Authors: Whitney Boyd
He got back to Denver three days ago. I wonder how soon it will clue in for him that I’m gone for good, that I’m not coming back? I wish I could have seen his expression when he entered the condo, dropped his sweaty duffle bag on the floor, called out for me, expecting a cake and candles and wine and me draped suggestively on the couch or something.
I’m going to crank call him again, I think with perverse satisfaction. Right now. He’s definitely still sleeping. He’s always exhausted after away games, especially when he gets injured. I try to mentally count the time zones from here to Colorado but give up after a minute. Whatever time it is, it will be much too early for him to be awake.
I toss on some sweat pants, make a mental note to get myself a new cell phone soon, and slide into my flip flops. Then I lock the door behind me, sniff the air happily for the bacon smell again, and hurry down the street, looking for a pay phone where I can make my call.
The problem with the cell phone age is that phone booths are almost extinct. Seriously, Superman would have nowhere to change!
“Morning,” a short woman says, approaching me on the sidewalk. “Is your apartment safe?” Her hair is neat and perfect, black but showing some signs of grey. Her dark eyes dance as she looks at me.
I stop in my tracks. Is this like an omen or something?
“Your home? Is it safe from burglars? I selling alarms and something tell me pretty girl like you could benefit from this.” Her slight accent becomes more prominent as she speaks, each word getting more animated.
An alarm salesman? Is that normal? I glance over my shoulder at the apartment complex and turn back to her. “Uh, thank you, but yes, my apartment is safe. I live nearby, you know, the good part of town and all that. Ha-ha.”
Her stare is making me uncomfortable. She’s like the gypsy fortuneteller I met at that carnival in Wisconsin. Todd said she was full of crap, but everything she told me ended up coming true. She had said that a blonde man with me would stab me in the back (Todd cheating), the shadow of death was hovering nearby (the old woman down the street was hit by a car that day. She didn’t die, but still . . .), and that many tears were in my future. And basically all I’ve done since then is cry.
So, clearly the gypsy was right.
I frown now, watching this little Puerto Rican woman. She is still standing there in her bright pink flood pants with a yellow, high-necked blouse tucked in to them. She looks like a normal, fashion-less old lady. Except, she must know something, right? Why else would she be drawn to me on the street, when there are dozens of people around she could talk to? “Um, do you know the future?” I whisper, leaning forward.
Her reply is instantaneous. “I know pretty girl like you will have gentlemen callers. Not married, need protection.”
“How’d you know I’m not married?” The suspense is killing me. The tension between us is palpable.
The woman raises her eyebrow. “Because I know.”
“Okay, how much?”
The woman beams at me, displaying a row of crooked teeth. “Fifteen hundred dollar, we install, you pay first.”
I have fifteen hundred dollars sitting at home. Plus I have plenty more in my newly opened bank account. I could do this. An alarm would definitely make me feel better.
“I don’t really have anything for people to steal though,” I say, fiddling with my watch band. “No TV, nothing. I mean, they could try to get the washing machine, but it’s pretty heavy.”
The woman glowers. “You need.”
I’m beginning to think maybe she’s not a fortune teller. Just a really pushy saleswoman. I take a step back and smile kindly. “Thank you, but actually, I think I’ll be fine.”
She points a finger at me and a pitiful look appears on her face. “You need. I need. We both get something.”
“You need,” I hesitate, trying to follow the conversation, “an alarm system?”
“The money!” Her voice cracks a little. “I need for grandbabies. You pay, I give alarm.”
Okay, this is definitely disconcerting. I look over my shoulder desperately and see a nice looking woman approaching, holding a little boy’s hand. “Uh, there’s my friend. I gotta go.” I turn away from the old woman and wave brightly to the stranger and her child.
“Hi Kennedy!” Today is getting even weirder. How does that kid know my name? The little boy is waving at me and beaming, tugging on his mother’s hand to make her go faster.
“Hi,” I reply weakly, noticing in my peripheral vision that the old lady is moving down the street away from me, her eyes fixed firmly on her next target.
“Mama, this is our neighbor I tell you about.” He wipes his arm on his sleeve and suddenly I remember.
“Carlos!” I say quickly. “Right?”
He nods and his mother holds out her hand. “Hello, I am Jesica. So pleased to meet you. Carlos tell me much about you.” She is pleasant, brown hair and eyes like me, but sexier somehow. Her eyes dance as she talks and her curvy little body makes her seem confident and secure.
“Where are your big shoes?” Carlos is staring at my worn black flip flops in distaste. “I tell Mama about your big shoes but you don’t have them.”
I laugh and crouch down so I can see him. “I learned the hard way that you were right. Only rich people wear those tall shoes.” I remember how much pain my heels had left me in that first day at work. Why do people wear things that are so uncomfortable, all in the name of fashion? So much of my old life seems stupid to me now.
“That woman was bothering you, no?” Jesica is frowning toward the old lady, now trailing behind two young girls on their way to school. “She try to sell alarms to everyone. Don’t talk to her and she go away.”
“Is she crazy?” I ask, watching her now too. “She was very convincing. I mean, I was this close to buying an alarm.”
“You don’t need an alarm, not in these apartment buildings. Locks are good on the doors, nobody in the building has anything valuable. We don’t get broken into. If you lived on Mabbette or ML King Street maybe. But not here.” Jesica says the last few words with pride, her head rising up just a little.
I smile sheepishly, feeling stupid at how worried the old lady had made me. “Well, thanks. I guess I owe you one.”
“Where are you from?”
“Colorado.” I hesitate. I don’t want to say much more than that. I don’t want to discuss my past relationship because it hurts too much. And I want to remain anonymous. Telling my neighbor about my privileged, flighty past won’t do me any favors.
“Colorado? Very pretty, I hear.” Carlos begins tugging on her hand and Jesica smiles at me. “Little boys get bored of women talking. Why don’t you come over for dinner tomorrow? We live in the apartment next to you, one thirteen. Come at seven, if you not working.”
Really? She wants me to hang out? I feel a warmth spread in my chest and nod. “Sure, thanks. Should I bring anything?”
“No, no, it’ll be simple. Just rice, but please come.”
“Of course.” I don’t know what else to say, so I merely add, “Thanks.”
Jesica nods, lifts her hand in farewell, and she and Carlos continue past me. I watch them go, amazed that I have a potential friend. A neighbor who wants me to come over for dinner. Someone who gives me advice about the creepy alarm saleswoman, someone I can talk to.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a nice friend like her. The nanny who raised me hadn’t approved of most of the kids I went to school with, so I never got to hang out and have girl talk the way I saw the girls do on the Disney Channel. I didn’t have many people my own age to associate with. So now? This is nice.
I check my watch. Nine thirty. I
get home and shower and hurry off to work. But before I do, I have to call Todd. His misery will make my happiness that much more complete.
I spot a phone booth across the street under an awning so I cross, insert my coins, and let it ring. Come on, Todd. Pick up. I cross my fingers. As much fun as the answering machine was the last time I called, actually making him wake up would be better.
“H-hello?” His voice makes a lump rise in my throat. He is in the middle of a yawn and I smile spitefully. I did wake him up.
Channeling my best alarm saleswoman, I clear my throat and say, “I watch you right now.” Then I heavily breathe into the phone.
“Um, hello? Who is this? Maria, babe, is this you?”
Maria? Who the crap is Maria? I feel rising fury come over me. “I not Maria,” I say choppily, making my voice deeper and lower. “But you rot in hell.”
I hang up, slamming down the receiver. Are you kidding me? I crank call the guy, waking him up, and his first thought is that I’m some chick named ‘Maria, babe’?
I lean against the glass and feel tears smart my eyes. What a jerk.
I mean, I’m an idiot, sure. Yet all this time I thought I was the only one he called babe. Yes, he cheats; yes, he’s a jerk. But some part of me thought that maybe I was a little more special than his average ho.
I get home from my crank call with Todd and turn the shower on as hot as it will go. The water smells a little swampy, like the rest of Florida, but I am beginning to get used to it all. I sit on the edge, with my feet inside the tub. I watch as the hot water hits my feet and turns the flesh red, but I barely feel the burn.
Why was I such a fool to think that I could somehow get the upper hand on Todd? He cheated on me. He’s the reason I fled from my old life. He’s clearly won. Hasn’t he? I feel a tear drop onto my bare knee and I brush at it impatiently.
Maria. Maria, babe. I haven’t heard of a Maria. She hasn’t been listed in any of the articles outlining his cheating ways. She must be someone new, someone else to add to the list.
I finally gather enough strength to stand up and I let the scalding water flow over the rest of my body. Wash away my tears. Make everything better.
I hate myself right now.
When I finish the shower, I towel off, run a comb through my hair, and then put a little bit of mousse in it. I’ll go for the wet-shower look today, I guess. No use drying my hair when it will get frizzy in the humidity outside anyway. I throw on my putrid waitress uniform and get out my most comfortable pair of shoes, ones I’ve had for years and have completely broken into. They are flat, brown, and have a dainty pink flower on the toe. They clash with the uniform, but then, most things would clash with that shade of green.
On my way to work, I pop my head into a small AT&T store and buy the cheapest cell phone I can find. Only ten dollars if I buy a year long contract. I pay, slip the phone into my pocket, and feel instant relief. I have no one to call, but without a phone I’ve felt strangely naked. Having gone without for the past week was way too long.
With my phone in my pocket, I walk as briskly as I can without breaking a sweat and arrive three minutes before my shift.
As I enter the restaurant I take a quick look around. It’s a nice feeling to recognize a few familiar faces, the regulars who come in every day. I smile at them and walk toward the cash register to grab my notebook. I pass Leila at a table, talking to a guy with immaculate fingernails. Wow, it’s not often you see men who obviously pay for a manicure.
“Okay, are you ready to order?” Leila asks, winking at me and mouthing the word “hi.” I wave back as the manicured man replies, “No. Come back in a few minutes.”
Leila rolls her eyes. “Really? You’re ordering from a list of five lunch menu items. You’re not shopping for life insurance. Just pick one.”
“You just lost your tip.” The man sounds annoyed and drums his fingers against the table.
Leila glances toward Max, who is counting pennies in the cash register and not paying the least bit of attention. ”Don’t you know not to tell that to your waitress? What’s stopping me from spitting in your food?” She smirks a bit. The man glares at her. “You can’t spit in my food. I’ll call the health inspector.”
Leila shrugs. “No skin off my nose. Spit is so hard to trace.”
I am shocked. You can’t speak that way to a customer! I mean, sure, Leila’s tough and all. She has dreadlocks and has been locked away in a Mexican prison and the whole “don’t mess with me” attitude. But if Max hears, she could get fired!
I should intervene. I take a step toward them, ready to calm the man down or something. I sidle up to them and clear my throat awkwardly. “Um, hi there,” I begin, shooting Leila a pleading look.
“Yeah?” Leila looks at me, her eyebrow raised slightly and then all of a sudden understanding dawns and she bursts out laughing. “You think I’m actually threatening to spit in his food, don’t you?” Leila winks at the customer. “Kennedy’s new,” she explains.
“Good to meet you,” he smiles. “I’ve known Leila a long time, but now that you’re here, maybe I can finally rest assured that my food won’t kill me.”
Leila rolls her eyes at him and punches him on the arm before walking off toward the kitchen. I’m a little flustered, but at the same time, this sense of camaraderie makes me jealous. Before I can analyze the situation further, the door opens and a person walks in by himself. I can’t make out features since his back is to the light and all I can see is his outline. I smile and hurry away from Leila’s manicured friend.