Chapter One: The Woman
Michael Devont was loitering. There was a certain bakery on 5th street that he was always drawn to. Maybe it was the smell of fresh bread and coffee that enticed his usually empty stomach. He was as poor as one could get without being homeless. As it was, he lived in the garage of an elderly woman who “wouldn’t have no homeless people on her block, no sir,” and while he could occasionally skimp a meal from her, she told him he was mostly on his own as far as living necessities. Her meals were also usually mashed and full of pill powder, as she wore dentures and hated swallowing pills.
So the smells coming from that bakery were like a taunt to him. It smelled like heaven, but he usually didn’t have enough cash to buy anything. He wanted it but couldn’t have it… almost like a certain other thing about the bakery that was a powerful draw on him.
That thing was a woman. The owner.
Peerlessly beautiful. Rich. But with a personality like an untouchable princess high up in a tower. Remote, cold, elegant…
But Michael knew she was warm inside.
He knew because she had done him a kindness that he wasn’t sure he could ever repay.
Because Michael had the habit of loitering around the bakery, of course the woman noticed. She could probably also tell from his ratty clothes, unshaved stubble, and generally dirty appearance that he wasn’t well-off. One night, as she was about to close up, she stopped before closing the blinds on the large windows facing the street. Michael had gotten a little dizzy a few minutes before and sat with his back against the wall, trying to make the world stop spinning. Then he heard the sound of the bell on the door, registered what time it was, and cursed silently as he tried to run away before the woman could see him.
“Wait,” she had said quietly. There was no urgency, no fluctuations in pitch, but Michael still felt rooted in place immediately, as if taking another step would get him beheaded. Such was her charisma that it felt like she could even order a king around and not be questioned.
Michael waited. He turned around slowly, too afraid to look her in the eye. “Y-yes?”
The woman held out a brown paper bag. “Leftovers. You want them?”
Michael wanted them. He took the bag with shaking fingers, feeling the weight of her gaze on him like a tiger with its mouth around his head. He still wasn’t sure what her eyes were like. He was too scared to look closely, but he knew that looking into them must be like looking out at space, or viewing a battlefield from above. Immense. Endless. Full of an energy that made you acutely aware of how small you were. How insignificant.
“Thank you,” he said, voice so small he was surprised he had even opened his mouth. The woman might have nodded, but he didn’t dare to look. He made to leave once again.
The woman stopped him again. “Wait.”
“You’re here a lot.” There was nothing accusatory in her voice, but Michael still cringed.
“Yeah… about that…”
The woman didn’t register his embarrassment, putting her hands in her pockets. Michael just then noticed how cold it was. How could he have the balls to make her stand out in the cold this long? He would have preferred that she just called the police on him.
“From now on, come inside. It’s getting colder,” she said tonelessly.
“Okay – huh? Wait, I…what?” Michael was flabbergasted, so much so that he finally looked up and met her eyes.
He was killed in action.
They were everything he thought they would be and more. A deep green like leaves in sunlight, delicately curved and outlined with thick black lashes. They both made Michael feel like getting on his knees and bowing and also filled him with a strange warmth – a feeling of protection. It was so conflicting that Michael became dizzier still and, not wanting to collapse and embarrass himself any more, said “Okay,” and left hurriedly, feeling like every part of his body was on fire.
A fire that he mistook as desire. It wasn’t desire, some small part of him knew that. It was her overwhelming charisma messing with his mind, but he thought that no other woman had made him feel that way, so of course, it must be that he was attracted to her. The sweet bread in the brown bag even seemed to linger on his tongue, reminding him of her for hours afterward.
That had happened three days ago. The day after, he remained holed up in the garage, too ashamed to show his face at the bakery after being discovered. The second day, he walked around the city until his legs couldn’t take it, stubbornly avoiding the bakery. The third day, he finally gave in to his impulses, and went back, but now he was back to his old habits, sticking outside the building like old gum on the bottom of a shoe. She had even said “Come inside” so generously, but he couldn’t seem to make himself do it. What if she had changed her mind? And even though Michael wasn’t technically homeless, he sure as hell looked it. Wouldn’t letting him inside ruin her bakery’s reputation? No one wanted eat alongside someone so clearly destitute.
So Michael, unable to leave, unable to stay, leaned against the brick wall, letting his breath coalesce in the air in front of him. What was wrong with him? Hanging around a woman like that, a woman he knew he could never have in a million years.
So what was possessing him to stay? Was he really so enthroned in misery that he couldn’t help but cause himself more of it?
As he was thinking these things, the door opened, accompanied by the cheerful little bell. Michael didn’t bother to look, assuming it was just a patron.
Two feet clad in shiny, expensive looking black boots stopped a foot in front of his own. Michael looked up and was so startled, he accidentally slammed his head back into the wall.
It was her. She hadn’t put on her coat before coming outside, but she didn’t shiver even slightly in the autumn chill. She tilted her head at him in question.
“Didn’t you hear me last time?”
“Uhh…. Yes, but I…” Michael didn’t know why he couldn’t seem to form full sentences around this woman. It was like his tongue was shy, sticking in one place.
“…I really shouldn’t. Thank you, though.” There. That had been cohesive and understandable. He was making progress.
There wasn’t the slightest shift in the woman’s expression, but the aura around her chilled by a few degrees. Michael shivered hard, suddenly feeling like he was about to be stabbed.
“Go in,” she said. Michael’s mouth opened, but he couldn’t say a word. Her tone was assured, as if there was absolutely no chance that Michael could even consider refusing her.
He went in. The woman pointed to a table by the counter. Michael sat.
After helping a few customers, the woman even openly brought him a coffee and a platter of fresh cinnamon bread.
Michael felt, deep in his bones, a sense of impending doom. It thrummed in his veins. It wasn’t that he thought he was in danger with the woman per se….
But that he felt like he was intruding on someone else’s territory.
Merci pour la lecture!