Riding The Train
Patrolman Bill Baxter was just coming off shift when Sue the Dispatcher informed him that there was a woman wanting to talk to him in the Police Station's Conference room.
"What kind of woman?" Baxter asked with a frown, not sure who might want to see him in the workplace.
Then he sighed, realizing it was probably a disgruntled citizen with some whining complaint to make. He couldn't think of a woman who would come see him at the station for personal reasons and that left him feeling sad as he walked down the hall to the conference room.
A woman was seated at one end of the long maple wood conference table and at first he didn't recognize her. She had reddish brown hair that snugged her shoulders and she was dressed professionally in a plain white blouse and a blue skirt. Her long legs stuck out from the side of the table and she wore a moderate amount of make up. sShe looked slightly embarrassed as Baxter entered the room.
"May I help you?" The cop asked with uncertainty as he eyed the woman.
She stood and extended her hand across the table. "I'm guessing you don't remember me," she said politely.
Baxter accepted her hand in an amicable shake. "Should I?" He asked.
"My name is Norma Sherman," she said.
He ran her name through his mental card category trying to remember where he was supposed to know her from.
"I'm the woman who nearly ran you over on that traffic detail out on Route 43 a couple of years ago," she explained.
"Oh, wow," Baxter said with amazement, surprised at how good she looked compared to the day she nearly killed him.
She smiled shyly before taking a seat. "I just wanted to personally and officially apologize to you for my behavior that day," she said, not quite making eye contact with him.
He nodded as he took a seat across from her and studied her for a long moment.
It was a normal day of a normal shift. Baxter was out on Route 43 directing traffic around several electric company trucks that were on the side of the road replacing a couple of telephone poles. The road was narrowed by cones and traffic had slowed to a crawl.
Then came a late model black Mercedes-Benz that slowed way to early and seemed to weave across the lane a little bit as it approached, raising Baxter's suspicions. As the car moved up along the line, Baxter saw a woman behind the steering wheel who looked like she might be under the influence. Her eyes were blood shot and drooping. Her hair was a mess. She looked confused and dazed.
Baxter waved the car to the side of the road and the vehicle started to follow his direction but all of a sudden the fancy car sped away, coming so close to the cop that he had to lunge to avoid being hit. Unfortunately, the side of his reflective vest got caught on the car's rear view mirror and he was dragged along the highway until the material finally gave way just as the mirror snapped, sending the cop sprawling to the hard pavement as the car raced away.
One of the construction guys got the plate number of the fleeing vehicle as Baxter lay dazed and sore on the road. Fellow officers located the car parked in front of a bar in Hillsboro. They found Norma Sherman sitting at the bar downing a drink. She was arrested and charged with DUI (second offense), reckless driving, and leaving the scene of an accident. Her blood alcohol level was 3.4 when she was brought to the Police Station.
Baxter was bloodied and bruised as he limped into the Police Station after getting mowed down. The suspect was sitting in the holding cell spewing drunken obscenities at whoever passed by and when she saw the tattered cop she became even more belligerent.
"There's the fucking asshole that jumped in front of my car!" She screamed, looking like a rabid caged animal behind the bars. "What in the hell were you doing in the middle of the road, you ugly miserable cock bite?"
Baxter looked at the drunken lunatic as if she had just escaped from an asylum. "How much did you have to drink, lady?"
"Fuck you!" She screamed. "You could have killed me, god damn it. You attacked me! I was in fear of my life, you asshole prick. Fuckin' cops think they can do anything to anybody. Well, you're not fucking with this bitch, you bastard cocksucker. I know how fuck heads like you operate you GI Joe want to be loser."
"Have a nice life, lady," Baxter sighed, shaking his head as he walked away trying to remember the last time he saw someone that out of it.
Baxter's knee ballooned up and he had to go to the emergency room for treatment. He was placed on limited and then desk duty for nearly a month and for months following the incident his fellow officers called him 'The Daredevil' for trying to hood surf the woman's car!
And now here that woman was sitting across from him in the Police Station, two years later.
"That was a long time ago," Baxter said diplomatically.
"I just wanted you to know how much I regret that day," she said, still not looking him in the eyes. She blew out a deep breath, glanced out the window as if she was looking for spiritual guidance, and then finally she turned to face him, meeting his eyes. "I'm really embarrassed and ashamed."
"Well, thanks for coming in," Baxter replied rather dismissively.
"Aren't you going to forgive me?" She asked, hurt in her voice.
"Yes, I forgive you," Baxter replied automatically, not really thinking about it.
She wasn't the first criminal to apologize but after ten years on the force Baxter was used to the insincere "I'm sorry"' comments he heard, often by court ordered arrestees looking for a break or some unruly teenager forced to grovel by a parent.
Almost getting mowed down by a drunk out on Route 43 wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to him. He'd been spit on, kicked, vomited on, insulted, ridiculed, shot at, and even tested by a group of fourteen year olds who thought screaming "Pig" at him was the funniest thing in the world.
Such treatment came with the uniform and Baxter could take that sort of shit because at least it wasn't as bad as some of the horrible accidents he'd seen and the unimaginable things that people did to each other, especially domestic violence cases. He'd rather put up with the rudeness of an angry citizenry than have to tell parents that their child had been killed in a car accident or drowned in a boating accident. It was hard maintaining a professional demeanor when all he really wanted to do was cry with them.
Baxter always wanted to be a cop but he knew better than to sign on with his hometown department so he stayed in Greenville after obtaining his criminal justice degree from Green College and attending the Police Academy. It was a nice enough town as any and because he didn't have any roots in the community he didn't have to worry about arresting people he knew, watching them get involved in drugs or crime, whacked out of their minds, or doing perverted sick stuff nobody else knew about. He couldn't imagine arresting his former teacher for child porn or his former pastor for embezzlement.
It was important to remember that not everybody hated cops and that a large percentage of the public appreciated the work the Police do, sincerely thankful for their efforts. Some folks legitimately had a bad experience with Police and naturally some of those victimized individuals might think that all cops were bad. Baxter knew there were good cops out there and that he was one of them even when he had to deal with ignorance and disrespect.
Of course there was an unusually high stress level that came with the job. Police Officers placed themselves in harm's way every day and every call and confrontation was a potential disaster. Police Officers suffered from the highest divorce rate, highest alcohol rate and highest suicide rate of any profession. There was a 'Code of Blue' brotherhood where cops protected each other, even when they knew one of their brethren were wrong and there were times when Baxter was embarrassed to be associated with officers who gave good cops a bad name.
"I don't sense you're being genuine in your forgiveness," the woman – what did she say her name was again – Norma? – frowned.
"Ms. Sherman," she said.
"Ms. Sherman," Baxter sighed. "I appreciate you making the effort."
"But you don't think I'm being sincere," she challenged.
"You seem like a very nice person," Baxter offered.
"Then why don't you accept my apology?" She asked, almost offended. "Do you know how hard it was for me to come in here like this?"
"I imagine it was difficult," Baxter said.
"It was," she said, biting on her lip and fighting back tears as her eyes welted up. "You can't possibly know what I was going through back then."
"You appear to be doing better," Baxter observed.
"Much better," she agreed with relief.
Baxter wasn't sure why he was being so clinical and rigid, guarded and suspicious. Had his years on the force jaded him to the point where he couldn't even accept a sincere apology?
"I just wanted you to know that I was really going through a hard time back then," she said. "It doesn't excuse or even explain my behavior but it was important for me to tell you that I'm not like that anymore."
"I believe you," Baxter said.
"My marriage had been in trouble for years, partly because of my drinking, but I was drinking because my marriage was in trouble," she sighed. "Then he kicked me out when he couldn't take my drunkenness any longer and I ended up out here because I knew a girl in Miller City."
"It's okay," Baxter told her. "You don't have to explain."
"Yes, I do," she insisted. "My girlfriend wasn't exactly the best influence but I was staying with her so I felt obligated. She was the daytime bartender at Smokey's out on Route 43."
"It's a dive," Baxter let her know.
"I know," she groaned. "But it was a place I could hang out and get discount drinks and forget about all my problems."
"All you did was create more problems," Baxter said.
She nodded. "Anyway, that day I obviously had way too much to drink."
"It was 2:30 in the afternoon," Baxter frowned.
"You don't need a clock when you drink," Ms. Sherman replied. "I don't know what I was doing behind the wheel and I know my version of events is not based in any reality."
"You said I jumped on your car and tried to attack you," Baxter reminded her.
"Yes, in my drunken insanity, denial and deflection was the best defense," she mumbled.
"You left the scene of an injury accident."
"I knew I was drunk and I already had one DUI so I panicked and took off," she shamefully explained.
"You were belligerent, rude, mean, vulgar and nasty to me at the police station," he said.
"That part is the absolute worst part of all of this," she admitted with embarrassment. "I wish I could take it all back but I said what I said and I'm ashamed for it. I hope you will accept my apology."
"I do," Baxter told her and he was surprised to realize he actually meant it.
There was something vulnerably honest and sympathetically real about this woman and although her behavior that day was inexcusable and the things she said uncalled for, how could he hold it against her now?
The case never went to trial so Baxter never saw Ms. Sherman after that day when she fired off her fouled-mouth tirade at him in the holding cell. His last image of her was her grabbing herself between her legs and screaming "Eat Me you son of a bitch! Eat me and kiss my ass you worthless piece of shit!" as he left the room.
"My parents got me into a restrictive rehab center outside of Boston in lieu of jail," she informed him. "I was there nearly a year getting my demons and addictions scraped out of me. I'm doing much better now."
"I'm glad to hear it," Baxter smiled.
"So, you forgive me my pathetic behaviors and actions?" She asked hopefully. "For the terrible things I said?"
"Of course," he said, sounding sincere this time.
"Really?" She asked with surprise.
"Look, all I really want when I see people going through difficult times, making mistakes, and doing wrong things is for them to get their life back on track and be able to live good and productive lives," Baxter told her. "You seem to have done that and I'm happy for you."
"I'm not the person you saw that day," she said, almost desperately. "Please believe me."
"I just wish there was something I could do to make it to you," Ms. Sherman sighed. "To make amends for the harm I caused you."
He looked at her for a long moment wondering if this was one of those moments when he was supposed to be assertive and proactive and step out of his guarded shell for more than a half-second and take a chance on a personal level. Baxter wasn't very socially active. His last relationship ended badly several years ago and he had remained leery and cautious about pursing new women, never convinced he was going to meet the right one who could tolerate his stressful occupation.
And here sat Ms. Sherman, not one of his best work experiences! For a flash second when her Mercedes-Benz dragged him along the road he thought he was going to die and although his injuries were far less serious than they could have been, the hurt of her vicious and cutting drunken words as she screamed at him in the cell cut much deeper than the gravel of the road did.
"Why don't you let me take you out to dinner?" Baxter suggested, surprising himself with the idea.
"Excuse me?" She asked, not sure if she had heard him right.
"To celebrate and acknowledge your recovery," Baxter explained. "And as a reward for the guts you showed coming here today."
It was not the response Norma was expecting. She came to the police station to apologize because it was one of the last left overs from her former life still left on her to do list. The day still haunted her and she talked about it a lot in therapy and the twelve steps call for making amends to those she had harmed so that was why she had sought out Officer Baxter.
And now he was asking her out to dinner!?
"Oh, that isn't necessary," she said, clearly flustered.
"Really, I'd like to," Baxter replied, knowing he couldn't backtrack now. He had put the invitation out there and now he feared the rejection that was inevitably coming.
"Well, okay," Ms. Sherman said nervously.
"Great!" Baxter smiled with relief. "I'll be back in a minute. Just let me go change out of this intimidating uniform."
"Sure," Ms. Sherman said and she watched him leave the room.]
'Oh My God!' Norma screamed to herself. What the hell was this!? Going out with the cop she nearly killed? Having dinner with the man she was so vulgar toward? She felt a panic attack coming on. This was not what was supposed to happen. He was supposed to forgive her and she was supposed to go back to her life. Her life did not include going out to dinner with a man!
Norma agreed with her therapist that now was not the time for a relationship. This was the recovery period when she was supposed to be working on herself, focusing on herself, and taking care of herself. She hadn't been with a man since her husband kicked her out and she really wasn't ready to be with a man again, even though Officer Baxter seemed to be a nice guy.
Norma though the Officer was muscular and hefty but there was something susceptible about him in a strange way too. Like he was uncertain of himself in front of her instead of being the tough guy cop he pretended to be. He wasn't all that great looking – his nose was twisted and there were pot marks on his cheeks left over from bad acne. His moustache gave him a slightly sinister look but Norma had noticed that his eyes gave away a sense of timid gentleness, at least when he looked at her.
Norma shuttered thinking that maybe Officer Baxter was interested in her and she felt the need to get out of the police station before he returned. She stood from the chair with such quickness that she almost knocked it over and she bolted from the room, heading for the front door as fast as she could before Officer Baxter returned.
Baxter couldn't help but grin as he hung his uniform in his locker having changed into his jeans and a casual dress shirt. He happened to have a tie in his locker, a plain blue and red stripped one and he put it on just for an extra touch. He was actually feeling excited by the prospect of going out to dinner with a woman for the first time in a very long while.
But when Baxter stepped into the conference room, he found it empty. He felt surprisingly let down and disappointed by the discovery and he sighed sadly before heading for the front door.
"Did that woman who was looking for me leave?" He asked Sue the second shift Dispatcher who was manning the reception fort behind a thick glass protector.
"Yes," Sue confirmed. "Right out the front door."
Well, so much for that idea, Baxter thought to himself as he walked toward his car feeling defeated. Was he ever going to get a date again? It was probably just as well. Maybe taking the person who nearly killed you out to dinner wasn't such a great idea after all.
Baxter was pulling out of the station parking lot when he noticed Ms. Sherman sitting in the bus shelter on the other side of the street waiting for a bus. He was going to pretend he didn't see her and drive off but just then she looked up from her own sadness and their eyes met.
Baxter wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. Should he just smile politely and drive away, accepting her rejection without complaint or protest? Or should he stop and give it another try?
Norma was horrified to see Officer Baxter looking at her. She felt guilty for walking out on him so rudely but she honestly thought it was the right thing to do. Now seeing the look of bewilderment on his face through the car window she realized maybe it had been unfair of her to leave.
She waited a beat to see what Officer Baxter did next and she was unexpectedly relieved to see him pull the car to the curb. She watched as he climbed out of the car and walked quickly across the street dodging passing cars before taking a seat next to her on the bus shelter bench.
"So I guess you changed your mind huh?" He said. "Maybe you're not hungry?"
"God, I feel so awkward and stupid," Ms. Sherman groaned. "I panicked, Officer Baxter and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left without giving you the courtesy of an explanation and a goodbye."
"Why did you leave?" He asked with insecurity.
"I'm just not very good at this stuff," Ms. Sherman admitted.
"Me either," Baxter smiled. "Do you want to be not very good at this stuff together?"
She smiled shyly and shook her head okay.
Baxter took Norma to the Greenville Grille, one of the better but still not all that formal restaurants in Greenville. The hostess escorted them to a booth in the corner and Ms. Sherman tried to look comfortable and at ease as she sat across from Officer Baxter.
"So, you're not from around here originally," Baxter deduced from their earlier conversation.
"No, I'm from Chelsea near Boston," she said once the hostess finished pouring the water and leaving them alone. "I've worked hard to lose the accent!"
He grinned. "I'm not from here either," he said. "I came here for college and decided to stay."
"Where are you from?" She asked to keep the conversation going.
"Bellows Falls, Vermont," he answered. "Nice town, but I liked Greenville better."
"I like it too," she said as she began scoping out the menu.
"Is that why you came back?" He asked. "After you got better?"
"My counselor in rehab didn't want me to," Ms. Sherman revealed. "She thought it would bring up too many bad memories but Smokey's is twenty miles from here and I'll never go back there anyway."
"What about your old friend, the bartender?" Baxter wondered as he scanned his menu.
"We're not friends anymore," Ms. Sherman assured him. "She was never my friend to begin with, actually," she sighed. "I just thought she was."
"So, what do you do?" Baxter asked.
"I sell cell phones at the Verizon store out at the strip mall by the rotary," Ms. Sherman told him. "I have my master's in Early Childhood Education but who's going to hire a drunk to teach children?"
"Maybe in time….."
"Not with CORI background checks," she said. "They'll see my DUIs and other charges and that will be it for me. It's okay. It's my own fault anyway. I just have to deal with it. I volunteer at the library reading stories to kids on Saturday mornings though."
"That's nice," Baxter smiled.
"I really enjoy it and at least I can be involved in some way."
"Step It Up! Performing Arts Center over in Hillsboro has a children's acting program," Baxter revealed. "Maybe you could get involved over there too."
"Yeah, but when you have to rely on the bus it's kind of hard," Ms. Sherman revealed.
"No license, huh?"
"Not for three more years," she replied.
The waiter approached the table and read off the specials. Ms. Sherman ordered scallops and Baxter went with the prime rib special. When the waiter disappeared to get their drinks (Baxter opted for a coke instead of his usual draft while Norma went with coffee), Baxter dug out his business card from his wallet.
"Call me when you're stuck for a ride," he said, handing her the card across the table. "You know, if it's raining and that sort of stuff. I know the taxis are expensive and the bus routes sporadic."
"Thank you, Officer Baxter," Ms. Sherman said.
"You can call me Bill, Ms. Sherman."
She blushed. "Well, you can call me Norma if you want."
"Okay, Norma," Baxter grinned. "That was a nice Mercedes you were driving."
She laughed while rolling her eyes. "Yeah, if you're going to kill someone, it might as well be in a Mercedes," she said sarcastically, making mocking fun of herself.
"So, I assume you're no longer married?"
"He served the divorce papers while I was still in jail waiting for my father to cut a deal for the rehab place," she groaned. "But it was a symbolic end to my past, I guess."
"Where'd you meet?"
"Grad school," she said. "He was my first serious relationship, instant love, all that good stuff. I had stopped my college partying by then but I was still a pretty active social drinker and I started drinking more secretly during grad school because of the pressures. Then came the stressors of planning the wedding and then my husband was in law school and I was home alone a lot and I tended to drink by myself."
"That's too bad." But Baxter could relate because he tended to pound the brewskis alone frequently too.
"My husband got a great job at a prestigious law firm and he didn't need the embarrassment of a wife who drank too much at parties and other functions," Norma said. "We both came from well off families so money was never an issue, but status and appearance were. He didn't think I should be teaching kindergarten kids as a lawyer's wife and I wanted him to be home more but there was always some big case, often away."
"So you drank more alone," Baxter guessed.
"Yeah, I knew every liquor store in town," she admitted. "I'd rotate my visits so no one store guy would think I was buying too much booze. It wasn't long before I was a hopeless alcoholic always looking for the next drink. I could do my job well without suspicions but once that final bell rang I was stopping at a bar for a drink or enjoying cocktail hour at home, with or without my husband."
The waiter returned with their soda and coffee and the bread rolls.
"What about you?" Norma asked once the waiter was gone. "No wife? Girlfriend?"
Baxter shook his head no. "Never married," he told her. "It's been a while in the relationship department too."
"I imagine its tough being a cop and all," Norma said with understanding, taking a sip from her coffee cup.
"Yeah," he agreed, not wanting to explore the possibility that maybe he just wasn't good with women or relationships.
The waiter returned with the salad and Baxter told Norma about being a Greenville cop, including some of the local politics involving budget cuts and police safety. He assured her that her unfortunate incident was not the worse confrontation he had and that she shouldn't worry about what other cops thought if she recognized any of them from that fateful day.
"They'll be like me," Baxter said. "Happy to know you're doing well."
"I could have moved back in with my parents in their big twenty room house near the ocean," Norma said after the waiter brought the main course. "But I learned the concept of cocktail hour from them. I love them dearly and they've been nothing but supportive toward me but I just couldn't go back to that house. So I came back here because it was a place that I knew but not too many people knew me and I wanted that fresh start."
"Good for you."
"What about your folks?" Norma asked.
"My dad died a few years ago and my mother remarried," he answered. "She's got a couple of younger step kids so she's not so involved with me so much anymore. We call each other regularly though."
"My brother was killed in Iraq in 2006," he revealed.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Bill," Norma said with sympathy.
"I have a sister who's married with three kids though," he said with a smile. "I like being an uncle."
"I imagine you see a lot of death and pain being a cop," Norma remarked. "I suppose losing your Dad and your brother only makes it even harder."
"There are challenges," Baxter agreed. "That's why a nice change of pace like this is so welcomed."
She blushed but didn't say anything.
"You have siblings?"
"With a twenty room house!? Are you kidding!?" She laughed. "Three. They're all successful and doing well although each have their own issues, but who doesn't?"
"You feel different because you had some challenges of your own?"
"Sure," Norma admitted freely. "I feel like a failure. I sell cell phones. I live in a tiny apartment. I take the bus. I'm divorced. I'm thirty-three and going nowhere, it feels most of the time anyway."
"You're going to be okay," Baxter told her.
She glanced at him with interest. "Do you really think so?" She asked warily. "Sometimes I wonder."
"I find you very impressive," he let her know. He was surprised he was being that honest that quickly.
She smiled gamely. "Thanks. My parents always want to send me money but I'm trying to make it on my own. It's nice to have them as a safety net but I don't want them paying for some fancy apartment somewhere. I need to take responsibility for my own life and live by my own means. Hopefully, I won't be selling cell phones forever! But this has been humbling."
"Nothing wrong with being humble," Baxter said. "I especially try to remember that as a cop given the egotistical and hard line nature of some of my colleagues. We're people just like everybody else and if we get caught up in the power of the uniform and the position we hold in the community we could end up falling flat on our faces."
"I try to respect the job you guys do," Norma remarked.
The comment surprised Baxter based on her behavior that day in the holding cell. "You sure as hell didn't respect me that day," he couldn't help but say.
"I know," she groaned. "I have no idea where that came from. It was so unlike me. I never acted like that before, even if my most drunken state."
"Even with your earlier DUI?"
"I had several other run ins with cops," she revealed. "But my parents and husband usually got me out of jams and I never went off on a police officer like I did with you that day. I guess I was just scared and angry with myself for being so stupid. I knew I had blown it big time."
"We probably shouldn't talk about this anymore," Baxter suggested.
"I need to own it," Norma replied.
"But I don't want to remember you like that," Baxter said. "I like you much better like this."
"Me too," she smiled.
Norma got Baxter laughing with some humorous cell phone sales stories and the quirkiness of her boss who really didn't know all that much about the technology but was a great salesman.
"That guy could sell cow manure to a princess," Norma laughed.
The dinner finished on a good note and Norma appreciatively thanked Baxter for a lovely time and a delicious meal.
"I still owe you some sort of amend," she decided as they left the restaurant.
"It doesn't get any better than this," Baxter replied. "I haven't had an enjoyable evening like this in a long time."
"Me either," she smiled.
Baxter drove Norma home, which was a run down old tenement like apartment building in one of the seeder sections of town. He answered plenty of calls in this neighborhood and he was concerned for Norma's safety but he wasn't about say anything to her about it now.
The apartment building was old and run down with faded paint, loose side boards, bent drain pipes, and a few cracked windows.
"I'll walk you to your door," Baxter said.
"Oh, that's not necessary," Norma replied as she got out of the car.
"Yes it is," Baxter insisted as he climbed out of the car and met her on the curb.
She didn't protest as he led her up the front walk and she unlocked the front door. He escorted her to her apartment door (apt 2B just at the top of the stairs). The inside of the building was no better than the outside, with chipped and faded paint in the hallways, a loose handrail on the stairway, creaky stairs, and graffiti on some of the walls.
"Well, thanks for a nice evening," Norma said when they reached the door to 2B.
"You have my card," Baxter reminded her.
"I do," she nodded as she opened the door.
A quick glance inside revealed a small but neat apartment.
"Thanks for dinner, Bill. That was very sweet of you."
"Have a good night, Norma," Baxter replied.
He hesitated for just a moment not sure if he should take her hand, or touch her arm, or lean in for a kiss. Norma made no move either but the look on her face reminded him of a frightened thirteen year old out on her first date so Baxter decided to just nod before heading for the stairs hoping he'd see Norma again.
### ### ###
Nearly a week passed but Baxter didn't hear from Norma. He drove by her apartment building a few times but didn't see her outside. He passed by the Verizon store on a few occasions but the one time he stepped inside the store (in uniform) she wasn't working. Each time he came into the station he'd ask the dispatcher/receptionist if he gotten any personal calls (the answer was always no) and Norma's voice didn't appear on his voice mail either.
Baxter was disappointed that Norma didn't follow up her apology visit (and subsequent dinner) with a call or note and he wondered if he should just let it go. She was a nice person but if she wasn't interested what was the point of pursing the possibility? But he found himself thinking about her. Not the insane crazy person who was out of control on Route 43 and in the holding cell, but rather the shy, attractive, humbled nice woman who visited with him at the Police Station and shared a meal with him at the Greenville Grille. He liked her sense of humor, her unassuming personality, and most of all her humility. He hadn't felt this intrigued or interested in a woman like this in a very long time.
Finally on Sunday (his day off), Baxter returned to the Verizon Store (this time in civilian clothes) and he smiled when he was through the window that Norma was on shift. She looked surprised when she looked up and saw Baxter entering the store which was otherwise empty. She was sitting behind the main counter reading from her small Daily Meditations book.
"Bill," he reminded her.
"What are you doing here?"
He pulled out his old flip style cell phone. "I think its time to upgrade from Capt. Kirk's communicator," he said with a grin.
Norma smiled. "Yes, that does look like it comes from the last century!"
He told her he was looking for one of the modern I-phones with internet, camera and all the other features and Norma spent ten minutes showing him the various models and making her recommendations. Baxter ended up buying a sophisticated expensive phone he really didn't need but he wanted Norma to get a good commission. She seemed very excited and pleased as she worked up the sales paperwork.
"I was hoping I'd hear from you this week," Baxter said as he sat across from her at the counter watching her fill out forms on the computer.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said awkwardly. "I've been very busy. Work. AA Meetings. Therapy. Volunteer stuff."
"Why don't you program your cell phone number into my new phone?" Baxter suggested as he handed her the just bought device.
She smiled as she took the phone and punched her number into his phone book.
"You're number one," Baxter replied with a grin when he took the phone back.
"I hardly think so," she replied.
"Do you want to go out for pizza when you get off work?" he asked hopefully.
Norma looked at him with an unexpected smile. "Really?"
"What time do you get off?"
"I'll pick you up then," he said.
Norma looked uncertain for a moment but she seemed to recover from her doubt and nodded with approval. "See you then."
Baxter felt like he was floating out of the Verizon store. He was glad he had been bold enough to go into the store in the first place. He usually would have given up after the first snub (well, maybe Norma really was busy that week) so he was proud of himself for actually following up with somebody regarding his social life.
Norma watched Baxter leave the store. She knew her AA Sponsor and her therapist would both be disappointed to hear that Norma was socializing with a man, especially the cop she could have killed. She was supposed to remain asexual and make woman friends while working on herself but wasn't two years long enough to be focused on her issues? Wasn't it time to test the waters and see how she would deal with a new person in her life? To see if she could get through a few dates without wanting to drink? To see if she could succeed in a new relationship after failing so badly in her marriage? Norma tried not to feel guilty about agreeing to go out for pizza with Officer Baxter and she figured she wouldn't volunteer the information to her sponsor or therapist unless asked.
Baxter couldn't wait for five o'clock to arrive. He hadn't felt this giddy in years. His last sexual encounter was too embarrassing to admit to. A state cop buddy had mentioned a prostitute in Riverside he knew and Baxter was feeling so down and lonely that he made an appointment, meeting the professional in a seedy motel in Springdale, thirty miles away so nobody would spot him. That was nearly a year ago and while she was a compassionate woman who made him feel better Baxter wasn't interested in routinely paying for sex so he resumed his lonely guy existence and concentrated on his job, willingly working extra shifts just to stay busy. Norma was the first person to make him feel hopeful in a long time.
Norma was all smiles when Baxter entered the store promptly at five o'clock. She had just finished turning over to Gertie who would man the store until nine o'clock and she grabbed her purse and walked with Baxter from the store.
"We don't get a lot of business here," she said. "It's kind of a boring job but it pays the rent. We mostly do a lot of customer service over the phone and I like that sort of anonymity better than the face to face stuff because I get nervous."
"You did a great job selling me a phone!" Baxter grinned as he drove them to the Greenville Pizza House.
"Well, I sort of know you," she smiled.
The Greenville Pizza House was literally in a house – an old Victorian at the end of Main Street run by the same family for generations. Baxter and Norma sat in a booth by the large front window that overlooked Main Street. The pizza was the best in town and Baxter ordered a coke instead of his usual beer and he asked Norma questions about her job. Norma also volunteered information about her meetings, sponsor and therapist.
"I feel like all I really do is work on myself," she said with some frustration in her voice. "Sometimes I think its just time to get on with my life and not worry about everything I'm supposed to be doing to make sure I'm doing recovery perfectly. I haven't had a drink in two years, I've dealt with my issues, I've moved on from my past. What else am I supposed to do?"
"There are plenty of recovering alcoholics on the police force," Baxter said, certainly not revealing any hidden secrets. "They say one day at a time, take it slow, and all that stuff. As long as you're doing what you're supposed to be doing – going to meetings, avoiding negative people, staying true to yourself, I'm sure you'll be okay."
"Thanks," she smiled. "I hope so!"
"There are also plenty of active alcoholics on the police force," Baxter added.
She glanced at his coke. "Are you one of them?"
"No, but meeting you reminds me that I probably drink too much," he confessed.
"Understandable with the job you have," she said without judgment. "Any time you want to go to a meeting with me, let me know."
"Would it be a date?" He joked.
She laughed. "We're not supposed to date people in the program."
"Clouds the issue. The last thing a drunk needs is to become someone else's co-dependent."
When they were done with the pizza, Baxter drove Norma home.
"This really isn't the greatest neighborhood for a single woman to be in," he remarked when he pulled the car to the curb in front of her rundown apartment building.
"I'm careful," she reasoned.
"Do you walk a lot?"
"If the weather is good, sure," she replied. "Bus schedule is inconvenient and the taxi expensive. It's only about a mile and a half to work."
"I can give you rides," he offered.
"Look, I'll call when I'm in jam but please don't be coming here in your squad car," she requested. "You'll freak people out."
"I worry about you walking, especially at night," he said.
"I appreciate your concern," she said. "I'm sure you know things about this neighborhood I don't. I promise I won't walk at night."
"Even to meetings?"
"My sponsor usually gives me rides. She lives in Greenville too."
"Okay," he agreed. "And you promise you'll call if its night and you're stuck for a ride?"
"Yes, I promise," she said. "Is the interrogation over? She teased as she opened the passenger door.
"I don't mean to be an asshole," Baxter sighed as he climbed out of the car. "I just want to make sure you're safe."
"I know, and I really appreciate your concern," Norma replied. "It's nice to know somebody cares."
They walked into her apartment building and Baxter escorted her to the apartment door, wondering if she'd invite him in. She didn't but she did take his hand and squeeze it as they stood in the hallway. "Thanks for the pizza, Bill."
"Call me," he said. "I don't want to be bothering you if you're not interested but call if you need a friend."
"I will," she said.
"Okay," he breathed. "You already sold me a phone so I can't come back to the store without an excuse."
She smiled. "I'll call, Bill," she said. "Don't worry."
"Okay," he said nervously. "Good. See you then."
"Bye." Norma disappeared into her apartment and closed the door.
"Bye," Baxter replied to himself as he headed for the stairs fearing he'd never hear from her again.
### ### ###
Much to Baxter's relief, chagrin, and happiness, Norma actually called him a few days later, inviting him out for coffee after her meeting at the Lutheran Church on Longview Street. Her vote of confidence and willingness to see him again lifted his spirits and it was the best cup of coffee he ever tasted.
After that, they called each other and when their schedules allowed they got together for coffee, pizza, or dinner out. Norma called Baxter one morning when it was pouring cats and dogs and another evening when she got stuck at work and needed a ride home in the dark.
Their conversations were polite and comfortable as they continued to get to know each other. Baxter had all but forgotten that Norma was the same woman who ran him down on Route 43 and said such vile things to him in the cage. Norma felt freed from the guilt of that day, knowing she had made amends and moved on and as the weeks passed she didn't feel as if her recovery was being compromised by spending time with Bill. He was patient, kind, understanding, interested in what she had to say, respected her recovery, and didn't put pressure on her to move their friendship further along at any real pace.
It took a while, but Norma finally invited Baxter into her apartment. It was a Saturday and she made him BLTs for lunch. The apartment was frightfully small with three tiny rooms. Apparently, the original apartments had been cut up to be able to add units to the building which made Norma's place noticeably enclosed. But she kept it neat and tidy, pleasantly well decorated with a real sense of home to it.
"I know it's kind of dumpy but I've tried to make it feel like I belong here," Norma said.
"Its nice," Baxter assured her. "Until you step outside the door."
"Yeah, I know, but nothing's happened yet, Bill, so please don't worry about me."
The next weekend, Baxter brought Norma to his apartment which was six rooms on the second floor of a large Victorian house in a nice neighborhood of town. Baxter rented the apartment from the elderly widow who lived on the first floor and he helped her around the house, mowing the lawn, snow blowing the driveway, and performing odd jobs for her.
The first thing Norma noticed when she entered Baxter's apartment was the toy train tracks running all over the apartment.
"Don't trip over them," Baxter warned.
"Holy cow!" Norma marveled.
The apartment otherwise looked normal. Wood floors and dark wood door frames, nicely furnished with some attractive art work on the wall. But the train tracks ran everywhere – on the floor, on tracks high on the walls, through doorways, along the windows. Not only tracks, but all the extras that come with collecting the train engines and train cars – little signs, little houses, little cars, little people, little trees, little school buildings, little train depots, landscaping, mountains, tunnels, buildings, crossing gates, coal car dumpers – the works!
"The old lady's late husband was a great collector," Baxter sheepishly explained. "They didn't rent out this apartment for years and he built this little world up here. When I answered the ad and looked at the apartment, Mrs. Watkins asked if I would be willing to keep her husband's dream alive and I said yes."
"I've never seen so many trains!" Norma laughed.
Baxter hit a switch on the wall and the trains began running, some with lights, others with whistles, a couple of engines with steam coming out of its stack.
"The collection needed a little work," Baxter explained as they watched the various trains travel through the apartment. "Somebody stepped on the tracks in a few places and some of the miniature stuff was damaged. I think some grandkids ran rough shot up here for a while after the old man died."
"This is really great!" Norma said, her face with more life and excitement on it than Baxter had seen before.
"Mr. Watkins loved to display and run these things," Baxter grinned. "I guess I sort of took over the hobby. I had to study up on all the various trains and all that and his collection is pretty impressive. Lionel Trains, American Flyer Trains, and Old Marx Trains which are all top brands. He's got both pre-war and post-war models, vintage stuff, and newer makes."
They slowly walked through the apartment so Norma could take in the full affect.
"All the miniature extras are prized collectables too," Baxter told her.
"It's like being the Jolly Green Giant in a miniature world," Norma laughed. "I've never seen anything like this!"
"See that pink train over there?" Baxter asked, pointing to a train that was set on a piece of track not hitched to the useable rail. "They were made in the 1950s to try to get the girl market share."
"Everything looks so real!" Norma exclaimed.
"That was what these makers were all about," Baxter said. "Toy trains were really big back in the day."
"Gosh, look at that diner!" Norma said.
"The lights work and everything," Baxter smiled. "I've come quite good at electrical stuff, model repair, and even carpentry keeping this stuff going."
"Why do you do it?" Norma asked, throwing him a look of interest. "It must be like walking through a minefield whenever you're in here."
"I promised Mrs. Watkins," Baxter said with a shrug. "She'll come up once in a while. And she can hear them downstairs when I have them running."
"I can't believe the detail," Norma said. "The advertising and names on the train cars look so real!"
"It's pretty neat," Baxter agreed. "But keeping this stuff up to snuff and running can be difficult. Replacing bulbs that are no longer made, for example. All this stuff is becoming a lost art. Collectors and enthusiasts like Mr. Watkins are dying off and the younger generation has no concept what this is all about which is why the grandkids were wrecking some of this stuff."
"Well, I think it's beyond cool!" Norma announced.
"You can come over and play anytime you want," Baxter joked.
"I will," Norma said with sincerity.
The trains became the hook. Making amends was important and getting to know Bill was enjoyably nice, but it was the train collection that made Norma feel young, innocent and free again without a care in the world like before college and partying and marriage and drinking ruined her life!
Sometimes Baxter felt that Norma was more attracted to the trains that she was to him but if that got to come over and visit he wasn't going to complain. She'd sit on the couch and giggle as the trains went around the tracks. Sometimes he'd find her down on the floor moving the miniatures around or having conversations with the little people as if she was an eight year old playing with dolls! Baxter thought it was cute and he enjoyed the company. It was easy to get Norma to come to the apartment once she had been seduced by the train sets. She enjoyed them even more than he did and he taught her some of the finer points of keeping the collection pristine, from fixing tracks, to repairing train cars, to gluing some of the models back together.
"You know what it is?" Norma said one evening when Baxter joked about her fascination with the train sets. "I guess it reminds me of my own recovery," she said. "How trains take people on journeys. Trips to different places. New starts. New beginnings. That's what my life feels like right now and I like the way these trains make me feel. I'd love to ride the trains forever."
Norma started looking up collections and collectors on line to see if they could cheaply add to their set up. Baxter had to admit that the thought had never occurred to him! They spent Saturday mornings checking out yard, garage, tag and church sales in case they came across collectables. One weekend they drove to a collector's open house in New York State just to see what he had.
It wasn't long before Norma was a bigger expert on miniature trains than Baxter had been and it became the center pin of their (ever so slowly) developing relationship. It also served as a gateway to an expansion of their time together. Norma started taking Baxter to AA Meetings (even though he had pretty much stopped drinking since Norma came into his life). The meetings were helpful as far as some of Baxter's rigid and controlling attitudes were concerned and he liked listening to other people's stories. He was blown away the night Norma stood up at a Speaker's Meeting and told her story.
Norma was more opening and willing to allow Baxter to give her rides (as long as it wasn't in the squad car). He'd pick her up after work and bring her home to her apartment, sometimes to his for dinner and some train time but neither had yet to spend the night at the other's place.
It had been months since Ms. Sherman had come to the police station to apologize to Officer Baxter and while they had become good friends involved in a semi-quasi relationship that included friendly tender smooches and hand holding, sex had yet to enter the equation. Baxter had never been with a woman this long without sleeping with her but he wasn't about to push Norma on the subject, fearing she might reject him because of it.
Norma had never been happier. Both her sponsor and therapist commented on her regained sunny disposition and contentment with life and as stupid as it might have sounded, her response was always "I finally found the right train!"
Norma was genuinely attracted to Bill having gotten to know him so well during the past few months without the threat or pressure of sex and that meant a lot to her. She knew that Bill cared about her and she was glad that he was willing to give her the space and time to figure out what was right for her. He had seen her at her absolute bottom and he had heard her story several times in the AA halls so there wasn't much left he didn't know about her and yet he was still willing to ride the train with her. That simply floored her.
Norma came to know and understand Bill's work better. Cops had a thankless job and she sat quietly at night listening to him talk about ongoing cases, or incidents of the day, or the stresses that came with some interaction that particular day, whether it was some unruly or rude person in public or a difficult co-worker at the station. She understood how Bill must have felt that day when she said those vile and disgusting things to him. All he had planned that day was to stand a construction crew detail. He didn't expect to be almost run over by some drunk at 2:30 in the afternoon or to be berated by an out of control bitch at the station. She still shuttered whenever she thought of that awful moment. She wondered if she'd ever really be able to make it up to him.
### ### ###
It was a dark rainy evening. A late call delayed Baxter from ending his shift and by the time he got to the Verizon store, Norma had already left. Concerned and worried, Baxter drove the route to Norma's apartment building in the downpour but he didn't see her and that only increased his anxiety as he approached the apartment building.
Norma had given him a spare key even though he had yet to spend a night and Baxter rushed into the apartment to find Norma stepping out of the bathroom wearing a white terrycloth robe while drying her hair with a towel.
"Oh, Bill," she said with surprise.
"You okay?" He asked urgently.
"Got soaked," she replied.
"Why didn't you wait for me?" He complained.
"Sally (the dispatcher) said you might be a while," Norma answered.
He stared at her with annoyance. "Do you have any idea how worried I was?"
"Come on, Bill, it was just a little rain."
"I asked you not to walk in bad weather or the dark." There was stress in his voice.
"I didn't have enough money on me for a taxi and the bus was another forty-five minute wait," she explained. "I can make it home faster than that."
"You need to keep extra money in your wallet for taxis," Baxter said.
"Extra money?" She smiled. "What's that?"
He opened up his wallet and took out two twenty dollar bills, folding them and handing them to her. "Put this in a secret taxi pouch in your wallet," he ordered tartly. "Use it when I'm not available and the bus isn't around."
"What's going on, Bill?" Norma asked with a frown. "You seem upset."
"Some high school girl got raped in Green Park this afternoon," Baxter told her.
"Oh, that's terrible!" Norma exclaimed.
"Whatever slime did it is still out there," he growled. "You could have been next."
"Oh, Bill," Norma sighed, stepping up to him and giving him a hug. "You worry too much."
"I can't help it when it comes to you," he admitted, kissing the top of her head.
"Bill," she said with gentleness in her voice. "I'm sorry I upset you. Thank you for caring."
"Just please be careful out there," he groaned.
"I will," she promised.
She started to walk away and Baxter reached out and gave her ass a hard slap. It was the first time he touched her anywhere on her body below her neck!
"Ouch!" She yelped. "What was that for!?"
"For walking home in the dark rain when you're not supposed to," he pouted.
"What, you trying to give me a spanking?" She accused, putting her hands on her hips in defiance.
Baxter looked embarrassed. "Well, you probably deserve one," he mumbled as he took a seat on the stool like chair in the corner of the room to collect his thoughts.
"Then go ahead!" Norma giggled as she stepped toward him and willingly lay across his thighs.
He was still in his police uniform. "I don't want to be accused of police brutality," he said, gently patting her rear through the material of her cloth robe.
"No, I think I deserve a good slap on the ass," Norma teased playfully.
"Oh?" He asked, willing to accept her dare.
"I plead guilty as charged, Officer."
Baxter's hand went up in the air and came down to smack her ass through the robe.
"Really didn't feel it," she giggled. "Robe is too padded."
Baxter hesitated for a moment before he reached down and pulled up the bottom of the robe, slowly exposing her thighs. He wasn't sure if she was wearing anything underneath but the answer came when he saw her naked buns become revealed as he lifted the robe higher. He ran his other hand over her ass cheeks and he heard Norma suck in her breath.
"That's not exactly a slap there Officer," she said after a few quiet moments as he continued to rub her lovely backside.
Baxter blushed and Norma wiggled her hips as if in another dare. Baxter raised his right hand in the air and brought it down on her ass, the slap echoing across the small apartment.
"Oh," she said with surprise. "That one hurt!"
"Sorry," he said, softly massaging her ass before going higher and rubbing her back underneath the hiked robe.
"I didn't mind so much," she whispered, sounding slightly embarrassed too.
Norma stood and her robe fell to cover her exposed rump as she stood facing Baxter. They stared at each other for a long moment and finally Baxter slowly stood and gazed into her eyes.
"I'm sorry I upset you," she said quietly.
Before either knew what was happening, Baxter's lips were on hers as he placed his hands on her curvy hips. Norma wrapped her arm around his neck and buried her other hand in his hair as Baxter's tongue gently pried open Norma's mouth and she allowed his entrance to let their tongues dance. Baxter moved his hands around to her backside and he gently squeezed her buns through the robe. She moaned when he brought a hand up to her chest, slipping it inside the fold of the robe to find her naked breast which he squeezed before he pinched her nipple.
Norma pushed herself into him as they continued to make out and tongue and feel asses and breasts with Norma moaning while buckling her hips into him. The kisses were hungry and passionate and almost desperate after so much lonely waiting. Baxter reached down and tugged the belt of the robe until it fell open and he caught a peek of Norma's lovely breasts and finely cut reddish brown pubic hair. He reached up to push the robe off her shoulders but her hand went to his wrist to stop him.
"I'm shy," she said quietly.
"It's okay," he said. "It's okay."
She dropped her hand and Baxter slipped the robe off her shoulders until it silently slipped to the floor to reveal her nude form.
"You're wonderful," he whispered as wrapped his arms around her and kissed her harder. Norma didn't resist and she didn't object when he walked her into the bedroom as they continued to kiss.
Norma slid onto the bed and Baxter lay on top of her while continuing to kiss her and then he slowly trailed his mouth and lips along the bare skin of her chin, neck and breasts.
"Get rid of the uniform," she mumbled through their locked mouths.
"You sure?" He asked with uncertainty.
"All that stuff on your belt is gouging me!" She laughed.
Baxter lifted himself off of her and began discarding the uniform, badge and all. She watched with interest as she lay vulnerably exposed on the bed, crossing her legs shyly while strategically placing her arm across her breasts as to not show him too much. When Baxter was down to his boxers he stopped for a moment and she waited with nervous anticipation.
"Please," she whispered almost desperately even as shy as she was. "It's been so long."
Baxter tugged down his boxers and stepped out of them and Norma smiled when she saw what was waiting for her. He leaned down on the bed and she grabbed him by the arms and forced him onto her, locking her mouth on his while dragging her hand through his hair. They made out some more and she felt his member rubbing along her thighs, against her still crossed legs and even as high as her stomach.
Norma rolled Baxter over onto his back and she straddled his hips while leaning over and kissing him passionately.
"Is this part of your recovery?" He whispered.
"God, yes," she almost sobbed.
He rolled them over so he was back on top as they continued to kiss and explore each other's bodies. The moment was romantic, sensual, desperate and wanting and boarder line out of control. Norma rubbed her breasts against his chest while Baxter ran his arms across her breasts and down her sides before sliding his hands underneath her ass and lifting her into his groin. He buried his face into her breast and began sucking on one of her nipples.
Norma cried out with pleasure and need and her hand desperately searched for his member between their legs. Baxter returned his gaze to her eyes and he stared into them hoping for permission as he began to rub himself against her entrance. She nodded her approval and he leaned down and kissed her before they proceeded to finally make love after waiting so long.
"You didn't even read me my Miranda rights!" Norma whispered when it was over and they lay cuddled in the bed.
### ### ###
Norma gave her notice at her small apartment and she moved into Bill's train place. She also quit her job at the Verizon store and focused her time on her volunteer work at the library. She redesigned the train lay out in the apartment and she continued working her program and recovery while learning to give herself completely and freely to Bill.
Baxter accepted a reassignment as the Greenville School Officer where he was able to work with younger people in a neutral environment and while the job brought challenges he was able to build a level of trust and credibility with the students which he enjoyed.
Since Norma couldn't work with children she decided maybe it was time to have one of her own and Baxter readily agreed. They enjoyed the process of trying to get pregnant for several months before Norma finally found out she was with child.
Mrs. Watkins moved into an assisted living home and Baxter and Norma bought her house knowing they could keep the train world alive on the second floor while living as a family on the first floor.
"It's been quite a train ride, hasn't it?" Norma smiled on the day they closed on the house.
"I'll never leave the station without you!" Baxter grinned.