As I took a shower, I rued the fact that I hadn’t thought to pack more with me when I decided to abandon my old life—specifically a change of clothes—maybe some shampoo and a towel. What was I going to do until I got a paycheck? I had taken our savings and Jerry’s paycheck for granted. I was feeling pretty chagrined about my impulsiveness. Landing the job was a minor miracle, but was this what I really wanted?
I donned yesterday’s uniform and headed downstairs to the café. As I came in the backdoor, Roxanne pointed to the front. “Looks like you might have a visitor. He came in here a few minutes ago asking for someone with your description. I didn’t give anything away, but he decided to stay. Ordered the corned beef on rye and a Pepsi.”
I peeked through the door. Even though I was staring at the back of his head, the lank hair and narrow shoulders obviously belonged to Hermie. Really? Hermie?
My family had found me. I didn’t know whether I should be elated or despondent. Bill put Hermie’s sandwich up on the counter. I squared my shoulders, thanked Roxanne, pushed the swinging door open with my rear end and delivered Hermie’s order. I plopped down on the bench across from him. We silently stared at each other for a minute.
“You found me,” I finally stated matter-of-factly.
“Mom, you weren’t too tough to track down. You left Dad’s car at the bus station. You used your credit card for a motel and you’ve been using your cell phone. If you were trying to run away, you didn’t try too hard to cover your tracks. Of course you were easy to find. Anyone with half a brain and a few pirated access codes could locate you. What do you think I’m doing on my computer all day?”
I had been surprised to see Hermie, but hearing him speak, I suddenly remembered how his recent idiocy had been one of the catalysts to my running away. “I wouldn’t have had to take the bus if you hadn’t annihilated my car.”
“About that. I’m going to buy you a new one.”
His response was so absurd I busted out laughing even though I was still furious with him.
I patted his hand. “Oh Hermie, is this before or after you move out of my basement and get a life?”
“No really, Mom. I’ve been busy. I created an app that I just sold. To Apple. For a lot of money.” Hermie leaned back with a confident grin I hadn’t seen in years. “I’ll replace the car. And I guess I can move out too, but I thought you liked me living there. You never said anything.”
“You’re always tucked away in your dungeon of a basement. You hardly ever come out to talk to anyone.”
“Well, yeah. I’ve been kinda busy.”
“How do you even know how to create an app?”
“I took that computer programming class in ninth grade and I just taught myself after that. I knew what I wanted to do. The rest of school was mostly a waste.”
“Hmmm.” I was trying to reconcile this new view of Hermie with the recluse I had become used to over the years. “I guess we’re not always what we seem.”
“Speaking of which,” Hermie said, gesturing to my uniform and my makeshift nametag, “It’s nice to meet you Kathy. You wanna help your son understand what you’re doing in a waitress uniform in small town USA? Did you witness a murder? You better not be in the witness protection program or something, ‘cause if so, the feds really suck at keeping you safe.”
“No, no, nothing like that.” How do you tell your son you wanted to forget your life of which he was a major part? I guess you just come out and tell him. “I didn’t like where my life was. I thought I’d run away for a bit. Pretend I had amnesia maybe.”
Surprisingly, Hermie nodded like it made perfect sense. Maybe Hermie and I were closer than I thought we were. “Can’t really blame you there, Mom.” Great, even my son thought my life was worth abandoning. “Yeah, living with Dad and Trisha can be kinda rough.”
And you too! I thought, but held my tongue. I just pulled back my curly hair and looked sideways at him.
“How is your dad taking my disappearance?” I asked gingerly, a little afraid of the answer.
Hermie shifted uncomfortably. “Dad’s doing okay,” he said cryptically. “He let Grandma take your bedroom. He moved into Trisha’s room.”
“What?! I’ve been gone two days! Where’s Trisha? Did your dad kick her out? She’s only 17.”
Hermie handed me his phone. “Maybe you should just check Trisha’s Facebook. She posted the whole ugly mess on there.”
I scrolled through Hermie’s phone, discovering that Trisha had decided to jump the gun on her eighteenth birthday and had followed Axel to his out of town gig—where he had promptly abandoned her for some buxom brunette with a vintage Guns N’ Roses t-shirt. She was currently consoling herself at her friend Lois’s house while she posted inflammatory updates about Axel every hour or so. I felt bad for Trisha. I really did. But at least Axel was out of her life. And I sure didn’t want to get involved in this fiasco. Maybe Jerry would have to man up and help his daughter for once instead of me being the one who tried to save her. At least Trisha had someone else to complain about this time. It was usually me who was getting crucified in her updates. She hadn’t mentioned me once since I had disappeared. Not being the old Sue for now was looking pretty good.
I handed the phone back to Hermie. “And your Dad? Has he even mentioned I’m gone? Do you think he’s even noticed?”
“Dad’s Dad you know. He seems mostly concerned about himself and Grandma.”
Part of me hated that Hermie could see how things stood and part of me was glad someone else knew what Jerry was really like.
“Do you think he’ll take care of Trisha okay?” I was worried about how he had taken over her room.
“Trisha can take care of herself. When she licks her wounds and comes back home, I’m sure she’ll have no trouble taking her room back by force.” Hermie sat for several seconds with a contemplative look on his face. “Now that I have some cash, maybe I’ll think about getting my own place. Maybe Dad can take the basement.” Hermie grinned at the thought of his possible independence.
Maybe I had been justified in running away and forgetting my old life. Maybe it was okay to take care of just me for now. Maybe I could take some time and figure it out.
I took a deep breath, resolved. “And maybe I’ll just be Kathy for a while.”
“Well, keep in touch, Mom. I don’t know how long I can handle Grandma living with us.” Hermie reached into his pocket. “Here’s a little something to get you through the next few weeks. You probably want to lay off the credit card for a bit. Even Dad might be able to figure out where you are if he decides to try.” Hermie handed me a folded pack of twenties and squeezed my hand.
I accepted the money from this son I thought I had known. Maybe not everything about my old life was was worth forgetting.
Hermie strolled out the door, his shoulders squared. I watched him go with mixed feelings.
Roxanne slid into the booth Hermie had just vacated. Her eyes searched my face. “How you doin’ Hon?”
I smiled at her. “I’m okay. Let’s get to work.”
Check back on Monday for the next story!