Frank takes Marka to the grocery store. Her flirtatious manner leaves him breathless, thinking of all the things he’d rather be doing.
Once his heart started beating normally and his breath returned, he followed her as she conferred with the butcher about her purchases. The man also recommended sides and a couple of wines.
“No alcohol,” Frank told her.
“Oh, I forgot. We’ll get a sparkling juice instead. Almost as good.”
“When they spring me from Penwarren hell, we can eat at my place. No alcohol ban there.”
They took their purchases to the register. Frank paid for her groceries too. She tried to protest, but he insisted.
“Please, let me do this. I’m eating half of it and you’re doing me a huge favor by cooking. I can’t tell you how sick I am of eating out.”
“Put that way, I can’t argue with your logic. Thank you.”
“Thank you. I honestly can’t remember the last time a woman cooked for me.”
Frank realized how sad and pathetic that sounded. He put away his credit card and started toward the door. The cashier handed Marka the receipt and she followed him to the car. He was already putting the groceries in the back when she caught up to him.
“I keep finding ways to upset you.”
“No. I keep finding that I have big gaping holes in my emotional armor that I didn’t know existed.” He put the last bag in and shut the trunk. He held her door for her as she climbed in.
“Thank you,” she said, touching his cheek.
“What for this time? You already thanked me for the groceries, lunch, breakfast, my jacket. . . .”
Her lips touched his lightly. “For being kind to stranger who had no toilet paper. For showing me around today, introducing me, making me feel at home. Thank you for letting me into a small corner of your life, showing me your beautiful home, letting me cook for you.”
Frank couldn’t look at her. Marka’s golden eyes drew him in, trapping him like a bug in amber. If he let himself, he’d fall in and never get out. He rushed around to his side of the car and headed back to Sheltering Oaks.
They were barely in the door when three people, one of them Ralph Penwarren, nearly tackled him. Sue and Kathy were the other two.
“Frank, I’ve called you a dozen times,” Sue said.
He took his phone out of his pocket. It was flashing low battery. There were the messages, all in a line. It hadn’t rung through.
“Sorry, Sue. What’s wrong?”
“He tried to bribe me!” Kathy yelled, pointing at Penwarren. “He came to my office and offered me a hundred bucks to let him in his mom’s apartment!”
“Voices down,” Frank said. “My office.” He gestured to them.
“I’m gonna go start dinner,” Marka said.
“I’ll be up shortly. Get one of the guys to help you with the groceries.”
An orderly was passing, coming in from a smoke break. Frank asked him to help Marka. The kid picked up all the bags like they were nothing and followed her to the elevator.
“I’ll be up as soon as I can,” Frank promised.
He led the way to his office and unlocked the door. He ushered the others in, shutting it behind them.
“Okay, Kathy. Start over. When did this happen?”
“Right after I came on shift. Like three?”
Right before he tried to break in. “Go on.”
“So, I told him no! Mabel’s a sweet lady. If she wanted him in there, he’d be in there.”
“She’s my mother! She needed some things.”
“That the staff would be happy to get for her,” Frank said with finality. “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?” He asked Kathy.
“You weren’t in your office and you didn’t answer your cell. I did try, Frank. I’m not gonna tell you something like that?”
“Of course you would. Okay, Sue. You next.”
“What about my side?” Penwarren whined.
“Your side is to sit there and shut up before I call the cops and have you forcibly removed. Sue?”
“He just tried the same thing with me like thirty minutes ago. When I told him no, he got ugly. He started yelling and saying he was gonna have my job. I tried calling, Frank.”
© Dellani Oakes