She stood at the bottom of the escalator for some time. When she first approached it, she stopped directly in front of it, dead still. The people behind her, a teen boy and girl, didn’t noticed at first and jammed right into her. She caught herself before she fell and her head came into contact with the sharp ribbed steps that are supposed to keep you from slipping, but always worried Mara for this very reason. If she fell and hit her head there would be blood, lots of it. But she was able to remain standing as the two pushed her aside with a snide remark.
Mara didn’t see herself as a duster. But she understood how they would think so. Only a loser would stop at the very edge of the escalator and refuse to move. That’s what escalators are for, to move you. And she was stopped, frozen, unable to move.
She watched the two rise to the upper level of the mall ready to disappear. They looked back at her and flipped her off. She didn’t understand why they were so upset.
Mara just stood there, now smack in the middle as the flow of people continued up the escalator on her right side and down on her left. It was as though she was inside a giant metal aorta carrying blood cells through the veins of a brick and mortar goliath.
It was then she felt him. Later, as she was trying to remember she couldn’t remember if she actually felt something physical or just sensed something. Regardless, she turned around and met his eyes.
If she trusted her reading, the one where the astrologist promised she would find her soul mate, the one she’d been looking for, the one who would fill her not with flattery and mush but real substance, the kind that excited her in all the ways, the kind that made her think deeper about things that mattered and not the color of her skirt or how pretty she looked, she would have turned with a confident smile. This would be the soul mate who would know her from within, know that she had something to give.
If she could stop worrying about the second reading, the one with the angel cards that said she needed to forgive herself for all those things she blamed herself for. That always tied a knot in her stomach.
She was to blame. She was to blame for it all. If she would have only walked the other way, turned right instead of left, it wouldn’t have happened. Life would be going on and no one would have gotten hurt. She was to blame.
So she did the best she could to set the angel reading aside in the dark cool place in her mind where it could sleep until she could deal with it. Later. She promised herself she would. One day, but not right now.
He was taller than Mara with blue eyes and a soft expression, not like the ones on the faces of the people hustling onto the escalator. He smiled and held out a paper cup.
“I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of stalker or something, but I noticed you when you came out of the tea shop. You looked lost and when I saw the kids bump into you, that wasn’t very nice of them, I went back into the tea shop to get you a cup of tea. I took a chance that you would still be here when I came out.”
Mara just stared at him. He continued, “They said this is what you always drink. Here. We can go back into the shop so you can check me out with them. Really. I just wanted to be of help.”
“Thank you.” Mara took the cup and walked back into the tea shop. The man followed her.
They knew her well in the tea shop. She came in every day for tea and twice a week for readings. She walked through the shop toward the front by the doors that led to the street outside of the mall. She decided to sit in her favorite spot. It was open.
It was a small round wooden table painted a pale blue and sat in a cove with a window looking out into the street. The table was chipped and cracked in places and you could see the dark wood underneath. Mara liked that. There was always a round crocheted doily in the center sitting under a small vase of flowers. Today the frosted green glass held a bit of lavender, some peachy achillea, and rosemary. That’s odd she thought. Rosemary was new. Rosemary. Rosemary for remembrance. What was she supposed to remember?
He pulled out the chair before she could reach for it. It startled her. She forgot he was there. Maybe she hoped he hadn’t followed her but she was glad he did. This time when she looked at him, she saw his smile. It was gentle and curved sweetly. His eyes seemed to dance a bit. They both sat down.
Mara took a sip, swallowed and let out a sigh. “That’s right. Perfect.” Looking back at the man, she thanked him.
“You’re welcome.” He nodded slightly and leaned back in the chair. He crossed his long legs and looked relaxed. Just the opposite of Mara. They sat for a long time without saying anything.
Finally, after Mara finished her tea, he introduced himself, “My name is David.”
He waited. Mara looked up from the cup, she was never good at reading leaves. Her eyes focused on a blur outside the window across the street. She chose not see anything clearly right now.
The bus stop came into focus. Keeping her attention on the old woman sitting on the bench, she asked, “How do you know that? ”
“I know what happened. I want to help.”