I drove south headed for Florida, my head full of thoughts of JC. Missing her terribly from the time I said goodbye at the Albany Amtrak station, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Nope, I told myself as I wiped them away, I will not allow myself to get emotional. I had a great time with JC, and I will again before you know it. Time to move on to the next adventure.
So I set my sights on getting down to Greensboro, NC, where my close friend Lisa lives. Lisa is like a sister to me, she adores me and loves to look out after me. She also enjoys reading what I write, and wants to be the first to see it. I always make a point of accommodating her, feeling flattered that she is such a fan of my work. Lisa is also a great cook, so I knew there would be some good food waiting for me when I got there that night.
My drive from Albany to Greensboro was fairly uneventful. It rained most of the day, and that caused a lot of unwelcome traffic congestion in the frequent construction zones I ran into. And there were more jerks on the road than usual, weaving in and out and cutting in front of you to the point of nearly tearing off the car's bumper. Slow down, you crazy child!
Naturally there were the odd assortment of "Bill's people" when I'd stop for gas or to go to the bathroom. Like the woman who offered to wash my feet then anoint them with oil. "It was good enough for our Lord Jesus, don't you think it's good enough for you, sir? Just five dollars."
I called Lisa when I was getting close, and spoke to her husband Ernie. He and I chatted, and he said to be safe on the last leg of my journey. No problem there, safety first is always the credo of a driving fool.
I arrived at the house, and Lisa ran out the door and jumped into my arms. She kissed me on the cheek and said, "I am so glad to see you, I have missed you so much. Get in here!" We walked inside, and the soundtrack to GREASE was blaring on the stereo.
"You remembered how much I love musicals."
"Honey, I remember everything about you. You're my Bill."
Ernie stepped up with his hand out to shake. "How you doin', bro?"
I gave Ernie a shake and half hug, like bros do. "Great to see you. You're looking fit."
"Working on it. I can see you've lost a few pounds."
Lisa beamed. "We have a new member of the family." An adorable puppy ran into the room, sniffed my foot, then peed on my tennis shoes. "Bailey, why would you do that to Bill, he didn't pee on you."
"Did you say Bailey?" I asked.
Lisa reached down and picked him up. "Yep, my sweet little Bailey. Now I've got him and my husband and my Bill all here. Life is good."
"I knew a great dog named Bailey that passed away last month."
"This puppy was born last month."
I grabbed Bailey from Lisa and looked deep into his eyes. "Bailey, are you in there? Have you been reincarnated into this puppy? Oh, I'm so happy to see you." I began to smother little Bailey with kisses, while Lisa giggled with good cheer. Then I heard SUMMER NIGHTS come on, and I was overcome with an irresistible urge to sing along and dance to it. Lisa and Ernie chuckled, and Bailey barked at me. When the song ended, I collapsed into the nearest chair. "So, what's for supper?"
She came over and squeezed my shoulder. "You're a nut."
"Any side dishes to go with the nuts?"
Ernie giggled. "Nuts, that's a good one." I stared at him and shook my head.
We all went to the table, and Lisa served a feast of enormous proportions. Baked chicken, pasta, beans, greens, corn, fruit salad, homemade biscuits, and banana pudding for dessert. Bailey sat at our feet whining the entire time, wanting a treat.
After dinner, we retired to the den, where Lisa insisted on hearing my latest stories from the road. I told her all about the flight to Syracuse, and Dickie who wanted to dance, and my good times with JC up on the farm in New York. Lisa crossed her arms. "You making time with another girl?"
"Hey, you're like a sister to me, and you know it. Don't get all jealous on me."
"Oh, you know I'm just kidding. But, it's just... well, you are special to me, Bill. I love you so much."
I gestured over towards Ernie. "Hey, watch what you say, your husband is sitting right over there."
Ernie shook his head and waved off the notion. "Take her, she's yours, I'm all done with her."
Lisa grumbled. "Screw you."
"I love you, baby," he said.
"Love you, too," she said.
Although Ernie went to bed around 10pm, Lisa and I stayed up late into the wee hours talking and catching up. There was a sparkle in her eyes, and she was so happy just to be around me. I felt the same about her. Lisa is like a lioness who watches after her cubs, she is very protective of me. Always has been, ever since I met her in Birmingham ten years ago. It was a sad day for me when she moved away, but she had to go where her husband went. That's life.
The next morning, Lisa cooked me a grand country breakfast. Then she told me that she had to go do some grocery shopping, if I wouldn't mind. "Mind?" I asked her. "Are you kidding? It'll be just like old times. Remember how I used to take you to the grocery store in Birmingham all the time?"
"We'd hop in the car and go to the 'Pig', at least once or twice a week. And it was always an adventure."
"I remember. And I remember all the goof balls that would approach you, and I'd tell you that you must be some kind of magnet for odd characters."
"Now I call them Bill's people."
"Hey, I know all that. This is me, Lisa, hello. I read all your blogs. And you are such a good writer."
"Yeah, well, I don't know about all that."
"I do. Let me put my shoes on and we'll go to the store. No Piggly Wiggly's around here, we'll have to go to the Food Lion."
"Sounds exciting, I've never been to a Food Lion. Lisa the Lioness at the Food Lion."
She smiled at me. "You are crazy."
We went to the store and just had so much fun being together. I was in a particularly silly mood, and was doing any goofy thing that crossed my mind. It was like Bill's greatest hits or something. But she enjoyed every minute of it, and I just enjoyed her company.
"I do love your blogs," she said. "But some of them bother me, I have to be honest with you."
"When you write about people who are abusive to you. You are a sweet man and you are so caring, so when I read those tales I just want to be there and stand up for you."
"Don't you worry, sweetie, I do just fine."
"Oh I know, but..." I picked up three cans and tried to juggle them to distract Lisa, but the cans fell to the ground and she let out an involuntary guffaw.
At the check out line, I tried to offer a friendly greeting to the oblivious cashier. "Happy Friday to you."
"Happy who?" asked the befuddled woman.
"Just offering a happy greeting for a wonderful Friday and a great weekend ahead."
"Trying to be friendly, that's all."
"Can I ask you a personal question, ma'am?"
"You say you want to cash a personal check? No sir, we don't cash personal checks."
"What? No, I was--" Lisa interrupted me by gently shoving me down the counter so she could watch her items being rung up. I got the hint and moved to the end of the aisle and began to bag the groceries, then load the grocery cart with bags.
As we started to walk out of the store, a very large man in his 20's came towards me looking over his shoulder and not paying attention to where he was walking. I tried to sidestep him, but he bumped into me hard, nearly knocking me over. He turned and looked at me angrily and said, "You need to watch where you're going, asshole." I nodded, and tried to go on my way. But the big guy grabbed me by the arm. "You hear me? Next time I might just have to kick your ass."
In a flash, Lisa was between me and the big guy and pushing him away. He was too shocked by her fearless, aggressive behavior to react immediately. There was fire in her eyes and a growl in her voice. "Listen pal, you leave my friend alone. He didn't do anything to you. You weren't looking where you were going, and you ran into him even though he tried to step out of your way. I think you owe him an apology, but I'm damn sure not going to stand here and let you talk disrespectfully to my friend."
I put my hand on her shoulder. "Lisa, you don't have to--"
"Oh yes I do, I damn sure do have to."
About this time, the big guy got his wits about him again, and leaned in towards Lisa with menace. "Listen up, bitch, no one talks to me like that."
I stepped between Lisa and the big fellow. "Don't call her that."
Suddenly, a silver haired man grabbed the big guy by the hair from behind and yanked him backwards, then deftly locked his hand around the younger man's throat. "Bobby, you need to watch your mouth. Your Momma taught you to behave better than that." Then the old man turned to Lisa and me. "I'm awful sorry, my grandson acts up sometimes, but he's gonna learn how to act in proper society." Then the old man got into Bobby's face. "Now you are gonna apologize to this nice lady and her friend, aren't you?" Bobby was turning red in the face and struggling for air, but nodded the best he could. The grandfather slowly released him.
Bobby hung his head and said, "Ma'am, I am very sorry for the way I talked."
The grandfather smacked Bobby in the back of the head with his hand. "Get on, now." He turned to us and said, "I'll have a long talk with the boy when we get home. You folks have a nice day now, and please do accept my apology." Lisa and I both nodded, and then we left.
We talked about the incident all the way back home, and I told her how impressed I was with the way she stood up for me. "Why wouldn't I?" she asked. "Nobody messes with my Bill."
I left late that night, as I had a deadline to meet old Miss Jenkins at the Amtrak station in Florida on Saturday afternoon. It was hard to say goodbye to Lisa, just as it was difficult to leave JC. But I always have to remind myself that there are good friends wherever I go who always welcome me, and that when I leave it is only a little while till the next time I see them. It was a long trip, a real adventure, and I came back from it feeling blessed to be so loved.