By George Woodruff
She sat; watching the world go by outside the window, lost in thought, her cappuccino growing cold and stale as her book slowly developed a split along its spine. Something passed across the café front window that caused her to start and look about her. She noticed the time and swore softly, closed her book without marking her place and swore again. She got up, realised her drink was sitting there unfinished and gulped down the last of it, spilling the dark liquid down the front of her silk shell blouse. She gave up, not bothering to curse and fought back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her. Preparing to leave, she realised she hadn't paid for her drink; she looked in her purse only to discover that she only had a quarter and a twenty. She stepped up to the counter to find it abandoned, the server busy elsewhere. She waited impatiently for the man to return, his tattoos and pierced skin merely annoying today. She paid and left a tip, despite feeling he didn't deserve it and as she boarded the bus, realised she had given him too large a tip anyway, luckily an elderly woman had change for her five and she was able to pay the exact fare.
She fled from the bus and ran up the steps to the office building, nearly wrenching her ankle seriously as the heel on her left shoe broke. She hobbled into the office half an hour late and in time for Stuart to notice her. His frown indicated he didn't care for whatever excuse she had, she had better just get to work. She retreated to her cubicle and collapsed as the other heel gave way. She spent a minute wrestling the stubs of the broken heels from her shoes, gouging her palm on the left shoe, which she tackled second. Blood joined the coffee stain on her cream coloured blouse and she actually broke down and cried.
Steven looked over the top of the partition and noticed her bleeding. He went straight away to his file cabinet and produced a first aid kit he kept for just such emergencies. He appeared besides her, startling her unintentionally.
"God Steven! Don't do that!" she almost screamed.
"Sorry, I noticed that you were bleeding and I brought this." He held up the first aid kit, she stared at it uncomprehending at first until he opened it and took out the antiseptic spray and the gauze.
"Oh... Thank you Steven, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have freaked like that," she began but he shushed her quietly.
"No need to apologise, you don't look like you've had a fun lunch," he commented.
"No. No I didn't, I was supposed to meet him at the L'espresso, but he never showed." She stopped as fresh tears escaped her eyes. Steven worked on her hand to avoid embarrassing her further.
"You didn't eat did you?" he asked as he wiped away the excess blood with a napkin.
"No. How did you know?" she asked.
"I know you, you're thoughtful. You wait to order so as not to appear to be impolite," he said as he sprayed her palm with bactine. She winced and tears started from her eyes again.
"Yeah, that sounds like me, pretty stupid huh?" she responded.
"I don't know, pretty considerate I'd say," he remarked as he bound the wound with the gauze and taped into place. "I'd have that looked at later, not that Stuart the Fart would let you out to see the health officer, how'd you do this?" he asked and then saw her shoes. "Never mind, I can guess. I'd love to get my hands on the bastard who dreamed up these torture devices." He growled as he picked up the offending foot wear and producing a pocket knife proceeded to cut the posts of the heels away, turning the murderous pumps into a pair of flats.
"Thank you Steven, I appreciate this, really I do. How can I repay you?" she asked.
"Forget assholes like Reginald and give a guy like me a chance," Steven replied, his face soft yet serious. She wavered for a moment, and then agreed.
"Okay, when?" she asked.
"Tomorrow?" he asked. She winced, and shook her head.
"Sorry no, I have to go and see my dad."
"The next night?" he offered and again met a sad shake of the head. He was mesmerised for a moment by the sway and bounce of her curly sable tresses.
"Going to my mom's, my sister's the night after that, I am free Saturday. Would that be good?" Steven was shocked out of his reverie.
"Um... Sure, where would you like to go?" he asked.
"Dinner and dancing?" she responded.
"Sure, what time, and what do I wear?"
"I'll pick you up, that way I can help you decide, would you like that?" She smiled at him. Steven again was lost for a moment, basking in the glow of her smile. She watched him lose himself in her smile and giggled. "Steven? Hello, Earth to Steven?"
"Huh? Yeah, sorry, sure, sounds great, what time should I expect you? I'll cook you dinner if you like?"
"Sounds great, and you tell me, since you are cooking," she said.
"Is six o'clock too early?" he asked.
"Do you mind if we make it seven?" He nodded his agreement.
"Seven it is, here's my address." He scribbled it down for her on a post-it note.
"What the hell is going on here?" Stuart declared from the opening to her cubicle. "Susan injured her hand Mr. Mac Lean, I just came over to help out," Steven responded before Susan could respond.
"Good thinking on your part Walters, now get back to work the both of you, this isn't a social club." He stalked off.
"God but I hate his guts!" Susan growled.
"I know, me too, but don't let him get you down. We can talk at break, and I'll check your hand, okay." Susan smiled at him and nodded.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully if painfully for her, her palm itched and impeded her typing, but Stuart didn't seem to care or mind. At break, Steven checked the bandage and announced that though the injury was rather gruesome, it was shallow and would likely heal quickly. As the end of the day approached, Susan got a visit from Stuart Mac Lean.
"Ms. Weathers, while I appreciate that you probably have not had a good day. I want to remind you that we here at Sloan and Whitley are not in the business of providing free rides; Mr. Whitcomb noticed your tardy return from lunch and expects you to stay late to make up for it." Susan looked at Stuart and for the first time saw the human being behind her supervisor. His disgust with the message that he had to deliver was evident, but so to was his sense of helplessness.
"I understand Mr. Mac Lean, I will gladly remain the extra half hour to make up for my shortfall earlier today."
"Hour," Stuart ground out between clenched teeth. She stopped for a moment, then realised that this was Whitcomb's idea of punishment.
"Yes, my mistake, I will remain an extra hour and cover my shortfall," she responded.
"Thank you Susan. I am sorry about your hand... And your shoes." Then he noticed her stained silk shell. "And blouse." He blushed and turned away.
"No, Stuart, thank you, it means a lot to see the human behind the supervisor." Stuart stopped, head hung down and then nodded.
"I don't get much opportunity to let it show, do I? I am sorry, have a good night." And he fled the office. Susan shook her head and returned to her chair. Steven had left earlier, as he was on contract, and didn't actually work for the company, coming in only when his services were needed, though he did get an 'office space' of his own. She sat in silence, working on the files that never seemed to diminish in number on her desk. While she worked, she would get an unnerving feeling that she was being watched, but couldn't place where the feeling was coming from, she was alone in the office. She finished up and packed up. She looked at her ruined pumps and then opened her bottom drawer, where she kept a pair of running shoes for the commute home.
"Lucky I have these," she thought, tossing the ruined shoes into the garbage as she slipped on the runners. The ride down in the elevator was eerie; she couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched as much as it was ridiculous to feel so, especially in an elevator. She hit the street and found the downtown strangely bereft of the usual hustle and bustle, then she realised that most people were on their way home and out of the city centre. She stepped on to her bus and rode to the subway station. Riding the escalator down, she felt as if she were descending into a crypt or tomb. On the platform, echoes and strange sounds reverberated up out of the dark tunnels, sending shivers and morbid thoughts coursing down her spine and through her mind. She became lost in thought, remembering a scene from American Werewolf In London.
The scream of the brakes from the arriving train caused her to let out an echoing shriek of her own. Cursing herself, she boarded the train and too late realised that she had boarded the wrong train. She got off at the next station and waited pensively for the next westbound train. Once again she felt as if she was being watched and when the next train arrived she leapt on the first available car.
She regretted her move as soon as the doors whisked shut behind her. A gang of rowdy youths were acting up at one end and a drunk was mumbling incoherently at the other. 'Talk about a rock and a hard place,' she mumbled to herself. She sat down, closer to the drunk who seemed oblivious to her as opposed to the boisterous bunch at the other end of the car. They looked at her and tittered amongst themselves, gesturing and pointing. A cocksure member gave her a long lingering look and with a word, the gang began to ooze up the car toward her. She looked to the drunk for possible support, but he seemed to have passed out. She looked about frantically and espied the emergency call strip. By now their implied intent was plain to her, besides she was willing to risk a fine if it got security to separate her from these hoodlums. She lunged for the strip as the gang was within ten feet of her.
Guy Cocksure was on her in a flash, so that her hands barely touched the strip. He tackled her swiftly and viciously. Nearly knocking the air from her as he ploughed into her, driving her slight frame to the floor. She screamed and tried to fight back, but the buck was too strong, and soon his horde was about them. Her limbs were pinned and rough hands bruised her flesh and tore at her clothes. The car shook and passed into a dark part of the tunnel, it's lights flickering fitfully as it did so, casting grotesque shadows on the faces of the punks that circled her, leering at her fear with avid and greedy eyes. She could feel their leader's hands mauling her panic-stricken skin, ripping the silk of her blouse, forcing her skirt up and tearing at her pantyhose and underwear. She screamed again, her eyes frantically searching the leering faces for a sign of compassion or assistance. The flickering shadows playing tricks on her mind, making one of them more monstrous then the others, causing her to scream even more.
Then her screams were answered by a soul-wrenching howl and there was blood and viscera in the air. Something large and hairy ripped into the thugs surrounding her, rending limb from torso, head from body, spraying the interior of the car with gore. The terror became too much and she fainted.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Opal Dance ©2000-2001 by George Woodruff
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