Nothing's wrong, honest
The rest of the afternoon was quiet. There wasn't much for us to do except to clean the area, which was done by 3:30, and then to stand around and pass the time. I had considered asking the boss for the rest of the day off, but decided against it. I needed the money more than I needed to make it to the wake this evening.
At about 4:30, not long before we were going to close, a fairly well-dressed man came in and was wandering around the Wine Shop. I went over and asked him if I could help. He told me that he was going to a dinner party and needed a nice bottle of wine to bring along. I went through the department with him, pointing out all of the different wines that we had, showing him the labels as I had learned to do. He seemed to be hanging onto every word, and the way he was looking at me made me feel funny. It wasn't like he was coming on to me. That happened fairly regularly, and I could generally handle the people who did that. This was more like he had been sent to watch me by someone. He finally chose a bottle of burgundy. I rang him out and, with a wave, he left. I relaxed a little after that, and cleared out my register.
I rode down on the escalator with Kate. "So, how are things going with that woman you met last week?" she asked.
"Oh, fine. I saw her again last night. She's really nice."
"Uh huh. And, did you spend the night with her?"
"Huh? What's that all about?"
She patted me on the shoulder. "If I'm not mistaken, you wore that suit and that tie yesterday."
"So? That doesn't mean anything."
"I think it does, especially since I saw you coming out of the Hancock Center this morning. That's where she lives, doesn't she?"
"Tony, I don't care. I'm happy for you! She seems like a really nice lady. I'm glad that you met someone." We were outside the store now. "Listen, I'll see you next week. I've got to catch the bus." Before I had a chance to say goodbye, she was gone. Confused, I headed in the direction of the subway station, being extra careful when I crossed the streets to watch for out-of-control cars.
I paid my fare and went down to the southbound platform. I lit a cigarette and paced around a little bit. The station was fairly crowded; it had been a nice day, and it was still pretty early, even though the sun had started to set. I looked down the tracks to see if there was a train on its way from Clark and Division, and didn't see one, so I glanced down toward the other end of the station. The well-dressed customer who had been my last sale had just entered the station, carrying the wine box. He turned and looked down toward me, smiled and waved, making me feel terribly uncomfortable.
The train came a few minutes later, and I got into the last car and found a seat near the door. I could see the stranger get into the next car and take a seat facing into my car. A bit strange, I thought, but I let it go. I got off of the train at Washington and State, and made my way up the stairs to the Lake-Dan Ryan line, which I would take to 95th Street.
I walked to the far end of the station and waited for a train to come along. I had just missed one, so I knew I'd have a few minutes to wait. I lit another cigarette and started thinking about what Kate had said. It almost seemed like she was jealous that I had something going with Rosalie, and that made no sense. I had asked Kate out not long after she and I started working together, and she told me flat-out that she had a boyfriend, so I figured to let it drop, and I'd just wait until she showed more interest in me. It wasn't as though I wasn't attracted to her. The fact was that I had been waiting my turn. Maybe she was going to tell me that she was available just when she saw Rosalie and I together, and she felt bad that she didn't get a chance to tell me. I didn't know. I finally decided that I would make myself crazy trying to figure it out.
I looked across at the other platform, and saw the guy with the wine box standing there. Good, he's not following me, I thought. I saw a train coming from the west side and put out my cigarette. I noticed that the guy with the wine box suddenly bolted toward the bridge that connects the two stations, as though he realized that he was on the wrong platform. I jumped onto the train and took a seat behind the door, with the idea that if he was watching me, I'd have a chance to get off in a hurry. At least, that would be the plan. As the train left the station, I thought I saw him standing on the platform.
It took me until 63rd Street to relax. By then, I realized that I had really seen him on the platform and that the soonest I'd see him would be at 95th Street, if at all. Relax, Tony, I told myself. What's gotten into you? One bad thing happens and suddenly I'm paranoid. I settled back on the plastic seat and looked out the window at the cars on the Dan Ryan Expressway, and thought about how different my life had become all of a sudden. I wasn't about ready to tell my mother about her. In fact, I wasn't sure that I was going to tell my mother anything more than I had to. I certainly wasn't going to share anything about what had happened of late.
A westbound bus was waiting at the station when I got off at 95th Street. I showed my pass to the driver, took two steps and froze. The guy was sitting at the back of the bus, the Wine Shop box between his legs. Something's going on here, I said to myself. I sat on the bench at the front of the bus and looked straight ahead, not wanting to make eye contact with him. How had he made it to 95th without getting on the other train? He couldn't have taken a bus that got here earlier. He must have gotten in a cab that brought him down. I was feeling very nervous now. I wanted to jump off of the bus right then, but I figured that I would be better off staying put and not letting on to the guy that I knew he was there.
Around Kedzie, the bell rang in the back of the bus. I looked, and the guy I thought was tailing me was getting off the bus. I breathed a sigh of relief when the exit door closed and the bus moved away from the curb, then thought, geez, Reardon, what a weenie you are. What did I have to worry about? OK, so someone might be after Rosalie, but that didn't mean that anyone was after me. Yeah, she told me to be careful, but she didn't tell me to be paranoid, and that's just what I had been, paranoid. The guy was probably in a hurry to get to his dinner party, the one I sold him the wine for, and probably took a taxi to 95th so that he could catch up with the bus. Weird, yes, but diabolical? Nah. I leaned back and started to doze off.
"Hey, kid, how far are you going?" the driver asked, waking me up.
"Cicero," I answered.
He pulled over to the curb and opened the door. "You got about a two block walk back, then."
I got off the bus and walked east, feeling pretty stupid. You're just tired, Tony, go easy on yourself. This hasn't been an easy day, and you've had a lot on your mind, and now you have to go to a wake and be charming.
Mom, Francis and I stopped at an all-night restaurant a couple of blocks from home after the wake.
"Tony, you don't seem like yourself," Mom said.
"Then who do I seem like?" I asked, half joking. My brother snickered.
She kicked me under the table. "Don't get smart with me, young man, I can tell when something's wrong."
"You've always said that, Mom, and I don't know whether or not to believe you. How can you tell?"
"Oh, I know."
"I'm not going to tell you." Mom was playing her usual mind games with me. "A mother can always tell when something's going wrong with her children. You have ways that you tell me without saying a word. Now, is everything all right at school?"
"Things are fine, Mom. I've only been back for a month now."
"Are you getting along all right with your roommate?"
"Yeah, Eddie's a great guy."
"You told me that he was a slob."
"He's not as neat as Jerry was last year, but sometimes that's not a bad thing."
"Well, he forgot to give you the message."
"No, he didn't, Mom. I just didn't want to call you and wake you up."
"Well, weren't you worried when I called?"
"Not really. If Francis called, I would have been worried that something had happened to you, and if Claire had called, I would have known that something was wrong..."
"Did you know that Claire and her...girlfriend were talking about having a baby?"
I really didn't want to get into it with her. "Mom, I really don't want to talk about Claire and Vera. And I'm doing fine at school, I love my classes, I like my roommate, and I like living on campus. The only thing that could make me happier would be the White Sox in the World Series."
"Well, you seem edgy to me," she said. She sat quietly and ate her salad.
I wanted to give her my theory on why I was so edgy, but I decided against it. Instead, I finished my salad and lit a cigarette.
"How much have you been smoking, Tony?" she asked.
"Not a lot, Mom." Oh, geez, now she was going to start on this.
"Well, that's about the fifth cigarette you've had since you got to the wake."
"It keeps me from getting edgy, Mom." I sipped my coffee.
"Maybe it's the coffee, Tony," she offered.
Francis spoke up. "Mom, don't fight with Tony, it's giving me indigestion."
"See, Tony, now you've upset Francis."
"Mom, I'm sorry. Francis, I'm sorry, too. Now look, it's been a long day, and I'm tired. If I'm a little on edge, maybe that's the reason. OK? I'll feel better when I have something to eat and get some rest."
"Of course, dear. I understand. I'm glad that you came to the wake, dear, it meant so much to your aunt." The aunt that I barely knew who was married to someone who I barely remembered. "And to me."
I smiled, more because dinner had just arrived than anything. "Sure, Mom," I said.
About halfway through dinner, I looked up and saw the guy from the Wine Shop, and the train, and the bus, sitting at a table by himself, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. Oh, shit, now he's going to be following us home, I thought. I excused myself and went to the bathroom.
As I stood at the urinal, I heard the door open behind me. I knew it was him. He walked into the stall and closed the door.
"So, we meet again," he said jovially.
"Yeah. How'd that burgundy work out?" I was nervous as hell with him in the room. I wanted to just zip my fly and leave, but there was nowhere to run.
"Like a charm. That was a good choice. Thanks a lot. So, you live out in these parts?"
"Yeah." I wasn't about to tell him that I lived in the dorm at Loyola.
"Nice neighborhood," he said. He walked behind me and stood at the sink, washing his hands. "I live up north. I'm not used to this part of town." He dried his hands on the towel, then went to the door. "I'm off. Take care."
"You, too." When he was gone, I rested my head against the tiled wall, letting its coolness sink into my forehead. I asked myself for the umpteenth time why I had gotten myself into this relationship. Then I remembered Rosalie, with her beautiful brown eyes and gorgeous face and graceful neck, and how warm she was beside me in the dark, and how loving she was this morning, and I decided that it was worth every minute of it. I stood and convinced myself that the guy in the suit was a huge coincidence, finished my business and went back into the restaurant, noticing that the guy was now gone.
Mom watched me sit down and resume my eating. "I was starting to worry about you, dear. Are you feeling all right?"
"Mom, I'm feeling fantastic." And I was.