Well... its almost Christmas, and on Tuesday, it will actually be the 8th anniversary of these happenings--Matt's wreck, Ty's broken leg, adventures at The Waffle House, so on and so forth. Keep reading. And yes, this story will be concluded on Christmas Day.
Installment One, Parts 1 - 3
Installment Two, Parts 4 - 8
Installment Three, Parts 9 - 12
Installment Four, Parts 13 - 15
“Still no Drew, still no Jenn, still no return when I page Tom,” Shawn said as he closed his cell phone.
He walked over and sat next to Matt and Leslie on the uncomfortable couch, across from the just-as-uncomfortable bench that Stephanie and Amy were seated upon. Wookiee sat in the lone chair in the small lobby. Nobody had said much in the last little while, as their minds were on their missing friends, Ty, the falling snow outside and other things.
The only thing preventing complete silence at times was the television mounted in the corner of the room, with the weather constantly being displayed by a weatherman none of the room’s occupants had ever seen.
“I miss James Spann,” Leslie mumbled.
Wookiee stood up and announced, “Ladies and gentleman, I have to relieve myself. Excuse me.” He disappeared around the corner, brushing right past the doctor who entered the lobby and walked right to Matt.
“Mr. Latta?” he asked. “Are you Mr. Latta?”
“Yes,” Matt stood up. “How’s Ty?”
“Oh, Mr. Coffey is fine. He won’t walk for quite some time, but beyond that, he’s fine. He’s got a fever from the flu he’s contracted, I’m guessing due to the fact he was riding in a truck with no windows and the wind being blown in his face.”
“Right,” Matt replied. “Can we see him?”
“Yes, I think that’s fine. We want to keep him here for the rest of the evening because of the weather outside. Although we don’t think he’s allergic to anything we’ve given him, we want to be sure. He’s in room 354C, on the third floor.”
“Can we all go up?” Leslie asked from her seat.
“Normally we only allow two people in at a time, but it's Christmas, isn't it? You're benefiting from a very quiet evening. Just be quiet when you go in, because though Mr. Coffey isn’t sharing a room, there are other patients on the floor.”
Everyone stood up and began to walk towards the elevator. Shawn remembered Wookiee’s announcement, and went to the receptionist.
“Ma’am, when you see a really tall hairy guy, can you tell him we went upstairs to see our friend?” Shawn asked through the window.
“Mmm,” the receptionist nodded without looking up from her paperwork.
Shawn dashed over and jumped through the elevator doors just as they were closing.
About four seconds after the doors closed, Wookiee returned from the bathroom.
“Guys, I gotta tell you, I think we should…” he stopped when he saw the empty lobby. “Hey, that’s not cool.”
“Are you looking for your friends?” asked the lady behind the window, still not looking up from her papers.
“Yes,” Wookiee replied, walking to the desk.
“They went upstairs to visit their friend.”
“Oh, Ty. Can you tell me what room he’s in?”
The receptionist finally broke her stare of the paperwork to look over to another file. “Name?”
“Ty Coffey. Um… Nicholas Ty Coffey.”
“Room 453C,” she quickly went back to writing.
“Thanks,” he said, turning and walking towards the elevator. He pushed the button for up and waited patiently as the doors open. He then pushed “4” and waited.
A moment later, the doors opened again on the fourth floor, and Wookiee stepped out. He saw a sign with an arrow pointing to the left that said 401C-435C, and then a right arrow that read 436C-460C. Being the smart Wookiee that he was, he took a right, and began to slowly walk the halls looking for 453C. At the very end of the long corridor, he stood in front of a door with the numbers he was looking for.
It wasn’t closed all the way, but it was pulled to the doorway. He slowly opened it, and with a smile, said “Hey Ty!”
The little girl laying in the bed turned her head and smiled at Wookiee.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I have the wrong room,” Wookiee smiled weakly, startled.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He stopped as he was about to pull the door shut. “I’m Chris. What’s your name?”
“My name is Britany. You are really tall, did you know that?”
“Yes, I did. You look pretty short yourself there.”
“Well, its very nice to meet you, Chris,” she smiled.
“You too. Well, Miss Britany, I need to go, didn’t mean to barge in on you there.”
Britany’s voice changed a bit, as she slowly asked “Can you stay and talk to me, Chris?”
“Well, I really need to…” he tilted his head and looked at the little girl. She couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, with a breathing tube in her nose and a few IV tubes in her arms.
“If you can’t stay, its okay, Chris,” Britany said softly, slowly turning her head toward the television that Wookiee just now noticed was on.
“What are you watching there, Britany?” Wookiee walked back in to her bedside.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It was Batman Beyond, but now that’s over.”
“You like Batman, Britany?”
“I like Batman Beyond. It’s really cool looking. You can call me Brit,” she looked up at the huge man standing next to her bed. “Nobody ever called me Britany except my mom… and my sister when she’s really mad at me.”
“Alright, Brit it is,” he smiled. “And you can call me Wookiee.”
“Is that like Wookiee talkies?”
“No, that’s walkie-talkies you are thinking of. Wookiees are from Star Wars.”
“Oh yeah! Chewbacca!”
“You know who Chewbacca is?”
“Yes! I love to watch Star Wars! My mom used to let me watch it all the time before…” she trailed off.
Intrigued, Wookiee sat down. He knew if he sat down, it might be a long time before he got back up, because there was something special about this little girl.
I need to go find the others, he thought to himself, but I can’t leave yet. God, are you asking me to stay here and talk to her?He got his answer when Brit said, “Before my mom died. Can I tell you about it, Wookiee? I would like to tell someone about it.”
I guess that’s a yes, huh, God? Wookiee bit his lip to keep from laughing to himself—not at her mom, but at God’s quick answer to his question. “You can tell me about it, Brit,” he said to her, “I’m all ears.”
By seven o’clock, several more people had drifted into the Waffle House on I-59, and several people had left. It seems the power had gone out in several neighborhoods in the area, and the Waffle House was the only source for electricity, heat, weather, news and warm food.
The rude man who put Claire in tears was walking out the door, seemingly satisfied by Justin’s service of food. Jenn watched him as he climbed into an old blue Chevy truck, and backed out, then disappeared into the snowy night. He didn’t leave a tip, though Justin didn’t really care, he wasn’t helping out to make money. He continued to help out Bethany and Claire by taking orders. Tom had gone behind the counter and was now helping the cook to make the meals, while Tommy, Jennifer and Drew took turns bussing tables and seating people.
Tom rather enjoyed making the hash browns, and when someone finally ordered them covered, smothered, chunked, sliced, diced and whatever else, he got a huge gleeful look in his eyes.
“Okay, Jerome,” Tom said, talking to the large black man beside him. Tom was 6 and a half feet tall, but felt very small next to Jerome. “Give me the directions on putting all of this crap on there.”
“Man, it ain’t nothing,” Jerome smiled in a booming, deep voice. “You just make the hash browns like you been doing, and then just pile stuff on them. I guarantee the nastier you make it look, the better it will taste!”
Drew was wiping a table down when he noticed a new customer coming in the door. What actually caught his attention wasn't the man himself, but the guitar case he carried in his left hand. He was an older, heavyset man with an old oil-stained hat on. The guitar case he carried was formerly black, but had much of the vinyl peeled off of the case to show wood underneath. Like a typicaly "former rocker" who had possibly settled down, several faded bumper stickers were scattered on the case, reading things like "Frampton '77" and "Van Halen" and "Bay City Rollers Saturday Night Tour".
“Hey Bethany,” Drew called out to the waitress at the end of the counter. “Would you care for some Christmas music?”
“You can look on the jukebox, but I don’t know if there is any on there,” Bethany responded in passing.
Drew walked up to the guitar case carrying man and stuck his hand out.
“Drew Morris,” he said.
Surprised, the man shook Drew’s hand, “I'm... uh... I'm William Beenan. Uh... nice to meet you.”
“Well, sir, I was wondering if I could play your guitar there,” Drew smiled and pointed.
“You gonna run off with it?”
“Sir? Oh, its Christmas. Besides, it eight degrees outside… I couldn’t go far.”
“Any special reason you want my guitar here at Waffle House?”
“Well, I think it would be fun to get some Christmas music going on here. What do you think?”
“I actually don’t think that would be a bad idea,” the man laughed. “In this kind of weather, I could use some cheer. Only reason I brought it in was that the locks are broke on my car and I didn’t want anyone to steal it. There is a pick in the strings. Here.”
The man smiled, handing the case to Drew. Drew nodded, took the case over to the corner of the room, opened it and removed the instrument inside.
Tommy leaned over to Jenn, “Okay, so what are the chances?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, we are in a Waffle House 40 miles from home, in a snow storm, basically stuck. Tom is helping to cook, Justin is helping the waitresses take orders, you and I are cleaning tables, and some strange man just handed Drew his guitar for Drew to play Christmas carols. This is almost like a Christmas fairy tale.”
“Oh, Tommy,” Jenn laughed. “It’s Christmas. It’s the time for fairy tales to come true! In fact, we need to tell Dave to write this down one day. Maybe on one of those new web log things I've heard about."
“Where did Wookiee go?” Shawn stuck his head out of Ty’s door, looking both ways. “We lost a Wookiee, guys. How did we lose a Wookiee?”
“Well, he’s eight feet tall,” Leslie said. “It’s hard to lose him.”
“Then again, anything can happen tonight and it would seem normal. This has been a strange evening,” Steph added.
“So we don’t know anything about Ginger or Michael or Dave?” Ty asked. He lay in a bed, leg up in a sling above the mattress. He had one IV in his left arm, and he was feeling cold from the hospital gown he wore.
“No,” Matt replied. “We called the police, but nobody knows anything.”
“Should someone go look for Chris?” Shawn walked back into the room.
“I’ll go,” Matt said. “I need something to take my mind off of Ginger.”
He patted Ty on the arm, and started towards the door. Amy stood up and Shawn turned to follow.
“I’ll go with you too,” Shawn said.
“Guys, I want to go too,” Steph got up from her chair.
“Is everyone leaving me?” Ty whined.
“I’ll be here, Ty,” Leslie smiled, sitting down beside his bed, grabbing his hand. She looked up at the four exiting, “I’ll stick around here with Ty, you guys can come and get me.”
Shawn, Steph and Matt all three nodded, and spilled into the hall.
“Should we split up?” Matt asked, walking to the elevator
“No!” Steph said. “Splitting up has caused us to lose contact with Dave, Mike and Ginger, Drew and the others and now Wookiee. Let’s stay together. We’ll just go down to the first floor and walk the halls until we see him.”
“Yeah, your right,” Shawn said, pushing the down button. “How many eight foot tall hairy men could possibly be in this hospital?”
They came off of the elevator onto the first floor, and Matt walked back into the lobby.
“No Wookiee here,” Amy observed.
They walked together down the hall, each looking in the open doors and side hallways. But still no Wookiee.
“Do you hear kids crying?” Steph looked at the guys.
“Yes, I do,” Matt replied. Somewhere, they could make out the faint sounds of children, and some of them were sobbing sounds.
Steph stepped out in front of the group, leading them towards the origin of the crying. She stopped in front of a closed door that read “children’s playroom”. She looked at Amy, Matt and Shawn for a look that would justify her opening the door. They looked at her with “I don’t know” glances. She shrugged and opened the door.
There were about a dozen children running around the room, some with tears in their eyes. There were a few children sleeping on the floor near the wall, and a few more playing with various toys like dolls and cars on the other side of the room.
In the middle was a young woman, not more than 30, talking to one child while holding the hands of two more. She looked up at the entrance of Steph, Matt and Shawn with a desperate look in her face.
“Can… can I help you?” she stuttered.
“I would think we should ask you that question, miss,” Shawn smiled.
“Oh, no, sweetie! Don’t eat that!” Steph cried, quickly running over to a small boy who had a crayon in his hand. He had gnawed the paper off and was working on the wax.
“Hi, mister,” another little boy spoke up, standing directly at Shawn’s feet.
“Hi kid,” Shawn replied.
“This!” the little boy laughed and squirted Shawn with a water gun, then running off laughing.
“Nice boy,” Shawn wiped the water from his face. Smiling, he gave chase, and caught the boy halfway across the room. He picked the little boy up and threw him over his shoulder. The little boy laughed like a hyena as Shawn growled at him, bouncing him around in the air.
“Be careful,” said the woman in the middle of the room. “Jason gets motion sickness really easily.
Matt was then blindsided by a small Hispanic child who rammed into his legs and almost knocked him over.
“Hey, look Matt,” Shawn laughed. “It’s the kids of Dave’s people.”
“Hi,” Amy walked up to the woman. “I’m Amy, that’s Matt, that’s Shawn, and the chairman of Crayon Eating Prevention over there is Stephanie. We are kind of snowed into the hospital, and have absolutely nothing to do. Can we offer you some help with these kids?”
“I’d love some help,” she smiled. “My name is Faith, and I’m the children’s director here at the hospital.”
“Are all these kids injured?”
“No, this is more babysitting than anything else. We had to bring in off-duty staff because our regulars couldn’t get here through the storm. So, some of the staff had to bring their kids with them because they didn’t have anywhere to take them, so we set this room us as a temporary day care. My relief was supposed to be here hours ago, but we’re all snowed in. Nobody has come in and nobody can leave.”
“Well, Merry Christmas, Faith,” Amy patted her on the shoulder. “Your relief is here. Why don’t you go get some coffee, and if you’ll find us something to eat, we’ll take care of these kids until you get back.”
Faith looked concerned for a moment, having never seen these young people before in her life, but then broke into a smile. “Merry Christmas to you too, Amy. Thank you. I’m going to down to the cafeteria, and see if they have any sandwiches left, and I’ll bring you some of whatever they have. Does that sound okay?”
“That sounds wonderful, Faith,” Matt smiled. She looked over Matt, who was tossing a small football to the child who attacked him; Shawn, who was now laying on the floor with four small children jumping on him, while Stephanie was in the corner wearing a Santa hat, having tea with two little girls. Faith left the room, and Amy smiled again.
“So this is the season of giving, huh?” she said to herself.
“Well, it’s seven thirty,” Michael looked at me. “Now what?”
“Can’t believe Matt stood me up,” Ginger smirked.
“Yeah, he’s a bad boyfriend. You should go out with me,” I replied, trying to smile, but my lips felt frozen.
“We have to find somewhere to go, guys,” Michael said. “I can’t stand this. This wind makes the Iron Bowl feel like a Hawaiian summer holiday.” Michael and myself, along with Shawn and Tom, had been Amy Wible's guest at the 2000 Iron Bowl, in which the game (a 9-0 clunker won by Auburn) was forgettable, but the freezing rainy temperatures were not. This was alot like that very night.
I left the circle and walked out from under the awning that had been our protection for the last ninety minutes. As soon as I was in the open, I felt colder. The snow and freezing rain began to pelt me in the face, which was already numb from cold.
I scanned the horizon looking for something, anything, and praying to God that I would find that something or anything. And on a hill in the distance, there was a house, with lit windows. Against the night sky, I could make out the smoke from the chimney.
“Guys,” I called. “I think I found something.”
Michael and Ginger both trotted over to where I stood, also feeling the wind and snow when they came from under the awning.
“Look there,” I pointed to the house. “We could go there.”
“Dave, are you mental?” Michael looked at me. “If I could pull my hands out of my pockets, I’d smack you. We can’t just walk up to somebody’s house and ask to come in. People get shot for stuff like that.”
“Michael, I’m freezing,” I said. “I’m so cold right now I feel like my fingers will break off like icicles. And I know Ginger is the same way, and I am pretty sure you are too. I think if we walk up there, knock on the door, and tell them our problem, they’ll help us. Even if we have to stay in a barn for the night, its better than standing out here in the snow and rain. If they turn us away, the walking will keep us a little warm.”
Michael looked around, then looked back at me, “What are we, Mary and Joseph looking for a manger?" He looked at Ginger, then back and me, and when neither one of us responded, he said, "And how do we get there?”
We heard the rumbling of a vehicle from far off, and we all turned to see headlights coming towards us.
“Its Matt!” Ginger screamed. “My man is here!”
“Yes, Matt!” Michael exclaimed. “Shangra-la!”
The smiles on our faces quickly faded, as the lights got closer, then turned right. We could see then that it didn’t resemble Matt’s beat up truck, or any vehicle belonging to a Deuce member.
“Over there,” Ginger pointed with her head, not daring to take her hands out of her pockets, to the road the truck just disappeared onto. “I’ll bet that will take us straight there.”
“Good idea,” I replied. Ginger and I started walking towards the road, and I looked back to see Michael just standing there.
“I’m not going to that stupid house!” Michael yelled.
“Suit yourself,” I replied. “Ginger and I are going to get warm.”
I turned back around and the two of us kept walking. I could hear Michael yell from behind me.
“You guys are going to get shot… if you get shot, I don’t care, don’t come crying to me with a hole in your chest… there’ll be nobody there, and you’ll walk back here wanting me to keep you warm, but I won’t…”
As we walked I looked at Ginger and counted, “One… two… three.”
“Fine!” Michael yelled. “ Wait up, I’m coming with you!”
We stopped as he ran to catch up to us.
“You didn’t sign the January rent check yet, so if you got shot and died, I can’t cover your rent,” he smirked when he caught up to us.
By 8 or a little after, nothing had slowed down at the Waffle House. Justin continued to rack up the tips with Bethany and Claire on tables, and Tom continued to go to town on the omelets and hash browns. Jennifer still wiped the tables clean, and picked up the dirty dishes, while Tommy went to the kitchen to begin running dishes through the large Waffle House industrial dishwasher. All had tossed on old Waffle House aprons, and Tommy had even managed to put his thick head of hair into a paper hat.
Drew had tuned with the guitar, and was sitting on a stool at the end of the counter.
Jenn sighed. Looks like we are stuck at a Waffle House until Christmas Eve, of all places to be, she thought. Is there a reason for this, God?“Hey Jennifer,” Claire called out.
“Yes?” she turned to see Claire holding two plates.
“Our dinner is ready. Let’s eat while we can,” Claire smiled. They both sat down at the end of the counter with their meals, Claire’s a western omelet, and Jenn’s a patty melt plate.
Jenn bowed her head, and began to say a quick prayer for her meal, and for the safety of the others. She didn’t see Claire staring at her until she had raised her head and picked up half of her sandwich.
“Were you just saying a blessing over your food?” Claire asked.
“Yeah… why?” Jenn was a little confused at Claire’s odd question.
“It’s just that I haven’t seen anyone do that in a really long time. Like, when I was a kid, my dad made me say grace before dinner, but our family quit having meals together, like, 7 or 8 years ago. It’s been that long since I think I’ve said any kind of prayer, I guess.”
“Well, maybe you should start. Getting into law school in Harvard is a lofty goal, even with the grades you have. Prayer would be something I would definitely look into.”
“Do you think God would even listen to me at this point? I mean, it has been a while, but if I were God—not saying I am—but if I were, I would quit trying after several years.”
Jenn put her fork down and was astounded she was having this conversation. This was the type of conversation you lead someone to Christ to, or lead them to a recommitment with, and she was asking questions that were so easy to a strong Christian.
Alright, God, I’ll play ball here, she thought. You give me the words, and I’ll say them, and we’ll see what you can do with Claire.“Well, Claire, God never quits listening,” she began.
Though across the restaurant and couldn't hear them, as if on cue, Drew began to play a little softer, and suddenly with a chorus of “The Christmas Song.”
PARTS 21 - 23