The illuminated diner sign is more beautiful than anything I've ever seen. I make my legs go as fast as they can, hardly feeling the stitch in my side and the thorns in the bushes catching on my legs. While I'm running, or at least- moving fast, I begin to enjoy the early morning chill and the soft dew it's brought to the grass. Again, my eyes focus ahead. Elijah's Diner, the letters spell out, is growing larger as I push past the wood's entangling greenery. I never thought I'd be so glad to see a restaurant, but here I am.
I push open the door, inhaling the sweet smell of waffles, eggs, and coffee. There's only one person in here and she gives me a strange look from her booth. I look down and realize that I'm still wearing my chocolate-stained nightgown from the first night. That's not even including how ratty my naturally-curly red hair must be. A woman looking nearly as bad as me tosses a look of disgust in my direction. Too hungry to care as much as I normally would have, I side-step away from her to face the paneling with a bunch of food options taped to it.
My eyes glide over the images and I feel myself practically drooling. A middle-aged man with a yellow and red apron pops out of the kitchen, one of his hands is clutching a limp rag and the other a set of menus. By the look of it, he was on his way to wipe them down but I caught him his attention.
"Can- can I help you?" he asks after a moment of the awkward silence.
I tear my eyes from the images and fully face him. "Do you have a phone I can use?"
He shakes his head. "I'm sorry- I'm old-school. Are you... lost?"
I ignore him and face the greying woman in the booth. Suddenly, she seems real interested in her bagel and black coffee.
"Hey kid, I was asking you something. Are you lost?"
I shrug. "You could say that. Say... if I helped out around here for a shift or two, could I get something to eat?"
I remember the money Alice had split with me forever ago and wince. I can clearly remember leaving it on her dining room table. If only I had thought to take it with me when Harold showed up.
"Oh- uh," he stutters, obviously at a loss for words, "I guess, sure kid. I think I have an extra apron you can wear in the back."
I grin. "Thank you, you need me to do anything to help out first? Or should I pick a booth?" Something about my lack of emotion in my voice makes me want to laugh. What's wrong with me?
He shakes his head, quiet for a second. "No- please, sit. You need something to eat. My name is Elijah. What can I get you?"
I look at the menu in his hand until he hands it to me. I scan it for a quick second before handing it back to him.
"Eggs," I say, fighting a smile, "And orange juice. Waffles too, if you can spare some."
He nods. "You got it. And... the bathroom is over there if you need it."
I do end up using the bathroom, taking a little longer than usual. I haven't washed my face in what- three days? And using a few paper towel and a bar of soap, I rinse off from head-to-toe. I even rinse out my mouth, which has begun to take on a rather fowl taste. Even from here, I can smell the food cooking in the kitchen. My stomach growls and I find myself wandering back to the booth.
When Elijah brings out the food, I notice he's also carrying a large yellow and red shirt with the diner's name on it. It's just like the one he's wearing.
"I couldn't find an apron, but I found this. It's gonna be big on you, but I thought it would be better than that nightgown." He places it on the table and then sighs. "Look, you don't have to work for some food, but at least tell me what happened."
I shrug and slide the shirt over my ratty clothes. He sits patiently while I slide some food in my mouth, chewing. I should tell him what happened, so maybe he can get me home, but I need to leave out a few pieces or he might pull a stunt like the man and woman had.
I end up telling him just that I was kidnapped with my friend by her brother, and when I escaped, I fell and hit my head pretty hard. For some reason, I can't bring myself to say Alice's name out loud. Even with her being dead, the idea that I might bring trouble to even her name makes me feel a certain way.
"...I've been wandering for a few days now, trying to find my way home." I finish, shoveling another bite of the waffle in my mouth, enjoying the fullness in my stomach. "I don't want to go into it, but I don't want to go to the police. I just need to get back to my family."
Elijah nods, his brow wrinkling in concentration. "Alright, when I finish my shift tonight around five, I'll close up early. If you're comfortable with me taking you back, I will. If not, I'm sure we can find someone willing. And... I never got your name?"
"Rowan, but I guess you can call me Rory."
He forces a smile but it's hardly visible through his black beard. But his dark skin wrinkles in an almost grandfatherly way. Ever since my encounter with the man and woman, I'm a little leery around strangers, but something about this guy seems genuine.
"For now, take a breather," he starts again, "Let me know if you get hungry again. You don't have to help out if you don't want-"
I interrupt him. "I want to. Thanks again."
He awkwardly sits there, silent, for a few seconds before returning to the kitchen. I lean back, sipping on the orange juice and staring out of the window. Briefly, I wonder where Harold and the man and woman are. Quickly, I shut it out of my mind. I have the feeling they're out there still- searching for me.