Bonus Serial: Virgin Territory, Ch 5
She didn’t say anything as they left the sheriff’s station. He thought she was sleeping until she began teasing her hair with her fingernails. “How long do you think it’s going to take the police to find out who I am?”
“I’m not sure. It could take a while.”
“In that case I could use some clothes. And some personal items too.”
“Oh, sure, of course.” He saw a Kmart down the road and pulled into the parking lot.
“This is a really big store,” she said.
“You don’t remember going here before?” She shook her head. “Well, they should have everything you need.”
She approached the Kmart as if it were the Emerald City, jumping back in surprise when the automatic doors opened at her approach. She took a step forward and then jumped back again to watch the doors perform their trick. “Wow.”
“It is pretty neat. Come on, we’d better get inside.” He showed her to the women’s clothing section, where she danced through the aisles, putting every item of clothing against her body to see how it might look.
She held up a sky-blue blouse and skirt, saying, “This is so beautiful.”
He wanted to tell her the blouse and skirt matched her eyes, but worried such a compliment would make things awkward between them. Instead, he said, “They’re very nice. Why don’t you try them on?”
“Really?” He was glad there was no one else around the women’s department to hear her squeal with delight. “Oh Gary, you’ve been so wonderful to me. I promise I’ll pay you back.”
“There’s no need,” he said. Having her around was more than payment enough already. She disappeared into the fitting room. Gary waited outside the door, trying his best to look casual. After a few minutes he tapped on the door and asked, “Do you need any help in there?”
“No, I’m fine,” she said. “I was just, um, looking at some things. I won’t be much longer.”
“Oh, well, take all the time you need.”
After trying on the clothes, she also bought make-up and a package of elastic bands for her hair. The latter item elicited another squeal of delight that caused a group of old woman to shake their heads. As they checked out, Andrea practiced stretching the bands out like miraculous new invention.
Once Gary paid for everything, Andrea took the blouse, skirt, a bra, and a package of cotton panties into a gas station bathroom to change while Gary stood guard outside the door. He hoped the panties and bra fit; at the Kmart he had refused to speculate on her size.
When she came out of the bathroom, she looked beautiful. The blouse hugged her body while the knee-high skirt showed off her thin legs. She’d used one of the elastic bands to pull her hair back into a ponytail, all except for one tress falling over her right eye. The make-up gave color to her cheeks and highlighted her luminous eyes. She did a half-turn and asked, “How do I look?”
“Great,” he said. He had never seen a more beautiful woman up-close; not even the original Andrea could compare.
“Thanks.” Under her arm, she used his old clothes to conceal the opened package of panties. “Everything fits.”
“That’s good news.”
While he filled the Shadow with gas, Andrea insisted on watching him. “You don’t even need to go inside the station?” she asked as he swiped his debit card through the reader.
“Not anymore. It’s called pay at the pump.”
“Can I try?”
“Go ahead.” She took the nozzle and squeezed down on the trigger. She watched the numbers on the pump climb higher and higher until the trigger clicked. Then Gary took the nozzle from her hand and showed her how to replace the nozzle on the pump and screw the gas cap back on.
“That was fun,” she said and giggled.
“Maybe next time you can do it all by yourself.”
He pulled away from the station and took the road back to Dagger Lake. She leaned against the window again to check her face in the mirror.
He focused on the road ahead of them, trying not to think too much about Andrea. He couldn’t get too attached, because as soon as Andrea got her memory back, she would leave him. Which would be for the best, since he could never satisfy all her needs, just as he couldn’t for the original Andrea. They would both be better off when she was out of his life for good.
On the road leading into Dagger Lake, a banner declared the annual Fall Carnival was this weekend. “What’s the Fall Carnival?” Andrea asked.
“It’s kind of one last gasp before winter. There are cook-offs, a classic car show, and a lot of drinking.”
“Can we go?”
“I guess we could.” He never went to the Fall Carnival or any of the town’s other festivities. He didn’t like the noise, the crowds, or the traffic they created. Still, a festival might be a good place for someone to recognize Andrea. Maybe someone there would know her or at least have seen her before. “That’s not for a few hours, though. Are you hungry yet?”
“I could eat.”
“I know just the place.” As they drove along Main Street, he hoped some of the shops would spark her memory, but she was still worrying her hair and make-up. He stopped at Dagger Lake’s only stoplight and waited for an elderly couple to cross the street before turning right. He pulled into the parking lot for the Lakeside Eatery. The restaurant site had once been a log cabin—one of the town’s first houses—and still had the stone chimney from the old cabin along one wall. “Here we are.”
“This is where we’re eating?”
“You want to go somewhere else?”
“No, it’s fine, I guess.” She trudged after him through the gravel parking lot. Her low heels caught on the ground and she pitched forward, but he caught her before she hit the gravel. “I should have bought flats.”
“It’s all right. New shoes always take some getting used to,” he said. He took her elbow to help her along the rest of the way inside. With the festival tonight, the Lakeside Eatery was emptier than usual after lunch. Gary steered Andrea across the plank floor to his usual booth in the corner. He sat in the seat against the wall, leaving her the window seat on the off-chance someone walking by might recognize her.
Jenny Alexander was the only waitress on duty weekdays. After Gary, she was Dagger Lake’s youngest adult resident. She wore her brown hair in a ponytail like Andrea’s. “Hello Gary,” she said. “You’ve brought a new friend.”
“This is Andrea,” Gary said. “You haven’t seen her around here before, have you? Or maybe heard anyone asking about her?”
“Not that I can remember. Should I have?”
“I have amnesia,” Andrea deadpanned.
Jenny took a step back as if amnesia was a contagious disease. “That’s terrible,” she said. “Did you hit your head or something?”
“No, I just woke up last night ago with no memory at all.”
“I found her on the beach,” Gary added.
“Have you told the police yet?”
“We met a really nice deputy. His daughter ran away. It’s so sad.”
“How awful. Well, I’ll let you know if I hear anything.” She set a menu on the table in front of Andrea. “Order anything you want, honey, it’s on me. I suppose you’ll have the usual, Gary?”
“Can’t go wrong with the usual.”
“What’s the usual?” Andrea asked.
“Tuna on wheat with chips, coleslaw, and a Diet Pepsi,” Jenny said. “He orders the same thing every day. Actually, you’re a little late today. I thought you might not come.”
“We had to stop and take care of some things.”
“He bought me some new clothes. What do you think?”
“They’re very nice, honey. I used to be able to wear clothes like that, but not after having three kids.”
“You have three kids? How old are they?”
“Henry, the oldest, is sixteen. Josh is six and Luke is into the Terrible Twos now. Between the three of them, I hardly get a moment’s peace.”
Andrea’s expression turned pained. “I’m sure they’re nice boys,” she said.
“Only when they’re sleeping. The rest of the time they’re a pack of hell-raisers.” Jenny sighed and then continued, “If you’re in town for a while, maybe you could babysit Josh and Luke sometime. No one else will do it anymore.”
“I would love to. Is that all right, Gary?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea at the moment.”
“Well, think about it and let me know if you’re available.” Jenny took a pad and pencil from her apron. “In the meantime, do you have any idea what you want, honey?”
“I think I’ll have the usual too.”
“Two usuals coming up. I’ll be right back with those Diet Pepsis.” Jenny said.
“She seems like a nice lady,” Andrea said. “Have you ever met her kids?” Gary shook his head. He never knew Jenny had any kids; he’d never bothered to ask. “I’m sure they aren’t as bad as she makes them sound. Could we visit them sometime?”
“Yeah, maybe we can.” He wanted to tell Andrea the same thing he’d been telling himself all day: don’t get too attached. When she regained her memory, she was going to leave Dagger Lake and everyone in it behind. But from the eagerness in her voice and the pained expression on her face when Jenny mentioned her kids, he didn’t want to dash her hopes.
Jenny returned with their Diet Pepsis and a piece of apple pie for Andrea. “This was just sitting there. You need to get a little meat on those bones.”
“Thanks, but I didn’t think you were supposed to eat dessert first.”
“I think you can make an exception,” Gary said.
“Would you like to sit down with us?” Andrea asked.
“I’d love to, honey, but I have other tables.”
“Are you going to the festival later?”
“Right after I get off work and pick up Josh and Luke. Henry of course wants to go by himself with this girl he’s dating from Pine Cove. She’s not nearly as nice a girl as you. I just hope they’re being careful.”
Jenny shook her head and left Andrea with a puzzled expression. “Being careful about what?” she asked.
He didn’t want to explain birth control to her in the Lakeside Eatery. “She’s just worried about the two of them driving alone,” he said. Andrea studied his face for a moment and then dug into her pie. She chewed the food slowly, savoring it as if for the first time, which he supposed was true.
“This is good. Do you want a bite?”
“No, I’m fine.” He rested his head on one elbow to watch her eat.
When she took a sip of her drink, she giggled and blurted out, “It tickles.” Then she frowned and added, “Tastes kind of funny. What’s in it?”
“Carbonated water and Nutrasweet, mostly.”
“Artificial sugar. It won’t hurt your teeth like real sugar. Although too much of it might give you cancer.” She pushed the Diet Pepsi away. “Don’t worry, you’d have to drink a truckload of the stuff for years before anything would happen.”
“Are you kidding?”
“No, I’m serious. There are studies on it and everything. I’ll show you later when we get home.” As she took another cautious sip of the Diet Pepsi, he smiled at the last part of the sentence. He liked the sound of that “when we get home.”
The story continues with Chapter 6 on Sunday!