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BLEEDING HEARTS EXCERPT
“What a waste of money.” A hard voice startled me and snapped my spine taut. It was hard to misinterpret that particular tone.
I counted to five before turning around. “Sorry? Did you say something?”
A hefty mountain of olive drab, mirrored Oakleys, and black work boots leaned against the wall of the pizza joint where the awning cast the deepest shadow. His black knit cap, the kind I imagined muggers favored, enhanced my perception of a threat. Strong. Harsh. Dangerous. Funny I didn’t see him the first time I looked--he was sort of hard to miss.
“Of course I did.” Caustic words dripped like acid as he snapped the collar of his canvas coat up around his ears. “You’re delusional if you think he’ll go to your little soup kitchen. He’s a drunk. You gave him rum money.”
“How do you know? Just because he’s a bum doesn’t mean he’s...” I floundered, flustered, fishing for words and not finding them fast enough. “A bum.”
He laughed, Brillo Pad-on-skinned-knees mean.
“Of course he is. It’s his nature. Why do you think he’s on the street? Kiss your charity goodbye.” He jammed his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders and looking, if it were at all possible, even more menacing. “You won’t survive in this city if you don’t stop being so naïve.”
“I am not naïve!” My retort drew alarmed looks from a lady who clutched her bag and quickened her pace as she passed me. I should have followed her. “I just don’t think the worst of everyone I meet. Unlike some people, apparently.”
“So when a bum asks for a quarter, you offer to feed him for a lifetime? This is the city, lady. Learn the rules.”
“Good advice. First rule is, don’t talk to strangers.” I never wanted a medal for being nice but I didn’t need to be criticized, either. Turning on my heel, I stomped away.
Mr. Tall Dark And Pushy didn’t seem to get the hint. His low voice grated across my nerves, sounding uncomfortably close behind. “I’m not finished.”
“Oh yes, you are.” I spun around but, when I saw he still hadn’t moved, I faltered. I guessed arrogance helped a voice to carry.
Remembering the focus of my irritation, I jabbed my hands onto my hips, fighting the overwhelming urge to march over to him and do something foolish. Usually I’m more flight than fight. I should have been running but my smart mouth had taken over. “I don’t know who you think you are but you’re messing with the wrong lady.”
“No, I don’t think I am.” He straightened and shrugged his jacket into place.
I backed up a step, as if the distance between us were inches instead of feet. It was his reach that worried me. “You don’t think, period. Who even talks to people like that?”
Even his chuckle was arrogant. “You’ve got spirit.”
“You’ve got nerve. And no, I’m not coming any closer so quit telling me what to do.”
“I didn’t say a thing.”
“Well—” I sputtered. Didn’t I hear him say it? “Stop—thinking it, then.”
He laughed, sounding delighted to have irked me to the point of incoherence. Dismissing me with a wave, his tone became more condescending. “Forget I said anything and go home.”
I fisted my hands, wanting nothing more than to leave, but I had a historic need to have the last word. When sufficient words failed me I stamped my foot.
He leaned at the waist, looking over the tops of his sunglasses. His bright green eyes flashed, much brighter than if they’d simply captured a glint of sun. “I said, go on home.”
I snapped an about-face and marched all the way to my stop without pausing. His sardonic laughter taunted me, scalding my cheeks long after I caught the bus. By the time I got home, I’d forgotten every odd detail, including the brief realization I hadn’t seen his mouth move when he told me to leave. The weird occurrences had been swept from my mind, leaving behind a diluted version of a generic encounter.
I’d forgotten everything except being angry. What can I say? I could hold a grudge with both hands tied.
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