The bus doors hissed open as I stumbled down the stairs and onto the sidewalk, gazing around at the unfamiliar street in front of me. After an hour on the Chicago Blue Line, I had finally come to the last stop on the route, a ritzy looking mini-mall with fountains scattered around the packed parking lot. I had lived in Chicago my entire life, but had never ridden the bus this far uptown, and still had farther to go on foot before I reached Chestnut Court. After a glance at the slip of paper in my pocket that carried the bus driver's hastily scribbled instructions, I squared my shoulders and started off.
I don't know how far I walked that morning. The day was pleasantly warm for late March, and I was lost in my thoughts, replaying Greg's encounter with Jane over and over in my head. Further up the street, the houses around me became larger and farther apart, and I could see fountains and swimming pools and expensive cars between them. Even the people I passed seemed elegant and poised, just as Jane herself had. My heart quickened at the thought. It must be close.
Just as I reached the intersection of Chestnut Court, I spotted a familiar slim figure just ahead of me, leaning against the side of an ornate iron fence. The red hair brushed her shoulders as she bent forward, laughing and gesturing through the window of a dark green Lexus. In that second I panicked. What the hell am I doing here? She's going to think I've been stalking her! I can't let her see me. Shit. Shit!
In a flash I scooted behind a bush of peonies and dropped to the ground, pressing my head against my knees. I have to get out of here, I thought frantically. Peering at her between the lush pink flowers, I began to formulate my escape plan. I'll just wait until she turns the other way, and then I'll make a run for it. She'll never see me. Greg and Jose won't know I was here. I can forget this whole stupid idea and go back to picking up drunk girls in bars. My heart rate slowed as I breathed a sigh of relief. It'll all be fine.
"What the hell...?" I felt a rough kick in the ankle, and looked up to find an angry-looking blonde woman standing over me. "I don't know who you are, but you better have a good fucking reason why you're hiding in my bushes."
"Um..." I swallowed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean...I mean, I wasn't trying to..."
"Like hell you weren't!" The woman yelled, so loudly that I glanced over to make sure that Jane hadn't noticed. She was still leaning on the fence, engrossed in her conversation with the car. "You were going to rob me, weren't you? Sick bastard! I'm calling the police! And don't try to run away." I felt a blunt pain in my foot, and I noticed that she was holding a shovel.
"Please, please don't call anyone," I begged. "This isn't what it looks like, I promise. I just needed to deliver...this..." I pulled the rumpled white envelope that I had found the previous day out of my pocket and thrust it towards the woman, who took it and peered at me suspiciously. Quickly she scanned the address, and then to my surprise dropped the shovel and took my arm, hoisting me to my feet.
"I see." She said. "Well, I'm sure my daughter will have something to say about this. Jane! Jaaa-ne!"
Jane turned around and walked quickly towards us. Her eyes widened when she noticed me. "This young man has a letter for you," her mother stated. "He was hiding in the bushes waiting to deliver it."
"You...you dropped it yesterday. When you walked by." I blushed. "I don't know if you remember me, but I...I was there when..."
"Yes." She said curtly, taking the envelope from me. "Thank you. I was missing this."
"Well," said her mother, "If that's all, I think it's time for you to--"
"No, wait." Jane closed her fist around the envelope and slipped it into her purse. "Would you...would you like to come inside?"
"Ja-ane." Her mother chided.
"It's okay, Mom. I need to talk to him. Follow me," she added, and, my mouth hanging open under the burning gaze of the blonde woman, I trailed after her across the yard.