He Loves She
by Marc Shapiro
Thomas looked shy, withdrawn and submissive. It was the way he always looked. But today, standing in the express 10 Items Or Less line at the local Stop And Shop, he was looking downright pathetic. That’s when he spotted Elizabeth, attractive in a spunky sort of way, running purchases through the scanner.
Thomas managed a shy smile as he moved up the line.
Elizabeth was having one of those days. Long hours at too little money will do that to you. But she always seemed to have a smile and a hi for the strangers that passed through her domain every day. And it wasn’t the corporate spiel.
She looked at Thomas, flashed a particularly big grin, rang him up and wished him a good day. Thomas, not given to such formalities, wished Elizabeth the same.
Thomas came around to the Stop And Shop the next day. Same time, same line. In his basket were a few things he didn’t really need. He shuffled up the line. He saw Elizabeth. She was looking fetching if he might be so bold.
Elizabeth saw Thomas and smiled. She remembered him from the other day. Mentally she measured him as his purchases slid through. He was kind of cute in a literary sort of way. Studious in his thick lensed glasses and conservative haircut. They exchanged small talk about the weather and how the local teams were doing. She wished him a good day and then watched as he shuffled out the door… And came face to face with Thomas who had turned over his shoulder for one last look at her.
The innocence of it all became the joking talk of the Stop And Shop employees and regulars who, once they figured out what was going on, jockeyed for position if Thomas was spotted in the store and headed for Elizabeth’s station. The better to hear something juicy. Mostly, they were disappointed. What they would hear was small talk. But what they came away with was something better. Oh so cute smiles and a noticeable glistening in their eyes.
Thomas and Elizabeth were smitten. They were shy teenagers on the cusp of being Romeo and Juliet. One could almost sense a soliloquy in the air. There would be no clean up on aisle four to shatter their fantasy this day. What would come next was anybody’s guess.
Including Thomas and Elizabeth’s.
In her private thoughts, she contemplated asking him out for coffee. In his bravest fantasies, he thought what if I said…and she said yes?
Thomas moved cautiously along the express lane toward Elizabeth. In his basket were a few things to prime the pump. Behind his back was something else. Elizabeth looked up from the scanner and into Thomas’s hopeful face. In his shaking hands were a nondescript bouquet of generic roses, wrapped in cellophane. On the cellophane was a sticker that said Marked Down to $5.99. He held them out to her.
The regulars standing behind Thomas, and nearby employees, broke into applause. Elizabeth blushed, looked at Thomas. She sensed what was coming next and did not know if she could handle it.
The flowers were for her.
Elizabeth stammered out a thank you. She scanned the flowers and put them under her station. They made a weak attempt at small talk but, in their hearts, they both knew that it had all been said. Elizabeth reached out to hand Thomas his change. And in the bravest thing Thomas had most likely ever done, he took her hand in his and held it way too long for anything but for what it was.
The line once again broke into applause. It was the express line but they could stand there all day. Thomas joined Elizabeth in turning beet red. They smiled at each other one more time and Thomas was gone.
They had finally become brave enough to meet outside the Stop And Shop. But it was still innocent. Coffee. Walks in the park. It took weeks before either was forward enough to hold hands. And talk. Lots of talk. Some safe like it had been. But more and more honesty was creeping into their sense of things. Hopes, fears and a reality that both Elizabeth and Thomas carried heavy baggage into what might or might not evolve.
Elizabeth turned the key to her apartment door and entered. She found a vase under the kitchen sink and put the roses in it. Then she went to the living room and, sadly, was not surprised at what she found. Her husband, Roland, was exactly where she had left him. Face unshaven, unwashed coffee cups, eyes bleary from staring at the dancing figures of computer games. She did not have to ask him how work was. Roland and work had not crossed paths in a year. Roland had always told her he was above such things. She walked past him and into the bedroom. Elizabeth knew he would not look up and ask how her day was. He was above such things.
Thomas turned the key to his apartment door and entered. His smile immediately turned upside down at the sight of Amanda, passed out on the couch, an empty bottle of scotch at her feet, the air reeking of marijuana and another man, her flimsy nightie hiked up above her waist.
Thomas had had enough. Elizabeth had had enough.
Elizabeth reached into her purse and pulled out a small, multi colored package. Thomas had bought a similar package the other day and had recommended it highly. She opened it and examined the vial of powder. The instructions seemed simple enough.
Thomas poured the powder into a steaming cup of coffee. He gently carried it to the couch where Amanda was coming out of her stupor. She groaned and grunted. Thomas handed her the cup. They both knew the routine.
It seemed simple enough to Elizabeth. She brought the cup to Roland who was engrossed in the violent antics of Gears Of Blinding Death. She set it down and waited. Five minutes later she held her breath as he picked up the cup and took a deep draw.
Thomas withdrew to a favorite chair, propped against a railing outside the apartment door. He closed his eyes. If the package hadn’t lied, it would be quick and painless…And it would leave no evidence.
Elizabeth watched calmly as Roland slumped over on the couch, his breathing labored. After a moment, he was still. She was frightened and excited.
Elizabeth and Thomas smiled. In their minds, they were moments away from being free…
…And to, hopefully, love again.
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Marc Shapiro is a prolific so and so. Coming in time for the holidays are Hey Joe: The Unauthorized Biography Of The Rock Classic (Riverdale Avenue Books) and Stories Of High Strangeness (Jaded Books Publishing).