As open and welcoming as he’s been, there are some subjects that make him clam up. One of these is taking about Emily, the woman whose office Marka now occupies. To draw him out, she tells Frank about a bad romantic experience she had.
“Now I’m supposed to open up and tell about my shitty experience too, right?”
“No, Frank. . . . That’s not why I told you that.”
“Let’s get going.” He grabbed up his clothing and a stack of cloth grocery bags.
He flung the bags in the back seat, but hung the garment bag carefully. The gym bag went on the floor behind his seat.
“I’m really not trying to piss you off, Frank.”
“Really? Kind of feels that way.” He backed out of this driveway quickly.
Maneuvering rapidly on the narrow two lane road, he stared out the windshield with an angry frown.
“I’m naturally nosy,” she said after a couple minutes. “When I see someone hurting, I want to help.
I can help you, Frank.”
“Maybe everything’s fine. Maybe I don’t need help.”
“Maybe just the way you said that, you don’t mean it.”
Frank sped up. He took the road to the IGA a little faster than he should. The car swayed slightly. He slowed, regaining control before they turned into the parking lot. He parked the car. Turning it off, he drew a deep breath, huffing it out.
“She left me, okay? She married someone else and left me. Every time I ever give my heart to a woman, she takes it and blows it up with C-4. I got more holes than a practice target.”
“Emily?” Marka asked quietly.
Frank frowned at her, anger and pain burning in his eyes. The color rose in his face and he gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles went white.
“No. I told you, she was just a friend.”
“She was more than a friend, Frank. I found some things she left in the bottom drawer of her desk. I’m sure she didn’t intend for anyone but you to find them.”
“Great! So that’s what this interrogation was about? A stack of supposed love letters?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“A note. The socks you gave her. A couple snapshots.” She paused, staring hard at her fingers. “An ultrasound image.”
Tears welled in his eyes. He wrenched the door open, slamming it behind him. He left her to get out of the car by herself. He yanked a shopping cart and started toward the produce section. Marka followed him with another cart. She caught up with him by the tomatoes.
“It wasn’t mine,” he mumbled. “It was her husband’s. We never— She didn’t cheat on him. Not because we didn’t want to. But they had a daughter, the other on the way. If she’d left him, he would have kept the kids.”
“What a monster.”
“No. He’s a good guy. He loves her, loves his kids. She loved me. Or I thought she did.”
“I’m sorry I dug that up. I shouldn’t have pried.”
“No, you shouldn’t. Analyzing me isn’t your job, Dr. Freud.”
“I’m more Jungian than Freudian,” she replied with a smirk. “Freud was too focused on sex to look at anything else. That man had a lot of problems. He was a real whack job.”
Frank’s barking laugh made heads turn. He waved to them and they looked away.
“First time I ever heard the father of modern psychiatry called a whack job.”
“Oh, it’s the technical term for someone who’s out of his fucking mind,” she replied quietly as she passed him.
Frank laughed again, louder. More stares, many of them close to glowers. He waved again, laughing as he headed to the deli. His purchases seemed random and impulsive to Marka, but his cart was neatly organized. She’d never seen a more perfectly aligned cart in her life.
“If I were Freudian, I’d call you anal,” she said as he made a spot for his neatly stacked yogurt.
He toppled the yogurt, grinning. “There, less anal.” He walked off, humming.
“It’s killing you,” she said when she caught up. “Go ahead, pick them up before you blow a gasket.”
“That obvious?” He winced, looking worried.
“Only to the trained eye.”
He stacked his yogurt and followed her as she wandered past the meat section.
“You aren’t a vegetarian, are you?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Me? No. Gotta avoid red meat. Well, I can eat it once in awhile. . . .”
“Hemochromatosis. You familiar with that?”
“The body absorbs too much iron from the GI tract.”
“Yeah. They found it when I went in the military.”
“And they didn’t throw you out?”
“Mine’s easily controlled with diet. I’m careful what I eat, I’m fine. I had red meat last night, so I probably shouldn’t tonight.”
© Dellani Oakes