Monday, June 13, 2016

Candy Hearts, Short Story

Here's something a little different - straight up fiction:


Stan pulled the cord above the bus’s thick, smudged Plexiglas window. A middle-aged woman eyed him warily and hugged her bags close in the seat facing him. Her clothes were old but clean, and her eyes held the weariness of one who never catches up, on sleep, at work, with bills. Stan flashed her a toothy grin complete with nicotine stains. The woman only huddled further into her seat.
Stan shrugged and pulled his black and navy knit cap down over his ears. He stood up and staggered a bit as the bus stopped with a jerk. He shuffled to the door towards the back of the bus, his baggy pants lightly scraping the floor. He gripped his precious package in one hand and shouldered open the heavy door. The cold air slapped him in the face. His hazel eyes watered with the cold pain. Worn, dirty running shoes disappeared into a foot of snow piled on the edge of the sidewalk.
Stan shoved his empty hand into his old starter jacket and stomped the snow from his shoes as he started up the shoveled sidewalk. He peered into several storefronts along the way, but today was not for shopping even though it was his day off.
Stan was a second assistant at a local convenience store chain. He was a low man on the totem pole, but it paid the bills. It kept a roof over the head, food in the stomach, and, occasionally, new tunes in the stereo. He was really living it up these days.
The worn rubber soles on Stan’s shoes slid on an icy patch of the sidewalk. The gray sky filled his vision as he landed on his back. The light snow only cushioned the fall a little bit. He scrambled to his feet with the help of a passing business man. Stan stuttered a thanks at the unexpected help. The city’s affluent didn’t bother noticing him often, helped even less. The man just smiled at him and continued walking.
Stan watched the man’s gray overcoat disappear around the corner. The unforgiving bite of the wind reminded him of his self-imposed mission. His right hand still clenched the precious package. He turned another corner and pulled a thick pane glass door open against the chill wind.
A wave of warmth covered him as he stamped off the snow and the cold. He glanced around at weary, fearful eyes, smiling at those he recognized. He stopped at the blue eyes of Karen. She smiled a greeting and handed the blanket in her arms to a white-haired man wearing three thin, tattered coats and a parka hood.
After disposing of her load, she walked up to Stan. She had worked here for a couple years now, and her eyes had begun to show the wear. A light, flowery scent cut through the musty smell of unwashed bodies. Her sweater hung loose around her torso and her blonde hair fell limp from a pony tail.
“Hi, Stan. Got the day off?” She had always been the kindest to him, showed him extra attention. She had gotten him the job and convinced him he could do it.
“Yeah.” He shuffled his feet nervously. “They made me full time. Six days a week.”
“That’s great.”
“One o’ my co-workers gave me this.” Stan held out his package. “Thought I could share it with the guys.” He gestured with the bag at the collection of scraggly haired men in layers of torn, mixed clothing.
Karen glanced at the bag and smiled. “I think they’d like it. Lemme get a bowl.”
Stan nodded and followed her to the huge kitchen. Karen pulled a chipped, fake-crystal bowl out of the cupboard and set it on the yellow-tile counter. Stan opened the half-bag of candy message-hearts and emptied it into the bowl. A single heart landed face down on the counter.
He glanced at Karen before picking up the white heart. His thoughts drifted back several months to when she was the only thing keeping him going through the hopelessness. He read the message on the heart and handed it to her. She smiled softly and looked at the message.
“’I love you’,” she read. “Thank you, Stan.” She picked up the bowl. “The guys will love this. They almost never get candy.”
“I know, I remember.” Stan took the bowl from her. “I only been outa here six months.”
Karen blushed. “I know. And you’re doing great, I hear. Just like I knew you would.”
Stan turned to take the candy out to the homeless in the next room. He paused at the door.
“I do, ya know.”
“Do what?”
“Love you.” Stan blushed and went into the common room.
Karen followed a few minutes later, after her own blush had faded, but he’d already gone. Karen stared at the white heart in her hand for a moment before she ate it.

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