Last night replays in my head more than once. I am convinced I would do nothing differently. Even the man’s mother was hard pressed to come up with something nice to say. For the newspaper article she says, “We knew it would happen one day, death or jail.” I toss the paper to the empty booth behind me. Done with it.
Molly wipes wisps of gray hair back from her deeply lined forehead and pauses at my table, “You want anything else Honey?”
“No thanks, I’m good. Just the check please.” I smile at her and reach into my bag for my wallet. Molly quickly traverses her way through the empty tables to the front register.
“Oh lord, my wallet’s gone.” I whisper under my breath, then blanch at the implications. Did it fall out in the alley? The cops could be knocking at my door right this minute. Full of questions. Ones I didn’t want to answer. Slumping down in my usual corner booth I try to figure out how I’m going to pay for my coffee and raspberry croissant. Wash dishes maybe?
Molly quietly walks up, startling me. “You alright? Looks like you seen a ghost, you’ve gone so white.”
Nodding slowly, I begin to explain my predicament, “Um, Molly… about the check.”
She places a motherly hand on my arm and interrupts, “Oh yes that’s what I came back over to tell you. It’s been taken care of. That gentleman over there,” she points over her shoulder to the front of the diner, “wanted to pay for your breakfast. He’s the handsome one in the black coat.”
My mouth fell open and I surreptitiously peek at the man. My unexpected savior watches the pedestrians go by. He has shoulder length chestnut waves and is indeed wearing a black wool coat but if he’s handsome or not, I can’t tell.
Surprisingly, he isn’t watching my reaction to his generosity. I have been given drinks at bars and knew the strings that came with most gifts.
I’ve actually never had a complete stranger buy my meal. I wasn’t that kind of woman. I’ve been called cute because of my petite frame and pixie features, but I sure as hell was not the type of beautiful that caused men to randomly pay for things. If I was I would probably be a country star right now.
“Nice to know chivalry’s not gone from this world.” Molly says with a dreamy smile and hurries back into the kitchen. Was that chivalry? I thought it was weird. Nice.. but weird.
I grab my purse and nervously walk to the front of the diner. The man is still staring out the window and I want to dash past without thanking him. Just dash past and out onto the street. Free of the obligation. But, no. My Gran’s disapproving scowl comes to mind and I know that I can’t be that rude.
Before I can change my mind I slide into the man’s booth. My knee knocks against his and he turns with a sharp inhale. I charge forward with my obligatory thanks without even looking him in the eye. I can already feel my face is aflame, “Hi, thank you so much for buying my meal. Strangely enough, I forgot my wallet this morning.”
He remains silent and I finally look at his face. Molly wasn’t lying, he is extremely attractive. Not city boy pretty, but ruggedly handsome like the men in country music videos. Except for his lips, they are full and look soft.
His expression remains blank and unreadable. My eyes skim his features for what feels like only a second but I am coming to realize is much longer. Awkwardly longer.
Staring back he brings something from under the pink formica table. “Did you forget it? Or did you drop it somewhere?”
I blanch at his words and let out a tiny squeak. He neatly places a ratty black wallet on the table in front of him. My wallet.
Holding a hand over my mouth, I gasp out, “Where did you find it?”
Sliding it over to me, he smiles slyly. “It was lying right where you left it Miss…”
“Redlin, Penny Redlin. Seems that you would know that already. Seeing as how you had my wallet. Mr…?”
He smiles a genuine smile full of straight gleaming white teeth. “Fontaine, Gerard Fontaine. I did not know, because I was taught from a very young age to never go searching in a woman’s personal belongings. And, I already knew where to find you.”
A cold chill runs over me. Has he been following me? He must have seen what happened. Did he plan on blackmailing me? But then why give back my wallet and be so nice?
He must notice the terrified look on my face, his expression softens. Capturing my left hand in his own, he squeezes reassuringly, “Pennelope I wish you no ill will. I simply wanted to return your wallet. You fought valiantly and the world is a better place now that it is rid of that foul man.”
“Wait. So you saw it all go down and didn’t step in to help?” I am angry and astounded he would confess that.
“No I got to the alley right before you tasered him. I would have shown myself but I didn’t want to frighten you further. You seemed to have the situation in hand at that time. I noticed your wallet when I went to check the body.”
“Why didn’t you report it to the cops?”
“I figured that you would report it if you wanted. The police and I don’t always see eye to eye.”
I lower my voice and ask, “are you a criminal or something?”
The corners of his mouth turn up slightly as he fights off a smile. “No Pennelope, I am not a criminal. I just catch a lot of people doing things that they shouldn’t and sometimes have to step in to stop them. I have been in so many altercations that the police have subsequently deemed me “trouble”.”
“I see. Not too fair of them.” I stare at the wallet clutched in my hands. “So what do I owe you Gerry?” I ask and wait for the shoe to drop.
He smirks a little and holds up his pointer finger. “Just one thing.”
I sigh inwardly, waiting for the sexual advance.
“Don’t ever… call me Gerry again.”
I giggle, totally taken by surprise at his answer. “Not a fan of nicknames?”
“No,” he answers.
“But Gerard is so formal. That’s why I go with Penny instead of the long form.
He lifts a perfectly arched brow and replies, “I happen to think the name Pennelope is very beautiful and it suites you. Although I do tend to enjoy things a little more formal than is popular.”
He thinks my name is beautiful! I screech like a schoolgirl inside. I can feel one of my embarrassing full face blushes coming on. I have to get out of here before I convince him I’m a freak. “Well, when and if we meet again I will be sure to call you Gerard. Or better yet Mr. Fontaine. Uh, thank you again and see you around.” I slide out of the booth and am out the door before he can do more than wave goodbye.
More to come…