She was leaking. The bottle of raspberry-flavored water in her raincoat had not been properly closed and it was leaving a wet spot through her pocket. She should have discarded it before she left the airport, but it cost three dollars and she had only drunk half.
He came at five-thirty. Why are you wearing a raincoat? he laughed. She squinted back at him, the setting sun still brillant. Just in case, she said. It was raining at Logan. They first went to Banana Republic to look through the ten-dollar ties. For dinner, they had hot dogs on sticks and for dessert, pretzels covered in cinnamon sugar. He had done this on purpose, she thought, climbing into his car and rubbing the brown sugar out of her eyes. Made her so full that she would fall asleep on the ride home.
He lived in La Jolla, a posh student neighborhood north of San Diego and closer to the hospitals for rotations. She was so sleepy that she did not protest when he took the 101, and they drove along the coast. This month wasn't so bad, he said. Queue-4, call every four days. He was promising her Tuesday nights at the family fun center for miniature golf and Thursday nights at the open air theatre in the mall. She was only half-listening, half-wondering what she did with her bottle of water because her pocket was now filled with crusty napkins and packets of ketchup. Her naked fingers hid beneath the mess.
The next day she took a bus to downtown La Jolla and walked up Girard Street. They met at five, he came directly from the VA. They bought a caramel apple with nuts and ate it as they walked down Prospect Street to the Cove. It was dark; she could only hear the water. They made their way down to the small beach, only three parking spaces wide. He made her take off her shoes, in fact he undid them for her, her hands still sticky from the apple juice.
It was a cold night, but she didn't say anything when he started covering her feet with water. She was telling him about some Dutch plateware place off Herschel Street. They sold some wonderful sets in yellow, blue, and white. Maybe, he said, piling up sand now, instead of water, over her toes. They'd have to look into it. They sat there with their feet buried together, the night sky clear above their heads. At nine, they decided to go home. She washed her hands in the shallow waves and followed him up to the grass.
She took a different bus to downtown, she was getting good at this. This time she got off at the other end of Girard. She started at Vons, going inside to pick up an orange and sign up for a discount membership card. Next door was a Chopra Center. She stopped in only long enough to see if a receptionist was behind the desk. She looked at manicure places, banks, and pharmacies. She made appointments three months in advance, just in case.
It was almost two when she stopped in at the Banana Republic, a smaller version of the one in San Diego, but still with the wingback chairs in chocolate leather and everyone in beige pants. She nodded when the young woman in the cherry red sweater told her they weren't look for any summer temps, but definitely part-time through the holidays. There was no way she could promise anything later than Labor Day—her school started up again at the end of August—let alone Christmas, but she still said yes. An interview would be set up.
When he asked her what she did during the day, she conveniently forgot about the job, mentioning only the Chopra Center and her new Vons card. He laughed, kissing her head. What are you going to do with that after the summer? Maybe, she said, I'll keep it.
She got an interview with the flagship store in Fashion Valley.
Fashion Valley? She took out all of her bus route maps, 41, 33, 301, and figured out a plan. Still, she didn^Òt tell him, but she would later.
Waiting for the bus, she took note of the sky, which was usually perfect. Today was cold. The awful scent of the eucalyptus trees was stirring and making everything smell and feel like cheap metal. It was miserable when it was cold. There was no purpose to the city. Southern California cities, with their buildings and stores so far apart, were less endearing in the wind. She couldn't walk anywhere and refuges were few and far between. She got on the 301 to the mall.
It was fifteen miles away, but an hour on the bus. She sat next to a woman who had bought a palm tree at the Costco in Loma Vista. It was in a big orange plastic pot that could only fit in the middle of the aisle. People walked around it or sneered at it. Nobody inquired about it.
Her lipstick was already dry on her mouth and she realized she was going to have to eat something before the appointment. She tried to think of the most innocuous food she could buy. She decided on frozen yogurt.
When she got off the bus, she found a phone booth and dialed his pager. 143, the code to let him know that she loved him. She'd dial again when she got home.
The yogurt was sweeter than she would have liked and totally bleached her lips. She gargled water from the faucet in the ladies' lounge at Nordstrom and ran a finger over her gums in lieu of a toothbrush.
She was on a secret campaign to get engaged. Back in spring, in April, she had called him from Boston, three time zones away, and told him that she'd been waking up at seven in the morning every day and feeling very sad. He said sleeplessness was a sign of depression. She wasn't unhappy to hear that. She had thought maybe it had been something more pedestrian, like caffeine withdrawal. Leave school, he had said. She had held her breath. Why don't you come here for the summer?
She had said, yes, half-hoping he'd remember this answer when the right question came.
She hadn't blinked so much in her life. She had fixed her lipstick in the lounge, and her mouth looked very bright. She practiced her smile, catching glimpses of herself in the mirror behind the woman in the white cotton shirt. Was she ready? Did she think she could do this? Is this what she wanted? Yes, she said as she had practiced on the bus, nodding, pretending there'd be no September, pretending there'd be reasons. The woman, the field manager, marked her answers on a lime green clip board. She wondered if she could get a copy of that to show him later.
She lingered a bit in the store afterwards, looking at the beautiful clothes. She hid herself in the corner between the sales shelves, holding against the appropriate parts of her body skirts that were too long and sweaters that were too skinny.
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson