Authors: April Emerson
There’s something stuck under his windshield wiper. He grabs what he believes is a parking ticket, and reads the note that has been left. He scoffs, then crumples it, gets in the Jeep and drives away.
“I don’t know. I mean, what else can we do? You can lead the horse to water, but that’s about it. We can’t
her happy. She has to want it.” Danielle looks in the mirror at the jeans she’s trying on and turns to be sure she looks good in them from every angle.
Abby runs her manicured nails over silk and takes a hanger off the sale rack, then crinkles up her face at the garment and puts it back. “I don’t know, I thought maybe she’d at least flirt with John. He’s hot.”
“I don’t think
is what she’s looking for, exactly.” Danielle returns to the dressing room, unhappy with the jeans.
“Well, what then?” Abby asks.
“I think she’s waiting for
to come and find her.”
Abby shakes her head at the door between them. “How would Aaron even know where to look?”
“Her mother knows she’s here, and we all know how much Sylvia loved Aaron. She pretty much took his side,” she shouts so Abby can hear her over the irritating mall music.
“That’s terrible. I can’t believe her own mother didn’t support her.”
“That’s why she ran. That’s why she came back to us.”
At work, Emma walks past Abby’s classroom and sees a substitute standing in her place. She rolls her eyes knowing Abby must have taken a fake sick day. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, and for once, Emma doesn’t feel like going home. She’s distracted thinking about what happened at the club and is still trying to shake off her anger at her neighbor from this morning. She can’t comprehend how someone she has never even met could be so cruel. Emma is familiar with cruelty, but she wonders when it will end. She wants more for herself, but she’s crippled by her wounds.
Looking beyond her scars and shadows, she notices what a nice day it is—warm and bright. She climbs into her car and turns the ignition, not quite sure where she’s going. She stops at the coffee shop and the door chimes as she enters. Emma smiles at the girl behind the counter and sits down on a shabby sofa near the window. The counter girl comes over and Emma notices her gaudy fingernails and shameless cleavage.
“What would you like, ma’am?”
Emma cringes at the formal title. “Well,
, I’d like a cappuccino, and a biscotti if you have it, please.”
“Right away.” The girl turns and reveals her firm, round backside, concealed in too-tight pants.
Emma looks at her own reflection in the window. No grays, no wrinkles. She resents the title the waitress gave her. Beyond her reflection, through the glass, there’s a woman with a baby carriage. She paces on the sidewalk. The person she’s waiting for approaches and he runs to her. He picks her up as he hugs her, and then bends down to look in the carriage. The love the couple shares is evident as they kiss. The scene should be joyous but it causes Emma to crumple and collapse in on herself.
The local newspaper rests on the cushion beside her and she reads to distract herself. The door chimes as other customers enter, but Emma doesn’t look up from her paper. Her cappuccino arrives, and to her dismay she sees John, the guy from the club, sitting at a nearby table. She holds her paper up higher, hoping he doesn’t notice her, but John recognizes and approaches Emma.
“Hey. I remember you. Emma, right?”
Emma lowers the paper. “Uh, yeah. Hi.”
“You left without saying goodbye the other night. I was disappointed.” John sits down without being invited to do so. He puts his thick arm over the back of the couch and touches Emma’s shoulder. He thinks he’s being smooth, but Emma disagrees.
“I wasn’t feeling well. I mean . . . I don’t drink,” she explains.
“Yeah, your friends told me you don’t get out much. Just relax, sweetheart. I’m not gonna bite you. I just wanna talk.” John moves closer.
Emma hears someone curse, and she knows that voice. She looks toward the counter and sees him. It’s Stormy Eyes.
Emma feels chilled. Her mind flashes to the club and she crosses her legs at the erotic memory. Even though he never saw her, she’s embarrassed. She looks at him again; her eyes pass over his body and she sees him licking coffee off the back of his hand.
Cleavage Girl behind the counter apologizes. “Oh, no! Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to . . .”
Stormy Eyes is unfazed. He caresses his coffee-burned hand with his tongue again, and Emma feels something inside her flicker. The spark she wants to extinguish. The feeling she’s trying to ignore.
No matter where Eric went, temptation was always there. “It’s all right. I’ll live.” He’s trying not to flirt with the hot piece of ass behind the coffee counter. All he wanted was a cup of coffee and a distraction from his incessant, disgusting thoughts. All he wanted was some normal, but here’s this girl. Eric knows just the type she is. He knows just what she’ll do for him. She’s an easy target. An unwitting victim of his charms. She’s coy as she wipes his hand with a napkin. He touches her wrist, and she doesn’t pull away. He didn’t think she would. His eyes linger on her abundant breasts, and the soft skin threatens to burst from the low-cut shirt she’s wearing.
“What’s your name?” In his mind, he’s already acting out his desire. But then he hears a voice, and his attention is elsewhere.
Eric turns his head toward the voice. It belongs to a woman. A meek little woman who sits near the window, her space being invaded by some meathead. She’s pretty, but not what Eric would call sexy. She has legs for days, but she’s too prim to know what to do with them. She looks uncomfortable, almost scared. The meathead is touching her. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t want it. Eric forgets about the hot piece of ass behind the counter and walks toward the sofa.
“Hey, man, can I speak to you, please?” Stormy speaks to John, but looks at Emma.
“What’s the problem, bro?” John stands.
Eric steps toward him. “I know
what a woman looks like when she wants to fuck you, and this girl is
looking at you
that way. Leave her alone.” Having said his piece, Eric walks back to the counter.
Eric doesn’t turn around or respond. He sits back down, smiles at Cleavage Girl and returns his attention to meeting his need. Then he hears small footsteps and a soft “thank you”. The door chimes and Eric sees the meek girl walk out of the shop and down the street. Her perfume lingers in the air.
At closing time, Cleavage Girl locks the door to the shop and finds the sexy stranger has waited. He’s leaning against his Jeep and she saunters toward him, thrilled and stunned that he’s paying attention to her. She can’t count the times she has sat alone at work and dreamed about this: that a man she’s never met would walk in the shop and
her. His sudden flirtation and unexpected advances have made her almost high. She plans to do anything she can to keep his interest, to make him come back for more. She waits for him to open the car door for her, but he doesn’t. He keeps his arms folded across his chest and looks her up and down, from head to toe and back again. He steps toward her and gives her a grin that sends a chill through her. Then he walks around to the driver’s side, leaving her standing there, alone. She can see he’s seated there with a smirk. She knows what he wants. Within seconds, she follows.
Emma arrives home, unsettled by the product that the deviation from her routine has yielded. She seeks to correct it as soon as she’s submerged in comfortable desolation. She changes into cotton sleep pants and a T-shirt, puts the dishes away, rifles through the fridge, and begins to cook. She tries to sedate her mind with everyday things, but she sees the raw lumber of her nemesis’ house through the thinned-out trees. The wood looks warm in the golden light of dusk. As she chops vegetables, she’s distracted, thinking about the note, and the house, and John, and Stormy Eyes, and . . .
She cuts her finger.
There are red splatters in the kitchen sink. Emma sucks the blood from her fingertip and runs up the creaky stairs to the bathroom, searching for a bandage. She hears the sound of a car engine through the window, and sees the black Jeep. She scowls, remembering the note. A cut finger, bad memories, a run-in with both the most attractive man she has ever seen and the biggest jerk she has ever met. She’s had enough today. She
vent the frustration she’s feeling.
She bandages her cut, pulls on sneakers, and runs through her yard, emerging from the woods into the muddy clearing that’s now her neighbor’s property. She walks with purpose and fury toward the silver trailer. She raises her hand to pound on the door, but halts when she hears heavy breathing and a woman’s voice.
“What are you going to do to me?”
Emma clamps her hand to her mouth and turns to leave, but stops dead in her tracks when she hears a man speak. The voice sounds familiar, but Emma knows that’s impossible. With caution, she steps closer to the door of the trailer.
“I’m not going to do anything to you. You’re going to do something for me. Get on your knees.”
Emma gasps. She tries to shake away the idea that she knows that voice, thinking this scenario only reminds her of the man in the club. It can’t be the same person. Her neighbor can’t be Stormy Eyes.