He took her hand in his as she stepped into the street. It was warm, hot almost, and softer than she’d imagined. It distracted her for a moment and she stopped walking as she felt his palm with her thumb. He stared at her stoically as she looked down to see if it was real. She didn’t try to run, she didn’t yell for help, she didn’t fight. That’s the thing with this job – they never do.
“Is there anything…,” she cleared her throat and licked her lips. “Is there anything I can do?”
His gaze didn’t change. She could feel his eyes searching her mind. He could see into her and she could feel him pulling at her soul.
“Wait. Please. I have a son. He’s only four. Well, he’ll be four in a few weeks. He needs me. He has no daddy. Well, he has a daddy, but his daddy isn’t around. He needs me. I’m all he has. Can I show you a picture? He’s so sweet. He won’t have anyone. Please, let me show you him.”
He lumbered over her by at least a foot and a half. She was a petite woman and she could tell he was ashamed of his size. He slouched to hide his height and he wore bulky, dark clothing to disguise his physique. She was equally intimidated and sympathetic to him and she couldn’t be sure why.
He looked down at their hands entwined. She had beautiful hands that fit snuggly within his. If it were another lifetime, their touch may have meant something to them, set their hearts aflutter, but in this life, he was sure all she could feel was his melancholy. All he felt from her was fear. He never asked for this job; it was thrust upon him when he applied for another position. He was hoping for small, simple jobs – hospital patients, drug addicts, old folks. He wasn’t prepared for this. This was his first week on the job. ”Potential”, is what he was told he had. ”The makings of a legend.” He didn’t want to be a part of a legend. He just wanted work. Her hand in his filled his heart with regret.
“No. Don’t. I…I’m not supposed to…talk to you. I’m not supposed to listen. I can’t look at your boy. It’s against the…rules, I guess. Please, I just can’t.”
“What? Rules? What ‘rules’? Break the rules. Please. Can’t you just let me go?”
“Well…no. I’m just doing my job, ma’am. I…I’m sorry.”
Their woven hands began to sicken her. His skin was like velvet, warm, soft and comforting, but she wanted free from him. As her throat burned hot with rage and fear and tears of desperation swelled behind her eyes, she tried to wriggle her fingers loose, but they loosened none.
“Sorry? You’re sorry? What do you get out of this? Is it about money? I have money. Name your price. What is this for you? “
She struggled, pulling and tugging her arm, trying to free herself from his grasp. He barely flexed a muscle.
“It’s just a job, Julia. I get nothing from this but employment.”
“Then let me go. Please. My son. He needs me.”
“I…I just…It’s not really up to me, you see? Julia, at this point, I’m not the one you should be talking to.”
“But you’re the one holding my hand.”
She stopped pulling and caressed his palm again, not for him, but for her. The smooth warmth was soothing. It was distracting and hypnotizing. There was something kind in his hand and she gave up trying to let that go. His face, his gaze, his posture, it all made her uncomfortable, but his hand. She held that tight.
“Please. If you just look at him. Please. He needs me…and I need you.”
He shouldn’t look. He was told, explicitly, not to look, to just do the job. But something about her grip urged him to look. He watched her as she fumbled with her purse, one-handed. She found a small photo and held it out for him to see, smiling at the sight of her son.
“This is Henry. He’s four. I’m all he has.”
He looked at the boy, his big, liquid brown eyes, his hair tightly curled like a mop on his head. He had his mother’s smile, open and honest. His grip loosened slightly and she put the picture back into her purse.
She looked him in the eye, searching him in return. He was unnerved by her gaze. It was unsettling to suddenly lose the control.
She touched his face lightly and pleaded, quietly, “…please.”
He looked away and saw the bus coming. The time was now. What was once, just moments ago, a simple job like any other he did day after day, was now complicated. His mind raced as he tried to regain control of the situation.
He pulled her into him with a violent tug, wrapping his arm around her back and kissed her, quickly and desperately. As the bus sped past, he pulled away and looked at her, waiting for her reaction. It had happened so quickly, she needed a moment to breathe.
“I don’t know what happens now. Death has never quit before.”
He released her hand and it felt cold where his warm palm had been pressed. The release was sweet, but she reached for his hand once again. This time it was she who took his hand, she who pulled him close and she who kissed him.
She turned away from him and stepped back off of the street. She walked a few steps and stopped, looking over her shoulder to where they had been standing. She wanted to thank him one more time, but he had vanished.
He was gone, but she could still feel the warmth of his touch in her hand.