled into the Johnny C's parking lot when they reached Hillsboro.

"Dinner out again?" Miller asked with surprise.

"I'm too tired to cook, I don't feel like doing any grocery shopping, and this is the extent of my social life," she said, gesturing toward the diner. "You hungry or what?"

"Starving," he admitted.

"Add it to your list," Sonia advised as they got off the car and went into the diner.

They waited ten minutes for a booth and Sonia seemed relieved when they were finally seated. Neither had much to say and Miller was glad when the waitress arrived to take their drink order and drop off the menus, even though Sonia had it memorized.

"Oh, look at the specials tonight," she said, sounding falsely cheerful.

"I think I'll go with the spaghetti," Miller decided.

"Are you as socially inept as I am?" Sonia asked.

He glanced up from the menu. "Am I that bad?"

"I meant me," she sighed. "That's probably why Art left me."

"You mean the asshole?" Miller teased.

"Yeah, him," Sonia replied with a frown. "He got tired of this place but I love it here."

"Art went to a private high school, I think," Miller recalled.

"Sun Rise Lake School for Boys just up the road a ways," Sonia confirmed.

"He always seemed more pompous, egotistical, confident and smarter than most of the guys," Miller said. "He was really officer material. I don't know why he didn't go to college first instead of joining the military."

"He told me he did it to piss off his parents," Sonia replied. "The assumed he was heading for Harvard or something and instead he joined the Navy."

"He was a bit of a rebel rouser when he was in," Miller said. "Most of the stuff he had to say went over a lot of the guys heads anyway."

"Mine too," Sonia admitted. "I barely made it through high school."

"How come?"

She shrugged. "I never liked school much."

"Do you ever have fun?" Miller asked skeptically.

Sonia looked like she wanted to cry. "Not really."

"How come?"

"I really don't want to talk about this," she told him.

"I'd just like to see you more happy, that's all," Miller said.

She gave him a deadpanned look that could have been one of disgust too. "Look, you're not going to be around long enough to concern yourself with my sorry life," Sonia reminded him. "So don't worry about it."

He could see that she was trying to blink away tears and they were saved by the waitress who returned with their drinks, ready to take their order.

Miller ordered the spaghetti and Sonia went with a bowl of soup and a pastrami sandwich.

"Maybe letting you stay wasn't a good idea after all," Sonia said once the waitress was gone.

"Why would you say that?" He asked, trying not to feel offended.

"Because I don't want you to get to know me," Sonia replied. "I haven't been faking it with you because I figured you wouldn't be around long."

"Faking it?"

"You know, pretending you're somebody you're not to try to impress the guy and all that."

"Is that what you did with the asshole?" Miller asked.

"Isn't that what everybody usually does with everybody, especially in the beginning?" Sonia rebutted.

"I suppose," Miller agreed. "But I like it better that I've gotten to see the real you."

She seemed surprised by his comment. "You mean all messed up?" She finally asked.

"I don't think you're messed up at all," he said.

"Then you don't understand women."

"Maybe that's why Ashley left me," he said in a self-deprecating way.

"That was her name?"

He nodded. "Everybody's messed up, Sonia," he told her.

"Okay, if you say so."

There was a pause of silence and there was an obvious awkward moment between them. Miller felt rattled and nervous but he didn't know how to convince Sonia that she was a great person with lots of potential and a lot to offer.

"There's no point in running away from our problems," Miller said after a few more awkward moments of painful silence. "I thought leaving Wisconsin would solve everything. That Art would get me a job and I'd live happily ever after."

"There's never a happily ever after," Sonia remarked bitterly.

"So this is about more than just Art," Miller realized.

Sonia shrugged.

"Your Dad?" Miller guessed.

"Him too," she admitted, her voice cracking.

Miller took Sonia's hand that was resting on the table top and held it, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "The past is gone and the future hasn't happened yet," he said, not meaning to sound like a Hallmark greeting card. "All we have is today."

She burst out laughing and Miller laughed too, even though he was being completely serious when he gave her the line.

"Anyway, you deserve a lot better and it'll start when you stop being so hard on yourself," Miller said.

The waitress saved them again and Sonia took her hand away from Miller's to accept the food being placed on the table. Having their food in front of them gave Sonia the excuse not to have to speak and she used the dinner as a distraction to avoid further awkwardness with Miller who, she realized, she didn't know how to be fake with.

Miller was...different…and Sonia felt flustered by that. She was touched by his concern and interest but how she could take any of this seriously. Miller was her ex-boyfriend's old shipmate, homeless, broke and unemployed, sleeping on her couch and having nightmares.

The meal was mostly spent in silence but Sonia really didn't mind all that much. She was never a big talker and she often had trouble making conversation when she was faking it. Seeing how she wasn't faking it with Miller, there was no reason to have to converse in the first place. What did she have to she say anyway?

Once again, Miller felt like a shmuck freeloader when Sonia left the tip and paid for the meal at the cashier spot near the front door.

"I should get paid soon," Miller mumbled as they walked to the car.

"It's okay," Sonia told him one more time. "I'll just add it to the list."

### ### ###

The next day was Friday and Miller was surprised when he was told to go home at two instead of five but he didn't argue because he was handed a check for $112 for his efforts that week and it felt good to have some money in his pocket again. He opened an account at Blue County Savings Bank so he could cash the check, finally checked out Donovan's Department Store (it was pretty neat!) and then walked home instead of taking the bus because it was a nice late March day and with a hundred dollars in his pocket (and twelve in the bank) Miller was feeling on top of the world!

When Miller opened the door to the apartment he was struck dumb by the sight of a totally naked woman with her hair wrapped in a towel stepping out of the kitchen with a carrot stick hanging out of her mouth. Her breasts looked like missiles and she had no pubic hair.

"Who the hell are you?" She asked when she saw the stranger (to her) gawking at her.

Miller was surprised that she didn't scream rape or run for cover. Instead, she looked rather amused as she stared at Miller staring at her.

"I'm Miller Dobbs, a friend of Art's," Miller explained.

"The asshole?" the woman frowned.

"I didn't know that until I got here," Miller said. "You must be the roommate."

"I wouldn't be naked if I had known we had guests," she said effortlessly as she left the living room for the second bedroom and Miller couldn't help but check out her naked ass as she disappeared down the hall.

The woman returned a half hour later dressed and acting as if nothing unusual had happened. With the towel gone from her head, Miller could see that she had long blonde hair that set on her shoulders.

"I'm Nellie," she said, introducing herself by sticking her hand out. "Miller, was it?"

"Yes," he replied, standing from the couch and accepting her hand. "Nice to meet you, Nellie."

"Yes, I'm sure it was!" She smirked knowingly.

"Sorry about that."

"So, what, Sonia take you in like a stray?"

"Sort of like that," Miller admitted.

The door opened and Sonia entered the apartment with two bags of groceries in her arms.

"Nellie!" Sonia exclaimed with surprise. "I wasn't expecting you until Sunday."

"Ah, I got tired of the family drama," Nellie laughed, crossing the room and kissing Sonia smack on the lips before giving her a warm hug.

"You two timing me?" Nellie laughed, gesturing toward Miller who stood dumbly in the middle of the room watching the two women.

"No!" Sonia blushed.

"Wait, are you two …together?" Miller asked with confusion.

"Sort of," Nellie revealed.

"Not really," Sonia countered forcefully.

"Sonia's been…..experimenting," Nellie giggled, giving Sonia another hug.

"I know it sounds a little...perverted, but I…" Sonia was red faced as she tried to explain herself to Miller.

"It's okay," Miller said, looking somewhat stunned. "You don't owe me an explanation. I'm just a guy sleeping on the couch."

Now it was official. Sonia knew her life was totally out of control and the one guy she thought she might be able to trust and confide in thought she was a lesbian.

"Are you going to throw me out?" Miller worried.

"Of course not," Sonia groaned.

"We're not?" Nellie asked indifferently.

"Miller is a great guy and he needs our help," Sonia explained. "Let's let him stay until he gets his feet back on the ground. You'll hardly know he's here and he isn't any trouble."

"Can we really trust a stranger?" Nellie asked, but it sounded like she was teasing.

"He's been here since Sunday," Sonia said. "If you give him a chance you'll see he's really nice."

"And you feel sorry for him," Nellie teased.

"Please don't give me a hard time," Sonia requested.

"So, what's your hard luck story, Miller?" Nellie asked, turning her attention to their guest while keeping her arm wrapped around Sonias waist.

"Our most unfavorite asshole told him to come out here from Wisconsin and he'd get him a job," Sonia explained. "Basically, he's broke, unemployed and homeless."

Nellie stared at him blankly. "Great," she said sarcastically.

Sonia sighed as she headed for the kitchen with the groceries.

"I guess you're staying," Nellie said with a smirk as she headed for her bedroom.

Miller followed Sonia into the kitchen where she was putting the groceries away.

"I told you I was messed up," She said, keeping her back to him as if she was ashamed.

"But you were with Art," Miller said with confusion.

"Look, I'm pretty sure I'm heterosexual," she said with a sigh. "Or maybe I have bisexual tendencies, who knows?"

"Do I have to add this to the list?" Miller asked.

She finally turned to face him once the groceries were put away.

"You have to understand that I was a basket case after Art demolished me," she explained. "Nellie was the only one who was supportive, comforting, understanding, sensitive and kind. She held me and hugged me and she talked to me and it felt good to be loved and held. I'm not going to apologize for what happened."

"I'm just the guy who sleeps on your couch, Sonia," Miller said.

"Are you?" She asked with raised eyebrows.

"Here's a hundred bucks," Miller said, taking the wad of cash out of his pocket. "I think I owe you at least that much."

"I'll take it off the list." She took the money without saying anything else as she stepped by him, leaving the kitchen.

Miller felt incredibly sad for some reason.

### ### ###

Nellie took Sonia out to dinner to get reacquainted, leaving Miller behind to try to figure out if he should stay given the new unexpected developments. But what choice did he have? He had nowhere else to go and with only twelve dollars in the bank he was still broke.

He had only known Sonia for five days but he would be lying if he didn't admit he was attracted to her. There was something intriguing about her and he thought getting past Art-as-her-former-boyfriend would be the only real hurdle, not counting the part about him being homeless, unemployed, and broke and her being messed up and moody, of course.

But now Nellie the roommate was back to complicate the situation and Sonia was either sleeping with her or experimenting with her or just being really close friends with her!

Miller was asleep on the couch when the two women returned and when he went to use the bathroom later he saw that Nellie's bedroom door was open and her bed empty. Sonia's door was closed and he heard muffled voices and a few giggles from behind it. He returned to the couch feeling more depressed and disappointed than he usually did although he wasn't sure why.

All three slept in the following morning and Miller stayed on the couch until he heard movement coming from the bedroom, the toilet flushing and the shower running, and then he got up and quickly dressed.

He was making scrambled eggs when Sonia and Nellie entered the kitchen.

"Good morning!" Miller said, overly cheerful hoping to set the right tone.

"Good morning," Sonia replied.

"You hungry?" Miller asked. "I'm cooking eggs with sausage."

"That's good!" Sonia smiled.

"It smells delicious," Nellie volunteered. "Toast too?"

"Coming right up," Miller said, happy to be doing something constructive and helpful for his hosts. He didn't feel quite the freeloader if he was contributing in some way.

Sonia and Nellie took seats at the table and they allowed Miller to wait on them like he was a waiter at Johnny C's Diner! He served the eggs and sausage with toast, orange juice and some strawberries Sonia had bought the night before.

"Is it okay?" Miller asked nervously when the girls began to eat.

"It's great!" Sonia proclaimed as she enjoyed the breakfast.

Nellie nodded her head in agreement. "Thanks, Miller," she said sincerely.

He joined them at the table with a bowl of Cheerios in front of him.

"No eggs for you?" Sonia asked.

"I wanted you guys to enjoy it," he said, munching on the cereal.

He noticed the Sonia was still very pretty even without make up and while Nellie's hair was messed from sleep she was an attractive woman too. Of course, having seen her naked, Miller would always have that image of her anyway!

Sonia noticed that Miller was observing them and she smiled. "Everything okay?" She asked.

"Everything's fine," Miller replied.

"I told Sonia how we hit it off yesterday," Nellie noted with a smirk.

"She's always prancing around here in the nude," Sonia said, shaking her head with disapproval. "Serves you right to finally get caught!" She added, turning to Nellie who made a face in return.

"Don't worry about it," Nellie laughed. "I know me and Miller are going to be good friends."

"Really?" Miller asked.

Sure!" Nellie said. "We already have one thing in common."

"What's that?" Miller wondered.

"Me," Sonia sighed, knowing that was what Nellie was thinking.

"Well, do you have anybody else in your life besides us?" Nellie grinned.

"Not really," Sonia admitted truthfully.

The trio spent the morning cleaning the apartment, vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing the bathroom, washing the kitchen floor, doing a couple loads of laundry, and even cleaning the windows. Afterward, Sonia left to run some errands, leaving Miller and Nellie behind.

"So, am I the first lesbian you've seen naked?" Nellie teased as she took a seat next to Miller on the couch.

"As far as I know," Miller replied deadpan.

"Sonia told me your story last night," she reported.

"My story?" Miller raised an eyebrow.

"Your war experience, your nightmares, your backstabbing girlfriend, your dying mom, your asshole friend, your homelessness – you know, all that good stuff."

"God, I really am a loser, aren't I?" Miller realized.

"Everybody goes through rough times," Nellie replied. "My brother was in the Army over there so I appreciate your story."

"Is he okay?"

"Yeah," Nellie confirmed. "So, do you like Sonia?"

"What difference does it make?" Miller sighed. "She likes you."

"Everybody likes me!" Nellie laughed. "Listen, she's not gay if that's what you're thinking. Sure, we fooled around a couple of times but trust me, Sonia is straight – for the most part! And I think she might like you too."

"Don't you have feelings for Sonia?" Miller wondered.

"Not in the way you're suggesting," Nellie revealed. "So relax. We're just really good friends!"

"I bet," Miller muttered.

"Sonia is a nice girl," Nellie assured him. "Give her a chance."

"Do you think she'd give me a chance?" Miller asked.

"I think she has already, don't you?" Nellie observed.

"Yes," Miller agreed.

"But first you need to decide what you're going to do," Nellie advised.

"What do you mean?"

"If you're just hanging around until you get enough money to leave, I'll buy you a bus ticket right now and you can be gone back to Dairy land," Nellie told him. 'There's no point getting involved with Sonia if this is short term."

"But if I decide to stay?"

"You can have my room," Nellie said. "I'll bunk with Sonia for a while. But you'll need to find a real job and not do this daily labor shit, okay?"

"Okay," Miller agreed.

"So, you're staying?" Nellie asked, somewhat surprised.

"I think I'd like to," Miller replied with a slight grin on his face.

### ### ###

Miller felt a little guilty about bumping Nellie out of her room but it was her idea and it was nice to get off the couch and into a nice bed for a change. When he wasn't doing the day labor gig (after the school clean out, there was some pre-season farm work, some stacking in a warehouse, some street cleaning, and painting a house), Miller was camped out at the Department of Transitional Assistance sending out his resume and job searching on the computer.

Sometimes Sonia gave him a ride, sometimes he took the bus, and occasionally Miller walked between Greenville and Hillsboro, but he never complained. He was grateful for Sonia and Nellie's hospitality and as the days (and weeks) went by he became accustomed to the routine and his living situation. He was working steadily enough to contribute money to the household every week and he even had enough to occasionally take Sonia to dinner at Johnny C's (and once to the Serguci Italian Family Restaurant), although he still had to borrow money from time to time.

Miller enjoyed Sonia's company and conversation, although Sonia still seemed to be troubled by her 'messed up' life. She didn't like to talk about sharing a bed with Nellie but she insisted that there was no longer anything sexual between them.

Nellie didn't even come home some nights. "I met a chick," she explained and on those nights Sonia would stay up later and watch a movie with Miller in the living room. It seemed kind of strange to say goodnight and go into separate bedrooms but neither of them were apparently ready to do anything about their stagnant relationship.

"We haven't even taken the first step yet," Miller told Nellie when she asked about what was going on between him and Sonia.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Nellie wanted to know.

"I think we both need some time," Miller reasoned.

"Don't wait to long," Nellie warned. "Somebody could steal her from you or you might meet someone else while you're waiting for her to get out of her funk."

"The asshole hurt her pretty bad, huh?" Miller guessed.

"Oh, she was screwed up even before he came along," Nellie sighed. "She hasn't always picked the right guy, Miller."

"Maybe I'm not the right guy either," he worried.

"Maybe not," she agreed. "But how will you ever know if you don't try?"

"I need to get a full time job first," Miller decided. "There's no point trying to swoon her if she has to buy dinner."

"Good point," Nellie agreed.

Miller glanced at her. "So, we really are friends, huh? He asked.

"Anybody who gets to see me naked gets to be my friend," was Nellie's continuous joke but Miller valued and appreciated her advice and council. She was also a very optimistic and positive person who refused to let Miller get down as the job search continued to drag on.

It was Nellie who brought Miller to his first Serguci League Game at Beano Park and he loved the amateur baseball played there. Sonia often accompanied him, even when Nellie didn't go, and it was a nice way to spend an evening. Sometimes Miller and Sonia would walk to the ballpark from the apartment building (about a mile or so) and stop for an ice cream at Red's Tastee Freeze on the way home. One night, Miller took Sonia's hand in his during their stroll and he was encouraged when she didn't resist or pull it back. It was really their first physical contact and it felt nice.

Sonia came home from work one evening upset and teary eyed over a confrontation with a co-worker and a reprimand from a supervisor. It reminded Miller of the time Sonia had burst into tears and rushed into the bathroom when they were discussing her job (and life).

"I don't even like my life," Sonia had sadly admitted that morning and Miller felt awful, not only for her but because he really hadn't offered her any comfort or support that day.

This time, Miller grabbed her into a hug, kissed her forehead, and wiped away a tear before she could bolt to the bathroom. Sonia was caught by surprise by his gesture and she stared into his eyes for a long moment. Miller leaned in and kissed her gently and she fell into him, grateful for the attention and kindness. He held her for a long moment until they were interrupted by the sound of Nellie's key in the lock and Sonia quickly broke away and escaped into the bathroom alone.

"What are you grinning about?" Nellie asked when she saw the look on Miller's face.

"Nothing," he said innocently and Nellie gave him a funny stare.

"Should I be leaving you two alone for some quiet time together?" She wanted to know when she heard the water running in the bathroom.

"No, no, nothing like that," Miller assured her. "But we did just have a nice moment," he added with a happy smile.

"It's about time," Nellie replied, rolling her eyes as she headed for the bedroom.

Miller wondered if he should be concerned that his potential girlfriend was sharing a bed with their roommate!

### ### ###

Miller was working another degrading low level day labor job, this time in a business center putting new office furniture together, when he heard someone complaining about a faulty intercom speaker system in some of the older spaces so he volunteered to take a look and of course he had the problem solved with little trouble.

A few hours later, one of the executives called Miller into his office and offered him a job attending to the business's communication concerns.

"We've been looking for a guy who can handle this part of the business and I think you could be him."

Miller provided the executive with his resume and three days later he was in the Human Resources Department filling out the hiring paperwork. Finally, after two years of personal hell, things seemed to be back on track for Miller.

Sonia and Nellie were ecstatic when Miller announced he had been hired full time with benefits during dinner that night. Nellie pulled out a bottle of champagne from the refrigerator.

"I've been saving this for this moment," she grinned happily. "I knew sooner or later luck would come your way!"

"I think luck came my way the night I knocked on your door that first time," Miller replied and Sonia blushed before she leaned over and gave Miller a congratulatory kiss.

Within a few weeks, Miller had new clothes in the closet, a loan for a car, and he was able to contribute a third of the rent for the apartment. He finally felt like a success and he noticed that the nightmares hadn't been as frequent recently. He hadn't felt this encouraged and hopeful in a long time. He even took Sonia out to a fancy dinner at the Sun Rise Lake Inn and afterwards they stood by the shore of the lake holding hands and kissing under the moonlight. Miller's life had suddenly turned magical even though he and Sonia went to their separate bedrooms when they returned home that night.

"It's my mother's birthday Sunday," Sonia informed Miller a few days later.

"Really? Mine's Friday," Miller replied.

"It is?" Sonia asked with surprise. "We'll have to do something special. I'll talk with Nellie about that."

"You've already done more than enough," Miller assured her.

"Anyway, would you like to come with me?"

"Where?" Miller asked with confusion.

"To my mother's – for her birthday."

"Definitely!" Miller said happily, knowing such an invitation meant that Sonia trusted him enough to meet her family.

"It's no big deal, really," Sonia said. "My mother and I don't get along any more and it's just easier to have someone with me to help get through it."

"How come you don't get along?" Miller asked as they sat at the kitchen table eating Cheerios before work.

"It was just her and me for the longest time and it really felt special," Sonia said sadly. "It was tough living with a single mom with no Dad and we didn't have a lot of money and Mom worked hard to keep a roof over our heads, but we were in it together and she was always there for me."

"But then?"

"But then when I was around fourteen and starting to struggle with my self-esteem and all that she goes and meets this guy, Ricardo."

"Who you didn't like," Miller recalled from an earlier conversation.

"There was just something sleazy about him," Sonia sighed. "I didn't like the way he looked at me and he said a few things to me that were borderline inappropriate. Plus my mother started spending all her free time with him just when I needed her most. I got depressed, got into some trouble, struggled at school, and hung out with guys who weren't the best for me. She had no guilt over leaving me on my own like that."

"I'm sorry," Miller remarked.

"It basically came down to him or me and I always felt like she went with him first," Sonia sighed. "As soon as I graduated from high school she was moving to Springdale with him and I had no choice but to shack up with the guy I was seeing and that definitely didn't work out. I've felt adrift ever since."

"Well, you're doing well now," Miller reminded her.

"Am I?"

"Yes," he assured her. "I know you don't always feel that way, but I see it everyday."

She shrugged. "I've never been around a guy as long as I have with you without sleeping with him," she admitted.

"I haven't slept with anybody in a very long time," Miller revealed.

"You don't care about my history?"

"Should I?"

"I lost my virginity when I was fourteen," she confessed.

"I lost mine when I was fifteen," Miller revealed. "So what?"

"I've been with a lot of guys," she said with sad eyes.

"You're not now," he remarked.

She chewed on her lip. "And you don't care about what happened with Nellie?"

"Should I?"

She looked at him with uncertainty. "I don't know," she decided.

"What did you and Nellie do exactly?" Miller knew he was taking a chance asking.

Her face turned red and she looked away. "Come on, Miller, you can't ask me that."

"I guess not," he sighed.

There was a moment of silence between them and then Sonia let out a loud sigh. "I didn't know anything was going to happen, really," she said. "I mean I was a mess after what happened with the asshole and Nellie was very comforting in my time of need. Mostly we just talked but one night she came into the bed with me when she heard me crying and she held me and rubbed her hand through my hair and then she went and got some wine and we were drinking and talking and before I knew it we were kissing. That's the first time ever, I swear."

"I believe you," Miller said.

"I guess I just needed to be with somebody and after all the crap and abuse I've taken from guys over the years it felt good to feel some tenderness from a female for a change. I knew she wasn't going to hit me, that's for sure."

"Its okay, Sonia," Miller told her.

"Anyway, that's all that happened that night."

"That night?"

"A couple of nights later I was crying and Nellie came into the room again only this time she was naked. She sleeps naked and of course you already know that she walks around naked sometimes too."

"Yeah."

"She got into the bed and hugged me and she felt so warm and soft and we started kissing again and then before I knew it I was touching her breasts and her rear and then somehow I was naked too and she was touching and feeling me…between my legs."

"Okay, Sonia, you don't have to say anything more," Miller said nervously.

"I felt her between the legs too," Sonia told him. "I didn't know what it would feel like, touching another woman like that."

"Sonia, it's okay, you don't have to say anything else."

"Well, you asked," she said, almost snidely. "Guys like hearing this stuff, don't they?"

"Some guys," Miller muttered.

"I thought you should know," she explained.

"I'll just add that to the list," Miller sighed as he got up from the table and washed his cereal bowl in the sink. "I'll see you later," he said, leaving Sonia in the kitchen while heading for work in his own car. Sonia sighed, convinced she had frightened (or disgusted) Miller away which was foolish because he was the nicest guy she had ever met. Maybe she shouldn't have said anything but he did ask.

### ### ###

Sonia didn't see as much of Miller the next few days. He left for work early and came home later than usual, claiming he had a project at work but Sonia didn't quite believe that story. She wished she hadn't told him about her and Nellie but if they were going to have any chance together she wanted him to know what happened. But then why didn't she tell him about Juan or Bruce or Frankie or Manny or Tommy or…..

Sonia sighed, hating herself and her messed up life all over again. She told Nellie that it was Miller's birthday and Nellie agreed they needed to do something special for the birthday boy and that this was Sonia's chance to show him how she really felt about him.

But Miller didn't come home for dinner on his birthday and the two roommates patiently waited for him to finally show up. The apartment was dark when he stumbled in having a few at The Bullpen Tavern after watching a Serguci League game alone at Beano Field, feeling sorry for himself for having fallen for a girl who had a past that was as challenging as his own. He thought he didn't care what she did or who she did it with but somehow the image of her and Nellie together bothered him and he wondered if Sonia was more attracted to Nellie than she was to him.

Maybe it was time for Miller to move out and get an apartment of his own. Sonia had literally saved his life but if she wasn't interested in him romantically there was no point hanging around torturing himself. They could stay friends, of course, but why live with a woman who wasn't willing to sleep with him.

"Oh, Miller, is that you!?" A voice sang from behind the closed door of Sonia (and now Nellie's) room.

"I'm going to bed," Miller grumbled, surprised at how grumpy he was.

It was his birthday but he wasn't in the mood to celebrate if he couldn't be with Sonia.

"Could you come in here for a moment?"

Miller recognized Nellie's voice.

"What do you want?" He mumbled.

"Just come here for a minute," Nellie said more forcefully.

"For Christ sakes, Ne…."

Miller opened the bedroom door and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw that the room was decorated with birthday balloons, banners, and confetti. A huge chocolate cake was sitting in the middle of the double bed which was occupied by both Sonia and Nellie who had glasses of champagne in their hands.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Both women yelled out at the same time

Miller couldn't believe what he was seeing. "You remembered my birthday?" He asked with surprise.

"Of course, silly," Sonia laughed.

"Unfortunately, you're so late that we got drunk waiting for you to show up," Nellie giggled.

"That's okay, I'm kind of wasted myself," Miller admitted.

"So, are you ready for your real birthday surprise," Nellie smirked.

"What could that be?" Miller wondered.

Nellie threw back the covers of the bed to reveal that both she and Sonia were totally naked.

"We're in our birthdays suits for you!" Nellie announced

Sonia was blushing but the drunken Miller couldn't take his eyes of her lovely breasts and her mound of thick black pubic hair. "We wanted to do something memorable for you," Sonia said sheepishly.

"I'll just add this to the list," Miller remarked with a wide smile.

"I'm always getting her to perform unnatural acts," Nellie laughed, although she was the one who was totally exposed with her peach shaved clean and her legs open enough to show her folds.

"I'll never forget this," Miller admitted.

"Come join us," Nellie urged, picking up the cake so he wouldn't squash it. "But you have to get naked too."

"What?" Miller asked with surprise.

"Them's the rules!" Nellie laughed.

"You might as well get in your birthday suit for your birthday too," Sonia reasoned sheepishly, taking another sip from her champagne glass. She hiccupped and then giggled. "Besides, I'd like to see."

Miller went wide eyed. It was the first time he heard Sonia being sexually forward with him.

"She's tired of looking at me!" Nellie jokingly clarified.

"Are you two sure about this?" Miller frowned. "I know we're all drunk but….."

"It's your birthday, Miller, enjoy it, will you?" Nellie urged. "How many chances like this do you get!?"

He glanced at Sonia who nodded her approval and consent. "It's your birthday," she agreed with humility, her eyes glassy.

"Well, what the hell?" Miller decided, getting naked and standing before the two women in all his glory.

"I'll just add that to the list," Sonia giggled and Miller laughed at their ongoing inside running joke.

"Does this gain me admittance?" He grinned.

"Yes, please join us," Nellie laughed.

He saw that Sonia was staring at him as he climbed onto the bed, nestling between the two in a sitting position and Sonia laughed when Nellie covered up his privates by putting the cake in his lap.

"Shall we dine?" Nellie asked holding up the cake cutter.

"Just be careful with that thing!" Miller remarked.

"We have to sing happy birthday first!" The naked Sonia said.

"Yes, of course," Nellie agreed and the two bare naked ladies burst out in song, each kissing Miller on a cheek when they were done with the Happy Birthday song.

"This is the best birthday ever!" Miller stated the obvious and they had a little fun while eating the cake as Miller put some cake frosting on each of their nipples and then licked it off.

Nellie knew the gesture was humorous from her viewpoint, giggling and laughing when Miller licked the icing off her nipples taking the moment as funny and not sexual, but when Miller turned to do the same to Sonia, she was breathing hard and the licking was much more sensual and meaningful. Miller looked up into Sonia's eyes and held her stare for a long moment.

When they were done eating the cake, Nellie removed it by putting it on the bedside table and the three nestled down on the bed. Miller remained on his back and both women snuggled against him on their sides facing him. The three carefree naked drunks fell asleep together in that position!

When Miller awoke in the morning, Nellie had vacated the bed (for her old room), leaving Sonia alone with the birthday boy. He was slightly hung over but he remembered the events of the previous night and he smiled warmly. There was no sex involved but waking up with a nude Sonia nestled in his arms was the best present he could have wished for.

Sonia opened her eyes and looked at him. He grinned as he brushed the hair out of her face.

"Good morning," he said.

It took Sonia a moment to get her wits and when she realized she was in bed nude with a naked Miller under the covers her eyes went wide.

"Oh my God!" She realized.

"Shhh, it's okay," Miller assured her, kissing her forehead.

Sonia glanced around. "What happened to Nellie?"

"She surrendered," Miller joked. But then he turned serious. "Are you okay?" He needed to know.

Sonia brought her hand to his lips. "Are you," she whispered with worry.
"I'm more than okay, Sonia," he let her know.

"My mother never likes my boyfriends," Sonia warned.

"How come?" Miller wondered.

"Oh, who the hell knows?" Sonia groaned with annoyance. "But I think she's pretty hypocritical to criticize me on this subject when she got involved with a guy when I was still young. I guess she likes to pretend she has the better love life than me."

"What did she think of Art?" Miller asked.

"Yeah, maybe you shouldn't mention that you two were friends if you go the party," Sonia suggested.

"That bad, huh?"

"She'll consider me a slut if she thinks I'm sleeping with a friend of my ex," Sonia reasoned.

"We've haven't even done it yet, Sonia."

"That doesn't even matter in my mother's book," she replied. Then she glanced at him. "Are we going to do it?"

"It's on my list!" He smiled.

"You know you're going to have to be patient with me, right?" she asked. "I have lots of issues."

"And I don't?" Miller asked.

"You're knocking yours off your list pretty well," Sonia noted. "You got a job, you're not homeless, you're not broke, you're paying rent and now you even have a ….."

"Girlfriend?" Miller smirked hopefully.

She looked fidgety. "What about all the culture stuff," she worried. "My mother's Hispanic like me, Ricardo her boyfriend is full Puerto Rican…"

"The Navy's a pretty diverse place, Sonia," Miller reminded her.

"My family will be very judgmental and tough," she warned.

"I'm pretty tough myself," Miller said.

She stared at him long and hard. "I'll be right back," Sonia said suddenly, rolling over and climbing out of the bed, walking naked out of the room which gave Miller a chance to stare at her firm and lovely backside as she went.

A few minutes later, Sonia was back, her hair combed, walking naked toward him and he smiled warmly. Her breath smelled minty as she slipped back into the bed and Miller put his hands on the back of her shoulders and pulled her toward him. Their eyes locked and he nodded slightly as he leaned in and kissed her. Sonia closed her eyes and sighed as if she was gasping for her last breath.

"God, Miller," she said breathlessly. "Are we really going to do this?"

"Only if you want too," he whispered.

Sonia rolled on top of him and pressed her lips hard against his, kissing him with a newfound passion as she started rubbing herself against him.
"I want to," she whispered back. "So you'd better add that to your list!"