As she downshifted, she bumped her coffee, spilling it all over the passenger seat. The snow was coming down harder now, she was late, all the good parking lots would be full, she’d have to walk through this cold dreadful muck from the far parking lot. Maybe, she thought, maybe the snow made everyone else late too and she would find a spot.
Still, the day was clouded with bad omens
She had a departmental meeting at eleven She couldn’t miss it and she couldn’t be late. Her mind began to wander into thinking about missing the meeting, but reining herself in. She’d get to her office, fill her cup with the slop they called coffee in the break room and be on her way.
She stopped as the light turned red and watched the snow melt on the windshield. The red of the stop light caught in the melting flakes. She sighed. If it wasn’t a work day, she would be sitting in her house, drawing, a cup of coffee, the small fireplace on.
At least since she was on campus, she could stop at the bookstore and pick up another charcoal pencil.
The drops of water on her windshield turned green and she hit the gas. Nothing happened. Her car began to roll backward and she hit the brake.
“No, no, no!” She hit her hazards and sat there a moment, then tried to put the car in gear again. She felt the clutch engage, but nothing when she hit the gas. The engine didn’t rev. Nothing. She wouldn’t even have coffee to drink while she waited for the tow truck.
A horn started honking behind her and she started to murmur obscenities under her breath.
“Siri,” she finally said to her phone. “Call me a tow truck.”
Once the tow truck was dispatched, she called the main office of her department.
“Good morning, physics. This is Talia.”
“Talia, it’s Agnes. My car died and I’m waiting for a tow truck.”
“Oh Ags, I’m sorry!”
Agnes wrinkled her nose. “Thanks, Talia. I should be there in time for the meeting, but I don’t know how long this will take. I—“ Police lights pulled up behind her. “I’ve gotta go. Police just pulled up.”
She got out of the car and went to the officer.
“Good morning, officer. I’ve called a tow truck and they said they’d be here within twenty minutes,” she quickly said.
He smiled slightly and said, “Isn’t this always the way it happens?”
“Yes!” she laughed. “Damned transmission I think. Ruining my day and everyone else’s too.”
A snow plow came through and caught her with a slop of wet, salty snow slush, almost knocking her over and pushing her into the cop. He caught her before she could glance off and fall sprawled into the snow.
Her temper, which had barely been in control snapped and another bundle of profanity tumbled from her mouth.
The cop reached into his car and pulled out a paper cup of coffee, offering it to her. “Hey hey hey.”
She took the coffee grudgingly, doubting it would be anything but convenience store trash but her first sip was surprisingly good.
The cop laughed at her expression. “Organic Viennese roast with pastured heavy cream.”
She laughed in turn. “Thank you, Officer…?”
“Thank you for the coffee, Officer Barlow.”
He smiled back to her, tall, verging on gangly. Blue eyes.
“I’ve parked behind you. You should be good if you want to wait in your car. No one will hit you and you won’t get hit with another slop of frozen slush.” He grinned and said, “I’d have you sit in the patrol car, but you’d have to sit in the back and I don’t know if that would improve on your day.”
“Well, if this truck takes much longer, I’m going to miss my meeting. I’m not sure that will make my day better or worse though.” She turned to move back to her car, then, on an impulse, turned back to him. She felt the blush beginning to grow in her cheeks already. “Could I take you out to coffee this weekend?”
“I’d like that.” He quickly looked up the street then said, “Another plow. Get in your car!”
She dodged back into her car and shut the door as a wet splat of snow hit the windshield.
She looked in the rearview mirror and saw him flick his windshield wipers, then look back in her car. She took another sip of coffee and smiled.
She pulled her hat off and looked at her hair. Her eye makeup had smeared all over her face. She could not look more ridiculous.
She sighed and wiped at the eye makeup, then called her sister.
“Britt! I know it’s your day off, but, I need a huge favor. My car has crapped out and I’m waiting for a tow. Can you pick me up from the mechanics and give me a ride to my office? Thanks, sissy!”
She hung up, completely unsurprised it had gone to voicemail. She couldn’t remember the last time Brittany had picked up when she called.
She texted Talia then that she was still waiting for the tow truck, then slumped into her seat. She pulled out a book and started to read.
She turned the page and took a sip of coffee with a tap on the window startled her. Officer Barlow was standing outside the car. She rolled down the window and he said, “Your tow truck is coming.”
She gathered her things, then pulled a business card out of her wallet and scribbled her phone number on it. “Thank you. Hit me up for coffee this weekend. I know I owe you one.”
He smiled and said, “I will. Have a good day, Agnes. I hope your day gets better.”
The tow truck had pulled up and hooked her car up. She turned back to Officer Barlow and gave him a wave and a smile as she got into the cab of the tow truck.
The cab was warm and they got to the garage in record time, the cup of coffee in her hands still warm.
Once her car was situated with the mechanic and her sister still MIA, she sighed and walked to the bus stop. Her neighborhood mechanic was on the bus line to the university.
As she stood waiting for the bus, something kept nudging her legs. Like a particularly insistent cat. Brushing against her boots, wet from the day and the slop of the plow, salt would start to stain the leather. She shifted, then popped her collar in an effort to stay warm.
The burning anger and disappointment with the day kept her warm. A tight, glowing ember of generalized rage in the pit of her belly.
She jumped, pulling her bag up her shoulder and dropped the cup of coffee, the lid popping off and coffee spilling into the gutter.
On the bottom of the paper cup, in a curvy, girly hand, was written, Have a good day, love! ❤
A whole new stream of profanity tumbled from her mouth.
“Dirtbag,” she hissed, then pressed the paper cup into the dirty snow in the gutter. A moment’s regret at littering, but she didn’t want to carry around a wet dirty paper cup from a dirtbag.
The nudge at her legs again and she kicked at it. there was definite resistance against her leg, but again, there was nothing there to see.
She huffed and wrapped her arms tighter around herself. The bus was finally coming and she couldn’t wait to get on and get warm.
As the bus got closer, she saw the bus was full and she’d probably get warmer than she planned. Standing room only. Although it was on time and she’d make her meeting at least.
The bus pulled up and she bundled in. The jostling and bodies all around her. At least the pokings and proddings she’d been feeling all morning were not out of place here. The bus pulled up to her stop and she got out and stepped into a big puddle. Her poor boots were going to be completely ruined.
The nudge at her back made her turn around and glared at the man behind her. He moved his head back in a gesture of surprise, but she turned back and walked to her building, shoving her hands in her pockets, the nudging and poking continuing although now she was out of the crowd.
It was unsettling and she didn’t like it, making her bad mood worse. She shivered and went into the physics building.
“Glad you made it, Agnes!” Talia called. “Right in time!”
Agnes ran into her office and hung her coat on the door, then turned to pick up her laptop for her presentation. It was still in the car. She had left it in the car. How completely unsurprising.
Another flurry of expletives and she ran down the hallway to the conference room. She slipped into the conference room and sat, panting, pulling hair from her face, sticky with the sweat of her morning across her forehead. Tilly gave her as she sat down, then smiled.
She emailed her presentation from her phone to Tilly. Tilly dropped her head to her open laptop and nodded to Agnes.
Finally. Finally things were starting to work out. She took a deep breath, then settled in to her day.
“Oh God, Agnes! What a mess!” Tilly said, walking back to their offices after the meeting. “I hope they still have your laptop in your car.”
Agnes sighed. “I do too. Just one more thing, you know? What a goddamned mess. If my car wasn’t broken, I would take a mental health day, but I am not looking forward to more bus adventures.”
“I know. I’d say I’d take you for lunch if we hadn’t just had that lunch meeting.”
Agnes laughed softly. “I know. Thank you, Tilly.”
Tilly put a soft hand on Agnes’s shoulder, then went back into her office. Agnes continued on and sat at her desk. She pulled a pair of slippers from the closet and changed into them, then turned on her space heater.
She dropped her head and began working, sorting through forms and stamping them, working through her stack of requisition requests and placing orders.
A nudge against her foot broke her concentration. It felt like a persistent, insistent cat. Nothing was there.
She shifted her legs and crossed them the other way.
“How creepy.” She rubbed her shin and looked at her boots in front of the space heater. The salt was beginning to dry into a wavy white line. For a moment, Agnes thought of waves on the shore, the surf burbling up, then was doubly sad over the snowy cold weather.
She groaned and tried to work again. She turned on the Brandenburg concertos and tried to focus on her work again. She gave up after a couple minutes and walked down the hall with her empty mug to get a cup of coffee.
She took a sip of coffee while looking at the bulletin board. A thesis defense and a lecture. Britt might like to go— then she caught herself. If Britt couldn’t be bothered when Agnes was stranded, why would Agnes want to spend time with her? She huffed then turned back out into the hallway.
“So, I was killing time before that meeting and I checked the <light pulled by gravity around the sun> just for kicks. And it was off.”
“What? What was off? Your measurements or your calculations?”
“I don’t think either of them were. But.. I dunno. Go check when you have a minute.”
Agnes gave the two professors a sidelong glance and nod, then continued back to her office, shaking off her funk and mentally preparing for, and committing to, the rest of the work day.
“Miss Azeria? Hi, it’s Tom from the garage. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Good news is to fix your car, it’s only a seventy five dollar piece. Bad news, no one has one local so it will be here by Thursday.
She groaned. “Two days without my car? But, well, for seventy five bucks and then labor and everything.” She sighed. “Thank you, Tom. That will be great. Oh, I also left a bag in the car. I’ll stop by and pick it up tomorrow morning.”
“We’ll be watching for you. I’ll put it in the office to keep it safe. Your part might also get here sooner, but, I don’t want to promise things.”
She laughed. “I’m going to get my car back just when the weather clears up, won’t I?”
She gathered her things up and prepared to go home, again on the bus. Britt still hadn’t called her back. Her bus was still twenty minutes out. Once everything was was ready and her boots back on, she sat and started playing on the computer. Facebook was up and open. She’d been so busy, she hadn’t played on it at all.
Babies, dogs, more babies, cats, clickbait and Brittany’s pedicure.
Agnes sighed then turned off the computer. It was a funny thing when being miserable in the sloshy wet cold waiting for the bus was preferable to finding out what your family was up to. What a miserable, interminable day.
She sighed again, then got up and made her way to the bus stop. She left her headphones home, so now she had no excuse or armor against random weirdos on the bus. She folded her arms and put on her most neutral expression. Too angry and she’d be told to cheer up, too happy and that was as good as an invitation.
She waited, arms crossed until another nudge at her back. She turned to snap, but again, no one was there. She shivered into herself and folded her arms tighter.
A softer nudge against her back and she steeled herself and held still.
The creepy lingering feeling swamped her. She would go home, put on her pajamas and eat cereal for dinner, then go to bed. Everything would keep until the morning.
She was right. A good night’s sleep and abdication from health and responsibilities and things were much better.
She stretched, the meagre grey light seeping in the window. She picked up her phone and saw Britt had texted her at 11:30 with profuse apologies. Agnes rolled her eyes.
“Day late and dollar short, sissy.”
She shook it off and went to the kitchen and filled coffee cup and had another bowl of cereal. The rest of the morning was just as she expected it to be. She picked up her bag from the garage, back on the bus, in her office, hat and scarf and mittens, everything was right and perfect.
She walked into the physics building, humming La Habanera from Carmen under her breath.
“Well, good morning!” Talia chirped. “I never know what to do when you’re in a bad mood because they’re so rare.”
Agnes laughed. “That’s true, and a good thing. Everyone knows what to do when Sergiy is in a bad mood. But me?” She laughed again. “At least it is rare enough that I don’t have my own SOP.”
Talia laughed. “Yes you do. Your standard operating procedures are as follows: Provide good coffee and keep the stupidity to a minimum.”
Agnes shrugged, lifted her coffee in salute and went to her office.
She sat at her desk, stretching her legs under the desk and felt content. At peace, happy with her work and her life again. She was helping very smart people discover the working of the universe. Educating the next generation. Helping them find their way and place in the world. Yes, she was happy here. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was what needed doing and she would continue to do it.
She started her work, her lists and priorities. Until the nudging at her legs started again.
Am I going crazy? she thought. Surely, this is a hallucination.
She pushed herself back from the desk and looked. Nothing and she was not surprised to find nothing there.
She shivered again and wondered what the protocols for finding out if she was crazy looked like. But, that saying that sane people were the only ones who wondered if they were crazy. The crazy people all knew they were sane through and through.
So much for feeling like her work was helping make a difference.
She huffed and rolled back under the computer.
The pushing was back against her legs.
“What the—?” she hissed, pulling her legs out again and spinning away from the desk.
She looked and in the gloom under the desk, thought she saw something, like a heat shimmer in the summer, the slight wiggles of heat dissipating over a grill, or the dance of water as it neared boiling.
Revulsion overtook her for a moment. A wiggling… something. A— But what could it be? Her curiosity got the better of her and she moved closer, beginning to stretch her hand to touch it.
She hesitated, then stretched forward. The something was definitely there. It felt like trying to force two magnets together, the bouncy, firm feeling.
“The hell are you?” she murmured. She dropped out of her chair onto her knees and ran her hand over the shimmer. The something nudged up into her hand, again, like an insistent cat and she laughed. She moved out from under the desk and sat on the floor, sitting cross legged, ballet flats and slacks.
The shimmer moved into her lap and settled in, like a lap dog, wiggling down and giving a comforting weight.
“What are you?” she whispered.
Instantly a feeling of content and wellbeing spread over her.
“Are you—?” she began to pet the nothing and an affirmative feeling washed over her.
She laughed a moment. “I wonder if this is actually how all the ancient holy books were conveyed to us. If this is what means of transmission was used?” She moved to sit in her chair again and tried to lift the something, but it lifted up and away until she sat and it settled back in her lap.
“Why’d you start so much shit for us?” she laughed, petting the nothing again. “You’re… safe, right? You’re not going to hurt me? Or my fellow humans?”
Another general negative.
“Well, ok. I’m not sure you’re real and I’m not sure I’m not actually crazy, so, we’ll just… hang I guess.” She laughed. “How weird is my life?”
She looked at her computer and as she did, a hint of a dark cloud was in her lap, almost like too much charcoal rubbed into paper, a matte, almost fuzzy look. She looked back again and it was gone. In her peripheral vision, it was just a dark cloud.
“Have I just not noticed you?”
It nestled into her lap and she turned to her work, occasionally petting the whatever it was in her lap.
She turned the Brandenburg Concertos back on and worked through lunch, leaving early to pick up her car.
Her little smudgy nothing followed her, brushing against her legs and nudging at her the entire bus ride.
She laughed now, surprised she didn’t see it earlier, because now she was aware of it, she saw both the distortion of the light as well as the shadowy smudge in her peripheral vision. How had she missed it before?
It wasn’t earthly, but it didn’t feel dangerous. Although anything that wasn’t earthly, well, anything from— was this little…. thing… an alien?
A yes flooded her.
Are you psychic? she thought. Or telekinetic or whatever?
She recoiled a little. But anything advanced enough to come to earth and read her mind was advanced enough to lie or burn her to a crisp or—
The feeling of a shrug and yup washed over her. But she still felt safe. She didn’t feel any threat from her smudge.
She laughed. “Ok, little rain cloud. All cloudy and—“ She laughed harder, remembering the clip from Winnie the Pooh, where Pooh Bear was using balloons and singing, “I’m just a little black rain cloud.” She held the image in her head and smiled.
“I’m gonna call you Pooh.”
A laugh washed over her and she settled back into her car, petting Pooh in her lap as she drove. She went home and started drawing a wedding picture on blue paper, the the blue the same shade as the groom’s tux vest.
She took a sip of coffee and settled in to her night, quiet and settled and everything just as it should be.
She didn’t recognize the number, but she answered with a shrug.
“Hi… is this Agnes?”
“Hi! It’s Paul Barlow, from Tuesday.”
Her nose wrinkled. “Oh, the Paul Barlow with a wife or girlfriend who wrote, ‘Have a good day, love!’ on the bottom of the cup?”
The silence on the other side of the line seemed to last a long, long time.
“Well, Officer Barlow, I don’t know what kind of woman would write that on the bottom of a man’s cup and willingly share him, but I’m not the kind of woman to be okay being the other.” She felt tears prickling in her eyes suddenly. “I thank you for the kindness you showed me the other—“
He disconnected the line before she could finish and get her thought out.
She set down the phone and said, “Dirtbag.”
Pooh nestled against her and she frowned, petting Pooh and deciding a jog through the crisp, clear January morning would be just the thing
Life would go on as it had before, quiet, simple, easy, doing what she liked, but now with the added benefit of her non-pet, Pooh.
Quiet, unassuming. Big brown eyes in a pale face under honey brown hair. Freckles across her nose. She knew her value and she wasn’t going to settle. She’d rather be alone than with a dirtbag
Instead of a catlady, she’d be a Poohlady and she took a certain comfort from that.
He groaned. Why had he thought summer classes were a good idea? Just knock out a couple general ed classes so he could focus on his core classes this fall.
He wanted to wring his hands in exasperation and stomp his feet like a petulant child, but stopped himself
The girl passed behind him, reaching for charcoal pencils. Something out of the corer of his eye caught his attention and he turned his head quickly.
The girl looked at him sharply. A dirty look almost
Looking in her face, he saw she wasn’t a girl. She appraised him openly, brown eyes watching him. She raised an eyebrow, then scowled, took a handful of charcoal pencils, a blending stick and an eraser, then turned sharply, brown hair swinging out. Long brown hair, shiny and perfectly straight.
He watched her walk away and was certain he saw something. A shimmer. Perhaps a little distortion to the air? Something.
She passed around the end of the shelving and he turned back to finish buying his supplies for his art class. He huffed again and acted put upon.
He finally crossed the last item off his list and went back through the bookstore to pay.
He saw her walk out the doors and into the sun. With all the things he was buying, it would take a while to check him and there was no way he could catch up to her. The clerk finally checked him out and he grabbed his backpack then ran out into the summer heat. It was only May, but it felt like the dead of summer had already arrived.
She was either gone into her building, but was out of sight. He sighed. Whatever was following her, he’d see it again, he was sure. She was slight, gangly, but he thought he would be able to recognize her. Those eyes. They saw everything hopefully there wasn’t too much anger in them. He walked up to the bus stop and went home, less than eager to begin the summer semester, but ready to stop thinking about the girl with the big brown eyes.
“He saw you!” Agnes scolded quietly
Pooh gave a psychic shrug.
“You can’t be so nonchalant! I know most people don’t notice or if they do, don’t give a second look. Think their eyes are tired, whatever But—“ she could feel tears prickle in her eyes.
Pooh settled in her lap and gave calming vibes.
She pet him, then said, “If you had to go and hide or find someone else to be with, I’d be so sad.” she sniffled a little, then said, “Just be careful. For the first time in my life, I hate summer and how noticeable you are in the sun.”
Pooh snuggled into her lap and she ran a hand over him, long slow pets. This is how she imagined Pooh would feel sleeping.
She sighed and tucked her art pencils into her bag and turned back to work. At a university with over thirty thousand students, she’d be able to avoid seeing him. Pooh would stay in the shadows and there wouldn’t be any issues, she was sure of it.
“Agnes, come out. You’ve been cooped up in that little apartment all spring Come get dinner and drinks with me.”
Agnes sighed. She didn’t have any drawing deadlines to meet, she didn’t have any plans. She shrugged and said, “Ok Britt. I’ll meet you at Lamb’s?” She looked at the clock then said, “Around seven?”
With plans for the night, she settled into her office and work.
She sat down at the restaurant, waiting for her sister, nursing a dirty martini. Pooh pressed against her leg. Having her little cat friend that went everywhere with her was her unexpectedly favorite thing.
She looked at her watch, then ordered bacon wrapped dates. Everything was running on Britt’s time. Like usual.
She had eaten the first date when Britt blustered in, a flurry of Balenciaga bag and silk tailored shirt.
“Oh, God! I’m so sorry! I got hung up in a meeting, then on a phone call in the car.” Britt relaxed into the padded leather booth and popped a date in her mouth. “Oo! Those are good!”
Agnes took a sip of her martini, watching Brittany over the edge of the glass.
“So, what’s new?” Britt chirped.
“Same old, same old. New commission possibly. Photographer will send me some good shots and we’ll see.”
Agnes laughed. “No. They’re either vapid or dirtbags or—” She thought of the boy in the bookstore. A fire of protectiveness rose up in her. Now she wondered what she’d give up to keep her Pooh safe. The boy in the bookstore had that look about him. If not for Pooh, she would have talked to him. She laughed to herself. She imagined she would talk to him, but it would be more of the same shyness.
Britt laughed suddenly. “Who are you thinking about?”
“Am I so transparent?” Agnes laughed. “Just a boy in the bookstore the other day.”
“Well. Did you talk to him?”
“Why not? You’re not going to meet anyone by staying in all the time. Your little job and—”
Agnes snorted. “Back to this? I don’t have your wild ambitions, so that means everything I like and do is—”
Their waiter stopped at the table and Agnes abruptly stopped.
Brittany ordered brusquely, then looked at Agnes. She ordered her food extra politely to make up for Brittany.
Once he left, Agnes leaned forward and said, “You’re being a jerk.”
“Pfft. He’s just doing his job and so am I. If I wasn’t here, he wouldn’t have a job.”
Agnes rolled her eyes. “Really? You’re going to go the shitty entitled route?”
“I work my ass off all day. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to reap the rewards of my labors? I deserve to be happy.”
“Well, shit, Britt. So does everyone else.”
Britt scowled, then said, “I suppose.”
“I’m not going to feel bad about what I do and I don’t want you to make that guy feel bad about it either.”
Her sister snorted. “You’re feisty today.”
Agnes shrugged, then put on a good face. She would let Britt have her self-importance and remember that the next time Britt invited her out.
Agnes took another date and dropped it in her mouth.
“Did you get that funding you were looking for?” Agnes asked.
“Yes, actually. I was in San Francisco, talking to venture capitalists,” she laughed throwing her hair back. “Who’d think that my sociology degree would take me here?”
“I’m glad it’s going so well for you.”
Agnes sat back and listened to her sister chatter. All the self-congratulatory comments. The bragging about how she was so busy, but just had to make time to see Agnes.
Agnes nodded and oohed and aahed at the right moments, but did little more than be her sister’s audience. she wasn’t sure how this was supposed to be better than sitting in her apartment, drawing, listening to Carmina Burana And drinking more coffee.
“Where did you park, Agnes?” Britt asked as they left the restaurant.
“Oh, just in the parking garage.”
“Do you want me to drop you off at your car? I got a good space.” She gestured to her car parked on the street.
“Holy shit, Britt. When’d you buy a Tesla?”
Britt tossed her hair again as she pulled her bag higher on her shoulder, then said nonchalantly, “Oh, a month ago. I didn’t want to make a big thing of it.”
“Cool car. We’ll go take a drive sometime. Congratulations on how well everything is going for you.”
Britt beamed. That was exactly what she wanted. “Thank you!” She gave Agnes a hug, then said, “I’m so glad to see you. Let’s get together again soon.” She paused a moment, then said, “I’ll be in New York next week and then maybe back to New York the week after, but, I’ll find some time for you. I promise.”
Agnes nodded, hugged her sister and walked back to her car, through the parking garage, taking the stairs. She shrugged her purse higher on her shoulder and stepped out of the stairwell. She heard steps coming from the stairwell behind her, but kept walking. Pooh suddenly pushed against her.
“Pooh. The hell? I just want to go home.”
Pooh pushed harder and she took a step back.
“Pooh!? Stop it!”
Pooh pushed again and she stepped back and kept stepping back until she was pushed against the wall. She was about to speak when Hush fill over her.
Two men came around the corner. “I thought I saw her come in here.”
“Well, you’re a dumbass.”
The other man laughed. “Like you saw where she went. Asshole.”
The walked out through the parked cars, fanning between them, looking out. “She looked little and quiet.”
She whimpered softly and Hush flooded her again.
One of the men turned his head quickly toward her. “What do you see?”
“Nothing. I think. I thought I heard something.”
“Blah blah blah. Asshole.”
“Let’s go. She just looked so… distracted. We’ll find someone else.”
They left, laughing and joking, crude comments about her body and where they would look for another date.
Pooh let up the pressure from Agnes’s body and once he did, she didn’t realize how much she was shaking and how badly she needed to sit down.
Her pet void wedged itself under her arm and curled around her back, supporting her to her car. She sat down and burst into tears, Poor wrapping around her lap and calming and reassuring as much as it was able.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Let’s go home and never come out again.”
She didn’t leave her apartment all weekend long until Monday morning.
She had never thought Pooh had been a defender, but, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. She took care of Pooh. She’d seen videos of cats defending people. Guard dogs were obvious.
At the same time, this made her more worried for Pooh. The military applications, espionage, everything.
She didn’t want to leave the house, she didn’t want to do anything. The world was unsafe, filled with dirtbags, filled with predators.
She walked into the physics building and sat at her desk. It was summer, campus was empty, her work was done easily and quickly.
An email came through for a new commission. She looked at the picture. A bride and groom. The groom’s pocket square was silver. She would match the paper to the shade of silver grey.
She walked to the front desk and said, “Hey Talia. Going to lunch, then the bookstore. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I don’t know who’s going to still be here when you get back.”
“Everyone has a case of the Mondays?”
Talia laughed. “I’ll be here, but I think everyone who doesn’t need to be here, won’t be.”
Agnes laughed and was relieved. Less people in the building meant it was less likely for Pooh to be spotted.
She walked to a restaurant across the street from campus and had a Greek salad. She ate leisurely, reading the newspaper then walked to the bookstore. She went right to the art paper and while considering between the different sheets of paper heard, “Hello.”
She turned and saw the same boy. Shaggy brown hair fell over his ears and forehead. Blue eyes from between the wisps of hair.
“Hello, “ she replied. Pooh instantly squirmed to the far side of her, putting her between them.
“What are you drawing?” he said, gesturing to the art paper with his head.
She was less than impressed. “I take commissions to draw wedding pictures.”
“That’s sweet,” he smiled.
She raised her eyebrows. “Sweet?”
His smile died. “I mean, it’s a cool thing to do. Do you use charcoal or ink or what?”
Her skepticism was growing. “Charcoal. Usually I choose one color from the picture and match the paper to that. Groom was wearing a silver vest.” She pulled out her phone and showed him the picture. “The rest is in black and white.” She showed him a couple finished pieces.
His face dropped, surprise openly in his eyes. “Wow.”
She snorted. “What? You think I’m some pinterest fail?”
He laughed. “No! I’ve been taking this stupid art class and I am completely baffled by it. Can’t sketch a thing to save my life. I am wicked jealous.”
“Maybe you just need to find your medium. Give me a piece of white paper and I’m not better than a toddler with crayons.”
He laughed. “My teacher said we had to have our foundation skills first.”
She shrugged. “I’m just telling you how my brain works.”
She saw him take a deep breath, then held his hand out. “Kristofferson Llwynog.”
She took his hand and shook it. “Agnes Azeria.”
“It’s nice to meet you. Maybe you can give me some art tips.”
“From the way it sounds, I’ll just tell you to invest in a crayon sharpener.”
He laughed. “I—” he paused, then said, “Can I walk you back to your office?”
She bristled a little, then said, “Ok.”
Pooh nudged at her back and she shrugged a little.
“Is— is that ok? I don’t want to be some weirdo.”
“I had a weird weekend. I’m just— my radar is set to high.”
He looked like he was about to say something, then just nodded instead.
She turned back to the art paper and said, “What are you going to get?”
He took a slate grey piece of paper and they made their way up to the registers.
“You quiet girls are always wicked smart.”
She blushed suddenly, a flush creeping up her cheeks, then she said, “Well that was terribly random, but thank you.”
He laughed. “No, I’m just saying I’m surprised because you look like you wouldn’t hurt a fly, but you stab with vicious crayon comments and let me know exactly how little you think of my intellect with those big brown eyes of yours.” He laughed again. “Tempest in a teapot, but an actual tempest in a teapot.”
He raised an eyebrow and grinned at her, this ridiculously lopsided thing, nose wrinkled on one side.
Something in her belly felt suspiciously like butterflies. Quickly she turned. “I have to get back to my office.”
Pooh moved a moment after her and he said, “What— do you— did you—?”
She froze and a moment’s terror filled her. There was no one she trusted with Pooh. She took a deep breath and tried to still her face, then slowly turned back to him. “What?”
“This will sound so stupid, but— I— thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye.”
She turned back and went to the check stand. As she checked out, she said, “What?”
“I don’t know. A shimmer. A wiggle of air. I probably just need new contacts is all.”
“Yeah, probably,” she said noncommittally.
He continued to watch her face, then said, “You— you know what I’m talking about Agnes.”
She stopped and faced him, then said in a dry, sharp whisper, “If you enjoy my company, you will not mention it again.”
His eyebrows shot up, then he said, “Ok.”
Panic had looped its icy tendrils through her intestines and she held her breath.
Pooh nudged at her. Relax.
Kristofferson’s eyebrows dropped and he said, “Are you ok?”
She shook her head and he took the sheet of art paper from her.
“Go sit outside, Agnes. Let me get this for you, then I’ll meet you outside in a minute.”
She handed him the big textured sheet and walked out of the bookstore and onto a bench in the shade.
He bought the sheet of paper and his own art supplies, then walked out, hoping she was actually waiting for him and not taking the moment to flee.
He walked out and saw her in the shade. She was wearing a pair of sandals and slacks. The sandals were off and her feet were up on the bench, the sun on her back, her arms around her shins, the rest of her in the shade.
He still saw the shimmer, in the shadow under her legs. It was there, he saw it. He wondered if he could touch it.
She looked up, startled as he sat on her bench.
She shook her head, then took a deep breath. “You—” A long long pause, then she said, “You see my—”
“Yes. What is it?”
Her eyes flashed up to him, vulnerable and worry creasing her eyebrows. “I don’t know. I—” she dropped her head and an arm, putting her hand on top of the shimmer.
“Is it safe?” he peered at the blank.
“I don’t know. I haven’t tried to catch him. I don’t know if he could be hurt or—”
“No. I mean are you safe?”
She made a dismissive noise. “Pooh keeps me safe.”
“Look at him in your peripheral vision. He looks like—” She broke into song and sang, “A little black rain cloud.”
He laughed. “Winnie the Pooh! I love it.” He sobered and said, “But you’re safe?”
She nodded, once. “He kept me safe this weekend. I was being followed by two guys and… he hid me. Made me invisible.”
His eyebrows raised and he very quietly said, “After that and you’re here talking to me.”
She flushed an looked away. “Well— I don’t know.”
“I won’t-” he swallowed and said, “I won’t say anything to anyone.”
She looked up at him with wide eyes and whispered, “Thank you.”