A Jake and Gina short in response to The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt
She shook a few loose flakes of snow from the ends of her brown curls as she stooped to unlock the shop door. It still shocked her whenever she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She’d been bottle blond for so long she’d almost forgotten what her natural colour looked like. It had been over year though, you would’ve thought she’d be used to it by now, but then she’d been having trouble getting used to all of the changes that had been forced on her since…
She hated to think about it.
It had been her fault. She should never have agreed to do the job, it had been too risky, but Jake persuaded her it would be okay and she’d trusted him. Now, she was stuck in New York working in a tiny, dusty, book shop and living in a lonely, empty apartment. It had all gone so wrong and she cursed herself for being so foolish and immature. Only an idiot would risk losing something as good as they’d had and she had been that idiot. There was nothing she could do about it now though, except plod through each day, waiting for Jake to find her.
If he ever did.
Her breath hung in the air for a second as she sighed and fixed her concentration to the task at hand.
The brass lock clicked loudly in the hush of the December morning as the key hit home, but the door stuck as she tried to open it. That summed up the state of her life right at that moment; stuck. She leveled a swift kick to the left hand panel of the doors bottom and it sprang open; fanning out a small pile of mail as it swung. It was unusual for the mail to be here before she was, but being as it was Christmas eve it seemed likely that the postal workers would want to get done earlier than usual, so that they could go back to their families sooner.
Flicking on the shop lights she then bent to scoop up the pile of letters, letting the door swing shut behind her. She hoped the customers wouldn’t have too much trouble separating the ancient wood from its frame when they came to pick up their orders or their last minute gifts.
The clock over the cash register softly chimed the hour and as if breaking some kind of spell the street outside suddenly became busier. She dropped the mail on the counter next to the register without giving it a second look and prepared to start the day. The owners, Mr and Mrs Levitts, would be by later to see how she was doing. It was always a good idea to be busy when the boss stopped by. Besides, maybe if she busied herself she’d forget just for a moment, about other Christmases spent with other people, in other more exciting places.
Pushing away errant memories she sighed and readied herself for the impending rush she knew was coming.
It’s weird really, you’d think that these days book shops would be all but extinct but apparently not. If the sheer number of bodies that managed to squeeze themselves in and out of the tiny well stocked shop was anything to go by, the demand for physical copies of well loved tomes was incredible. It certainly helped pass the time, which is what she’d wanted when she’d replied to card in the dusty window asking for full time help. She knew she didn’t need the minuscule salary that came with the position of shop manager. While her other associates at “The Company” were blowing their earnings on booze and drugs, she’d invested in property. The elderly couple she worked for would probably be shocked to learn that not only did she own the building their shop was located in but she also owned the block of apartments they all lived in as well.
She’d often wondered if she’d made the right call investing the way she had, but her mother had always said that property was one the most sound investments you could make. Well, that and gold, but she wasn’t into gold, it was too obvious. If you were on the run from anyone, stopping off to cash in your gold was a sure fire way of getting caught, but property could just sit there and if you handled it right it could earn you money every day for the rest of your life. So, she had nothing to worry about in that respect, it was other areas that worried her. Other people that worried her and caused the sour pain of anxiety to beat at her insides when she was least expecting it.
She knew she had given Jake long enough and that she should start to move on, but she didn’t know how. He’d made her a promise and a small part of her refused to let that go. The only way to muffle that part was to work and keep herself distracted. If only she could keep distracted every minute of every day as all too soon it was time to close the shop and Mr and Mrs Levitts were suddenly at the counter asking how the day had gone. If she could just have a do-over she wouldn’t have anytime to think or torture herself with how she should’ve done things differently. Instead she closed down the cash register and set about cleaning up the shop. Mrs Levitts had taken to replacing the books that customers had shuffled around while Mr Levitts sorted through the mail.
There were the usual brown enveloped bills and a couple of cards from satisfied customers but nestled in the centre of the pile was a red envelope that made Mr Levitts suddenly break into a wide mouthed grin.
“Hey Sarah honey,” he called, waving the red envelope in the air, “this one’s for you.”
Flicking her brown curls back from her face she leaned the broom she’d been holding against one of the book cases.
That was the other thing she couldn’t get used to. It had been nearly ten years since she’d used her real name and it sounded alien to her. She’d never liked Gina but it had become part of who she was, she didn’t really know Sarah anymore. Sarah had been the geeky kid at college who had bested all of the boys in her class. Sarah was who she’d been before “The Company” had found her. She wasn’t sure she could be that girl again, who she was and who she’d been didn’t fit. But it didn’t matter now, what mattered was the bright red envelope with her real name on it. No one was supposed to know she was here. Well, except… But they hadn’t exchanged real names. She didn’t know why, it had just never come up.
Her heart hammered in her chest as she tried to appear calm on the surface. A small voice at the back of her mind told her she was being stupid, if he hadn’t gotten in touch before, why now?
She gently took the envelope from the old man’s grasp and slid her finger under the paper flap. The card inside was silver with a simple white snowflake in the centre. She held her breath as she pulled it free of it’s red paper covering and opened it. She didn’t know what she expected to find inside. That voice kept reminding her that it couldn’t be from Jake, he didn’t know her real name.
Scanning through the twee holiday greeting inside, she forced herself to stay calm as disappointment seeped into her core. The message was simple; a string of hastily scrawled numbers , non-sequential and confusing. She frowned. It must be some kind of joke.
Remembering she wasn’t alone, she closed the card before folding it in half and stuffing into the back pocket of her jeans. The Levitts’s looked up at her expectantly from the battered leather couch that lived in front of the shops main bookcase. She plastered on a smile and tried to mentally force her disappointment back into its internal box. She was just being stupid, she knew it wouldn’t be anything from Jake, it was just some weird customer’s phone number, that was it, she’d acquired herself a Christmas stalker.
As if sensing that she didn’t want to talk about it the elderly couple heaved themselves from their seat and began to shuffle back into their recently shed coats. The snow had been constant all day and the evening air had turned bitter.
“Well, it’s been a great day for customers,” She said in a desperate attempt to break what was fast becoming an awkward silence, “even with the weather.”
Mr Levitts’ face lit up as he shrugged on his overcoat, turning up the collar to guard against the cold.
” That’s excellent dear, I knew taking you on was a good idea.” He winked at her before patting her gently on the shoulder. She really liked the Levitts’s, they were the closest thing to family she had she supposed.
Pulling at his sleeve to demand his attention Mrs Levitts inserted herself into the conversation.
” Did you ask Sarah about the party tonight dear?”
Mr Levitts shook his head, “I was just about to my love, give me a chance.”
Sarah chuckled. They were like a comedy duo sometimes.She knew what they were going to ask. The Levitts party was all that the other elderly residents of their apartment block could talk about for the last few weeks. She’d had a suspicion that she might be expected to attend. Not that she felt like it, but she figured that if it got as loud as she expected it to be she wouldn’t get any peace in her own apartment. May as well be part of the noise than be the one waiting for it to stop.
When Mr Levitts finally gave voice to the couples invitation she graciously accepted before waving them off, out into the snowy New York streets. She resumed cleaning and re-stocking but it wasn’t long before the mysterious Christmas card began to feel as though it was burning a hole in her back pocket. She’d almost finished filling the biography section by the time she gave up and pulled the card out of its denim hiding spot.
She opened it up and held it under the spot light shining above the bookcase. Reading the numbers backwards and forwards she tried to make sense of them. There weren’t enough numbers for it be a phone number, which was weird because they seemed sort of familiar. Even though she was sure it wasn’t a contact number she pulled out her cell phone. It took only a split second for her to remember that the phone was new. She’d ditched the one “The Company” had given her after the bank job went sideways. Going off the reservation and stealing from company clients did not go down well and she was not looking for any kind of come back in that direction. She couldn’t help thinking that she knew the numbers from somewhere though. Maybe good old Google could help. It was a long shot but at this point she had nothing to lose.
Quickly inputting the string of digits into the search bar a strong feeling of frustration sat heavy in her chest. Who would send her such a stupidly cryptic message? She closed her eyes, feeling suddenly weary, she just wanted this year to be over. Maybe she should just go home and forget about it. Yeah, that’s what she should do, go home. But glancing down at her phone with her thumb poised to lock it the top search on the screen caught her eye. It was a link to Google maps. Suddenly she was intrigued.
” No, it couldn’t be.” She muttered as she clicked the link and waited for it load.
No wonder the numbers looked so familiar, they were coordinates and now she realised what for. The first job she and Jake had ever done together and their meet had been in Central Park. It had been her first visit to the park and she’d nearly gotten lost.
When “The Company” gave out new assignments they always gave out coordinates for a neutral meeting place for all employees involved, but once you’d struck up a working partnership it was more or less up to you where to meet. This had been their first meet though which meant that the message was from Jake, but how did he know her name? Not that it mattered, all that mattered now was heading to the meeting spot. Would he be there or would there be some kind of message or sign? She needed to find out, the re-stocking could wait.
She was still buttoning her coat as the fat flakes of snow settled on her shoulders and in her hair. She really should’ve brought a hat, a fact she’d well regret later she knew. The snow covered streets were still quite busy even though walking was tough going. The snow hadn’t given up all day and was now almost six inches deep in places. She strode on with a purpose, doing her best not to fall over or get in anybody’s way. It had been a long time since she’d been to the park, but she still knew where to go, luckily it wasn’t that far from the shop.
It was completely dark by the time she’d made it to the bench where they’d first met, the street lamps along the path way were doing their best to light the area through the feather like snow flakes descending from the black sky. Her heart sank as she realised that the bench was empty. She had no idea what had made her think he’d be there. He had no way of knowing if she’d gotten the message or when, or even if, she’d finally arrive. She felt like an idiot and most of all she felt tired. Tired of waiting, tired of feeling stuck.
She sank down on the snowy bench, not caring that the covering of snow was seeping through her coat. Placing her face into both of her palms she tried desperately not to cry. She’d never really had any regrets until now. She regretted letting the recruiter from “The Company” talk her into joining when she was in college, she regretted agreeing to take that first job and she regretted falling for Jake. Whoever said “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” was a complete moron. She’d have been better not loving in the first place. That way she wouldn’t be sat on a freezing wet bench on Christmas eve doing her best not cry.
After what seemed like an hour she finally pulled herself together. She was done waiting for Jake, it was time to start getting more involved in life, starting with the Levitts’s party. Sure, it would be mostly the older residents in the building, but she was sure she’d heard some one mention bringing their Grandson, he might be near her age. Not that she was ready to get back out there as far as relationships went but at least she’d have someone younger to talk to and then when Christmas was over she’d join a book club or something, start meeting people. Yeah, Jake could stick it, where ever he was.
It didn’t take her too long to get back to the apartment block, the noise from the party could be heard from down the street. The Levitts’s might be getting on but they could still throw a party it seemed.
Despite some of the guests being clustered on the front step smoking cigarettes and cigars, She managed to get up to her apartment relatively unnoticed. Shedding her now soaking wet coat, she towel dried her hair and hastily threw on a jumper dress she’d been saving for a dressy occasion. It wasn’t anything fancy but it was smarter than the jeans and sweat shirt she’d worn to the book shop. Her hair was a mess though, the snow had completely flattened it, but she couldn’t be bothered to spend time drying it, it would have to do, there wasn’t going to be anyone there she wanted to impress anyway. She ran her fingers through it and shook it out a bit, it would dry soon enough.
Quickly skipping back down the stairs she was glad she’d decided to wear flats. The granite hallways were becoming slippy with the melted slush being brought in by other apartment dwellers boots. Falling and cracking her head would not have been a good plan. She slowed down and took her time, the party would be going for a few hours yet, there was no immediate rush.
When she finally made it to the Levitts’s place the party had spilled out into the downstairs hall way and several of the ground floor apartments had become a kind of open house. It took her a little while to navigate the crush of people and finally make it into the old couples kitchen where she was greeted with a hug by Mrs Levitts and a large whiskey from her husband.
“We’re so glad you could make it!” the older woman cried, “listen there’s some one I’d really like you meet.”
Sarah smiled as her stomach suddenly sank. It had seemed a good idea earlier, the thought of being able to mix with some one her own age, or near it, but now she wasn’t so sure. The old lady would never take no for an answer though, so Sarah let herself be hustled through the crush in the sitting room and into the recess of the bay window at the front of the apartment. How she’d managed not to spill her whiskey was anyone’s guess. Nervously taking a sip she had to stop herself from chugging it, the warmth it created in her chest let her know how cold she was and how tired. She was conscious of focusing on the collar of Mrs Levitts’s Christmas sweater as the older lady mumbled something to a dark haired younger man in the group squeezed before the bay window. Sarah couldn’t really see his face but his physique made her think he was close to her age. Suddenly she didn’t feel like making conversation but the alternative seemed rude and Mrs Levitts had gone out of her way to set up an introduction.
Straightening her dress some moved a little closer to the old lady and listened for her cue but her words were muffled a little by the music coming from the stereo. She heard the word “Grandson” but as the person before them turned to face her she didn’t hear much else.
She knew that face, in fact not only did she know it, she’d woken up next to it for the best part of a year. She’d watched it smile and laugh and she’d smoothed the crinkle between the eye brows when it was deep in concentration, but right then she didn’t know whether to slap it or kiss it.
Her confusion must’ve been plain as the open smile on that familiar face had been replaced by a look of guilt. He’d kept her waiting, not just this last year but for nearly hour on a soaking park bench. Well, okay, she hadn’t been exactly waiting for him, but it was his fault she’d been there in the first place.
She was just about to give him hell for it when he beat her to it.
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching out to wind a damp curl of her hair around his finger, “I made a mistake with the coordinates. I mixed up it a digit or two, you were supposed to end up here and I didn’t realise until I’d sent it. Lucky for me my Grandpa lives just down the hall.”
She hardly heard a word as she looked right into his green eyes. She’d waited so long for him and now he was here she was starting to forget all the resolutions she’d made earlier. She didn’t regret any of the things that had brought them both together, how could she. Her life hadn’t really meant much to her before he’d said he loved her and she couldn’t regret that. The bank job had been a bad idea and she’d nearly lost him over it, that was something she would never let happen again. She didn’t regret it though, it had made her realise a few things.
One thing she was coming to regret though was not taking the time to do her hair. As it turns it she did have some one she wanted to impress after all.