Chapter 24 – Michael Hamman
Michael’s knees started hurting as he shifted the butter knife in the slot of the door where the knob should be on the other side. He’d been at it for twenty minutes before his back got tired, so he knelt to continue. Now, another twenty minutes later, he still hadn’t gotten the door open.
Frank and Eliza had shown the room next to his after explaining everything on the second day. It was exactly as he had said: the room was full of suitcases, board games, clothes, and other minor things previous “guests” had left behind. It was the pile of books on the bed that Michael was after. He hadn’t thought about taking one at the time. How could he? He was still reeling with guilt over losing Nathan.
A couple of days had passed, and the guilt would not go away. It was his fault. He left Nathan and Alexandra to save Rachel. Was the fact that Rachel was saved going to ease Tara and Alexandra’s pain? Of course it wasn’t. Would his apologies make Nathan come back? Of course they wouldn’t. Was he ever going to get this damn door open? Of course he wasn’t!
Michael dropped the knife and slouched against the door, bringing his hands to his head. If he didn’t find an escape from his thoughts soon, he’d go insane. He needed one of those books.
Nothing but mistakes.
The door clicked on the other side, and the support for Michael’s back fell away. He tried to catch himself, but it happened too fast, and his head hit the floor. He looked up and saw Frank standing over him, a baseball bat dangling at his side. His expression showed how ridiculous Michael looked.
“Having trouble there, Son?”
Michael’s face grew hot as he grabbed the frame of his door and pulled himself up. Frank’s eyes drifted to the knife on the floor.
“What were you doing?”
The heat rose. “I was going to have a look at those books over there.” He pointed to the bed. “So, I tried to slip the knife into the bolt to open the door.”
“You could have just knocked.” Frank smiled.
Michael ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, but I didn’t want to wake you or Eliza up.”
Frank let out an “old man” laugh. “It’s only nine o’clock, Son. Even old farts like us don’t go to sleep that early.” He placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “Besides, we would have woken up eventually with all of that scratching at the door.” Another laugh. “How long were you at that, anyway?”
Michael’s head fell. “I don’t know.”
He walked to the pile of books and started perusing them, not really paying attention to what the titles were.
And that’s how the reading was going to be, wasn’t it? Just little black marks on white pages that didn’t mean anything or help him escape from his own thoughts.
He dropped the book he was holding and sighed.
“Is there something on your mind, Son?” Frank’s voice startled Michael. That was right: there was someone else in the room.
“Yeah.” Not much detail, but he really didn’t feel like elaborating. The two men stood in silence for a moment.
“Why don’t you join us in our room for a little?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” He needed an escape, but for some reason the idea of being around other people wasn’t appealing.
“I insist. Eliza would love to have some company.”
He couldn’t say, “No.” There was something about older people asking for company that made it impossible to say, “No.”
Michael walked to Frank who wrapped an arm around him and lead him to the door. A few seconds after a rhythmic knock, the door opened with Eliza blinking on the other side. He had to try to not notice.
“Look, Darling, we have a guest.” Frank bent down and kissed Eliza on the cheek. She giggled and took Michael’s arm, guiding him toward the loveseat.
“Was that you, making all that racket?” She squeezed Michael’s arm. She was teasing him.
“Sorry, Ma’am. I was hoping to take a look at those books.”
“Ooh, don’t you start calling me ‘Ma’am.’ I’m too young for that.” She squeezed again. “Are you thirsty?”
“No, thank you.” Michael sat and Eliza took the spot next to him, still holding his arm.
“Now, Mrs. McCormick, you’re going to make me jealous,” Frank said as he pulled a chair in front of them.
“Ooh, Mr. McCormick, stop. No man could ever steal me away from you.”
The two beamed at one another. How long had they been together? Even after so many years, they could still flirt with each other like they were newlyweds. Would Michael ever have that? Did he even deserve it?
“So, what did you do for a living, Michael?”
“I’m a carpenter. I have my own business in St. Louis.”
“So that’s why you’re so strong.” Eliza squeezed his arm again. Michael shifted nervously. Frank saved him from having to respond.
“What were you on your way to Denver for?”
“Vacation. First one in five years. Figures I wouldn’t even get there.” It also figured he’d cause pain immediately after getting here.
“Five years,” Frank exclaimed. “Why so much time between?”
“That… is a long story—one I would need a few drinks to tell.” Hopefully, they wouldn’t try to go any deeper.
“Well, my boy.” Frank stood up. “There’s plenty of that in the diner. Why don’t we mosey our way on over there?”
“Oh, Frank, he just got here.”
“It’s his vacation, Dear. Let the man live a little.”
Their mirth was infectious. Stranded here for thirty years, losing who-knows how many friends—maybe even family. Yet, they were as lively as Michael had been so long ago. It felt good to be around them.
“A drink sounds nice.” He stood.
“Excellent. Let’s invite that woman next door to you. Rachel, was it?” Frank winked at him.
Michael’s face grew hot again. “I don’t think we should bother her.”
“Why not,” Eliza asked, standing. “You save her life, didn’t you? The least she could do is have a drink with you.”
This was going to be uncomfortable. But, at least it was a distraction.