Every day after work she would pass a toy shop.
It wasn't anything special. A simple narrow, brick building squashed between a townhouse and a convenience store on the corner. A giant mechanical bear holding a colorful ball was placed on top of a large platform that jutted out of the building fifteen feet in the air. The ball had the name of the store written on it in large, childish letters.
The Rainy Day Toy Store.
A parent's nightmare and a child's dream come true.
The inside was homey and stank of mothballs and children. Stuffed animals the size of a large dog and board games filled the shelves. Barrels filled with linking logs and legos and barrels of monkeys.
But, Kate didn't care about any of that.
She was more interested in what was behind the cash register. After all, what's the point in having your heart broken by one guy when it can be broken by two?
Isn't that the American dream for women?
The owner of the store was a man in his early thirties. He had inherited the store when his father died some five or so years ago. He didn't have the heart to sell the store, even though he already had a job as a journalist. His hair was a little too long to be considered socially appropriate, he wore jeans with rips in them, and his right arm was a mess of tattoos so intricately woven it was difficult to discern where one started and another ended. The little children thought it was cool, which worried parents. He had a chip in his left front tooth and dimples as endearing as a newborn's.
He was the anti-Robert Ingram.
He was Derek Wilson.
So, each day Kate passed the toy shop and would spy Derek behind the cash register ringing up toys for spoiled children with a smile on his face. Sometimes he'd ruffle a pouting child's head. That would earn him bubbly laughter.
Not to Kate. Bubbly laughter of another woman's child hurt her more than Robert's reason for divorce ever would. She wanted to hear the laughter of her own child, something she would never achieve.
So, it figures she became infatuated with a man who worked at a toy store.
Each time she passed the toy shop she thought about entering the store but always thought better of it. She and her family were estranged and she was so flighty her neighbors didn't even know who she was. One time they called the police on her because they thought she was breaking into her own home. Poor Kate was so flustered she bursted into tears on the spot.
It was early evening that day when she walked past The Rainy Day Toy Store. The lights weren't on and the trademark sign "Sorry, we're closed," hung on its door. She skittered by, teetering on high heels as she rushed to the bus stop two blocks down. If she missed this bus she would have to wait another half hour in the bitter cold.
It figured she had forgotten her coat that morning in her haste to arrive to work on time for once.
There weren't too many people to get in her way, but there were just enough for one to step on the back of her heel. There was no harried apology tossed over a careless shoulder as the man shoved past her. Or, more like barreled into her. She fell.
It was perplexing for her, to say the least. She felt the familiar wave of panic mashed in with adrenaline as the pavement quickly rushed up to greet her face. Kate brought her hands up to shield her face and felt her palms sting. Her pantyhose ripped and her knees throbbed. Someone stepped on her hand as the crowd parted like the Red Sea to get around her.
She stumbled to her feet as quickly as she could, face burning. She bent down to scoop her purse up and continued on her way. Her knee had some bits of gravel stuck in it that made walking hurt. Her palms were skinned and bleeding and dirty.
When she got to the start of the block where the bus stop resided, the 114 wheezed by.
"Oh no, no!" She broke into an awkward run, taking quick steps on the balls of her feet. "Wait, please!"
To her astonishment, the bus waited. She slowed to a power walk and clambered up the steps of the bus. The driver paid her no mind as he pulled away from the curb. Kate grabbed onto the fare taking equipment to steady herself as she dropped the dollar and fifty cents required to ride the transit buses.
She hated riding the bus. The air was stagnant and reeked of stale cigarettes, some of the patrons talked too loudly on their phones, and once she touched someone's gum when she gripped the underside of the seat. But, it was warm.
The bus wasn't too filled up yet. She took the seat across from a woman with a young girl with beaded hair. The girl was sleeping against her mother's arm, her little mouth open as she breathed. Kate bit her lip to keep from cooing at the sweet sight. She looked down at her poor palms.
A body slid into the seat beside her. Tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, Kate glanced out of her peripheral at the person. Her heart stuttered like a teenage girl's seeing her first love.
It was Derek Wilson.
He noticed her staring at him and offered her an easygoing smile, revealing his chipped tooth. His teeth weren't perfect: they were coffee-stained and one of his bottom teeth overlapped another. She found it both perturbing and endearing. Up close, she could count the number of freckles splashed across the bridge of his nose and see a scar on his chin almost hidden by his scruffy little beard.
She didn't realize she was staring until his smile faltered at the edges. To save face, she offered him a timid smile of her own before quickly averting her eyes. She prayed nothing would go wrong.
"That looks like it hurts." His husky voice remarked.
Kate looked back at him and wrinkled her nose in puzzlement. "W-what?"
He touched one long index finger to his palm, his eyes flitting from her hands back to her face. "Your hands. What happened?"
Mortification painted her face a cherry red as she recalled her fall. "I-I fell when someone jostled me."
Derek clucked his tongue. "That sucks. You okay? Nothin' broken?"
She shook her head so fast she gave herself vertigo. He nodded his head and grinned at her again. Was that a tongue piercing she spied? "That's good. Some people are jerks, y'know? Betcha he didn't even apologize."
Wordlessly she shook her head, only half listening to what he was saying. The rest of her was trying to keep from melting into a puddle in the filthy bus seat.
"Oh, I'm Derek, by the way." He held out a fist toward her. At her confused face (why couldn't she do anything more aside from confused?!) he chuckled sheepishly, "I'd shake your hand but, ah, your palms..."
"O-oh! I'm Kate." Uncertainly, she closed her own hand and lightly bumped fists with him. The contact left her knuckles tingling in a most delicious way.
"Nice to meet you, Kate." He looked like he meant it, too.
"Likewise." She tossed her head, banging it on the metal pole. What would the temp do? Act like she meant to do that? Though her first instinct was to bury her face in her turtleneck sweater, Kate laughed shrilly.
Derek rubbed the back of his neck and started, "Listen, uh, this is gonna sound super sketchy but, uh, you walk past the toy shop every day, right?"
Oh, god, had he noticed that? Mortification's best friend, embarrassment, took a stroll across her face. "Yes, why?"
"It's just I've noticed you and I've always wondered about you." Her heart was beginning to pound.
"W-wondered about me? I'm afraid I don't know what you mean?" She stammered.
He leaned back against his seat, his leather jacket stretched across his flat stomach. Kate's own hand fluttered to her stomach, soft and a little round. She hoped he wouldn't mind. "I mean, you always look so sad when you pass and I wonder why. I wonder, 'Why does that woman frown? She shouldn't frown, her face is too pretty to be weighed down with sadness.'"
Pretty. Synonymous with beautiful. Antonym of ugly. It didn't sound hollow coming from his lips. His warm brown eyes were earnest and she bet if her hands weren't injured he would have taken her hands in his larger, calloused ones.
"I'm recently divorced and my husband took everything from me." She blurted out. Then, it all came out. "We used to be so in love b-but then I found out I could never have children and o-our marriage just fell apart and-"
Derek held a hand up and she cut herself off, embarrassed. He didn't want to know her life story. But, the look on his face was not mean or bored. He had his head tilted to the side, chocolate brown hair falling into his eyes, the strands free from his ponytail. "You seem especially sad today."
Her face crumpled and she cried on the transit bus. Several people stared at her but she ignored them as she sobbed. She told him about Benjamin, the temp, falling, everything. How she never felt good enough for anyone. How she felt old and used. He took her—a stranger—into his arms and let her cry into his leather jacket. He smelled like cigarettes and home.
He said, "You may not be enough to them but to someone else you are more than enough."