Friday, February 13, 2015

SHORT STORY: 'Tiny Footsteps' by Matthew S. Field (Free Preview)

Chance switched back to decaf. He believed he slept better when he avoided caffeine, even if he only had it in the morning. He just ordered a black decaf grande from the barista who was a miniature facsimile of Fernando Valenzuela: round, chubby face, buggy eyes, pot belly, and smallish breasts. The spit and image.
Folding his change from the twenty into his clip, Chance considered the value of designer coffee from which he wasn’t even getting a bump. Old habits aren’t easy to break. He was still looking down when her shoes walked into his view.
            Nike. Bright white as if they’d never been worn on the street and an equally bright pink “swoosh.” Each shoe had two laces woven through each of the eyes. One lace was pink to match the “swoosh” and the neon soles. The other was pastel purple with a dark pink linear design woven in. The tongue was puffy under the laces, which were clearly more decorative than practical. The unusually tiny foot cover seemed out of place.
Where wouldn’t they?” Chance thought.
            Chance returned the clip to his pocket and slowly lifted his glance. It occurred to him the shoes looked unusual, other than the obvious reasons, because their owner also wore blue hospital scrubs over a pleasingly feminine figure. When his eyes reached what was above the neck, though, Chance experienced something else altogether.
            In all of his 32-years on the planet, Chance could count on both hands the women he’d met who he found profoundly attractive. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have chased and even caught a few pretty faces for company or for fun, but a very few created magic. Those few were like unicorns and here, right next to him, was one. He didn’t know if these creatures had the same affect on all people or whether they were person-specific.
            It was her expression as much as it was her features that made her exceptional. Usually, both were necessary. Under her long, auburn work-worn hair and past the freckled, alabaster skin were large, round, green eyes, windows to the soul. When she looked up, Chance could see her soul was beautiful and pure and sad.
            Fernando’s doppelganger placed Chance’s coffee on the counter. He grabbed it and walked out to his car. He placed the coffee on the roof of his company sedan and stood for a moment. Chance must have remained by the driver’s side door longer than a few seconds because the unicorn came out with her coffee. As she approached, she looked peculiarly at Chance. As she reached out to open the door of her red Jeep Wrangler, she asked, “You okay?”
            Chance didn’t respond.
            “Hey. Are you all right?” she repeated.
            “Um, yeah.  I’m fine,” Chance finally managed.
            The woman wrinkled her eyebrows a little as she switched her coffee hand. She stepped on the running board, flipped her right leg and then pulled her left onto the seat. “Good.”
            Unseasonably warm, it was late fall. The Wrangler’s convertible top was up. The woman rolled the window down before she turned the key in the ignition.
            “Excuse me,” Chance snapped out of it.
            “Uh huh,” said the woman.
            Chance took a deep breath and sighed.  “My name’s Chance and, well, I never do this. I really don’t. I know this’ll sound really stupid and that’s okay. This is not really a pick-up or anything, but when I saw you inside, well, I saw something in your eyes. I’m not going tell you that you’re beautiful because you probably already know that. Besides, physical beauty fades. But, I saw something in your eyes. It was something very honest. Very real. Very sad.”
            She blushed.
            “What the fuck, Chance,” he thought. “What was that?”
Never in his life had Chance experienced a more pregnant pause. Then, her face softened and she allowed herself a little smile.
            Chance continued, “Look, this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me everyday.  It’s sort of a special thing and I had that thing when I saw you inside.  Like I said, this is really stupid, but I just needed to tell you.  If I didn’t, I know I’d feel like a worm and I’d regret it.”
            Chance hadn’t noticed that the woman had not taken a breath since he’d started to talk. Suddenly, she caught a breath and swallowed.
            “Chance, I…I’ve had a really bad day. I’ve had a really bad year, but I guess I really don’t want to talk about that.” She stopped again for a breath.
Chance stood next to his car. Neither he nor his coffee had moved.
Regaining composure, she started again, “I’m driving to my weekend house and I really do not want to be alone right now.  Would you follow me there?  My name’s Hannah.”
            “Holy shit,” Chance almost said out loud.

There wasn’t a day Chance regretted his decision to hire Don. The company was partitioned into a dozen operational and sales areas. Each area had a vice-president and each vice-president had a coordinator. Every vice-president, as it happened was a man. With the exception of Don, every coordinator was a woman.
            The other vice-presidents, Chance believed, ran their areas like they were fiefdoms. Women coordinators, many of whom had been hired more for their assets than their business acumen, seemed to be veeps’ paid admirers who were ready to fluff egos and, sometimes probably, other things, too. Chance zagged while everyone else zigged and that, he believed, was the reason he was the company’s youngest vice-president and on the fast track to the executive offices.
            Don could handle the office and the staff. Having dealt with both the employees and customers at the shopping mall retail stores Don managed before he joined Chance was invaluable experience. He was a grown-up Dungeons & Dragons and Star Trek computer nerd and a whiz with Excel. More importantly, Chance understood, an unhappy customer who found the phone number to the area office did not want to speak to a woman. Whether the customer was a woman or a man, the customer wanted to speak with someone in charge. In the customer’s subconscious, more often than not, the person in charge needed to be a man. Don was almost always able to listen, address, and completely resolve customer complaints without ever involving his boss.
            Don provided unintended and unanticipated benefits, too. Because Don was a man, he tended not to menstruate. He rarely missed a day of work. On those days a female coordinator would have come to the office bitchy, Don came to work as, well, Don. More importantly, Chance had developed with Don an unwritten code. There’d been days when Chance needed to get away for an afternoon or a day to play golf or catch a Yankees’ game at the Stadium or go out on the Hudson when the stripers were running. On those days, Chance simply told Don that he’d be making inspections of customer locations and would be unavailable. Don never questioned or complained. He simply said, “Have a great time, Chance. I’ve got it covered.”
Don was very well paid.

“I’ve got it covered,” Don said before he hung up.
Chance pressed the “End” button on his phone, dropped it in the center console compartment from which he grabbed a Pepcid, sipped the decaf, and struggled to keep up with the Jeep as its driver navigated the narrow, winding two-lane Hudson Valley highway. Twice, when they were still in the civilized part of the state, Chance had to blow red lights. After a hair-pin turn, Chance thought he’d lost her. He caught a glimpse of tail lights on an unpaved fork in the road. His conservative sedan skidded and spat gravel when he turned a little too sharply. After a twenty-five minute chase, Chance turned off the engine as Hannah grabbed her purse and bag from the passenger seat and stepped down. She waited for Chance to close the car door before she said without ceremony, “Come on in.”
Chance followed Hannah up the stairs to the porch. The house was one of the larger versions of a log cabin kit home. It was clear the builder had spared none of the options. The house sat squarely in the middle of the lake front lot. The property was bigger than most of the other lots Chance had seen on the drive around the lake. Other than the landscaped shrubs and flowers and the few decorative pear trees and cherries that dotted the yard, the space was open and nicely manicured. Separating the lots on either side were fichus that probably provided complete privacy from the neighbors when in bloom during the vacation season.
Once inside, Hannah dropped her purse on a sideboard and walked across the wide-plank hardwood floors through the open and connected family room, living room, and kitchen. “Follow me.”
Chance obeyed. As he walked, he looked up at the vaulted ceiling and the exposed wood beams in the big open space. The wall behind the kitchen was a giant glass window that afforded a beautiful view of the lake. All the furnishings were new, well-kept, and expensive, “Nice place.”
Hanna walked through an open door into the master bedroom and dropped her bag at the foot of the king-size brass bed. She turned without a hint of misgiving and put her arms around Chance. She kissed him a passionately tender kiss, stopped, and then stepped back. In one fluid motion, Hannah pulled the blouse over her head and unclasped her bra from between the cups. The scrubs had hardly suggested the perfect and pert breasts beneath. Hannah moved into him, wrapped her arms around his neck, looked up, and kissed him again. In her eyes, Chance sensed the same sadness he saw outside the coffee shop.

“You want something to eat?” Hannah asked opening one eye. A high afternoon sun replaced the anticipation of morning. Hannah moved to disentangle from the sheets and from the man in her bed.
            Chance didn’t want to move. He couldn’t quite get his head around it; the things he and Hannah shared were so natural, so comfortable, and so intimate. It was sex, only more animal, less evolved. Somehow, though, Chance sensed she was the part of him he hadn’t even known he’d lost.
            Hannah lowered her feet down to the floor and turned. She didn’t seem interested in her clothes hanging over the foot bars.
Chance rolled his body over and rested his head on a rolled-up pillow. He recalled the story of the blind men and the elephant; Chance became now the man with perspective after having been successively each of the blind men. He could finally see what he previously only touched: firm, petite, perfectly feminine. Her topside assets perfectly balanced her bottom line, which was cute and round and not at all garishly proportioned. The color of her groomed pubis was deeper than that of her hair, but obviously didn’t have the benefit of sun bleaching. She was cozy, generous, and beautiful by any standard, but the dichotomy of the pretty face and perfect body contrasted by the vulnerability in her eyes betrayed as Hannah irresistible. Just the space she occupied simultaneously suggested, “Ravage me.  Protect me.” Who could resist?
            “Hey.  Snap out of it,” Hannah said as she stood at the side of the bed without a trace of self-consciousness.  “Do you want something to eat?”
            Chance took the cue and sat up. He may have to get out of bed after all. “No, I don’t think so,” he answered.
He watched Hannah as she walked around the bed past her dressing table into to the bathroom. In front of the dressing table, talcum powder had dusted the hardwood planks. As she came around, her tiny footsteps left a trail of perfect, tiny question marks across the floor. Rather than a single dot at the bottom of each print, however, five perfect, little, pearl shaped toe mark dots arranged around the arc.
Reemerging, “Works for me,” she smiled and slid back into bed next to him.

            “I want to see you again,” Hannah announced as she walked with Chance to the front door.
            Chance responded, “I’d like to see you again, too.”
            “I don’t want anything more,” Hannah clarified. “I just want to see you again, like today.”
            Neither Chance nor Hannah had spoken much and Chance didn’t have context. As he slid his arms into the sleeves of his jacket and walked past the sideboard where Hannah had earlier set her purse, Hannah’s motivation slowly began to dawn on him.
            Chance hadn’t noticed the framed photographs on the cabinet and on the foyer wall earlier. Not surprisingly, there were other things on Chance’s mind when he’d followed Hannah to her bedroom. Now, however, in the penetrating afternoon light that poured through the room’s ample windows, he gained a little insight.
            Chance recognized in many of the pictures Kelly Hill, the New York Yankees’ center fielder and the American League Rookie of the Year two years earlier. Kelly’d just reported spring training that year for his sophomore season. As it happened, Kelly had an undiagnosed heart condition. During a Grapefruit League game, he suffered a heart attack and died on the field.
In a larger framed photo that hung on the wall behind the sideboard hung Kelly’s wedding picture. The woman wearing white and standing next to Kelly was Hannah. At that moment, it didn’t seem the least bit ironic that many of Chance’s friends, coworkers, and acquaintances had told him that he looked a lot like Kelly Hill.
            “Okay,” Chance said and wrote down his phone number on a piece of mail on the sideboard.

            After Chance started the car and began to drive down the gravel driveway, he opened the console where he’d left his phone. He was a little concerned when he saw eleven missed calls and nearly as many voicemails. The most recent had been from Don. He pressed the speed dial number for his office. It rang once before Don answered.
            “I’ve been trying like crazy to get ahold of you,” Don said, stating what he must have known was already quite clear to Chance.
            “Apparently,” Chance replied. “What going on, Don? Is everything all right?”
            “Well, yeah, everything’s fine here,” Don began. “Tiphanie has been calling me all afternoon. She’s been trying to call you.”
            “Chance took another Pepcid, washed it down with cold coffee, and said, finally, “Go on.”
            “Well, I told her you’d been having trouble with your phone.”
            Chance replied impatiently, “No, Don. I mean, okay, I appreciate you covering, but what did Tiphanie want?”

            “Oh, sorry. Actually, she told me not to say anything, but, well, Tiph’s pregnant. Your wife is pregnant, Chance,” he added for emphasis.

Find out what happens to Chance, Hannah, and Tiphanie by ordering Tiny Footsteps on your Kindle or using the Kindle app on your iPhone or other device!

Click here: Tiny Footsteps: A Short Story