Word count, start of day -- 11,671
I whipped the car back into the parking lot, a little too fast. Their was a scraping sound of metal on asphalt. I couldn't believe I left my packages at the Book Closet. Good thing I had the receipts. At least I was able to get them back. The clerk there said she recognized me, but with glasses that thick I don't see how she could recognize anything.
So for the second time today, I was hunting for a parking spot in front of the Safeway on Glenn Road. That was nearly an hour ago. I needed to book to get back before Gwen started to worry. She did not handle worry well. But it had been a productive day of shopping and some of it had been for Gwen. So could she complain much?
I hopped out and shut the door hard. Not an actual slam, because I had gotten over my anger. I was just in a hurry. A guy in a pretty good mood, just in a --
Hey. What was that? Out of the corner of my eye on the right bumper of that Neon over there. Hey, good catch, Norton. The green vehicle had a Canterbury staff parking system. The logo and color scheme were unmistakable. Probably one of the older ladies if it's somebody I knew. Maybe Carrie Conroy or--
Hey. What was that? I was not being nosy, just taking a quick peek in the windows. Car seat. Probably not one of the older ladies. It would be funny if it was Annie, and oh, what was her name? Erin. Annie and Erin. Good Celtic names. A couple of music cassettes on the dash. Modern rock. Probably not Annie then. Married to a guy like that Dennis of hers, I'm sure she was a jazz girl. If they listened to any rock at all , it was probably the classic stuff. Steve Miller, the Eagles, the Stones. Stuff that came fro his era.
I headed through the store with dispatch, grabbing the few things I needed quickly off the shelves. Not a lot of items, but enough to require a trip. And timely items life milk and meat. I wasn't exactly looking for Annie. But if I saw an attractive redhead, I'd give her a few moments extra look. If she was here, great. If not, then that was not so bad, either.
I was on top of her before I realized the girl was Annie. Sure, I was staring at a hot redhead, but I had never taken this close a look at Annie's rear end. I had never seen her in jeans before, having only seen her iat work and once at a restaurant. She looked great in jeans. This girl's hair was longer and softer and lighter. Not a lot longer or softer or lighter, but enough to change her appearance. I followed the girls with my eyes as she grabbed some vegetables and carried the, to her car.
I ducked back into the next aisle over. My heart was freaking pounding. Come on, man, you know this girl. You've worked with her, you've gone out to dinner with her. With her and her husband. She was cute, but, actually with the hair growing out she had moved beyond cute. She was--stop it, man, stop it.
There is nothing wrong with a man being friendly with a pretty woman. As a matter of fact, it's quite a good statement about a man if ha can be friends with a pretty woman. I'm married, she's married, no big deal. It's a grocery store. Nothing romantic happens in a grocery store.
I cleared my mind, took a deep breath, and headed back to her aisle. I pulled past her, then stopped ostensibly to eyeball some produce. I turned. She was looking away.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a look, not a motion. No evidence at al lthat she had even heard me. Maybe it wasn't her. No. It was definitely her.
She looked up slowly, suspiciously. She probably had heard me the first time, but had her guards up. Was I getting an insight into what it meant to be a hot chick? That you had to ignore every male you ran across until you could verify it was someone you knew?
It took her a second to recognize me out of the context she otherwise knew me from. "Brian!" she exclaimed. Annie seemed sincerely pleased to see me. She had beautiful teeth. Straight and pure. "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing well. Real well, Annie. You?"
The initial surprise of seeing me had vanished and she was back in her prior morose mood. "Fine," she said. It sounded noncomittal. "I have a pretty long list." She waved a piece of paper at me, as if she needed to prive her case. Her cart was already pretty fall. "But why are you here? You don't live around here, do you?" I knew from doing Annie's taxes that she and Dennis lived in a real nice community a few miles from the grocery store.
"No, I'm just picking up a few things for Gwen and I on the way home. For dinner." I nodded, not wanting the conversation to drift away to the ether. "I was doing some browsing over in Short Grove. Stuff for the house, you know." I inwardly winced. Say something at least moderately interesting , man.
"Well, it's good to see you again." Clearly, she wanted to end this little rendezvous. I caught her little girl out of the corner of my eye. It would be rude to ignore her, but I've never actually seen her in real life. What was the protocol for this? WHat would Miss Manners do? What would Jesus do?
For some inexplicable reason, I mussed up Erin's flyaway red-blonde hair. I bended over to get closer to eye level. "Animal crackers? Mmm, mmm, good." I rubbed my tummy. What possessed my to rub my tummy?
The little tike nodded and smiled. "Cookie." I agreed with her observation.
I stood upright again and made eye contact with Annie. Brilliant eyes, but a little guarded. She looked sad somehow. "Where to next?" I asked, out of having nothing else to say.
"What?" She looked confused. And rightly so.
"I'm getting chips and soda and some meat. We're grilling out tongiht for dinner. Which way are you heading out of the produce section?
"Well, I've got meat. I'm heading to," she consulted her list. It appeared to be almost completely written in her cute looping style. Most, but not all. She concluded the sentence, adding, "beauty aids." Like she needed them.
I nodded. "Well, it is good to see you again." It was.
She half-smiled. It halfway lit up her face. "Thanks." She looked past me or an instant, then recommitted to eye contact. "We got the tax refund, buy the way. It took less than three weeks to arrive."
"Glad that worked for you guys." I pushed my cart ahead a foot. Pushing away, albeit slowly.
"What kind of meat do you have?"
I stopped on a dime and whirled. "What did you say?"
"You and Gwen are grilling out tonight. What kind of meat are you fixing?"
"Steaks," I said. It suddenly flashed that she was from Kansas City, the home of some great American beef. "Of course," I said with a grin, "what else is there to eat?"
She almost smiled. I took it as a full smile. She waved and turned away.
I moved slowly away, in half a daze. I replayed the conversation in my mind, then the entire incident from when I first recognized her in the store, then from the parking lot. I manged to get myself through my own shopping list and out of the store without running into Annie again. In retrospect that was a good thing, why make a fool out of myself again?
I got my things into the car, set the packages from my earlier excursions and froze. If I hadn't forgotten those things at that crazy bookstore, I would have been here sixtyy minutes before and completely missed Annie. Might have been good not to see her. Well, not to talk to her. It was definitely good to see her. Out of her work clothes. Not out of her work clothes, like nude, I mean out of her work clothes like--stop it! I took a deep breath and directed the car out of the Safeway lot and towards home. Towards my worried wife. Towards my angry, worried wife. Towards my drinking, angry, worried wife.
I never realized how long six months could take. I promised Dennis I'd not file for divorce for six months, and I will honor that. But these last four, five months seemed like a year.
I was sad. I was a fialure. I had not been the wife my hsuband needed me to be. I had not made him happy. I could tell. He wanted me, he wanted sex from me, but he had grown away from me. Aloof. That was the word, we were aloof from each other. I hadn't slept with him in more than two months. Sleeping together, as in sex. I had been actually sleeping on the couch since that night I'd moved out of the bedroom.
It was just that I wasn't the kind of wife he wnated. It was also that I could never be the kind of wife he wanted.
For one thing, he wanted to go back to Kansas City. He should know that I would never go back there. How could he even . . . he thinks I need a change of scenery, a new start. Hell, this was a new start, moving all the way out here. New town, new job, new friends. Well, new acquaintances, maybe.
The door opened and closed, and Erin ran straight into the living room and into my arms. "You're wet!" I exclaimed, pretending to not like it. "Ooh, yuck!"
"I'm not wet!" she shouted back with glee.
"I've got your clothes up in the bathroom. Get yourself dry and changed, OK?" She bustled up the stairs and disappeared.
"Good time?" I asked evenly. He nodded.
"Agent called," I said, keeping my tone level.
"I think we need to do this," he said, for not the first time.
"I know it's a big promotion."
"And raise," he reminded me. This was his main point, hammering it again and again. Enough that I could quit my job, he said again. But Erin would be in school soon enough, and I would want things to do. I like my job. Maybe he just didn't get that concept. At least he didn't get it in a woman. Or at least his wife.
"How did you get me to sign that?" But I knew it was a done deal. What you did in times of weakness. "Can't we just price the place ten grand over what it's worth? You know, so nobody makes anoffer?"
"I set the price already with her, and it's going in the book."