“What the hell, ” I said, pushing off the wall, ready to take off the head of whatever stupid salesperson had decided to get cozy with me. My elbow was still buzzing, and I could feel a hot flush creeping up my neck: bad signs. I knew my temper.
I turned my head and saw it wasn’t a salesman at all. It was a guy with black curly hair, around my age, wearing a bright orange T-shirt. And for some reason he was smiling.
“Hey there,” he said cheerfully. “How’s it going?”
“What is your problem?” I snapped, rubbing my elbow.
“You just slammed me into the wall, asshole.”
He blinked. “Goodness,” he said finally. “Such language. ”
I just looked at him. Wrong day, buddy, I thought. You caught me on the wrong day.
“The thing is,” he said, as if we’d been discussing the weather or world politics, “I saw you out in the showroom. I was over by the tire display?”
I was sure I was glaring at him. But he kept talking.
“I just thought to myself, all of a sudden, that we had something in common. A natural chemistry, if you will. And I had a feeling that something big was going to happen. To both of us. That we were, in fact, meant to be together.”
“You got all this,” I said, clarifying, “at the tire display?”
“You didn’t feel it?” he asked.
“No. I did, however, feel you slamming me into the wall,” I said evenly.
“That,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning closer to me, “was an accident. An oversight. Just an unfortunate result of the enthusiasm I felt knowing I was about to talk to you.”
I just looked at him. Overhead, the Muzak was now playing a spirited version of the Don Davis Motors theme song, all plinking and plunking.
“Go away,” I told him.
He smiled again, running a hand through his hair. The Muzak was now building to a crescendo over us, the speaker popping, as if close to short-circuiting. We both glanced up, then at each other.
“You know what?” he said, pointing up at the speaker, which popped again, louder this time, then hissed before resuming the theme song at full blast. “From now on, forever”-he pointed up again, jabbing with his finger-“ this will be our song.”
“Oh, Jesus,” I said, and right then I was saved, hallelujah, as Don’s office door swung open and Ruth, led by her salesman, came out. She was holding a sheaf of papers and wore that stunned, recently-depleted-of-thousands look on her tired face. But she did have the complimentary fake-gold-plated key chain, all hers.
I stood up, and the guy beside me leapt to his feet. “Wait, I only want-”
“Don?” I called out, ignoring him.
“Just take this,” the guy said, grabbing my hand. He turned it palm up before I could even react, and pulled a pen out of his back pocket, then proceeded-I am not joking-to write a name and phone number in the space between my thumb and forefinger.
“You are insane,” I said, jerking my hand back, which caused the last digits to get smeared and knocked the pen out of his hand. It clattered to the floor, rolling under a nearby gumball machine.
“Yo, Romeo!” someone yelled from the showroom, and there was a burst of laughter. “Come on man, let’s go!”
I looked up at him, still incredulous. Talk about not respecting a person’s boundaries. I’d dumped drinks on guys for even brushing against me at a club, much less yanking my hand and actually writing on it.
He glanced behind him, then back at me. “I’ll see you soon,” he said, and grinned at me.
“Like hell,” I replied, but then he was already going, dodging the truck and minivan in the showroom and out the front glass door, where a beat-up white van was idling by the curb. The back door flung open and he moved to climb in, but then the van jerked forward, making him stumble, before stopping again. He sighed, put his hands on his hips, and looked up at the sky, then grabbed the door handle again and started to pull himself up just as it moved again, this time accompanied by someone beeping the horn. This sequence repeated itself all the way across the parking lot, the salesmen in the showroom chuckling, before someone stuck a hand out the back door, offering him a hand, which he ignored. The fingers on the hand waggled, a little at first, then wildly, and finally he reached up and grabbed hold, hoisting himself in. Then the door slammed, the horn beeped again, and the van chugged out of the lot, bumping its muffler on the way out.
I looked down at my hand, where in black ink was scrawled 933-54somethingsomething, with one word beneath it. God, his handwriting was sloppy. A big D, a smear on the last letter. And what a stupid name. Dexter.
When I got home, the first thing I noticed was the music. Classical, soaring, filling the house with wailing oboes and flowing violins. Then, the smell of candles, vanilla, just tangy sweet enough to make you wince. And finally, the dead giveaway, a trail of crumpled papers strewn like bread crumbs from the foyer, through the kitchen, and leading to the sunporch.
Thank God, I thought. She’s writing again.
I dropped my keys on the table by the door and bent down, picking up one balled-up piece of paper by my feet, then un-crumpled it as I walked toward the kitchen. My mother was very superstitious about her work, and only wrote on the beat-up old typewriter she’d once dragged around the country when she did freelance music articles for a newspaper in San Francisco. It was loud, had a clanging bell that sounded whenever she reached the end of a line, and looked like some remnant from the days of the Pony Express. She had a brand-new top-of-the-line computer too, but she only used that to play solitaire.
The page in my hand had a 1 in the upper right-hand corner, and started with my mother’s typical gusto.
Melanie had always been the type of woman who loved a challenge. In her career, her loves, her spirit, she lived to find herself up against something that fought her back, tested her resolve, made the winning worthwhile. As she walked into the Plaza Hotel on a cold November day, she pulled the scarf from her hair and shook off the rain. Meeting Brock Dobbin hadn’t been in her plans. She hadn’t seen him since Prague, when they’d left things as bad as they’d started them. But now, a year later, with her wedding so close, he was back in the city. And she was here to meet him. This time, she would win. She was
She was… what? There was only a smear of ink after the last word, trailing all the way down the page, from where it had been ripped from the machine.