I didn't waste any time getting to work, I just washed my face, ate a bagel, and silently left the the apartment. I nearly ran to Lucky's hoping desperately that Maya wouldn't be there. I had glanced in the mirror while I washed my face; the swelling had gone but my eye and jaw and cheek were obviously still bruised and darker than before. She would definitely notice. The very thought of her seeing me made me slow my pace and take my time getting there. She usually showed up at different times every day so there was no telling if she was going to be there or not. I sighed and tried to push her out of my head. It was unbelievably hot this morning, beads of sweat had already formed on my forehead even though I hadn't ran a long distance. The streets were practically empty, all the parents (except mine) were at work and the kids were out on summer break, and by “out” I mean in the house playing “Call of Duty”. A tall blonde girl in her 20s was out walking several dogs at once. There was a man in a cheap suit ( probably works at the bank or city hall) walking and talking on his cell phone. Usually I didn't “people watch” but I was spending as much time away form Lucky's as I could. I looked at my watch, 10:57am. I exhaled annoyed that I had no choice but to run to work now, I had to be there at 11 o'clock.
When I went in I did a quick scan of the small store and, to my satisfaction and slight disappointment, she was nowhere in sight. I breathed out as if I had been holding my breath, and who knows, maybe I was.
I said “hi” to Calvin, the store manager, and went to my post in front of the register.
I picked up a book that had been left at the register, “50 ways to please your woman” it said, I was bored and there was no one in the store so I cracked it open and skimmed a few pages. It wasn't a bad read, actually.
Someone cleared their throat and I looked up quickly shutting the book.
It was Maya.
Her amber eyes went wide for a split second of surprise when she saw my face, she looked away shyly for a second, then she looked me in the eye.
“I heard that was a very good book.” she said smiling. And from the puffiness of her cheeks; holding back a laugh as well.
“What?” I said confused by what she said, I was expecting a “hi” or “good to see you”.
She pointed to the book I was reading.
I looked at the book as if for the first time and hastily tossed it aside with a light 'crash'.
“I uh uh, umm. How are you?” I managed to add quickly.
“I'm alright.” she said shaking her head and turning to walk to the back of the store.
“Uh wait. Maya.”
“What?” she said not stopping to hear what I had to say.
“I uh. I just wanted to- “
“Look, Zaiden, I just came here to read, OK?”
She stopped this time and looked at my face, not my eyes. She shook her head and walked around me.
I felt a pang of sadness when she shook her head.
'Was she disappointed?' I thought.
“It's not what it looks like!” I blurted out.
She stopped and looked at me again, she looked irritated.
“What are talking about?”
I pointed at my face.
“What is it then? Did I upset you?” I don't know why I'm so hurt by her rejection, it felt like a kick in the shin.
She looked taken aback a bit by my persisting in her personal life, if it was even personal and not just me.
“It's just... I'm not really looking for a friend right now, I have enough to worry about already without the whole “dating” thing.”
“Who said anything about dating?”
Now she blushed, deep and dark too.
And she blushed even deeper.
“I-I Uh, that's not what I meant, I j-just, wait n-no.” she was babbling now.
She stopped babbling and looked up at me. She looked scared, and so small. I didn't mean to scare her, that was the last thing I wanted to do to her. Her hands were shaking and her eyes were bright with on coming tears. What have I done?
“I' m sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry.” I took her shaking hand in my steady hand.
She didn't pull away, she just looked sadder.
“No! No, it's not your fault.” she said wiping a tear that started to fall with her free hand.”I-I have to go.”
She gently tried to pull away, but I held on.
“Please.” I begged.” I'm not going to hurt you. Do you need to talk?”
She smiled and gently put her hand to my bruised cheek, like my grandmother did last night.
“We can talk later.”
I let go of her hand and she started toward the back again. Her arms were wrapped around herself again even though it had to be 89 degrees in here, and that's with the air conditioner on.
She spotted a book and picked it up not looking at the flap to see what it was about. She sat in the overstuffed chair and tucked her pale skinny legs under herself.
I couldn't help but stare at her, she was so beautiful. But something about her seemed disturbed, like she had a deep dark disquieting secret.
She wiggled and squirmed in the chair and then looked up from her book; she was looking at me tentatively, searching for something from the short distance that separated us.
I started to pretend I was busy, you know, checking making sure all the books had bar codes and what not. I peeked at her for a second and she was still staring.
“Is this pay back from yesterday?”
“You're staring at me like I'm going to rob this bookstore.”
She smiled and giggled a little.
“Yes, I guess you could say that. Paying you back I mean, you were staring at me like a creeper yesterday.”
I smiled back at her.
“Well it's working, you're creeping me out.”
She laughed and shook her head.
Then customers started walking in and the moment faded.
She set her face in a stone cold “Don't bother me or I'll bite” expression and didn't look at me again until she left a few hours later.
She glanced at me, with sad eyes, as she walked out of the store.
I missed her already.
5 o'clock. My shift is finally over and I can leave this store. It was starting to smell like sweat and some kind of cream. I said “bye” to Calvin.
Calvin wasn't a friend of mine, just a coworker. He was taller than me, skinny, pale , and his face infested with freckles. His hair was a carrot read and his eyes were a bright blue. He reminded me of Chucky and he creeped me out.
I left the store wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my day. I decided on going to the park, it was soothing and it felt like the wind was going to pick up soon so it wouldn't be too hot to slum around there until night fall.
I walked with a brisk pace to Grant Park, deep down hoping that I might see Maya there. I planned on getting her to talk about what happened at the book store, if I saw her.
I wanted to know why she started to cry as if I was scolding her. The sad puppy look she gave me as she looked up at me when I was holding her soft cool hand was still plastered in my head like a frightening picture to a young child.
I wanted to wipe her tears, but I knew she wouldn't have let me, she probably would have ran away, or slapped me, either way they both would've hurt.
I walked through the gates of Grant Park and headed over to a bench under a big Willow tree. It was close by the play ground and the pond, the perfect view.
I plopped myself down on the bench and stared directly at the setting sun. People say you shouldn't do that but it never bothers my, eyes except for the few seconds after I look away and that annoying purple glare is in my way so I can't see anything. But I stared at the sun anyway, ignoring the consequence of temporary blindness I knew I was gonna get after I looked away. I loved looking at a setting sun, if you look at for a long time the sun disappears and all that's left is a clear circle in the sky, a glowing halo where the sun should be. Sometimes I wondered if I myself am like the sun, a transparent shell, except I don't glow so that's a pretty lame metaphor to compare myself with.
I looked away from the sun, temporarily blinding by the dark splotch in my vision, I looked over at the play ground, still unable to see clearly, but I know what I saw was there and not a trick of the light. Sitting there on the swing looking so innocent and sweet, was Maya.
I rubbed my eyes to make them clear, and I was right. She was sitting there looking at the same sunset I just looked away from.
She looked so dreamy and peaceful I didn't want to disturb her. I didn't want to make her cry again or upset her in anyway, so I got up and started to leave.
“Zaiden?” said a faint voice.
I stopped walking and turned around, she was looking right at me, questioningly.
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