Purgatory

Alicia Walker sat down on the black-cushioned bench and clutched her purse to her breast. She knew she would be spending the better part of her day sitting right in this spot, but unfortunately, it couldn’t be helped. Like most of working America, she had to run her errands in the evenings and weekends. If this little incident had happened during the summer, she could take care of going to the mobile phone store during the day when they were slow.  She looked down at the ticket in her hand, number 76 looked back at her. With a sigh, she looked over to the red digital counter on the wall, number 36 laughed back. When, oh when, had America become so dependent on their cell phones? If hers hadn’t fallen in the toilet, again, she could be home on this beautiful Saturday morning enjoying some peace and quiet.

The bright fluorescent lights cast a sterile mood on the store. White walls, free-standing, wrought-iron racks full of the latest and greatest technology. Everything was streamlined and one color. All the benches were black leather; the counter, a screaming red. Nothing fancy. Nothing particularly aesthetically pleasing. Nothing to keep your gaze from all the electronics lining the walls. You had nothing but product to look at.

All the employees wore the same golf shirts and khaki pants. The only thing distinguishing them from their co-workers were their name tags. No fancy hair styles, jewelry, or overdone makeup. The focus of the store was the product.

Alicia cringed as she looked around at the other patrons of the store. They all looked resigned to the same fate of waiting in purgatory. The mobile phone store was probably the only place in America with a longer waiting line than the doctor’s office.

“Damn, number 76, huh? I’m stuck up at 80.”  Alicia looked up to see a handsome gentleman smiling down at her.  His sun-kissed blonde hair and green eyes, gave him a disarming appearance.  There were laugh lines around his eyes and when he smiled, she could see it reflected in his eyes. A genuine smile, not something polite that you gave the person you had to sit next to for the next indeterminable amount of time.

He gestured to the spot next to her. “Is this seat taken?”

Alicia slid down the bench to make room. “Go right ahead.”

She knew what he’d see when he looked at her. Brown hair, brown eyes, no outstanding facial features; nothing that would make her memorable after their time here was up. Nothing that would interest a man that looked like he did. Just the same plain old Alicia that ultimately turned off all her previous boyfriends. She had never been a flashy girl; never had any work done. She was who she was, but lately, it hadn’t seemed good enough for the male species.

“I hate Saturdays at the mobile phone store,” the man said. “I’m Adam.”

“Alicia.”

“Too bad they don’t go alphabetically, huh?”

“Yeah,” Alicia laughed. “It’s too bad.”

“I wish I could come during the day, but I’m a lawyer. You?”

“High school math teacher.”

“Ah.” Adam reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a deck of cards, holding it up to her. “Mind if I do something with my hands for a little while? Downtime makes a guy in my job nervous.”

Alicia shook her head and looked up at the digital counter. They were only on number 38. Adam began to cut the deck, shuffle the cards, cut the deck, shuffle the cards again. She supposed it was better than a nervous twitch or leg bouncing that would have shook the whole bench and quite possibly have made her motion sick.

“Are you going to do card tricks?” Alicia asked. That might not be such a bad way to pass the time. Since her phone was water logged, she couldn’t partake in America’s new favorite past time of staring at her phone and hoping to hell she didn’t have to make conversation. She’d even forgotten her book in her car.

“Not any good at them. My job is smoke and mirrors, but damned if I’ve got the sleight of hand for an easy trick like find your card. I was going to play some Solitaire.” He turned and straddled the bench they were on. “Unless you play poker? You probably don’t play poker. You don’t look like the type.”

“Oh, and why is that,” she asked. “What type do I look like?”

Typically speaking, Alicia wasn’t a go-getter when it came to men and dating. She just didn’t have the confidence in herself. She was a math teacher, for crying out loud. Who found math interesting but other math teachers and accountants? She found it intriguing, but it certainly wasn’t as exciting and sexy like the law.

“A nice, wholesome, All-American girl.” Yes, that was exactly what she thought he’d see. He looked down at his cards splayed out before him.

“Oh, and so are teachers too square for poker? Is that it?”

Adam looked up and smirked. “They don’t often pop up in the dark rooms I play in.”

“Those rooms must be reserved for shifty, smarmy lawyers.”

“Ouch, touché.” He cleaned up the cards and began to shuffle and cut the deck. “Texas Hold ‘em?”

“Five-card stud,” Alicia shot back and raised her chin in defiance. After all, it was the game she was good at. Even her brothers didn’t want to play against her anymore. Dressed down in jeans herself, she turned and straddled the bench herself, putting her purse down at her foot in easy sight.

“Chicken,” Adam mocked.

“If I win, I get to wipe that smug smile right off your face, lawyer.” She could afford to be snarky with him, since there was no way a man like him would be interested in a woman like her; one that blended in with the scenery, according to the last man she’d gone on all of two dates with.

“Deal. Just as long as you’re not going to make me do some ridiculous new math any show my work.” They shook on it.  “And if I win, you go to dinner with me tonight.”

That wasn’t something she expected. She thought it was awfully forward, but she’d been out of the dating pool so long that maybe it was exactly the way things went nowadays. The last date she went on was with a fellow colleague and they’d spent the entire dinner talking shop. As a matter of fact, Alicia couldn’t remember the last time she’d dated anyone outside her profession. Is that what she was destined for in her romantic life? A terminable sentence of never being seen for what you were outside your classroom? Was Adam ever seen for what he was outside the courtroom? What was he outside the courtroom? She found herself wanting to know. Maybe this smart-mouthed, cocky lawyer was exactly what she needed to shake her life up a bit.

Alicia raised an eyebrow. “You’re awfully bold. How do you know I’m not married?”

“I suppose I don’t,” Adam said. “But I don’t see a wedding ring, so my superior powers of deduction led me to believe that you’re most likely not married.”

Damn. He had her there. She thought he might be a good lawyer. He picked up on details. She didn’t even think to look at his hand for a wedding band, which incidentally he did not have. She imagined he had already formed a rudimentary opinion on everyone in the store already.

“Lucky guess,” Alicia said.

“I’m a lawyer and a poker player; I can read people pretty well.” He began to deal the cards. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Then dinner shouldn’t be a problem, should it?”

“Why would a lawyer want to be seen out in public with a wholesome, All-American teacher?”
“Maybe I’m trying to soften my image.” He shuffled the cards again and began to deal.

Alicia blushed a bit when he looked up at her through his lashes and grinned, though that did make more sense to her.

“I didn’t ask if you were married.” She picked up her cards, doing her best not to react at what she was given.

Adam finished dealing the cards, placed his hands on his jeans-clad thighs and looked up at her.  “I’m not, nor am I seeing anyone at the moment.”

“What a surprise!”

“You really aren’t as nice as you look, are you?”

Alicia chuckled as she studied her cards.  Two eights; a possible full house, trip eights or four of a kind. Things were looking pretty bad for the lawyer’s dinner plans. She was a little disappointed by this. Alicia looked up at Adam as he calculated his strategy, watching his body language. Damn, he had no tells. His face was serious. No twitches, no tics, no reaction of any kind. She thought he might be a killer in the courtroom.

“Are you a litigator?” Alicia asked as she motioned for the second round of cards.

“I am.  Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” she shrugged as she peaked at her next card; it was a five. Alicia glanced up at the digital clock on the wall as Adam looked at his new card.  They were on number 42. She looked at Adam and considered his appearance. Faded, frayed jeans, a NASCAR t-shirt and flip flops; not at all the weekend attire she imagined on a successful lawyer. But then again, hadn’t she just gotten annoyed that he assumed she was some kind of square, boring girl based on how she looked? Which, incidentally, was exactly what she was?

“How come you’re not dressed like a lawyer?” She asked.

“Are we supposed to run around on our day off in a three-piece suit?” Adam smirked, glancing back up at her.

“I guess not.”

“I’m not a rich lawyer, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m an assistant prosecutor. You and I probably have similar salaries.”

Alicia doubted that.

“Need to fold now?” he asked. Alicia wondered if that was a loaded question. Did he think that maybe she wouldn’t be interested if she didn’t think he made a lot of money? One minute she was a prude; the next, she was a gold digger? All her brothers were blue collar workers. She knew what it was like to work hard. She was a teacher, for crying out loud. She worked days, nights, weekends, holidays, tutored over the summer. Money wasn’t everything in life, at least to her.

“Of course not,” Alicia replied tersely. Were they talking about poker anymore? Adam dealt the next card face up; another five. Again, Alicia studied him for tells and, once again, didn’t find any.  He was a frustrating adversary. She could always spot the tells of her five older brothers.  Maybe that was because she knew them so well. If she got to know Adam better, would she find his tells? Would her brothers even approve of a guy like Adam?

“All right. Last round. Ready?” Adam smiled and Alicia nodded, not noticing the fact that she was now chewing her lip. Suddenly, she wasn’t too sure she wanted to win, but the next card was another five.

“Ha!” Alicia said revealing her cards that were turned over. “A full house!”

“Not so fast,” Adam laughed. His cards revealed four of a kind.

“You’re kidding me!” Alicia groaned. “Did you palm one?”

“Nope. I just play with cold, hard skill, just like the courtroom.” He gave her a quick and obvious once over. “And other places.”

“Ugh!” Alicia said with an eye roll. “You’re that type of guy.”

“I’m a guy; we’re all like this. Do you like seafood?”

“Yes,” she said with exaggerated annoyance that she definitely did not feel.

Adam took out a business card and asked for her address. When she gave it to him, he told her he’d pick her up at seven.

They looked up at the digital clock; number 47 glowed back.

Adam looked back at Alicia and smiled.  He picked up the cards, shuffled, cut, shuffled, cut. “Now do you want to try Texas Hold ‘Em?”

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