There are moments that change your life forever. A look or a glance; being in the right place at the right time, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oz hasn’t decided which it was for him. Not yet. All he knows is that he wishes that he could have acted sooner and spared Mia Köhler her life.
For Elka, it was definitely the wrong place at the wrong time and now she’s lost her sister. Lost in a miasma of despair, an unlikely friend has stepped out of the fog of her grief to take her hand.
Both are moving slowly, carefully, working through their mutual tragedy a day at a time. Still, there are aspects of that morning that could come back to haunt them. It could easily be the end of their tale as much as the beginning.
“Wow,” I said impressed. “You do a lot of community outreach then?”
He shook his head. “Not so much anymore. If I do, it’s usually with the club.”
“How come? Seems like you’re good at it, or am I a special case?”
He laughed slightly, eyes unreadable behind his sunglasses as he bowed his head. He shook it. “You aren’t a ‘case’ at all,” he said.
Then what am I? I wondered silently, but I wasn’t brave enough to ask. Instead, I studied what I could see of his face. He was strikingly handsome, unique in a way that I had almost never seen before. I mean, he was definitely mixed race and one of those races was black, but I couldn’t for the life of me identify what the other half was.
Whatever it was, it gave a wonderful, warm golden cast to his skin that was offset by all the black he was wearing. The tee shirt he had on was wonderfully fitted and molded to his chest and shoulders like a second skin. It strained at the sleeves to contain his biceps and I let my practiced eye rove the tattoos that sleeved one arm from shoulder to wrist. I let my eyes follow each loop and curve of thorny vine, the roses big and crimson at their edges. The entire piece of art wrapping his forearm and clambering up over his elbow bespoke a vehement desire for the onlooker to back off, while simultaneously touched on a deeper sadness. One I couldn’t yet identify. A loneliness, perhaps… or, perhaps, I was just projecting.
“A’riiiight, here you guys go.” Enrique arrived just before the bubble of question that’d risen to my lips had a chance to burst. I swallowed it back down, deciding it had been too personal to ask. What do they mean to you…?
It was none of my business. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t seem like a good idea to get too close.
You know exactly why it’s a bad idea. You don’t want another relationship. Not if it’s going to end like your last… and you especially don’t want a relationship based on… what? Pity?
It wasn’t time to try again. Not by a long shot. Especially not now.
I stared down at the too-bright cardboard-like eco-friendlier clamshell Enrique had set in front of me. Eying the glass Coke bottle he’d set beside it.
“I’m just going to grab some napkins,” I murmured, half rising from my seat while he and Oz chatted amicably.
“Hold up,” Officer Jones said with a smile. “Stay in the truck, I got you.”
Enrique pulled a spate of napkins and some plastic cutlery from the front of his stained apron pockets and handed them to me with a smile. I blushed faintly and accepted them with a quiet thanks.
“Hey, no problem. I gotta get back to the truck, but it was good seeing you, man.” He nodded to Officer Jones.
“Yeah, glad to see you’re doin’ alright,” Oz said with a nod.
“Better than alright, man. Life is great! It was nice to meet you Elka!” He waved at me and I had completely missed it when Oz had given Enrique my name.
“It was nice to meet you too,” I said faintly, and he turned and jogged back to his food truck.
Oz was eying me over his open clamshell, pushing the sauce on whatever he’d ordered within it around with his fork.
“You ain’t even here,” he said and it held a slightly amused tone, though I didn’t detect anything accusatory in it. “You’re like a million miles away, aren’t you?” he asked.
“I’m sorry…” I started and he sniffed.
“Don’t be,” he said, shoving a bite of food in his mouth.
He chewed and watched me steadily, his eyebrows going up behind his dark glasses. I opened up my clamshell and the smell that wafted up was divine. Meaty and green from the cilantro sprinkled on top. Rich and spicy, buttery and – and I was suddenly starving.
I tucked into my food and he smiled as he chewed his, as if he were pleased. He finished his bite, swallowing and said, “I got you one of each. Chicken, pork, and steak. Let me know which one you like best.”
I laughed slightly and said, “I doubt I will get through all three, but I think this one is the pork and it’s good.”
“Good deal,” he said with a smirk.
Text Copyright © 2019 A.J. Downey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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