by Donald Himelstein

Stan Waltman was tired. He had driven almost two hours in the cold and wet snow and as he entered the town limits he felt the first releasing stress that had kept him alert all morning slowly begin to diminish within him.  Stopping at a red light in town he realized with some anxiety it was after 2:15 PM and his appointment was scheduled for 2:30 PM.

Then he saw the sign Bellmore College proudly on display indicating it was three miles up the road from the town. Stan breathed in a long sigh of relief and road through the small town and out into the woods once again until he found the entrance sign to the College.

In a moment he had pulled into the visitors parking and stopped. Gathering his heavy sample bag and some sales forms he headed quickly into the main building and immediately saw the sign for the book store in the basement.

Soon as he entered the room he felt relaxed, the bookstore had a quiet, friendly atmosphere that almost forced you to come in and look around. He saw a rack of sweatshirts and hats with the name of the school printed in large letters and assorted school supplies that included pens, notebooks, paper items and finally his own product stuck high on a shelf in the rear, vest pocket dictionaries.

Stan walked right up to the counter which looked abandoned to him. He waited a moment until a rather pretty young girl came from the back.

She smiled. “Yes, can I help you?”

“Right, actually, I have an appointment with Sergeant Baddeck.”

“Oh, okay,” she answers pleasantly. “He’s in the back, will you wait a moment while I get him.”

Stan looked around again taking in the displays of hard cover textbooks on math, science and languages. Way in the back he saw fiction novels and many famous writers and told himself he would take a look later.

“Hello, young fella.”

“Oh, hi,” Stan said, momentarily surprised. “I’m Stan Waltman from Bradberry Publishers.”

The man extended his hand and smiled amiably.  “I’m Sergeant Baddeck, you from the vest pocket people, right.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Stan answered letting his hand go which was dry to his touch.  “I understand you needed a refill on the dictionaries, fine, but Sergeant Baddeck , I have some other products you might be interested in and if you don’t mind I could show them to you now?”

“This is a perfect time son,” he replied. “The spring term just started about two weeks ago and then the place was a mad house, but right now it’s quiet, so let’s see what you got, okay.”

Stan took out his samples and placed them on the counter explaining about the Stenso lettering guides, and his other products. Surprisingly, they were rarely interrupted until late in the afternoon when groups of young co-eds began wandering into the store.  

After more than two hours Stan had shown him everything he had and was grateful for a fairly nice sales order. Looking at his watch he saw it was almost 4:30 PM.  “I guess I had better be going,” he said, putting his samples back in his bag.

“Took longer than I would have thought,” the Sergeant said, smiling. “You want a cup of coffee we make it fresh every day?”

Stan now relaxed. It was too late to drive all the way back to Philadelphia. He would have to call in the order, but it was getting dark and he would first have to find a decent motel and have some dinner. “Yeah, I sure would, Sergeant.”

The sergeant got a paper cup and pointed to the coffee machine in the corner which Stan hadn’t even realized was there. “Go help yourself, milk and sugar right on the coffee table.”

After Stan got his coffee he said, “I gather you served in the army?”

“Fourteen years in the service, made Staff Sergeant,” he replied. “How about you son, you serve in the military?”

Stan nodded slowly.  “I was in the Army Medical Corps stationed in Germany for a year and a half.”

“I knew we had something in common the moment I saw you,” the sergeant responded.  “I loved and hated every minute of it.”

“Why’d you get out?”

“Wife got sick,” he answered. “Didn’t have any choice, but it hasn’t been all that bad, she’s better now and I manage this store, can’t complain.”

“I’m glad she’s better.”

“Thanks, so am I.”

Stan liked the sergeant he felt that he was a sincere person who had done the best he could for everyone around him. After talking for almost another half hour he asked, “I guess it’s too late to drive back to Philly. Any good motel or restaurant you could recommend in the area?”

“The Regency Motel is just outside town, maybe you passed it on the way in, nice place, clean, or so I’m told, lot of the girl’s parents stay there on visits.”

“Say, how about a decent restaurant?”     

“Like Italian food?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“I’d recommend Salaconi’s,” the Sergeant said.  “The wife and I ate their just last week, wonderful Italian food. But its Friday night so it’ll probably be crowded but don’t let that bother you they have small tables for two and a nice service bar, you’ll enjoy it.”

“Where is it?”

“Right in town,” the sergeant answered. “Can’t miss it, you’ll see the lights and all the people standing out front. Well, good luck young fella, I enjoyed your visit today.”     

A minute later Stan was up the stairs and out into the clear, but cold night anxious to get into the car and turn the heater on. He drove toward the highway and headed back to town hoping to find the motel the Sergeant had told him about. Within a few minutes he had entered the town limits and drove along watching until he saw the lights on the Italian restaurant and mostly young couples waiting quietly on line for a table. 

Must be good, he thought, or this was the only decent place in town for dinner. He drove through the small urban area and two miles down the road he found the Regency motel. Stan parked and then went in to the motel and registered for a room. The male clerk was friendly but business like and in minutes Stan was back at his car to gather his overnight bag and his sample case with the sales reports.    

The room was comfortable and clean. Taking out his sales reports he began to look them over thinking he would call them in first thing tomorrow morning. It was almost six o’clock and he was hungry, it had been a long day, but he had a nice sale from the sergeant and one other small sale from a stationary store outside Philly. Maybe, he thought, he might just buy a turkey and cheese hero and a cold ginger ale at the deli he saw just up the road, come back and watch T.V.   

He got back in his car and drove toward town, but as he came within sight of the late night deli he thought why not just drive into town and enjoy a real good dinner at the Italian place the sergeant had recommended. Stan kept going and in a moment was back in the town limits and found the restaurant still crowded but now he realized only two couples were still waiting for a table.     

Pulling around the block he found a parking space, made a note to himself where he had parked, grabbed his small sample case and walked back to the main street and down one block to the restaurant. He found only one other middle aged couple in front of him and before he knew it a young female hostess was leading him to a small table in the corner.

Stan liked the place right away.  It had a warm, pleasant feeling of good, delicious smelling Italian food with the aroma of tomatoes and garlic cooking somewhere in the back kitchen. He realized it was crowded and slightly noisy, but a nice noise, a gentle murmur of soft voices all talking at once.

When he got to his small table for two it was in the corner, but he didn’t mind, it had an excellent view, and he planned to go over his sales reports while he waited for dinner. When the waiter came he ordered an antipasto and an Eggplant Parmesan, his favorite.   

“Anything to drink, sir,” the waiter asked.

“Oh, yeah, I’ll have a glass of red wine, thank you.”      

He was alone and right then he pulled out his daily sales reports and began to go over them. It was no more than a moment when he began to feel as if someone was watching him. Stan looked up and into the eyes of a young woman at the next table staring right at him.

He didn’t quite know what to do, but then almost as if a natural order had taken place she smiled and her lovely dark brown eyes came alive. Stan was taken back, but watching her now he saw she was very pretty with lovely  golden-brown hair combed down around her face and a kind of soft attractive light deep within her pleasant striking brown eyes.  

It was then that he noticed she was at a round table with two other couples, but she was alone, and somehow this bothered him. Stan couldn’t take his eyes off her, but then one of the other women at her table glanced at him and leaned over and whispered something into her friend’s ear.      

Before Stan knew what was going on the other woman, slightly older, but also rather attractive was waving at him to come and sit with them. Stan didn’t quite know what to do, but when he looked at the younger woman she was still watching him openly smiling softly with a warm cordiality in her eyes.

Then he saw her wave inviting him to join them. Stan got up and walked over to the table and everyone looked up at him. For a second he felt like a fish out of water and couldn’t say a word, but then the older woman pointed to an empty chair for him to sit down. “Hi, I’m Doris, this is my husband Jerry, that’s Paul sitting next to Gloria, and this lovely lady next to me is Betty.”

“Hello, I’m Stan hope I’m not interrupting anything?” He felt awkward with everyone’s eyes on him, but when he glanced at Betty still smiling with those lovely cordial eyes he didn’t feel so strange anymore.

Doris said, “We were just about to have dinner and thought why not come and join us since you looked so lonely all by yourself at that table.”

Stan couldn’t help looking at Betty who kept smiling and glancing warmly at him until he said, “well to tell you the truth I was just going to work on my sales reports then have a quiet dinner and head back to my motel.” 

Jerry said, “See, I told you he was a traveling salesman.”

Everyone laughed and Stan couldn’t help but smile along with them.

“So, what do you sell?” Gloria asked.

“Ah, I work for a publishing company  we sell vest pocket dictionaries and stenso lettering guides, office supplies like that.”

“Oh, how nice,” Betty said.

He loved the sound of her voice, it was soft and sweet with a lovely lilt to it and somewhere down inside he felt the first real joy that he had decided to have dinner at the restaurant. Stan couldn’t help feeling an excited flush of elation with Betty, sensing her presences and the warmth of her body sitting down right next to her.

“Where do sell too around here, Stan?”  Paul asked.

“The main account is the college just outside of town.”

“The girl’s college,” Gloria said. “That must be nice.”
Everyone laughed good-naturedly and even Stan took it in a friendly way, but all of a sudden he felt Betty’s soft hand patting his arm and they looked 

with a strange depth at each other for the first time, their eyes staring as if they were locked together. Stan sensed the magical moment that had flashed between them and his face became warm. His heart seemed to pound a little faster but then it pasted and the waiter was serving their dinners.

“Cosmo,” Doris said to the waiter, “Stan is going to have dinner with us, you don’t mind, do you?”

Cosmo smiled, staring at Stan and without further comment said, “No, no, I’ll bring everything to the table.”

Dinner was served and without saying to much at first Betty and Stan quietly ate their dinner together, laughing, glancing at each other and very slowly began to feel more comfortable with one another. For Stan it was a first, he had never felt like this toward a girl so fast and what he saw in Betty’s soft, tender eyes made him feel even more relaxed. 

“You live in this area?” Stan asked.

“A few miles from here,” Betty answered quietly. “I’m a teacher, we all are, Doris and Gloria teach at the same school, we often have dinner on Friday night together during the cold winter months.”

Stan held his breath, but knew he had to ask the question. “No regular boyfriend in the wings somewhere waiting for you?”  

With a shy grin Betty answered, “no, I’m afraid not, just haven’t meet the right guy, I suppose. What about you, some lucky girl back home?”

Stan shook his head. “No, nobody back home, I’m afraid.”

“Where is home?” she asked.

“Brooklyn New York, but I think it’s time to make a move. I’d like to go back to school, get my degree, not sure I want to stay on the road much longer.”   

“Then why don’t you, I mean go back to school?” 

“I may just do that,” Stan replied. “The new G.I. bill opened up for Vietnam Era Veterans, and I think I’ll take advantage of it. Now may I ask how come a lovely girl like you hasn’t found someone?”

Betty saw Doris and Gloria watching them and smiled softly knowing that whatever she said would be overheard, but she didn’t mind. “Stan, to tell you the truth it just never happened. Oh a few boyfriends in College, that sort of thing, but back home there really wasn’t anyone I could say I wanted to be with, you know what I mean?”

Stan smiled, his eyes dropping. “Yes, I do.”

The night went along quickly and then they had coffee with Betty and Stan sharing a delicious Italian desert. For Stan it was fun, exciting, a little strange even to be sitting relaxed with these friendly, intelligent, small town people, his eyes always on Betty who he couldn’t stop looking at.

Then Doris said, “Oh, my, look at the time, my baby sitter will be very upset, I told her mother I’d have her home by now. Sorry, but we got to get going now, let’s go Jerry.”

Betty looked at Stan and whispered, “I came in their car, I have to go Stan, now.” Then her lovely eyes gazed at him with a burning light of anxiety. “Will you call me?”

“Yes, of course,” he whispered softly.  

She took out a pen and wrote her telephone number on a napkin, the only paper she had. Her eyes were misty soft when she gave it to him. “Do call me I really want to hear from you.”

“Betty,” Stan whispered quietly in her ear, “you know I’ll call you, I promise you.”

They paid the check and then Stan said, “Betty, I’ll walk you to the car.”

Betty laughed softly, her eyes still glowing with delight. In a moment they were outside walking in the cold, clear night waving goodnight to Gloria and her husband who walked off to their car as they followed Doris.

“Where are you parked?” Betty asked.   

“Oh, I’m parked around the other side on Vetter Street.”

When they got to the car Doris said hastily, “I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to get home, nice meeting you Stan, hope we see you again soon.”

Stan shook hands with them and was about to say something to Betty when he realized his sample case was still back in the restaurant.

Betty saw the change in his face. “Stan, what’s the matter?”

“Oh my God, Betty, I left my sample case back in the restaurant. If somebody takes it I’ll be in big trouble. I’m sorry I’ve got to go back right now. I promise you, Betty, I’ll call.”

Stan began to rush off with Betty calling out for him to be careful. He didn’t hear her, his mind was already on his lost sample case. He walked then sprinted back to the main street turned the corner and now ran full out toward the restaurant. 

When he got there the place was getting ready to close. Only a few people were still sitting at the bar enjoying a last drink. His eyes searched the room where he had left the sample bag, but with a shock he realized nothing was there, the tables had been cleaned and the floor was empty. Stan glanced quickly around but saw nothing, his throat tightened and a terrible fear raced through his body.

Only two tables off in the corner were still occupied with late customers who sat quietly talking. His eyes scanned the room with great anxiety but he saw nothing, then the waiter came out from the kitchen and Stan walked quickly toward him.  “Cosmo, you remember me, I was sitting at a table over there and I left my sample bag, did you happen to see it.”
“Oh, yes, I found the bag and put it in the kitchen,” Cosmo said, happily. “Wait one moment, I’ll go and get it for you.”

Stan waited anxiously until Cosmo returned with the sample bag and handed it to him. “Oh thanks, Cosmo, you have no idea how important this was to me, thank you again for saving it for me.”

“My pleasure,” Cosmo answered. “I’m glad we found it for you.”

Stan walked out of the restaurant with a feeling of gratitude. Then he realized Betty was gone. He took the napkin from his pocket but he had crumbled it with his anxiety and the ink was no longer legible. He began walking quickly back toward the car around the corner where they were parked hoping that she might still be there.

As he approached the parking spot he realized the car was gone and nobody was around. A restless fear began to flush through his body and thoughts of never finding her again flashed like lightening through his mind. 

Stan rushed back to the restaurant but found it about to close and nobody around as his heart sank with a tender sorrow he might never see her again. In a deep loss he walked dejectedly back to his car knowing he might have lost something very precious that he might never find her again.

He turned off the main street onto Vetter and walked softly in the dark not really paying much attention. Slowly his eyes adjusted as he came closer to his parked car and gradually began to realize someone was sitting against his car fender.

The street was quite dark but slowly be began to sense who it was and somewhere deep in the depths of his soul he came alive again. When he approached the car Betty was sitting quietly against the fender smiling as if she had been waiting all night.    

“Well, hello,” she said with a grin.

When he spoke he couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice. “Betty, how did you mind me?” he asked.

She moved off the fender and came closer to him.  “You did say you were parked on Vetter, right, and I assumed you had the only New York license plates, so I just walked over here and waited for you.”

Stan smiled happily. “That was smart, what happened to Gloria and Jerry?” he asked.  

“They had to get home, baby sitter was waiting.”

“You know for a moment Betty I thought I had lost you and that almost

put me into a panic, but tell me, what if this wasn’t my car, how were you planning on getting home tonight, doesn’t seem to be much public transportation or taxi service in the area?” 

Betty smiled prettily, “I just took a chance.”

Stan laughed softly. “I’m glad you did.” He dropped his sample bag and put his arms around her feeling her soft, warm body and in that moment they kissed tenderly, their lips gently pressed together for a very long moment.

Taking a breath he released her and looked up at the clear night sky.   

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Betty said.

“Yes, looks like stars twinkling in the night skies.” Stan said. “We don’t have the sky this clear back in Brooklyn, too much pollution, I suppose.”

Betty smiled sweetly and whispered, “Well here the stars twinkle in the night, all the time.”

They kissed again and they both knew this was going to be a very long happy relationship.


About the Author:

Fred Miller

My novel, ABOVE HONOR, was published by Fireside Publications, and my short story, The Best Gift of All was published in the Holiday Tales Anthology. I also had a short story published in the Apeiron Review which is an online publication.
I served in the army as a medical corpsman statoned in Germany and graduated with a BA in Political Science from Richmond College, now the College of Staten Island, and worked for the State of New York as a Social Security Disabilty Examiner, now retired.