The door to McGinty's swung slowly open as a weary Gary Hobson trudged into the bar. He was covered in mud from head to toe, his hair matted and sticking out at odd angles and clothing caked and clinging to his frame.
"Hey, Mr. Hobson, what happened to you?" asked a smiling but concerned Patrick Quinn, the young bartender. "You look like you got rolled in the mud - a lot!"
"Well, Patrick, what would make you think that?" answered Gary sarcastically as he crossed the bar area and was about to enter the office.
"Well, you know, the mud is like everywhere on you and …"
Gary froze him with a stare before Patrick could say anything else. He was too tired, too dirty and too hungry to deal with Patrick's statement of the obvious. Turning, he entered the office without saying anything else to Patrick and saw Marissa Clark sitting at her desk.
"You know, Gary, you really should be more tolerant of Patrick. He is only worried about you and yet you treat him so badly. He idolizes you." She had overheard the exchange between the two men. Her sensitive hearing had detected the annoyance in Gary's voice.
"Oh, I know, I just find it hard to deal with him at times," he said as he rubbed at his face, trying to wipe the dried mud off his eyebrows, giving new meaning to his self-described mud-puddle green eyes. He went into the kitchen and returned with a glass of milk and a sandwich, which he attacked hungrily. He was about to sit when he looked down at his damp, dirty clothing and decided it was best to stand.
"So, Gary, what did happen?" Marissa tried to hide the amusement in her voice. "I thought you went to save a dog from being hit by a car?"
That morning’s early edition of Gary's paper had contained an article about a dog whose leash got loose from a pole outside a store. A car struck and killed the dog when it ran into the street. The newspaper said the family was devastated by the loss of its pet because the dog had become like a member of the family after it had saved the life of their youngest daughter. Gary had told Marissa this would be an easy save. All he had to do was make sure the dog's leash did not come loose. He would be back early. Things did not go as planned.
"I got there just as the leash got loose and grabbed it and was about to tie it back on the pole. What the newspaper failed to state, however, was how LARGE a dog it was. And, of course, it was at that moment that Cat decided to make an appearance. The dog took one look at Cat and started chasing her, with me in tow. I couldn't get the dog to stop and had all I could do not to let go of the leash. And to where, you may ask, did Cat lead us on this merry little chase but to a construction site, a very muddy construction site, where she somehow managed to disappear. When the dog stopped short, I fell over it and landed headfirst in the mud.
"To make matters worse, the owner of the dog had seen me running down the street with the dog and followed, thinking that I was trying to steal it. He had me arrested and I've been at the police station. If it weren't for Detective Armstrong arriving and speaking up on my behalf, I'm sure the owner would have pressed charges."
Marissa tried to stifle a chuckle. She could not see Gary flash her an annoyed scowl when he noticed her amusement.
"I'm glad you find this so entertaining." He threw the remainder of his sandwich onto the plate. "I’m going upstairs to get out of these dirty clothes and take a shower. What a day! Wait 'til I get my hands on that cat!"
Marissa sat at her desk in the office, her fingers flying lightly over a sheet of paper. The Braille bumps spoke to the sensitive pads of her fingertips, enabling her to read what her eyes had long lost the ability to do. Although blind, she bore the majority of the responsibility for the day-to-day business operation of McGinty's, such as keeping the books. This allowed Gary the time to deal with the demands of the newspaper - tomorrow's newspaper that he got a day early.
She was surprised that Gary had not yet come down from his loft over McGinty's. It had become a daily routine for him to start each day with Marissa, going over the newspaper headlines that he had to fix. ‘Where was he? He was usually downstairs by now.’ After the day he had yesterday and the past few weeks, she hoped he had gotten a chance to rest. As she was thinking these thoughts, she detected the sound of footsteps descending the stairs from the loft. And she heard something else - humming?
"Gary? Is that you?"
"Good morning, Marissa. What a great day!" Gary said as he rubbed his hands together in satisfaction and then walked through the office, returning shortly with a steaming cup of coffee and a bagel. He took a seat at his desk across from Marissa.
"Gary, are you alright?" asked a very confused Marissa, smiling at finding Gary in such a pleasant mood.
"I am terrific! I have three easy stories to take care of that should be done by this afternoon. Then the rest of the day is mine. I don’t even have to cancel my dental appointment because I have enough time between the first two saves to get my cleaning and check-up done that has been postponed four times!
“The best part is that none of the stories involve guns, running into burning buildings, or muddy ditches! It's almost like having a day off. I even grabbed an extra half hour of sleep!"
"Gee, that's great. Maybe the paper is trying to make up for the day you had yesterday. What is in the paper today?"
"Well, my dear partner," said Gary as he flipped through the newspaper and took a bite of his bagel, followed by a sip of coffee.
"The first one involves a four-year old boy who climbs into a clothes dryer in a laundromat and gets injured. Then I have a car that backs into a vendor's cart, injuring the vendor and pushing the cart into the street, resulting in a 3-car pile-up." He flipped the page and scanned another article.
"The last one involves a guy who falls down the escalator at Borders Books on Michigan. He ends up in a coma from a head injury. As I said, I have an easy day as long as I am in the right place at the right time. Everyone goes on their way safe and sound, and I get to enjoy the rest of the day." Gary leaned back in his chair and took a long draft from his coffee, savoring the strong brew. He glanced at his watch.
"Well, time to go," he said, placing his cup on the desk. "I'll see you later this afternoon." Gary surprised Marissa when he gave her a light kiss on her forehead as he headed toward the door to the bar. A little extra sleep can do wonders for some people.
"Gary, since you'll be done early, maybe we could spend some time together going over the quarterly tax reports. They have to be mailed this week." Marissa felt bad asking Gary to work when he got to have so little time off.
"Sure, Marissa, no problem." Gary's light mood could not be dampened by the prospect of doing tedious paperwork. He would still have some time to himself when it was done.
"I'll see you later."
Young Kevin would be considered by many to be hyperactive, but basically Kevin was just a creative and bored child, who had to endure the necessary but confining time spent at the laundromat with his mother. If it were not for his imaginary friend Ralph, he could never survive the long, monotonous hours spent while his mother did the wash. There were more exciting things to occupy Kevin's time. Today, Kevin decided to play "hide and seek" among the washers and dryers with Ralph.
Kevin encountered his "friend" Ralph a few months before, and now Kevin, an only child, found that he enjoyed the company Ralph provided him. Kevin thought of the idea of playing "hide and seek" when he noticed the dryer. What a great place to hide. It even had a window!
Ralph covered his eyes and started counting while Kevin tiptoed lightly to the dryer and climbed quietly in, pulling the door closed. The dryer was filled with slightly damp, warm towels so he pulled one around himself to hide, peeking out to observe Ralph's search for him. He noticed his mother loading clothes into a washer, adding liquids and powders, while she glanced at a program on the TV in the corner of the room. There was another woman in the laundromat who was reading as she tended to her wash, and a man who was in the process of removing wet clothes from a washer. Kevin leaned away from the window of the dryer so he would not be seen when his mother turned toward his direction and then back to the TV. It was pleasantly warm amongst the towels; and when Kevin felt himself becoming drowsy, he closed his eyes.
The man walked over to insert coins into the dryer in which Kevin was hiding, turning the timer for a few extra minutes needed to insure his towels were completely dried. Just as he was about to turn on the dryer, he heard someone calling to him.
"Hey! Hey! Stop!" yelled Gary, who had been looking into each of the dryers as he made his way around the room. The man stood before the only one he had not yet checked.
"What…?" The man hit the "on" button as Gary reached for the door handle.
"Nooooo!" Gary yanked the door of the dryer open and started pulling towels out.
"What do you think you're doing?" The man grabbed Gary's arm to get him away from the dryer. Gary yanked his arm free and reached to the back of the dryer and uncovered the sleeping four-year old.
"There's a child in here," he said as he lifted Kevin out. Kevin's mother looked over when she heard the commotion and was startled to see her son being removed from the dryer.
"Kevin! My son!" she screamed as she ran to retrieve him from Gary's arms.
"He's okay," reassured Gary as he placed the boy into the mother's outstretched arms. While she was checking her son for injury and hugging Kevin in relief at finding him well, she looked at Gary with a questioning look.
"Thank you, but how did you know he was in there?"
"I…I saw him climb in when I was walking by the window, you see, and realized that no one had noticed him climb in there, and…"
"I was playing 'hide and seek' with Ralph, Mommy, and he didn't see me either," piped up young Kevin with a drowsy smile on his face and rubbing his eyes.
"How many times do I have to tell you that there is no Ralph, dear?"
While the mother engaged in this discussion with her son, Gary started to back away, trying to leave unnoticed. When he did so, he fell backwards over a laundry basket on the floor, causing his foot to bump the other woman and who now had a cup of bleach in her hand. The bleach splashed on the front of Gary's dark green sweater as he landed with a loud "uufffhh!"
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Are you all right?” said the curly-haired girl as she reached to help Gary to his feet. She noticed the bleach that had splashed on his sweater. “I'll buy you a new sweater, I’m truly sorry." Her golden brown eyes surveyed him for injury as she reached for a nearby towel to help dry the wet sweater. Gary looked down on his now ruined sweater in annoyance.
"Now look at what you did? This was my favorite sweater!" grumbled Gary as he got to his feet, seeing the fast paling splotches appear on his sweater.
"You make it sound like I did this on purpose! It was an accident. You're the one who bumped into me!" Fire appeared in her eyes as she stared at him in defiance, her hands on her hips. The nerve of this big oaf to think it was her fault!
Surprised by her reaction to his grumbling, he looked at her, speechless, realizing that she was not responsible. It was going to be another one of those days!
"You're…you're right. It was an accident." He tugged at his sweater and scrunched up his nose at the strong smell of bleach. Pushing up his sleeve, he looked at his watch, alarmed that he would have very little time to go back home to change and get to the dentist.
"I…I've got to go," he said abruptly as he turned and walked quickly out of the laundromat. When he thought about it on his way home, he regretted his hasty reaction to the attractive woman. No wonder he never had any dates! Between running all over the city of Chicago at all times of day and how irritable he had become lately, it was a wonder he even got to talk to anyone, never mind have time to develop relationships.
Upon entering McGinty's, Marissa could smell the strong chemical odor as Gary hurriedly walked through the bar.
"Gary? What has happened now? What is that smell?"
"That would be bleach!" He stopped momentarily to answer Marissa's amused questions. "I don't have time to talk. I have to change up so I can get to the dentist. So much for my easy day!"
"Hey, Mr. Hobson, you have spots all over your sweater."
"Why, thank you, Patrick. I didn't know that," snapped Gary as he pushed hard on the office door on his way to his loft.
Still slightly winded from having run the last two blocks to get there on time, he rubbed his lip to see if the Novocain had worn off and groaned to himself. He had not expected his dentist to tell him he needed a filling replaced when he had gone for his cleaning and check-up. This was more time taken up that he had not anticipated losing today, but he decided to let the dentist replace the filling, not knowing when he would be able to keep another dental appointment soon. The “paper fairy,” or whoever sent the paper, apparently did not care that he still had to take care of himself and needed time to do the necessary things in life to stay healthy.
Gary glanced from his newspaper, to the street and to his watch, trying to confirm whether or not he was in the right place. Finally, he noticed the street vendor he sought just around the corner. There were two customers purchasing coffee.
"Excuse me," Gary cleared his voice as he addressed the vendor.
"Yeah, can I help you," the vendor answered Gary as he gave a female customer her change.
"Ah, yes, you can. Ah … I've been observing your cart here and the people traffic … and … I think you should consider moving your cart down the block a bit. It's really not a good spot here at the corner." Gary looked around, attempting to identify the car that would be backing into the vendor cart, but it had not yet arrived.
"You see, I do market research and have been observing street vendors and the effect of people traffic on the success of their businesses. There’s a bus stop further down the street, and you would do much better moving your cart near there." Gary looked nervously about for the car, impatient to have the cart moved.
"What do you mean move my cart? I've been selling at this corner for years and have done great business. What a bunch of malarkey! I have no intention of moving!" The vendor was getting angry.
Just then Gary noticed the green Buick described in the newspaper article. The driver was attempting to back into the parking spot close to the vendor. Gary grabbed the handle of the cart and started pulling it.
"I really think you would do much better just a little further down the street!" said Gary as he tugged at the cart. The vendor grabbed the handle on the other end of the cart and was angrily pulling at it to keep it from moving. Gary and the vendor engaged in a tug-of-war as Gary became more frantic at seeing the car getting closer and closer. The vendor was so intent on keeping his cart from moving that he was unaware of the car bearing down on him. With an extra surge of adrenalin, Gary pulled the cart free of the hold of the vendor and dragged the cart about four feet from where it was with the vendor stumbling quickly behind. Meanwhile, the car had backed over the curb and onto the spot where the cart had previously been. The driver, apparently changing his mind about the parking spot, then drove off.
"Are you a nut? Give me my cart back! What are you doing? Somebody call the police!" The vendor shouted as he looked around and pulled at his cart, which Gary now let go of without a struggle, having noticed that the car was gone.
"You know, you're right. It is much better where it was," said Gary as he helped push the cart back to its original location. The vendor, angry and confused over what had just happened, swore under his breath as he tried to settle the items that had fallen over on his cart. Gary walked quickly away, wanting to put distance between them.
He then withdrew the paper from his back pocket to confirm that the article had disappeared. He walked slowly, reading at the same time, not paying attention to where he was going. At the same time a woman was at the nearby bus stop, reading a book and sipping a cup of coffee. She looked up, surprised to find her bus leaving the stop and rushed to catch up with it before it pulled away. In doing so she collided with Gary, spilling her hot coffee onto his sweater and down the front of his jeans.
"Aahhh!" yelped Gary as he pulled at his sweater to get the hot fluid away from his body.
"Why don't you look where you’re going, lady?"
"I'm sorry! I didn't see…" the girl started to say as she withdrew a tissue from her pocket and attempted to wipe some of the coffee off Gary's sweater and jeans.
"Hey, lady, what do you think you're doing?" He grabbed her hand as she reached to wipe at his jeans and he took a quick step back to avoid her dabbing at a most embarrassing spot.
"Did I burn you? I'm so sorry. I'll pay to have your sweater cleaned…" The girl was still trying to dry Gary's sweater with the tissue. Her shoulder length curly, honey-colored hair kept falling into her face, and she swiped at her hair to get it out of her eyes as she apologized.
"No, no, no! Just leave it alone and watch where you’re going." A breeze had picked up and he shivered from the now chilled, wet sweater.
"Wait a minute. You're that…that…that same girl - the one that spilled bleach on me at the laundromat!" He had recognized her hair and the golden brown eyes that now stared back at him.
"And you're that idiot who doesn't pay attention to where he is going!" snapped the girl, defiance now seeping out of every pore. She had not had any good experiences with strangers in Chicago and had grown very defensive at the slightest confrontation.
Taken aback by her quick retort, Gary stared at the girl and found himself at a loss for words. The girl cursed as she looked down the street at the back of the bus and stamped her foot on the ground in exasperation.
"I…I was minding my own business, just walking down the street…" he started to explain. She gave him a look that he knew meant that nothing he could say would change her opinion of him. Sometimes it is best to say nothing.
Gary tugged at his sweater, becoming more uncomfortable, and gave a quick glance at his watch. There was not much time before his next save at the bookstore; however, he decided he should be able to get back to his loft to change clothes if he hurried. How he hated to be always rushing to a save, arriving at the last moment. Talk about a high stress job. He had mistakenly believed all his saves today would be done in a leisurely manner.
"I've got to go," he said distractedly as he turned abruptly and started sprinting down the street.
The girl stood looking at his fast disappearing figure and wondered what was up with this guy. Why was he always in such a rush? Running into the same person twice in one day was remarkable, especially for Hannah Stewart. Although she lived in a city teeming with thousands of people, she rarely met new people in her solitary life, working as a freelancer out of her home.
Reluctantly, she admitted to herself that maybe she was too harsh in her treatment of the stranger. Actually, he was not totally at fault, just accident prone; and she found herself smiling at the memory of his handsome face and expressive green eyes. Too bad they had not met under better circumstances she thought as she pulled out her book to resume reading while she waited for the next bus.
Gary burst through the doors of McGinty’s at a half run and headed for his loft. On the way back to McGinty’s he had to endure the awkward stares of strangers because of the wet spot on the front of his jeans. The coffee was not very noticeable on his navy blue sweater, but his jeans did not conceal the wet mark. He had found himself trying to explain his predicament to perfect strangers who looked at him, jumping to the wrong conclusion.
As he jogged quickly through the office and past Marissa, she lifted her head in surprise.
“Gary? You’re back already. I didn’t expect you so soon …” her voice trailed off as she heard him exit the other door and run up the stairs to his loft, grumbling under his breath. ‘Something must have happened,’ she thought as she rose to follow him upstairs. On second thought, maybe she should leave him alone. He’ll explain when he is ready. He sounded like he was in quite a hurry.
Pulling his wet sweater over his head, Gary gave a final tug as he threw the sweater onto the floor and hurriedly started looking through his wardrobe for something to wear. Hoping to save time by removing his jeans without taking off his sneakers first, he caught his sneakers in the legs of the jeans and toppled sideways onto the bed when he lost his balance in his struggle to yank them off.
“Aaaahhhhhh!” he groused as he flung his sneakers to the floor and freed his legs from the entrapping jeans and paused a moment to settle his rising frustration before going back to his closet to get another pair of jeans and a sweater. A quick peek at his watch made him resume his hurry to finish changing clothes. He continued to mutter to himself about how his life was always moving at warp speed.
While standing outside the Michigan Avenue entrance to Borders Bookstore, Gary scanned the news article about his next save. A man named Max Grey was going to be accidentally knocked down the second floor escalator from the café level, hit his head, and end up in a coma. The article was lacking many details about the accident, however. Gary entered the store and asked at the information desk where the café was located. Following the directions, he entered the main floor of the store and looked for the up escalator.
At early afternoon, the store was very busy, distracting him in his surveillance of the area. Finally spotting the escalators, he wound his way quickly through the aisles, bounding up the escalator, two steps at a time. After walking through the café area, he noticed a man standing near the top of the down escalator, talking to a young woman who was off to the side. Gary quickened his step toward this man, guided by his natural instinct that he had come to rely upon so much in his daily efforts to help the citizens of Chicago.
Gary then noticed another customer, who was trying to keep her laptop case from sliding off her shoulder while holding onto books in one hand and a coffee cup in the other. This customer was fast approaching the conversing couple, and Gary could tell the woman was on a collision course with the man he presumed to be Max Grey. Gary dashed to her rescue.
“Ahhh … excuse me. Here, let me help you,” Gary said as he caught the laptop that was sliding down her arm and kept her from walking toward the escalator. Gary glanced at Max Grey and was relieved to see him walk with his companion to a more private area of the café.
“Gee, thank you. Sometimes this laptop gets so heavy and unruly when I’m trying to carry things. I thought for sure it was going to end up on the floor.” If she only knew that things would have been far worse had the laptop slipped off her arm when she encountered Max Grey.
“Glad I could help you,” he said, giving her a slight smile that made her blush. He watched as she made her way down the escalator without further mishap, then he withdrew the newspaper from his back pocket. The article about Max Grey was gone. He was done for the day.
Glancing through the pages of the paper to make sure there were no new problems, Gary paused momentarily at the top of the down escalator to check an article. At that same moment, someone bumped into Gary. He stumbled forward a few steps before grabbing the railing with his left hand to break his fall, twisting his wrist in the process. He grabbed his wrist in pain when he tried to move his hand as he stepped from the escalator, and looked about for the newspaper, which had fallen from his hand. Hearing a gasp behind him, he turned to see a woman standing there with her hand to her mouth, in shock and concern.
“You! I might have known!” Gary snapped as he recognized the woman from his two earlier encounters of the day. “You’re a walking hazard! There should be warning signs posted around you.” He winced as he tried to move his left hand.
Hannah Stewart reached out and touched his injured hand. Gary quickly pulled it out of her reach.
“Ow! What are you doing? That hurts!” he snapped.
“Do you think it’s broken? I’ll go with you to have it checked.” Hannah looked at him, her hand extended toward his wrist, but she withdrew it when she saw the look in his eyes.
“No way! Being around you is hazardous to my health,” he said irritably as he held his wrist and looked up at her. He noted her eyes had filled with tears and she strained to keep her composure. Then, within seconds, her face changed into a look of ire.
“Well, you’re the one who was stopped at the top of the escalator. I can’t help it if you are always in the way! Don’t go blaming me for this. It was an accident.” She was too embarrassed to admit that she had collided with Gary because she had been reading the back cover of a book and had not noticed him standing there. They glared at each other before finally breaking eye contact.
Gary looked at the floor, seeing his scattered newspaper, and bent to pick up the pages. Hannah, attempting to help him, reached down at the same time and they knocked heads.
“Aaahhh!” Gary gasped as he started to rub his head. He stole a quick glance at Hannah, who was also rubbing her head, and he could see a red spot on her pale forehead. The tears were back in her eyes, and he watched a tear roll slowly down the side of her nose.
“Are you okay?” he asked. To his surprise he felt a pang of guilt at seeing her teary-eyed. She looked flustered and reached down to pick up her book, which had fallen out of her hand when their heads collided.
“I’ll be okay. You better go and have your wrist checked,” she said as she wiped quickly at the tear on her nose. Gary was uncomfortable seeing a woman cry, so he quickly mumbled agreement and turned to leave the store. The mere presence of this woman seemed to impair his ability to communicate. He was torn between feelings of attraction and agitation when he looked at her.
Hannah rubbed her forehead as she watched him walk away. She felt miserable at having, yet again, been the apparent cause of an accident with this man. Who on earth was he? To keep running, literally, into the same guy three times in one day was unbelievable! ‘I’ve really got to pay more attention to what I’m doing,’ she thought to herself and silently wished that she could live the day over to make amends.
It was almost 8:30 p.m. before Gary returned to McGinty’s, his hand in a removable splint. He walked over to the bar to get ice for his throbbing, very swollen hand. The splint they put on him at the emergency room immobilized his thumb as well as his wrist, which made it difficult to do anything with his hand. He was advised to follow the R.I.C.E. regimen - rest, ice, compress and elevate his wrist. No problem. In no way did he want to use his injured hand because of the aching pain that radiated from the least movement he attempted. Marissa could hear Gary’s frustrated attempts to put ice into a plastic bag with one hand.
“Yes, Marissa,” he answered in a tired voice.
“I thought you would be getting back early. What happened?” she asked as she sat on a stool at the bar near Gary and folded her cane, placing it by her hand within easy reach.
“Oh, just another typical day of mishap that seems to have become the norm lately.” He moved the ice to a different spot on his wrist and winced.
“Are you hurt?” she asked, concerned.
“I got bumped on the escalator at Borders and hurt my wrist. I’ve been at the emergency room since early this afternoon. It was a madhouse, and I had to wait because of all the emergencies.
Marissa’s face grimaced as if feeling the pain herself. “So how is your wrist? Did you break it?” she said as she nervously held her hand to her throat.
“They said it’s just a bad sprain and put a splint on it to keep it immobile and told me to keep icing it.”
“Did you save the man who was going to fall? Is that how you got injured?”
“Max Grey is fine. It was the girl who’s been spilling things on me all day that caused this!” Gary described what had happened earlier in the day to Marissa because he had not had the chance to do so.
“She’s the one who bumped me when I was going down the escalator at the bookstore. I swear her one role in life is to do me harm!” In his excited mood, he had started talking with his hands and immediately regretted it when his injured wrist hit the counter.
“Now, Gary, how can you say that? It’s not like she has been stalking you. It seems more like you keep running into her,” the ever-logical Marissa commented. “Who is she? Did you talk to her?”
“I don’t know who she is. We didn’t exactly exchange pleasantries. All I know is that if I never run into her again, it won’t be too soon!” He winced as he moved the ice on his wrist and cursed under his breath as the bag containing the ice started to leak. Disgusted, he threw the bag of ice into the sink and headed up to his loft.
Gary climbed over the railing of the bridge and inched toward the distressed teenaged girl, who looked down at the swirling river below. How he hated heights, but yet again here he stood, meeting his fears, spurred on by his commitment to save others.
“Bess, this is not the solution. Your parents will understand. They love you. Don’t do this,” he pleaded as he came within reach of the frightened girl. The article in the paper stated that the girl committed suicide after finding out she had gotten AIDS from her boyfriend. The girl looked at him, wanting what he said to be the truth, yet immobilized by her desperation and fear.
Gary held on with one hand as he helped the girl to climb back over the railing to safety, while reassuring her that all would be well. When she was finally standing on the sidewalk, he started to climb over the railing himself. While he was swinging his leg over the railing, someone came speeding by him on roller skates, knocking him over the railing. As he fell backwards toward the water, helpless, he looked up and saw HER, the girl with honey-colored hair, who looked down at him, laughing maniacally. His arms flailed as he kept falling…falling…
Thwack! His left hand hit the nightstand, jarring him from his dream. Covered in sweat and heart pounding, he could still hear the echo of the girl’s laughter as he struggled to wake fully from his nightmare. His injured wrist throbbed as he rubbed it, noting it was still very swollen. Lying there, he thought back to the previous day and the source of his discomfort. That girl! Now she was even plaguing his dreams.
Although upset by his encounters with the “disaster magnet,” Gary could not block the image of her honey-colored, curly hair and golden brown eyes from his mind. Maybe Marissa was right. Maybe the girl was not the one at fault. Accidents happen. Feelings of guilt arose as he relived each incident in his head. She really was not responsible for what happened to him. She just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had to admit that he was a bit hard on her, too. Hadn’t his mother raised him to have better manners with strangers? He was usually nicer to people, but lately he had found himself becoming more cynical and less tolerant. Even Marissa had told him he was grumpy and irritable just the other day.
He was brought out of his reverie by the sound of the radio alarm going off and he started to reach with his left hand to shut it off but thought better of it as he felt pain in his outstretched arm. Sitting up, he swung his legs to the side of the bed and shut the alarm off with his right hand. It was then that he realized he had not heard the arrival of the cat or the paper.
The thought had no sooner entered his mind when he heard the familiar “whump” of the paper hitting the floor and then a “mew.” Mew? That sure did not sound like Cat! Now what?
He made his way across the loft and opened the door. There, sitting on the paper, was a kitten - the spitting image of Cat, only much younger. Confused, Gary rubbed the back of his neck and poked his head out the door to look in the hall for Cat.
“Cat?” The kitten looked up and “mewed” in response, then quickly pranced toward the kitchen area, its little tail flicking at the tip as it walked. Not knowing what to make of the situation, Gary reached down and picked up the paper and followed the kitten. It sat in front of the refrigerator, mewing to be fed.
“Where did you come from? Where’s Cat?” he asked the kitten, which blinked slowly in response, staring back with half-opened eyes and an expression that seemed to say ‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’
“What? Cat got your tongue?” Gary did not know why he would have expected a response from the kitten, but nothing was normal about the start of this day.
Gary picked up the cat’s dish and poured some milk for the kitten and placed it on the table. He picked up the kitten, which fit easily into one hand, and placed it on the table. The kitten bounced over to the dish, which was half its size, and nearly fell into it. Gary shook his head in bewilderment and opened the freezer to fetch a gel ice pack for his hand. After wrapping the ice pack in a handkerchief, he carefully removed the splint from his hand and applied the ice pack. It felt good to escape the confines of the restricting splint for a while. He would put the splint back on after he took a shower. Meanwhile, the ice pack gave some relief.
As the kitten continued lapping its milk, Gary started to scan the paper for what he had to do that day. For some reason, everything looked familiar. As he continued to flip the pages, he realized they were the same articles as the day before, with the exception of the three saves, which, of course, were not there. He flipped back to the front page and looked at the date. Today’s date!
“Ho boy! What is going on?” he asked as he looked at the kitten. It looked up and slowly blinked its eyes before walking over and rubbing its head against Gary’s injured hand.
“Hey!” he snapped at the kitten as he quickly moved his hand away. The kitten, frightened by Gary’s loud voice, reared up and backed away.
“I’m sorry, little fella. I didn’t mean to scare you.” Gary picked up the kitten and drew it to his chest, talking to it softly. “I wish you could tell me what is going on,” he said as he gently stroked the kitten, which immediately started to purr loudly.
Gary was awkwardly rubbing his hair with a towel, having trouble using just one hand. He had not realized how much he used his left hand to do the routine activities of the day, such as showering and dressing, and he was anxious to put the splint back on his sore wrist. Hearing a knock at the door, he tossed the towel on the bed and walked to the door.
“Marissa, hi. What are you doing here so early?”
“I thought I’d find out how you were and ask if you need any help today. How’s your wrist?” she asked as she entered.
“Still swollen and painful. But that is the least of my worries,” he said as he guided her to a chair. As if on cue, the kitten gave a weak “mew” and rubbed up against Marissa’s foot. She reached down to pet the cat and was startled to feel the diminutive size of the kitten.
“When did you get a kitten?” asked a surprised Marissa.
“I didn’t. It got me. It came with the paper today,” he replied in an almost sarcastic voice. He had retrieved his splint and was trying to put it back on as he seated himself on the couch.
“So where’s Cat?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out along with why I got this?” he said as he picked up the paper and shook it in the air.
“The paper? You always get the paper,” she responded, confused.
“But this is today's paper - not tomorrow’s!”
“Oh!” Marissa commented, her eyes wide and her mouth slightly open, temporarily at a loss for words.
“You’re always my font of wisdom. What do you think is going on?” Gary smoothed his damp hair with his hand. Then he absently rubbed the back of his neck, mentally considering his dilemma.
“Well … there’s got to be a logical explanation. Are you sure that it’s today’s paper?”
“Of course I’m sure. The date is right here at the top!” Marissa frowned at his curt answer.
“Have you tried comparing the paper you got today with the one you got yesterday? Maybe something happened during the night that you didn’t notice. You know how things change in the paper.”
“I had plenty of time to read the paper while I was waiting at the emergency room. Nothing else changed. Besides, it would be too late for me to change anything today because everything in it has already happened.” As he was speaking, Gary had gotten up to get the ice pack, returned to the couch and was holding the ice pack to his wrist. He reached across the table to retrieve the paper from the day before, placed the two papers next to each other and started to compare the papers, page by page.
“So, Gary, is there anything new in it?” Marissa leaned forwarded, expectant for an answer.
“No. Everything, everything word for word is the same. They’re the same,” he repeated. Marissa could hear him turning the pages in frustration.
“Maybe there’s nothing for you to fix. It is possible you have a day off. Maybe whoever sends the paper knows you hurt your hand and wants you to rest it.”
“But why didn’t I get an early edition? It doesn’t happen often, but once in a great while I do get a day off. However, I still got an early edition. And why did the paper come today with a kitten? Where’s Cat?”
“Welllll…maybe you’re supposed to go back to the places you went to yesterday. It could be there is something that you should have noticed yesterday, but didn’t.” Gary looked at her, considering what she had just said and leaned back on the couch. The kitten, meanwhile, had climbed up the leg of his pants and was now climbing up his chest, its little, sharp nails occasionally getting caught in the weave of Gary’s sweater. Gary leaned forward again and picked up the ice pack for his wrist, having put it aside when he compared the papers.
“That seems like the only rational thing to do, seeing that I don’t have any other ideas. I’ll go back and check out all the places I went to yesterday - except the emergency room. I’ve had enough of that place.” He leaned back again and heard a yowl. Gary immediately jumped off the couch and turned to look for the kitten, but it wasn’t there. However, he could still hear it.
“Where did that kitten go?” Gary looked around the room trying to find it, then started to feel something scratching his back. The kitten was hanging from the back of his sweater; however, Gary couldn’t reach it because of his splint. He kept trying to twist his arm back to get the kitten, but it was out of his reach.
“Gary, what are you doing? What’s going on?” Marissa had heard the kitten cry and then Gary making strange grunts in his attempt to get the kitten off his back.
“It’s caught on the back of my sweater and its nails are digging in my back. Can you get this thing off?” Gary went to Marissa, bending so that she could reach. Her hands started feeling his back until she found the kitten and gently disentangled its nails from Gary’s sweater. She
placed the kitten in her lap and started petting it and was soon rewarded by a contented purr.
‘I don’t know what is worse, getting an early edition of the paper, and trying to fix all those problems, or trying to figure out what I missed. At least with the early edition I know what I’m supposed to do,’ Gary thought as he walked down the street. He could not settle the restlessness in his mind over the strange arrival of the day’s paper. And the kitten? Well, that was a whole other story. He decided he did not particularly enjoy mysteries. His life had enough complications without adding mystery into the mix.
The laundromat was empty this morning, save for one woman who was folding the last of her wash. He had looked about the room, getting uncomfortable glances from the woman. Gary tried to explain his presence by saying he forgot something from his wash and made an exaggerated effort to search all over to find his missing article. No luck. He did not notice anything out of the ordinary and left with a mumbled ‘Have a nice day’ to the woman, who still looked at him suspiciously.
As he neared the street vendor from the day before, he stopped a short distance away. Although it was Sunday, the vendor was at the corner, selling coffee and pastries. Again, all seemed to be normal. Gary walked toward the vendor. Upon seeing Gary, the vendor grabbed the side of his cart protectively.
“Get away from here. Don’t come any closer, you mad man!” he yelled as he withdrew a can of mace and aimed it at Gary. “My cart is staying right where it is. Get away or I’ll break your other arm!” he shouted, having noticed Gary’s hand in a splint.
“Whoa! I’m not doing anything, just walking by,” Gary said as he raised both hands and backed away from the agitated vendor. “You’re…you’re right, you have a very good location right where you are.” Gary turned and very quickly walked away from the vendor and headed toward the bus stop, where he sat on the bench and looked back toward the vendor, who now had a customer. The vendor kept looking down the street in Gary’s direction in case Gary should decide to return.
Even though the paper he had received was today’s paper, he took it out of his pocket to see if it had changed. Nothing new. Just the same stories as the day before. There was only one last place to go, but Gary was not too hopeful that he would have any better luck there either.
As he entered the bookstore, he walked slowly toward the escalator to the upper café level. The store seemed busier than the day before and more people were in the café because there were two guitarists, playing classical music. Everything else in the store seemed the same as the day before with the exception of a book display that was being set up by two of the sales associates.
‘That’s it,’ Gary thought to himself. ‘I’m probably running around for nothing. The paper just gave me a day off. Yeah…that’s it. Here I am running all over Chicago when I’m supposed to be relaxing and enjoying my day off!’ Having made up his mind, Gary quickly made his way out of the store.
When he was almost back at McGinty’s, he stopped and bought a copy of the Sun-Times at a newsstand. Maybe the copy of the paper he got this morning is different from what is on the newsstand. It wouldn’t do any harm to compare it with his other copies of the paper.
As he entered McGinty’s, he noticed Marissa sitting at their regular table not far from the bar and he walked over and sat down. The kitten was with her, sleeping by her feet.
“Gary, any luck?” asked a hopeful Marissa, having recognized his footsteps.
“Nothing.” He slouched back in his chair and rubbed his face, tired and frustrated.
“I bought a paper at the newsstand and figured I’d compare that against the papers I already have, but I am not expecting any surprises.”
“Hey, Mr. Hobson, can I get you anything?” asked Patrick as he ambled over to the table.
“Hi, Patrick. I could use a beer and a sandwich, if you don’t mind. Thank you.” Gary, for once, was appreciative of Patrick’s eagerness to please. As if on cue, Gary’s stomach rumbled, reminding him that he had not eaten anything all day because of his bewilderment over the paper and kitten. The kitten - he wished he could know how it fit into this whole dilemma. Reaching down, he picked it up and placed it on his lap, stroking it absently as he thought.
“I’m sure everything will be back to normal tomorrow and all this worry will have been for nothing.” Her comments were more optimistic than her tone of voice. She, too, could not explain what was going on with the paper and a “day off” as an explanation did not feel quite comfortable to her either. Her face changed as a thought came to her.
“Did you happen to see that girl again? You know, the one you thought was stalking you?” Marissa asked in an amused tone. “She seems to have been the only common denominator yesterday.”
“That was my only bit of luck - not running into her. At least I made it through today without further injury.” Gary thought about the girl and remembered the nightmare that woke him. However, now he did not have the same feelings he had toward her earlier. As he had revisited the sites of yesterday’s saves, he relived each event and saw with new eyes. He almost wished he had run into her again. It might have solved the mystery. He was reluctant to admit that he wanted to see her for reasons other than the problem with the paper and wondered what it would be like to run his hands through her curly hair.
“Here you go, Mr. Hobson,” Patrick said as he placed the sandwich and beer on the table. “Wow! A kitten! When did you get the kitten, Mr. Hobson? It looks just like your cat.” Patrick reached out and picked up the kitten and held it up high like people do with babies. “You’re a little cutie,” he said to the kitten before handing it back to Gary.
“It was on my doorstep this morning,” Gary mumbled while munching on his sandwich. “Don’t you have a customer to take care of?” he asked Patrick, indicating with a tilt of his head a man who stood at the end of the bar, apparently wanting a drink.
“Oh…oh, yeah. I’m on it, Mr. Hobson,” Patrick said, smiling, as he backed away from the table and went behind the bar to wait on the customer.
“Marissa, if you want, we can go over those tax reports. Right after I finish my sandwich and have a glance through this other newspaper.”
“Sure, Gary. That would be great. We have to get them in the mail.” Marissa got up and made her way into the office to assemble the paperwork that Gary would have to review with her.
Gary tossed and turned in his sleep, becoming twisted in his bedclothes. The radio alarm came on, rousing him from his dream of being in a supermarket. In it, he was running down the aisles, being pursued by a madwoman pushing a shopping cart - a madwoman with honey-colored, curly hair. As he ran, he noticed kittens everywhere, on shelves, in the aisles, in shopping carts.
He lay there, disentangling himself from the bedclothes, anticipating the arrival of the paper and the cat.
“Whump!” He heard the familiar sound, announcing the arrival of the paper, and he waited to hear Cat. ‘Please let it be Cat,’ he thought.
“Not again! What is going on?” he said, exasperated. He stomped across the loft and threw open the door. There, sitting on the paper, was the kitten. Gary looked down at the paper and groaned. It was the same edition…again!
“Gary, sit down. You’re making me nervous with all your pacing. Let’s try to think of other explanations.” Marissa sat at her desk, drumming her fingers lightly against her face.
“Maybe I’m caught up in some kind of nightmare I can’t wake up from. This is all driving me crazy! What are we missing?” Gary finally stopped his pacing and took a seat at his desk. As he sat there, he fiddled with the Velcro strips on his splint, readjusting the tightness.
“Why would you keep getting the same edition of the paper?” Marissa’s voice trailed off as she thought out loud. “We know there has got to be a reason for it or else you wouldn’t keep getting the same paper. The answer has got to be right in front of you. You’ve tried backtracking everywhere you went yesterday but had no luck.” Gary leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his eyes, trying to think of an explanation. It was giving him a headache.
“Gary, maybe there is an ad or something for a future event that only appeared in that one day’s paper. You know…something like a concert or a meeting. Did you happen to notice any ads or articles like that?”
He picked up the paper and started to review each page, yet again. Having gone through the paper many times already, he was very familiar with all the articles and scanned each page quickly.
“Wait a minute. Maybe you’re on to something. Here’s an article I didn’t notice before. ‘Former Chicago Author To Speak At Local Bookstore.’” Gary read the article quickly to himself.
“What does it say?” asked Marissa, curious. She leaned forward, elbows on her desk, and rested her head in her up-turned hands.
“It says this guy, Jeremy Wilcox, who lived in Chicago until a couple of years ago, has written a national bestseller and will be appearing at Borders Bookstore Monday to talk about his new book and sign copies.”
“That’s today,” interjected an optimistic Marissa.
He continued to flip through more pages of the paper and now noticed an ad for the bookstore, announcing the author’s appearance for Monday night.
“That’s got to be the explanation. You are probably supposed to go there tonight. Maybe nothing newsworthy happens, so that there wouldn’t be an article about it in the paper, but, it must be important enough that you should be there.” Marissa’s face brightened and she smiled, feeling they had finally solved the mystery. “What time will he be speaking?”
“Seven o’clock.” He glanced at the clock and noted the time was 12:40. Preoccupied, Gary had not noticed the kitten climb onto the desk and now saw it sitting on the paper.
Gary chuckled. “I think the kitten agrees with your reasoning,” he commented to Marissa as he reached out and stroked the kitten’s head.
As the hours passed, Gary found himself becoming more and more fidgety. He could not focus on the most mundane of tasks at the bar and could not relax enough to do much else. He left McGinty’s with more than ample time to get to the bookstore and then when there, paced nervously about the area that had been set up for the author on the third floor. He hoped that something would make sense of the insanity of these past two days. Gary paused and glanced out the windows that overlooked the Old Water Tower, momentarily admiring the construction of the stone structure in the busy square below.
What was he supposed to find? No one seemed to be in danger, yet why else would the paper bring him here? Gary’s mind was in turmoil as he paced, suddenly surprised to see a fairly large group of people had assembled to hear the author, Jeremy Wilcox, so he sat in the last available seat in the back row.
While the bookstore’s Events Coordinator introduced the author and his book, Life Is In the Details, Gary surveyed the crowd and sat in anticipation. He only half listened to what was being said because of his distraction of trying to figure out why the paper brought him there.
“When you become totally aware of what is happening and of all that is around you, that is when you become totally alive. Life is in the details, folks!” The author became animated as his enthusiasm for his subject energized him.
“We exist in the eternal present. The past is a memory and the future is unknown. Pay attention to the moments and you’ll discover the richness that life provides.”
Gary chuckled to himself as he became aware of what the author had just said. ‘Maybe you don’t know the future, but it gets delivered to me everyday. At least it did until recently,’ he thought. While the author spoke, even more people gathered to hear and filled any available standing space all around the room.
“Do you find yourself so focused on the urgencies of the day that when the day ends, you can’t even remember what happened? And what is the result? We miss what each day offers us - the opportunity to meet new people, experience new things and see the beauty that surrounds us.”
Shifting in his seat, Gary sensed that what the author was saying was hitting a little too close to home. ‘My life has become just one long blur between newspapers. If I started paying attention to everything, I’d go insane!’ The crowd, however, was responding with heads nodding affirmation of the author’s statements and he observed people commenting to one another on various points.
“Nothing happens by accident. There are only opportunities. Open your eyes and see.”
‘Sure, opportunities to spend hours in an emergency room!’ Gary thought as he rubbed at his wrist. ‘No accidents! I can’t buy that,’ he thought, shaking his head. Just thinking about his last “accident” made his wrist throb. He sat up straighter, straining to see all the late arrivals in the room, feeling edgy and not wanting to miss something important. He kept looking toward the aisle that led to the escalators, remembering his own “accident” and thinking it may be the scene of another mishap.
“Life is colored by context. See the day as a whole and enter fully into the moment. Embrace what life is giving you.”
‘That girl! She’s here!’ Gary recognized the honey-colored, curly hair of Hannah Stewart, who was sitting on a chair in the middle of the second row. He was surprised he had not noticed her earlier. Marissa was right all along. The connection had to be that girl.
During the rest of the time Jeremy Wilcox spoke, Gary did not pay attention because he was preoccupied with seeing the girl. Immediately following the author’s presentation, people jumped up in applause and crowded to the table to obtain autographed copies of the book. Gary pushed his way through the crowd until he was a few feet away from Hannah. She was standing in line, waiting to have a copy of the book autographed and people pushed forward, eager to meet the author personally. He decided it would be wise if he waited until she got her book signed before talking to her, so he went and stood in the aisle leading to the escalators.
Waiting impatiently, he finally saw her walking toward him. She was flicking through the pages of the book, reading as her attention was drawn to something. He reached out his right hand to stop her, and then took a quick step back as their eyes met.
“Excuse me,” Gary said as he cleared his throat. Hannah looked at him, taken aback at seeing Gary standing before her.
“What? I didn’t do anything.” Hannah’s eyes were wide in recognition of the man she had so many confrontations with on Saturday and she immediately became defensive. Embarrassed, Gary looked about and nervously rubbed his hand on his jeans.
“Oh…oh, you didn’t do anything. I happened to notice you here… you know, for the author. I was sitting in the back…” Gary stammered as he tried to think of what to say. “Don’t you think it’s rather odd that we keep running into one another? If you believe the author, that is.” Hannah stood speechless and swiped at a lock of hair that kept falling in front of her eyes.
“Hi. My name’s Gary Hobson,” he said as he awkwardly extended his hand in greeting. “We’ve never properly met.”
“I’m Hannah…Hannah Stewart,” she said in reply, having already thought that it did seem rather strange that they should meet again. “How is your wrist?” she asked, gingerly pointing to his left arm and turning red at the memory of their encounter in the store on Saturday.
“It’s not broken, just sprained. I should be able to take this off in a couple of days or so.” He looked about nervously, unable to read her expression, yet wanting to find out why their paths kept crossing.
“Ahh…would you care to have some coffee with me in the café?” he said, indicating the escalator. She studied his face for a moment, searching his eyes, confused by his sudden change of attitude toward her.
“Sure. Why not?” she said somewhat tentatively. He motioned his arm toward the down escalator and stood aside so that she could descend first, careful to keep a safe distance between them. When they finally reached the café, they found that many people who had attended the author’s appearance had now moved on to the café. There were no available seats, so they remained standing off to one side, trying to have a conversation.
“So, do you come here often?” As soon as the words left her mouth, Hannah groaned. “I’m sorry. That sounds like a pick-up line. But seriously, do you come to this bookstore often?” She leaned against the wall, trying to make way for people as they walked by.
“Well, actually, to be honest, this is only my second time in the store. I came tonight because I saw an article about the author in the Sun-Times and wanted to hear him speak.” Gary was at least comfortable that he did not have to lie about why he was in the store. He did not elaborate on his reading habits, which were sorely lacking because of his schedule. “What about you?”
“I come here fairly often, especially when I need books related to my work. They have a great selection. On Saturday, I noticed that Jeremy Wilcox would be at the store tonight.” Gary kept surveying the café area, looking for a vacant table. Not seeing any empty seats, he turned to Hannah.
“It’s rather busy here. Would you like to go someplace else? I own McGinty’s. It’s a restaurant and bar. Would you like to go there?” he asked.
“I’m familiar with it. It’s at Illinois and Franklin, right?”
“Yes, it is. I have my van outside,” he said, motioning with his hands toward the escalator. “Would you like to ride with me or did you drive here?”
“I took the EL,” she said as she nervously pushed at her hair. “If you don’t mind…”
“No, please come. We make delicious potato skins if you feel hungry.” He smiled at seeing her start to blush slightly.
Upon entering McGinty’s, Gary escorted Hannah to an out-of-the way table in order to have some privacy.
“Would you like coffee…a drink…whatever, just name it.”
“Decaf coffee, cream no sugar, would be fine. Maybe I’ll try those potato skins, too,” she replied.
He walked up to the waitress who was standing near the bar. Hannah watched Gary as he engaged in brief conversation with the waitress and then the bartender while he poured two cups of coffee. She had not noticed how well built he was in her earlier encounters with him and turned her head quickly as he glanced back toward her. ‘He must really be into sweaters,’ she thought, noticing he wore a fisherman knit sweater and turtleneck with his jeans. She liked men in turtlenecks and had not failed to notice that the light brown of his turtleneck seemed to accentuate the color of his eyes. Seeing him approach the table with their coffees, she swiped at her hair again, pushing it behind her ears. Not wanting him to know that she had been studying him, she self-consciously picked up her book and looked at the back cover quickly before placing it back on the table.
“Here you go,” he said as he placed a coffee in front of Hannah. Motioning toward the book, he added, “What did you think of the author?”
“I found him fascinating and have to agree with a lot of what he said. He really peaked my interest. I’ll probably start reading his book as soon as I get home.” After a slight pause, she continued.
“Actually, I went to hear him more because I had Mr. Wilcox in high school. He was a student teacher in my eleventh-grade English class, but he didn’t remember me when I reminded him of that tonight.” She did not tell Gary that she had had a schoolgirl crush on Mr. Wilcox and was more curious to meet him for that reason.
“Boy, he has changed so much since his student teaching days, much more sure of himself! What did you think of him?” she said, finally meeting his gaze and trying to steady her hands that were now clasped tightly around her coffee cup.
“Oh, I agreed with some of what he said,” Gary replied, not wanting to admit that he had not listened to most of Jeremy Wilcox’s presentation. Gary looked at Hannah, realizing that her eyes almost matched the color of her hair. How unusual! He paused before continuing.
“I have a hard time accepting that there are no accidents in life, though. I’ve had more than my fair share of them.” Upon seeing Hannah stiffen and sit back, Gary felt he might have offended her by inadvertently reminding her of being the cause of his accidents.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the other day…” ‘Right, Hobson, open mouth, insert foot,’ he thought.
“So, you admit that you were at fault then…on Saturday,” she looked at him, with a slight smirk. He was about to retort but then realized that she was teasing him and his face softened into a shy smile.
“Yes, I was at least partially at fault,” he said, lowering his eyes. “Guess I wasn’t paying attention to the details of the day.” He looked up to find that Hannah had caught his allusion to the author and saw that she was smiling at him.
The waitress brought over the order of potato skins. Gary served her before taking a helping of potato skins for himself.
“What kind of work do you do?” asked Gary, starting to feel more relaxed and comfortable with Hannah.
“I work out of my home as a freelance writer.”
“That sounds interesting.” Gary leaned forward in his chair, eager to hear more. “What kind of stuff do you write?”
“Nothing exciting. I do mostly technical writing, such as instruction manuals for software. Occasionally, I’ll do newsletters for small companies - a variety of things.”
“How long have you been doing that?”
“Freelancing, only about four years. I got tired of the competitiveness of working in a large company. This gives me an opportunity to be more creative and have a variety of projects to work on. The only downside to working at home is that I seldom get out and meet new people.” She looked at him and then said, “That’s why I found it so strange that I kept running into you so often.” Not wanting to get into a discussion of her personal life or lack thereof, she quickly asked, “So how long have you had this bar, Gary?”
“I’ve had it for about five years. Before that I was a stockbroker, but like you, I didn’t like being cooped up in an office all day.”
Their conversation became more relaxed as the evening progressed and they found they had more in common than they would have expected, from taste in music to a love of old movies. Gary heard the door to the office open and saw Marissa walk out and talk to the bartender for a couple of minutes. She must have asked if he had returned, eager to find out what happened, and saw her approach his table. As she got next to the table, he stood and introduced Marissa to Hannah.
“Hannah Stewart, I’d like you to meet my partner, Marissa Clark. Marissa, this is Hannah. I met her at the bookstore.” He pulled over a chair for Marissa to join them at the table.
“I’m glad to meet you, Hannah.” Marissa graciously extended her hand, and Hannah reached to return the handshake, noting Marissa’s blindness. Before anything more could be said, the sound of the kitten mewing could be heard. Gary reached down and picked up the kitten that had walked over to Hannah and was rubbing against her leg. Hannah leaned toward Gary and started to pet the kitten.
“How adorable! This looks just like my kitten, Marmalade.” Gary passed the kitten into the outstretched hands of Hannah. She held the kitten close to her chest, and the kitten looked up at her, mewing as if talking to her. “This is so incredible, it looks just like my kitten,” she repeated. “What’s its name?”
“It doesn’t have a name. I’ve only had it since Sunday morning when it showed up on my doorstep.” He took a sip of his coffee as he watched Hannah with the kitten. Marissa sat quietly, evaluating the scene as it developed.
“My kitten has been missing since Sunday,” she said as she scrutinized the kitten more closely. Picking up its left rear paw, she gasped as she noticed a familiar and unusual dark spot in the fur in the shape of the letter “C.”
“This is my kitten!” she exclaimed, looking from the kitten to Gary, confused. How did you get my kitten?”
“I told you, it showed up on my doorstep Sunday morning with my newspaper.” He had not meant to mention the newspaper but the words had slipped from his tongue automatically. Marissa jumped in to his rescue.
“Hannah, you’re definite this is your kitten?”
“Yes. How many kittens can there be with this coloring and a marking like this on its paw?” she asked, lifting the kitten’s paw for them to see. She blushed when she realized she had shown blind Marissa the kitten’s foot. Gary noticed that Marissa’s eyes were wide in amazement. He rubbed the back of his neck not knowing what to say after this strange turn of events.
“The kitten has been hanging around here since Sunday, Hannah. We didn’t realize it belonged to anyone.”
“In fact,” Gary piped in, “it looks like a baby version of my own cat, which I haven’t seen since Sunday. You don’t happen to have…?” His words trailed off as he stared at Hannah, who was happily fondling the kitten, and he closed his mouth, which he now realized was still open.
“Ho, boy!” he mumbled mostly to himself.
“Good morning, Chicago. Another great day is in store for us. Temps should reach the high 60s with a light wind from the Lake…”
Gary reached over and turned the radio alarm off and stayed in bed, thinking about the previous night. After the initial confusion and awkwardness about the kitten, he and Hannah had talked until closing time, and he made it a point to drive her home safely. They made plans to see each other later that week. Hannah’s connection with the kitten had not even been a consideration to him, and Gary wondered why the paper would have gone to such lengths to bring them together.
The paper. He heard the familiar “whump” of its arrival and listened intently for the sound of the feline as he jumped out of bed and ran to the door. There sat Cat on the newspaper. It looked up with a loud “mrroowwr” and started rubbing itself against Gary’s leg.
“Welcome back, fur ball. Where have you been?” Gary picked up the cat, holding it under his left arm and scratching the cat’s chin. Remembering the paper, Gary closed his eyes and silently wished that his paper, too, would be back to normal. He reached down and picked it up, relieved to see it was back to being an early edition.
“Yes!” he said, as he carried Cat to the kitchen area and placed the paper on the table. He scratched Cat’s head a couple of times more. Before placing the cat on the floor, his curiosity made him look at the bottom of the Cat’s left rear paw. Gary felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise and gooseflesh appeared on his arms as he noticed a distinct “C” in the fur on the paw, something he had never noticed before.
“So, Marissa, that’s what happened,” concluded Gary as he took a sip of coffee. They were in the office, seated at their desks across from each other. He had recounted what happened at the bookstore, told her about Jeremy Wilcox and also how he had misjudged Hannah. Not wanting to embarrass Hannah the night before by going into details about how they met, Gary now told Marissa that Hannah was the girl from Saturday.
“And we have plans to see each other later this week.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out to rest them upon the desk. He pulled the Velcro straps loose on the hand splint and carefully stretched his fingers and moved his wrist. There was very little discomfort now, and Gary tossed the splint into the desk drawer. Marissa smiled at him warmly, happy to hear her friend so contented.
“I just don’t understand why any of this happened in the first place, however,” commented Gary as he searched Marissa’s face for answers.
“Gary, I think it’s pretty obvious. You get so compulsive about the paper and at times use it as an excuse not to do things just for yourself. This was just the paper trying to get your attention and make you slow down. Its whole purpose for the last couple of days was to make you see there is a world you let slip by each day. As Lucius Snow told you, “live your life” and don’t let it pass you by. You should probably read that author’s book, too. It sounded like there is a message in it for you.” Marissa sat back and sighed, having felt like a mother counseling her child. Gary nodded his head and grunted his agreement, then looked at his watch and stood. From the past few years of focusing all his attention on others each day, he found it hard to believe that the paper would have such a personalized message just for him. There was a lot for him to think about.
“I’ve got to go, now,” he said as he stuffed the paper into his back pocket. “I have to stop Mrs. Gershman from getting hit on the head by a flowerpot,” he said, referring to an article in the newspaper. He whistled to himself as he walked through the bar area and out the front door of McGinty’s.
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