Her pillow had soaked up all of the water from her wet hair. The damp was cold and uncomfortable. The room was pitch black when she opened her eyes. She reached for her phone, and knocked it on the floor. She hung over the side of the bed, feeling around on the wooden planks, leaned too far over to check under the bed and fell onto the floor. Her naked breasts, belly and thighs were plastered to the floor. She rolled over and stared at the ceiling.
She smiled at the ridiculousness of her position. She swept her arm and hand under the bed, shaking off dust bunnies. Her fingers touched the glass case of her phone. She pulled it towards her, pressed her thumb to identify herself. It recognized her and flashed the time at her in bright blinding light.
Fifteen hours since she had collapsed into bed.
Banging on her front door startled her. She lay still, barely breathing. They’d go away whoever they were. They did. After two brief poundings. She was happy and sad at the speed with which they gave up. She really didn’t want to see or speak to anyone but she kind of wished someone cared enough about her to keep trying.
Her stomach moaned.
Rachel crawled up onto her knees, leveraged her hands on the mattress and struggled to stand. She hadn’t managed to die in her sleep. She was still alive.
Perhaps she should try to act like it.
She turned away from the bed. She desperately wanted to crawl back into it but her body insisted she feed it and she had no food in the house. Ketchup and olives wouldn’t cut it no matter how much she loved both. She threw on some sweats and ran her fingers through her tangled hair. She brushed her teeth without looking at the dirty sink. She might need to speak to the cashier at the grocery store and couldn’t bring herself to expel putrid breath. She didn’t care how she looked. She had no one to impress.
She cried in the bakery section. She didn’t have to buy Danish anymore and it broke her heart. Her tears leaked out from under her black sunglasses. A man looked at her.
He made eye contact. She ran to the bagged salad aisle, concentrated on finding the bag of butter lettuce with the longest sell by date. He was there beside her. He asked her if she thought one brand was better than another. Ingrained politeness made her answer with her favorite one. Then, she spun her cart and escaped to the cereal aisle, grabbed a box and snuck over to the checkout lines, hiding behind displays like some spy master evading the enemy.
As she loaded her cloth bags of supplies into the back of her van, she glanced up. He stood in the next lane over, near his car, his back to her. She watched him move. He had a nice ass.
Where the fuck did that come from?
He turned to put his empty cart in the kiosk. He saw her looking at him. He smiled, gave a little wave, got in his black SUV and drove off.
She changed the day and time she went to the grocery store the next time she went. She didn’t want to take any chances. But she did start wearing clothes. Just in case the universe had other plans.
It didn’t, of course.
Oh, well. She knew better.
She got a part-time job working a couple of hours each morning at the local convenience store so she had a reason to get out of bed and get out of the house. No pressures. No responsibilities, although she did have a hard time not organizing things. She had to remind herself that she had no business being in charge of anything since she couldn’t even manage to manage herself.
In the afternoons, she explored the town with her camera. She haunted the graveyards, examined the architecture and strolled the banks of the river. After a few hours of discovering the place she had lived in for more than twenty years, she’d treat herself to dinner at a local pub. She arrived at the odd hour of four. She managed to get the same table in a back corner because it wasn’t quite happy hour.
She’d spread out her notebook and her tablet, eat, write and watch the business people slowly arrive. She was old and quiet, so no one bothered her. She tipped well, so the waitress learned quickly to be efficient without disturbing her. Rachel never stayed past six.
Friday night and her dinner place was invaded by a hoard. They were numerous, loud and such a mix of unmatched people that she stared.
Must be work colleagues.
She watched the dynamics with fascination, guessing who the bosses were and who the worker bees were. She glanced towards the door when it opened because everyone seemed to move and make room for the newest occupant. They hadn’t bothered to move before.
Oh, God. It’s him.
She looked away quickly. She hunched down in her seat, turned the angle of her body away from the door. She opened the book she had with her and covered her face with it. She used it as a shield, peeking around its corners, trying to find a good time to escape.
He sat at the bar, facing her and right next to the door. He seemed to know the people in the large group. He spoke to people as they came up to him but the conversations were brief. He looked sad. Not frowning, or weepy, but not open, the way he had appeared in the grocery store. The corners of his lips rose occasionally but never wrinkled his eyes.
He motioned for the bartender, leaned into him to speak over the TV and music. His eyes caught hers. He narrowed them. Frowned. He seemed quite upset at seeing her. He stood, handed the bartender his card. He turned his back, leaning his elbow on the brass rail. He leaned into the bartender again when he brought the sales receipt for him to sign. The bartender glanced at her, nodded. Said, yes.
He said something to the man in the suit next to him, handed him his credit card. The suit held onto his denim shirt sleeve. He firmly dislocated the man’s grasp. By some invisible signal, the crowd yelled, “Thanks, Sean.”
He waved and darted out the door.
Rachel waited five minutes. She called over the waitress, asked for her check. She gathered her things together and piled them into her multi-colored peace sign bag. She was standing by the time the waitress came back. She needed to get home before she bawled like a baby. This really was too much.
Weepy old bitch.
She got through the crowd and out into the parking lot.
He had that nice ass of his propped against her silver van. He pushed off of the vehicle when she jerked to a stop in front of him.
“I just wanted you to know that I won’t ever come here again, so you don’t have to stop coming here to avoid me.”
“Don’t even,” he said. “I was just trying to be nice. You looked so sad. And you treat me like some sort of perverted, stalker, crazy person.” He wasn’t yelling but he was intense. Full of emotion. He was insulted.
She stood there, mouth hanging open, unable to say anything. Her brain had ground to a halt. She shook her head.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t understand,” she said and she didn’t. No one had shown her this much emotion in years. It scared her to death.
They stood less than three feet away from each other. He was looking at her. No, he was staring at her with such hunger, she envisioned a wolf stalking her. She shivered.
The door opened next to them and bar noise broke whatever spell they had been under.
He took a deep breath, visibly calming down. The door closed. The exiting patrons got in their car, slamming the doors. They drove off. Rachel and Sean watched them until they were out of the parking lot.
They turned back to one another.
“If I asked you to join me for coffee, in broad daylight, in a very busy diner, would you show up?”
“I don’t know.”
“Please join me at the diner at eleven tomorrow for coffee,” he said.
“Because you have to make up for making me feel like a criminal.” He smiled. “Yes, I’m manipulating you with guilt. I saw you thinking it.”
She had been thinking that. She looked away so he wouldn’t see that she found him amusing. She didn’t want to be amused by him.
“Don’t be a chicken,” he said. He squawked.
She guffawed. A dare.
“What are you, like two years old?”
“There’s something wrong with you,” she said.
“There are many things wrong with me, but have coffee with me anyway.”
“Fine,” she said.
“OK,” she said.
“Promise,” he said.
“I promise,” she said.