Sometimes I wondered if I had been born into the wrong body, the wrong life. Surely, I was meant to be a gazillionaire. Right?
The cashier looked at me with a mixture of pity and irritation. “The card was declined, ma’am. Do you have another? Or cash?”
Mortified, I shook my head. “I’m sorry… do you want me to put this stuff back?” I asked, conscious of the stares from other shoppers queued up behind me.
“No, we’ll take care of it,” the cashier said, unable to hide her disdain.
I walked away quickly, my face hot and my eyes downcast. Which is why, of course, I ran into the man who had the misfortune of interrupting my rapid beeline to the exit. Great.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going,” I blabbered. Could this day get any worse?
“Are you ok?” a low voice asked. I looked up into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, set into the face of what certainly must be a Greek God. His dark hair was short but slightly shaggy, and his dark eyebrows were furrowed with what appeared to be actual concern for my wellbeing.
“I’m fine,” I lied, desperate to be away from all the onlookers. I would have continued on to the exit, but he was blocking my path, and his hand was still on my upper arm where he had tried to steady me when we collided.
“You seem upset,” he said quietly. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“No, thank you. Seriously. I just need to get out of here. I’m sorry I ran into you,” I said to my feet, avoiding his eyes as I propelled myself around him. My one goal in life at that moment was to clear the exit doors.
The North Carolina summer heat smacked me in the face as the sliding doors opened, and humidity coalesced around me like a warm hug. The Wal-Mart parking lot was busy, as per usual, and I jogged across the asphalt toward my car, the heat from the blacktop seeping through my thin-soled Keds.
My car, a 1981 Buick Skylark, sat looking worse for the wear, its paint dull and lifeless, a white that had lost its gloss decades ago. I fished my keys out of my oversized bag, and promptly dropped them. Into a gutter that I was parked next to. Of course.
“NO!” I yelled, dropping to my knees to peer into the black depths, knowing it was useless. Sitting back on my heels, I felt close to tears.
A shadow fell over me, and then the blue-eyed man was there, kneeling beside me. “How about I give you a ride home?” he said gently.
I looked around and saw several passers-by looking at me curiously. “My keys. I dropped my keys,” I said, pointing at the gutter.
“I know, I saw. I’m sorry you’re having such a rough day.” I felt his hand, strong and sure, on my back. He helped me to my feet and guided me toward a Ford F-150 truck that was parked nearby, its glossy black paint gleaming in the afternoon sun. Mr. Blue-Eyes opened the passenger door and helped me into the seat, even going so far as to lean over me to buckle me in. He smelled like pine and lemongrass. It wasn’t until he was seated in the driver’s seat that I realised I had just allowed a complete stranger to bundle me into his vehicle. Alarm bells rang in my head, and my hand involuntarily reached for the door handle.
“You’re ok; I promise, I mean you no harm,” he said in his deep, soft voice.
I paused, my body tense, and studied his face. “No offense, but… I don’t even know your name.”
“My name is Hart. And you are….?” he asked.
“Sophie. I’m Sophie.”
The hot air that had been trapped inside the truck began to lose its battle against the powerful air conditioning. My Buick’s air conditioning hadn’t worked since I bought it last year. Truth be told, it had probably not worked since the late 1990’s.
“So… where can I drop you?” Hart asked.
I couldn’t go back to Paul’s house. He was too handsy, not-too-subtly hinting that I could pay for my room with something other than money. Everything I owned was in that Buick.
“I… I don’t have anywhere to go,” I admitted quietly. Treasonous tears finally spilled from my eyes.
Hart was quiet for a few moments; I could see him looking at me in my peripheral vision as I tucked my chin into my chest. I don’t think I’d ever felt so low and hopeless. I closed my eyes, wanting more than anything to sink into oblivion so no one could witness my shame.
Hart reached out and gently wiped tears from my cheek with his thumb. “Then you are cordially invited to stay with me. I have more than enough room, and to be honest I could use the company.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest, my level of trust in my fellow man was hovering around 0. I knew better than anyone that you don’t get anything for free.
I looked at Hart suspiciously, hugging my bag to my chest protectively. “Why would you do that? You don’t know me from Adam.”
Hart’s eyebrows lifted; he was clearly not used to being rebuffed. His expression softened, and he replied, “I don’t know an ‘Adam’, this is true. I have been fortunate in my life, and I can tell you could use some kindness. I promise, on my honour, I have no other intentions.”
Hart had a strange, old worldly way of speaking that, for some strange reason, put me at ease. He looked at me intently, his blue gaze willing me to accept his generous offer.
“Ok.” I wasn’t one for flowery words.
Hart smiled encouragingly, then put his truck in reverse.