Hoisting his pack higher onto his shoulders, Kremly shielded his eyes from the glare of the dropping sun and sighed deeply. His feet hurt, his fifty-two year old knees ached, and the backpack made him tighten his neck and stretch forward like a turtle. Leaning against a parking meter he crossed his arms over his chest and mentally sorted through the cash and loose change in his pockets. His mind drew a clear picture of the total, some of it tucked into his dirty jeans and socks, the rest scattered through multiple locations inside his faded, blue jacket. Nodding thoughtfully, he surveyed the length of the sidewalk, gauging the dwindling, evening pedestrians.
A gray, Honda Civic lurched to a halt beside the empty parking spot associated with his meter. The driver, a thirty-something woman with a brown ponytail and a bright yellow tee shirt, began the painful process of sidling into the slot. Turning around to watch, he openly judged the woman’s efforts. Having never driven a day in his life, he had no clue about the finer points of parallel parking, however, he didn’t let that stop him from raising his eyebrows in question as the lady cranked her wheel and jammed her back tires roughly against the curb. Seeing the way she tightened her mouth and didn’t look at him, he began motioning her forward with one hand, displaying the manly patience he knew would make her stomach begin to eat its own lining. After a minute, she gave up and allowed him to wave her forward and back, guiding her small car perfectly into the spot.
“Thank you for the help.” Shoving the door shut behind her she stepped hastily toward the meter.
“Oh, no problem. Being in the right place at the right time is kind of a skill of mine.” He smiled again, open to praise, while watching her make a production out of locking the Honda until it beeped. She was a bare inch taller than him.
“Yeah, thanks again.” Digging inside her stylish, brown handbag she pulled out her smartphone and started thumbing the screen. “Thank goodness there’s an app for these meters now. Who has time for this anymore?”
“I can surely appreciate that.” He smoothed his voice into an amber stream. “I work in sales and it seems like I’m always running out of time.” He had moved away from the meter to help her park and now stood just behind it. “Do you know about sales?” He kept his voice casual, but what came next was never a surprise.
Shoving her phone back into her bag, she looked up and gave him a tense smile.
“Yeah, look, I need to get moving. I’m a little late for a meeting and don’t want to get in trouble with my boss. I’m sure you understand.” Her eyes flicked nervously toward the building behind him, then skittered quickly away.
What she wasn’t looking at was a restaurant, a rather pricey one where the waiters brought skewers of dripping, sizzling meat right to your table and sliced it directly onto your plate. He had never eaten there. He watched her walking her eyes carefully over the other buildings, doing what he thought of as a Killdeer Tactic. Killdeers were ground nesting birds who would fake an injury, dragging one wing along the ground and running in the opposite direction of its nest.
“You get good mileage with that hybrid? What’s it get? Thirty some miles to the gallon?” He stared interestedly at the Honda, letting his eyes stroll over it. “Seems like a lot of people are getting hybrids these days. Save the planet and all that.” Leaning slightly to one side he looked at her tires. The little spines left over from being poured still stuck out on the front ones, indicating they were fairly new.
Surprise at being openly ignored froze her expression, and for a few seconds she didn’t respond. He waited her out, knowing she wasn’t the type to just walk away.
“It gets around thirty-six in the city.” Her voice was flat and uninspired.
“Yeah, I thought so.” He pointed at the bus stop sign. “I don’t drive. I need to get home to my family. Do you think you can spare five dollars?”
Taking a slow breath she stared him down, her expression hardening. The urge to be polite was a strong and crippling one. Polite people were his bread and butter, particularly the women. He knew she had been expecting this, but clearly wasn’t sure how to escape.
“Anything really.” He generously expanded the offer. “I just need to get home.”
Twitching slightly, as if to reach into her purse, the woman started to deflate. The look in her eyes changed from hard to resigned.
“Five is about all I’ve got.”
“I sure appreciate it, Miss.” Kremly stepped closer.
“You know what? I think I’ll just go.” She backed away from him, her eyes turning cold. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.” Turning on her heel she walked directly toward the restaurant and went through the door. The smell of perfectly cooked meat sailed out behind her.
Watching her go, Kremly silently cursed himself. The sale had been made, damnit. He knew better than to push the space issue, especially with women. Let them come to him. Never the other way around. Still…
Looking thoughtfully at the restaurant he again counted the money in his hiding places. A good meal was always a beautiful experience, especially if you had someone to share it with.
Pushing his sore feet and knees into motion, he resettled the backpack and followed her through the door.