Chad watched Katherine exit her office and turn south. He saw her stop at a flower stand, pick up a bunch and smell them. She took them to the counter for purchase. After she had paid the clerk, she plucked one of the bright purple flowers from the bunch and handed it to the cashier. He wanted to puke. What a foolish sentimental gesture that was. He was sure the girl would have preferred a five instead. You wouldn’t know it from her reaction. The girl smiled, sniffed the flower and hugged Katherine. Chad smiled—sure the girl was just playing the kiss-up game. Who in their right mind would swoon over a flower, instead of cold hard cash? But of course, the spoiled rotten, rich bitch couldn’t part with five measly dollars of her precious cash.
Katherine left the flower shop and continued her travels south. She stopped again, this time at a bakery. He could not see what she was buying, but when she exited the bakery, she was carrying a cake box. Even he was smart enough to realize she was buying someone a birthday cake and flowers.
From the bakery, she traveled south again, turned right at a street corner. He ran to catch up to her, being careful to stay at least a hundred yards back. At one point, she turned around, and he had to duck into a doorway. She looked right at him, and he was sure she must have seen him, but she turned back and began walking again. Of course, she would be too absorbed in herself to notice he was following her.
She turned off the main highway and onto a street that contained rows of apartments. Just when he thought he lost her, he saw her climb some steps and knock on a door.
An old woman answered the door, a show of delight instantaneously appearing on her face. She took the flowers from Katherine, leaned over for a kiss on the cheek, and turned to walk inside. Katherine followed.
“Damn,” he said. “I can’t very well follow her inside.”
He spied a low garden wall in front of a house directly across from the apartment. He jogged quickly over to it and settled on top of it. It wasn’t the most comfortable accommodations for his rear, but at least it was better than the ground.
Inside the apartment, Katherine took off her coat and gently set it down, draping it across the back of a wing chair.
She followed the woman into a small kitchen and set the cake down on the countertop.
“It’s so good to see you, Madame` Chez,” she said. “Has your birthday been good so far?”
“I suppose,” the older woman said. “At lease as good as one’s seventy-fifth birthday can be.”
Both women chuckled as Madame` Chez turned on the tea kettle. “Earl Grey, two spoons of sugar, right?”
Katherine nodded. Katherine had been drinking her tea the same way since she was a little girl. Her father always teased her about the two-sugar thing, but she wasn’t beyond confessing her sweet tooth.
“How is Emily’s tutoring going?” Katherine asked.
Madame` Chez clutched her chest and rolled her eyes heavenward. “She is truly a gift from God, that little one.”
Katherine’s smile widened. “So I did well recruiting her.”
Madame` Chez shook her head. “Phenomenal find, my dear. She does a brilliant Jeté and goes straight into Relevé, a remarkable feat for someone her age.” She frowned. “There’s only one problem.”
Katherine’s smile dropped. “What?”
“Her parents are reluctant to let her travel without them. The director doesn’t want the mother tagging along. It leaves me in a bit of a quandary. If I find her a troupe to travel with, her parents may hold out. If I keep working with her at home, she is limiting her future. She is brilliant, Katherine—absolutely brilliant. It would be an injustice to make her sacrifice.”
“What about the move? They were so excited about it.”
“Postponed until we work out all these details. It would be such a shame to lose her.”
“The traveling is a bit of a strain,” Katherine admitted. “I understand their reluctance.”
“Which is exactly the reason you are here arguing with people in a courtroom, instead of lighting up the stage, as you should be,” Madame` Chez scolded.
Katherine laughed lightly. “You never give up, do you?”
Madame` Chez shook her head. “Not until the day I die. Which, judging from the sum of candles on this cake, won’t be too far away.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll work it out.”
They laughed. Madame` Chez blew out the candles and cut a large slice for each of them.
Madame` Chez moaned in ecstasy as she bit into the cake. “Red Velvet, my favorite.”
“Of course,” Katherine said. “All bets are off on your birthday. And speaking of birthdays...” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small box tied with a lavender ribbon. “Happy birthday,” she said, thrusting the box toward her.
“Oh, Katherine, this isn’t necessary. I mean the cake, the flowers, and now this. It’s all too much.”
“Nonsense,” Katherine scolded. “I can’t think of a better way to spend all the money I earn arguing with people in a courtroom.”
Madame` Chez laughed at her joke thrown back at her. She opened the box and gasped at the contents. Two little gold ballet slippers, one for each ear, slept soundly on a pillow of cotton. “They are beautiful. Where did you find such a unique gift?”
“I had them specially made, guaranteed to be the only pair of their kind. And just to ensure the promise…” She picked up one of the slippers and pointed out the bottom. Etched in tiny writing was the word ’Madame`. On the other slipper was the word ‘Chez’.
“They are beautiful.”
“I’m glad you like them.” She sighed. “And now, I’m afraid I must be going. I have a meeting in one hour.”
Madame` Chez shook her head. “You work too hard, Katherine. When are you going to slow down and have a family?”
Katherine felt her throat close. She shook her head, unable to ward off the feeling of loneliness Madame` Chez’s words held. “I’d like to, but apparently that’s not in the cards for me.”
“Of course it is. Go, be off with you, young lady. And stop being so picky about your men. Choose one to marry so you can have beautiful little ballerinas for me to mold.”
Katherine laughed and walked toward the front door. At the door she turned. “I’ll try,” she said, “but no promises,” she added. “Do you want me to speak with Emily’s parents?”
She shook her head. “I think I can handle them. I’ll let you know if I change my mind.”
Chad, still waiting on the garden wall, freezing his ass off, saw Katherine walk toward the front door. He dashed off, eager to avoid detection. He rounded the corner and ducked inside the mini-mart, where he quickly purchased a half-gallon of milk and some bread. He walked to the front and opened it. He stood in the doorway, holding the door open to get his timing right.
“Close the door,” the storekeeper yelled. “I’m not paying for you to heat all of San Francisco.”
Chad turned and snarled at the man. He saw Katherine coming and pushed through the front door, right smack into her.
“I’m sorry,” she said, beginning to look up. “I didn’t mean…”
She trailed off, stunned to see Chad there. “Are you following me?” she asked, her words awash with irritation.
Chad looked down at the ground, indicated the spilled milk and crushed bread. “Not unless shopping constitutes stalking.”
She looked down at his purchases splayed upon the sidewalk. “I’m sorry. I was just surprised to see you here. You’re a bit far from home to be shopping.”
Chad, already having his story made up, didn’t miss a beat. He pointed to the bike shop across the street. “I brought my bike in for repairs. I was just on my way home and remembered I was out of milk and bread. Well, I guess I’m still out of milk and bread.”
Katherine blushed. “I’m sorry. I should have been watching where I was going.”
He shrugged. “No harm was done. I’ve meant to call you. I was hoping I could convince you to go out again.” He saw the look of rejection crossing her face, ready to escape her lips. He rushed on, “You can pick the venue this time.”
She started to object when Madame` Chez’s words came back to her… stop being so picky about your men. Katherine sighed. “Okay, Chad. We can try again.”
“I’m throwing a beach party for my friend’s birthday. Would you be my escort?” she asked, thinking a group setting sounded safe.
“I love beach parties,” Chad said. He hated beach parties, but he wasn’t about to voice that opinion. Besides, who had beach parties in San Francisco? It was always cold.
As if reading his mind, she said, “I know it will be cold, but there will be tents and heaters there. Yes, I know it’s an odd place to have the party—but what can I say, my friend loves the beach.”
“I’m not worried.”
“Great,” she said, forcing a smile. “It’s Saturday. I guess I should have mentioned that. You’re still free, aren’t you?”
Of course, he was free. Lately, his little scheme was the only thing occupying his days. “I’m completely free. Even if I weren’t, I’d cancel my plans.”
She smiled and tipped her head slightly. She didn’t want to admit she was flattered, but she was. “Okay, then. You know the place.”
He looked at her, puzzled. She laughed. “It’s the same place you found me playing with the dogs.”
“Of course, I almost forgot. That was such a surprise, running into you like that, and now again today. He picked up her hand, looked down at it, then stared into her eyes. “I think we must be each other’s destiny. It looks as if Cupid is throwing us together.”
She laughed nervously, as she pulled her hand back. “I have to run. I’m going to be late for a meeting.”
She dashed off, leaving him standing there over his milk and bread. He bent down, scooped up everything and threw them all into the wastebasket.
He hopped on the bus and stewed all the way home. A woman gave him a sideways glance. “What are you looking at?” He stomped his foot in her direction. She got up and changed seats. “Bitch,” he said. The woman, having seen these kinds of people before, knew better than to respond to him. Another woman pulled her young child close to her and turned her daughter’s face into her chest, so she couldn’t see what was happening. “I’m not going to hurt her,” he said, sarcastically. The woman turned away from her. “Bunch of assholes,” he said. “You all think you’re better than me.” Nobody looked at him. They were bus riders, and they knew better than to antagonize someone on the bus.
When the bus stopped, he jumped up and rushed to the door. The minute his feet touched the ground, the bus driver said, “Hey buddy,” Chad turned and looked at him. “Stay off my bus.” He quickly closed the doors.
In the elevator, he kicked at the door, anger bursting forth. “God damned elevator,” he snarled. “Why the hell can’t you people fix it.” He punched the control panel, and April’s voice came from the speaker.
“How may I help you?” Chad panted, trying to slow his breathing. “May I help you, Sir? Are you all right in there?”
“It’s me, April, Chad. I’m just venting my frustration on this elevator. Are they ever going to fix it?”
“I’ll lodge another complaint.”
“Don’t bother. Obviously it isn’t going to do any good.”
“What happened to you the other day?” she asked. “You stood me up for coffee.”
Chad groaned. “I’m sorry. I got busy and forgot. Can I take a rain check?”
“Sure. How about now? I’m off in half an hour.”
He started to protest but thought better of it. He needed to blow off some steam. Perhaps the perky little brunette would help him do that. Besides, he wondered what information he could glean out of her by striking up a friendship.
A half hour later, he was waiting in the lobby when the elevator opened, and April stepped out. Dressed in black slacks and a ruffled, blue silk blouse, she bounced her way over to him. She laughed when she got to him, about what he couldn’t guess, but he smiled anyway. She was a pleasant sight to see.
“I’m ready,” she said. “Where shall we go?”
“Starbucks, I guess.”
She shook her head. “Let’s try the Magic Cup, on Mission. It’s the hangout place this time of day.”
Chad sighed. Why the hell had she asked him, only to reject his suggestion. He didn’t care where they went. She was only a distraction for him, and he didn’t care who hung out there. “Lead the way,” he said, mustering a smile.
They hopped on public transportation, too smart to try moving either of their cars this time of day. They chatted about the weather, school, and the current budget crisis.
By the time they reached their stop, Chad had found he was enjoying April’s company.
She was right about the Magic Cup. Hordes of college students occupied the tables, some of the students had school books strewn about, some had laptops open, and others made a pretense of studying—but either playing solitaire or surfing the web. One young man was perusing internet porn sights, oblivious to whether anyone was watching. Chad wondered what his parents would think if they knew what he was doing with his expensive laptop.
Following his gaze, April said, “That’s Greasy Charlie. He’s a creep, so nobody talks to him.”
As they walked by him, she reached out and slapped his laptop closed. “This is a public place,” she said, daring him to challenge her.
“It’s none of your business,” Charlie said. Then he picked up his laptop and backpack and left the café.
“There, see, I got us a table,” she said and laughed. “I’ll save it while you get us coffee. I’ll have a double-shot espresso with cream.”
He looked at her for a moment, wondering how she could drink that much caffeine. She was already peppy enough without it. “I have to cram for a test when I get home,” she said.
He put in their drink orders and then came to sit by her. As he was sitting, she lifted her arm and waved at a group of kids sitting across the café.
“That’s my biology study group,” she said as if he cared.
The server brought their drinks to the table. She picked up hers, took a sip, and sighed. “Ah, pure heaven.”
He couldn’t help but laugh as he wiped the cream from her upper lip with a napkin. “So, what do you think about that elevator?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I haven’t given it much thought. I guess I’m just a little preoccupied with my studies.”
She waved again, and he followed her gaze to another table, where a young man in a letterman’s jacket sat, surrounded by his friends. “That’s Bradley Astin,” she said. “He’s totally in love with me.” She shook her head. “He’s not my type, though.”
He looked more closely at Bradley: strong, rugged, blonde hair, and then there was the letterman’s jacket—most likely a football star.
“What is your type?”
“Intellectual.” She brought her attention back to the table. “How about you, what’s your type?”
A vision of Katherine entered his mind. He pushed it away. He would not let her gentle nature or stunning looks interfere with his mission. He picked up his cup and began to drink, avoiding the question.
“Someone like you,” he said, causing her to blush.
“My dad would freak,” she said, giggling, “because of the age difference between us.”
He hadn’t thought about it, but now he eyed her with a more detailed look. She was younger than he had thought, her early twenties, maybe even nineteen. Her brunette hair lay just past her shoulders, cut in a flattering style around her face, which still held some of its baby fat. Her smile was radiant and traveled all the way up to her eyes. Her makeup, applied lightly with perfection, flattered her cheeks and eyes in just the right shades of green and rosy pink. No doubt, it was expensive, probably from one of those cosmetic specialty shops they had in the mall. She wasn’t delicate, as Katherine was, but she was very pretty. He pictured her on a debate team or some other intellectual group. “I guess I hadn’t realized there was that much of an age gap between you and me. Does it bother you?”
“Heck, no,” she said. “We’re making Ryan jealous.” She laughed and waved again.
He turned and spied an angry young man glaring at him. “Let me guess, your intellectual interest?”
She blushed. “Do you mind? It’s a lot of fun.”
“Not if I get to do this.” He leaned over, kissed her long and hard on the mouth, sliding his tongue inside, searching for hers. Then he pulled away. Her shocked expression made him laugh.
Her mouth fell open, worked frantically, searching for a way to speak. Her eyes grew round, just as Chad felt someone pull him from his chair and spin him around. He was surprised to find Mr. Intellect waiting with his fists.
His last sight, before everything went black, was April’s enamored expression directed toward his aggressor.