Raindrops burst on my windshield like berries breaking, streaking the glass with their cold, clear blood. Within seconds of my hand stilling the wipers, everything in front of me becomes streaked and blurry and I am living in a Dalí painting.
Why did I tell the cashier that paper bags would be fine? They aren't fine. I hate them. I hate the way they look, like unlabeled moving boxes. I hate how hard it is to carry them up two flights of stairs, alone. I hate the musty, soggy cardboard smell they create the second water hits them.
But I didn't want her to judge me. I'm so sick of people judging me. Paper bags are the right choice to make, everyone says so, and this is not the hill I want to die on.
The only open parking spot I can find is two blocks away from my apartment, because it's raining, so of course it is. I tuck the bags under my arms, kick the door shut, and make a run for it. The moment my feet hit the sidewalk the bags emit their signature stink, and just like that, I'm not even hungry for the meal I've spent all day fantasizing about. Who wants grilled salmon with Romesco sauce and saffron rice when all you can smell is these stupid damn paper bags?
It's just as well, though. Rick probably would have refused to eat it anyway, would have whined about how I never make anything "normal."
My steps slow as I duck under an awning overhanging the sidewalk, and I lean against the rough brick of the building behind me to catch my breath. I don’t know how far I’ve made it up the street, and I don’t really care. All that matters is that, at least for now, I’m out of the rain.
After the shock of going from wet and cold to dry and warm wears thin, I glance over my shoulder at the storefront window. The letters on it are faded and peeling, but clear enough to help me gather my bearings. A chuckle blossoms in my throat when I realize where I am. I pass this dojo every day, even when I snag a better parking spot and have to double back on foot. There’s no reason for why I do this.
Really. No reason.
The shiny wooden studio floor inside is packed with children all dressed in uniforms so white they hurt my eyes. Their arms and legs undulate like uncontrollable tentacles, no rhyme or reason to their movements to the great consternation of their sensei.
And it’s him. My lungs constrict. There’s always a fifty-fifty chance that it will be him. Yesterday it was someone else, an ancient man with wisdom etched like grooves in his skin, and the day before him it was the new girl, the blonde one who looked so out of place here. But today, it’s him.
Our eyes meet and the hint of a smile plays on his lips, although there’s a chance that I’m imagining it. He’s never smiled before, has he? Maybe I just can’t remember. But now his hand is fluttering up just an inch, maybe more, and his fingers twitch in my direction. A wave.
The wave says nothing, and yet so much. Hello. Nice to see you again. Let’s have dinner. Leave your husband and let me do unspeakably wicked things to that poor, sad, lonely body of yours.
I don’t even know his name, but I know we’re both thinking the same thing. Maybe. I just know it. The wave says it all, doesn’t it?
But Rick is waiting for me upstairs. Waiting to ignore me and criticize my cooking again and complain about the fifteen dollar tab I rang up at lunch with Becky last Tuesday, like he doesn’t spend half our money out drinking with the guys.
I hate him. I hate the way his beard stubble rakes across my face when he kisses me. I hate how he makes me carry these groceries up two flights of stairs, alone, when he knows I could use the help. I hate . . .
But I don’t want him to judge me. I’m so sick of people judging me.