His hands shake – and he feels sure his lips do, too. The cold 9 O’clock air wraps its thin fingers around Will’s hot face and makes his eyes water; or is that the smoke? He inhales again, desperately concentrating on not coughing. Nicotine sings through his veins and drowns him in giddiness. He takes another breath in. Straight air this time. Cold and harsh, it stables him. He looks down at the cigarette in his hand being squeezed a little too tightly between his bitten fingernails. He watches the orange embers very slowly crawling their way up towards the filter.
Across the road and two houses down, a hallway light flicks yellow. She is here. First he sees the hot pink of her dressing gown, then her jeans poking out of the bottom and then her matted, once baby blue slippers. With cartoons on. He thinks he’s decided that they’re Snoopy (although he can’t be sure). Even with his thick lens glasses, he falls short of seeing everything he wants to. Her long dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail which has slacked a little since six o’clock when she got home. She tugs her cigarettes out of her tight jeans pocket. Sterling superkings. The same brand Will smokes.
She holds the cigarette in her mouth and uses both hands to type something out on her phone. Occasionally she will remove it while she reflects upon what is on her screen. Will wonders what she is doing. He likes to imagine she is posting on Facebook. Comments about looking for love and how she’s waiting for the right man (man, not boy). Will was a man. He wishes he was her friend on Facebook so that he could know. But then he’d have to make an account and that would be weird. She wouldn’t accept his request if he didn’t have any other friends. So instead he just watches. His mind taking thousands of pictures that he can lose himself in later. But not now. Now he must just concentrate on not coughing.
It’s Thursday tomorrow which means she’s at work again. His mind flicks through her file. Thursday shift at Superdrug, 10am until 4.30pm. He wishes he could go in and see her but he knows he cannot. He went last week. Three times. The first time she was friendly. He had dropped his items down on the counter, his eyes never leaving hers. Orange juice, Coca Cola, blackcurrant Ribena, strawberry Ribena.
‘Thirsty much?’ She smiled.
What was he supposed to say to that? He had done the only thing he could. Kept his lips tightly sealed, handed over his exact pre-counted change and got out of there as quickly as possible. The second time he went in, he had chosen toothpaste. That was a good decision. Nobody can joke about toothpaste. He didn’t need toothpaste, but he could keep it for a spare. A second spare. But on that day her beautiful face was grey. Black circles around her eyes had stolen Monday’s smile. Will wished he could have said something funny. Or kind. But as a different cashier called him over he didn’t even get the chance. He felt sure he could have cheered her up if he’d have got her. The day after she was back to normal. He walked around the shop for a long time trying to decide what to buy. Planning different scenarios of things she might say. Thinking up great come-backs for the thirsty remark on Monday. It was of paramount importance that he was charming that day. After forty-five minutes he decided on tissues. Tissues display sensitivity. And girls think sensitive is good, he confirmed with himself. Tissues were a good decision. Deep breaths. He smelled cigarettes on his clothes from the night before and it made him feel sick so he breathed hard, but shallower. She called him over.
‘Would you like a bag for that?’
Will was pleased. He thought she might ask this and he had prepared an answer.
‘No thank you very much. I have brought my own.’
He promptly pulled a Morrsions carrier out of his parka pocket and packed the tissues away. He wondered if she noticed that they were tissues. It was important for her to know that he is sensitive. He panicked. She did notice, didn’t she?
‘I go through so many tissues’ he blurted.
‘You what, mate?’ her face screwed up horribly tight.
What did he do wrong? Why didn’t she understand?
‘I get very sensitive!’
‘If you don’t piss off I’m going to call my manager, you fucking pervert. Go!’
Will’s chest felt like it was on fire. He didn’t understand. He felt a tingle run from either side of his nose and around his head and building up behind his eyes. And then he felt water running down his cheeks.
He told himself to move.
‘Left then right,’ he told his converse. In his mind, he had performed better than he had on Monday. Halfway out of the shop he stopped. He steadied himself. He had one more chance to impress with his three day old response.
‘Hydration is of upmost importance!’