From the second Tri Short Story Collection Single And Not Looking
The rain made me late for work. I was on my face, lying on the sidewalk. How embarrassing. Me, a modern twenty-seven-year-old female sprawled out like a murder victim on a busy Wednesday morning. Crowded. Busy with people on their way to work, school or wherever. And all passed me by. Not one stopped to help me. I knew they looked; I could feel their stares piercing the back of my head.
I picked myself up and went into a nearby restaurant that was packed. I noticed before I went in. With my head hung down, I tried not to make myself conspicuous, but my soaking clothes and wet hair made that impossible. I began to make my way to the bathroom when a man stopped me. I thought he was going to ask me to leave, but he only asked me if I was okay. I whispered that I was and rushed to the bathroom.
I looked to see if anyone else was in there by inspecting the stalls like a prison guard searching for an escape prisoner; there was no one. I stood in front of the mirror—crying. First just softly but then loud enough to hear myself. I wanted to throw a tantrum like a two-year-old, but my phone rang. I looked at my caller ID and saw that it was the number for the bookstore where I worked. I did not answer. It was nearby. But I had no intention of going there, not the way I looked.
My mascara made lines down my face. My lipstick was smeared. My hair was stuck on my forehead and neck. And the red on my face was not only my lipstick but the blood draining from my nose. It was just bruised not broken. After twenty minutes in there, I left with my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I was with no makeup, and my nose was cleaned and hurting. I tried my best to dry my dress by taking it off and wringing it out. My stocking I threw in a garbage. My black shoes I wiped with napkins. I did all those things before anyone else came into the bathroom. Thank God! I left as a new woman. But it was still raining. I could not leave the restaurant because I did not have an umbrella. But I could not stay, that would be loitering. I did not know what to do. That was when he stood in front of me again. Although I did not know what he looked like the first time he spoke to me when I headed to the bathroom, I knew it was him. The same person. I could tell by his shoes; those expensive black leather shoes that looked so happy to be on his feet. He must be a slow eater, I thought. Why was he still there? Unless he owned the restaurant. But he did not. An old man with no kids did.
“Are you okay?” he asked again for the second time.
This time I raised my head. Gosh, he was gorgeous. I found myself in that minute imagining that I was married to him. I smiled, maybe making him think that I was crazy. I kicked that smile from off my face.
“I am fine. Thanks for asking.”
“Do you need a ride?”
Gosh, I thought, he must be a serial killer. Why was he being so nice, asking a total stranger if she needed a ride. I sneered as to let him know that I could defend myself, but that got kicked from off my face, too. I was beginning to think that I was crazy.
“I am very late for work,” I said. “But better late than never.” I knew I had no intention of going to the bookstore, but his soft eyes looked so sincere.
“Where do you work?”
“At the bookstore nearby. The—”
“I know where you mean.”
He was following me. Man, I knew it, I thought, he was a serial killer. Wait, no, no, no. no. “Do you have an umbrella? If you do, then I can borrow it and go,” I said.
“I can carry you.”
“You do not have to. I mean I do not know you and—”
“And I can be a serial killer.” He was reading my mind. I kept quiet and said in my head, Guess what I am thinking now? “I’m not,” he said.
“Huh?” I heard him.
“Nothing. I do have an umbrella,” he told me, walking over to a table and then returning with it.
“Thanks. I really need to pay more attention to the weather report. But first I have to buy an umbrella.”
“You can keep that one.”
“But what about you?”
“I have another one.”
“Thanks. My name is Sarah by the way.” I did not think he heard me because someone called out to him. He turned without another word, without another look, but I found out that his name was Eric. Eric. Eric. Eric. Some modern woman I was. No, a modern woman with a classic flair.
The umbrella was my protector as I made my way to the bookstore. The sidewalk was thinning with people. Why could it not have been that way earlier? I worked in a bookstore called Bookstore. Not much thought went into that name, but the owner was nice. She wanted all her employees, only two, and that included me, to call her Cinderella. Whatever floated her boat. I called her Rella sometimes when she got on my nerves, but other than those times she was called what she wanted to be called. She was fifty-six and still in fairy tale land. How cute.
Because of the account of the rain, she did not make a fuss when I came into work late. I was already late when I left the house, thanks to my alarm clock. I knew I should have replaced those batteries, but she did not need to know that. I felt guilty and did not call her Rella when she told me that if I had a husband I was not going to be late. She had a husband and he always woke her up early. Probably because he wanted to get her out of the house as soon as possible. Who knows.
Well that was me, twenty-seven, lived alone, no cat or dog, shoulder length black hair, dark eyes, working at a bookstore, single, modern woman with a classic flair. I was not tall like a basketball player, only my beloved five-feet-five inches.
“So are you coming with us?” Sandra, my co-worker, asked.
“Yeah,” she said, arching her expensive beauty salon paid for eyebrow.
“I’ll be busy.”
“I am not lying. I will be cleaning my apartment.”
“You’re such a loser.”
“My parents are coming on Saturday.”
And you are so fake was what I wanted to tell her with her plastic surgeon face and breasts. I thought they would dropped off any moment the way she always tried to display them in my face. Gosh, so annoying. I thought about smiling, but I could not. That would be fake.
“Where you going?” I asked instead.
“Out on the town.” That meant all over the place.
“Have fun,” I told her. I left her and went to put some books back on the shelf. She was twenty-one and had the energy of a hamster on a wheel.
The bookstore was always semi-full. Never once did I remember when there was a full crowd. Our books were classics and contemporary. Cinderella always tried to keep up with the times without neglecting the past.
It was closing time. The rain stopped. Getting a seat on the bus was the difficult thing. Men, seated comfortably in their seats, ignored us females standing up being jerked around by the sudden stops of the bus. Maybe they thought all women as being men haters and decided to be the same by being women haters. Or maybe they were tired just like us and they had the seats first and sitting down resting never felt so good. Who knows.
Got home and took a long, nice soaking bath. Ate dinner. There was nothing like a nice microwave frozen dinner. I watched some TV, changed the batteries in the clock, set the alarm, prayed, and went to sleep.
The next day it was raining again. And where was my gift of an umbrella? Somewhere in the bookstore laughing at my senility on leaving it there. The sun was out when I left the day before. But I did wake up early. There was no way that I was going to be late.
I put a plastic bag on my head, flip-flops on my feet, and wrapped myself in one of my dad’s old trench coat. I headed to the bus stop. It was not too bad; it was not raining so heavily. But maybe the clouds had it in for me. Because by the time I got off the bus, would you not know it, the clouds were wailing. But I was early. That still did not mean that I did not get wet.
Walking passed the restaurant with my plastic bag on my head and also holding a piece of cardboard over it as well, a stranger tapped my shoulders and pointed at someone in the restaurant trying to get my attention. It was him, Eric. I went in.
“You sure do love getting wet,” he said, smiling. Gosh, perfect, straight white teeth. Maybe he was a model, I thought, also wearing a smile on my face.
“I forgot the umbrella at work,” I told him as I blushed.
“Let me give you another,” he said, walking over to a table.
What was he, an umbrella salesman? Maybe an umbrella model. I imagined him in a magazine, glossed over, hawking umbrellas and then long lines of people buying them because of him and not the rain.
“Here you go,” he said.
“You’re not late today.”
“How about breakfast?”
“Sure,” I said without realizing why I said it.
“You don’t want to?”
“Yeah, lead the way.”
Looking at the menu, I wanted to order everything. I was hungry. I really needed to buy a stove. That muffin I ate at home for breakfast did no justice for my hunger. I was not on a diet, but there he was with a small plate and a glass of orange juice. I ordered what I wanted, small plates of almost everything and a muffin.
“Worked at the bookstore long?”
“Five years. Cinderella is really a character.”
“Yeah. My friends meet here every morning, except the weekend.”
“You’re a big eater.”
“I am hungry.” I wanted to zap him, but I realized that I was being overly sensitive. I kicked that scorn from off my face and looked up with a smile. “Your name is Eric, right?” I asked, knowing that it was. “I tried to tell you my name, but I do not think you heard me. My name is—”
“Eric,” a voice by the restaurant’s door called out.
“Some of my friends are here already.”
I ate faster. I thought I was going to give myself indigestion. They came over while I was standing up. He told me that I did not have to leave, but I did. He walked me to the door.
“Thanks for the umbrella,” I said. “I promise not to leave this one at the bookstore. This one looks like the one you gave me yesterday.”
“Say hello to my mother for me.”
“Cinderella is your mother?”
“Hey Eric,” one of his friends said.
Well if anyone stopped and looked at me as I walked to work, they would think that I was crazy. I was mumbling to myself. By the time I reached the bookstore and spent a few minutes looking at my boss, I could not see the resemblance.
Friday morning it rained. I walked passed the restaurant, but he was not there. He did say everyday except the weekend, right? By Saturday, my parents came for a visit. My mom did her usual inspection and complained as expected about everything and, as usual, it did not bother me. My dad in his corner—quiet. She was the dominator. Gosh, that sounds like a horror movie. They lived miles away from me, not far enough. But they are the only family I have.
Monday came. Went to work—early. No rain. No Eric. Tuesday, the same. The days that followed—the same. By then, I stopped looking. Rainy days were not the same. Time went by.
I was standing in the supermarket, ignoring every healthy tip I saw on the news the night before. What, they wanted people to walk around as sticks? My cart was full with food products containing fats. I thought I would worry about the consequences later. It was Friday evening and I was going to cook for the first time on my dad’s donated stove to me. A big meal all to myself. Who else was I going to experiment on? No one else to share it with. I was eyeing a bag of potato chips when my cell phone rang. I really needed to change my ringtone. It was irritating but I did not know what to change it to. I would put on a thousand tones before I decided which one I wanted. Maybe that was why I left the one I had. Too much hassle.
Has the last person you ever expected to call, even though you gave them your number, called you? A year later and I was twenty-eight and still enjoyed being around books. Maybe that was why I loved the library. I could read a book in there without my next door neighbor playing his music so loud! Going over and telling him to turn it down was a waste of time. He looked to be a hundred-years-old and still tried to dress like he was in his twenties. Maybe he would give himself a heart attack or something, I thought. I know I should not have thought that way, but it looked like that was the path he was going down. The way he lived and all.
Sandra called, not someone I would call a friend even though she was my co-worker. But she called. Wanted me to go to the movies. I had not been to the movies for awhile, so I told her that I would go. I knew there was a reason behind her invitation. She wanted me to keep her cousin’s company. Just what I needed, to be a cousin babysitter.
I dressed in a pair of blue jeans, white T-shirt with my sleeves rolled up, and a pair of black boots. I was all James Dean that night, except for the hair. Put my groceries up, threw my fist up at my neighbor’s door and drove to the movie to meet Sandra, her friends, and her cousin. After she introduced us, that was the last we saw of her. She received a text message from me that was not too genteel. No cursing or threatening. I just told her how I felt. She probably felt bad about it; she bought me lunch for a week.
“I am Dennis,” he said, introducing himself.
“I am Sarah. What do you want to watch?” I asked him as we looked at the choices we had.
“Number three,” he said as if ordering something from a fast food restaurant.
I looked at the title and could not tell what genre it was. Movie titles are all mysterious now. I did not ask why he chose that one. He looked as if he kept up to date with the latest movie news.
We went Dutch and paid for each of our own stuff. He ordered a box of popcorn, hot dog. and a soda. I was not hungry. My intention was to cook when I returned home. Too bad I forgot to leave the meat out to thaw. Maybe that was a good thing, food poisoning and all.
We took our seats in the center after traveling in what seemed like years of darkness. The ushers, I assumed, were busy. He was fidgeting in his seat as if excited to see the movie bursting onto the screen with all its splendor. I sat quietly. It started. The beginning scene was all dark, as if the director wanted to display darkness in broad daylight. I was thinking it was a horror or a sad movie. A Friday night and I did not want to be depressed or scared.
“This is the new actor everyone is talking about,” he whispered in my ear.
I did not know if I should be grateful for that information or not. I looked to see who the new actor was, and my jaw dropped. It was Eric. Yeah, the same Eric who I had met before and who disappeared. There he was in front of me on the screen, acting in a movie. I saw him, even though he could not see me. I saw him. I could not tell you what the movie was about if you had asked me after it was over, but I could tell you that an actor named Eric acted in it. Two hours of my Friday night did not go to waste. I drove Dennis home; he all the while praising the acting and giving his critique as if he was a movie critic. Maybe he was. Who knows. I then went to my apartment.
I lived alone, holding onto that rule that it was okay to do so and that I did not need someone there to make me happy. I held onto the rule of me woman and that I was not going to fall in love—but it was too late.
But boy was I hungry and curious. I ate a whole loaf of bread, well the ten slices left in the bag. That did not satisfy my hunger. Where was a frozen dinner when I needed one? I ordered a pizza. And while waiting for it, I fired up the computer to go on the internet in search for information on him. There had to be some websites dedicated to him—official and unofficial—where I could read until my dry curiosity was watered.
He was thirty. Single. Five-feet-nine. Private. Loved soccer. Had a college degree in literature. He loved to read, I thought when I saw that. Not much about family. Had some small roles before that movie I saw him in. Some rumored stuff which I ignored. And then it hit me, I was pathetic. I felt like a stalker, some infatuated fan with a crush on someone I knew I would never meet again. I worked for his mother but not once did he show up in the bookstore. I met him in a restaurant. I turned off the computer, ate a few slices of pizza when it came, and tried to read a book. My neighbor was out. Even he needed a social life. I fell asleep on the couch. My neck and back told me to never sleep on it again.
That morning I made a bowl of cereal with slices of banana in it for breakfast. My dad had bought me a stove three months prior and I never cooked on it. Not even when he and my mom came for visits. My mom ranted her way through a boring speech in which I was labeled a hopeless case. It was not that I did not enjoy cooking, or did not know how. Maybe it was laziness. Frozen dinners, come-in-handy cereals, bread, anything I could eat without trouble was okay with me. But I bought all that meat and stuff, so yeah, I knew it would not be long before the stove and I were going to become one.
I loved Saturdays; I got to sleep in. My next door neighbor slept in too. Even he needed his rest. Was he not considerate? After breakfast, I found my way to my bed with the intention of falling asleep; that was when the phone rang. Do you not just hate that? It was Cinderella. She did not dress in rags nor did she drive a pumpkin. She wanted me to come to her house and help sort out some books she bought. The bookstore was closed on the weekend. She came for me and we drove to her house, yapping all the way.
I met her husband. He was such a shy person. If she was Cinderella then he was Prince Charming. He had all the charms of a frog that was turned into a prince.
“You had breakfast?” she asked, leading me to what was their library.
It was bigger than my bedroom. Books slept in a larger room than me. But all those books. I could live in there—reading. There were twelve boxes, some already opened that were scattered all over the place.
“I did have breakfast,” I told her.
“This should take probably two hours. You didn’t have plans did you?”
“Yeah, I was planning on sleeping.”
“Sarah,” she said, laughing, “you’re such a kidder.”
“I am Rella?”
She grew quiet. Two hours was just about right. I was tired. She offered me breakfast again, but I was in the mood for cooking. We were walking down the hall when I heard noises coming from another room. It sounded like someone playing a video game.
“Your husband loves games?” I asked.
“That’s not him, that’s Eric.”
“Eric?” I asked, stopping as if that name acted like cement holding me in place by the door.
He was in there. Just the night before I saw him on the silver screen and now, I thought, I could see him in person. I imagined myself bursting through the door and saying hello as if we were buddies. Instead I found myself downstairs, outside the house, and waiting by her car as she went around to her garden. She wanted to say hello to her flowers. She asked me to join her; I declined.
There I was with disheveled hair, jogging pants, T-shirt and a pair of tennis shoes on my feet. I was shooing away a fly and then demanding it to leave me alone, as if I was talking to another human being. When I looked up, I saw him standing by a window looking at me. Gosh, you would think the ground would have opened up or Cinderella would come and drive me away from embarrassment. No, none of those things happened. How many flowers did she have anyway? Would not just one big hello do the trick?
He waved, and I waved back. Someone appeared behind him and he was gone. Cinderella came back and. As it was with coming, she drove me home talking away. But I should be grateful for her not coming sooner when I wanted, I got to see him.
“Thanks for your help,” she said.
“I would’ve asked my husband but that would’ve been a waste of time. Books aren’t his friends. Eric just arrived last night, so I didn’t want to ask him, even though I knew he would’ve helped.
“I saw his movie last night.”
“You did? I haven’t seen it. When he visits, he’s just Eric and not some star.”
“He does not live with you?”
“Oh no, that little birdie left long ago.”
“He might be thirty but he’s still my birdie. Going back to sleep?”
“No, I am going to cook.” She almost lost control of her car.
“I thought I’d never hear you say that.”
“Surprise,” I said, playing peek-a-boo.
“There’s hope for you after all. Here we are,” she said, pulling up to my apartment building. “See you on Monday. Well that’s if you’re not suffering from food poisoning.”
“I will call you over for some, Rella,” I told her. I caught some words that she said as she drove off. ‘This young woman. Rude.’
I did cook. It turned out okay. I even offered my neighbor some. He was suspicious at first but took it with a smile. It was a new beginning in our relationship.
When Monday came, no word was mentioned about him. She never spoke about him. She never spoke about him before, but I was hoping for a change when she so casually spoke about him in the car. His movements were not my business anyway.
Sandra’s cousin, Dennis, was gone. But that night, I decided to go to the movie by myself. I did not watch number three. Time went by.
My dad’s a school teacher. My mom’s a housewife with the shrewdness in saving money and taking charge of things. He is quiet and keeps how he feels to himself. I always feel that he is a thinker. My mom would let you know what is on her mind. And if she is wrong about something, she always thinks that she is not completely wrong.
It was my dad’s birthday and I was on my way back home to celebrate it with him. In our lives there might be many places where we will call home. And even though we have left that particular one where we grew up, it is home. I left when I was twenty. I needed to move faraway, but life and love always carried me back, or close enough.
It was Sunday morning and, with gas in the tank, tires checked and cake in the backseat, I set off a few miles away to visit my parents. It only took me a few hours to get to their house. There was not much traffic, which was great. The sun shined and a cool breeze blew. The car windows were rolled down as music blasted from the radio. I was happy.
I was driving when one of my tires decided it had too much air and started to release some of it. I pulled on the side of the road, got out and, yeah, the back right tire was spewing its air like a bullet wound gushing blood. I had a spare and was in the process of changing it when a car pulled up from behind. Broad daylight and I thought I was going to be mugged.
I stayed in my bending position, ready to attack if I had to. I heard the car door closed and the steps of the person approaching. But then I thought to myself if I attacked the stranger first, I would be charged with assault or even murder. I told myself that I would wait until the person struck first.
“Need help?” the stranger asked.
I knew that voice. I dropped the lug wrench, my weapon, got up, turned around, and smiled. It was him. Eric. I was going to attack him. I imagined all those stalking fans attacking me. I made a face that showed my fear at that thought. He noticed, I guess, because he touched my arms in a friendly way.
“I am almost done,” I told him.
“A woman who can change her own tire. We meet again. No rain or fly this time.”
I smiled. I know I did a lot of that. He remembered our first meeting and the fly incident at our second. I wanted to ask him why he was dressed the way he was, like he was trying to hide himself with that hat pulled over his face and dark glasses covering his eyes. I did not bother. I bent down and completed what I was doing. I got up to pick up the damaged tire and tools with the intent of carrying them to the trunk when he offered to do it for me. At first I was going to tell him no but then changed my mind. That finished, we stood by my car.
“Taking a Sunday drive?” I asked.
“No, actually, I’m going to Nowus.”
“That is where I am going,” I said, moving to get back in my car to continue my journey.
“There’s something on your face,” he told me. “Right there,” he said, rubbing what it was off. “It’s gone.”
If I could have jumped up and down or even gushed like a teenager without him looking at me strange, I would have done that. But being the mature woman that I was, oh never mind.
I got in my car, put on my seat belt, waved goodbye, and tried to start it. But it would not start. I tried again and it was the same. I looked at the gas gauge and it was on E. I thought I had a full tank of gas. Sandra! I yelled in my mind. She had borrowed my car. Thoughts of what I was going to say to her raced through my mind, making their way to my face and then my hands that was gripping the steering wheel.
“Are you okay?” I heard him asked, bending down at the rolled down window.
I slowly released that grip and then took a deep breath. “I am okay,” I said. I got out of the car. “There is no gas.”
“Since we’re going to the same place, I can give you a ride.”
“That will be great.”
I rolled up the window, got my purse from the passenger seat, locked the doors, and then headed to his car with him. Got in and then we drove off. That was when I remembered.
“Wait!” I shouted. “Stop the car.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Please stop.” He pulled on the side of the road. “I forgot my dad’s cake.” I ran back to my car, got the cake, and then briskly walked backed to his car. He was laughing.
“Got it,” I said, holding it up.
“No, that is it,” I told him. “Today is his birthday and I baked a cake for him.”
“You love to cook.”
I imagined myself standing over a stove, screaming. It was not a pretty sight. I was going to tell him yes, but why bother lying, I thought.
“You’re honest. Some girls I knew told me yes but when I went over to their houses for dinner it was a whole different thing.”
I looked at him and thought, So you go over to girls’ houses for dinner. Are you a playboy or something? I started to knock myself in my head, telling myself to stop, stop, stop.
“Are you okay?” he asked me, looking at me with concern in his eyes.
“Should I stop the car?”
“No, I am fine,” I said, smiling.
Maybe he thought I was crazy. I had to stop doing things like that. I began to tap on the box the cake was in; he probably thought I was making a suggestion to turn on the radio. He did but I was just trying to be calm. Boy, did that work.
“Do you know my name?” I blurted out.
“I heard it the first time you told me in the restaurant.”
“I thought you did not hear and that is why I asked,” I said my voice trailing off and me beginning to slouch in my seat. What was I doing? I asked myself. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I sat up straight and then looked out the window, trying to think of something to say. “You have friends in Nowus?”
“A girl. If I don’t visit like I promise, she’ll get upset.”
“I’m going to spend a few days there. I need some time to relax before I start shooting my next movie.”
“You enjoy being an actor?”
“You sound like a reporter.”
“Yeah. Being an actor is okay. My mom thinks I can be doing something better.”
“Oh, I see.”
“So your dad’s going to have a party?”
“Yeah. He is forty-nine today. Wanna come?” I turned my face away, realizing what a mistake I made in asking him.
“But what about—”
“I’ll call her and let her know I’ll be late. Am I dress appropriately?”
I looked at my white dress and high heels then his jeans, flip-flops, and T-shirt.
“Yeah,” I said,
That was our conversation. The music coming from the radio filled the silence; it was welcomed. I laid my head back and closed my eyes only to rest them for awhile, but I fell asleep. Gosh, I hope I did not drool. I do not remember. I do not think so. Would he have told me if I did? I found him lightly shaking me, trying to wake me up.
“Where do your parents live?”
I told him but it was through me yawning. He could not understand. I repeated it again and he drove there. My mom invited some people over; cars were there like ants in a colony.
“I hope you do not mind a large crowd,” I told him after we found a parking space at the North Pole. Was the whole town invited? I was sure my dad did not know half of those people.
“No, I don’t mind.”
“I thought actors tried their best to stay away from strangers, especially a crowd of them.”
“As long as they don’t bite. Do they?”
“We will soon find out,” I said as we walked to the house. Some people were out in the yard sitting in chairs and on the lawn with plates in their hands. I took him into the house. “Hi mom,” I said when I saw her.
“Sarah, darling, you’re late.”
“This is Eric.”
“Ah, you brought a male friend.”
“Do not get any ideas.”
“Hello,” he told her, stretching out his hand.
He left his hat and glasses in the car. My mom held onto his hand as she looked up in his face, probably seeing grandkids.
“Where is dad?”
“In the backyard.”
I took his hand from her. “Let us go Eric.”
“Nice meeting you,” she said with a smile that would scare any little child.
We bumped into a few people; some that told me that they had not seen me in awhile. I had never met them before. My dad was sitting in the backyard with a few other men that looked to be the same age as him. He got up when he saw me.
“Sarai,” he said. A nickname that only he called me.
“Hi dad. Happy birthday,” I said, handing him the cake and giving him a kiss on his cheek. “It is chocolate.”
“Hello everyone else.”
“Hello,” they said as if in a choir.
“Who is this?” my dad asked, looking at my invited guest.
“Dad, this is Eric. His mother owns the bookstore.”
“Hello,” he said, patting him on his shoulder.
“A large crowd,” I said.
“And I do not know some of them.”
“Maybe I will hang out here with you.”
But my mom had other ideas. I heard her calling me and saw her heading in my direction. “You’re not going to hide in the back here,” she said, pulling my hand. “There are a few people I want you to meet.”
That meant some potential son-in-laws. Maybe I should have gotten a tattoo on my forehead that said, “Back off mom.”. But that would be disrespectful.
“Come, come, your guest can stay in the back with your father.”
“Sorry,” I said. I smiled, and he smiled back.
The moments spent with her auditioning me was cringing. It was also sad to see some guys with brains in their heads and money in their pockets not ashamed of having that done. It was as if I was the prize meat in a butcher’s shop. Well I did not stand for it. They got looks of disgust and, when I was near enough to them, they got words too. My mom took me upstairs under pretense that she had something for me. Of course that was a lie.
“How can you do this to me?” she lamented.
“Do what?” I asked innocently.
“I’m only trying to help you.”
“I think I got this part of my life covered.”
“Eric, is he your boyfriend?”
“Then why’d you bring him here?”
“My car ran out of gas and he offered to bring me.”
“A ride from a stranger. I thought you knew better.”
“I am hungry. What is there to eat?”
“Hungry,” I said, rubbing my stomach.
“You don’t take me or this seriously. Do you want to die an old maid?”
“On an empty stomach?”
“I will see what is there to eat.”
“Why could I not have a better daughter,” I heard her say as I made my way back downstairs.
I went to the backyard, found Eric eating, went and got something for myself to eat, and then joined them. We spent two hours with my dad and his friends, not mingling. Hardly anyone came in the backyard. I kissed him goodbye. Eric shook his hand and gave him a hug. He told my mom goodbye. And we left.
“We can stop at the mechanic and he can drive me out to put some gas in my car.”
“Or you can come with me.”
“To your girl’s house?”
“I’m sure she won’t mind.”
“You have a very understanding girlfriend.”
“No, I don’t have a girlfriend. She’s my grandmother.”
“Yeah.” I was gleeful inside. It did not show on my face. “You can come for a visit and I’ll drive you back with some gas. Then you can drive back home.”
“That is not putting you out of the way?”
“No, I enjoy your company.” I heard bells.
“Be quiet,” I said out loud.
“Huh? I wasn’t making noise.”
“Not you. Sorry.” He burst out laughing; I did the same. “Did you have a nice time at the party?”
“Yeah. Your dad’s a cool person. I heard a lot of stories he told about you. You were a troubled kid.”
“I’m glad he told me. You put salt in the sugar jar and sugar in the salt container.”
“Dad told you that?”
“And you putting ants in the cookie jar.”
“Oh my gosh.”
“There’s grandma,” he said, pulling up to a house. An old woman was sitting on the porch with her long gray hair plait in two. We got out. “Hi grandma,” he said, giving her a hug. “This is the young woman who caused me to be late,” he told her and went in the house.
“I can see why. You’re beautiful.”
“Um, thank you. I am Sarah.”
“You can call me Cinderella. Just kidding. I’m not my daughter. Call me grandma.”
“Come inside. I hope you’re hungry. I think he’s already raiding the kitchen.”
“And stuffing his face,” he said, coming and standing by the screen door with a piece of chicken in his hand. “You’re the best grandma.”
“Come before he eats all.”
“Can you get my bag from out of the car please?” he asked me.
“Not my guest,” she told him.
Taking my hand, she took me into the house and into the kitchen where I was bountifully fed. Watching the two of them, I could see how much they loved each other. And how much he respected her. It was like watching a family oriented picture on TV where there was so much camaraderie. My grandparents were dead. It added a little sadness to that moment.
When it was time for me to leave, I saw my car in front of the house. He had it towed and gas put into it. Grandma hugged me goodbye, and he walked me to my car.
“Grandma is a nice lady.”
“Thank you for bringing me here. Well, I better leave before it gets too late.”
“Okay,” I said, getting into my car.
“One more thing,” he said, bending down at my window. “My mom said you love to read so I bought this. It’s a book. I don’t know if you have it already or read it before.”
He had something in his hand when we left the house; that was what it was. I took the book. It was a copy of Jane Eyre. I put it in the passenger’s seat next to my bag and drove away after thanking him. Have you ever gotten a feeling that someone wanted to tell you something but they were afraid to tell you? And, no, it was not my imagination. I drove until I reached a red light. I picked up the book and opened it. There it was. Five words. ‘I’m in love with you.’
The car honking behind me broke the hypnotic moment I was in. I turned my car around and headed back to the house. And there he was, still outside. He was waiting. I got out and rushed to him, but I tripped and fell. How cliché.
“I am okay,” I said as he helped me to my feet. I along with his help brushed myself off. “I am in love with you, too.”
If the stars and moon could have clapped, they were doing so then. He kissed me like what felt like forever, but I had to go. We release each other. I got in my car and drove away again. Cloud nine was very comfortable. Time went by.
Sandra told me that she noticed something different about me. I told her that maybe she finally realized what a fun person I was. She told me that was not it. I found her from time to time watching me as if I was the most fascinating thing on earth. I stuck out my tongue at her when I caught her doing so, and she turned her head. Of course something was different about me, and she did not need to know why.
Bookstore started something new. We had a children’s corner where selected people came into read. We had teachers, police officers, mothers, fathers, grocers, all kinds of different people. One day we had the reason I was different. Eric came to read. He was my boyfriend and my biggest secret. I did not want him to let anyone know, not even his parents. Why? I wanted to keep my privacy.
The day he came to read we acted as if we were not in a relationship. I was surprised that his mom asked him to read; she never spoke about him at the bookstore, well not to Sandra and me.
There was a large crowd there that day—and a lot of them were not children. Cameras were snapping away as if it was the needed oxygen that people needed to live. Maybe that was another reason why I wanted our relationship private. My co-worker told me that she did not care who he was, but I could not understand why the day before she went to the beauty salon and got all dolled up. She came to work in a two piece skirt suit that advertised everything she had. If I did not know her, I would think she was a prostitute.
Bookstore, for the first time since I had been working there, had a full crowd. Mostly females, some men, and, yeah, the children that were the reason for him being there. His mom had him in her office. I did not know why, maybe giving him some self-defense tips. Who knows. Cinderella was a cool, down-to-earth person. Maybe crazy, but that was funny because my mom thought that I was crazy too for not having a boyfriend. Little did she know, but that was a different story.
He came in, and the crowd went crazy. Some of the children started to cry. He was dressed in a dark suit with a brown tie with small polka dots. I helped him picked that tie, not at a store but out of his closet at his apartment. His black hair trimmed, neatly mousse and styled. Some reporters were there too. They did not show up when the others came to read.
“Thank you for coming today boys and girls,” Cinderella said not mentioning the other people. She probably forgot. Who knows. “Today our reader will be my son.” She did not mention that he was an actor. “He would be reading the book—”
I do not think anyone heard the name of the book because of all the screaming and shouting. And even I love you. He took his seat in front of the children that had formed a semi-circle. He opened the book and began to read. And that was when I left and did what I was being paid to do, and that was to help and serve the customers.
It was an hour later, which was how long each reader took, when it was over. Afterward the kids and their parents normally got cake and juice. Although there was not a set number that usually came, that day we had about twenty-five kids. That was the most that we ever had. Our bookstore was spacious but, my gosh, it was not that spacious for the others that came.
Not once did we acknowledge each other when we were close enough to do so. It was as if we were complete strangers.
“I’m going to get his autograph,” Sandra said.
“I thought you did not care for him.”
“It’s not for me, it’s for my mother.”
“Sure it is.”
“Whatever,” she said, carrying her twenty-something self to get his autograph. “I’ll never get it,” she said, coming back pouting. “That line’s too long. Don’t these people have anything better to do? I mean we work for his mother, why can’t we get his autograph first?”
“We?” I asked while putting away some books and trying to not break out in a nervous sweat.
“You don’t want his autograph?”
“Why, for my mother?”
“Go over and let Cinderella know that you want it.”
“I don’t know why I bother talking to you.”
“I do not know why either.”
She turned away and ignored me. Just then the lady in question called me over to help her with something.
“Here, here,” the young woman that was ignoring me said, flapping a piece of paper in my face, “get it if you can please.”
She was smiling and looked so genuinely eager like a beggar asking for much needed money. How could I have said no.
Cinderella wanted me to help lined the kids up with their parents so that they could leave in an orderly way. That done, the other crowd that was not there to buy books, or was in no rush to leave, hung around like flies on something sweet. They had the intention of staying until he left. His mom wanted me to help him get out. The front door was barricaded with people, but I guess she did not receive my memo, the one that said I had lost my superpowers.
“This way,” I said to him as my plan was to take him out the back. Not a good idea. How many times has that been used? That failed. Some reporters were there. “Maybe you can wait in the office until things quiet down. You do not have some other place to be?”
All that was said in front of his mother, who thought that the suggestion was a good idea. She really did not want to call the police. She told me to wait in the office with him and she would wait up front to try talk the crowd into leaving. I became paranoid. Why was she going up front and not staying with him. Did she know something? I told myself that I was thinking too much and took him in the office.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea,” he said, sitting at his mom’s desk.
“She will get them out.”
“I want to kiss you.”
“No one’s in here but us. You think someone’s standing at the door?”
“Or maybe will walk in when you do.” I was right about someone walking in; it was Sandra. I was standing at the door when she barged in. “Ouch,” I said, moving away and caressing my elbow.
“Sorry. What you doing standing there for anyway?”
“Trying to keep you out.”
“Did you ask him for the autograph?”
“Forgot. Since you are here, go ahead.”
She rolled her eyes and went over to the desk. “Hi,” she said, giggling like a school girl that was talking to someone she had a crush on. “Is it okay if I ask you for your autograph?”
“No problem,” he said, stretching out his hand for a paper to put it on.
“Sarah,” she said, addressing me, “where’s the piece of paper I gave you?”
“Was it special?”
“Never mind,” she said, tearing a piece of stationery from Cinderella’s desk. “Can you put my name on it?”
She bent down, flaunting her “jewels” and hoping that he would notice. Seriously, what was it she was trying to do? He did not notice.
“There you go,” he said, handing her the paper.
“Does Cinderella know you are in the back here?” I asked.
“I’m going, I’m going.” She turned to leave but, before she did, she whispered to me, “He’s fine.”
No reaction from me. Later on that day she told me that I would not know what fine was if it stood before me with bells on.
“Let me get that,” I said, walking over to answer the phone. It was his mom giving us the all clear.
“See you tonight,” he said as he got up.
“I still haven’t kissed you.”
“Your mom’s waiting.”
“Well,” he said, coming closer to me, “I better hurry up and do it.”
Which he did with my lipstick leaving a trace of red on his lips. I wiped it off, and we left as if nothing happened. There were only a few people out there. I do not know how she did it, or what she said, but it was enough. The rest of the day went okay. What was different about me was no longer interesting to the person who was so curious to find the answer.
I drove home and my new neighbor had her cats welcomed me with their meows, meows, meows. For some reason they always knew when I came home. I was always getting new neighbors. Normal? Who defines normal? I took a warm shower, watched some TV, and then headed to his apartment with the night acting as my covering. My disguise of a curly, black wig and glasses also helped. Dating a celebrity was like being a criminal with people always at your back. But nobody knew. But that was how I felt. I had a key. So all I had to do was to put it in the lock and clicked, it opened.
He made dinner, which was great, because I was rarely in the mood to cook. But I did sometimes, every time following a recipe. They are a Godsend. We were dating for five months and it was magic.
“Watching a soccer game?” I asked when I saw him sitting on the couch.
“It’s taped. Made lasagna,” he said finally looking up at me. He was not surprise by my disguises. He was used to them. “I enjoyed today.”
“Yeah, the kids enjoyed it, too. And so did a lot of other people.”
“It was my suggestion to do it.”
“Oh, I thought it was your mom’s”
“I should’ve brought my bodyguard.”
“We did not know all those people were going to show up. It was not advertised.”
“It was worth it though.”
“Yeah. I feel like kissing you,” I said, trying to mimic him.
“I don’t kiss strangers,” he said, looking at me with a smile.
“Yeah. I don’t think my girlfriend will like it.”
“Yeah. Her hair’s straight, shoulder length, and she doesn’t wear glasses.”
I took off my disguise and asked, “Does she look like me?”
“Kiss me,” I said.
And he did. And time went by.
Rumors flew in, soaring on the wings of eagles and ready to drop what stories they had in their talons. My photo, along with the actor I was dating, was splattered on the cover of tabloids like paint on a wall.
My mom was happy that her only daughter and child was dating someone. She was full of advice. And even though I never asked for any, she was quick and willing to dish it out. My dad, although happy for me, offered me none. He trusted me to make the right choices. He knew his daughter. Sandra offered hers, explaining to me how I should treat him and how I should dress. If I dressed like her, I had to be out of my mind. My body was not a billboard. His mom was delighted; she had her opportunity to play the role of a fairy godmother. His dad like my own was happy and left me alone. No pulling me over like a cop pulling someone under suspicion and asking them questions.
Everyone had their own opinions, their suggestions, and it drove me crazy. It felt like I was being spun around.
I was dating Eric for two years. I loved him but the wrong directions, all that advice, all the pressure became too much. Our relationship became public knowledge when we were spotted dining privately in a restaurant owned by his friend. You could not swallow your food in peace without someone watching you and then going to report it. But there was some good that came out of that, we did not sneak around anymore.
Before that I felt like I was in a box. Was love supposed to be like that? He was caring. He was understanding. He was the first person that I was ever in love with—my first love. And what did I do? I broke up with him. He asked me to marry him. I told him no. “Think it over,” he told me. I stood there crying as I came up with excuses why I could not. And then I broke up with him. I know, maybe I was stupid.
All that pressure. I quit my job at the bookstore. Ignored the million phone calls from my mom and the visits from Sandra. I went and lived like a recluse. Too bad I did not think about grocery shopping before I put that new life into action. I could not only live on ordered pizza and take-out. I would go bankrupt. On the fourth day of my seclusion, I made up my mind to go to a nearby convenience store, and that was when I saw him. He was standing at my door. Did he not know that was a way to attract more attention?
“Sandra told my mom about what you’re doing,” he said.
“Sandra has a big mouth.”
“Where you going, maybe I can—”
“Leave me alone.”
The way he called my name brought back so many memories. I wanted him to repeat it over and over. I imagined him right there and then grabbing me in his arms and passionately kissing me the way he used to.
“No, no, no,” I said, “no kisses.”
“I wasn’t going to kiss you,” he said, bringing me back to reality. I smiled. “I haven’t seen that smile for awhile.”
I kicked that smile from off my face. I was not supposed to be loving him remember.
“Come in,” I told him, turning around and opening my apartment door. I found a new hobby, rearranging the furniture in my apartment. I was in great shape.
“You cut your hair,” he said, standing by the door and nervously playing with his fingers.
“Yeah,” I told him, not knowing what else to say. “Wanna sit down?”
We sat there like two strangers in what seemed like forever. Me looking at my Christmas tree that needed decorations, and him, well I did not know where he was looking.
“There is nothing to eat so I cannot offer you anything.” I did not know why I said that.
“Were you going to the store?”
Looking into his dark eyes that always appeared happy, I said, “Yes.” Gosh, I wanted to kiss those luscious lips. “I have water,” I said, trying to not act on that urge.
“I’ll have some water then.”
Got up for the water, gave it to him and after drinking it he began playing with the empty glass. I looked at my Christmas tree again and it was leaning.
“I’m leaving,”” he said, handing me the glass.
“Maybe I’ll see you around,” he said, getting up.
Do not go was what I wanted to say, but instead I said, “Okay.” I also got up. He moved slowly to the door, opened it, and walked out. I closed the door behind him and banged my forehead against it.
“Are you okay?” he asked with concern in his voice. I thought he had left, but he was standing at the door. I rushed from it, trying to not make a sound. I knew I was being silly. No excuses, I was. I ran to the door and opened it, but he was nowhere in sight. I heard the elevator and ran there. It was not him. I turned around, anxious and angry at myself. I could not just stand there. I went back in my apartment, got my purse, and took the elevator down. When I walked out to go to my car, there he was, next to it. By the time I reached where he stood, my face was soaked. My tears were a rainmaker.
“Why?” was what I managed to say.
“Because I love you.” He hugged me, and I cried unashamedly on his shoulders. He all the while whispering that it was okay. Was a contemporary woman supposed to be like that? Was it some kind of weakness? I did not think so. “Should we go back to the apartment?” he asked.
“No, I am hungry. If you do not mind,” I said, raising my head from his shoulder, “will you accompany me to the store.”
“It’ll be my pleasure,” he said, attempting to dry my eyes. “You’re beautiful.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Going grocery shopping never attracted so much attention. A few days later, my parents, his parents, he and I were sitting down to dinner. It was two days before Christmas and my parents came to visit. There was no way that my mom was going to miss out on throwing a big party for her friends. Eric and I, along with our dads, listened and watched our moms discussing our future.
“If they are going to get married,” my mom was saying, “it should be a summer wedding.”
“No, spring,” said Cinderella. “It’s much cooler and lots of flowers.”
“Why not have it in the winter,” my mom said sarcastically, “so we can freeze ourselves to death.”
“You have no imagination.”
“And you have too much.”
“Who said we are getting married?” I asked.
They both looked at me and then went back to debating and planning something that I knew nothing about. He had asked me before to marry him but I had told him no. He did not do so again, although I wanted him to.
Christmas day and my parents in Nowus; his parents vacationing in the Bahamas; and he and I, after attending a party, standing at the window watching the snow fall like little wonders. Inside the heater was on, keeping us warm. Eggnog in our hands.
“Next year you will start shooting that movie?”
“Yeah. Going back to work at the bookstore?”
“Your mom asked me to.”
“She told me.”
“I do not know. I love books. I love her company and Sandra’s.”
“How is she by the way?” he asked as we went over to the couch.
“She has made herself my advisor. She knows I never listen to anything she tells me. We are like night and day, but I love her.”
“The odd couple.”
The phone rang, and he went to answer it. It was his mom. I heard when he said, “Hi mom.” I was rubbing the mug between my hands when I saw something being pushed under the door. It was a white envelope. He saw when I got up and told his mom that he would call her back. “What is it?” he asked.
“I do not know. Someone just slipped this under the door.” He went and opened the door. “Be careful,” I said.
Looking left and then right, he came back in. Closing the door behind him, he said, “No one’s there.”
“There’s nothing written on it,” I said, turning it over and examining it.
Now I had a settled imagination, well a bit, so no thoughts of it being overly dangerous ran through my mind. When I did open it, there was a piece of paper with four words written on it. ‘Will you marry me?’ was what it said.
“Will you?” he asked, moving closer to me. I cried, told him yes and cried some more. He took out a ring box out of his pocket, took out a ring, put it on my finger, and then kissed me. “Now I can call my mom back.”
This story is an original idea written by me.© Thanks for reading.
See you next Tuesday, God willing. 🙂
First Story No Attachments Please
Second Story How To Kill A Relationship