|Posted on December 11, 2016 at 1:00 AM|
Once she finally gathered her strength and composure, Diana ushered herself to exit from her hotel room. Although the hotel was a distance away, she felt the four or five block walk down the road to the tavern would bide time to smooth over her rugged emotional exterior. Diana never truly expected nor knew how much tension had pent up since Tom's death, neither had she been prepared to release it. She did what she felt was best to face her grief sooner, not later, and reminded herself of the honest love for Tom that was the reason why she chose to come here. As she finally approached the tavern's rustic entrance, Diana's anxiety tried to assert discomfort about feeling unprepared for socializing with Tom's unfamiliar colleagues. She was just a stranger to them, after all. He was the one they knew. Though, their willingness to be here for her was something she still felt compelled to honor and respect.
Despite her self-encouragement, Diana's nerves still reared back expecting some kind of tense surprise moment as she turned the doorknob to enter. What she found was an instantly comforting waft of aromas from delicious foods and a group of all smiles. Diana was relieved to find a small and casual gathering of people that she assumed were the welcoming party. Behind the bar stood a tall redheaded woman of maybe no more than ten years older than her, plus the group of seven people who looked like they were from diverse walks of life. Diana immediately recognized Avis, Zoë, and Everett from the campus introduction earlier. Avis, being the most outspoken of the group, introduced the newcomers in a round robin: Sara Jo, Brandon, Mystic, and Abdullah. The tavern owner, Madison, gave her own delightful but brief welcome speech. Everyone offered their kindest of greetings and sincerest condolences.
Words could not express pretty much fit the bill, so Diana did her best to thank them as she held back several tears and mild shyness. Speaking of the bill, Madison spoke up to let everyone know that the tab was on the house. Just as long as they did not eat or drink her out of house and home, she sarcastically joked. Unexpectedly, Diana felt her casual smile falter from the anxiety of trying to keep her emotional vulnerability hidden. Zoë noticed this amongst the commotion and came over to help Diana relax without drawing any undue attention. Simply from a firm hand on her forearm and reassuring eye contact gave Diana the ease with which to continue, and she discreetly thanked Zoë. This was the second time she had been so observant and it made her wonder whether she had similar experiences of tragedy in her own life. Zoë's comforting presence was a quality that Diana appreciated.
Before ordering their food, Avis offered to say a few words of his own out of respect for Diana and in honor of their absent companion, Tom Caplain. Minus Madison's participation, the crew drank an honorary shot of liquor before they proceeded to order their meals. On her round back to the kitchen, Madison stopped to her own personal comfort to Diana as a show of mindfulness and moral support. She found the kindness helped take the place of anxiety and apprehension that would have preferred a hasty exit. Shortly afterwards, Everett ushered Diana over to a gathered set of tables where everyone sat around, as he pulled out a chair for her in a gentlemanly manner. She thanked him kindly for the gesture before sitting down. Even now, Diana was rightfully still somewhat shy and reserved. Though, the more she embraced and joined in on the positive socializing the more her stress quietly mellowed out.
Over the next several hours each person offered their best memories of Tom. They mixed in interesting discussions about their recent studies of the regional geology. Zoë, Avis, and Everett shared where out of state they each hailed from and their aspirations for being here. Gradually, a lively group of personalities and topics of conversation made these perfect strangers really blend together quite well, Diana thought to herself. For minutes at a time, she lost track of her sorrow and despair over losing Tom thanks to feeling and being more socially involved. Everyone also repeatedly thanked Madison, and her staff, for the deliciously cooked food that helped pass the time after the main course was served. Eventually, due to the modest rounds of alcohol, the group broke out into fits of laughter from jokes that left no dry eyes in the tavern. The comedic relief definitely made for a welcomed change of mood.
She really felt grateful for being a part of this remarkable camaraderie rather than shying away. Though, seeing that it was getting close to ten o’clock Diana gathered everyone’s attention being that she was the guest of honor and on limited time to be there. She focused herself to express her immense gratitude to be there with them after all that had happened. For having been so welcomed when she had never been this far on such a spur of the moment, destined trip on her own. The campus introduction, and this very comforting evening, had ended up really meaning a lot to Diana particularly for being essentially an outsider to them. Mystic, and then Brandon, both spoke up to quash her modesty and shared their own gracious appreciation for getting to know her despite the circumstances. This inspired everyone, including Madison, to offer resounding gratitude to have Diana there with them too.
Diana then made her way to each person for a hug and to thank them individually. At the last minute Everett, whom had been more of a traveling friend with Tom than the others, approached her with some unexpected but intriguing information. During the first few weeks he had spent in the region, Tom had apparently become very fond of a remote overlook spot about fifteen minutes outside of town. The location was surprisingly ideal for both a grand view of the majestic mountain ranges, and for either a sunset or sunrise according to Tom. Everett insisted that Diana check it out before leaving town the next morning, and hoped it would give her a lasting moment of closure as well. So, she grabbed a convenient nearby napkin, a pen lying on top of the bar, and jotted down the best shorthand notes she could of Everett's directions to the spot.
After she gave one last wave to the cheerful group, Diana gathered her belongs and made her way out through the entrance door. Its hinges creaked with an odd sound and startled her for a moment. As soon as she stepped off from the door's threshold her repressed emotions tried to resurface. To her surprise, they were not as intense as they had been earlier. The anger, frustration, and confusion from her crash site outburst changed into a more mild restlessness. This, Diana realized, must have been from the positive socializing with Tom's colleagues that helped her to recuperate. Although, not entirely. She still felt a modest amount of unrest, plus exhaustion. So, she made a beeline straight to the hotel. Once faced with her room's door, Diana fumbled briefly with the key card. Her hands were just a tad shaky from her frayed nerves, but in moments she managed to insert it into place.