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Sunday, July 4, 2021

An Old Friend: A Short Story

    The Metra train was running behind schedule for the third time in four days this particular week, and Grant couldn’t afford to be late again. He had just gotten a new job as a junior accountant at a mid-sized company in the North Loop area of downtown Chicago after being out of work for almost three years. There had been electrical problems on the track all week long, so he tried leaving the house a little earlier so that he wouldn’t have any problems getting to work on time.

    He looked at his phone the read 7:43 a.m., and he had to be at work before nine o’clock. The train was scheduled to be at the 147th Street stop a few minutes ago, so he waited patiently as he could see the lights of the train about a mile away at the Harvey stop. The train finally arrived four minutes later running approximately ten minutes behind schedule, and he got on the car that was the second one from the end of the train and found an available seat in the middle of the car to the rear of the vestibule. He then logged into his Spotify account and picked his favorite morning playlist to listen to before putting on his headphones. It was then that he noticed a woman sitting in the first seat to the left facing the back of the car instead of the front like all the other seats. He saw that she was looking at him curiously but looked away when he made eye contact with her. He realized that she was Marcia Allen from college at that very moment—they attended Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois in the early nineties together, but he hadn’t seen her since he dropped out of school. They were now in their late 40s, but Marcia didn’t look a day over thirty. Grant kept himself in good shape, but the gray in his hair and beard didn’t allow him to pass for a millennial even though he had a youthful looking face.

    Grant met Marcia freshman year through a guy named Frank who he met at the campus gym while playing basketball almost every night. Frank was an upperclassman who had a copy of the 1984 classic The Terminator in his possession and decided to throw an impromptu get together in his dorm room that night. Needless to say, Grant was smitten by her since their first encounter, but unfortunately, she didn’t feel the same way about him. It had also turned out that Frank was entranced by her beauty as well but couldn’t get past first base with her, either.

    Grant had even tried to win Marcia over with the kind gesture of buying her a Polo-like shirt from the mall, and his friends had clowned him repeatedly for it. She did, however, show interest in Grant’s roommate and friend, Romero, and he had asked Grant’s permission to date Marcia because he knew that Grant had a crush on her. Grant, of course, said that it was okay because he didn’t have any claim on her, but he wasn’t completely honest because it created an awkward situation in their dorm room when Romero brought her by one Saturday afternoon.

    Romero was a ladies’ man around campus, and his stint with Marcia was short-lived before he was on to the next girl. He said that they didn’t sleep together—something about she didn’t want to go through with it and didn’t give him an explanation why. Marcia had that girl-next-door quality about her and commanded a great deal of respect, so Romero backed off and didn’t pursue her any further after their encounter in her dorm room.

    Grant didn’t finish at Bradley and left after his sophomore year, but he’d have two random encounters with Marcia in the years to follow. One encounter he had with her was at a movie theater at the River Oaks Mall in Calumet City, Illinois—Marcia’s date or her boyfriend at the time had a look on his face like he wanted to punch Grant in the face after he said hello to her, and she reluctantly said hello back to him. Grant made a mental note of that exchange and had finally gotten over his crush on her after that night. He would see her again a couple of years later at the All Jokes Aside comedy club that was popular during the greater part of the nineties with a group of her girlfriends while he was on a date with one of his coworkers. The line was wrapped around the corner, and the only way someone was going to get in that particular night was to pre-order his or her tickets in advance. Grant had done just that, but Marcia and her friends had left the club because they failed to do so. Grant hadn’t spoken to her and neither did she, and that was the last time he saw her until today.

    He had decided to shut his eyes and listen to the sound of eighties R&B classics to put himself in a calm mood, and he didn’t open them until the train arrived at the Van Buren stop downtown. Marcia had gotten up from her seat and glanced back at Grant one last time before she exited the train. The last stop of the train was Millennium Station, and he was one of the first people to get up because he only had a few minutes to get some more coffee at Starbucks before heading to work. He saw that Marcia had mistakenly left her small purse on the seat, so he grabbed it and placed it in his backpack before he exited the train. He then went to Starbucks and ordered himself a coffee to go and opted to wait until he got to the office to look inside of her purse. He arrived at work at 8:45 a.m. and had plenty of time to examine the contents inside of it. His plan was to look for an ID with her address on it and mail the purse to her anonymously because he had no desire to see her face to face. What he found was a driver’s license, a debit card, lip gloss, some juicy fruit gum, and $254 in cash to name a few items. Damn, I’m going to have to return her purse myself, he thought.

    Fast forward toward the end of the day at four minutes after six in the evening, and Grant got off at the Sibley/147th Street Metra Station stop and retrieved his car—a silver 2017 Nissan Maxima. Marcia lived in the suburb of South Holland, which was a few minutes away from the Metra station. He decided to get something to eat at Burger King first so that she could have some time to wind down from a hard day of work and swing by afterwards. Hopefully, the entire meeting would take a minute tops, he thought. There was a Burger King in the strip mall in between Greenwood and Woodlawn Avenue on Sibley Boulevard, so he ordered a Whopper with fries and a Coke and sat in the parking lot to eat. Once he finished his food, he headed over to Marcia’s residence near 170th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

    He parked right in front of her house as her block was a cul-de-sac, and he took a deep breath before he walked up to her porch and rang her doorbell.

    “What if she’s married?” he asked himself.

    He didn’t want any potential problems like the guy at the show, so he was prepared for whatever was behind that door. Marcia answered the door a few seconds later and seemed to be pleasantly surprised when she saw that it was Grant behind the screen door.

    “Hello, what can I do for you?” Marcia asked.

    “Hi, Marcia, I found your purse on the train this morning and wanted to return it to you,” Grant answered.

     “Oh my God! Thank you so much! I was just about to cancel all of my credit cards.”

    “You’re welcome, and I’m happy that I was able to save you the trouble of doing that.”

    “I just knew that I’d have to go through the hassle of proving who I am to the DMV, so that I could get another driver’s license.”

    “Yeah, that would’ve definitely been a lot of trouble to go through for sure. Well, take care of yourself…”

Pretty Woman 

    “Wait…”

    “What is it?”

    “Isn’t your name Grant Ottoman?”

    “Yes, it is. I didn’t think you remembered me.”

    “I remember that we went to Bradley University at the same time. Do you want to come inside?”

    “Okay.”

    He had a seat on her living room sofa and said, “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

    “No, of course not,” she said. “I was going to get myself something to eat in a few minutes.”

    “Oh, okay.”

    “Can I offer you something to drink?”

    “No, thank you, I’m good.”

    “How have you been?”

    “I’ve been good. And you?”

    “Me too…I just retired from Chicago Public Schools last week.”

    “How long were you there?”

    “I taught math to seventh and eighth graders for twenty-five years.”

    “That’s great. So, what are your plans now that you’re retired?”

    “I don’t know…maybe travel and see the world, I guess.”

    “Sounds like a plan.”

    “What do you do for a living, Grant?”

    “I was in construction for twenty years before I got injured on the job and won a settlement. Afterwards, I took that opportunity to go back to school at DePaul and get my degree in accounting.”

    “Good for you, Grant. What do you do now?”

    “I just started working at this firm downtown last month.”

    “What do you do at this firm downtown?”

    “I’m an accountant.”

    “That’s wonderful, Grant.”

    “Thank you.”

    Marcia paused briefly and asked, “Are you married?”

    “No,” Grant answered, “well, not anymore. I was married for ten years and have been divorced for five.”

    “Any kids?”

    “No, my ex couldn’t have kids. And you?”

    “No, I don’t have any kids, either.”

    “Married?”

    “Almost…engaged once, but I couldn’t go through with it.”

    “I understand…marriage isn’t for everyone.”

    “Yeah, I had a gut feeling that it would’ve been the biggest mistake of my life.”

    Grant sighed and said, “You know, I was very apprehensive about coming over here.”

    “Why?”

    “Because you didn’t like me back then. If it weren’t for the fact that you had cash in your purse, I would’ve just mailed it to you.”

    “Why do you think that I don’t like you, Grant?”

    “I hijacked your phone number from Edmund right before spring break sophomore year. I don’t blame you though…it was a stupid thing to do, and he was wrong to give it to me.”

    “Yeah, you’re right, I don’t remember giving you my home number now that I think about it.”

    “I knew you liked my roommate Rom instead of me,” Grant continued, “and because of that fact, I didn’t have the confidence to ask you for your number myself. It finally sunk in my brain that I wasn’t your type after you flaked on our date a couple of years after I left Bradley, and I sensed that you thought I was a lame the time you reluctantly said hi to me when I saw you at the show with your boyfriend.”

    “Wow, you have a great memory because I haven’t thought about any of that stuff in years.”

    “I haven’t thought about any of that stuff in years, either, but seeing you on the train this morning brought back all those memories.”

    The was momentary silence before Grant said, “Well, I’m going to leave now. Take care of yourself, Marcia.”

    “You too, Grant.”

    She walked him to the door and said, “Thanks again, Grant, and for what it’s worth, I always thought you were a nice guy.”

    “Thank you, Marcia. I always thought that you were a nice girl as well. Bye.”

    “Bye, Grant.”

    He nodded, and he turned around and walked back to his car. He looked up before opening the drivers side door and saw that she was still in the doorway, and he waved at her before she waved back. He then started his car and slowly drove off as she watched his car eventually disappear in the distance. Next

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