Without Merit(3)

By: Colleen Hoover

I walk out of the store and cross the street, heading for one of the tables near the fountain. I’ve lived in Hopkins County my whole life, but I rarely make it down to the square. I don’t know why, because my love for it was solidified when they put up the strange crosswalk signs. The signs display a picture of a man crossing the street, but his leg is lifted high in the air and it’s exaggerated to the point that it could pass as a silly walk out of a Monty Python show.

There are also two bathrooms the city had installed a few years back. They’re two glass structures that look like a tall cube of mirrors from the outside, but when you’re inside the bathrooms you can see out. It’s disturbing that a person can be sitting on the toilet doing their business while watching cars drive by. But I’m drawn to unusual things, so I’m one of the few who probably take pride in the strange bathrooms.

“Who’s the trophy for?”

Speaking of being drawn to unusual things.

The guy from the antiques store is standing next to me now and I can say with complete certainty that he is most definitely attractive. His eyes are a unique shade of light blue, so they’re the first thing to stand out. They seem out of sync with his olive skin and severely dark hair. I stare at his hair a moment. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen hair that color of black on someone with eyes that color of blue. It’s a bit jarring. For me, anyway.

He’s still smiling at me just like he was from the railing in the antiques store. It makes me wonder if he smiles all the time. I hope not. I like the thought that maybe he’s smiling at me because he can’t help it. He nudges his head toward the sack in my hand and I suddenly remember he asked me a question about the trophy.

“Oh. It’s for me.”

He tilts his head in amusement or wonder. I don’t really know which one he’s feeling, but I’m fine with either. “You collect trophies you didn’t win?”

I nod and it makes him laugh a little, but it’s a silent laugh. Almost like he wants to keep it to himself. He slides his hands in his back pockets. “Why aren’t you in school right now?”

I didn’t realize it was that obvious that I’m still in high school. I drop my sack on the table next to us and slip off my sandals. “It’s a nice day. I didn’t want to be locked in a classroom.” I walk over to the concrete fountain that really isn’t a fountain at all. It’s a section of concrete, flat on the ground in the shape of a star. The water comes out of holes around the star and spits toward the center. I press my foot over one of the holes and wait for the water to reach me.

It’s the last week of October, so it’s too cold for kids to be playing in the water like they usually are in the summer. But it isn’t too cold to get my feet a little wet. I like it when the water hits the bottom of my feet. And since I can’t afford to get a pedicure, it’s the next best thing.

The guy watches me for a moment but honestly, I’m getting used to it. He’s starting to feel like my own personal, slightly more attractive shadow. I don’t look directly at him as he casually slips off his shoes. He stands next to me and presses one of his feet over the holes.

I glance at his arm now to get a closer look at the tattoos. I was right—they’re only on his left arm. His right arm doesn’t have a single visible tattoo on it. But the tattoos on his left arm aren’t what I expected. They’re random and unrelated and none of them connect. One of them is a tiny toaster with one slice of bread sticking out of it. It’s on the outside of his wrist. I can see a safety pin near his elbow. The words, “Your turn, Doctor,” are sprawled across his forearm. I drag my eyes up his arm and he’s looking down at his feet now. I’m about to ask him his name when the water hits my foot unexpectedly. I laugh and step back and we both watch the spout of water shoot toward the center.

The water hits his foot next but he doesn’t react to it. He just stares down at his feet until the water stops and moves on to the hole next to him. He lifts his eyes but when he looks at me this time, he isn’t smiling. Something about the seriousness in his expression makes everything tighten inside my chest. When he opens his mouth to speak, I hang on to every word.

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