Dragonjuls` Storybook
~ Dreams in a Jar ~

JM Dragon

© by JM Dragon 2005
e-mail:  jmdragon


Love/Sex: This story features relationships between adult women. If this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country you live or if you are  under the age of 18, find something else to read. There are loads of general stories out there.

Language: No strong language.
Violence: There is violence in this story.
Hurt/Comfort: There are scenes of heartache to be dealt with by the characters.

Author's Note

In part, this story deals with physical abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind there is help out there for you. Some excellent sites that describe abuse and offers a place to turn for help are:

Acknowledgement: Thanks to all my readers and their unwavering support.

Mary-Lou Carter stepped out of the diner were she worked into the street glancing around furtively. Her aim was to have as few townsfolk as possible see her enter the next establishment. If her wish came true, no one would. With shoulders stooped and her old baggy overcoat, which had seen far, far better days, flapping in the sudden breeze, Mary-Lou quickly ate the distance up between the diner on one side of the street and the only bookstore in town. Entering the quaint building, an original from the establishment of the town in the pioneer days, she heard the overhead tinkle of the bell announcing her arrival.

Inside the store, Mary-Lou’s weary expression took on a remarkable change as her grey eyes lit up at the splendid sight of the shelves packed with novel after novel charting every subject under the sun. A slight smile tugged at her lips as she walked over to the shelf at the back of the store housing her current reading matter, Around the World in Eighty Days. Selecting the volume from the space she had returned it to the previous day, she glanced around expecting to see Miriam the proprietress pop her head from the backroom to see who was in the store, she didn’t. Mary-Lou decided that perhaps the older woman was on the phone and would surely venture out in a few moments. Another highlight when she visited the bookstore was the conversation she shared for a short time each day discussing the book she was reading. She and Miriam had a rapport that had been unexpected from the first day she dared enter the shop…when was it nowah yes over five years ago. Time was certainly marching on and even if her life here didn’t change much on the day to day level at least her knowledge had been extended by leaps and bounds thanks to the older woman and her establishment.

An unexpected noise from the counter had Mary-Lou staring intently at the person who was cursing quietly. Cathy Sidney, Miriam’s assistant who usually didn’t work in the mornings, was picking up a couple of books that had fallen onto the polished wooden floor. Mary-Lou’s expression changed to one of caution, where is Miriam?

“Hey Mary-Lou, I’m glad you’re here. Miriam was taken ill at the weekend. She’s in the hospital but she told me to tell you not to worry and go ahead and do what you always have.” Cathy was married to the local sheriff and was well thought of in the local community especially as her disposition was friendly and amenable for most folks. Not that Mary-Lou had much to do with her - she didn’t - Jethro saw to that. He saw to most things associated to Mary-Lou. Cathy wondered if Mary-Lou wasn’t living in the Victorian era as her vision slid to the calendar on the wall indicating it was the twentieth Century.

“What’s wrong?” Mary-Lou’s voice held deep concern as she gazed at the younger woman.

Cathy knew of Mary-Lou Carter, she knew of everyone in town. It was part of being married to the only peacekeeper for a hundred miles. If all the stories she’d heard were true then this woman needed a medal, better yet she needed a life away from here. According to her husband Larry, Jethro Carter was a bad lot. His family had been rotten through and through and how this timid woman had ever become involved in his sort amazed her. But, according to the local grapevine Mary-Lou had never bad-mouthed her husband in public even though she had just cause on many occasion. Her children were heading in much the same direction as their father. Pity that, she didn’t deserve to be treated as a slave and as far as Cathy could see that was all she was to the Carter men-folk.

Walking over to the woman, Cathy saw her flinch slightly. She wasn’t surprised when the loose fitting old coat the woman wore exposed a large bruise extending from her collar bone up the neck.

“A heart attack.” Cathy saw Mary-Lou pale at her explanation. "Hey, she’s going to be fine. Lucky her niece was visiting and rushed her to the emergency room…I call that fate don’t you.”

Mary-Lou felt a lump forming in her throat as she pondered the possibility that her one ray of sunshine, speaking with Miriam Appleby, might have been extinguished and she may never have told the older woman exactly what her friendship meant to her. “Yes, fate. When will she be home do you think?”

Cathy smiled at the nervous question because she knew that the timid woman had few if any friends in the community except for Miriam. How lonely a life that must be and how easily it could change if circumstances had been different. Larry had warned her not to get involved with any of the Carter’s and that included Mary-Lou. Knowing her husband well enough she accepted his council for in no way would he warn her off helping another unless it would make matters worse. Mary-Lou looked drawn and worried as she waited for an answer to her question.

“Not sure. However, her niece is due anytime and she can tell us more…”

As Cathy spoke Mary-Lou nodded her head and replaced the volume that she held numbly in her hands back in its respect spot on the shelf. She then quickly skirted past Cathy with a brief good-bye.

Watching the slender, no very thin bordering malnourished, woman speed down the street towards the outskirts of town, Cathy frowned slightly. Her expression then cleared as the door swung open and in walked Miriam’s niece.

* * * *

Two days later…

After her shift ended Mary-Lou gave Eddy her boss a smile. He responded with a huge grin, almost as large as the man himself. His kindly nature had taken pity on Mary-Lou five years previously when she had been in desperate need of work after her husband had been sacked because of his fighting. Eddy had offered her a job, when most would have said no because of Jethro Carter’s reputation as a trouble-maker. The man’s hell-raising and general loutish behaviour had a natural ability of following not only him around but anyone involved with him. Mary-Lou, his wife of eighteen years, could be on the top of the list. Her work ethic had won him over easily - she worked harder than two waitresses and never failed to turn up for work even when she was sick. Although the folks in town didn’t converse much with her they appreciated her attention to detail. She knew what each of the regulars had for breakfast, lunch and dinner, down to regular, decaf o r any other preferences they had. Her demeanour was polite and helpful even if she didn’t speak beyond the general pleasantries of the day. The regulars discreetly watched out for her, not that it did much good, if the bruising he saw a couple of days earlier had any meaning. Some times he wondered why God let such things happen to folks. But, he supposed that she must love the guy if she had stuck by him all these years or more likely it was because of the kids.

The door to the diner opened. It was after the normal breakfast rush and usually Mary-Lou spent the next hour at the bookstore. Not that she liked anyone knowing, but after five years he wasn’t blind and Miriam was a wonderful woman. I really must visit her at the hospital he thought as he looked up to see who had arrived

A stranger walked into the room and glanced around arrogantly before taking a seat in the window opposite the bookstore. She picked up the menu and stared at the contents.

“You leave Mary-Lou. I’ll see to her.”

Mary-Lou knew how Eddy hated to wait on the tables; his deceased wife had always done that. She saw him square his jaw looking as if he was about to battle a lion instead of take an order for a meal. Placing a gentle hand on his arm, Mary-Lou smiled. “I’ll take care of it. Go back to the kitchen we can’t have city strangers think we slack just because we live in a small town.”

Eddy gave her a wide smile. She is one in a million he thought as he turned towards the kitchen area.

“May I help you?”

Brown velvety eyes glanced up and caught her grey ones in a direct searching gaze before dropping as quickly back to the contents of the menu.

“Sure, coffee black. Do you recommend anything?” Long, slim perfectly manicure fingers pointed to the menu in her hand.

Mary-Lou had never seen hands so beautiful in her life. Hers, as were many around the town, were worn with hard work. You could count on one hand the number of women in town who could manage to keep nails longer than a stub. This woman’s finger nails were at least an inch, possibly more, painted a deep crimson to match the lipstick she wore. Immaculate clothes rounded off the woman’s appearance.

“Well, do you recommend anything or not?”

The short, slightly annoyed question rung out in the quiet diner as Mary-Lou gathered her wits and spoke in a timid, yet clear voice, “yes, everything.”

A cool expression greeted the answer with a sarcastic nod of the head. The woman looked once more at the menu. “Over easy eggs, bacon and hash browns.”

“Would you like toast?”

Once again those eyes pierced hers as she was captured in another less than flattering appraisal. “No, thank you.”

Mary-Lou rushed away from the table and into the kitchen. Her face was flushed as she realised that she had been taken off balance by the stranger. Quickly advising Eddy of the order she picked up a glass of water and drank thirstily. Her eyes caught the clock on the wall and she shuddered inside, if she didn’t get home soon Jethro would beat her again.

* * * *

Sheryl Appleby flicked her eyes around the shabby bookstore that had been her aunt’s work for the best part of thirty five years. By the appearance of the place it hadn’t changed in all that time and then some. It was the kind of place that she didn’t want any of her friends back in her classy Manhattan neighbourhood to know about. She especially didn’t want them to know that she was spending her vacation here.

Years ago at the age of eighteen she had been thrust into the real world with the death of her parents. Out of the blue Miriam claimed her as kin and sent her money every month to help out with her college expenses. Eventually she had graduated and secured a prime junior post in a large advertising agency. Now ten years later she was heading the agency and had connections with lots of famous people. The connections meant little to her socially since she made a decision a long time ago not to mix her working environment with her private life. She was hard working and her non-socialization rule had worked out rather well with many of the more tricky clients for it was the perfect solution to jealous husbands and wives.

At thirty-three, she had a luxury apartment, select friends who were the cream of society in her area and a job that most people in her field would kill for. However, she had been feeling that something was missing in her life. Her aunt had been badgering her for the last couple of years to visit so she had which thankfully turned out to be great timing. She would have forever regretted not making the trip if Miriam had died. It was because of her swift action in taking her aunt to the hospital that saved her life. Now the doctors indicated it had been a minor attack and in many ways a warning. She was going to insist that her aunt take a break while she was here for the next month. Maybe if she worked her cards right, Miriam might actually take up her offer to live with her in the heaving metropolis.

“Sheryl, I’m just going to take a ten minute break I promised to pick up Larry’s uniforms from the dry cleaners and it closes early today. You don’t mind do you?” Cathy asked as she crossed her fingers as best she could with her coat draped behind her in anticipation. If it had been Miriam she wouldn’t have been worried but her niece was definitely not as easy going.

Sheryl replied absently, “I guess so. We aren’t exactly rushed off our feet are we?” She wondered if she could simply close the store and make enquires with the real-estate people in town about the prospects of selling the place.

As Cathy was about to leave she totally forgot about Mary-Lou who was hidden by the solid oak beast of a bookcase that took up the major floor area of the front of the store. Oh well I’m only going to be gone a few minutes, nothing can happen in that time.

Sheryl glanced around the store again with a bored expression on her face. She hated the smell of musty books. How someone could spend their whole working life in such an environment was a mystery to her. Still, she had made a promise and one she intended to keep. A sound towards the back of the store made her start. As far as she knew there wasn’t anyone in the store. At least she hadn’t seen anyone since she’d arrived half an hour ago. Cautiously walking towards the area where she had thought she had heard a noise she was surprised to see the painfully thin waitress from the diner picking up a large leather bound volume that had fallen to the floor.

“Can I help you?”

Mary-Lou gave a tiny shriek of shock as her private area was suddenly no longer private. Nervously her hands fingered the book in her hand and as she did the binding began to tear at the top of the spine and her surprise turned to horror as she stared at what she had done.

“I guess I can help you. How are you going to pay for that cash or credit?” Sheryl swiftly took the leather bound volume from the woman and looked at the price inside the jacket, twenty-five dollars.

Words were formed on Mary-Lou’s lips but silence surrounded her as she was unable to articulate that she couldn’t pay for the book.

Turning her back on the woman, Sheryl walked towards the counter and the cash register ringing up the amount as she looked at the title. “Around the world in Eighty days by Jules Verne. My goodness it must be twenty years since I last read that story. Cash or credit?”

Mary-Lou had followed the stranger who had been at the diner for breakfast that morning. Could this possibly be Miriam’s niece? She wasn’t anything like her aunt. As the woman asked her again about the method of payment Mary-Lou finally found her voice. “I can’t pay for the book.”

Sheryl was busying wrapping the book and it took all of ten seconds for the words to filter to her brain. She jerked her head up with her brown eyes glittering before she frostily replied, “you can’t or you won’t?”

Tear-filled grey eyes looked anywhere but at the cold voiced woman behind the shop’s counter. She hadn’t meant to damage the book, but her thoughts had been filled with her late return home after her breakfast shift. Things had been bad when she’d arrived home, and no matter how she tried to explain to Jethro why she was late he wouldn’t listen. He had done what he often did in those circumstances he’d punched her in the stomach and told her not to lie to him again. Their two eldest boys, Jethro Junior and Saul, eighteen and seventeen respectively had watched their father inflict pain on their mother with no reaction other than one of boredom. They appeared totally unsympathetic to their mother’s treatment. Fortunately for Mary-Lou, Jethro, left immediately after the beating taking the boys along with him hunting. Opportunely, their youngest son Andrew was in school. At twelve he hadn’t appeared to have manifested any of his father’s cruel traits. She had high hopes that maybe if she saved enough in the tip jar at the diner her dream could come true and Andrew might go to college.

Irritated words pulled her out of her musings of that morning. Again the cold voice asked Mary-Lou how she was going to pay. The conviction behind the voice had Mary-Lou knowing she was certainly going to do that.

“I can’t, at least not at this moment can I pay over a few weeks?” Mary-Lou would ask Eddy if she would wash up for a few extra dollars until she paid off the debt. It might bring a beating or two for being late at home but she could cope with that. She had been coping since she was sixteen when, against her family’s wishes, she unwisely married Jethro on a schoolgirl whim. She had over the years had time to regret her foolish action and wondered what she had ever done in life to deserve the punishment she had received for the last eighteen years.

“What do you mean over a few weeks?” Sheryl was amazed at the woman’s audacity. It was only twenty-five bucks and not a king’s ransom. While she waited for the answer the door swing open with the bell peeling around the store. Both women looked towards to the entrance.

Cathy was astonished at the interest in her arrival until she noticed Mary-Lou’s ashen features indicating she was upset. It was a similar expression to the one she had seen when she had explained about Miriam’s heart attack to the woman. Damn, I should’ve gone back and explained about Mary-Lou. “Hi you two, what have we here? A sale?”

Sheryl had her arms crossed over her chest as she hissed out a yes. Mary-Lou just hung her head and didn’t reply.

“I need to go my shift is just about to start. I’ll be back tomorrow and pay something towards the book.” Mary-Lou disappeared out of the door like a flash before Sheryl had time to stop her.

“What the hell, I didn’t say you could do that…”

Cathy walked behind the counter and looked down at the book Sheryl had partially wrapped. “She’s been reading that book for days. Miriam said that one day soon she’d be the most read woman in the state if she carried on at the rate she’s going. She can’t afford to buy any books and even if she could she wouldn’t.” Cathy explained softly as she removed the wrapping from the book and looked at the small tear on the binding. “I can fix that Miriam taught me how.”

Sheryl was astounded at the matter-of-fact way Cathy was dealing with this issue as if it didn’t matter a damn. Well it does to me! “She can’t go around reading the books for free and then damaging them and not paying. What kind of book store is this?”

Cathy grinned warmly. “I’ll go in the back and make us a coffee. Oh, it’s the kind of bookstore your aunt has developed over the years for people just like Mary-Lou. I for one am grateful she cares enough for the less fortunate because there aren’t many like her in the world.”

As the words sunk in, Sheryl recalled her own circumstances when her parents had died and how her aunt had sprung up from nowhere to her rescue thereby enabling her to continue in college. Her eyes travelled to the diner across the street while she wondered exactly what it must feel like not to have any money for something as insignificant as an old second hand book.

* * * *

The next day Sheryl decided to have breakfast in the diner. It was a way to speak with the waitress who she now knew was called Mary-Lou. After a quiet discussion with her aunt she now knew pretty much the whole sorry tale of the woman’s life. Her initial anger had been aimed not only at the husband but at the woman for putting up with the life for so long. There were places these days where battered wives could go that would help. Why this woman hadn’t taken that path she couldn’t understand on any level. Then she had thought it through a little and realised that children in a relationship had to have some impact and it was a small town and things happened in small towns that didn’t in the city.

It was relatively quiet when she arrived at the diner. Apparently breakfast was a very early occurrence in this part of the world. She, on the other hand, didn’t feel up to the meal until she’d been up at least an hour or more. Settling into the same booth she had the previous day she idly picked up the small dog-eared menu which reminded her of some of the books in her aunt’s establishment. She perused it waiting for the waitress crossing her fingers that it would be Mary-Lou. Sheryl wasn't disappointed. However, the frown that appeared on the waitress' face clearly showed Mary-Lou’s displeasure on what Sheryl would have said was a faultless complexion.

A timid voice she recognised for its tone rather than anything else as the woman had barely spoken a handful of words to her on the two previous meetings they’d had. “What can I get you this morning?”

Sheryl smiled slightly, hmm no good morning greeting for me. “I’ll take the same as yesterday…”

About to explain what she meant the waitress rattled off her order of yesterday and asked her if there was anything else. “No, no that will be fine thanks.”

Mary-Lou left the table and Sheryl watched as she efficiently cleared away the tables that had been vacated. For a reason best known to no one in particular Sheryl found herself fascinated at the woman’s actions not to mention the fluid movement of her body. If it had been a sport or a dance it would have been termed a graceful movement, worthy of a winning place.

Mary-Lou quickly placed the dishes by the side of the sink and gave the order to Eddy who was looking over the sports page of local paper. “Didn’t we do that order yesterday around this time?”

“Yes, same woman. She’s Miriam Appleby’s niece. I met her briefly at the bookstore yesterday.”

“Ah that explains it. I thought she had a look of Miriam about her. I’m going over to the hospital after lunch to see Miriam, want to visit with me?” At her hesitation he smiled. “I’ll have you home before Jethro and the older boys, I promise.”

Mary-Lou knew Eddy meant every word, but she also knew that when Eddy and Miriam began talking, they never knew when to stop. No matter his good intentions she was bound to end up late. “I can’t not today Eddy, thank you for the offer though. I’ll see Miriam when she arrives home.”

He nodded his head because he knew what Jethro was like. If Mary-Lou was late by a minute he would take the belt to her without waiting for an explanation. He and a few of the other townsfolk would love to do the same to Jethro and see what he thought of that. However, antagonising the Carter clan in these parts wasn’t good for anyone. Their reputation of misdeeds was enough to allow them a wide berth where they were concerned. Jethro was just like his father. Old man Carter had been a mean and evil man. Rumour had it that he had even killed the odd stranger or two who had accidentally happened upon his land. No proof was ever found and now with the old man dead for five years it likely would make no difference if they did find any evidence. “Sounds like a good idea to me. Here you go that’s the last of the breakfasts unless we have another stranger visit.” He grinned and Mary-Lou smiled too. Around these parts strangers were as rare a s hen’s teeth.

Walking over to the table she noticed Miriam’s niece looking through the window apparently watching the passing town folks going about their business. She looked neither interested nor bored. “Here’s your meal, I hope you enjoy it. Do you need anything else?”

Sheryl looked up into the doe like grey eyes and made a decision. “Have you the time to sit and have coffee with me, I want to apologise for yesterday?” She reluctantly said the words… her aunt insisted.

Mary-Lou was aghast at the woman’s words. Why on earth did she apologise? Then it dawned on her that Miriam had probably told the woman all about her and how she couldn’t pay for the book. “I’m sorry I have dishes to do.” She turned to walk away but a firm hand griped her wrist. Mary-Lou flinched at the heavy handedness which reminded her immediately of Jethro and what usually happened next - a good thrashing.

Sheryl saw the fear in the woman’s eyes and realised suddenly that it hadn’t been a smart move to stop the woman. “Hey, look I’m sorry…about my attitude yesterday that’s all I wanted to say.” She shrugged. “Miriam said to say hi and she’ll be back in the store before you know it.”

Swiftly turning away, Mary-Lou knew her face couldn’t be seen as a tear rolled down her cheek absorbing the fact that her friend was going to be okay. With a swift intake in breath she replied quietly, “will you tell Miriam I said hello and that it will be good to see her home.” With that she swiftly left the woman to her rapidly cooling food.

Sheryl sighed heavily. Sometimes tactful conversation wasn’t her strong point. She didn’t know how successful she had been in relaying the fact that the woman didn’t have to pay for the book. Hell, I didn’t say that did I? Damn it. I will when I finish my meal. That wasn’t to be however as Eddy came out to offer her more coffee, which she declined and asked for the check. Quickly she wrote something on the back of her receipt and handed it to him asking him to give it to the waitress.

* * * *

Three days later…

“Cathy I thought you said that the Carter woman came here every day?”

For a few moments Cathy thought about it then nodded her head. “That’s true she usually does, guess when you asked for her to pay for the book you scared her off. Pity really because I had the impression that this was about the only pleasure she had in life beyond ensuring that Andrew had everything he needed.”

Sheryl pondered the comment and then asked conversationally, “would Andrew be her husband?”

Cathy nearly burst into full blown laughter. “No way. Andy is a sweet kid…her youngest. Although at twelve I guess he wouldn’t thank me for calling him that. Mary-Lou is married to Jethro Carter, though I don’t like to gossip. That one is a bad lot through and through and his two eldest sons are heading in the same direction.” Her voice trailed off as she contemplated what life must be like when reality was a living hell at home. Larry for all his tough exterior and harsh job was the gentlest man she knew to both her and their two daughters.

“How old are her sons?”

“Jethro Junior is eighteen and Saul is seventeen. Let’s put it this way if you ever see them around stay clear. Strangers are not welcome within a mile of that family.”

Sheryl gasped as she thought about the ages of the children and how old the woman looked. “My god she doesn’t look old enough to have a son eighteen. I was struggling with the twelve.”

Cathy pulled a wry expression. “One of those mistakes. I guess she was seduced by Jethro back when she was sixteen and her family disowned her. Some would say she was lucky that Jethro stood by her when she fell pregnant but that isn’t the way I think.”

Murmuring something under her breath Sheryl whispered a reply to the comment, “my aunt filled me in on some of the gaps. I kind of wondered why she doesn’t leave.”

Without remarking immediately, Cathy gave Sheryl a long look. “Some people are impossible to be free of and I think Jethro is one of them.”

Sheryl’s eyes wandered to the diner across the street. “Can you hold the fort for an hour? You can go early when I get back.”

Cathy’s eyes lit up. She was having the annual barn dance meeting this evening at her place and it would be a bonus to have most of the afternoon to prepare. “Go ahead, I’m sure any rush we might have I’ll cope with.”

Sheryl grinned as she picked up her purse, jacket and a couple of other things and left the store heading across the street to the diner. Inside she was amazed to see that it was full with no free table in sight. Deciding it was a bad idea she was about to leave when a voice she recognised spoke to her. The voice was one that was either easy to recall or she was so guilty at her own actions that it was embedded in her brain. “Do you need a table Ms. Appleby?” Mary-Lou Carter asked in her quiet way.

Glancing around the tables with a variety of people seated around them she said, “I did, although it looks like I need to return later.” This is definitely a popular spot at lunch time.

“No need. If you want to wait at the counter I’ll fetch you a coffee and as soon as a table is free, say in about ten minutes, I’ll seat you.” Mary-Lou knew that within the next ten minutes the diner would be half empty and ten minutes after that only a few stragglers would remain.

“Okay, sounds good.” Sheryl found that the counter seating was empty and she sat next to the cash register where she could see into the spotless kitchen. Surveying the tables she realised that although she had been in town almost a week most of the faces in the establishment were strangers to her. Generally the people who frequented the bookstore were either aged, middle-aged women or a few children on the look out for cheap books. Then her eyes rested on an enormous jar that held a multitude of coins and bills, it was three-quarters full. She wondered how long that had been filling up. Is it months, a year maybe years perhaps? Lost in thought, she didn’t hear the quiet voice say that her table was ready until she felt a gentle tug on her arm. Startled, Sheryl spun around and fell off the swivel chair but was miraculously saved from the embarrassment of landing face first on the floor by incredibly strong yet thin arms. A smile, tin gling into every nerve ending in Sheryl’s body was transmitted from the normally reserved waitress. “Are you okay?”

Pulling herself somewhat reluctantly away from the waitress, Sheryl was slightly flushed with embarrassment as she nodded her head. “Yeah, sorry about that thanks for catching me.”

“Any time. Your table is ready.” Mary-Lou couldn’t help herself as she continued to smile as the normally poised and confident stranger seemed to have difficulty in shaking off the predicament she had almost ended up in. “Please follow me.”

Sheryl followed the waitress meekly and gratefully sat down unaware she had attracted some of the local’s attention as they watched her discreetly. “Can you give me a time to take in the menu please?”

“Sure, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Mary-Lou’s smile didn’t disappear until Eddy asked what was so funny.

As Sheryl deciphered the menu and decided finally on the house special, a beef casserole, she waited for Mary-Lou to re-appear at her table. As she did she noticed that so many of the patrons had left that only her table and a couple of others were still occupied. All in the space of a few minutes, remarkable!Mary-Lou, with a quiet apology for the delay, took her order and left to return a little later with a steaming plate of beef casserole that smelled wonderful. Looking up at the waitress she smiled and was rewarded with an answering glimmer from the other woman. “Smells great.”

“Tastes great, I’m having the casserole for lunch as well.” Except for a table of scruffy looking hunter types in a table opposite her in the room every one had left. Then she saw Mary-Lou holding a steamy bowl of casserole heading towards a small table off the kitchen.

Sheryl looked down at her food and made a decision, standing up she walked over to the waitress who was about to sit at the table. “Do you need anything Ms. Appleby?”

“Not exactly… yes I guess I do. Would you care to sit with me and have lunch? As my aunt isn’t home yet I’ve had to spend the last week eating alone it would be great to have a little company.”

Mary-Lou hadn’t expected such an invitation and she was stunned as she stood there unable to speak.

“Hey, look I didn’t mean to intrude, sorry.” Sheryl turned her back and headed for her table sitting down with her shoulders slumped in a defeated fashion. Her head was hung low feeling foolish for asking. Then she was amazed seconds later when the scrape of a chair and the placing of a bowl on the table drew her eyes to the chair opposite her. There with sparkling grey eyes sat Mary-Lou who smiled at her gently and picked up her cutlery and began her meal.

The meal was a silent affair and as they both finished Sheryl wondered if she dare attempt any kind of conversation. She didn’t need to as Mary-Lou shyly asked her where she was from. Within minutes they were chatting amiably and Sheryl was impressed at Mary-Lou’s views on life, politics, current affairs and generally any topic they latched onto. Before Mary-Lou knew it an hour had gone and Eddy was standing at the opening of the kitchen wondering who had made his quiet timid waitress laugh in such a carefree way. He was pleasantly surprised to see Miriam’s niece and returned back to the kitchen to begin the dishes.

Another ten minutes passed and the door to the diner opened as a bell tinkled in the room. Mary-Lou looked up and her face, previously wreathed in smiles, was now a blank mask. She stared at the two figures that entered the diner and looked directly at her.

“I need to go.” Mary-Lou stood up and was about to leave when Sheryl gently touched her arm.

“Why? Who are they?”

Mary-Lou didn’t look at Sheryl she looked instead to the two young men standing with cruel expressions on their faces. It reminded her of Jethro and why shouldn’t it? They were Jethro’s sons. “I need to go, thank you for today.” She began to walk towards the entrance and the men standing there.

Sheryl had seen looks like that in the subway at home the odd time when she’d been around when some villain decided to mug an innocent victim. Surely this isn’t going to happen here in this diner? Where is the owner? As she watched or rather glared at the young men she must have caught the attention of one as they stopped talking to Mary-Lou. Then the larger of the two walked towards her in a menacing manner. Well I am made of hardy stuff if they think I am threatened by punks like him.

“What you looking at lady?” His voice was deep and uncultured and she was certain there was something vaguely familiar about him.

Sheryl feigned a smile as she replied curtly, “it certainly wouldn’t be the likes of you.”

What she hadn’t expected was the sudden stiffening of the young man’s muscles as he moved closer. His rancid breath made her take a deep breath in hopes that she could hold it until he was out of her personal space.

“If you ever go near her again I’ll personally wipe that smile off your face do you understand me?”

What is it with macho men? Especially punks like this kid. Do they think they own the world and who is Mary-Lou to them? “You and whose army is going to stop me? It’s a free country. If she wants to join me for lunch I doubt you can stop her.” Bravado was working overtime and this time the young man’s action was followed by a shriek of horror from Mary-Lou. He placed a balled-fist in her stomach and she reeled from the blow clutching her belly in pain.

Gasping for breath but unable to stop, Sheryl proceeded with tears swimming in her eyes to glare arrogantly at the punk. “I guess you won’t mind me bringing an assault charge against you.” She sank down to the table and tried to concentrate on keeping the food in her stomach rather than over the diner floor.

Sheryl heard Mary-Lou speak to the men but she couldn’t quite hear what was said. Then she saw, through her gradually restored equilibrium, Mary-Lou leaning close. “Please, I’m sorry Ms. Appleby my boy meant no harm. Please don’t report him.” The waitress’s tears were genuine as she waited for the reply.

Before she could reply Eddy came into the dining area and saw the boys. “Get out of here Jethro and you too Saul. Your Momma’s working. If you’ve been up to no good, I’ll see to it that the sheriff is informed.”

Sheryl was sure they muttered something sinister but didn’t hear it exactly what was said. Then she heard Mary-Lou as clear as day say she would leave now and return later for the late shift. Whispering to Sheryl she said she was sorry for any trouble. Within seconds the young men and the waitress had left and what Sheryl saw from her vantage point didn’t sit well with her. The punks were pushing their mother violently towards a beat up truck before they drove away.

Eddy crossed the room and asked if she was okay.

“I’ve felt better. How do they get away with that? Why does she allow it?” Sheryl was having a hard time with what had happened to her in the last few minutes.

“You can make a complaint to the sheriff.” Although he said the words Sheryl heard in his tone that he felt it wasn’t a good idea.

Looking up into the concerned eyes of the man at her side she said, “and if I did, who would pay I wonder?” It wasn’t a question because she knew deep down the answer, and it certainly wouldn’t be those boys.

Leaving the diner after Eddy waived her bill for the trouble she arrived at the bookstore and was greeted by Cathy who looked totally relaxed. Noticing the ashen tinge on Sheryl’s face Cathy asked, “What’s wrong?”

For a few moments she almost told the woman and then realised who she was married to. It really won’t achieve anything if he knows…especially for Mary-Lou. “I think something I ate went down the wrong way.”

Concerned filled Cathy’s eyes. “Do you want me to stay on until we close I don’t mind?”

“Hey, no it’s okay I’ll be fine in a few minutes. You go and thanks for the concern.”

Cathy smiled and with a warm goodbye picked up her belongings and left for the day. That left Sheryl to think about what had just happened. As the time sped by she decided on a course of action no matter what it might mean to her personally. Mary-Lou Carter deserved a friend and she was about to find out what it meant to be Sheryl Appleby’s friend.

Concluded in part two

This is copyrighted material, all rights reserved.  It may be reproduced, duplicated or printed for personal use only.  For all other uses, please contact


JM Dragon's Scrolls
Main Page