Rajesh Said was in the department office, leaning on Mya’s desk when she returned from her second destressing of the day (10:06 — she had to wait for two girls to leave before she could start). She stood outside the office, watching both of them through the glass windows as Mya laughed at one of his inaudible jokes and Raj picked jelly beans from the candy dish. Amanda allowed herself a single glance at his backside — a ripe, muscular slice of perfection — before forcing her eyes away. After saying a quick prayer of forgiveness, she cleared her throat and went inside.
The two didn’t stop their conversation as she walked by. Raj was telling a story about his car stalling out while it was pouring rain, and Mya was howling. Kiley sat at her desk, but only pretended to work. She too, had been eyeing Raj — but for reasons different than Amanda’s.
“Now that just ain’t right,” she murmured, shaking her head. “Why can’t he be waiting at my desk?”
Amanda looked over (at his back this time) and back at her pile of tests. “Who? Raj?”
“Goddamn. That ass.” She bit her lip as if to keep herself from saying something more vulgar. “What does he teach?”
“Stats,” Amanda replied. “He’s a TA.”
Kiley slyly raised an eyebrow. “So you’ve noticed him too?”
“What? Him?” She shook her head wildly. “No.”
“Don’t even lie!”
“No!” Amanda laughed shrilly.
To her horror, Raj came strolling up to them. “Hi, Amanda.” He nodded at Kiley. “Hi there.”
“Kiley Owens.” She extended her hand. “We haven’t met yet.”
“No. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands and Raj returned to Amanda. “Well, wish me luck.”
“I’m about to have my interview with Dr. Maynard.”
“Inter…oh. For the lecturer position.” Amanda felt stupid and mindlessly began scratching her arm. “Sorry. I didn’t know you had applied.”
“Yeah. A few weeks ago.” He rocked back on his heels, fingers hooked into the belt loops of his pants. “Heard it’s been open for a while.”
“Since the semester started.” Amanda looked at her hands, attempted to avoid Kiley’s lascivious staring at her. “Well, good luck. I hope you get it.”
“You do? Great!” He grinned. “Thank you! Didn’t realize you felt that way!”
He playfully patted her shoulder. Her skin suddenly caught fire and began to crawl. She froze, her mouth in a wide grin, and hoped he didn’t notice.
Alan Maynard’s office door opened up and the department chair stepped out. Today, of all days, he wasn’t wearing a tie. He grinned and rolled up his sleeves.
“Hey Raj!” he said, beckoning. “You ready for the most intense interview of your life?”
Raj grinned and gave him a thumbs-up sign. “Never readier!” The two of them disappeared into the office, where Maynard pulled the blinds and shut the rest of the department out.
“Oh my gawwwwd,” Kiley roared, tears leaking down her cheeks. “He likes you!”
“N-no!” Amanda sputtered. At her desk, Mya was laughing again too. “He likes Mya!”
“The hell he does,” the receptionist fired back.“He’s cute, ‘Manda — how’d you spring that?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Amanda cupped a hand over her brow, hiding from their laughter. And yet her cheeks stayed cool, her composure stayed calm. She wasn’t angry, nor was she flustered.
The gentle teasing died down, leaving the office eerily quiet except for the tapping on keyboards. Amanda stared at her monitor, hoping she would get some inspiration to work on her finals. Instead of that, she only felt longing — an impatient desire for Maynard’s door to open, Raj to emerge downtrodden and discouraged with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders slumped. But he didn’t. She waited, but heard almost nothing for fifteen minutes. When she did hear something, it was a bubble of muffled laughter, two discrete voices genuinely enjoying the conversation.
Amanda twisted in her chair to crack her back, all the while catching a glimpse at the shadows beneath the door.
When she snapped back, Kiley was looking up at her and smiling knowingly.
“Has anyone else interviewed for the lecturer position?” Amanda wondered, hoping to distract her.
“Nope, just that hot bowl of curry in there.”
“Oh come on…”
The door opened. Both men emerged, still talking, still laughing. Maynard gave Raj a pat on the shoulder. Then after shaking hands, Raj made for the front doors.
The clock above Mya’s desk read 10:34.
Though her eleven o’clock class was mostly her helping students write their paragraphs for the final, Amanda had trouble concentrating. Though for once, she wasn’t thinking about de-stressing. Or cutting. Raj’s backend crept into her mind once or twice, which she forced away with images of giant semicolons and independent clauses.
Class went by slowly.
At noon, she walked back into the department just as Melanie was leaving her desk. Her mohawk, still bottle-black, sat teased and moussed on her head. She gave Amanda an impassive “Hey girl,” as she walked by. To her surprise, Kiley was still at her desk, scrolling her mouse wheel absently with her chin resting on one hand.
“You going to class?” Amanda asked, puzzled.
Kiley shrugged. “Cancelled it. Hardly anyone here anyway.”
Amanda slid her papers under her keyboard. There were four new emails — two addresses she did not recognize, one an announcement from the dean of students, and another from a student asking her for the date and time of the final. Amanda paused, looking but never clicking to read them.
Then suddenly —
“You want to go to lunch? Now?”
Kiley raised an eyebrow and looked up. Her eyes moved around the room as if to look for the person to whom Amanda was talking. “Hmm? Me?”
“Sure. Why not? The faculty dining hall is still open, right?”
“Uh. Yeah. It is.” Kiley rose, a slow smile spreading across her face. “You sure you mean me, right?”
“Of course I do.” Amanda grabbed her purse and threw the straps over her shoulder. “Let’s go. I have to get out of this office.”
Kiley was almost laughing as she grabbed her coat. Amanda led her across the department office, breezing by Melanie and Mya coming out of the break room.
“Where are you two going?” Melanie asked.
“Lunch!” Kiley replied with a wave. “Be back in an hour!”
Amanda thought the faculty dining hall was quite snazzy. She told Kiley so as they took their plates back to the empty both near the buffet tables. Kiley snickered as she slid into her seat. “It looks even snazzier around Christmas,” she remarked, picking up her fork. “It’s like a thousand times brighter with all the green-and-red lights and tinsel. Looks like Santa Claus threw up in here, but hell, they rock one hell of a party.”
“You went to last year’s party?” Amanda asked, quizzically.
“Yeah. I went with a friend. They thought I was faculty back then.” She added quickly, “And I don’t care about Christmas. Free booze is free booze, no matter the religion.”
Amanda chuckled. “I guess that’s true.”
“You’re Catholic right?” Amanda nodded. “Well shit, I bet you know your way around a bottle of sacred wine, or whatever you call it.”
“Yeah. Whatever.” Kiley shoveled a forkful of pasta into her mouth and closed her eyes. “Mm. Dang. This is good.”
Amanda picked a cucumber out of her salad and bit into it. It was cold. Too cold. It hurt her teeth. But the dressing drizzled on it tasted heavenly.
“So,” Kiley said. “Tell me about that guy. That Raj.”
With a shake of her head, Amanda dismissed her. “I swear it. He’s just someone I know. And it looks like he’s getting that lecturer position, too.”
“That wouldn’t be so bad. He’d be nice to look at in our desk clump.”
“He doesn’t have his Master’s yet. He doesn’t graduate until the end of next semester.”
“So?” Kiley chewed her pasta.
“So, don’t you need a graduate degree for…”
“Ugh, you think Maynard really cares about that? As long as Raj laughs at his jokes and tells him he’s awesome, Maynard’ll give him the job.” Kiley took a swig of water. “Why do you think I’m working there?”
Amanda blinked. “I…”
“Because I’m something Maynard can ogle when he’s not grading papers.” She sat back. “I’m almost flattered, y’know.”
“That explains why you work there,” Amanda sat forward and hunched. “I sit with my back to his office.”
“Don’t take it so hard, ‘Manda. Feel flattered that you’re not his type.”
Only slightly insulted, Amanda gawked. “What does that mean?”
“Not that you’re not pretty, because you are. You’re just not what Maynard likes. He wants…” She searched for words in the air around her. When they came to her, she snapped her fingers and sat forward. “Girls who aren’t afraid of him.”
“I’m not afraid of him!” Amanda insisted, now fully insulted. “I just…uh…”
“My point exactly. You treat him like he’s the end-all be-all of your academic career. He’s a big fish in a small pond. Make him feel like that and you’ll get away with murder.”
Amanda went quiet for a minute. She ate her salad, crunching quietly on her croutons while thinking. Cautiously, she lifted her eyes to look at Kiley. An attractive girl, Kiley had strong, dark features: hooded brown eyes, short dark hair, a square jaw. She wore an olive green sweater cut low enough in the front to show her ample bosom with a black skirt which had a hemline well above her knees.
Amanda, wearing her usual slacks and blouse, knew exactly why Maynard had hired Kiley.
Her fingers twitched on the tablecloth.
“Do you think he’ll pay us more if he keeps us on?” Amanda asked, breaking the silence. Kiley looked up from finishing her plate. “Or keep us at we are at now?”
“I dunno, it’s up to Williams. But the department barely has enough to hire another lecturer. What makes you think they’re gonna shell out anymore than two-large for a course?”
Amanda nodded. Then, realizing what Kiley had just said, looked back up. “Wait, what?”
“You’re getting two thousand a course? Per semester?”
It was Kiley who looked surprised now. “You’re not?”
Amanda felt her heart squeezing itself in her chest. “Good lord.”
“Oh Gawd. I thought he was just screwing his students!” She put her hand over her mouth. “How much does he pay you per course?”
“I…my contract said…” Amanda slumped. “Oh…my goodness…” She shut her eyes real quick to throw up a prayer-apology for such a hardened exclamation.
Kiley had her eyes back on her plate. She looked like she was blushing.
Alan Maynard got ready to leave his office early that afternoon. Spurred by adrenaline, indignation, and fear of losing her job, Amanda sprang up from her desk as soon as she saw him take his briefcase and head for the door. She tailed him, too timid to say his name, until he placed his hat on his head. Her voice was hoarse, and she yelped like a puppy. Before he left the building, he looking over his shoulder, annoyed, to see who was calling out to him.
“Amanda,” he acknowledged without stopping. “What can I do for you? And do not bring up the adjunct situation again. We’re going to have a meeting tomorrow morning at ten o’clock, ok?”
“That’s…that’s not what I wanted to ask you,” she said, afraid of her own boldness.
He halted just before reaching the doors. “What would that be?”
“I…” She swallowed. Her knees were knocking together. She hoped he couldn’t hear them. “I want to know why Kiley makes five hundred dollars more than I do. Per course.”
He frowned at her. “Kiley told you how much she made?”
“I thought all adjuncts made $1500 a course.” Her voice grew smaller by the word.
“Kiley signed on a week earlier than you did, if I can recall,” Maynard told her. “That was probably the week before we got the budget numbers in. Right?”
She hung her head. “I guess, but –”
“And also, Kiley has taught an English course before,” he told her quickly, hitching up his briefcase. “She earned that five hundred dollars. And if this is a shakedown, Amanda — I’m not biting. Salary isn’t going to change. Kiley is more likely to lose money than you are to gain it.” His voice suddenly shifted from cold and condescending to warm and gentle. And condescending. “Look, I promise that we will discuss stipends when Dr. Williams and I make our decision. All right?”
He reached out with his free hand and shook her shoulder. Her skin burst into tingles, sending a horrible itch down her arm and back.
“Don’t worry,” he said with a wink. “We’ll discuss this at the meeting tomorrow.”
He turned to leave.
“Yeah!” He turned again. His expression was exasperated and impatient.
“Are you going to hire Raj Said then?”
“Now that I can tell you — yes. He’ll join your desk clump.”
“Are we getting another desk put in?”
Before the door closed behind him, Alan Maynard cheerfully called, “Nope!”
Dinner was quiet that evening. Amanda, her brother, and their father abandoned conversation to chew on Janice Keefe’s meat loaf. It was dry and pungent with onions and garlic. No one said anything about the taste; not even Colin, who had taken to just drinking his milk and breaking up the loaf on his plate. Amanda dutifully stomached her mother’s cooking by dunking small bits into smears of ketchup and swallowing quickly.
“I’m sorry about the flavor,” her mother apologized. “I think I should have put in one teaspoon of chopped onions instead of two.”
“Only two?” Colin muttered.
“Yes,” she snapped. “Two. I was trying to do several things at once today. Answer the phone, answer the door, make dinner. All for the three of you.”
“Answer the door? Who came over?” Norman Keefe wondered.
“Man wanting to know if the house next door had been for sale long,” she said. “I told him to call the realtor, and he said he didn’t trust her.”
“I don’t blame him,” he said. “That house has been sitting there, dilapidated, for two years now. I bet that realtor told him it had been only a few months.”
“She did, according to him.” Janice Keefe took another bite of her dinner. “Amanda, honey? Is the meatloaf too much for you too?”
“Hmm?” Amanda straightened. Half of her meatloaf lay destroyed in the middle of her plate, covered with ketchup and smashed with the underside of her fork. It looked like roadkill. “Oh, no, Ma. It’s fine.”
“You not feeling well?”
“I’m fine, Ma.” She smiled. “I just had a long day at work.”
The phone in the living room rang. Norman Keefe muttered something about telemarketers and threw down his napkin.
“Did you hear some bad news?” Her mother reached out to touch her hand.
Amanda pulled away before she could. “No, not yet. I’ll hear tomorrow. Big meeting.”
“Commencements is Friday,” Colin warned. “They’ve got to let you know before then, right?”
“They will,” Amanda said confidently.
Her father returned to the kitchen, holding the receiver. His face was suspicious. “It’s for you, Panda.” Frowning, he added, “it’s a boy.”
Amanda felt her heart leap into her throat.
“A boy!” her mother exclaimed, just as shocked as Amanda was. “Oh goodness!”
“Why is he calling this late?” Norman Keefe demanded. “And on a school night?”
“It’s six thirty, Pop,” Colin told him as Amanda reached across the table for the phone. “And we’re not in high school anymore.”
“Take it in the other room,” her father ordered. “Not at the dinner table.”
With her hand over the speaker, Amanda retreated to the living room where she had space to pace around the coffee table and plug her free ear from the noise in the kitchen. She did just that, and began a slow, uneasy, counterclockwise stroll. “H-hello?” she asked, her jaw clenched.
She released a breath. “Raj?”
To him it may have been awkward silence. To Amanda, it was the sound of relief.
“Uh, yeah.” She cleared her throat. “How’d you get my number?”
“The faculty directory on the college website.” She could almost hear him smiling. “It’s pretty easy, actually.”
“Yeah. Anyway.” He said, “Look, I don’t know how to ask this and still sound smooth.”
She looked at the clock on the mantel (6:40). “Ask what?”
“If…you’d like to have a drink with me. Friday evening.”
Amanda stopped pacing. “I…you mean, a date?”
“Or, as two adults getting together to have a beer. Maybe a bite to eat, too.”
She unplugged her ear. The voices in the kitchen had fallen silent.
“Ok.” She said.
He didn’t respond at first. “Oh…kay? Really?”
“Yeah. That sounds great, actually.”
“Wow. That…that’s wonderful!” He chuckled. He, too, sounded relieved. “We don’t have to go far. We can eat at Nemo’s on Hawthorn.”
“I love Nemo’s,” Amanda told him honestly. “They have great pasta carbonara.”
“Really? I’ve never had it. Well, maybe I’ll get it. On Friday.”
“Friday.” He chuckled again. “God. This is so awesome!”
She looked back at the doorway to the dining room. “I have to get going though. I’ve got to finish dinner.” She slapped her own forehead at how juvenile she sounded. “I mean, my parents are…” Another hit.
“No problem. I’ll see you tomorrow then, right?”
“Ok. G’night Amanda.”
He said her name so softly, so gently. She shivered. “Good night, Raj.”
She returned to the kitchen, phone in hand, to three very different faces with three very different expressions. Her mother looked like she might hurt herself from holding back her joy; her father looked like his face might explode from such rage; and her brother just looked smug. Blushing, she passed the phone back to her father, who snatched it.
“Who was that?” he asked, returning it to its cradle on the wall. “A boy from college?”
“Someone I work with.” She fiddled with her napkin.
“Is he nice?” Janice Keefe could hardly sit still.
“What does he look like?”
“Give her a break,” Colin snapped, throwing his head back. “She can’t talk to a coworker about work without the two of you having a heart attack about it?”
Norman Keefe glared at his son, then moved his dark eyes to his daughter. “Fine, then. If Amanda wants to tell us about her friend at work, she can. If not, that’s fine too. We’re all fine with whatever Amanda wants. Is that fine, Amanda?”
Amanda swallowed. “He’s just someone I know from work.”
Her father tossed his fork down onto his plate, where it landed with a horrid clatter and startled both Amanda and her mother. He shoved his chair away from the table and stormed out of the room.
A minute later, her mother followed him — albeit with less finesse.
Colin took a final gulp of his milk before slamming that down on the table as well. Annoyed, Amanda raised an eyebrow at him. When he noticed, he laughed.
“So. Who is he?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t start.”
“Oh come on. I heard the word date.”
“It’s not like that, we’re just getting dinner.”
“That sounds like a date. Wear what you did the other night and it will be.”
Amanda thought back to her impotent tryst with George. “I have to wash it,” she said, remembering.
“And anyway, you said you weren’t ready to start dating.”
“I’m not. I don’t even like him like that. I just…” She sighed. “I don’t know what I’m doing, really.”
Colin leaned forward. “If you’re doing this to hide your other problems from our parents, it isn’t going to work. They’ll find out eventually.”
“Shouldn’t I be telling you that?”
He blinked at her, drinking in her comment. Then he sat back. “I mean it, ‘Mander. Take care of yourself.”
The clock on the microwave said 6:49.
The morning had gone smoothly until Amanda opened her email.
There were two emails that she did not check yesterday. Both were from the same email address — one she did not recognize — and neither had subjects. One had three attachments. Amanda assumed they were from one of her students sending in an essay, so she opened the first one.
All three attachments were pictures.
The first was a picture of the parking lot outside the building. It was a wide, landscape shot with cars parked and students walking toward the doors. Whoever had taken the picture had taken it from the corner across the street — that was the only way to get close enough to see the parking lot but keep the building’s front facade in frame as well. It wasn’t a bad picture. Her student had probably sent this to her, hoping to get it on the department website.
The next picture was of her car. It was a bit blurry, as if the photographer were in motion when taking it. But she recognized the dent on her right rear fender, the paint chipping around her passenger side door. Slush lay around the tires.
Amanda studied its composition for a full minute before clicking on the third.
Nausea hit her.
The final picture was of her.
Her blue blouse and gray slacks. Her simple black flats. Her open pink pea coat. Her hair, worn up and in a clip to stay out of her face. She had worn all of this on Tuesday. In the photograph, she was near the entrance of the building with her arm out to open the doors. Her eyes were squinting, her lips were pursed. Unlike the other two pictures that were poorly framed or out of focus, this one was perfect. And almost, intentionally so.
Amanda blinked once. Twice. Thirteen times. Until she couldn’t take it any more and the tremors in her fingers started again. Her ribs crushed her lungs, her throat clenched, but she still had to fight a piercing scream from bursting out of her. She fought buoyancy in her knees so she could calmly rise up, fought it again so she could patiently walk to the nearest window that overlooked the parking lot.
She could see her car. She could see students walking in the filthy snow. Nothing more.
“Are you ok?”
Amanda yelped — it was a harsh yelp, but miniscule compared to the one she had quelled.
“Jesus!” Melanie Barnes said, her hand over her heart. “You scared me!”
“S-sorry,” Amanda muttered, her teeth rattling. “I’m just…I just…” She heaved air and sucked it anew into her. “I’m just nervous about this meeting,” she told her, running her hand through her hair. “I just want it to be over.”
Melanie was skeptical. Head cocked, eyebrow raised, she looked Amanda up and down.
“What?” Amanda demanded, betraying herself. “I might be out of a job at the end of the week.”
With sympathy, Melanie shook her head. “I know. I’m sorry. I understand. Didn’t mean to scare you.” She cleared her throat and tried to smile. “It’s like peelin’ off a Bandaid, right? Just one rip and it’s done!”
“More like pulling out a tooth,” Kiley said, walking through the office and dumping her briefcase on her desk. “Weeks of hurting, one yank and–” She make an awful popping sound while demonstrated the act. “It’s out. Still bleeding and raw, though.”
“Had a tooth pulled recently?” Mya piped up from reception. “Or just hear that metaphor elsewhere?”
“What’s a metaphor?” Kiley asked, her eyes wide and a finger twirling a wisp of hair.
Amanda slunk back to her desk. The window hadn’t yet gone into screensaver, and thus that horrible picture of her walking into the building was still there. She bit her bottom lip and deleted the email. Then she shut the whole client down.
The tremors in her fingers continued.
They didn’t stop all morning. They continued, tormenting her, right up to ten o’clock. She was the first person in the conference room, unconsciously assuming her getting there first meant the meeting could end early. As both her mind and body screamed at her, the former for release, the latter for punishment, Dr. Williams droned on. She brought up academic performances. She mentioned records. She briefly spoke about how ESL curriculum was about to change in the next year or two. She used buzzwords like “progressive reform” and “bilateral student union.” All the while, Amanda fidgeted.
There was no clock in the room, but Amanda knew the time anyway.
Dr. Williams turned to her colleague. “And I believe Alan has a few things to say about our budget for next semester. Alan?”
He sat forward and opened his notebook. “Thanks, Lorraine. Let’s get right down to it.”
Under the table, Amanda crossed her legs.
“I know many of you have been worried about the course load for next semester, and with good reason. Administration finally gave us a budget, and we countered with one that was slightly higher. We met somewhere in the middle and I think, in the end, we’re happy with the final result. Unfortunately that means some bad news as well.”
She clenched her legs together. Slowly. Rhythmically.
“First, Dr. Williams and I have agreed that while we want to have more lecturers in the future, we can only afford to hire one with the budget we have. After many, many hours of reviewing resumes, we’ve decided to hire Rajesh Said as our only lecturer. It was a surprisingly easy decision — Raj has the chops and the charm to match it. Everyone knows and likes Raj.”
Amanda’s eyes were on the stark white wall across the room; her mind saw other things.
“Second, because we can only afford one lecturer, we’re going to have to let a few of our adjuncts go. And that isn’t an easy decision. Quite frankly, we like you all. But we have to downsize. We’re going to keep one adjunct for each section — ESL and all the remedials — and the rest of the classes are going to lecturers and assistant professors. Again, we do not like making this decision. We’re still quite sick over it, but we want to finish the semester on a high note. We’ll be calling each of you in tomorrow before commencements to let you all know.”
Amanda sucked on the insides of her mouth as she stifled her climax. Had anyone been looking at her, they would have seen her twitch slightly — like a rabbit had run over her grave. A flood of warmth poured over her. She closed her eyes and sighed.
“Your stipends are still going to be paid out next week,” Maynard finished. “You’re still guaranteed to make the money you were contracted to receive. Make no mistake about that.”
The meeting ended. The tension was thick, and before she could slip her shoes back on her feet she felt the anxiety creeping back into her. Destressing had only been an extra brace on a collapsing house.
The parking lot was dark. Snow flurries whirled in the air. Amanda watched them dance through the air from the safety of the building. Dark now, the world outside looked cold and low.
“Waiting for a ride?” Amanda turned to see Raj walking up, his scarf draped around his neck and his coat buttoned up to his chin. “I can take you home if you want.”
She shook her head. “No. Thank you, though.”
“Just thinking about my lack of a job come tomorrow.”
His eyes widened. “Oh God, did you get cut?”
She shook her head. “Not yet.”
“Oh. Whew. So Friday’s the big day?”
“Yeah. Today was the big meeting.”
“The verdict before the sentencing. I get it.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels and a lighter. “Brutal.”
“There’s good news, though.” She watched him pat the bottom of the pack. A single cigarette popped up. Raj left it there for now. “It looks like you are our new stats lecturer.”
“Really?” His eyebrows jumped. “Alan told you that?”
“You’re not supposed to know until tomorrow,” she warned. “So when he tells you, act surprised.”
“I will.” He laughed. “Well, that is good news! And tomorrow, whether you’re an adjunct for this school or not, dinner’s still on me. Ok?”
She blinked, then remembered. “That’s very nice of you, Raj.”
“Did you forget we were having dinner? Was that meeting that bad?” His smile fell a little.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t forget. Other things kind of came up.”
“I understand.” He looked toward the doors. “Well, goodnight, Amanda Keefe. See you tomorrow.”
He took a step and Amanda felt her left arm reach out to touch his arm. “Raj–” she said, her bare fingers brushing against the cotton fibres of his wool coat. “Will you do me one favor?”
Surprised, he had to think for a second. “Of course. What is it?”
“This is stupid, but…” She looked back outside. “Will you walk me to my car?”
Raj nodded slowly. “Certainly.”
They stepped outside. A gust of icy wind hit her face and she had to take a step back. Tears stung her eyes as she slipped her hands into her mittens. As they walked, he put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it. He didn’t offer her one.
Her teeth chattering, Amanda dug her keys out of her purse and quickly unlocked her car. She jumped inside and started the engine before slamming the door behind her. Raj stood outside, his cigarette smoke dissipating into the winter as she rolled down the window. He bounced on his knees to keep warm.
“Thank you,” she told him. “I do appreciate it.”
Her gratefulness was genuine even if her smile was not. Raj nodded.
“Drive safe. Watch out for black ice.”
“I will. You too.”
She coasted out of the parking lot. A Buick followed her to the exit, but made a sharp left as she made a right. Raj stood at his own car, a black BMW, watching her drive away. She saw him in her rearview mirror as she looked for other obstructions in her way.