I trust this woman more than I’ve trusted any woman in my life. She is more like a friend than any friend I’ve ever had. I think about my friends and I wonder, are they really friends at all. It’s more as if your lives get thrown together for awhile, you live through some things together, you have some things in common you can talk about. But it doesn’t make you friends. It just occurred to me recently, you could live out your days, week after week, month after month, with these people life has mixed you together with, and then you could pass on and it would be as if nobody really knew you. Until I started working here, until I got to know her especially, I never knew how alone I’ve been.
It’s hard to put my finger on why I am so drawn toward her, because so much about how she is pushes you away. Her way of talking tells you to stay back. She talks sometimes about her divorce. I remember her husband when we were younger, he was a year behind me in school. Seemed like a popular guy, always had people with him, or was taking one of the pretty girls to the dances. Now he sounds like a mess. I know she’s struggling, stuck way out here away from her family. I try to say things, cheer her up, and things she says, the stories she tells about their marriage, about mistakes she’s made, it’s very dark. And if I try to offer sympathy — sometimes I almost want to give her a hug, I feel so badly for her — if I try to be understanding, sometimes she starts to talk about how great things are for me, that I have wonderful children, who she’s met a few times when they come into the cafe, and a sweet husband, because every once in awhile I’ve told her about something nice he’s done. It’s like she always latches on to that sweet things, when it’s anyone else’s life. She’s got a very dark set of glasses on.
So I guess what I’m saying is she’s hard to talk to, but I want to talk to her more than anyone. Maybe it’s the cafe. There’s something very different about it. Sullivan’s, the other restaurant in town, is a nice-enough place, but this place is friendly and different in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s very much her place.
Everyone feels it, I think. Definitely the people who work here. I’m sure Finn must feel the same way. I watch them talk sometimes. They look straight at each other and it’s like they’re going into each other. That’s what she does — her words may push you away, but she has these big open brown eyes that draw you in and tell you everything, even things that maybe she doesn’t want them to. I’ve heard her having those same kinds of conversations with Finn, telling him his life has so many possibilities, unlike her, he is smart and easy to get along with and he’ll be able to do what he wants, totally forgetting that he supposedly had all that going for him in Chicago and for some reason he’s stuck here in his little dead-end hometown in North Dakota. But it doesn’t send him away either. Sometimes when it’s slow after lunch, or in the late part of the morning, I find them talking in the back, their eyes totally locked on each other, so intense, even when they’re not talking about anything important. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in love with her. I know he’s got that beautiful sweet girlfriend back in Chicago who’s probably wondering what’s wrong with him, why he isn’t there with her, and I know he’s just a kid compared to her, but still. Something about her is so genuine it makes you want to be close to her, not just to help her through her troubles but because there’s something wise about her, even if she’s gotten herself into this totally messed-up situation, as she always likes to remind you. Maybe it doesn’t make any kind of normal sense, but she’s just special that way somehow.