The moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you were nothing short of dangerous. When it’s around eleven o’clock at night and someone like you walks in, the first thing someone young and imaginative might brew up is that you’re someone from the mafia—perhaps even the Godfather.
And I was no different. I remember I was reading this cheesy New York bestselling Christmas romance novel, despite the fact that it was late June and the temperature was well above twenty degrees even though it was nearly midnight. I had to close the station in an hour, and I had broken an hour earlier; willing to read anything I could get my hands on, even if it was the phonebook.
I was reaching the climax in my book—well, what I assumed to be the climax. Katie had gasped after finding her love interest, Mike, kissing Melissa underneath the mistletoe at a holiday party for someone named Stephanie. I had nearly gotten whiplash as all of these new characters were getting introduced. The book, in all honesty, was probably one of the worst I had ever read. But it passed the time, keeping me occupied as I laughed from the predictability of it all.
The air conditioning had been cranked, which caused the vents to hiss like snakes all day. My shift had started at four, and I’d heard the bell at the door ring maybe five times all day. Usually, I enjoyed getting off easy and being able to hoard more time to myself. I wasn’t antisocial; not quite. Just heavily introverted.
However, what I did not enjoy, was being forced to sit behind a counter for seven hours straight, being taunted by a broken radio that worked no longer than a day ago. I could only tolerate so much humming softly to myself. And the hissing made me irritable. Being able to focus my irritability on an irksome book, however, calmed my sense of hearing for a little while.
Now, normally, hearing a bell ring past dark hour makes a person nervous. After dark, the regular pedestrians and witnesses all elude themselves in their homes, safe behind locked doors. At night, however, serial killers and sociopaths are fresh on the prowl. At least, that’s what investigation discovery preached. I made sure to keep a can of bear spray handy in my jacket pocket that hung over the back of my chair in case of emergencies.
But, that night, hearing the bell ring made me nothing if not excited. Instantly, I slammed my book closed even though there was no bookmark to save my page. If anything, this was a blessing. After my customer left, I could preoccupy myself by trying to recover my lost page.
Sliding the book onto my lap, I jerked myself to at least look like I was awake as I smiled at the door, prepared to greet you. I don’t know what I was expecting—maybe a greasy, suspicious looking truck or taxi driver. Maybe a robber dressed in all black. Maybe an unkempt person looking to buy cigarettes.
But you were none of the above. The moment my eyes traced your body, my smile dropped and my throat became dry like I had just eaten sand. You were the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. You wore a white dress shirt and black pants. You looked like you had never been short a penny a day in your life. Instantly, I began to conjure up conspiracy theories.
The first one, of course, that you were in the mafia. You were well over a foot taller than me and definitely more than double my size. I was worried maybe I had done something to offend one of your underdogs months back and you were finally able to come collect my name on your hit list. You hadn’t even glanced at me when you walked in, so instantly I assumed the worst. You hadn’t acknowledged my presence, and you were going to put a bullet between my eyes when I was least expectant.
I swallowed, my saliva not even enough to coat my throat. It coated my airway like molasses, and if anything made it harder for me to inhale. I was prepared to begin practicing abdominal thrusts on myself like I had been choking on something. The only thing I was choking on, in reality, was my own nerves.
You dodged to the back of the store, but easily stood over a foot taller than the metal shelves that cut off your lower half. Even from where I sat, I could smell you—as though you had bathed in cologne instead of giving yourself modest spritzes. You smelt something like pine and pepper, with hints of sandalwood and herbs. No customers who had walked in on my shift smelt like you did, and perhaps that’s what stood out the most to me about you.
I had noted that your hair was as black as your jeans, and your tanned skin couldn’t even be dulled beneath the dreadful fluorescent lights. I had always found that fluorescent lights could make even the most ethereal of supermodels look lifeless and zombie-like, only because they were so unflattering. But with you, it did nothing to take away from your looks. Fluorescent lights made me look dead because my skin was pale. The only thing that saved me was the dusting of freckles on my nose and cheeks.
I knew you felt me looking up at you. It was hard not to look at you, though. You had a splendor appearance to you; I’d have been a fool if I didn’t look at you. Men with wandering eyes who had come in here had no issues staring at me even if I squirmed under their cheap gaze, so I figured it was time to switch roles. Unlike me, though, you did not squirm.
But I was a coward whose bravery came in short spurts. The moment you looked up at me from over your shoulder I quickly snapped my stare away, dropping my eyes to the book on my lap. For the split second you looked at me I was able to determine that no one had ever looked at me with such intensity. You lit me up like my blood was made of gasoline.
And fuck, it both enthralled and terrified me.
But it fascinated me enough to risk looking up at you again. I peeked at you through my lashes, weighed down by mascara probably smeared by the muggy air. You had still been looking at me, your eyes narrowed and focused. I wished I could’ve held your stare long enough to decode what it meant, but it was far too ardent. I had to look away as my cheeks caught on fire.
I couldn’t have even taken tips from the book I was reading because the character was just as awkward, if not even more awkward than I was. Upon Katie’s first encounter with Mike, she had spilt her glass of red wine on his shirt and somehow confessed that she was a thirty year old virgin. Thankfully, there was not a bottle of red wine in sight and when I’m nervous I shut down instead of giving away embarrassing secrets.
I let out a shaky breath as I heard you rummaging through the ice box. Ice was a necessity in summer. I made sure to always have a bag in my freezer for when I needed to cool down. I’d sometimes stick a bag under my pillow to keep it cool overnight, the perspiration that soaked the underside of it hardly a consequence.
I winced when I heard you toss the bag of ice over your shoulder and slam the box shut, the noise enhanced from hours of solitary humming. I knew I had to look up at you at some point, because it would’ve been rude of me to just stare at my lap as I rung you through; even though it was the only thing I really wanted to do. I wanted to retreat into the back room and wait until you left until I came back out. But unless I wanted to be fired, that was not an option.
So as common sense tried to counteract the leadenness of my head, I willed myself that right after you paid you would leave. On one hand I couldn’t wait for you to leave just so my heart could calm down to its normal rate again, but on the other hand you were giving me a rush that was new and foreign. This encounter was both bitter and sweet.
You dropped the ice bag onto my counter, and common sense was no longer in charge of raising my head again. I was alarmed and caught off guard, so my head shot up to face you. I regretted it quickly, though. Once our eyes locked, I realized I couldn’t turn my head to look away. You had me frozen in place like I was a live ice sculpture.
Your eyes were bewitching, and if I hadn’t been so concentrated on trying to look away I might’ve found the time to appreciate them even more. They almost looked like eye contacts, only because eyes like yours couldn’t have possibly been inherited from genetics. I didn’t think it was humanly possible.
It was like your creator had melted down emeralds and poured them into your irises, taking the time to polish them even after they were set. In your left eye, however, there was a mutation that I focused in on. The bottom right section of your iris was pure silver, glinting like a blade beneath the overhead lights. I became more aware of how uninteresting my eyes were, wishing they could’ve been half as stunning as yours. My eyes, least to say, were the same colour as my frizzy curls atop my head. Russet brown.
Without breaking eye contact, I stammered what I was programmed to say from day one. “I-is that all, Sir?”
You didn’t respond to me, and I began to tremble on my chair like I was shivering. I had never felt so warm, in fact, even beneath a blaring sun at high noon. I was nervous I would faint. If I were to faint, I would die shortly after from embarrassment once I woke up. I already wasn’t stepping in on a strong foot.
Without blinking or easing the strength of your stare, you finally responded. “Yes.”
I gulped; shuddered. I tried to blink, but found my eyes stuck open. I imagined that if I hadn’t looked so surprised I would’ve looked creepy. “Three dollars is your t-total.” I forced out.
You reached into your back pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill, but did not look away from me. You held it out in front of you for a moment or two, patiently waiting for me to thaw. It took me a second to finally snap out of it.
Finally, I could blink. I blinked vigorously half a dozen times as I took a deep breath, my airway finally unclogged. I offered you an awkward, tremulous smile as I held out my hand. My hand was shaking violently, as though I was coming down from shock.
I looked at your chest as you moved to place the money in my hand, simply because I could not withstand the challenge of staring into your eyes as you leaned in closer to me because I could not do so for you. I had never felt so pathetic or stressed out over catering to a customer. I had dealt with nasty, unreasonable people who didn’t have the cleanest motives, but you still made me more nervous than all of those confrontations combined. I blamed it on your wickedly handsome looks. No one as handsome as you had ever walked in here before.
It’s not uncommon for a customers finger to brush the palm of my hand as they gave me their cash, but you managed to make something so normal and accidental become so abnormal and seemingly purposeful. The moment your finger brushed my skin, I jerked my hand away and cradled it to my chest. But the feeling didn’t dissipate right away, it lingered for a while; even after you had left and disappeared for a week.
It felt like a firecracker had been lit in my hand and exploded up the length of my right arm, leaving behind a trail of furious sparks that demanded attention without being doused. I knew that this wasn’t simply a static shock, because I knew what a static shock felt like. Whatever electricity you had sent into my body was much more powerful and unforgettable. It recharged me; made me feel more alive than I ever had.
Our eyes met and my brows furrowed as I silently begged for answers. Whatever I felt I knew you had too, because you took a step back to brace yourself almost as if to prevent a fall like I had just pushed you. Your eyes, I noticed last second, had darkened by a few shades but I brushed it off as your pupils dilating. Why they would have dilated was beyond my comprehension, but it was the first thing I felt safe to assume.
But you recovered quick; much quicker than I did. You took a step forward and hovered over the counter, slamming one hand on the glass with enough force I expected it to shatter. It didn’t, luckily, but the sound was enough to make me jump. If I had any smarts I would’ve reached back for my bear spray; but like a damsel on railroad tracks facing down a fast approaching train, I was stiff as a board.
Your face was inches from mine as you broke our staring contest and grabbed my name tag, your eyes focusing in on it. Your eyes narrowed into a glare, your full lips pursing. “Edie.” You read my name aloud, pronouncing it correctly. EE-dee. Not ED-dee like many people had mispronounced it before. It felt nice that you pronounced my name correctly, almost like it was an honour someone like you knew how to. It sent pleasurable chills down my spine. If I hadn’t been playing strange, I might’ve asked you to repeat yourself—to repeat my name.
Even if I hadn’t been playing strange, though, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to. The moment my name left your lips you leant back, grabbed your bag of ice and stormed out of the station, your feet shaking the place like a hurricane had travelled through it. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as it leapt into my throat. I ignored the five dollar bill that landed on the counter, unable to move and put it in the register.
I closed my eyes as I tried to tune into the buzzing of the air conditioner again. My hand remained cradled to my chest, the other one white-knuckling the book for dear life. I felt like I had just barely survived a life or death situation because I was reenergized; like adrenaline had just coursed through my body.
It was set in stone, then, that you were dangerous—but I could confidently say not mafia-relatedly different. No, not even close. Something about you screamed outlandish just as loudly as it screamed ominous. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read you like a book. You were too cleaned up to be in a gang, but mysterious enough that I wouldn’t have been surprised if you ran something illegal underground.
I tried to convince myself for the rest of my shift to not dwell on the mysterious man who came through the place like a menacing whirlwind, leaving behind a frazzled cashier who was both dazed and confused. I didn’t know what to make of the whole situation, however. I tried to tell myself I was just overtired and needed to go home and rest, but that pesky voice in the back of my head kept reminding me that it was something more—that you were something more.
If only I had listened better. I might’ve been able to prepare myself for what happened with you next.