A Knight in Shining Armor By Deborah Lee
"Trust me, it's a good job, and it's close to home," I said to my sister Ruth. "I know what I'm doing."
"I hope so, Cathy." Ruth twisted her wedding ring. "I just wish it was any place but Wild's. I don't really care for that place, and I don't like the uniform you have to wear."
I looked down at my exposed midriff and smoothed my short black skirt. "I'll be fine." I gave Ruth a quick hug. "Besides, the hours are good. I'll have plenty of time during the day to spend with Timmy." I tried to give her a reassuring smile before I ran to find my three-year-old son and kiss him goodbye.
Timmy was playing in the backyard. He promised me he would be good and listen to Aunt Ruth while I was working. God, I hated to leave him, even if it was only for an eight-hour shift. It wasn't fair. Why did I have to work, anyway?
My eyes burned with tears. I hated being forced into supporting myself. If only there was enough money. A year ago I had been a married woman with my own home on a lovely street in a suburb of Philadelphia. It was all so perfect. Mark and I had gotten married right out of high school. His father owned a plumbing and heating business and took Mark in as a journeyman apprentice. Then, as an unexpected wedding present, his father put a down payment on a house for us.
Two years after the birth of our son, Timmy, everything changed. One night, my husband came home from work and demanded a divorce. He was bored, he said, and wanted out of our marriage. I was shocked. I thought we were happy together. How could this be happening? Later, I found out he was having an affair. The house was sold to cover our outstanding bills, and Mark agreed to pay child support.
Who would have thought, at the age of twenty-one, I would end up being a divorced woman with a young son and ex-husband delinquent on support payments? Thank God, Ruth and her husband, Frank, had made room for Timmy and me. Her only stipulation was that I had to pay rent, which meant I had to get a job.
My friend Crystal had told me there was an opening at Wild's Bar and Grille for a waitress. I applied and got the job. The pay wasn't great, but Crystal assured me the tips would more than make up for it. I would have every Sunday and Monday off, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad. But I was wrong. I had to learn to spend long hours on my feet and carry heavy trays loaded with drinks and food.
Wild's Bar and Grille was located on a busy corner of Roosevelt Boulevard. The place hummed with excitement. Businessmen from around the area came to eat and have meetings. At night there was always a party atmosphere. I began to like working the happy hour best of all. As promised, the tips were great, and soon I had built up a sizable nest egg that I kept in a jar at my sister's house.
Ruth saw the jar one night after my shift as I stuffed a handful of bills into it.
"Cathy, that's quite a stash," Ruth said, keeping her voice soft so she wouldn't wake Timmy.
"It's my tip money. I have almost seventy-five dollars," I whispered proudly. I slipped the jar under my bed.
"Maybe it's time you opened a bank account."
She was always butting in, trying to run my life. Oh how I missed being a married woman with a life of my own. "It's my money, and I like keeping it here," I said testily. "Maybe as soon as I have a hundred saved, I'll do that, okay?"
"Gee, you don't have to get huffy. I was only making a suggestion." She mumbled a quick good night and left me alone.
The nest egg must have given me an air of independence, because it seemed the male clientele at Wild's began to notice me more often. By now, I had learned how to handle them, and the tips were better than ever.
It was during a busy evening that I first saw him. He was sitting alone in a dark corner, and he motioned me over.
"How about sitting with me awhile?" he asked.
I liked the sound of his voice. There was a sensual quality to it, but the darkened area kept me from really seeing him. "I can't. I'm on duty, but I can bring you something from the bar," I said, balancing my tray on my hip.
"Then bring me a pint of your best beer on tap."
As I turned to walk away he called me back. "How about having a cup of coffee with me at the Broadway Diner after your shift?"
If it had been any other customer, I would have made a flippant remark and forgotten him. But there was something about this fellow that I liked. I brought him his drink and decided to take a chance. "All right," I said, giving him a wink. "See you at eleven." I went back to waiting on the rest of my tables.
The evening was busy and sped by. I guess I had forgotten about our date, because I was surprised to find him waiting for me at the door. My heart fluttered as I realized just how tall he was. His hair was a light strawberry-blond cut to a fashionable length.
"Ready for that cup of coffee?" he asked.
Timmy popped into my head. I knew I should put this fellow off and go straight home. Ruth would be worried about me. Instead, I answered, "Sure," looking up into his dreamy blue eyes. I needed to do something different. My life was in a rut. All I had done every workday for the last month was put in my time and go home.
It was a warm night, so we walked the three blocks to the diner. The building was all glitz and glamour. Crystal chandeliers sparkled against the white walls of the dining room, leaving me with a feeling of wealth, of how things should be.
Gosh, it felt good to be sitting across from a man as good-looking as Keith. The waitress came, and we ordered pie and coffee. I found myself telling him about my divorce and how I had been forced to work.
"Tell me about you," I urged as the waitress brought our order.
Keith toyed with his pie as he spoke. "You'll find me rather boring. I'm majoring in art at the University of Pennsylvania. I want to be a teacher." He drained his coffee in one swallow. "It's getting late." He dug into his pocket and threw some money on the table. "Let's go."
Keith was silent as he walked me to Ruth's door. He bent and lightly kissed my cheek.
After that, he was a regular at Wild's every night. I bought him his usual beer and at the end of my shift he was always there to walk me home. I started to think that Keith could be the man for me.
One afternoon I found myself telling my sister about Keith. "But Ruth, he's so wonderful," I exclaimed when I saw her doubtful look.
"How can you tell? You've only known this guy for a week," she said calmly.
"I just know, that's all."
"Promise me you won't do anything foolish?"
"You worry too much." Just because Ruth was older than me, she thought she knew everything. She would see her fears were groundless.
That night, as Keith walked me to Ruth's house, he put his arm around me and placed his hand on my bare midriff, and a wave of butterflies flew through my stomach.
"There's a late movie running at the Cottman Avenue Cinema. How about seeing it with me?" Keith asked.
"Sure! Come on in while I change my clothes." I left him sitting on the couch and ran upstairs.
"Cathy," came a sleepy voice from Ruth's room, "that you?"
"Yeah, but I'm going to the movies with Keith." I rushed into my room and pulled on a tee shirt and jeans.
"At this hour?" Ruth was standing at my bedroom door.
"You know, you're not my mother. I'll be fine." I could see she was agitated, but I didn't care. I finished dressing and pushed past her.
During the previews Keith slipped his arm around my shoulders and I cuddled closer to him. After that I didn't pay attention to the show. I just let myself experience the thrill of sitting next to him in the theater. We were a real couple now.
I hated to see the movie end. We walked slowly back to my sister's house. It would be dawn in two hours. When we came to the door, he bent and gave me a gentle kiss good night.
The soft brush of his lips lingered as I climbed the steps to the second floor. I felt so free and light. Could I be falling in love? I found myself whirling around the bedroom like a lovesick teenager. I giggled as I went to get my shower. My life was definitely taking a turn for the better. Oh, yes!
My eyes burned from lack of sleep the next morning as I gave Timmy his morning bath. I was tired, but the memories of the previous night gave me a feeling of energy. I sang as I dressed for work.
Ruth stopped me as I was about to leave. "Cathy, why don't you invite your friend over this Sunday for dinner?"
"Why?" I didn't quite trust her motives. "So you can pick him apart?"
Ruth held her hands up, palms out. "I just thought it would be nice."
Maybe she did mean well, I thought. And it would be nice to introduce him to my family. "Well, maybe I'll ask him."
My shift sped by at its usual hectic pace. Keith sat at his favorite table. Occasionally he spoke to me when I came by with another person's order. Just knowing he was close by gave me a wonderful light-on-my-feet feeling. And, of course, he was waiting for me at the end of my shift.
The air was cooler tonight, and I wore a light sweater over my uniform. Keith put his arm around my shoulders, and pulled me closer. My heart soared as we walked slowly along. It felt so good to have a strong man to lean on again. I didn't feel so alone. A fantasy of our getting married entered my mind. If I was lucky, I wouldn't have to work anymore. As we drew closer to Ruth's, I stopped and faced him.
"My sister and her husband would like you to come to supper this Sunday," I blurted. God, I felt like I was still in junior high. "Um, will you come?"
He chewed his lower lip a moment. "I don't think it's a very good idea."
"Why?" I asked and could have kicked myself. If he didn't want to come, I had no business prying.
"I can't make it. I have other plans."
"I see. Maybe some other time."
This time when we started up the street, he didn't put his arm around me. He seemed to be keeping his distance. It troubled me, but I kept my thoughts to myself. When we reached the house, Keith didn't try to kiss me. He smiled, said good night, and walked back the way we'd come.
After that I didn't see him again for a week. Ruth told me not to worry. He would be back when he felt like it. I hoped she was right.
My shifts went on with an endless quality. The evening happy hour no longer had the party atmosphere I had grown to enjoy. The patrons were loud and sometimes crude. Somehow I got through each day.
Then on Friday night, Keith was seated at his favorite table. My heart seemed to squeeze with joy, but I wasn't going to show him.
"Hi, what can I get for you tonight?" I asked. My voice sounded light and calm to me. Somehow I kept my hands from shaking and breathed an inward sigh of relief.
"I missed you," he said quietly.
"Order, please?" I said, all business.
"Listen, I had business to take care of."
He had a hopeful but forlorn expression in his blue eyes. I could feel my resolve weakening. But I held my ground.
"Yeah, so?" I asked, as coldly as my first response.
"Cathy, I dont want to fight, honey," he said as he ran his fingers over my hand. "I'm telling the truth. I had business with my brother in Doylestown."
I knew Doylestown was quite a ride from here, so maybe he was telling the truth. I could feel my anger drain away the longer his fingers moved over my hand. "All right," I said. I took his order and went of to finish my rounds.
Keith was waiting for me when I left Wild's.
"Cathy, I've got my car. It's a lovely night. I know a nice romantic spot by the river."
It was so nice just being with him again. We talked nonstop; there was so much we had to catch up on.
The Delaware River stretched before us. The lights from Trenton sparkled on the dark water. Keith opened the moon roof, and the stars winked down on us, making it even more romantic.
He slid across the bench seat closer to me and drew me against his side. It felt so right to be here with him. His arm slipped around my shoulders. He stroked my lower lip with his finger, then he tipped my face back and covered my mouth with his. I could feel myself melting, floating. Surely I would turn into a puddle of jelly. It had been so long since I had been with a man. I ran my hand over his chest, my fingers tracing, memorizing, every muscular line. I flicked my tongue against his lower lip, and he grew still and pulled away.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"This is wrong." He sounded uncertain. "I can't do this. I'll take you home." He pushed away from me and started the engine.
My God, I thought, what did I do? What went wrong? I couldn't stand it any longer. "Keith, please," I cried. "What's the matter?"
He pulled the car around sharply and headed back toward Cottman Avenue. "Nothing I everything," he said. His shoulders slumped in defeat. "Cathy, I'm gay."
For a moment time stopped. "No," I breathed softly. All of my dreams flew out the open moon roof. This couldn't be happening.
"I'm sorry, Cathy. I was trying to see if I could be straight. I thought you were the answer. You're so beautiful," he said, his words coming in a rush.
I felt tears sting my eyes. I fought not to cry in front of him.
"Last week I went to Doylestown, like I said. I have a friend who lives there, and yes, he's gay too." Keith answered the question before I could ask it. "Cathy, he wants me to move up there and live with him. I had to see you again, to make sure I was making the right decision."
"I see, " I said, my voice even and quiet. "And now you're sure?"
We pulled up in front of my sister's house.
"I have to go, Cathy," he said sadly.
I couldn't believe it. I lost my husband to another woman, and now I just lost Keith to another man? Was there something wrong with me? Or maybe life was just this insane. I didn't say anything as I opened the car door.
"Hey," Keith said. "See you around."
"Yeah, see you around," I said, closing the car door behind me.
Inside the house I leaned against the wall for the longest time. Tears ran down my cheeks and dripped onto my white blouse.
That all happened four years ago. The night Keith said good-bye, I realized I had to make some positive changes. There might never be a knight in shining armor waiting around the corner for me. I was going to have to begin looking after myself.
First, I did some checking around and applied for a loan to attend college. Wild's Bar and Grille allowed me to work part time so I could attend Temple University full time. Today I am in my junior year, working toward a Bachelors Degree in business management.
When I look back at my whirlwind relationship with Keith, I realize I was falling into the same rut I was in when I married Mark. All I wanted was a strong man to take care of me.
Now I am dating a man I met in economics class. He wants to get engaged, but I told him I just want to date him a while longer. I want to have a good job and be on my feet. No more whirlwind relationships for me.
Copyright 2002, Deborah Lee
About the Author
Deborah Lee is a multifaceted writer. She is a published poet, and her work has appeared both locally in New Jersey and throughout the United States. She has worked as a staff writer, under the pen name of Debbie Lee, for House of Seeds Publishing/Jesus is Alive Online Ministries as author of a weekly newsletter titled God's News. She is currently writing for Rooftop Sessions, an electronic magazine featuring the finest in Beatles-related fan fiction, where she is the author of the Shelly series (written under the pen name of Mary Spollen). Deborah is an active member of New Jersey Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America. She has studied writing for the children's market with the Institute of Children's Literature and various other genres with the LongRidge Writer's group, where she has earned two certificates. Currently, she lives in a small hamlet in New Jersey with her lovebird, Buttercup, and her poodle mix, B.J.
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