My boss’s teeth were huge and coffee-stained, resembling a row of butter sticks lined up side by side. Skinny with over-bleached blond hair, she barged into my office without warning or courtesy to tell me nothing of any importance. It was a liberty she often took with me. I sighed and hung up the phone in mid-dial. Thankfully, an overhead page sent her off on another errand, away from me.
I glanced wearily at my watch. It was almost six o’clock. The call I wanted to make would have to wait, although waiting was something I could no longer afford to do.
I stood up from the desk in my office --- a windowless box of parchment walls and white shelves lined with books and binders --- tightened the half-Windsor knot on my purple tie and threw on my smoke-gray suit jacket.
After wiping a bit of nervous sweat from my forehead and taking a swig of water, I checked the time again. It was six o’clock. I walked to the wooden podium that faced a standing-room only crowd of about two hundred people.
“Good evening and welcome,” I said into the microphone, my voice booming through the two 300-watt speakers to my left and right. I was introducing a New York Mets legend at his only
Raucous applause greeted him. After three years of working with famous people I was no longer awed by celebrity. I stepped away into the background beside a column. Hidden from view, I remained there until the event was over, watching cars drive down the street through a set of floor-to-ceiling windows.
And then my heart stopped.
Like something out of a bad romantic comedy, Jean was third in line to have her book signed. I went through my memories of the evening and couldn’t remember seeing her sitting in the front row. Dressed head to toe in shades of winter-white, she looked even better than she did the first time I saw her. Her brown stiletto boots and blood red cashmere scarf struck the only contrast on her statuesque physique.
There was nowhere to escape and I had no excuse to give. We met a week earlier and clicked instantly. She gave me her phone number and I hadn’t called her once, even thought I had been thinking about her nearly every waking moment since our meeting. After being on a merry-go-round of crazy love affairs with crazy women, Jean was a breath of fresh air --- beautiful, intelligent, funny and confident --- a regular chick.
I was suddenly afraid of who she could become.
Jean smirked when she saw me. “Well, well, well. You do wonders for a woman’s ego. I’m glad I had one before I met you.” She paused to look me up and down. “You look nice, Mr. Hutchens. You’re a natural on the microphone.”
“Thank you,” I said, standing perfectly still and feeling completely awkward. “You’re a Mets fan?”
“What? Back in the day my father and I went to Shea Stadium all the time. I’m getting the book and hopefully a baseball signed for him for his birthday tomorrow.”
Jean looked up to gawk at the two-story high ceilings, “I love bookstores,” she gushed. “If I lived out here in the boonies, I’d be here all the time. I had to leave early to get up here in time. How do you work all the way up here?”
I didn’t answer because it was her turn to have her book signed. I watched her with a mix of desire and ownership even though I had no right to.
I blew it. I felt it in my bones.
But Jean didn’t leave. To my surprise, she waved me over.
“What are you doing after this?” she asked, as I approached.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Going home, I guess. Why?”
“Maybe I could catch a ride with you back to
I took her swipe in stride and agreed to take her home.
On the way home we had the conversation of a lifetime --- the kind made of the innocent discoveries a man and woman pursue only when they are strangers to one another.
Foreign films, implausible action flicks and suspense thrillers made my world go round. Bloody horror movies and romantic comedies did it for her. Heavy meals, working out and God were what we had in common. But she went to church. The last sermon I heard was at my mother’s funeral years earlier.
She turned to me and locked her large oval brown eyes on mine.
“Why didn’t you call me, Elijah?” she asked with a hint of vulnerability in her voice. “You don’t seem like the type to play games.”
My heart began to pound. I broke eye contact with her and looked out the front window at the car in front of me.
“I don’t know, Jean.”
“What don’t you know?”
“You make me nervous…” I confessed, “…I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”
Jean moved in close to me to say just above a whisper, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing…I think you should call me.”
The warmth of her breath crawled along my right cheek and settled on my earlobe. Jean hopped out of my car and walked quickly to the front door of her house. She didn’t turn back once.
“You’re an idiot,” I told myself out loud after I watched her door close.
I took a deep breath, glad to know that even though it had been seven days, I still had time.
ERIC PAYNE is the author of a book of poetry and short stories entitled I See Through Eyes and has been previously published at Spindlezine.com. Born and raised in Chicago, he moved to Jamaica, Queens after grad school a little more than a decade ago to "make it" in NYC. No longer sure what "making it" means, he now lives in
"This flash fiction story is a boy-meets-girl tale set in New York City."