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Authors: Chris Alesso

Chance Encounter

BOOK: Chance Encounter
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CHANCE ENCOUNTER
A Short Story
Chris Alesso

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Chris Alesso
All rights reserved.
Edition 1.00

 

 

CHANCE ENCOUNTER

The weather advisory had come out around noon but dark clouds outside the window were already telling the story. A storm was blowing in from the west and would dump two inches of rain over the next twelve hours or so. The Transit Authority foresaw that the evening commute would be difficult and suggested that people get home early. Since my staff would be preoccupied anyway, I told them to pack up as soon as they could and head for wherever they were going. I left as well but didn’t head home. I chose instead to come here.

Here is
Finnegan’s;
home away from home to those of us who work in the financial district of this city. It’s what you might call a high concept restaurant - decorated in all glass and metal. The wait staff is haughty but knows their regulars by name. The menu is California cuisine - which means small portions of food, - impeccably prepared and delicious. The prices are substantial and exclude all but the expense- account set from regular patronage.

I found my spot and was sitting at the bar, drinking alone and staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. But no, I wasn’t drunk. There was a drink in front of me, of course; I was just lost in thought. I barely noticed that the two full length walls of glass were nearly black, even though it couldn’t be much more than five o’clock. Vaguely I heard the rainstorm pelting the windows with the rat-ta-tat that makes you happy to be indoors.

By arriving early, I had secured the coveted corner stool which affords a clear view of the entire floor. My purse sat on the single stool to my right, subtly suggesting that there would be someone coming to join me. In truth, I was happy to be alone.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” a voice said from behind.

I looked over my shoulder and saw a woman in her late-twenties, several years younger than myself. She was dressed in a stylish knit dress that suggested she had a big evening ahead of her rather than celebrating the end of a long workday. She could have been me five years ago. Her blond hair had not fallen limp from walking in the rain, so I surmised she had parked in the underground garage.

“Do you mind?” She said. “If your date comes, I’ll move. I promise. It’s just that I’m meeting someone here tonight – sort of a first date – and we agreed to meet here at the bar. In this corner actually. All the other seats are taken.”

I looked around and was surprised to see that she was right. The bar had filled up without my noticing. “No problem,” I replied with a forced smile as I slipped the purse against the bar beneath my feet. I returned to staring ahead.

“Can you believe it?” She said as she got herself settled. “I’ve been talking to this fellow on the internet for a month and we finally made a date for tonight. I took the afternoon off to get ready. And then, because the weather was so bad, I decided to come early just in case there was no underground parking.” She exhaled and shook her head laughing. “There’s an overnighter in the trunk of my car. I was fully prepared to redo everything, if necessary.”

“He must be quite a guy.” I said with a half-smile.

“Don’t know yet.” She answered with a big grin. “I think he might be.”

I lifted my cup in a mock salute. “May he be tall and handsome and wise.” I said. She nodded in agreement. “And rich,” I added with a giggle. She laughed and nodded again.

I found myself wishing her well. “For your sake I hope he is all of that and more.” I said and turned to scan the room.

The bartender, who had seen me raise my glass came over to ask if I needed another. I said yes and he turned to my new companion. “What can I get for you?”

She thought for a moment and looked at my cup. “That’s Irish coffee isn’t it? -Just the thing for today’s weather. I’ll have that.”

I guess the bartender liked her red dress, because he was back with the drinks in nothing flat. Then he took the price for both out of the twenty I had sitting in front of me.

“Oh dear,” She said. “I can pay you or just get the next one.”

“Either way,” I replied.

“I’ve never been here before.” She continued after a moment. “He – my friend - gave me the impression it wouldn’t be crowded. I’m Marilee, by the way.” She offered her hand.

“I’m Rachel,” I said taking her hand briefly and then reaching for a sip of my Irish coffee. I continued to hold it, enjoying the warmth in my hands against the dank air. “It rarely is on Thursday nights.” I said, thinking about what she said. “Must be the rain; this is much more pleasant than a crowded train station. Tomorrow night now this place will be buzzing with unattached singles from all over the business district.”


That
would explain all the black suits.” She said with sudden understanding. She scanned my outfit briefly. “I guess that includes you. Are you one of those financial types?”

“Only by association. I manage computer support at one of the consultant companies.” I replied. “From the way you’re dressed, I’d guess you aren’t one of us.”

No, I’m a physical therapist. I work up at St Matthias.”

“Really, my friend Hannah worked there for awhile. How long have you been there?”

“About a year. What’s your friend’s last name?”

“You wouldn’t know her then. She moved about two years ago. She got a job reviewing claims for an HMO.”

She studied me surreptitiously. Admittedly, I did not look my best. After all, I had walked in the rain for two blocks and my umbrella did little to protect my hair from going limp. The ponytail I had created when I got here was neat; but what can I say, it’s not my best hairdo.

“There’s a man waving at you over there.” she said pointing. “If that’s your date I’ll move along.”

I looked up and recognized a fellow I knew from work. With elaborate hand motions, he was inviting me to join his group, so I smiled and waved as I shook my head.

“Sit. That’s just someone from my office. I’m not meeting anyone in particular. And I’m not looking to join anyone. I put my purse on that seat, because I can watch it better.” I answered.

“So, you’re really just waiting out the rain? My grandmother would have described this rain as ‘God washing away the sins of the world.’.” She looked at the water streaming down the windows. “…we must have been bad.”

“But tomorrow we’ll all begin again.” I smiled. “What a nice idea. I like your grandmother, I think.”

“She’s pretty smart.”

“Actually,” I said slowly, surprised that I was about to share something with her. “I was coming here tonight no matter what. Nothing to do with the weather. It’s sort of an anniversary. Or maybe it’s just a final acknowledgement.

Merilee raised her eyes questioningly. “Former lover? … Broken heart?”

“No.” I said and tried to choose my words carefully. “No, more of a wake. At least I’ve come to accept it as that. I came to say my last good-byes.”

“Wow” Marilee said. This time she turned her head and stared out at the crowd. I thought perhaps she was looking to get away from an awkward moment, but she surprised me.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Actually,” I said after a moment, “I’d love to. It would do me good. But you’ve got a big date. I won’t put a damper on it.”

She looked at me with eyes that said she had experience listening to people’s confidences. “You need to tell it though, and sometimes talking to a stranger is easiest. My guy won’t be here for awhile. I told you I came early. Tell me your story and then we’ll find something happier to talk about.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I would like to talk about it.”

I drank a little of my coffee and took a moment to collect my thoughts.

“Like I said, it’s an anniversary.” I began. “A year ago today, I came here with my friend Hannah. She’s a nurse.” I corrected myself. “- was a nurse. We’ve been friends since grammar school – even lived together for a while after college. I was doing tech support for a small company then, before moving to where I am now. She worked at St Matthias before finding the HMO job. On Tuesdays, we volunteered at the mission. On Fridays, we would hit the singles bars and run interception for each other. After a year or so, I met my husband and moved on. I didn’t see Hannah as much after that, but we tried to get together every few weeks to catch up.” I noticed Merilee nodding in understanding.

“One night, she told me she had met a man online. She knew that’s how I met my husband so she felt it was worth a try.”

“Did you really?” Marilee asked. “It’s good to hear it does work for some people.”

“It did for me.” I nodded. “Anyway, she had been cruising the dating sites for quite awhile. Periodically she would meet someone for coffee or maybe a drink after work. She would date for awhile, but no one stuck, if you know what I mean.”

“Unfortunately, I do.”

“We both had friends who had connected successfully online so neither one of us was particularly nervous about it. It’s the modern way, after all. Still, Hannah was living alone and I knew she was very cautious about giving out her personal information.”

“You have to be.” Marilee nodded in agreement.

“Anyway, she saw this guy’s profile online. She liked what he said, so she contacted him. He wrote back and said he had started to date someone else and apologized for not making his ad inactive.”
“So she met another guy?”

“No, Hannah wasn’t one to give up. There was something there she liked. She wrote back that she would still like to chat as friends if he was willing. He was and they did for a couple of months. Then something changed.”

“He stopped seeing the other girl?” Marilee guessed.

“Uh huh. One day he wrote that the girl was gone and he didn’t expect to see her again. He was wondering if Hannah was interested in getting together. Of course she was, so they made a date to meet for a drink here. Then he said something that hit a wrong note.”

“There’s always something isn’t there?’ Marilee said “What was it?”

“He said he hated it when girls brought their friends to check him out. He wasn’t bringing anyone and he would rather she not come if she felt she needed a chaperone.”

“But that’s just good sense.” Marilee said. I watched as the realization that she had come alone tonight registered in her face.

“Oddly enough, by this time, she was feeling pretty confident about him and she had been planning to come here alone. But a signal went off. At the last minute she called and asked me to watch from the bar. If she looked like she was in trouble, I would cut in. I said I would be happy to.”

The bartender made his rounds and this time made no bones about his interest in Marilee as he asked if we wanted another. I said yes but just the coffee this time. Marilee agree. I took a twenty out of my pocket but she waved it away. “My turn: she said, reaching into her bag. “So what happened?”

“I left work a little early just to get into position and grabbed this very seat. He was sitting down the bar so I had a chance to study him.”

“How did you know it was him?”

“He had told Hannah that he would carry a white carnation. Not many guys walk into a bar with carnations.”

My coffee came and I took a sip. Marilee’s twenty disappeared and was replaced with a five and some singles.

“He was very good looking. Tall, slender, big smile. Sociable, too. He talked to all the people around him in that ‘alone at the bar’ way. And then, Hannah arrived and he saw her immediately as she walked in. She looked great. She had a new dress and it was beautiful. Of course red is her color.” I turned my head to look at Marilee. “It’s your color too. I can’t wear red, It makes me look blotchy. Anyway, they found each other and moved to one of the more secluded tables. They seemed to be getting along very well.”

I looked toward my left and pointed. “They were sitting at that table. Hannah had been adamant that he not know she had brought a friend. She devised a signal; if she fluffed her hair, he was a dud and I should break in on them but if she pulled her ear I would know it was okay to leave.”

I nursed a vodka tonic for about half an hour when Hannah pulled her ear. I wasn’t sure it was the actual signal, so I waited about five minutes and she did it again. So I left.”

“What happened?” Marilee asked with real interest.

“I never saw her again.”

I cradled my coffee and, deep in thought, didn’t speak for a few minutes.

“The next day, I called to get the lowdown. There was no answer on her cell so I called her work number. Someone told me that she hadn’t shown up and hadn’t called. That just wasn’t Hannah so I called the police. They said I had to wait forty-eight hours and then physically go to the station.”

“Because she’s adult and she’s free to take off.” Marilee said and then shrugged. “I watch those cop shows.”

“Right. And much as I didn’t believe it, I had to admit it was at least possible. He was very good looking.” I shook my head as if I was remembering. Then I took a deep breath. “When I still hadn’t gotten hold of her, I did go and talk with a detective who took the information. It was clear he thought she was probably off for a lost week-end. After she didn’t show up for two weeks, he got interested, but of course by then it was too late.”

BOOK: Chance Encounter
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