Children’s laughter was my favorite sound in the whole world. It felt so nice to know that kids found happiness in this dark, dismal world. Just listening to their laughter made me feel so much better. And I heard this beautiful sound a lot at my workplace.
“What are you smiling about?” Ellis, my best friend questioned.
“See that cute girl over there, the one with pigtails?” I stared at the blonde girl who looked no older than five.
“Yeah so?” Ellis sounded like she thought I had lost my mind.
“So, isn’t she the most adorable thing ever? Look at how she is eyeing the doll.” I smiled as I saw the girl appraise the toy.
“According to you every child is the most adorable thing in the world. You need to find a boyfriend, Jen,” Ellis stated. Even though I wasn’t looking at her, I knew she was rolling her eyes.
“I don’t have the time nor the energy for guys, you know that,” I said as I saw the girl approaching with a woman who looked to be the older version of her, probably her mother. The little girl tried to place the doll on the counter, but her small arms prevented her from doing so, leaving her mother to take the box from her and place it on the counter. I smiled at the little girl before ringing up the item.
“Do you like my dolly?” The girl asked me.
I gave her another smile. “Your dolly is very pretty, just like you.”
“Mommy, did you hear that? The lady called me pretty.” The girl grinned at her mother who held out the money for me to take.
“Yes, honey, I heard her and she is absolutely right,” her mother replied. I handed her the change and placed the toy in a bag before handing it to her mother. “Have a nice day.” I told them as they exited the toy store.
“You have a way with kids. Forget boyfriend just get married straightaway,” Ellis uttered as soon as the door closed. She had been standing beside me when the lady and her daughter bought the doll.
“Don’t be silly. Marriage is not all that’s cracked up to be. It brings a lot of complications in one’s life.” I told her, as I looked around the store, making sure everything was in order. “Why don’t you go and fix the shelf from which they picked the doll,” I suggested.
“I don’t want to.” Ellis huffed, causing her blonde bangs to flutter on her forehead.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it’s no fun. I’m always fixing shelves. Let me handle the counter today, you go fix the shelf,” she replied, her blue eyes gleaming.
“You are so lazy.” I sighed before stepping out from behind the counter. “Fine, I’ll go and fix the shelf.”
“Yeah, you’ll probably have a panic attack if I fixed it the wrong way,” she responded. I turned to glare at her. Ellis threw me an apologetic glance. “Sorry, that’s not what I meant. I was kidding,” she apologized.
Shaking my head, I strode over to the shelf which was now minus a doll. Ellis had the tendency to be insensitive at times, or maybe she just forgot who she was speaking to. I liked to believe it was the latter because she had a habit of saying the wrong things to the wrong people.
Bending down, I begun assembling the shelf, trying not to let Ellis’ words get to me. But it was difficult, especially when I knew that they were true. I liked my life to be in order; being organized meant safety—monotony was safety. I knew what I had to do with the hours of my day, and that kept me safe and sane. And as long as I was safe, he couldn’t get to me. I was free from him.
Once the shelf was in order, I headed back to the counter. In a few hours I would have my lunch break, but I was already hungry. Maybe because of the two pieces of bread and a cup of tea, but I always had bread and tea for breakfast, and I never felt this hungry.
“You’re back!” Ellis exclaimed, grinning at me.
“I went to fix the shelf not to bake a cake,” I replied.
“I know, I know. By the way, I have a date with Ivan tonight. So you have to help me pick a dress. He is taking me to a fancy restaurant,” she informed me.
“Wow, do you have anything in mind?” I enquired.
“Not really. I have a total of five dresses, I can choose one, but you have to help me choose,” she stated.
I chuckled. “All right. When will he pick you up?”
“At seven.” Ellis paused. “Are you sure you’ll be alright by yourself?”
“Ellis, this is not the first time I’ve been by myself and it certainly won’t be the last. You have got to stop worrying about me. I’m a big girl,” I responded.
In reality, I hated the thought of staying alone in my flat. The constant fear of being caught made it impossible for me not to check the locks every five seconds. But I could not let Ellis know. Ivan was the best thing to happen to her in a long while, and I wanted her to be happy. Ellis happy made me happy.
“Are you sure? I can ask Ivan to have dinner at our place, we don’t have to go out,” she offered.
“Ellis, stop it. I will not let you ruin your date for me. I’ll be fine, don’t worry. You just worry about your dress for tonight’s date,” I said.
“Alright, if you say so.” She paused for a few seconds. “So I was thinking about wearing my green dress...” She trailed off as the door opened and in walked a man. Ellis’ eyes widened and her jaw went slack as she shamelessly eyed the man from head to toe. Giving her a quizzical look, I glanced at the man who just entered, and I could see why Ellis had lost it.
The man looked like he had just stepped out of the cover of a magazine. His curly, brown hair was styled to perfection, with each curl sitting in perfect place. And his warm, brown eyes glittered with kindness. He was easily six feet tall, maybe taller, and looked like he worked out a lot. I could see the muscles bulging beneath his shirt, and if I were any other normal girl, I would want to lick them; but as it was, I was not a normal woman, and having fantasies about hot men was not something I could afford.
Beside me, Ellis looked to have gotten herself under control. “Hello, welcome. How may I help you?”
“Well, it’s my nephew’s birthday and I want to buy the perfect toy for him,” the man replied, his voice deep and exotic, making me wish for things I never otherwise would.
“Of course, now tell me, is your nephew a boy or a girl?” Ellis asked.
I mentally slapped my forehead, so much for getting it under control. The woman had no idea what she was saying. When I looked at the man, I could see he was thinking the same thing. His eyes shimmered with amusement and it looked like he was trying really hard not to laugh.
Ellis realized what she said after a full minute. “I—I mean...what I meant to say was, what kind of a toy are you looking for?”
“Of course. Well I want to see your new toy collection. My nephew said something about a collection of Hot Wheels cars,” the man answered.
“Oh yes, their new collection just arrived.” She touched my arm. “Why don’t you go and show our customer the new collection,” Ellis said, nudging my shoulder, forcing me to go with the man.
“Sure.” I glared at her. She knew how I felt with strange men and still she forced me to go with him. “Follow me,” I said softly before walking towards the aisle that was dedicated to cars. “Here is the new collection. You can pick the ones you like.” I pointed at the boxes of cars before stepping to the side and allowing the handsome man to have a look.
“Thank you,” he said. Wow, he was such a gentleman.
Was he married?
I immediately crushed the thought as soon as it had come. Marriage was not in my cards. And he was a strange man. People were dangerous. No matter how nice they tried to be, they were monsters in reality.
“You can call me if you need any help, I’ll just be over there.” I turned to leave but his voice stopped me.
“Actually, I need you to help me decide. There are five types of cars here, I need to pick two,” he said.
“Uh, well, you can take this one.” I pointed at a set of five cars, not really caring about the color or style. “Or you can choose this one.” I pointed at the second set. “You can decide from these two.” I pointed at the third and fourth set. “Or you can take this.” I pointed at the fifth set.
The man chuckled beside me. “You’re not very good at suggesting, are you?”
My cheeks burned with shame and embarrassment. I just wanted to get away from this man, but he was making it awfully hard for me to escape. I didn’t know why my heart was pounding in his presence. I mean, it was normal for my heart to pound in the presence of strange men, but right now, my heart wasn’t drumming with fear, it was thumping with a foreign emotion.
“I’m sorry. I can call Ellis, she is better at suggesting,” I said, attempting to escape once again only to fail when he called me back.
“You don’t have to call her. I’m sure you can manage without her,” he stated.
“Uh well, she is better at suggesting,” I replied.
“How long have you been working here? This is the first time I’m seeing you here,” the man said.
“Do you come here often?” Bloody hell, what was I doing? I shouldn’t be making conversation with this man, but it was like my mouth had no control.
“I’ve spoiled my sister’s kids and now I have to pay the price. So yes, I do come here often. Now you have to answer my question. How long have you been working here?” He questioned.
“Last time I checked, you’re a stranger, and I’m not obligated to answer any of your questions.” I bit my lip as regret washed over me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound rude.”
“No, you’re cautious, that’s a good thing. How about we change that; I’m Kieran, Kieran Maslow,” he responded.
“I don’t remember asking your name.” Curse my existence! What was wrong with me? This was no time for my defence mechanism to be kicking in. If I was rude to a customer, I could get fired; and that was something I didn’t want.
“Are you always this rude to customers or am I someone special?” He sounded amused, but I could hear the hard edge his voice had taken.
“You’re not special, you never will be,” I blurted out before biting my lip as hard as I could. I was so going to lose my job.
The man, Kieran, didn’t say anything for a while. We both stood there in the cars aisle in silence. If leaving a customer wasn’t considered rude, I would’ve left him a long time ago, but no, I had to abide by the rules.
“We’ll see,” Kieran finally said, before he grabbed two boxes of Hot Wheels cars. I frowned in puzzlement. What was he talking about?
“Wrap these up for me,” he ordered, placing the boxes in my arms a little too roughly.
“You can choose the wrapping paper, and I’ll wrap them up.” I told him before heading over to the checkout counter, leaving Kieran to look for the wrapping paper.
“Ring these up.” I told Ellis, throwing her another glare.
“What’s got your panties in a twist?” She asked before ringing up the items.
“Don’t act like you don’t know,” I seethed.
“What? The man is delicious and you can use a delicious man in your life, Jen,” Ellis replied.
“No and you know why,” I hissed then composed myself as I saw Kieran approaching with a sheet of wrapping paper.
“Here.” He handed me the sheet without sparing me a glance. I took it without saying anything and quickly begun wrapping up the boxes. I could tell Kieran was trying to act all relaxed but he was simmering underneath. If I wasn’t so rude to him, he wouldn’t be so angry right now. But I couldn’t stop myself. Everytime a man tried to make conversation with me, my inner bitch would come out to play. I’ve pushed away about seven men; which was good because I could not do commitment.
“All done.” I pushed the wrapped boxes towards Ellis who put them in the bag and handed it to Kieran, who took the bag without a word.
“Thanks for wrapping the boxes, Jen,” Ellis said with a smile.
“Is that her name?” Kieran asked Ellis.
“Her name’s Jenny, I just call her Jen. Why do you ask?” Ellis answered. Now who was being rude? He was asking her instead of me when I was standing right there.
You probably would’ve said something rude to him.
“No reasons, I just like knowing about the employees who work here,” Kieran answered, before throwing me a sharp glare. Boy, he was really mad.
“Why?” Ellis enquired.
“It’s nice to have knowledge, don’t you think so?” Kieran responded. In that moment, he couldn’t have looked scarier if he tried. From a laid back guy, Kieran went to look like someone who owned the world and wielded power with ease. And I knew he was going to get me fired.
“Knowledge is nice,” Ellis agreed.
“Knowledge is not just nice.” Kieran bent a little, his face moving closer to Ellis, as if getting ready to tell her a secret. “Knowledge is power,” he said before throwing me another menacing glare and striding out of the shop.
“What did you say to him?” Ellis asked as soon as Kieran left.
I shrugged. “What makes you think I said something to him?”
“The guy came in looking all happy and sexy and he leaves all brooding and sexy. Now, you were the only one who was with him, and given your track record of pushing men away even before you can get their names tells me all I need to know. I know you said something. So spill, what did you do?” Ellis responded.
I sighed. “I might’ve been rude to him...” I trailed off.
“Jenny!” Ellis admonished. “One day this is going to get you killed.”
“Don’t start,” I warned her.
“I’m just saying. You can’t keep this up. And he is angry,” she stated.
“Whatever, he’ll get over it,” I mumbled.
“Uh no, he won’t. Did you not see the look he gave you before he walked out?” She eyed me like I was crazy and oblivious.
“Yeah, I saw. He wanted to kill me,” I answered.
“Uh no. He walked out with a purpose,” Ellis stated.
“So?” Where was she going with this?
“So, it means he is going to come back...”