The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Dan’s mother entered the kitchen and, after taking one look at Pat, screamed. Her first impression was that some motorcycle gang member had broken into their house in the middle of the night. Visions of being raped by the bald headed man flashed through her mind; then, when she realized the man was actually a woman, her scream cut off.
“It has been years since a woman has greeted me like that first thing in the morning,” Pat said in her gravelly voice. She chuckled and then took a sip of her coffee, watching Dan’s mother over the lip of her coffee cup.
Dan’s father and sister came charging into the kitchen in time to hear the last half of Pat’s sentence. Dan’s father asked, “Who in the hell are you?”
“I’m Pat,” she answered. She looked over at him and said, “Would you mind putting on some pants? The sight of that is going to put me off my breakfast.”
Dan’s father glanced down, glanced over at Diana, and charged out of the kitchen. Fortunately, Diana was too fascinated by Pat to look in her father’s direction. She couldn’t believe that Dan would bring a woman like this home with him. She said, “I didn’t think that Dan’s taste in women had changed quite so much.”
Grinning at the suggestion that she and Dan had done something over the night, Pat said, “Honey, the only way I’d kiss him, is if he was a she.”
Frowning, Dan’s mother said, “If he were a she, I’m not sure what his reaction would be.”
Pat laughed and said, “He said the same damned thing to me.”
Dan’s mother asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Ah, finally we get around to the million dollar question,” Pat said. She took a sip of her coffee before she answered, “Dan got sick last night at work. I brought him home and took care of him. His temperature was going up and down all night long. It finally stabilized early this morning. I’m waiting for my partner to come by and pick me up.”
“He was sick?” Diana asked as her mother fled the kitchen to check on Dan.
Trying to appear a little older than she was, Diana went to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup. She went over to the table and sat down across from Pat. She took a sip of the coffee and made a face wondering why so many people drank it. She said, “There has got to be a good story in there somewhere.”
“You might prefer your coffee with a little cream and sugar,” Pat said having noticed the grimace when Diana had tasted her coffee. Little girls like her would get eaten alive by some of the women who hung out at her bar.
Diana pushed the cup away and said, “Do you work at the restaurant with Dan?”
“No I don’t, but a friend of mine does. She called me and asked me to take care of him,” Pat answered.
“So you took care of a strange man all night,” Diana said. It didn’t fit her image of what a woman who looked like that would do.
“I wouldn’t call Dan strange,” Pat said thinking that a better word would be different.
“You know what I mean,” Diana said looking at Pat with a level gaze.
“Ah, now that you have the ugly bits covered we can talk,” Pat said when Dan’s father re-entered the kitchen. Noticing that Diana took a quick look at her father, she said, “Little girl, promise me that you’ll never come to my bar. The girls would just eat you alive.”
Diana blushed; half in embarrassment, and half in anger at being called a little girl. She said, “I am responsible for my own happiness. If I ever go into your bar, I will have made the choice to do it.”
“I see that you’ve read Dan’s poster,” Pat said picking up on the source of Diana’s statement. Maybe the women wouldn’t eat her alive.
“I made that poster for him,” Diana said.
“I’d like a copy of it to hang in my bar. I’ve seen too many women destroy their lives because they didn’t understand the Facts of Life,” Pat said. After years of running the bar, she didn’t have much sympathy for people who made the same mistakes over and over without learning a lesson from it. That last fact about not being able to change someone else was a real killer.
Listening to the discussion at the table, Dan’s father went over to the counter and poured a cup of coffee. When he returned to the table he noticed the cup in front of Diana and raised a questioning eyebrow. Deciding that he’d talk to her about it later, he turned to Pat and asked, “Who are you?”
“She’s a friend of a friend of Dan’s,” Diana answered. Pat smiled at that characterization. There was a lot of truth to it and it was wrong at the same time.
He asked, “What are you doing here?”
Pat answered, “Dan got sick last night at work. I brought him home and took care of him. His temperature was going up and down all night long. It finally stabilized early this morning. I’m waiting for my partner to come by and pick me up.”
“He was sick?” Dan’s father asked.
“Yes,” Pat said feeling like she had been through this conversation once before.
Dan’s father took a sip of his coffee and grimaced. It was a lot stronger than he usually drank it. He said, “There’s got to be a good story in there, somewhere.”
Pat stared at Dan’s father and shook her head. Turning to Diana, she said, “Are all of you alike?”
Dan woke up late in the afternoon to find his sister in his chair reading through the stacks of paper on his desk. Rather amazed at actually catching her going through his papers, he asked, “What are you doing in here?”
“Making sure that your fever doesn’t come back,” Diana answered looking over at him.
“Oh. I guess it wasn’t a dream,” Dan said. He felt like he had been run over by a truck. Every joint in his body ached. He remembered a little of Pat and another woman taking him home. He remembered talking to his mother that morning. There was a flash or two of Sue asleep in his chair.
“I have got to say that you’ve collected an odd assortment of friends,” Diana said. She had met Betty and Sue as she had headed out for school that morning. The calls from the women Dan worked with had started a little after she had arrived home from school.
“I take it you met Pat,” Dan said.
“Her and her Viking girlfriend,” Diana said. She had come home from school to find Sue asleep in Dan’s chair. Shaking her head, she said, “Sue watched over you most of the day.”
“Oh,” Dan said. He had been pretty sure that her presence in the room had been a dream.
“What’s her story?” Diana asked. Sue was a very attractive woman and she wondered if Sue was Dan’s new girlfriend. She had never seen anyone so fearful of everything in her life. Sue had nearly climbed onto the desk when she had woken her.
“You don’t want to hear her story. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Dan answered with a sad frown. He sat up in bed and said, “I went out to the lake after hearing about her life. I was trying to make sense out of what had happened to her. It took me a while to figure out that she was run over by the first Fact of Life.”
“You were out at the lake?” Diana asked thinking about the weather the previous day.
It had been miserably cold. The wind had been blowing at twenty miles an hour with gusts up to thirty. Too warm to freeze the moisture out of the air, the wind just sucked the heat out of the body. She had felt like her face was cracking just walking to and from the bus. She wondered if he had been suffering from hypothermia, rather than a weird flu.
“I kind of stayed out in the cold a little too long,” Dan said.
“It was freezing yesterday. You’re lucky you didn’t die out there,” Diana said. She put the stack of papers down and said, “You should probably take a shower. I’ll heat up some soup for you.”
“Thanks,” Dan said.
“By the way, your friend Sue offered to paint a picture of me,” Diana said.
Thinking about the kinds of pictures he had seen in Sue’s apartment, Dan said, “Just promise me that you won’t pose nude.”
“Huh?” Diana asked rather surprised by the suggestion that she would pose nude.
“Promise me that you won’t voluntarily pose nude,” Dan said. He’d hate to come home and find a nude painting of his sister hanging on the wall. He didn’t know how he would deal with that.
“I’d never pose nude,” Diana said.
Pointing to the poster, Dan said, “Never say never.”
Diana glanced at the poster and knew exactly what he meant. Even though there was always a choice, sometimes none of the choices were good ones. A person could find themselves doing the most disgusting and degrading acts because the alternatives were even worse. Life wasn’t fair, and sometimes the choices that one had weren’t fair, either. She smiled and said, “Let’s just say that it isn’t something that I would normally consider doing.”
“Thank you,” Dan said.
Diana smiled at him and said, “I kind of like the idea of having her paint a nude picture of me.”
“Get out of here,” Dan said throwing his pillow at her.
It was eight in the evening when Diana and her mother walked into the dimly lit bar at the corner of Third and Oak. As her mother hung back at the door, staring at all of the women, Diana marched over to the bar. Pat looked at Diana and said, “I thought I said you shouldn’t come here.”
Holding up the tube in her hand, Diana said, “I brought you a poster.”
Pat reached out and accepted the poster from Diana and, in a much softer voice, said, “Thank you.”
“Thank you for watching over my brother,” Diana said looking at all of the women watching her.
“It was the least I could do,” Pat said. She looked around the bar and said, “I’ll hang this over there.”
Diana looked around the bar. There were all kinds of paintings of women hanging on the wall. Noticing one that looked a little familiar, she walked over to it and studied it for a minute. She had thought the woman in the picture looked like someone she knew, but it wasn’t of her. A lot of women were watching her with more than a little interest. In a voice loud enough to be heard over the background noise, she asked, “Did Sue do these paintings?”
Rather surprised to learn that Diana knew that Sue used to paint, Pat answered, “Yes.”
The volume in the bar had dropped considerably on hearing that the discussion had turned to Sue’s paintings. Every woman in the place knew the story about Sue. Diana said, “Wow, she’s good.”
“Yes,” Pat said thinking that good wasn’t a strong enough word for the talent that Sue possessed.
“Maybe I should accept her offer to paint me,” Diana said moving to stand in front of another painting.
The bar went absolutely silent as all eyes turned to look at Diana. Her mother edged closer to Diana suddenly concerned for her safety. Pat stared openly at Diana unable to believe what she had heard. Seeing the reaction, Diana asked, “Did I say something wrong?”
One of the women in the bar asked, “Did you say that Sue offered to do a painting of you?”
“Yes,” Diana answered unable to see who had asked the question. The sounds of Pat crying caused her to turn and look at the tough looking woman. It broke her heart to see Pat crying like that. Big tough women like that weren’t supposed to cry.
A jumble of comments broke out across the bar. “Thank you, God!” “She’s going to pose, even if I have to hold her there!” “Finally!” “I can’t believe it!” “Does this mean the anniversary suicide watches are over?” “I never thought I’d see the day!”
Diana looked around the room, getting a little scared by the comments. She wondered what it all meant, but was afraid to ask. Her mother came over to her, feeling intimidated by the sudden attention. She was finding it rather difficult to gauge the mood in the room.
Seeing one of her students in trouble, Cathy Jenkins made one of the hardest decisions of her life. She rose from her chair near the back of the room and went over to where Diana was standing. Looking down at the young woman, she said, “You have no idea what you just said, do you?”
“No, Coach Jenkins,” Diana answered unable to believe that the rumors about the girl’s basketball coach were true.
Coach Jenkins turned to Diana’s mother and said, “Take her out of here. I’ll stop by your house later to talk to you.”
“Okay,” Diana’s mother said. She knew that Coach Jenkins had just taken a huge risk allowing herself to be seen by a student in a lesbian bar.