Mary Lou had already decided on fish for today's meal, so she headed for Skipper's, planning to order a few strips of deep-fried breaded halibut and a salad.
"Do you want a drink with it?" the attendant asked as she ordered.
"Yes," Mary Lou said, "I want a small Diet Coke, and I want it for here."
"You don't want it to go?"
"No thank you." She grabbed some napkins, a straw, and some tartar sauce to and put it on her tray. She hadn't seen the young girl yet, so she started looking around. One section of the eating area had a big screen TV for people to watch who didn't have anything better to do as they ate their fast food. Sometimes, the young girl would be sitting there, watching something on the television, her book of word searches set aside, but not usually. Typically, the television was on and tuned to the news or some talk show fanatic on Fox or a cable station. She had noticed that, if the girl was watching the television, it was usually tuned to something other than the news or a talk show. Sean Hannity was on now though, so it was unlikely the young woman would be sitting there watching him.
Skipper's finished her order, and she took her tray and started walking around the perimeter of the food court, looking for the young woman. She went all the way around, but she didn't see her. She started around again. She walked more slowly this time, scanning up and down the aisles, looking at every table. The young woman usually wasn't this hard this to spot. Mary Lou went all the way around again, but she still didn't see the young woman. She thought it was weird that the girl wasn't anywhere around. That had never happened before whenever she'd looked for the girl.
There was a corridor that led to another entryway with not much else along it, which the mall had used to extend the food court area, placing a few tables here and there. Mary Lou had never noticed the girl sitting there before, though, but she decided that she would check to make certain she wasn't there and started walking in that direction. She kept going, looking, but not seeing the girl. Then finally, she saw her, but she wasn't alone. She was sitting there with the older woman, and they were both crying.
Mary Lou decided to stay off at a distance. Somewhere where she could watch them, but that wasn't too close to disturb them or make them get up and leave. She wondered what could be wrong with the two women. Something must've happened to make them cry like that. It made Mary Lou feel so badly. She didn't know exactly why she felt that way, however. The young girl didn't really mean anything to Mary Lou --- she wasn't related to her in any meaningful way; she was just somebody at the mall every day, like Mary Lou was. Well, not really, not at all like Mary Lou was. Of course, Mary Lou felt sorry for the girl. Her life looked miserable and unhappy. The girl was handicapped --- seriously handicapped --- and the food court seemed to be the girl's prison. Her minimum security prison. Mary Lou was interested, because the girl seemed to be always present there, waiting while the older woman worked, doing her word searches or, on occasion, watching the mall television. And yesterday, for the first time, Mary Lou had talked to the girl. And the girl had seemed so sweet.
The breaded and deep-fried fish didn't taste as good as it usually did. The green salad seemed to wilt before her eyes, and the ranch dressing on it seemed grainy. She fed it to herself, but all she wanted to focus on where the two women down the way mopping up their tears with paper towels from the public bathroom, trying to comfort each other's sorrows.
Mary Lou wondered how long the pair of women stayed in the mall every day. It seemed as if there were always there whenever Mary Lou was around, but Mary Lou also realized that she hadn't been observing the situation with the two women closely until just lately. Maybe after work today, she would come back here to see if the two were still here in the food court after nine o'clock. If they were, maybe she would see then if there was an opportunity to sit down beside the young woman and get her name. Maybe she should stop by the bookstore on the way back to the office and buy a new book of word searches for the young woman. Maybe she would like that.
It was time to return to the office. When she got there, she would check with Bill Telford's secretary to see if he was available, to find out if she would be working for Mark Goodrich. If Goodrich had agreed to Mary Lou's condition, she would remain nearby, perhaps, even remain in the same building but up a few floors. That would be nice.
She gathered the refuse from her meal carefully onto a tray, picked it up, and took it to the garbage can and dumped it. She placed the tray on top of the garbage can, glanced around one more time to see the two women sitting at the table back there, then turned and walked away.