I’ve been slacking off on posting, so I thought I’d make up for it by posting another free short story.
The latch is broken. The latch is broken. Oh…and, Mindy, don’t forget that the latch is broken. So, naturally, after so many warnings and reminders to herself, when she crawled inside the window display to change it after a long night of inventory, she slid the door completely closed behind her. Well, there was really nothing as fun as sitting in a store window at 2 a.m. waiting for the stock boys to come in and laugh at her. No, really, nothing was this much fun. Thankfully, the street was deserted this time of night. It would have been really embarrassing to have this happen and have everyone walking by waving at her.
Initially, she’d just been intending on putting the new scarf on Polly…the mannequin, but when you have plenty of time to kill, you get creative. Mindy moved the asexual dummy as if she was leaning back to throw something and used pins to make the scarf appear as if it was flapping in the wind. That took…six minutes—only another fifty-four to kill. Luckily, she’d brought her notebook with her. She tore out pages, folding them into intricate paper airplanes, the first of which she put in Polly’s hand.
After glancing around, feeling paranoid, she pulled a few strands of hair from Polly’s head to string the airplanes flying from the ceiling. It was when she’d dropped a few on the ground that she felt as if someone was watching her. Whirling around, Mindy realized a man in business attire was outside the window watching her progress. It appeared as if he’d paused to jot something down in his notebook when he noticed her because his leg was propped on the ledge outside with his planner resting on it and a pen poised. His green eyes looked bemused…and tired. His sleeves on his black dress shirt were rolled up as if he’d had a long day. His dark brown hair looked mussed, but maybe that was the way he styled it.
Mindy waved in embarrassment. He was cute. Why a cute guy now? Then again, if that guy that begged for change with one good eye and toothless leer was sitting there staring at her…that would be worse—much worse actually.
He flipped to the next page in his notebook and scribbled something. Holding it up, he’d written, “There is no way she’d be able to keep that many planes airborne.”
Mindy reached down and grabbed her notebook. Flipping it open to the first blank page, she wrote “magic” on the paper and turned to show it to him with a smile.
After scanning the planes, he wrote, “Sounds like you’re cheating gravity.”
She responded, “I like to play fast and loose with gravity like that.”
The man paused for a moment, considering her, before writing, “My name is Alan. Do you always hang out with mannequins late at night?”
Mindy laughed. “My name is Mindy, and this is where the real action is. Also, I forgot the latch was faulty, and I’m locked in here.”
Alan frowned. “Do you need me to call someone?” He held up his cell phone.
She shook her head. “No, the stock boys will be here in around a half an hour and let me out.” Mindy rolled her eyes and added, “After they make fun of me.”
Alan smiled and Mindy expected him to leave, but he settled down in the window ledge outside the window. “I’ll keep you company just in case.”
Nothing about the exchange seemed normal, and he might be a serial killer but, on the other hand, she was safe in her glass cage. She sat down against the wall beside him. Without the glass there, they’d be touching shoulders. There was a strange intimacy to it—or maybe it was just strange; it was hard to tell really.
“Thank you,” she wrote.
“No problem,” he replied.
“What do you do?” She gestured at the laptop bag.
“Analyst for a computer company.”
She nodded. Yeah, she could see that.
Then, he added, “I’m also an amateur juggler. Want to see?”
Smiling, Mindy nodded.
Leaning over his laptop, Alan pulled out an apple, a squishy stress relief ball, and his computer mouse. Standing up, he weighed the objects with his hands, while biting his lip in serious concentration. “It’s harder when they’re not uniform,” he shouted loud enough that she could hear it.
Mindy turned and wrapped her arms around her knees to watch.
Up went the apple. Then, the ball…finally, the computer mouse. It was charming to see his devotion to the task. They flew around, and he followed their arc with his eyes. The crease between his eyebrows was deeply furrowed. It all fell apart when his computer mouse went a little higher than expected. The stress ball hit his head but the apple smacked the glass making her jump. Grinning, Alan retrieved the stray items and bowed, trying to keep a straight face.
Mindy clapped and whistled before shouting, “You were great!” Grabbing her notebook, she wrote, “I’m studying to be a mime.” Standing up, she tried to keep her face serious as she pressed against the glass in several locations while moving stiffly.
“Nice glass box interpretation.”
She leaned down and grabbed the notebook. “Having an actual glass box helps.”
They sat down against the wall again.
“Do you normally work this late?” he wrote.
“No. Inventory. I was just going to put a scarf on the mannequin before going home to sleep.” When they were side-by-side, they could write as if they were creating their own subtitles.
He looked past her at the mannequin as if judging the scarf’s worth as a means of entrapment. While it had been annoying a few minutes ago, getting stuck in the window was starting to have a certain appeal.
Wait. She was tired, and he was just being nice.
“I like the scarf,” he wrote, still staring at the scarf.
She raised her eyebrows. He had to be kidding, right? It was puce with bright daisies all over it. It was described as fun and flirty. If he was planning on wearing that scarf, he was…a bit flamboyant.
Glancing at her, he grinned at her expression. “Not for me,” he wrote.
It shouldn’t have made her feel relieved. She barely knew Alan. Plus, it brought with it a new worry. Who was he buying the scarf for? A girlfriend? She’d already checked his bare ring finger out, but that didn’t mean much of anything really.
“That’s good,” she wrote. It seemed tepid, but not every reply could be witty.
Sketching quickly, he drew a tic-tac-toe board. He gestured for Mindy to go ahead. She crossed her fingers in the sign for an “x” and pointed at the center. His pen hovered over the center, and he looked at her with raised eyebrows. Mindy nodded. He placed his “o” in the top left. She motioned to the middle right. His “o” went opposite hers. She went for a diagonal to block him, but he pointed at the bottom middle. Mindy shook her head and pointed again, tapping on the glass. He pointed in another wrong spot and looked at Mindy with faux innocence all over his face. Mindy laughed and pointed again, tapping at the glass. He put her “x” in the wrong spot and won on his turn…of course.
“Cheater!” Mindy mouthed, smiling.
“Well, maybe if you’d been a little clearer….”Alan pointed at the dummy with the tip of his pen before writing on his pad, “What is with your mannequin’s fabric head with no face?”
Yeah, Polly had no face. She was just gray fabric stretched over a plastic body. It seemed very sci-fi, but was somehow more universally appealing, according to the store manager. On the other hand, Polly was unlikely to get stolen as had one of the buxom mannequins the store had used previously. They all thought the owner’s son was behind the theft. No one said anything when the store’s security camera footage had “disappeared” shortly after the owner had scoured the tapes.
“Polly is supposed to be more universal,” she explained.
“Polly” he mouthed, and she gestured up at the mannequin. “Universal? But I don’t know a single person that looks like that.”
“Did they mention which universe?” he asked on the paper.
Mindy clapped a hand to her mouth to stop the smile.
“I’ve never been in this store. Do you have an army of gray humanoids in there?”
“They do our evil bidding,” she wrote back.
They smiled at each other, and Mindy felt her heart wiggle in her chest. Oh boy. This was no good. She didn’t know nearly enough about this guy to be feeling like this. Plus now, if she asked if he was “with” someone it would be obvious she was interested in him. Why hadn’t she asked it casually earlier? Well, it would have been awkward then also. She glanced down at her pad and doodled a few flowers in the margin.
In her peripheral vision, she saw white paper press against the window and she turned to see his paper said, “Why does this silence feel awkward when it’s been silent the whole time?”
His face looked inquisitive and amused, and she felt her cheeks get pink under his gaze. How was she meant to answer his question? She shrugged. “Don’t know.”
He glanced down at his watch and, for her, the silence suddenly had teeth.
“You can leave if you have someplace to be,” she wrote.
He shook his head. “Nowhere. Other than to sleep. I’m very boring.”
Not to her. She liked the lines besides his eyes. She liked the way his smile seemed a bit crooked as if he wasn’t ready to commit with his whole mouth. In her mind, she could imagine how he sounded…when he wasn’t shouting. Alan was real and alive…and on the other side of this glass window. When the others got here, would he just leave? Would he see her to her car? In the past, when she’d dated, from the beginning, she’d been worried that the guy wouldn’t live up to her expectations. For once, she was worried he would.
“Did you have somewhere to be?” he asked via his pad.
“Will anyone be worried about you? Husband? Boyfriend? Family?” he asked.
Why hadn’t she thought of that? That was a good way to ask. Mindy shook her head quickly and furiously.
His smile widened.
“You?” she asked.
“I’ve never had a husband,” he wrote, grinning.
She wanted to punch his arm, but even the casual gesture was impossible.
“No. I’ll go home to an empty place. Besides a suicidal goldfish. That probably jumped from his bowl rather than face the endless emptiness of our existence,” he wrote.
When she met his eye after reading, he winked at her.
Behind him, a car pulled up, and Mindy’s breath hitched in her chest. Of all the nights for Trevor to come early for his shift. Wait. What was she saying? She was stuck in here. But she’d gotten used to Alan just like this and everything would change—he might even leave right away, and then what?
Alan turned to glance behind him. He smiled and waved at Trevor. They spoke for a bit with Alan gesturing at her once. Trevor nodded, trying not to grin. Mindy desperately wanted to press her ear against the glass to hear the conversation. Finally, when she was starting to wish Polly would come to life and strangle her, they shook hands, and Alan turned and waved at her while backing up and putting his notepad in his bag.
No. Really? He was leaving. It took all her concentration to maintain her expression. Smiling, she waved once, scrunching her fingers up and down self-consciously.
Then, he was gone, disappeared into the night.
Trevor let her out, ribbing her playfully about getting stuck in there. “Of all people, Mindy. How many times have you warned me about that?” Trevor asked as she collected her stuff.
“I know…I’m going to get out of here before the rest of the night crew gets here to laugh at me.” Her smile felt frozen in place and stiff.
He nodded. As she turned to go, he said, “Wait…I’m to walk you out.”
“What?” Mindy asked.
“That guy. He told me it wasn’t safe for someone as beautiful as you to be walking these streets in the dark by yourself.”
“He could have stuck around then,” Mindy muttered.
“Oh, you knew him?” Trevor asked, opening the door.
“No, well, not technically…but….”
Okay, well, maybe that was why. Still, when Trevor had one last laugh at her expense at the car before heading back to the store, Mindy couldn’t help but feel that Trevor wasn’t the only one getting the last laugh.
She felt the same when she slammed the alarm clock off just a few hours later. The whole universe was having a laugh at her expense. Had she been as obvious as she’d felt? She seemed to remember staring at him, all dewy-eyed and star-struck. He probably knew she had a crush on him, and that’s why he took off.
The world didn’t stop for those who felt incredibly stupid in the morning. She was at work, pouring over a purchasing order when one of the salesgirls brought her a bouquet of tulips. Her heart stopped. Please, oh please let these be from him.
“I’d like to get to know you—on the same side of the glass,” the note said. “Dinner tonight?” His business card was tucked in with the flowers. She emailed him an acceptance and within a minute another email popped up asking her to meet him at a nearby restaurant.
When she saw him that night, neither spoke for a second. They stood there in front of the Italian restaurant, smiling at each other. Finally, he said, “I wasn’t sure if this would be weird.” Mmm. His voice sounded perfect. Just how she might have imagined.
“Is it?” she whispered, feeling shy.
He laughed, admitting, “A little. I don’t usually show off my mad juggling skills before talking with someone.”
She grinned, feeling at ease. “I don’t normally perform my mime act while out of costume.”
Hours later, he walked her to her car. They’d lingered over dinner until the staff had looked amused. Then, they’d strolled through a nearby park, still chatting. Her cheeks hurt from smiling, and she didn’t want the night to end.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked.
“Something with you,” Mindy said. It was the first bold thing she’d ever done, but it felt natural.
“Good,” he said, smiling. He pulled her into his arms, his lips finding hers. Magic tingled in the air, and she couldn’t get enough of him. When he finally pulled back, he murmured, “I wanted to do that so many times last night.”
Mindy laughed. “That’s one thing that might have been really weird with us on other sides of the glass.”
He dropped his head, placing his forehead against hers, while laughing too. “It would have been. I was already worried you thought I was crazy.”
Maybe…but it was a good sort of crazy. Cute and funny…with mad juggling skills.
“Maybe after we’ve exhausted all the normal dating choices, we can go hang out in the display with Polly and her evil army of minions,” he said.
Tipping her head back, Mindy said, “You know, as long as we’re on the same side, I wouldn’t mind.”
Alan grinned and said just before kissing her, “Of course, I’d never side with Polly against you.”
Copyright © 2014 by Wendy Sparrow
If you liked On Display, you’ll love Cursed by Cupid and On His List.