Thoughts about Jacob grow into an obsession over the following weeks. I google TalcTech but it seems impossible to find out where the company’s offices are located in the city. TalcTech seems to operate exclusively as service provider for larger companies and they have neither a website nor advertisement of their own. Even the invoice for checking my router went directly to my telephone company.
During a shopping tour with Jenna I happen to walk past the bar where I have seen Jacob. Out of a sudden impulse I convince her to have a drink and we go inside and take seats by the windows. I stare at the street all the time but of course Jacob does not show.
I know it is sick but I get home from work earlier the following days to sit in the window seat of that bar and watch people hustling by outside. Three days nothing happens but on the fourth I nearly let my coffee cup fall when Jacob walks past on the other side of the glass, wearing his black jacket and a light woolen hat, moving slowly among the crowd. I do not think he has seen me. I hastily throw over my own coat and follow him on the busy street, easily waving in and out of the thick flock of people without being noticed by him.
Only one block down the street he enters a grocery store. I wait some time, then step through the sliding doors after him, brushing away the feeling of guilt that is creeping into my consciousness.
It is a small city store but Jacob does not seem to take much notice of his surroundings. He buys bananas which he stores in the empty cotton bag he has slung over his shoulder. Next are toast and bacon. I follow him, carefully keeping my distance, pretending to be interested in articles I do not ever intend to buy. He is making his way through the shop slowly, waiting for an elderly man with a shopping cart to clear the way before heading down the aisle. He stops to look at some articles, then tugs his cane under his left arm to collect a package of flour from the shelf and dump it in the bag. He never even seems to take notice of articles below waist height.
He rounds a corner and I wait a few seconds before hurrying to it, sneaking a look around it. I blink. He is gone. I walk down the aisle, turn into the next one and when I do not find him there, I keep standing in front of the shelves, clueless.
I whirl around.
Jacob is standing in front of me, right hand on his cane, his half full bag resting against his left side. There is a dangerous curl around his lips and his blue eyes are like steel.
“Y-yes,” I say, feeling the heat flush my face. You’ve got to act quickly, girl! I grab one of the packages on the shelf, holding it in front of me like a shield. “Spaghetti!”
Jacob raises his eyebrows, his lips twitching. “Green ones?”
I flash a faux grin at him. “Oh yes, absolutely delicious!” Ugh, really, green? I did not even know they exist.
“Hm… okay. What sauce?”
I frantically look up and down the shelf and pick one of the glasses. “This one! Um… cottage cheese sauce?” Whatever this is, but just from the color it seems a reasonable choice to green spaghetti.
Jacob does not seem convinced, the muscles in his right arm bulge as he shifts his weight. My stomach rumbles and I look at the green spaghetti and the glass of slimy white sauce in my hands. I dimly remember my fridge is indeed empty.
His sharp voice makes me shiver. “Why did you follow me?”
I swear my heart stops. “I didn’t!”
He huffs. “I might be a cripple, but I’m no fool.”
I must be bright red at the moment. “I… uhm…” The plastic package around the pasta rustles as I fiddle with it. “Oh damn it, Jacob. I’m sorry, okay?”
“About what now?”
An Asian woman with a small kid in the cart passes us and gives me time to gather my thoughts. God, I am awful at this.
“I’ve been such an ass and... I did not intend to make you feel like… And I have a boyfriend.”
“I know,” he says, his voice low again. He shrugs his shoulder, readjusting the bag. “I saw him.”
“I’d like us to be friends,” I whisper.
Jacob’s eyes turn sad as they search my face, his features softening. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Please, Jacob, I’m really, really sorry-“
“Don’t be. I’ve been silly for getting my hopes high. Good luck with the spaghetti.”
With this he turns and leaves without another glance back at me, the bag swinging against his side with his rocking gait. I keep standing in the aisle, spaghetti in one hand and sauce in the other and watch without being able to move as he turns at the end of the aisle towards the checkout counters.
Let me state that green spaghetti and cottage cheese sauce taste absolutely horrible.
I stop stalking Jacob. He absolutely hates me and thinking about it, he has every right to do so. I tell myself that it is better that way. Things buried in the past better stay down. What would we have done anyway, Jacob and me? He is searching for something I cannot give, would not even dare to give if I could, I think.
I swear, it is not my fault when I bump into Jacob again one week later, quite literally this time.
I am at work, on my way to meet Jenna for lunch and I am late because a client had been rather persistent on the phone. The elevator takes forever because so many people are using it and I have to take the stairs, resulting in me being already out of breath as I dart through the door that leads to the cafeteria and round a corner.
That is to say, I would have rounded that corner if it had not been for the guy standing behind it. I let out a surprised scream before we collide and, hands braced in front of me, we crash to the floor in a tangle of limbs.
I stare into Jacob’s wide blue eyes. “You?!”
He seems as surprised as I am, blinking and breathing fast. I scramble to get off of him and he tries to sit up. “What… what are you doing here?” he asks, holding his side. He is wearing a light gray suit, with white shirt and tie, way more formal than when he has been at my place.
“I am working here,” I answer as I get up and straighten my dress. People are watching. “Are you okay?”
Jacob has scooted back to lean against the wall and looks around frantically. A few people have stopped for a couple of seconds but resume walking when they see that we are apparently still alive. Lunch is more important right now.
His roaming eyes find me. “I- uhm… Where is my cane?”
I locate the brown stick a few feet down the corridor and hand it down to him. The wood is smooth and cool beneath my fingers. “Do you need help?” I remember the situation back in my home.
Jacob does not say anything but winces when he straightens his back and that is answer enough for me. Bolder this time, I grab his bent left arm under the armpit and brace him, while he pushes with his right hand on the cane, his back sliding up on the wall until he stands. When he has found his balance, I take a step back and Jacob adjusts his jacket.
“Are you hurt?” I ask when he frowns as he touches his side.
“Just a bruise. You have sharp elbows,” he says. “Are you okay, anything hurt?” He scrutinizes me, frowning.
I shake my head. “Nope, I’m good. You are soft as a cushion.”
“Thanks a lot.” He grins lopsided, but resumes looking around, a nervous crease on his forehead. “Listen... I have to go. It's been good seeing you again.”
He turns and limps away with his head bowed, vanishing among people and I keep standing for a few seconds, dumbfounded, before I call after him.
He does not seem to hear me or he pretends not to but if there is anything he cannot do, it is running away from me. I quickly catch up with him, dodging people that are coming the other way. I notice they make a berth around Jacob and his cane, but they do not seem to care about bumping into me.
“What are you doing here?”
Jacob distractedly looks sideways at me. “Uh... I had a meeting with someone from Recom.” He stops at the elevators and repeatedly presses a button with the knuckles of his right fist that is still curled around the cane's handle.
“With whom?” I notice he is sweating although it is not that hot in here, a thin film of moist glittering on his forehead.
“You would not know the person,” he simply says, impatiently tracking the display for the elevator to arrive.
“Huh... but-” The ding of the arriving elevator cuts me short and people gushing out of it separate Jacob from me for a few seconds.
He steps inside the now empty cubicle and turns towards me. “Bye.”
Before the doors can close he exhales in a sigh and presses the button for opening them again. “Um... do you know the new Indian restaurant at market square?”
“Would you... would you like to meet me there this afternoon for dinner?”
“Oh... okay?” The doors are closing before I can even ask myself what caused his sudden change of mind. I am left wondering about it for the rest of the day.
The Indian place is bustling and it seems like Jacob has not arrived yet when I step in. I dimly wonder if he has stood me up before I have a look at the time. Turns out I am just super-early because I am so nervous and could not think of anything else today. I cannot find a reason why Jacob would want to meet me. Maybe he applied for a position at Recom and wants insider views on the company? Whatever it may be, I am determined to do everything to make it up to him.
I find seats further in the back, separated by a few colorful curtains from the rest of the room. I order something to drink and pretend to study the menu while I wait for him, my eyes darting to the entrance every other second.
My stomach gives a happy flip when Jacob finally arrives on the other side of the glass door. Guess I was worried he might not come after all. He attempts to shoulder open the heavy door and directs a forced smile at a waiter who yanks it open for him and waves him inside. Jacob scans the room with a growing frown and I wave through the curtains from my seat to make myself known. I think his eyes light up when he finds me, his tense posture relaxing the second he settles on the bench across from me, the curtains falling shut again, shielding us from the rest of the room.
I suppress a shiver at his deep, rumbling voice. “Hi!” I cannot stop smiling like it is plastered to my face.
We both order curry. When Jacob's drink arrives, his glass has a straw in it while mine has not. He frowns and removes it but otherwise does not acknowledge it. Neither do I.
“Jacob…” I take my glass and take a sip to hide my nervousness. “Why am I here?”
Jacob’s thumb clears a drop of water from his glass. It runs along the side of his hand. He looks at it for a long time before he faces me. “I accept your apology and I’d like us to start over. If you want. As friends.”
I stare at him, surprised.
Jacob places his glass on the table and swipes his hand on a napkin. “We've both been a little childish I guess. Maybe we can forget what happened.”
“Oh... okay. But… why now?” I stammer, unable to stop myself as my thoughts flood my brain.
Jacob shrugs with only his right shoulder, his brows curving into a small frown. “Guess I needed some time. If you don’t want, it is okay, we don’t have to, I mean I barely know you and-“
“No…” I hurry to interrupt him. “No… I’d like that.”
His face splits into a grin and he slumps back against his seat, seemingly relieved. “Cool. It’s… I like you, you know? I mean, as a friend.”
“I like you too.” As a friend. Definitely, that’s it.
I search Jacob's face, a part of me still wondering why he is coming around to me now but when he does not say anything, I lean back, trying to come to terms with the fact that he really could just be interested in me as a friend and nothing more. Maybe he is gay? No, there is no reason to think that and we would not even have this conversation if he actually were gay, right? Because then there would be no problem. Probably I should just stop being paranoid and accept that there are some decent guys out there, after all. At least one decent, absolutely gorgeous guy…
We talk about work. He has only started a few months ago at TalcTech. He rants about his co-worker Vito, the one who brought the equipment in disarray, but I sense a tender affection underneath his words. They seem to get along well and I feel happy for him. He asks if I am satisfied with my current position at Recom, which is difficult to answer. I mean, the money is relatively okay, it is just really dull work at oftentimes the worst times and if a server crashes I can cancel sleep for a night or more. Not to speak of social life. Jenna and I are constantly joking about changing work place. But I just found this job a year ago and I am not sure I want to start applying again.
Jacob seems to be on Jenna’s side though. “I personally think if you are not happy, you should consider searching for something else. Also... I heard a few foul things about your employer. I mean...”
I nod. There has been some sort of scandal in the past, shortly before I got employed, something about money that vanished in a manager's pocket. I think they sacked the guy but the bad reputation sticks of course.
The food arrives and we tuck in. It is spicy and creamy, just as I like it. I notice it is the right kind of food for Jacob, too, since a fork is sufficient to eat the rice and small pieces of meat or cheese in sauce.
I tell Jacob that I have not managed to get much out of the city since I arrived two years ago.
“Actually, I only moved here because of Marcus.”
I see a short hesitation as Jacob lifts the fork to his mouth but then he says: “You really missed out. The surroundings are beautiful.”
All in all, it is a surprisingly light conversation and I start to feel comfortable. Jacob’s left underarm rests over his stomach. From my point of view at the table, it is barely possible to tell anything is not as it should be. It helps cooling my nerves.
We pay separately and are already standing outside when Jacob turns towards me. "You know what?" He watches me, a little uncertain. "Since you are still practically a stranger around here... Why don’t I show you some of the nicer places in this area? I had planned to go on a hike tomorrow and I thought… maybe you’d want to join me?"
"Uh..." Tomorrow is Saturday and one of Marcus' cousins celebrates her birthday. I am sure I could wiggle out somehow, in fact I have waited for a reason to do so. I like his family and his parents in general, but lately they have been a bit annoying with their constant nagging about our wedding plans. There are none, but they would very obviously like there to be some. "I like hiking. So... why not?"
It is actually more of a serious question than a rhetorical one but he does not react to it. How does someone go hiking who barely gets up a flight of stairs?
Jacob looks happily relieved. "Awesome. So... at ten?"
"That's fine with me." Marcus leaves earlier than ten at Saturday. Not that there is actually a need to keep Jacob a secret, just… Maybe it is better if Marcus does not know I am meeting with a guy, even if he only is a friend.
Jacob clears his throat. "I’ll pick you up in front of the building."
Of course. I could have suggested that myself. "Okay great. So, um… I’ll take the subway home."
“My car is parked just around the corner. I could drive you home?”
“Um… that’s really nice of you but it is not far.” Although that is true, it is not the only reason why I do not want to be brought home by Jacob. I think of Marcus but I also think that it would turn this whole dinner into a date. And we are not dating.
“Oh, of course. Then… see you tomorrow, Cait."
I watch him go, watch his gait as he leans to his right every other step to bring his left leg forward, the cane thumping on the asphalt. I am so screwed.
--> Chapter 6
--> Chapter 6