Rain pelted the windshield of Marcie’s fifteen-year-old sports car as she turned into the driveway of the subterranean parking lot. Some of the rain was virtually snow, translucent splatter sticking to the glass before a wiper blade cast it aside with other unwanted water. As she descended the steep ramp into darkness, Marcie’s thoughts drifted back to her annual review meeting that morning. As usual, her numbers weren’t great, and her supervisor had hounded her about setting a new round of goals she really didn’t care to meet. She’d spent the afternoon updating her resume.
Marcie wheeled into her usual spot, kicked the car door wide open, and began gathering her purse, briefcase, and the two bags of groceries she’d picked up on the way home. She struggled to her feet, wobbling slightly on two-inch heels. Low car, high heels: bad idea, she thought. She labored to the elevator bank, a bag slung over each shoulder and one in each hand. Her feet had ached all afternoon, a week of tiptoes on hard leather stored up in her tired soles. Now, with the extra load, she started to feel sharp pain on the balls of her feet. Just make it to the couch, she thought to herself. She pushed the elevator call button with her knee and the door opened immediately.
As she pressed a knuckle into the sixteenth-floor button, she felt her purse vibrate. She set down one bag and fished out her phone. A text from Darin flashed on the lock screen: “So sorry. Please call me.” Jerk. She hated to admit it, but it her folks were right about Darin. This was the third time he’d stood her up in two weeks. There was always some excuse, never terribly plausible. Looked like she’d be eating crow for Christmas dinner. Her mother would be smug, no doubt. Not looking forward to that, she thought.
The elevator door opened. She shoved the phone back into her purse, scrambled to rebalance her bags, and exited the elevator. She clomped down the poorly-lit hardwood hall to her apartment door, each loud step a small hammer rapping at her temple, nurturing a headache. She set down the two grocery bags and opened her purse again, looking for keys. Darin’s text flashed green again, lighting up the purse contents. She rolled her eyes, but saw no keys. Marcie pushed the phone aside and dug deeper into the purse. Where are the damned keys? Her brother’s advice to keep car keys and apartment keys on separate rings was turning out to be a bust. Just one more thing to lose, she thought. She continued to rummage with no luck. Her feet and head now pulsed with pain, like overzealous drill sergeants barking orders she couldn’t obey. She looked at the ceiling and sighed. The couch is literally ten feet away, she thought. Her face flashed hot, her eyes and nasal passages begin to moisten, and her dark-rimmed glasses fogged. I just want to be on the couch, she thought, feeling desperate.
Down the hall, an apartment door opened, and a dark-haired man with a sculpted jawline, angular shoulders, and a tight v-neck sweater stepped into the hall. Wow, Marcie thought, willing her tears back into their ducts. Never seen him before. He started down the hall, each step of his stylish wool slippers almost noiseless, as if he were floating. When he was half-way to Marcie, he said, “Everything okay?”
Could he tell she was upset? “Yeah,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t notice as she wiped her eyes. “Just lost my keys.”