First part here. I'm stuck. And hoping that something good will emerge at some point. In the meantime, I have to make do with the following.
The light inside was glaring, after the dark cushion of the outside, and the buzzing of the overhead lights made her feel like she had tinnitus. She'd never noticed it before, covered as it usually was by the chatter and general hubbub of people in stores, and it dawned on her that she was the only one there, apart from the clerk, a middle-aged man who strangely looked like he didn't belong here and seemed bored out of his head.
"Hi", she said with a smile. He smiled back, apparently numbed out by the lack of customers and lacking the strength or willpower to utter a simple "hi".
Hello, kindred spirit. You're bored, I'm angry and scared; shall we use the cover of darkness to share a little humanity?
She went straight to the healthcare aisle, grabbed a box of Maalox, browsed the magazine rack to buy herself a little time, and walked to the counter to pay.
"Not exactly a busy night, eh?" Small talk. Focus on the small talk.
"Um, no. It's been real quiet tonight. In fact, you're my first customer in over an hour. And there's nothing on TV either. That'll be 2.99 please. Apart from the usual reruns, I mean. And I've seen those so often I can play them in my head without the use of the screen. I'm bored silly, really." He chuckled quietly.
My, my. You want to talk, after all. OK, let's. She pushed some change on the counter.
"Oh don't I know what you mean. Hate those. Even if I did like the show to begin with, there is such a thing as overdoing the reruns. Someone should tell the networks."
"Ha, I know. On quiet nights, I usually think I should just write an angry-viewer letter, sign a different name each time, and send it on. Maybe after a while, they'd get the hint. No harm in dreaming, right?"
"No harm indeed. You should do it. Also, you've got a wide choice of gossip rags there, reading them might prove entertaining while you wait for their reply", she said in a joking tone. Could she be any duller?
"God no. No offence, but I hate those. I'd rather gnaw my right arm off than read them."
"None taken, I don't read them. Not at the doctor's, not at the hairdresser's. I'm that much of a poser that I bring a book with me."
"Hear hear. I do that too. It's great being a poser."
He flashed a smile that made her feel grateful she'd stopped here—the kind of smile that spoke volumes.
She laughed. And oh how good it felt. She caught herself looking at him not in the eyes, but at their underside. It looked so smooth it seemed to belie his age. She wanted to touch her thumb very lightly to the skin there, to see if it was as soft as it looked.
"I'll refer some people to you, shall I? You tell 'em. Been given hell about that for years."
"Thank you, sir. I hope the rest of the night passes quickly."
"It certainly will now. Drive safely."
"Well... Bye then."
"Bye. And come back soon!" That last was said with both heavy irony—as if anyone in their right mind would want to come back soon— and what she decided was genuine hope. Wishing she knew him, she looked back.
"I will. You take care."
She was humming 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay' as she got behind the wheel. Had she really left the flat in a huff to end all huffs a mere half-hour ago?
It took her a while to start the car. The old heap was nearing the end of its useful life. Stephen’s argument for keeping it was its sentimental value—yeah, whatever, if you asked her.
Stephen. She was ready to talk to him now. This chasing after her own tail was not cutting it anymore; he deserved her trust, however much that cost her. And more than trust, he deserved to decide if he wanted to spend his life, or a moment, with her, once she'd let him know a bit more of her story.
Funny how things happened, how decisions were made, how lives could be changed. Sometimes it felt like chance encounters made free will redundant. The clerk had looked like a good man, but a sad man. She didn't want to be good-but-sad. She wanted to be happy. Serenely, selfishly so. Surely that also happened to good people.