To See Ourselves As Others See Us…

by Firefox

ATF Universe

Disclaimer: Not mine <sigh>. No infringement intended, no money made… just not fair, is it?

Author’s Notes: A huge thank you to Annie - who not only inspired this, but who helped me tremendously with a beta performance above and beyond the call of duty by 'translating' my Brit into American. She made this a much better fic than it would otherwise have been. And my apologies to Robert Burns for the title!

For: My American friends who have introduced me to the word 'doofus', for which I shall be forever in their debt <g>!

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the picture in the paper.

I mean, I'd always thought of myself as observant.

Not smart exactly, but observant. I remember people. Well, faces more than people, I guess. I have a good memory for faces. Mr Watson is always saying that I'm good at remembering customer's faces. I can remember if someone tried to skip off without paying, or if they left the cabin looking like a war zone.

I remember faces.

I'm not so good with names - there are so many names on the forms, and the handwriting on some of them! Might as well be Chinese for all I can make of it. And people lie about their names when they come here, anyway. You wouldn't believe how many 'Smith's' I've seen. Until I came to work here, I always thought that was a joke, but it isn't. People really are that unimaginative - especially when they pay in cash. Course, if they're using a credit card it's a bit more difficult, but what none of them seem to realise is that no-one gives a damn anyway. You could sign yourself in here as Elvis Presley and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow.

But I'd remember your face.

I'm good with faces.

Then I saw that picture in the paper - that ATF team, the ones they're calling 'The Magnificent Seven', and I couldn't believe it. Seven faces.

And I know every one of them.

What are the chances of that?

It took me a while, because I've never seen them all together before, but I know them alright. All of them. It's been a quiet night tonight, so I've been looking at that picture and trying to remember them all.

And I do.

They won't remember me of course. I'm invisible to people, like the guy who serves you at the burger joint, or the gas pump attendant, or the butler in one of those old mystery movies - I just don't register with people. Register - ha! - that's quite a good joke now I think about it. I am the invisible person who just works here. I smile when they walk in - Mr Watson says it's important to welcome guests with a smile, though I don't think many of them notice. I give them the form to fill in, hand them their keys, tell them where the convenience store is, whatever. They nod, sometimes they say 'thanks', then they go. That's it. I could have two heads and I doubt most of them would notice that, either.

I bet they don't remember my face.

But I remember theirs.

I've always been good with faces.

I've been thinking real hard, and I'm sure it was the blond I remember seeing first.

It was a long time ago - I hadn't been working here all that long. He came here a few times - always arrived on his own, always carrying one of those brown paper bags they put liquor bottles in, though he never seemed drunk when he came in. I remember him from then because he always looked so awful. So tired and sad. Like he had this weight on him, crushing the life out of him. I felt real sorry for him, even though he scared me a bit.

Usually, people who come in here alone are not alone for very long - and they have that look about them, sort of guilty, as if they want to hide, but he didn't look like that. He looked… sad. Hurt. In pain. One time I'm sure I asked him if he needed a doctor, but he didn't say anything. He never said anything. He never even looked up - not then, anyway.

He always left the cabin okay too - I remember the bedspread being rumpled, but not the sheets - as if he had slept on top of the bed. And there was always an empty bottle on the nightstand, and the brown paper bag on the floor. I don't think I ever saw him leave - not those times, anyway. I think he must have always left early, before my shift started.

I didn't see him for a while then, after those first few times. The next time he came here, oh, must have been a couple of years later, he arrived very late one night. He looked so different, I almost didn't recognise him.

This old car pulled up out front, it was a Jeep I think. I don't really remember, I'm not good with cars - but anyway, I know it was him. He climbed out of this old Jeep or whatever, and he was smiling. He walked in the door, and the first thing I noticed was his eyes. He has lovely sea-green eyes, and I'd never noticed.

He looked…different.

More like the customers who normally come in here - a bit flushed, a bit furtive. He wasn't driving the Jeep, and I couldn't really see who was, not that time, apart from the person having long hair.

I thought it was a woman, what with the long hair and all, and it took me a while to put the pieces together. He came a couple of times after that, always in that old car.

Which is why I remember when I saw him and the owner of the long hair, and felt like such a doofus.

You can't really see that the guy has long hair in the photo, I guess he must have it tied back or something, but I'd know his face anywhere.

He came in one night. I'm trying to remember the car, but all I'm getting is a huge black thing - some sort of truck, but then I'm not good with cars. He was wearing one of those cowboy hats, you know, with the wide brim, and faded jeans and cowboy boots. Looked like he'd wandered in off some prairie. He was cute, though. Very cute. Long shiny hair, down onto his shoulders, beautiful blue eyes and one of them really shy smiles that make your insides go all jittery.

I remember he took a long time filling out the form, and his hands were all shaky. I was going to offer to do it for him - there's plenty of folks out there can't read or write, even today - but he did manage it in the end, and I was glad I'd kept my mouth shut, because that would have been real embarrassing for both of us.

I was watching him walk out, back to that truck thing and, I gotta admit, feeling just a bit jealous of whatever woman was waiting behind the wheel. Anyway, he opens the passenger door, and I nearly fell over backwards, 'cause the blond is driving the truck! I saw him clear as daylight - then I remembered the Jeep and realised who had been driving that. Boy, I really was a doofus!

Not that I'm judging them you understand - good Lord no, they're mild compared to some of what goes on in here let me tell you, and nobody died and left me an opinion, anyhow. It's a tough world, and you only go around once - grab your chances with both hands, that's what I say.

I just remember how it was lovely to see the blond guy smiling - especially after those first visits. I was pretty pleased for both of them. Found myself with a smile all evening.

Speaking of smiling, I know I said I'm hopeless with names, but every now and then someone walks through the door and leaves an impression that it's kind of hard to forget.

There he is, standing alongside the blond in the photo, grinning under that 'stache of his.

That's a face I know well. So well, I've even learned the name that goes with it. Buck Wilmington.

I'm trying to remember the first time I saw him, but I can't. He's been coming here since forever. I might be remembering wrong, but now I see them together I think he might have been here to collect the blond on one or two mornings in the beginning, but I can't be certain - it might be my mind playing tricks.

I remember him, though. Oh yes. He's got one of those personalities, y'know? I've seen him come strolling in here, always with some pretty girl hanging off his arm, and always a different girl at that. He's got a smile to melt steel and a voice to match, and what a charmer!

He leans over the desk, making a big thing of looking at my name badge, then turns those midnight blues of his up to full beam and just looks at you. Made me blush the first time, and I thought my days of doing that were well over.

Calls you 'darlin'' and believe me, there's more corn comes out of that mouth than Kansas can produce in a good year, but somehow he gets away with it.

He's what my Ma would've called 'handsome'. Tall without being skinny, dark hair, all shiny and full of waves, and a way of looking at you that makes you feel - heck, I know it sounds stupid, but it makes you feel as if you're the best thing he's seen all day. It's total bull of course, all of it, but somehow, the way he says it - you kind of believe it. Sell you the Brooklyn Bridge if he wanted, and there you’d be, signing yourself away, totally taken with those blue eyes.

He's not like some of them other guys that Mr Watson calls our 'regulars' (I call them something different) - you know the type - different woman every other night and you just know they're getting paid for it. They come in here, all hair gel and aftershave, more slippery than a bucketful of eels, with that down-their-nose look at you, like you're beneath their notice.

Not Buck. He's never like that. He's always laughing, and the women are always laughing, too. He's got a soul full of sunshine and a heart full of smiles, and every time I see him he makes me feel happy.

It's pointless me trying to remember what car Buck arrives in - there are so many they could fill a car lot, but I do remember one in particular, which is amazing, because I'm not good with cars. Now I see the picture, I think perhaps he must have borrowed it that night, because I've seen the other guy in it a couple of times - the shorter one, with the reddish hair.

Anyway, I remember because it was raining real hard, and this really ritzy looking car pulled up outside and Buck got out. He rushed in, all smiles as usual, and said something about the weather, and how it would ruin the shine on the Jag and he was never gonna hear the end of that - and he was grinning fit to burst. That was when I realised it was a Jaguar - the car I mean - and you don't see many of them around here. It's what Mr Watson calls a 'high quality vehicle', and I'm supposed to give those customers better cabins. Not that that matters where Buck is concerned, he's so sweet I always give him the best cabin we've got.

The other one - the Jag owner with the reddish hair, now him I remember because I nearly made a complete fool of myself with him, once. He arrived in that car with a woman - older, but very smart and well-groomed. She had a beautiful face, but one of those expressions that made her look as if she'd got this bad smell under her nose.

Well, I thought he was trying to impress her, so I'm just about to ask them if they'd like one of our two 'honeymoon' cabins - I mean the words are almost out of my mouth - when I hear him call her 'Mother'. Geez, did I feel stupid! My jaw just dropped. No wonder he looked at me as if I'd just landed from Mars. My mouth was opening and closing like a stranded catfish.

She was complaining non-stop, saying some very unkind things about this place, she even said it looked like the cockroach Ritz - I'm glad Mr Watson didn't hear her or there'd have been hell to pay. This place isn't that bad - it's clean and comfortable, and I haven't seen a roach around here for ages.

He just looked a bit embarrassed and rolled his eyes at me when she wasn't looking.

He's very good looking, that one, very glossy - never looks like he needs a comb or a shave, and his clothes don't come from K-Mart let me tell you. I can spot expensive clothes at 50 feet, and this guy is expensive.

Lovely eyes too - very green. I'm starting to think maybe that's a necessary requirement for the ATF - lovely eyes - 'cos all that lot have got them, and no mistake.

The older guy in the picture, the tall one with the pale blue eyes and the curly greying hair, I remember him because of that incident with the photo. He almost scared me to death, though the next time he came he brought me a box of candy to say sorry.

I must have caught him at a bad moment that first time I suppose, because he's never been like that with me since. Heck, we all have bad days.

He came in here one night, quite late, and he looked real upset.

He's a big guy, looks as strong as an ox, and looked so mad he made me a bit nervous right off the bat. He didn't smile, didn't even acknowledge me, just signed his name and took his key without a word. As he went out the door, he was putting his receipt in his wallet, and I noticed this piece of paper fall out. He didn't spot it and just strode off across the lot. It was raining, and I thought he'd want it, whatever it was, so I ran out after him and picked it up.

It was a photo - of him and a girl. Taken a while ago, he looked quite a bit younger, dark hair and a gorgeous smile, and she's smiling at the camera, looking a bit shy.

By now, he's got to his cabin, so I run through the rain, holding the picture, and knock on the door. He didn't open the door - he didn't even shout out 'who's there?' so I gave it a few seconds, then knocked again. He shouted 'go away', so I called out to him that he had dropped something.

A few seconds later, the door opens so fast it crashes back on its hinges, and he's there in the doorframe, big as a grizzly bear, with a face to match. I was so damn scared everything seized up. I'd still got the photo in my hand - he just moaned something that sounded like 'Hannah', grabbed it and slammed the door in my face. I ran back to the desk shaking like a leaf in a tornado.

I expected the cabin to be wrecked in the morning, but it wasn't. Quite the opposite in fact - he'd left it really neat and tidy. He came to the desk and asked for me, but I'd gone off shift. The next time he came in I nearly took a dive under the desk when I saw him, but he just held his hand up - he's got hands like coal shovels I noticed - and said how sorry he was that he'd been rude and frightened me. Then he gave me the box of candy. Not many customers bother with things like that, so you remember the ones that make an effort.

I've seen him a lot of times since then, I think he must make a regular trip somewhere, then use this place as his stopover. I feel kind of sorry for him - he never looks very comfortable or happy when he comes here. I keep wondering if Hannah is his wife, though I notice he doesn't wear a wedding ring.

Talking of wedding rings brings me to the big African American guy.

Him I remember well, partly because of that beautiful woman he brings here - they've been here a couple of times. I just know they're married, they go together like salt and pepper, and they both wear wedding rings. Oh, don't get me wrong, there's plenty of folks come in here wearing wedding rings who aren't married to each other, but you develop a sense for these things when you've been doing this job for as long as I have, and I just know these two are the real deal.

She is so beautiful it makes me green with envy. It's all natural too, none of this too-much make-up and smells like a department store perfumery, she's just one of those women who was born with it.

The first time they came here they arrived by cab, I think, and they'd obviously been to some fancy affair, because he's in a tux and she's in this gorgeous green dress, with a big corsage pinned on her shoulder. They were laughing - real happy, and she was teasing him all the time he was signing in, talking about taking the honeymoon cabin, and playing doctor. She winked at me, and I started grinning. He was pretending to ignore her, but he was grinning too.

They walked off across the lot with their arms around each other, still laughing. Made me feel pretty good, I don't mind admitting. You see plenty of deceit going on here, plenty of guilt, sadness and lies - makes the real thing shine that much brighter - and those two shine like they invented it.

The real thing, like I just said, is something of a rarity in these parts, but the youngster in the photo I also remember in connection with the real thing, though for an entirely different reason. I think he's only been here twice, both times with the same girl, and if they aren't the real thing, then I've never seen it.

The first time they came here I remember real well - we don't get too many couples like them, so they've stuck in my mind.

They arrived on a big, bright green motor bike, which got my radar going right away, because Mr Watson is paranoid about not letting bikers in here - says they lower the tone - so every time I hear a bike I'm always a bit wary.

Anyway, as soon as he took his full-face helmet off, I could see he weren't no Hell's Angel - I've seen more dangerous looking rabbits - and he was younger than I expected. He was helping her with the chin strap on her helmet, I remember seeing all that long hair of hers come tumbling out when they finally got it off, then they just stood there, talking. Their heads were real close together, and he kept putting his hand on her shoulder and looking at her. At first I thought perhaps they were gonna have an argument, but the more I looked, the more obvious it was that they were deep in conversation. I don't normally stare like that, but these two wouldn't have noticed if it'd been Marilyn Monroe standing here behind the desk, so I didn't feel so bad about it.

Eventually, he gave her a hug and a quick kiss, then in he strolled, trying to look all calm and together - but his eyes were all bright and sparkly, and he kept flicking that long hair of his off his forehead. Jumpy as a frog on springs, that boy. Almost lost his voice when he asked me for our best cabin.

She followed behind him but hung back, near the door. Her face was all pink and flushed, and her eyes were flicking all over the place, like she was expectin' something to come crawling out of the woodwork at her.

All the time he's filling in the form, he keeps looking over his shoulder at her, and she keeps smilin' - her eyes aren't smiling though - her eyes look doubtful… almost scared.

I gave him his key - he tried to look me straight in the eye but ended up blushing like a traffic light - and he goes straight up to her and puts his arm around her. They walked out together and I could hear him saying 'are you sure?' right up until the door closed.

That's when it hit me. First timers. You get precious little real romance in this place let me tell you, but I almost had tears in my eyes, watching them two walk across the lot - he's pushing the bike with one hand, and hugging her round the shoulders with the other. I thought they were a couple of kids - now I read he's an ATF Agent! Geez - I must be slipping.

So - there they all are. The blond, the cute one with the long hair, Buck, the snazzy dresser, the guy who bought me candy, the one with the beautiful wife and the one who is soon gonna have a beautiful wife - and the only one I can put a name to is Buck.

But I know their faces.

I'm good with faces.

Mr Watson says - oh shit, now the damn phone's ringing.

"Good evenin' - Pine Lodge Motel, how may I help you?"

~The End~

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