“Ah,” she added, in the hope that she was sounding knowing. For all she wondered, he might have gained an extra dinner guest and had popped out to accommodate. A dinner-for-one packet said nothing about the amount of people being served the dinner.
The man eyed her. He had rounded eyes that fell into shallow wrinkles at the corners. “You’re wondering if this is for me alone, or whether it’s one of a pair of dinner packets.”
“Um, yes,” she said, blushing, arranging the packet in her basket so that the man wouldn’t see the face she pulled awkwardly.
Luckily, he chuckled again. “I’m Keith. Eating alone.”
“Andrea,” she replied, taking the hand that had extended, having shifted her basket back to her left arm. “Also eating alone, though with something more substantial than microwave meals.”
“Oh, you disapprove?” He said it in a less-than-meaningful voice, but still it irritated her.
Andrea smiled, an uncomfortable feeling surging up within her. She nudged the basket in what she hoped with a meaningful way and turned to go.
“Hey, wait!” called Keith.
Andrea turned back to the smile that was tugging at Keith’s lips. He looked like he was trying to keep himself from appearing a maniac. Not that he did, but Andrea could see why he might think so. He had, after all, spontaneously helped her. She would, Andrea assented to herself, been fine on her own.
He thrust a small card into her hand from a pack that he had unearthed from one of the pockets of his jacket. A corner pricked into her palm, but she held onto the object for a little longer, urging herself not to look so desperate.
“In case you need anything else reaching for."
It took a second for Keith to cringe beetroot red, the colour splashing out from his ears. They both knew what he had meant to say, but Andrea dug her feet into the ground nevertheless.
“If you ever need help reaching something and you don't have a ladder handy....” he added. “Well, just give me a call.”
It was Andrea’s turn to laugh, if only a little. If that was a pick-up line, it was a bit feeble. Besides, it seemed an impossibility that Keith was trying to pick her up. He was smart enough to know to choose a better-looking woman.
Still, Andrea didn’t let that knowledge disappoint her. She was fine for the time-being.
Their eyes met again and Keith smiled for a moment, before rubbing a hand across one of his eyes.
“Tired? Sorry, that’s none of my business.” Andrea blushed to herself once more.
She took the moment as right to look down at the card, feeling the strands of her hair that curled down to cover her face fall exactly. For once, the curls worked their curtain service well.
Blue printed ink pointed out the name of ‘KEITH MALONE,’ and his telephone number was dolled in the same font beneath, along with what Andrea assumed were points typical of all employees: the words ‘Lansdale Bank’ caught her eye.
Without quite knowing what had gone through her mind, Andrea narrowed her eyes at the name. A bank employee. They were said to be despicable. She should have shrugged it off, but she was instantly torn two directions; it was wrong to judge someone by their work, but the bank didn’t sound like an entirely stimulating place for a person to exist. At least the office work of the Lansdale Psychiatric Clinic involved picking up the strands of hypotheses of the mind.
She should really ask Keith about it.
Footsteps took her by surprise, and she looked up to see Keith Malone heading in the direction from which he had come.
As she watched him walk away, Andrea felt a little twinge of disappointment. She strolled the aisles the other way – thinking to pick up some washing powder now that she was already at the shops – and there it was again: nothing more than a twinge pulling at her heartstring. There could be no denying, however, that she had been affected by Keith’s strange attire, by his festooned goatee and expression-filled hair. He played the fool too well.
Andrea almost found herself in a fit of giggles as she described him to herself. They must have been walking parallel paths, for there he stood, as if he had dallied instead of going straight to the checkout. Now, when she scanned her two items through, Keith was at the doorway. When their eyes met again, he gave a small smile and walked out of the shop.
“He’s a good customer,” remarked a middle-aged woman who was evidently meant to be checking the self-service tills.
Andrea jumped, giving the woman a small glance. “Oh?”
“Comes here every Wednesday evening and buys for a whole week. Must be a local man, though I’ve only come to know him for about a year’s worth.”
“I might see him around here, then. Do you know him well?”
Andrea's till beeped and she leapt back from it. The red light flashed impudently at her.
"You buy chicken often, don't you?" the woman said, shuffling over. She swiped her passcard, tapped the screen and then jerked her thumb in its direction. "You ordered two of the same. You only meant to buy this one, right?"
Andrea rubbed her forehead. "Yeah. You’re right: I mainly buy my chicken in more bulk. Besides, I don’t deal with the self-service often.” She tried to chuckle once again.
“Next,” the woman called down to the line of people milling until a checkout opened.
Bundling her packet under one arm and clutching the basket (it didn’t occur until a minute later than the logical course of action should have been to carry them together), Andrea shoved a fiver in the attendant’s direction, muttering “keep the change.” She staggered over to the side and almost flumped down into a seat whilst she sorted herself out. Hair behind ears and eyes blinked back into focus, Andrea walked out.
She laughed, tossing her hair in what remained of the sunlight. It was all a bit ridiculous. A man in the supermarket giving her his business card? He was a little too audacious.
Yet, Andrea couldn’t admit that she had admired his assistance when no one else had offered to help her. From the flat shoes she had noticed he wore – Clark’s or some other generic make – to the white of his crumpled shirt, he had been nicely simple. Even the dark goatee could be dismissible for the while. He was a bit weird, though. She shrugged. Everyone had their secrets.
She nodded to herself and tucked the shopping into the back seat, before shuffling back into the driver’s. She pushed away a pile of old papers in the passenger seat as she thought. Maybe changed was imminent.
And, as she drove, there was a surprisingly renewed vigour in her movements. She may have had no new job, but Andrea had always stood by the idea that friends were more important than money. It was always nice when anyone noticed her in a positive light.
Andrea started humming.