What Has Come Before:
It's January, 1996.
Our story is being narrated by "Woody," a mid-thirtyish New Englander who is currently in Iowa.
Helping out Eve, a slightly younger, pretty married woman he'd met at a truck stop, Woody ends up transporting her (in his sister's Corvette, which he'd borrowed for the trip) to a motel during a terrible blizzard. After dealing with the curmudgeonly motel manager, a totally bald elderly fellow, Woody and Eve go to their motel room.
The room's heater is broken, and the two end up sharing a bed -- a rather large bed -- for a strictly platonic session of sleep.
* * * * *
The next morning, I awoke to find myself alone in the bed. Eight million movies I've seen told me immediately what had happened. She'd stolen my keys -- okay, okay, Julie's keys -- and stolen the Corvette, leaving me stranded in this little motel.
I leaped out of bed, threw off the bathrobe, and reached for my pants.
It was then that the bathroom door opened, and Eve emerged. She was wearing the same outfit as she had when I'd met her, of course. Her hair was still up, and looked wet. I assumed she'd taken a shower before dressing.
"Good morning, Woody," she said.
"Uhhh... Hi, Eve." I felt a little embarrassed that I was standing there in my underwear with no pants on. (I would've been even more embarrassed if she'd known what I'd been thinking about her... but I wasn't about to tell her.) It's not like she was staring, or anything -- she wasn't -- but she wasn't looking away, either.
"I figured I'd let you sleep," she said.
"What time is it?" I never wore a watch.
Naturally, she did. "It's still early. Not even nine." While I put my pants on, she sat down on what had been her side of the bed last night. "Last night was... very strange, and very unusual... for me, Woody. To say the least."
"Yeah, for me, too."
"I've never slept with anyone but my husband in eleven years of marriage."
"We didn't sleep together," I protested. "I mean... well... yeah, we did sleep together, but..."
She laughed and nodded. "I meant it literally. I've never shared a bed with any man but Russ, in any sense of the term. Especially one I knew nothing about! And I want to thank you for not... trying anything."
"Mm." I was uncomfortable with what she was saying, somehow, and tried to make a joke of it. "Well, I was pretty tired, you know?"
"You say that like you would have tried something if you hadn't been tired, and... well... I doubt that."
"You're right. I wouldn't have."
"I wasn't worried about being raped, certainly, or I never would have invited you into the bed with me -- Lord, that sounds awful! -- but you didn't even make a..." She hesitated.
"Make a pass at you?" I said.
"I was going to say... make an attempt to seduce me, or even cuddle up to me."
"Well, to be honest, Eve, I didn't think you'd reciprocate. I was right in assuming that, wasn't I?" She nodded again. "Good! Because I think you're a freakin' doll..."
"So you keep saying," she said, cheerfully.
"And if I thought I'd passed up a chance at a little extra warmth, shall we say... I'd really regret it." She looked a little uneasy. "I meant that as a compliment."
"I know, Woody. I'm just not used to compliments."
"That's kinda hard to believe. Women who look like you usually get more than their share."
"No. No. Not me."
"Oh. Shame. You're really beautiful," I said, meaning it. We were both silent for an uncomfortable minute. "You're right about one thing, though. We really don't know anything about each other. We know each other's names, I know you have a husband named Russ, you know I have a sister named Julie, and..." I paused.
"And I know you and your husband are on the outs in some way, or you would have called him last night." A second, grimmer thought struck me. "Or... He is still alive, right?"
"What the devil is that supposed to mean?"
"You could be a widow, for all I know!"
"Oh! I thought you meant something more sinister, like..."
I started laughing, and slipped into my piss-poor Bogart voice again. "Or maybe you offed the poor bashtard, and took it on the lam, shweetheart?" She laughed. I continued, in my normal voice. "No, don't worry, doll. I think you're about as likely to kill someone as I am to..."
"To rape someone?" she suggested, playfully.
"Yeah. Heh. You see? We know plenty about each other! We both know that I'm no criminal, and neither are you!" I thought for a moment. "Well, we'll have plenty of time to learn about each other while I drive us back to that truck stop, assuming I can even find the freakin' thing!"
"I wouldn't get your hopes up where that's concerned, Woody."
What did that mean, I wondered? Was she lapsing back into last night's veiled insult habit? "Why? Are you saying you don't want to learn more about me?"
"No, silly, nothing like that! I mean..." She stood and walked toward the drapes covering the picture window near the useless room heater. Opening them -- and flooding the room with brightness -- she said, "Well, see for yourself."
All I could see was snow. Well, pretty much. We'd arrived in the middle of one hell of an overnight blizzard which was still raging. The snow was higher than the base of the picture window, in fact.
"I'd imagine that your sister Julie's Corvette is buried by now," she said. "I doubt we're going anywhere anytime soon!"
Eve sat down on the room's single chair. "There wasn't a coffee machine next to that sandwich machine, was there, Woody? I would kill for a hot cup of coffee right now!"
"Ah-hah!" I teased, "So you really are a killer!" She giggled. "What makes you think I can even get outside this room to find out?"
"Well, I'm sure the motel manager has shoveled the walk..." she said, somewhat sarcastically.
"Him? He's probably gonna wait until half his guests die from starvation, so he can sell them to the other half as fresh meat!" I smirked at her. "Uhhh... You wanna split that ham sandwich, doll?"
"That won't solve the coffee problem, will it?" Eve got up from the chair and walked to the closet, where she'd hung her coat. "I need caffeine. It's just about my only vice."
"Why am I not surprised?" I said, grinning.
"What, by my being a caffeine junkie?"
"No, that you don't have many vices! Even the word 'junkie' doesn't sit well on you."
"Cute. You really think I'm a goody two-shoes, don't you?"
"Well... aren't you?"
"I'm not as bad as all that!"
"You mean, as good as all that!" I was still grinning, only even more now. I was enjoying this friendly banter. So was Eve, evidently. "Anyway, maybe you're right. You did take your bra off in front of me..."
She started laughing again. "I did not! I took it off in the privacy of my own car, you!"
"But you couldn't wait to tell me about it," I said, and suddenly her face turned serious.
"Oh, good grief, you don't really think there was anything behind my telling you that, do you?"
Hm. She was suddenly serious, so I followed suit. "Hell no, doll. If I really thought that, I would've tried something last night. But I didn't."
Her smile returned. "No, you didn't."
We were both startled by a knock at the door. I brushed by Eve as I rushed to it. "Better let me get that, doll. It's probably Baldini coming to see if we've kicked off yet, so he can serve us for breakfast!"
It wasn't the old man, it was a pleasant-looking woman in her seventies. His wife, I assumed (correctly, as it turned out).
"Good morning, folks!" she exclaimed. "I almost didn't knock. It almost sounded like you were arguing."
"No, ma'am, just some goofing around."
"Oh, good, good. I hate to see young marrieds having a spat."
Young marrieds? thought I. Oh, yeah, "Mr. and Mrs." on the register.
"Oh my gosh, we weren't that loud, were we?" asked Eve.
"Nonsense, child! I was on my way here anyway."
"Is it already check-out time?" I asked.
"No, that's not until ten, and as far as today goes, even later than that."
"Meaning that Governor Branstad's declared a state of emergency, and he's asking everyone to stay off the roads if at all possible. We have seven rooms occupied, including yours, and I've talked my husband Art into allowing anyone who wants to stay here to do so for free."
I couldn't help cracking a smile, thinking of the old grump who'd checked us in late the previous night, or should I say, early that morning. "Free, huh? For how long?"
Art's wife smiled. "Well, for tonight anyway. We run a small restaurant -- used to be a proper lounge, back when we could afford the liquor license and entertainment -- and Art's hoping enough of you folks will eat to make some of the money back he figures we'll lose giving away our rooms like that!" We all laughed. This lady was definitely the "yang" to her husband's "yin," I felt. "He's a love, but he's an old grump sometimes, too." My words exactly, I thought.
She continued. "Anyway, you two needn't worry about paying for your meals today. I insisted they'd be on the house when I found out Art stuck you in the room with the broken heater. He hates being woken up in the middle of the night, but won't let me check anyone in after ten p.m. or thereabouts, bless his heart."
I thought, The sonofabitch did that on purpose?!? Bless his heart, my ass! I almost said something to that effect, but I somehow sensed that Eve was ready with another kick if I did so.
Art's wife pointed back toward the office. "So anyhoo, you two just come down to the restaurant whenever you're hungry. We can't get a plow to come and clear the parking lot yet, but the canopy's made it easy for our son Lenny to shovel the walkways. Coffee's always hot and fresh, and the kitchen's open from six to six!" She suddenly rolled her eyes. "Oh! I'm Millie, by the way, and you've met Art..."
"I'm Eve," said my "wife," "and this is Woody."
"Woody, like Woody Guthrie?" asked Millie. Him again! She looked at me inquisitively. "Are you musical?"
"Yes, actually. I play guitar, and I sing."
"Really! Art has an old Dobro. Maybe you could provide some entertainment for our guests?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Woody! I didn't mean to put you on the spot like that."
Millie smiled. "Nice to meet you folks. Now I got to go, still two more rooms to cover!"
And off she went.
After I'd closed the door, I looked at Eve. "Boy, she sure can talk!"
"Oh, stop, you! I thought she was nice."
"So did I. Just sayin'."
"Why didn't you tell me you were a musician when I asked you?"
"Well, I never said I wasn't. I just asked you what made you ask me that."
"Fair enough. So... Race you to the coffee pot?"
"Let's walk. I'm still tired. And maybe we should hold hands, being 'young marrieds' and all?"
"Don't get carried away, smartie."
"Heh. Sorry, I kinda like the idea of being paired off with you."
"Yeah. Even if we don't..."
"You can keep that thought to yourself, Woody," she said, shaking her head. "And... would you mind if I called you something other than Woody?"
"Like what?" I said, walking to grab my coat from the closet (where Eve had hung it sometime before I awoke, obviously).
"Like, your real name."
"If you like." I paused, and mumbled, "It's... Wilbur."
Eve burst out laughing. "It is not!"
"Okay it isn't," I admitted, "and it's a good thing, too. Your laughing at it like that would sure give me a complex if it were!"
"So, are you going to tell me what it is?"
My mouth twisted into a sly smile. "It's Adam. Maybe Adam and Eve were stranded here for a reason. Ya think?"
"What I think is that Dan or Danny suits you better!" she said pointedly.
That floored me. "Dan?"
"Yes. 'Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Casey,' remember?"
"Got it. You read over my shoulder when I signed the register."
"Mm-hm. Now, let's go get some breakfast." She blinked. "Oh, dear! I mean, if you can afford to pay for both of us."
"No problem, doll. On the house, remember?"
"That's right. That's right. All set?"
I was. Off we went.
Funny thing was, I hadn't really been kidding about wanting to hold her hand. What the hell was going on here?
TO BE CONTINUED
TO BE CONTINUED