chapter 13

We stayed at my place the rest of the week, and then he finally talked me into staying at his place for a while. “Fair’s fair,” he said.

He gave me a key before he left to start his day, and invited me to come and go as I pleased, as long as I washed my dishes. Then he smacked me on the ass before pulling me into a deep kiss at the door.

I turned and looked around the tiny room.

There was no TV.

Suddenly, the walls were closing in, and I felt like I was trapped. I sat on the edge of the opened futon, and pulled my knees up next to my head.

I breathed deeply, steadying my nerves.

What’s your problem, you stupid cow?

I don’t know!

Well, Edward’s not going to want to be with a freak who can’t even decide what she wants to be when she grows up!

I took five deep breaths and put my shoes on. I decided to go for a walk. Clear my head.

The sun was bright and gave me a headache. I’d clearly been spending too much time inside. The normal city noises, traffic, construction, chatter, children shrieking, were painful to my ears.

I made my way to a park and sat on a bench in the shade of an oak tree.

I watched people:

The almost-anorexic housewife, sweating with weights at her ankles and in her fists.

The new mother, desperately trying to get her pre-baby figure back by pushing a stroller.

Two men in suits, walking swiftly, with hot dogs in their hands, chatting while eating; dry cleaning bills barely thwarted with each drip of chili.

The nanny corralling two toddlers, who didn’t want to go outside to play.

The dog walker, surrounded by a pack of eager sniffing noses and happy tails.

An elderly couple, keeping a brisk pace, holding hands, still clearly in love.

Were all of their lives complete? Were they happy? How did it happen?

Was it a partner in life? Was it a job they loved? Children? Dogs? Exercise?

I tried to find clues in their faces and actions.

Next thing I knew, an old man was asking if he could share the bench with me.

I nodded.

Actually, I wasn’t sure how old he was. He could have been fifty-five or seventy. He was a bit wrinkled, but good looking. No paunch or crazy eyebrows, just ashock of blond and silver, and twinkling blue eyes.

We didn’t talk. Just sat and watched the world go by.

Finally, I turned to him and asked him if he came to the park often.

“Every day. Never seen you here.”

“I’m new…to the park,” I said.

“Where are you normally?” he asked, turning so he could watch my face as I spoke.

I faced forward, stiff. I couldn’t look at him as I replied, “I’m normally working at a job I hate.”

“Did you quit?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“Fired?” he asked sympathetically.

“Nope…just taking a few days.”

“Do you miss it?” he asked.

“No,” I said, barking a laugh, and immediately covering my mouth with my hand, the other arm wrapping around my middle.

“Are you going back?” he asked, as if he already knew the answer.

“No,” I said, confidently. “But I don’t want to quit until I’ve got something else lined up.”

It was hard to admit that last part.

Evil Isabella mocked my indecision. I cringed.

“Who said you have to do that?” he asked.

“I don’t know. My dad?” I said.

“Hm. He probably thought that was wise,” he nodded. “Have you talked to him about it?”

“What? Fuck no! I’m an adult, I don’t need to ask my parents’ permission to do anything!”

Perhaps I was being childish, but really…

He laughed. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I just figured, if your father’s opinion was so important that you were taking his advice without talking to him, perhaps you should…actually talk to him.”

I looked sideways at the man. He was resting an elbow on the back of the bench, an ankle crossed over his knee.

He grinned at me.

“Hmph,” I said.

“Hey, do you like ice cream?” he asked.

I stared at him like he just asked me if I wanted to give him a blowjob.

He laughed. “I’m not a pervert,” he said, reading my expression flawlessly. “I just usually get ice cream right now, and I wanted to be polite.”

“Oh,” I said, sheepishly, “Sure. Here…” I reached into my pocket for some cash.

“No,” he said shaking his head. “Please, I would love to treat you. I so rarely meet new people any more.”

“OK,” I said.

“Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberry?” he asked.

“Chocolate,” I said.

“Be right back.”

I relaxed into the bench.

What if I just hung out? I had money saved outside of my retirement fund. I could live on that for a year…longer if I had a way to save on bills.

You can’t ask Edward to move in. He can’t afford your rent. Plus, you’ve only been seeing him for a couple weeks.

Yeah, but we’re already living together like an old married couple.

So? You think this honeymoon’s gonna last? What’s he gonna do when you’ve been out of work for six months, and he does all the housework except forlaundry?

I could do all the housework!

Get real, you are NOT a housewife. You’d get resentful and cranky, and then stop doing anything at all.

“Penny for your thoughts,” a masculine voice with a hand holding a cone of chocolate ice cream said.

“Hm…Just weighing my options…trying to be an adult. Thanks for this,” I said, gesturing with the ice cream.

“You’re welcome. So, how do you think most adults deal with changing careers?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never known anyone who did.”

That was a lie. I knew Edward. I knew what he did. I was ashamed that I kept the information to myself, but I wanted to know what the man had to say.

“Hm. Well, I did.”

“Really?”

Jackpot.

“Yeah, lots of times. I guess I’m a free spirit.”

“Well, I’m not. I don’t think I can just let go and pick a spot on a map and move there.”

“You think that’s what it’s about?”

“I don’t know. I actually haven’t a clue.”

“Well, it’s not. How you do it is up to you, lady,” he said poking my shoulder with his index finger. It stung a little.

Why do old people think it’s OK to invade your personal space?

I rubbed my arm.

“I know,” I said.

“You just said you didn’t.”

I rolled my eyes. This guy’s pickiness about semantics was obnoxious.

“I saw that,” he said, his teeth crunching loudly into the sugar cone.

My cone was dripping while I stared at it. I had a mess on my hands.

“See what happens when you do nothing?” he observed.

“Sage advice from a sage?” I said with an edge.

He put the last of the cone in his mouth and got up. After quickly chewing and swallowing he said, “Let me get you some napkins.”

I stuck my tongue out and had a taste.

It was good.

Before I knew it, I had eaten the entire thing. But my hands were still dirty.

I looked up and the man had a plastic cup of water and several napkins.

“Need some help?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I do.”

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