Late morning sun rays stung the back of his eye lids, making his hangover worse than it should be. Rolling over to the other side he felt another body laying beside him, forcing him to open his blood-shot eyes.
A red head, freckled faced girl laid sound asleep and Cohen couldn’t hold back the explicit word that slipped through his lips. Another night a blur, too many shots, flirting and a lay in the sheets under his belt with girl he could care less about. Cohen nudged her until she awoke and she looked at him with tired blue eyes. Any other morning he would go another round with whoever laid beside him, but not this time.
“Good Morning,” she spoke with the sound of sleep and the smell of liquor on her breath.
Cohen gave a smug grin and rolled out of the bed.
“We should go have breakfast. Or I could make you something. What do you want?” the girl pulled her knees up to her chest and tilted her head in a way that probably made many men before him leap for joy. But not him.
Who did this chick think she was? Cohen thought to himself before faking a polite smile and pointed to the bedroom door.
“I want you to get out,” he said before shuffling into his bathroom without another word.
He could hear Red’s angry words through his door and could feel nothing from them.
He turned to his mirror and took in the usual morning after blood shot green eyes and ruffled brown hair. Scruff was beginning to coat his face and neck, making him want to reach for the razor and can of shaving cream. He looked a complete mess and wondered how in the world did he end up with this habit or drinking and hooking up with women. It was a lifestyle that he became accustomed to but one that he didn’t want to let go of just yet. At the age of 25, he was still acting like he was a college student, if he had ever attended.
He turned the hot water on to start a shower and went back to grab some clothes. Although he didn’t have to work today at the office for the local newspaper, he needed to stay out of the apartment for his own sanity.
Within a half hour, Cohen was showered, dressed and ready to go. Aspirin and sunglasses in hand. The small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee catered to his need for silence and not knowing a soul. Carey an older women and the owner of the bakery that he frequently visited, greeted him with a smile as he stepped into the line to order. She always smiled and it was infectious. He smiled back, throwing in a wink that made her pale cheeks rose with color before glancing at the chalkboard menu above her head. As he approached the counter, Carey slid the paper sack with the bakeries logo on the front, black coffee right beside it.
“I know you always attempt at trying something new, but I figured I’d beat you to it since you never do. Ham and swiss on a toasted croissant and a medium coffee. Black,” she cocked her eyebrow and dusted her shoulder off. Cohen couldn’t help but chuckle at her observance of his routines.
“You’re the best,” he said grabbing for his worn brown wallet. She winked back at him and took his money.
“So when are you coming to church with this old lady?” she asked. He noticed a bit of hope in her voice and Cohen almost hated that he had to once again turn her down.
“Ms. Carey, you know good and well that I don’t do church,” he stepped to the side for the next guest to order and took a sip of his coffee to keep from saying nothing more.
“I know, just thought I’d try and ask…again,” but he could see that this women wasn’t going to give up. Ever since he moved into this small town of Clarks, Carey was the first and only person that was persistent with inviting him to come to a place that he hated most in the world. Growing up in and out of foster care families that were anal on attending every church service there was available, made him tired of ever going back. Those years of having a book shoved down his throat had built up his resistance to a god that he had never seen, nor heard. And the beatings that he took from past foster parents for not being as spiritual as they were convinced him enough that the god they served cared nothing for him either.
Carey’s loud sigh broke the thoughts of yesteryear and grinned, “So what are your plans for tomorrow then? I have guest at my house and I’m pretty sure she could use a friend.”
“A girl, eh? Must need a handsome man to keep her warm at night,” he smiled in a playful way, making Carey reach for a coin in the tip jar and throw it at him.
“Must you be so crude? She’s not like that! She’s just staying with me for a while till she gets on her feet.”
“So you picked up a stray?” he wished he could take back the words that had haphazardly escaped. After all these years, he had yet to tame his tongue and he felt bad now because Carey’s face changed.
“Are you always this vocal?” she looked at him with look of slight bewilderment.
Cohen sighed and shook his head, “I didn’t mean for that to come out. Word vomit I guess.”
Carey grabbed out a napkin from the stack beside her and scribbled something down, “Well, here is my address. If you come by tomorrow at 7pm, sharp, I may have some soap to wash that out real good for ya.” She slid it across the counter and pushed her way through the double doors to the kitchen without another word.
Cohen picked up the napkin, shoved it in his pocket and exited, letting the autumn sun greet him. He walked casually across the street to the park that he regularly jogged through, found a bench and began to eat. He liked this small town. Aside from the casual night-time company and a few co-worker acquaintances, he kept to himself. He was never a fan of having close friends and he wasn’t trying to start now. Going to Carey’s house was taking it a step too far.
Maybe I should just go back and tell her I can’t make it, Cohen thought to himself as he sipped the last of his coffee. He would feel bad about it for a minute or two but that feeling would go away quickly. Cohen suddenly imagined the look of disappointment that she’d have on her face if he called the bakery to break the news to her. He’d have to go back in at some point and it might as well not be because he chickened out on meeting her new friend, whoever she was.
Checking his watch, he gave a heavy sigh and rose from the bench.
It’s only dinner, Cohen thought to himself before taking a path through the park.
The sound of her vomit hitting the toilet water filled her ears for the third time that day. Carey was kneeling beside her holding Schuyler’s hair and rubbing her back gently while her head was inside the porcelain bowl. When she felt sickness subside, she lifted her head up and Carey handed her a paper towel for her mouth.
“I’ll go get you some ginger ale, sweet pea” Carey said softly. Schuyler used the paper towel to wipe the sweat that had formed on her forehead and tossed it in the toilet. Carey was back with a cold can of ginger ale and Schuyler pressed it against her face to cool her down before taking a sip. The taste washed away the foulness in her mouth and its carbonation settled her stomach in no time.
“I think I need to call Cohen and tell him dinner may have to be rescheduled,” Carey sat beside Schuyler on the floor and covered her hand with hers. Schuyler couldn’t be more grateful of the women who took her off the streets after she escaped a few days ago. According to Carey, she was in the city of Nashville to do a little window shopping before she spotted her behind a restaurant kitchen door, stained in blood. Schuyler made up a story about how she had tried to rescue a helpless animal after it was hit by a car to explain the blood. Thankfully Carey believed her and didn’t bat an eye when she opened her home to her far from anyone that may recognize her from the brothel. To have her cancel her dinner with this man would mean she was making someone’s change their lives to accommodate her. Again.
“You don’t have to do that Ms. Carey, not for me. I don’t wanna ruin your date and-“
“Date?” Carey’s eyes widened with shock, “Oh sweetie, this young man is old enough to be my son. Maybe even grandson!” She giggled in a girlish like manner, “but he is a handsome fella, you’ll see.” She glanced at her quickly and Schuyler knew exactly what she was thinking.
The last thing she needed right now was someone to be a matchmaker to her, especially when she wasn’t sure how she felt towards the opposite sex.
“Let’s just get you ready, dear. Cohen should be here any minute,” Carey pulled herself off the floor and held out her hand to help Schuyler up. The nausea and vomiting had made her light headed, so she took her time walking out the door and into the room Carey let her sleep in.
“I think I may have a nice pair of jeans that should fit you nicely. You need to get out of that church dress and into something comfortable,” Carey, in her continuous burst of energy began rummaging through the closet for the said jeans.
Church. A place that Schuyler once enjoyed before today, but now made her feel nothing but uncomfortable. From the moment that she stepped in, she felt that all eyes were on her, as if they knew how dirty she was. And the message, delivered with such fire that she was sure God was going to strike her dead in the old wooden pew.
“Here ya go sweet pea,” Carey held the jeans against Schuyler, “yeah, they may be a bit snug on you, but they should do for now. Might have to take you shopping soon,” she said in her sweet southern twang. Schuyler had never felt such love in her life, that she couldn’t help but hug her. Carey hugged her back and looked at her softly. “I know I don’t know what you went through before I brought you here, and I sure as hell don’t care. But I like you and you can stay as long as you want.” Her wrinkled hands were soft on Schuyler’s shoulder as she patted it gently with reassurance. Before another word could be spoken, the doorbell rang.
“That must be him! You go on and change, sweet pea, I’ll keep him occupied. There should be a few shirts in the drawers over there,” and quickly walked out the room closing the door behind her.
Schuyler slipped the cotton dress off over her head and into the jeans that were picked out for her. Carey was right about them being snug, but it wasn’t something that would make her feel too awkward in them. She spotted herself in the mirror and saw how her hips filled them out nicely, usually she’d be excited about it, but not anymore. Her body is what got her too much attention the last time. She quickly looked in the small drawers and found a nice red button up shirt that covered her hips perfectly. Although it was also snug in the chest area, she knew it would have to do for now. She glanced at herself in the mirror and ruffled her clean curly locks. The scar on her lip was healing up nicely now, a barely visible scar. When she was okay with her appearance, she stepped out of the room, down the hallway and the stairs and into the living room.
“Schuyler, we’re in here!” Carey yelled from the other side of the house until Schuyler appeared in the dining room. “Sweet heart, this is one of my favorite customers, Cohen. And Cohen, this is my new friend, Schuyler.”
Cohen turned to face her and paused before putting his hand out to shake hers, she shook it abruptly and dropped it with missing a beat. He felt a bit hurt at her action, like she didn’t care if he was there or wasn’t.
Carey cleared her throat and elbowed him,”Cohen, I made my special gumbo just for tonight. Hope you like it, the youth at the church seem to think it’s pretty great.” Cohen peeled his eyes off of Schuyler, not realizing that he had been starting at her longer than he needed to.
“That’s great, I’ve never had gumbo,” he replied, placing the bottle of wine that he brought with him.
“Well then, you’re in for a treat! Schuyler, sugar, please take the wine from Cohen and place it in fridge. I need to start settin’ the table.”
Schuyler didn’t make any eye contact as she grabbed the bottle from his hand and Cohen noticed how she avoided touching his hand. As she walked away, he couldn’t help but watch her walk away, her hips swaying in a rhythmic motion that made him cock an eye brow.
“Hey!” Carey whispered as she began setting up the table behind her for three, “do I need to wash your eyes too? I see you staring at her.” Cohen could feel his cheeks get hot quickly underneath the five o’clock shadow.
“Yeah…sorry.” he looked at her boyishly and smiled, “she’s cute I guess.”
“You guess?” Carey gave a deep chuckle and shook her head, “Cohen you couldn’t even stop looking at her. Nice try though.”
Cohen shrugged it off, even though his reaction surprised him himself. Schuyler walked back to the dining room and barely glanced in his direction before speaking to Carey. “You need me to help you with anything?” she asked gently. Her voice was soft and sort of raspy and he found that he liked it a lot.
“No sweetie, why don’t you take Cohen to the living room and talk until dinner is on the table.”
Schuyler’s face changed and seemed to have wanted to object to the very idea of talking with him alone, but Carey gave her no opportunity to speak before walking into the kitchen.
Schuyler stood still without so much of a word and Cohen could tell that she’d rather endure the Black Plague than to be with him right now.
“So how do you like Carey’s house?” he said trying to fill the silence.
“It’s nice,” she answered.
“Good, good. Have you been to her bakery yet? It’s the best in town.”
“Well maybe she’ll take you there soon.”
Schuyler shrugged one shoulder and looked at her hands rather than looking at him. He could sense that she was already done with his attempt at having a conversation.
But he wasn’t. And as much as he hated to admit, it bothered him deeply that he hadn’t swooned her like he did all the others. But there was time to win her over.