Written by JasonKorolenko
The next day found Roger at the local S-Mart picking up all the items he thought a pregnant woman might need. Pillows, blankets, baggy pajamas. Cold and warm compresses, cutesy soft slippers. Instant mashed potatoes and ketchup. He'd once read how women with child often crave weird combinations of food, and that was the weirdest he could come up with. Of course, Roger didn't consider that he'd never had to feed her before, or how they'd go about the birth, or if he should contact a doctor. In his excitement, he hadn't thought that far ahead.
From time to time while shopping, surrounded by normal people living normal lives, a sort of fog seemed to lift from his psyche. During one such moment, Roger looked at the items in his shopping cart and wondered when he'd begun to go so far off the deep end. He wasn't always like this. Had something happened, something emotionally traumatic, that he'd blocked out of his memory? Some horrific childhood event that moved him to the fringe of reality and beyond it? Or had he simply removed himself from human contact for so long that he'd forgotten how, or lost the desire, to interact with people in a meaningful way?
As the fog started to roll back in, Roger caught sight of a woman . a real woman . looking at him funny, the way people stared when he and Dora went out together. Roger went about his business, turning away from her, trying to avoid a confrontation.
"Roger?" she called out. "Roger MacMillan, is that you?"
He started to walk away, pretend not to have heard, but she lightly grasped his shoulder. A jolt of adrenaline coursed through him at the touch.
"Roger?" she said again.
"Um . . . hi?"
Whoever she was, she was gorgeous. Dirty gold ringlets of shoulder-length hair. Perfect teeth. Wide, innocent smile. Hazel eyes so clear he could almost see into her brain.
"It is you, my God!" She gently embraced him, then stood back and laughed at his reaction. "I thought you'd dropped off the face of the earth."
Shocked, stunned, all he could think to say was, "Nope."
"How long has it been? Fifteen years, at least?"
The electrical synapses between Roger's brain and his mouth weren't coming together. His heart raced, pounding a veritable tattoo on the inside of his breastbone. When this woman smiled, Roger forgot all about Dora.
"Don't you remember me?" she asked, playfully punching his shoulder. "Jennifer Smith. High school? We had Mr. Elias in homeroom together?"
Suddenly, he remembered. They had spoken two or three times when he hadn't been as awkward as he was now, but he'd always cut the conversation short. He'd been afraid of running out of things to say, feeling dumb. She was cute as hell back then, even more so now. Roger'd had a wicked crush on her back then, and even more so now.
"Having a baby?" Jennifer asked, pointing at Roger's items.
They had completely slipped his mind. He looked at the package of diapers in his cart like it was some sort of foreign object. A caveman seeing fire for the first time.
Jennifer waved a perfectly manicured hand before Roger's face. "Hello? Anybody home?"
"Um . . . sorry," he choked. Cleared his throat. Tried again. "Sorry. No. They're for some friends. A friend, I mean. He's having a kid. I mean . . . um . . . his wife's having the kid, of course. I'm just ."
She laughed, a musical, intoxicating sound that tickled the tiny hairs at the back of Roger's neck.
". being a good friend." Roger's knees had stopped wobbling, but his heart still threatened to jump right out of his chest.
"If only everyone had such a friend."
Roger had nothing for that, just looked at his feet and shuffled.
"Okay," Jennifer said, "this may sound silly, but I'm going to come right out with it. I was a real dork in school, afraid of people, afraid of rejection. Afraid of everything. But I went through some pretty life-altering stuff a few years ago . I'll spare you the hairy details . and I refuse to live like that anymore. I stepped a little bit out of my comfort zone every day until the fear was just . . . gone. So," she paused for breath after the impromptu speech, "wanna grab lunch with me? That is, if you're not married."
Her mention of the "M" word made Roger think of Dora. They were together, sure, but . . . she's a fucking doll. Besides, Jennifer's outlook was inspiring. If he didn't take her up on this right now, without even really thinking about it, he'd never do it. And he'd regret it forever. This might be his only chance.
So he agreed and they walked out together, leaving the loaded cart in the middle of an aisle.
"Some friend you are," Jennifer laughed.