I don’t even notice her at first. I barely hear the door swing open over the crush of voices. I am too busy changing a diaper. I feel a prickle in the air and when I turn, I see her reflection hanging in the mirror. I ask what she’s doing here. She says she’s here to help. I am about to tell her that I don’t need help, not after what I’ve heard, but then the sun shifts and angles her inky denim jeans a dusty yellow. I lower my gaze to the iced coffee, sweaty and dangling between her fingers, perspiring on her hand. I fight the urge to roll my eyes and tell her she won’t last in here. My lips curve into a half-smile, asking her to stay, instead.
We sit on the floor making crafts out of uncooked macaroni, darting in between splotches of orange and tubes of reds. She laments about her tiny apartment, without a washer and tells me she’s leaving. She’s agreed to work until the end of the week then she’s gone. She’s found her dream job. One that will pay enough not to have to trek to the laundromat every weekend. I tell her about the books I want to write and she asks me why I am not living my own dream.
“When you sell that novel, we can open up a bar with books,” she says.
“A laundromat that serves wine and books,” I quip.
I meet her a few days later for drinks. She tips the glass to her lips, taking a deep pull of a lurid blue concoction, begging me to reveal what they’ve said about her. I shrug, shaking my head. I ask her how it’s possible I had had only met her until her last day. It’s her turn to shrug. She tells me she was helping out in other classrooms.
“I just went where I was needed.”
She asks me why I only had heard about her. If she only existed in strung-together whispers.
I reach for her hands, pulling her to her feet. Her movements in slow-motion, like an actor in a silent film. I ask her how she knew? She didn’t. I like who I like, she says. The words are a crush of tangled velvet in my ear.
She weaves her fingers around my neck and allows me to lead her outside. Stars punctuate the oily sky overhead, tiny holes punched into a stack of construction paper. All at once, music pulses around us. Whoops and cheers echo in the distance. We tumble down the twisting streets, slicing through a knot of people gathered on the curb. She steers me into an abandoned photo booth and smiles right into the camera. Her hair winks at me underneath the burning red lightbulb buzzing above us.
I inhale a sharp breath, and a familiar fleeting fragrance clings to the back of my throat. Closeness. She tightens her arms around my waist. I am surprised by the sudden nearness. A pop of the flash. Her lips split into a grin underneath the glossy film, in warning. Never trust a pretty girl on her last day.
About the writer:
Jennifer Ledbury’s short works of fiction have been featured in Hot Valley Writers. Ledbury is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing in Popular Fiction and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston. She lives in Providence Rhode Island where she is a 7th Grade English teacher.
Image: “Commonality” by John Hansen. Digital art.