The next time she came the sky was overcast and rain pelted the windows. She was drenched, shivering, as she walked to the booth at the end. Doris looked up from the register when Eloise entered.
"Eloise! Why, you're soaked to the bone! I'm going to get you some coffee to warm you up." The frequent visits and Eloise's generosity had made them fast friends and Doris took every opportunity to look out for Eloise as Eloise did for her. She had found non-fluorescent bulbs for the lights after reading they were bad for people with Eloise's condition and had taken to keeping the diner warmer than usual because she noticed Eloise shivering. Now she rushed off to find a towel and some warm coffee.
Eloise sat down at the table across from the man, smiling happily. She didn't seem to see the diner around her, only the man in front of her. When Doris brought her coffee, a piece of French silk pie, and a towel she noticed Eloise's eyes were shining.
"Thank you Doris," Eloise said, jolting back to reality. Doris smiled and Eloise noticed a strange look cross her face as she looked briefly at the man before walking away.
"She likes you, you know," she said matter-of-factly, looking at him across the table again. "You should ask her out. I know she'd appreciate it. She won't say anything but I can tell she's lonely. I used to be lonely; I know what that looks like."
The man didn't say anything but did sneak a look at the pretty waitress before focusing again on Eloise. "So, you seem…happy today. I take it something happened?"
Taking the towel Eloise dried her hair before speaking. Her face, although still sickly looking, was glowing and even her damp hair didn't prevent her from looking beautiful. "Things have gotten quite serious with Declan. We have regular dates now. I don't know if he loves me yet but I know I love him. Isn't that half of it? I mean, I know there is unrequited love but if I've fallen in love with him and he clearly likes me a bit won't he love me eventually?"
Her face, a shining beacon of hope, made it difficult for him to fashion an answer. "I don't know," he said, "I suppose." She caught him looking at Doris this time and her face was illuminated by a perfect smile.
"Anyway, I love him and I've noticed something." She waited for him to say something. He looked up from his book at her silence.
"Oh? What have you noticed?"
"Half of my pain is gone, the emotional part. Since we started dating my loneliness has disappeared. It's wonderful."
"Well I would say that is half the battle at least. If you've noticed a change like that you're probably getting close." The man gives her a rare smile.
"That's what I thought," Eloise said, the picture of a woman in love, "That's what I thought too."
A few weeks later Doris came to work in tears. The man watched her work, eyes red, tears streaming down her face. He didn't know what to say, didn't know what to do to make her smile again.
He watched her and didn't notice the tall man, handsome and well dressed, sit down across from him. His dark blue eyes were sad. The squeak of the vinyl seat alerted the man to his arrival.
"Are you looking for something?" he asked, not quite rudely but not welcomingly either.
"I'm looking for you. I'm Declan," he said, as if just his name would alert anyone to his purpose.
"Declan," the man said, voice indicating that he was thinking about the meaning of this.
"I have a message for you. I have a message from Eloise." His voice broke at the mention of her name. The man looked up at this, confused.
"Why? Has something happened?" Concern is evident in his voice, something Eloise would have smiled at.
Before he could answer Doris walked over to the table. "Can I get you anything?" she asked as helpfully as possible. Sadness still seeps through and Declan looks up.
"I'll have a coffee and a slice of pie, whatever you think is good. You're Doris, right?" His voice mirrors her sadness but an element of concern for her mental state is there as well.
"I am, how did you…?" Doris seemed shocked but looking at him, taking in his face and the sadness in his eyes, she knew, "You're Declan, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'd like to thank you for looking out for Eloise. She was grateful as well." Tears welled in Doris's eyes again and she left to get the pie and coffee.
"What do you mean she was grateful?" The man asked. The concern was deepening, edged with something like panic. Although he outwardly didn't seem to care each person he helped was special to him. He wanted them to have what they wanted and it caused him pain when he had to give them tasks they struggled with.
"Eloise is…she's dead." It is clearly a difficult thing for him to say, to admit. "Four nights ago when we were at a movie she collapsed. I rushed her to the hospital but she fell into a coma. She stayed like that for two days. I did everything I could to help her, to get her to wake up. Finally one night, after I had sat by her bed for forty-eight hours, she woke up." He spoke slowly as if he couldn't believe it was the truth, as if he was repeated a story someone had told him that was too farfetched to be real.
"When she woke up I was so grateful. I thanked God and I told her I loved her. I told her I couldn't stand the thought of losing her, that she meant everything to me. We'd only been dating a little while, mere months, but I knew she was the one.
"I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe I thought this would make her stand up and kiss me, wrap her arms around me and tell me she felt the same way. Maybe I thought it would magically make her better. Whatever it did it didn't do that.
"She smiled at me when I told her. Her eyes seemed dreamy, far away. 'Declan, I love you too" she told me, 'Promise me you'll do something for me when I'm gone?' I couldn't believe it. 'What do you mean, when you're gone El? You're not going anywhere!'
"'Promise me,' she insisted, so I did. She told me what to do but I didn't know what to make of it. She seemed delirious. I assured her I would and the next thing I knew she was dead.
"We still haven't figured out what killed her, exactly. I ran an obituary in the paper this morning, something so someone else would know about her death. As soon as I could I came to do what she said. I had promised I would, even if it didn't make sense. I had to try."
"What did she want you to do?" The man asked. He tried to hide the emotion in his voice but didn't succeed entirely.
"She gave me an address. 'Go to this address, tell the man in the booth at the end something for me.'" Declan paused and seemed unable to continue.
"What did she say?" The man cried, voice a little louder than he intended."
"'Tell him thank you. Tell him the pain is gone.'"