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I checked the clock again and shook my head. Three- twenty. I still had almost four more hours of my shift to go. The place was empty, as was usual at that time of the morning. I didn't know why the owner bothered keeping the diner open all night. We hardly ever got any customers on the graveyard shift.
The bell over the door rang. I jerked my head up. Figures. It has to be some sort of corollary of Murphy's Law: the moment that you think something's never going to happen, it does. With a vengeance.
I blinked owlishly at the customer as he ducked through the door. We'd gotten some oddities in here before, but this one . . .
He had to be at least six and a half feet tall, and a little on the thin side. He was probably about fortyish, judging from the lines on his face and the grey in his hair. That hair! Black, or at least it had been once, and a good three feet long. Most women I knew didn't wear their hair that length, and in those years, it was downright unthinkable for a man. He was wearing loafers, black dress pants, and a blue shirt that looked like it had seen better days, and he was carrying a suitcase in his gloved right hand.
He dumped the suitcase carelessly on the floor in front of the counter and seated himself on a stool, shoulders slumped, his gloved hand flicking his hair out of the way so that he didn't sit on it.
"Coffee," he ordered before I could say a word, then, after a moment, added, "please." He had a faint, unfamiliar foreign accent. I wonder where he's from.
I turned my back on him to pour him a cup. When I brought it over to the counter, he had his eyes closed, and his ungloved left hand was rubbing at his forehead.
"Long day?" I asked sympathetically. True, he was one of the weirdest people I had seen in here in a long time, but when you work the early hours of the morning, sometimes you get desperate for company, or just some sort of distraction.
"Something like that." He sipped from the cup, then shuddered.
"I didn't think it was that bad."
"What? Oh, it's not the coffee. My stomach still thinks it's in a different time zone, that's all." And he smiled. That smile took years off his face. He really isn't that old at all. In fact, I think he used to be pretty handsome. It's those lines--pain lines?-- that make him look so much older, that and the way he's going prematurely grey.
"You're traveling?" Well, isn't that inane. It would take a blind man to miss that suitcase.
He shrugged. "Sort of. 'Wandering' would probably be a better word for it." And he fell silent, staring at the surface of his coffee as though expecting to be able to see the future in the murky dark liquid.
I placed my left hand on top of his gloved right. For the first time, he looked up and met my eyes. Oh, my . . . He really did have gorgeous eyes, liquid black and slanting slightly upwards. Exotic. I guessed that he probably had some Oriental or Polynesian blood in him, although his skin was as pale as my own. But it was the look in those eyes that floored me. I didn't think I'd ever seen anyone with such a depth of pain inside him.
"Where are you from?" I asked. It wasn't just curiosity that prompted me to ask. I'm not sure what it was.
He sighed. "I guess it would be part of Tibet, or maybe India. We never knew or cared . . . and there's no one else left now but me, anyway."
I didn't say anything. I could tell somehow that he needed to talk about whatever had happened to him, but I didn't want to make it seem as though I were prying. He didn't need that.
"So many lost . . ." he murmured. "My brother, sisters, parents . . . all dead. My wife gone. My daughter disappeared. And then there's me, wandering all over the planet looking for something that I don't think exists anymore, and pouring out my woes to a waitress in an all-night diner." He shook his head, a rueful expression on his face, and drank more coffee. "You must think I'm crazy."
"No." I squeezed his hand. Somehow, the gloved appendage lacked the yielding feel of normal flesh. "I don't think you're crazy." I do think that you're hurting, whoever you are, and I wish that there was something I could do to help.
"What's your name?" he asked suddenly.
"Susan," I replied, startled.
"Ah. Well, thank you for listening to me, Susan." He raised my hand to his lips. It was a gesture that didn't fit the time and place, and should have seemed ridiculous. I thought it was romantic. And when he let me go, that elusive smile lit his face again for a moment. He'd be such a gorgeous guy if he'd just do that a little more often . . .
"Do you know where I can find a hotel that would be willing to take in an additional lodger at such a late hour?" he was asking. "I think I may be staying around here for a while."
"There's the Gold Star," I replied after a moment's thought, and gave him directions. "Coffee's on the house. What's your name?"
"Hmmm?" He had already bent over to pick up his suitcase.
"Your name. I gave you mine, remember? So now you owe me. Pay up." I grinned at him.
"Onyx," he replied. "Onyx Jones, if you like."
Onyx. Well, I hadn't exactly expected him to be named Joe or Sam or Matt. Not if he was from Tibet or somewhere. I wondered how he had come by the 'Jones'. Onyx. I kind of liked it.
"See you around," I said as he ducked through the door on his way out.
The door, swinging shut, cut off his reply, but I thought he said, "You can be sure of it."
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return to Index / go to Chapter 4
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury