Today I’m sharing with you an excerpt (actually the whole first chapter) of my unfinished story, Mile Marker 139:
Chapter One: Mike Popkins
The wheels squeak as he pushes the mop bucket across the floor. A couple of surly truckers look up from their venti coffees and glare. He’s used to it. He hates the noise, too.
Mike Popkins eases the rickety bucket to the men’s room and ropes off the entrance — “closed for cleaning.”
His arthritic hands clutch the mop. He squeezes the extra water from it with the bucket’s wringer and drops the floppy, disgusting thing onto the grimy floor. Back and forth. Side to side.
“Hey, can I use the bathroom?” someone asks loudly.
“Bathroom’s closed,” Mike says. He sniffs, just getting over a cold, and pushes his thick glasses up his long nose.
The man outside the bathroom mutters. Probably a foul-mouthed trucker.
“The things I put up with,” Mike murmurs to himself.
In five minutes, he finishes cleaning and leaves the bathroom. It’s pitch dark beyond the doors to the rest area and about five in the morning. For as long as Mike can remember, he’s worked third shift as the janitor. Few guys want the job or the hours, but he’s never been a picky man. Still, age is catching up with him as he takes a break and eases into one of the chairs on the rim of the coffee area. Brewing Up Some Happiness is the name of the latest trendy coffee joint.
To Mike, the coffee is overpriced. If it weren’t freezing outside, he’d nip out to his car and grab his Thermos of home brew, but he’s not that desperate for caffeine. Besides, in another hour, he’ll be free to go.
Mike shifts in the seat, wondering if he’d be smart to diet. Poor Barb, bless her soul, would have nagged him for the extra thirty pounds he’d put on since her death five years ago.
Mike snaps out of his thoughts and stares at the woman in front of him. He’s seen her plenty of times before, although she’s usually outside at that picnic table. Some lunatic, he figures. Homeless, maybe, although she drives a car. Still, maybe she lives out of her car.
“Yeah?” he grunts.
“You got a smoke?”
Mike scowls. “Do I look like a charity giver, darlin’?”
“Sorry. It’s just I’m out. I’ve, uh, seen you smoke a cigarette or two here and there.”
“Oh, fine. Here.” Mike stands, digs in his pants pocket, pulls out a pack, and offers her one.
“Thanks.” She snatches the cigarette from Mike’s hand like it’s already lit and might burn her.
“You need a light?” Mike steps back a bit, hesitant. This odd woman has the look of a deer about to dash away.
“No.” She reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out a lighter.
“You can’t smoke in here.” And here he was offering her a light just a second ago. What’s gotten into him?
She shrugs. “I’m going back out anyway.”
Just as she turns to leave, Mike pursues her. “Wait. It’s freezing out there.”
The late November weather doesn’t keep people from traveling for Thanksgiving. Mike realizes that’s tomorrow and half-wonders if he should call his son and accept the invitation to dinner after all.
Her dull tone speaks of anything but fine. Mike’s mind whirls. Normally, he wouldn’t care what some stranger does with her life, but something about this woman pulls at him. All the feelings that plagued him for months after Barb’s death return. Why should he care if a vagrant has somewhere to go for Thanksgiving? What does he need to know about her story? She’s probably a drunk and a drug addict. Maybe she’s walked out on her family. But…
“I’ve seen you.” Mike’s mouth is dry. He licks his lips and bites the inside of his cheek. He’s unshaven, his salt and pepper hair a mess until his ball cap. He knows he’s not the picture of empathy, but his blue eyes have seen hurt enough times in his sixty-two years to know a thing or two about it.
“What?” She hovers by the exit. Her eyes are usually hidden by sunglasses, but they stare, exposed. Mike doesn’t know if he’s ever seen such hollow, dark eyes.
“Sitting out there at that picnic table. I work here, young lady, every damn night but Sunday. You think I wouldn’t notice you out there? It’s been at least a couple of months you’ve been coming here every night. Don’t know how long you stay or if you ever really leave, but you turn up right about three o’clock every morning. I’m due to leave soon, and I’m betting you’ll still be out there for hours after that.”
She just stares. The crease between her eyebrows deepens, but then she turns and the doors close automatically behind her.
Mike sighs. “Why do I bother?” he mutters, shaking his head.
He’s got a job to do, damn it. He can’t waste his time worrying about the crazies when he’s got trash to take out.
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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful