Three days before classes were scheduled to start Kate’s computer crashed. Kaput. It wouldn’t turn on. She’d press her finger against the power button frequently, for varying lengths of time, to no avail. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The demoralized contraption remained lifeless.
With rising hysteria, Kate stared desperately at the blank screen. She’d officially run out of troubleshooting ideas. The last time she’d had a computer break down she’d just gone out and bought a new one, but then she’d had a more or less limitless income. Now she was looking down the barrel of a different financial bracket—she was living solely off her familial inheritance. And suddenly, splurging for a new laptop seemed foolish, reckless. She needed that money now in a way she’d never thought possible six months ago.
A computer repair company! That’s what she needed. Yes. The thought, a revelation really, came so swiftly that Kate almost cried out at its manifestation. That was it. A computer repair company would fix it quickly, for a nominal price no less, and before she knew it the PC would be back again, fully functional and ready; she’d be able to attend school without hindrance. It would all work out just fine.
But…which company? Was there even such a service offered in the “getting smaller by the minute” town of Whestleigh? And, if so, which company had the best reputation—the highest rating? Kate hadn’t the slightest clue, the swallowed panic from earlier crawling its way back up her throat. She’d barely spent enough time in Whestleigh to know which gas station kept the tidiest restroom, much less scope out all the avenues of business and trade available.
For the next half hour, she scoured the house, looking for a phone directory, something that could at least point in her the right direction. A waste of time, she never did find one. She considered asking around town but, besides Anne, who was out for obvious reasons, and Penny, whose advice on such matters seemed unpromising, she didn’t know anyone. To knock on strange doors, asking the cold question, without so much as a by-your-leave to come and visit, would feel uncomfortable. As it was, Kate’s most immediate neighbor appeared to be in her late seventies and Kate doubted she even owned a computer. There was the lady across the street…she had two sons so she’d probably know of a service but, besides a handful of waves from coming-and-going Kate had never spoken to her. She wasn’t even sure of her name. That idea was out.
The only remaining option was to search via internet browser; unfortunately that plan required a working processor. That left the local library. No big deal, Kate tried to assure herself. She’d just sign out one of their computers and log in that way (through an undoubtedly obsolete network service)…. Whatever. She’d be in and out in less than ten minutes. Fingers crossed.
Resigned to her fate, Kate quickly locked up the house and made to walk over there. The Whestleigh Public Library was located on the far end of Gadbee, no more than a five minute commute by foot. She was bent in this direction when the LitLiber Bookstore rose on the horizon of her peripheral vision. In hindsight, she wasn’t exactly sure why the sight of it had so surely spurred her decision to deviate off course, she wasn’t sure why the memory of the bizarre little bulletin board just inside its depths chose that moment to flash against her consciousness, but mostly, she wasn’t sure why it had felt like…like a sign or something, pointing her feet precisely. She didn’t believe in stuff like that; maybe Penny did but not Kate. Regardless, she found herself, in no time at all, pulling the doors open to that very enterprise, the library momentarily displaced to the back-burner.
Cramped in the small entrance space allocated between the building’s exterior and interior doorways, Kate squeezed her body close to the wall. The attempt was meant to clear a passage for those entering or exiting around her. Eyes focused intently, Kate visually rifled through the miss-match pattern of information crowding the space. With the flick of her eyes she mentally discarded announcements: from a Slam Reading at Bean Tamptations, to The Whestleigh Warrior’s Ten Year High School Reunion, and other services, running the gauntlet from pet sitting to plumbing.
“You know, in all the time I’ve been here I’ve never actually known anyone to take such an interest in the Community Board.”
Kate jerked at the words, spoken from somewhere behind her. She’d been so involved in her task she hadn’t heard the doors on one side of her open and close, stating the arrival of another person. Half turning around, her eyes landed upon a man. Correction: a very attractive man. Tall, muscular, just left of stocky, with a shock of jet black hair crowning his head, the style unruly and decidedly long, some of the layers brushing back past his ears, the man was definitely yummy to look at. And he smelled delicious. No more than a step behind her, a little to her right, his cologne wafted gently against her sensory glands.
He smiled in greeting, apparently unfazed by her ogling.
Kate smiled back. Shrugging her shoulders she felt compelled to comment. “To be honest, this is my first time ever shopping for services through this channel.”
“What are you looking for exactly? Perhaps I can help.”
“From around here, are you?” she asked knowingly.
“Born and raised. Most of the townsfolk are which may very well be why this board usually receives only the most cursory of glances,” he supposed.
“I’m looking for a computer repair company. Know of anybody?” Kate asked then, turning her back completely on the notice board this time, the better to grant this Good Samaritan the benefit of her full attention.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” he answered almost immediately. Kate felt her stomach muscles tighten in excitement.
Rubbing a hand against the stubble on his chin he admitted, “Well, I should tell you, the guy I know doesn’t actually own a company per se. He more or less fixes computers on the side—you know, to pay for college classes.”
“Is he reliable?” Kate asked, her standards pretty low at this point. She was nearing the pit of desperation.
“Absolutely. His name is Simon Yates. He’s a whiz with all things computer.”
“And you’re willing to recommend him?” Kate asked a shade suspiciously. She may be new to town but she wasn’t interested in being duped.
“Of course,” he said earnestly, and Kate thought he sounded just the slightest bit taken aback. “He’s worked on our computer systems a couple times in the past,” the man supplied, hitching his thumb behind him, indicating the bookstore.
“For the LitLiber, you mean?” Kate asked, impressed. “Oh. Do you work here?”
He smiled slightly. “Not from around here, are you?” he parried, mocking her earlier wording.
“Nope,” she said dryly.
“Yeah, I work here.” That’s all he said.
“All right,” Kate said, taking a chance on this man’s suggestion. It wasn’t like she had a plethora of alternatives anyway. “Do you have a number for this guy?”
“Yeah, it’s in the office. Follow me,” the guy said, opening the door to the bookstore and walking through it before Kate could mutter out so much as a ‘thank you.’
“This place sure does a mean business,” Kate commented inanely as she trailed after his long-legged stride. Similarly to the last time she’d been there, the place seemed to be absolutely hopping with customers.
“Why do you think I stepped out there just now,” the man said jokingly, “I needed a moment’s peace and quiet.”
“Tisk tisk,” Kate teased him as they came up to a door tucked way at the back of the building, near the small built-in café. Other than a nameplate marked ‘Office’ it was nondescript to the point of being anonymous. “What would the boss say?”
“Oh, he can be a bit of a crank, but I’m not afraid of him,” the man said with a wink.
“Big words when he’s not around to hear them,” Kate replied, startled at her own flirtatious response.
Digging keys out a front trouser pant, eyes twinkling, he answered her seriously enough. “I didn’t introduce myself did I? I’m Jake Farrow–,” he paused here, for added effect she felt sure, before declaring, “I am the boss. And I’ve called myself much worse before.”
Kate felt her face flush. Ducking her head in acknowledgement of this, she effectively shut up, content now to merely tag quietly behind as he proceeded into the room, intent on fishing out Simon What’s-His-Name’s number from within one of the desk drawers.
Kate stared across the bistro table at Simon Yates, the man Jake had revered as a master computer technician. Since Simon didn’t run his business out of professional office and Kate’s house generally lacked furniture, they’d met up at Bean Tamptations. Certainly, he seemed to know what he was all about. Hunched over her computer, at first he’d tried to explain his process to Kate—using phrases such as System Recovery, Safe Mode, Diagnostics and Repair Installation, etc—but the words only succeeded in rattling around her head emptily. Reading the blank expression on her face, he had since thankfully quit these verbal confirmations. Instead, they’d remained in a state of silence, him furrowed in concentration, her silently pleading in prayer.
It took little over an hour but finally he lifted his head—smiling. The problem was fixed, he told her simply. Fixed! Some sort of malware or whatever had been the culprit, but luckily it hadn’t corrupted anything irreversibly. She’d have to reinstall some of her applications but other than that, her computer was as good as new.
“Oh my God, thank you. Thank you,” Kate enthused upon hearing the verdict. Tears were not far from the surface; she’d spent the majority of the day in a state of such duress that the news felt almost overwhelming. This was perhaps a bit dramatic seeing as Simon had been able to meet up with her almost immediately after she’d called him.
Simon ran a skinny hand through the blond hair hanging over his forehead. He was of medium height, maybe five foot nine inches, and there wasn’t a spare ounce of fat on his body—or muscle either, for that matter. Still, his hazel eyes and his strong chin made him handsome, if boyish. “No problem. Actually, it was one of the easier recoveries I’ve done this week,” he told her with an impish smile.
“Well, then I guess we both got lucky,” Kate joked, reaching into her purse for her wallet. “How much do I owe you for all of this?”
Simon blushed, mumbling under his breath a price that seemed awfully low to Kate, but unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth she placed the money, plus a generous tip, on the table between them.
“Oh no, you don’t have to…,” he started to say, shaking his head emphatically at the sighted gratuity. He looked uncomfortable.
“Well, I want to,” Kate claimed, the rushed insertion of her voice overriding his protest. “Please take it. I would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle if it weren’t for you.” She pushed the money into his hands.
“If you insist,” he relented, finally accepting the cash, albeit reluctantly.
“I do,” Kate said. “You’ve saved my evening.”
Simon gulped. “Your evening? Got big plans?” His voice came out a little rough, as though nervous at the opening her statement had created conversationally.
“You mean, now that you’ve rescued me from the nightmare of buying a new computer—or worse crying futilely over the demise of this one?” Kate asked, teasing lightly.
“Yes, that’s what I meant,” Simon answered shortly, her humor going over his head.
Kate faltered. “I guess not.”
In retrospect, Kate knew that answer as her first mistake. She should have made something up…anything because when, minutes later, Simon finally mumbled up the courage to ask her on a date, she couldn’t even feign an engaged excuse. By then it was too late. She’d sort of walk into that one.
When Kate concluded that Simon was a handsome man, her generosity of opinion was aimed more for women his own age. They hadn’t swapped DOB’s, but Kate guessed he couldn’t be older than twenty-two or twenty-three. That seemed impossibly young when compared to her twenty-eight. Not to mention, he wasn’t her type. Sure, she found his nerdiness adorable. Puppy-like in its sweetness and innocence. But nothing more.
She’d always been more attracted to…well, to men who were…more, more what? Stumped, for the life of her, Kate couldn’t finish that line of thought. Truth be told, she wasn’t entirely sure what type of man she was attracted to. She’d dated Phil since her freshmen year of college. Their parents had introduced them.
She agreed to go out with him. This was the fatal, second mistake.
Who knew? Maybe he was her type, after all?
Unfortunately, the “date” went about as well as Kate had imagined it would. No, that wasn’t quite fair. If possible, it went even worse. The first indication: it was barely past ten o’clock when Kate returned home, her blouse smelling vaguely of vanilla flavored vodka, her feet bare of the shoes she’d donned earlier that evening; they had been forever relegated to the garbage heap. Now, heading downstairs to the laundry room, a bottle of bleach in foremost priority, she couldn’t help replaying the evening’s happenings in her mind
She’d agreed to meet Simon at Hooker Station, a bar and grill on the edge of town, for eight that evening, having declined his invitation to drive in together. She’d been unwilling to commit herself any further to this outing than she’d already done.
Kate showed up promptly on time. Walking inside the dimly lit tavern she spotted Simon immediately. He must have shown up early because he was already seated at the bar, a half-empty cocktail in hand. He’d changed out of the jeans and plaid t-shirt he’d worn earlier for a pair of grey slacks with a blue and green stripped button-down shirt. He was dressed nicely. Maybe too nicely for an establishment that Kate could only describe as being run-down, but she found his fashion heartening.
In comparison, she’d chosen to pair orange colored skinny jeans with a white oxford shirt, together with wedge sandals touting a floral design. Not quite as smart as he but passable, stylish but detached—she hadn’t wanted to give Simon the wrong impression. It needed to be clear that her intentions were merely friendly.
Kate wasn’t sure but, as she sat down beside him, she wondered if Simon wasn’t a little buzzed already. He was acting even stranger than she’d expected:
He began at least three sentences with the phrase, “Hey girl…”
He laughed so hard at one of her lame jokes he almost fell off the barstool. She’d literally had to grab hold of his arm to steady him.
He demanded that they celebrate their first round by taking a shot—even worse, he ordered boilermakers.
If those clues hadn’t tipped her off, after that shot he became suddenly, otherwise inexplicably, drunk. Totally lit-up:
His speech became almost incoherently slurred. He started calling her “Kayee.”
His motor skills were then dust. She began to feel like his personal leaning post.
His eyes took on a glassy sheen; worse, he started talking nonsense and getting very emotional about it. It was during just such a tirade, when Simon, aka, The Bleeding Heart, was carrying on about customer misuse of computers, conducting dirty searches, downloading irresponsibly, even shutting the things down improperly, that his fast motioning hands clumsily hit the edge of his high ball glass, sending some of the contents spilling over the side…and onto Kate’s chest. She dabbed at her shirt with a napkin but to no avail. It was a spotty mess. He didn’t even seem aware of this, except to lament the liquors “undrunk” waste.
Kate kept an eye surreptitiously on the bar clock. It wasn’t yet nine thirty by this point. According to her calculations, it had until ten before she could make a gracious getaway. If she left too early it would look suspicious, but two hours was a reasonable amount of time, it was a socially acceptable amount of time…lots of dates concluded within the two hour mark! Then she could politely profess a need to get up early in the morning. Errands to run before school started next week…something, anything it didn’t really matter.
Deep in her own thoughts, working out the best excuse to air, she hadn’t noticed when Simon abandoned his chair. She’d been too busy discarding one pretext for the next when he’d stumbled away, disappearing behind a gathering crowd to the other end of the bar. When she did finally take in his absence, she initially chalked it up to a bathroom break. That was until she heard his voice, booming over a set of loud speakers, announcing to the entire room that he would be starting off the evening’s karaoke entertainment.
Karaoke? Good God.
“This song I dedicate to my beautiful dayee, Miz Kayee MaacDonall,” he garbled over the microphone. Scrambling in her haste to locate where he was saying this from, Kate could have died when her anxious eyes finally caught sight of his spotlighted frame, standing up on a make-shift stage, constructed at the rear of the building, his hands fiercely gripping the mic stand. Probably, it was the only thing keeping him on his feet. He had absolutely everyone’s attention.
If she thought she couldn’t be more embarrassed, that was before the opening strains of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” played out over the DJ’s sound system. Taking an extra long pull off her wine, Kate prepared herself for the musical stylings of one Mr. Simon Yates. It wasn’t pretty.
When he finally fumbled off the stage, the song thankfully over and done with, Kate flagged down the bartender and hurriedly asked to get their bills; they were ready to pay out. That hadn’t gone over well with Simon.
“Whatcha wanna leave for? Whatcha wanna do thaa for?” he asked her, spilling back on the barstool.
“It’s getting late,” Kate said. Then, because she felt the beginnings of a headache starting at the base of her skull and she was frankly annoyed, added, “and I think you’ve had enough.”
Like a sober brick, Kate’s words sunk through Simon’s squishy brain. With a start, he seemed to realize how far gone he was, and the predicament looked bleak, even in his blurry eyesight. Shaking his head, Simon dropped his gaze. “Yeah, I guess so. I screwoo-ed up. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. This is horri-able,” he moped, a habit almost ridiculously common for those inebriated with alcohol.
“It’s fine,” Kate tried to reassure him, but he would have none of it. He waved her words away.
“You’re pra-babably having the worstest time. My fault,” he said tersely.
Kate threw some money on the bar, enough to cover both of their tabs and then some, before slinging her purse over her shoulder. She wanted to feel bad for Simon. He looked devastated, but honestly, she was tired and cranky and dammit, he was right—she hadn’t had the best time.
“It’s really all right Simon,” she said, trying to be generous as she led him out the door. “But why don’t you let me drop you off at home. You can pick up your car in the morning.”
“Okay,” he said and then, brightening up suddenly at a new thought, asked, “could we go someplace and get something to eat first?”
Kate felt her patience fray a little at the corners. He’s drunk and that causes social impairment, she reminded herself as she helped him outside. For a skinny man, he sure felt like a lot of extra dead weight. He could barely walk, his feet slipping against the payment as though made of rubber. Despite all this, Kate managed to get him into her car. She seat-belted him into safety and enticed him into consciousness just long enough to acquire directions to his house.
The ride was more-or-less quiet, with Simon drifting in and out of an alcohol induced slumber. This was fine by Kate. Lulled into a false sense of security, she’d assured herself the night, which was almost over, could only go uphill from there. It was as she pulled up to his house that Kate learned just how wrong that estimation had been.
She parked the vehicle and, getting out, quickly circled over to the passenger side, opening the door. It was as she was leaning over the seat, her arms around Simon’s shoulders, trying to help him gain his feet that Kate noted something was off. There was a certain expression playing out over his face. It didn’t look good.
“Simon is something wrong?” she asked. He had his eyes closed and, in hindsight, she saw that he’d tried to push her away but he’d been so weak his hands had done little more than flutter in protest. The next thing Kate knew her shoes were wearing the regurgitated contents of the nights’ boilermaker—and God knew what else.
Wiping his hand against his mouth, Simon tried to apologize but halfway through this endeavor his stomach heaved again. This time Kate was able to jump out of the way, but her shoes were ruined. At least, if nothing else, he hadn’t puked in her car. She supposed she should be grateful of that.
It took a miscellany brought of distance, space and time to quite restore Kate’s composure. But now, back at home, the bed pulled down, her shirt soaking safely in the wash, Kate decided that at least one good thing had come from the evening’s performance. Though she still wasn’t sure what it was exactly she wanted in a romantic partner, at least now she had a whole list of things she most definitely didn’t want in one.
A girl has to start somewhere, right? With a sigh, she turned out the lights.