Excerpt from Prodigal SonA Novel by Lisa Beth Darling
The gasp that came from her throat let him know she'd seen his scarred hands with their welted skin grafts. That was good, he wanted her to see them and take notice. He already understood that she was far too polite to say anything. He just glanced at her from the corner of his blue eyes before wandering off to the nearest family-style table. Eating the tasty free meal he kept watching her. A few times she glanced his way and he lowered his eyes hoping she didn't recognize him from the Greek restaurant.
He went back the next day and the next. Each time he went through the line he kept his head down but made a little more conversation with her. Nothing major, just small talk; hello how are you, nice weather today and the like. At night, through her cellphone and the teddy bear, he'd wait to see if she mentioned him to anyone. She didn't. To her he was just another poor unfortunate soul in need of a hot meal.
On the fourth day, he purposefully lingered outside the church a bit too long within easy sight. The Rock Star pulled up in his hot rod, ducked in to the backdoor of the church and emerged with Hannah on his arm into a rainy evening. As he rushed her to his shiny car, she caught sight of him leaning against the old Toyota in the rain. Out of instinct or just kindness, he didn't know, she waved at him and he waved back. The Rock Star gave him a cursory glance, he watched the arm around her shoulders tighten as the big man pulled her a little closer and leaned in. It was obvious he was asking her who the strange man was, but he seemed satisfied with whatever answer she gave him. They drove off back to the house as he followed at a careful distance, after all there was no rush their schedule was predictable.
Coming through the soup kitchen line on that fourth day, she smiled at him as she asked; "You're from Michigan?"
Knowing that his plan was working he did his best to keep his cool as he made full eye contact with her for the first time since he started coming here, "Pardon, ma'am?"
Hannah was thunderstruck by the sight of those piercing blue eyes. Her stomach turned and a knot twisted in her throat making her feel as though she were about to vomit. Catching her breath and trying hard not to stare at those eyes or the arch of his brow and the line of his nose, she cleared her throat as she fumbled for recovery, "I saw the plate on your car yesterday, I'm from Michigan too, Victorville, you probably never heard of it."
"Me too," he mumbled and held his burnt hands out for the steaming cup but she didn't release it to him right away.
Trying not to stare at him and appear rude, Hannah thought he man looked oddly familiar but she couldn't quite place him. He seemed far too young for her to have known when she lived there but it was the only logical explanation coming to her mind, "Did you go to Saint Mark's?" No, probably hadn't been in her class but maybe he was the younger brother or even the son of one of her old classmates.
"Me? No, ma'am, I went to school at Saint Mary's Orphanage, that's where I grew up. But I was born at Saint Anne's." He'd been anticipating a reaction but when her eyes welled with tears and the hot cup between them spilled its hot contents over her hands it was more than he'd hoped, "Ma'am? Are you ok? Here let me take that."
Letting go of the cup she picked up a nearby dishrag to wipe the hot broth from her hands, "Clumsy sometimes, I'm sorry, did you get…did you get burned?" Even as she handed over the dishrag for him to clean his hands, Hannah shook her head slightly admonishing herself. Of course he'd been burned, what a stupid thing to say.
Settling the cup of soup down on his tray he gave her a smile as he held up his hands for her to get a really good look, "They don't feel anything. I got burned a long time ago all the way to the bone."
A bolt of ice shot down Hannah's spine as she wavered on her feet with her knees suddenly threatening to give out from under her. "I'm-I'm sorry about that."
"Why? You didn't do it, did'ja?"
With her throat threatening to swell so much it cut off her air supply and her knees growing weaker, Hannah grabbed her side of the counter to keep steady as she choked out a question, "What's your name?"
"Richard, my friends call me Ricky." Without waiting for her to reply he slid the tray down the line where the nun was waiting to give him French fries and a chicken salad sandwich. Taking his customary seat where he could see Hannah serving people from behind the line, he watched her excuse herself and run off into the kitchen. Trying not to be too obvious about it, he adjusted his seat and craned his neck until he saw her downing a few pills from the bottle in her pocket. She grabbed the side of the long metal preparing table, bent over it, and tried to catch her breath even as she shook her head, "Got'cha, hook, line and sinker."