I like this story. Not sure why. And this is a first for me. Working on it in bits and pieces. Yeah, I’m not going at it all at once. I think it’s going to be a long one, too. This is only the first part of it. There’s much more to go. We have to meet Sarah and Jessie, still. And they have to go on their date. Because Doug is going to want to go on a date with this girl. He feels compelled to go out with her. I’m not sure if she’s dangerous or what. Why would a married woman behave that way? What kind of marriage does she have? Is it an open marriage? I really don’t know. I’ll let the characters tell me what is going on. I re-read the first bit about it, and haven’t figured out why it is that Doug goes downstairs in the first place, and I think that says more about him than we know. I mean, she told him to do something and he did it, right? What kind of person takes that kind of direction from a stranger? What does she see in him? Really. Honestly. I have no idea. Not yet.
But it’s going to be fun for me to find out. I think I have another 9000 words I can write of this, I think. 3000 words about his daughter and wife. 3000 words about their first date. 3000 words about their last date.
He dropped his knapsack onto the kitchen table, pressed ‘play’ button on the answering machine then went to the fridge.
“You have,” the machine told him, “one new message.”
He put the jug milk back on the fridge shelf and stopped to listen.
“Hi, Dougie,” the female caller said. “I want you to know that the lawyer will be sending over the papers probably tomorrow and for sure before the end of the week. I just want them signed and I want this over with, you know? So, please, let’s just sign it and get this over with?”
He stabbed the delete button on the phone base and went to the living room to grab his laptop so he could search for something to watch on Netflix while preparing dinner.
The phone didn’t finish its first ring before Doug picked it up.
“You want this over with?” he said. “You didn’t say one word about Sarah. Let me speak to her. I haven’t even seen her in weeks. The least you can do is let me talk to her.”
Doug waited in silence for two heartbeats. “Jessie? So what about it?”
“I haven’t even started, Sweetheart,” the caller said.
He checked the phone display. ‘Number blocked’. He cursed softly, under his breath.
“Sorry, I thought you were someone else. How can I help you?”
“Who’s Sarah?” the caller asked. Sounded female.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m sorry for having answered the phone that way. What can I do for you?”
“You don’t remember me?”
“Um, can’t say that I do. Listen, I just got home from work, so if you could cut to the chase that would really help us moving things along. Let me know what you’re selling. I might even be interested.”
He leaned back against his counter, crossing one arm across his chest, holding the phone to his ear with the other.
“Oh, Sweetheart,” the female caller said. “I’m no telemarketer. We’ve not met, but you’ve seen me.”
“Listen, ma’am, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here….” Doug said.
“Banana,” the caller said.
“The last time you saw me I was driving a black Mercedes and I had a banana in my mouth.”
Doug’s eyes popped open and he mouthed the word, “Holy shit.”
“How did you get my number?”
“Is your phone cordless?”
“Yes,” Doug answered. “But that doesn’t answer my question.”
“Come to the window and wave hello,” she said.
A knot formed in the middle of his chest and he had a moment where it was hard for him to breathe. He didn’t move.
“I don’t bite, Sweetheart,” she said. “You can trust me.”
“It’s not biting that I’m worried about.”
He walked over to the window, careful to stay out of direct view of anyone looking up and into his apartment. A thought occurred to him and he checked the balcony, too. What if she were crazy enough to climb up along the outside of the building or connive her way into an adjacent apartment, above or below or next to him, and clamber over?
Pulling back the sheer curtain enough for him to look out, he saw the black Mercedes, and the blonde in dark sunglasses who was driving it, only now instead of a peeled banana in her hand she had a mobile phone to her ear. The sunglasses reminded him of something Audrey Hepburn might wear. She paced back and forth, looking up like she was trying to calculate the location of his apartment.
“What’s to stop me from calling the cops?”
“And tell them what? A pretty blonde lady in a shiny black Mercedes finds you interesting enough to follow home and ask you out for a coffee? Yes. I expect they will put their best men on the job.”
“I could tell them you pulled a gun on me on the highway and I tried to get away from you.”
“Listen,” she said. “No to put too fine a point on it, but are you going to come down for a coffee or what? I’m asking here, I’m not fucking begging.”
She stopped pacing and looked down at the toe of her pointy black high heeled leather boot.
“I’ll be down in five minutes,” he said.
She looked up, scanning the balconies again, looking for a sign. “Not one second longer.”
“I said. I’m on my way down.”
He left his apartment wearing a dull red hoodie over what he came home from work. All down the hall and in the elevator his stomach lurched and the knot in his chest tightened as he wondered if he should have worn a sport coat instead. He had an old black houndstooth one that might have been better. He looked up at the reducing LED numbers above the elevator door and to the plastic keys of the numberpad, the one marked G lit with a dirty, soft, yellow glow. When the elevator reached the ground floor it aggravated the feeling in his stomach and for a moment it felt like the knot was going to go double.
“That was more than five minutes,” she said. She was a few feet from the door, still wearing her sunglasses, standing one leg cocked, one arm cross across her chest, her other arm held to her body, her forearm extended outward, holding her phone. He thought it looked like a Samsung. It was white.
He shrugged. “Where do you want to go for a coffee?”
She smiled and said, “I know a place. You can follow me.”
“Separate cars?” he said.
He followed her to Main Street and parked in the lot across from the old town hall. Their horns sounded in unison when they locked their doors. They looked at each other and shared a small laugh. They walked through the parking lot and around to the shops along the street.
He’d driven along there before and passed the coffee shop she took him into, but he never had a desire to go in. It didn’t have a drive thru, window, for starters and it was sandwiched between a Thai restaurant and a jewelry store.
“I can’t believe you’ve not been here,” she said when they sat down at a small, circular table for two, the kind that reminded him of one you’d find at a strip joint. The chairs didn’t match. He looked around. None of the chairs matched.
“Very eclectic,” he said.
“Big words,” she said.
He looked at her for a moment, then relaxed, the knot in his chest loosening a little.
“What kind of coffee do you want?”
“Coffee flavoured,” he said. “Triple cream and sugar.”
He watched her wind her way around tables, touching the backs of chairs for balance, as if she was going to fall over, leaning in and apologizing with half-smiles and soft words. He didn’t notice at what point she’d taken off her sunglasses, but she had, and he could remember if she was wearing them when she sat down. He wanted to know what colour her eyes were. He couldn’t help but notice her ass while she stood at the counter. She was wearing tight black tights, with what looked like leather on the inside of her legs, and pointy toed black leather boots that came to just below her knee.
When she turned around he looked away and out to the street. He watched a police car drive by and wondered why it was going so slow. The police station was just around the corner and he thought it was shift change and the cop was just taking their time and punch out right at the end of shift. She pulled out a chair and sat in front of him, putting his coffee mug in front of him.
“Now, just what was so funny about a girl eating a banana when she’s driving her car?” she asked. Their coffees were in different ceramic mugs.
“I wonder if they are all the same volume?” he asked.
“These cups,” he said. He picked his up and showed it to her before taking a sip. “I mean, the coffee’s good and all and the concept of uniqueness appeals to a lot of people, but did they put any thought to how much cubic volume is in each of their mugs? Are they ripping themselves off or are they ripping us off?”
She laughed. “You really are a treat.”
“I was waiting for a clever double entendre about oral sex,” she said.
“Oh,” he said. “My ex wife always said I could never take a hint.”
“Is that who you thought was calling?”
He shrugged. “I don’t get many other calls. Telemarketers, mostly.”
“Girls don’t know what they’re missing,” she said. “What was that about Sarah?”
He nodded. “My daughter. She’s twelve. Smarter than she should be. Lives most of her time with her mother. I see her on weekends.”
“I’m thirty two,” he said. “We were young and it didn’t work. We separated about a year ago. Just a matter of paperwork to make it final.”
“Well, then,” she said. “That’s you wrapped up in a neat little bow.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” he said. “What were you expecting from a guy who stared at you while you ate a banana?”
She shrugged. “You looked like you could use a friend and I wanted to go for a coffee.”
“Did you know this place was here?”
“Everywhere has at least one place to stop for coffee. Where do you go for coffee?”
“I don’t,” he said. “I spend most of my time at home or on my computer or with my daughter when she comes to stay.”
“Oh,” she said. “What do you and your daughter do?”
Doug went on to describe what the two of them did together, from the time he picked her up at her mother’s, to the place they always went for dinner, back to the apartment where he insisted that she finish her homework for the weekend.
“She hated it at first, just hated it,” he said. “But after a while, and especially now with her going into high school next year, it really starts to pay off. She calls it her bad habit, but I know she’s only joking.”
As he talked she shuffled her chair around to be nearer to him. She reached under the table and put her hand on his thigh, fiddling with and pinching together the folds of his jeans. For some reason, it put him in mind of what a cat might do.
“Don’t mind me,” she said. “Tell me more about your daughter.”
“Excuse me. I need to get more comfortable,” he said, and quickly added. “But no need to move your hand.”
“You like it there?”
“I certainly don’t mind it.”
When she moved out of his vision again, he had a view of Main Street and saw the police car again, this time going by in the opposite direction.
“That’s weird,” he said.
“I’ve been doing it since I was kid. I don’t know why. I like the feel of it between my fingers. It’s a comfort thing, I guess. Your jeans make it feel especially nice.” He sensed her smiled but he wasn’t looking at her.
“Not that,” he said. “I don’t think that’s weird at all. I kinda like it. I just thought it was weird that I think I saw the same cop drive back and forth in front of the coffee shop.”
“Ohhh,” she said. “A wanted man, no less. This is getting hot.”
He shook his head. “Probably nothing.”
She glanced over her shoulder to look outside and picked up her mug dramatically, courting a conspiratorial look with Doug. “Maybe we should go in the back and hide behind the bookshelves.”
“There’s books back there?” He said.
“I can’t believe you’ve not been here before. Let’s go.”
She picked up her coffee mug with one hand and took his in her other and led him into the back. He felt how small and soft her hand was in hers. Taking her hand off his leg left him with a sense of loss he couldn’t understand, but holding his hand felt just fine.
They browsed among the books. He walked along the shelves, canting his head left and right, reading the spines of the books. They were in the poetry section and she pressed herself against him, looking at the same book, lifting her hand with his, using their fingers together to read the titles.
“Oh, man,” she said. “Look at the time. I have to leave, Butterfly.”
“I have to go,” she said. “But we can make a date for another time. Maybe dinner?”
“Uh, yeah,” he said. “Dinner. That would be great. When?”
“Let me give you my number,” she said, reaching around to his back pocket to get out his phone. Swiping to unlock, she went to his address book and keyed in her name and number.
“Not password protected?” she asked. “Trusting.”
“I don’t have anyone to hide anything from,” he said. “Pixie?”
“In the future, when a pretty girl asks you out for a coffee, you should ask her name.”
“Pixie?” he repeated.
“My friends call me Pix,” she said. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “We can leave through the back door here. I don’t think they’ll mind. Sure beats having to walk around the building. We’ll have to remember the back door for the next time.” She winked at him.
He walked slowly back to the car and she adjusted fell back to meet his pace. He fumbled for his keyfob and held it as they walked, looking down at his feet.
“Hmmph,” she said. “This isn’t good. I think my key is busted.”
She held out her hand and gestured as she pressed the button to unlock her car. “Doesn’t want to work.”
“Doesn’t it have a key inside it?”
He took out his keyfob and demonstrated by moving a small slider with his thumb and pulling at the end, withdrawing a thin key. “The guy at the dealership made a big deal out of it. And mine’s a Dodge.”
“Mine doesn’t have that,” she said. “I guess Mercedes is too conceited to think anything could go wrong with theirs.”
“Mercedes used to own Dodge. Well, Chrysler. Daimler-Chrysler, it was called at one time. I used to make parts for them.”
“Looks like I grabbed the valet fob,” she said, looking at her keychain. “What about you give me a ride home so I can get my key?”
“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”
She directed him away from Main Street. Up the hill and to the south end of town, to where the lots got smaller and the houses got bigger. At the top of the hill was the police station, across the street from the small pond they people in town called a lake. He looked to the parking lot behind the station to see if there was any unusual high traffic of police vehicles, and wondered if it was just a changing of the shift that he saw, and the officers that shared that car also shared the same route. In between telling him what to look for and where to turn, she texted away on her phone.
When they entered her neighbourhood, they passed a sign, advertising a new planned phase of development, where the houses were in the low 700s. She pointed to a cul-de-sac off the secondary road. Her bungalow, tucked into a corner of the dead end court, had a large double driveway with a wraparound porch on what looked like to be one of the largest lots in the subdivision.
“Nice place,” he said. He put his car into park.
“Yeah, it’s okay,” she answered. “You get used to it after a while.”
“I’ll wait here,” he said.
“About that,” she said. “It’s probably better I just get over there on my own and I’ll call you or text you later. Is that okay?”
“Uh, sure. No problem. It was nice having coffee with you. Thanks for stalking me.”
She smiled, leaned across the armrest and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re so silly when you’re trying not to be hurt. Of course we’ll see each other again! It’s just that my husband is coming home soon and he can drive me over to get my car.”
“Of course,” he said. “You’re what again?”
“My husband. He should be home any minute. So I’ll be fine with my car. Text me tonight, okay? And find a spot on your calendar when we can go out?”
She got out and pressed the door closed without slamming it. “I’ll see you again, okay? Get that look off your face!” She laughed and walked away up to her door. She looked back over her shoulder and found him still there, parked at the curb, watching her go in. She put her fingers in her mouth and unleashed a piercing whistle, following it with a laugh.
“Get lost! Go home! I’ll be fine.”
Before he could make a thought about what way to take home, he found himself on his way back to the main road that he took when he got off the highway, slowing fading into his home from work routine.
He parked then locked his car and took his trip up to his tenth floor apartment. He shared the trip across the lawn and up the elevator with other tenants, making polite eye contact, smiling his hellos, alternating his stare straight ahead to the climbing numbers on the elevator display to his digital watch – a watch that ticked away less than ten minutes from his car door to the couch in his one bedroom apartment.
He looked at the contents of the backpack already dumped on the kitchen table, satisfied that he didn’t hallucinate that he’d already been home once already today, and pressed the ‘play’ button on his answering machine. He grabbed a glass from the cupboard and went to the fridge to pour himself some milk.
“You have,” the machine told him, “one new message.”
He coughed and choked on his milk and leaned over the sink to keep from spraying it all over the floor.