Forgotten Trails(10)

By: Bonnie R. Paulson

With a hand pressed to the small of her back, Marla smiled at her with a tired squint to her eyes. “You new in town, honey?”

Rachiah swallowed, she pulled back from the counter, nervous. “I'm the one that was in earlier. Yeah, I’m new.” She nodded toward Marla’s stomach. “How far along are you?”

The woman rubbed the polyester apron pulled tight across her bulky stomach. “Due yesterday. Thank heaven, this little one has decided to stay put for a little longer.”

“Then why are you here?” Rachiah studied the woman. Shoulders drawn back and her stomach thrust out, she resembled the women Rachiah's mom helped back on the reservation. When they were so close they didn't want to stop you could see it in their eyes – desperation to be done combined with fear at what came next.

They didn't want to take a break and let the baby and delivery naturally take its course.

Marla smiled softly. “They need me here. What can I get you?” She rounded the end of the counter to return to its hulking mass. She grabbed a white cloth and scrubbed at spilled syrup at a newly abandoned seat.

The cook stormed around the doorway. Looking around, his eyebrows raised. “Hey, you were in here yesterday. You looking to stay?” He brandished his spatula like a pointer lectern and the men at the end of the counter listened to every word.

Was this it? This could be Rachiah's chance. “I'm staying as long as I need to stay.” She nodded towards the waitress. “Though it looks like you need a position filled.”

“How soon can you start?” The cook didn’t look at his waitress. He stared at Rachiah, as if challenging her.

Rachiah shoved the sweat-dampened dollar bill into her back pocket. She followed the path Marla had taken behind the counter and picked up the cloth Marla had just put down. “How's now?”

The man grinned. He glanced at the waitress. “Marla, I think you found a replacement. Why don't you get on home and have that baby? Your job will be here when you're ready to come back.” He placed his big square hand on her shoulder and met her eyes.

A wave of relief smoothed the lines around the waitress's eyes. She looked a lot younger than she had previously with the ease of the stress. She let out her air on a whoosh and untied her apron, handing it unceremoniously to Rachiah.

With tears in her eyes, she didn't even nod. She didn't say goodbye to the men at the table. Instead, she shuffled toward the front door, as if she couldn’t wait to get away.

A torrent of whispers reached Rachiah and the man from the group of men. Before Marla could reach the front door, the leader jumped from his seat with a collection of bills in his hand. He rushed towards Marla with his hand outstretched. “Marla, me and the guys want to give you something.”

She glanced over her shoulder, pausing with her hand on the door handle and watched as the man grabbed a large paper cup off the counter and dumped the bills inside. The cup overflowed with fives and twenties even as he handed it to her. She stared in amazement at the offering, her mouth half-open.

He held up his finger, his voice gruff with emotion. “You served us plenty great over the last few years, Marla. We want to make sure you want to come back. That's all we have among us. Go have that baby and tell that husband of yours to take care of you.”

Overcome with emotion, the pregnant woman nodded shortly and offered a very slight smile. She turned and walked from the diner.

Eyes bright, the leader turned and eyed Rachiah with suspicion. “Are you planning on serving us? Or just standing there looking like an Indian princess?”

“Oh, funny guy. This will be fun.” Rachiah tied on the apron Marla had handed it, wrapping the string around her waist twice before she could tie it. She grabbed the coffee pot and made her way down to their seats. She nodded toward his chair. “You wanna sit there, cowboy? I can play these games all day.”

His friends and cohorts hooted and hollered around them. “We've got ourselves a live one!”

Finally, Rachiah's circumstances weren't as dim as she’d feared. With some money coming in, she could maybe buy some food. Her strength of will would require everything in her to ignore the smells wafting from the kitchen.

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