Nothing to regret
The alarm blasted me out of bed at 6, and I felt disoriented. I had forgotten what it was like to wake up at home, even though I had only been back to school for a month. I showered and dressed, put my clothes from the night before in a plastic bag, and ate a quick breakfast. After promising Mom that I'd be home the following week for Election Day, I left for school via a different route. I didn't want to run into the guy who had been following me again. It was worth having to stand on the Archer bus from Cicero all the way downtown to avoid him. At least I'd have a seat up to Archer. I bought a Sun-Times from the newspaper box on the corner to occupy myself on the trip to school. Normally I'd study, but I didn't have my books with me. Fortunately, it was still early in the school year, so there wasn't much of a chance of having a quiz.
On the ride, I thought about everything that had gone on since I had met Rosalie. It had been an eventful week. Part of me was wanting things to slow down, the other part of me was hoping that things would continue on this breakneck pace. I wasn't ready to think about falling in love just yet, but I was starting to entertain the idea of being with this woman for a long time. I couldn't remember what things were like before meeting her, and I couldn't envision what life would be like without her.
Then I began to reflect on the not-so-good things about our new relationship. Already, we had nearly been run over by some crazy driver who was evidently bent on killing her, I had someone tailing me for no apparent reason, and she was being evasive about who she was and what she did for a living. I mean, she had made up a story about how she worked at a downtown law firm, which was obviously not true unless her job involved carrying a gun and putting her life in danger. Then she tried to cover her tracks by telling me that she was an undercover cop, but that couldn't be true, either. I mean, if she had been an undercover cop, wouldn't she have called for help instead of rushing me off to her apartment? Wouldn't she have asked for witnesses or taken the license plate of the car? And what was the deal with jumping into bed with me just as I was starting to ask questions?
OK, so maybe she hadn't done that. Maybe it was my offering to leave that prompted that. Maybe it was my being angry with her that prompted it. I was starting to come up with explanations for all of the bizarre goings-on to rationalize them in my mind, and it was working. The truth was, I was whipped. I didn't want to leave her. I didn't want to break it off, because what I had was just so good. But I still had my questions, and while I could understand that she couldn't give me answers to all of them, I was going to start getting a little more insistent about answers.
The roar of a Lear jet taking off at Midway Airport reminded me that I'd be changing buses soon. When we did pull up at the corner of Archer and Cicero, I waited at the corner to cross, and only did so when the "Walk" sign appeared. About halfway across, I heard the squeal of tires, and jumped back as a big older car came flying around the corner from Archer, barely missing me, and sped down Cicero. "You son of a bitch!" I screamed after the car. I tried to get the license number, but only managed to get part of it, and wrote it on the back page of the paper.
"Kid, are you OK?" a Hispanic man asked when I got to the other curb.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I replied. "Thanks."
"Crazy fuckin' drivers around here. One of these days, someone's gonna get killed. Everyone in a big fuckin' hurry trying to get to work on time even though they left late. Know what I mean?"
I couldn't talk, I was too jittery. I lit a cigarette and dragged deeply on it, the smoke burning the inside of my mouth. I leaned up against a lamppost and said a prayer. My head started to hurt again, and I felt dizzy. I couldn't go to school like this; I wouldn't learn anything. I walked down a couple of doors to a coffee shop and bought myself a cup of coffee, then bought a pack of cigarettes from the machine and sat at the counter.
"You seem edgy, hon," the waitress said, setting the coffee in front of me. I wanted to tell her not to start on me, but I simply thanked her for the coffee and sipped it carefully. I wasn't going to make my 9:00 Statistics class, but right now, I didn't care.
I got to school at 9:30, stopped in the bookstore and bought myself a legal pad, then went across the street to Xavier Grill for another cup of coffee. I was feeling much better now, and it was a good hour and a half until my next class. I sat and read the paper, did the crossword, and had a couple of cigarettes to pass the time. I wasn't there more than a few minutes when I heard someone take the seat across from me and clear her throat. I looked up and saw a familiar green-eyed redhead sitting across from me.
"Aren't you supposed to be in class, Mr. Reardon?" She winked.
"Kate! What are you doing here at Lewis Towers?"
"I'm taking a couple of business classes this year, so I'm slumming three days a week." She pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her purse and lit one.
We chatted for a while, comparing notes on different classes and teachers. Eventually, the talk got around to work.
"You know, I'm surprised you put up with Mr. Stinky as well as you do," Kate said.
"It's a case of mind over matter. I don't mind, and he doesn't matter."
She laughed. "I'll have to remember that one. No, seriously, I'm surprised that they've put up with him for as long as they have. I mean, hasn't anyone said anything to him?"
"Maybe he's got pictures of the management or something. Or, you know, the other thing is, they probably can't find anyone else to do his job. He may be the best that they can find. Not everyone has the career options that we do."
"That's true. I'm starting to think that maybe I should just get a job at the Jewel or something. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I'm working in a food store anyway, might as well get paid union wages for it."
"Well, you can't beat the 20 percent discount."
"I can't afford anything from the store even with the discount. Why do you stay?"
"Oh, you know, to remind myself why I'm going to school."
She laughed, and her smile lingered long enough for me to get the full effect of it. As gorgeous as Rosalie was, Kate was something special. I liked knowing her and having her talk to me. I hadn't dated much when I was in high school, mostly because I was intimidated by girls, and a girl like Kate was way out of my league back then. Maybe she was really the reason I was putting up with my crappy job. "Hey, Tony, what are you doing Friday night?"
"Nothing, as far as I know, why?"
"There's a party at my church. You want to come?"
I thought about it, and nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like fun. What church?"
"St. Juliana. It's on Touhy and Oketo."
"Yeah, OK. I'll figure out how to get there and see you Friday night."
"Great." She stood up and picked up her books. "Listen, I have to run. Talk to you later."
I watched her walk across the room and out the door. She turned, smiled and waved when she left. I felt a little guilty all of a sudden, as if I wasn't being faithful to Rosalie. The feeling passed pretty quickly. I did know that I was feeling a whole lot more normal than I had been an hour earlier. The world was a good place to live again.