I’m serializing a short story I wrote five years ago called The Last Stop, which is appearing in bite-sized pieces throughout the week. It’s probably unpublishable for a few reasons, but I put effort into the thing, so I’m posting it. You are the beta readers.
The Last Stop
© 2009 by Eric John Baker
Riley let the words roll around for a moment. “Oh.”
“I tried to cover for you the past few weeks, but you vanished, man. We can’t have that. You’re a good worker, but your head’s not on straight.” Patrick pointed to Riley’s head, in case anyone was unsure of its location. “If it were up to me, I’d keep you, but this comes from above. There’s no way—”
“You know what? Don’t worry about it. I’m ready to move on anyway.” Riley thought he might like to work for Andre Rodgers and learn how to be a detective.
Patrick, with his world’s worst poker face, was evidently pleased with how this was going. “This might sound weird, but hear me out. We replaced you already. Sorry, but the opportunity came up and we took it. Anyway, I’m authorized to give you a month’s severance pay if you stick around the rest of today to do training. You’re the only one who knows the systems and—”
Blah blah blah, Patrick.
Riley needed the money. “Sure. That sounds fair.” With Andre Rodgers on the case, he could concentrate on something else for one day.
As Patrick dialed the receptionist, Riley realized he had to pay the severance anyway. It was in the hiring contract. He lowered his face to hide his smirk. Patrick Pohdile was a first-class, conniving butthead.
The door opened.
“Riley Conard,” Patrick said, “meet Eleanor Fayne.”
Let’s see what this vulture looks li—
Riley’s smirk withered. A last breath escaped his lips, and then all of time stopped. He stared at her, numb.
It. Could not be.
Trembling, he swept the back of his arm across his eyes to wipe away the flash flood of tears. Joyful tears, bursting from within his heart. He knew he would find her! He knew it.
Sometimes destiny does call.
She extended a tentative hand, her apprehension incapable of marring her perfect face. “Hi, I’m Eleanor.”
She called herself Eleanor.
Riley stood frozen. She lowered her eyes, embarrassed, and started to drop her hand. He commanded himself to step forward, and her fingers slid into his. Up close, she looked older, maybe thirty, but no less stunning. He caught her eyes, letting her know she had nothing to fear, and she smiled for real.
He let go of her hand first. He didn’t want her to think he was creepy.
Side by side they sat in swivel chairs, Riley teaching, Sophia learning. Here, it’s easier if you do it this way, Riley said. Sophia replied, it’s so kind of you to show me all this. It would take me months to figure it out. Riley encouraged her, saying, nah, you’d get it in no time, though he knew she’d never get it without him because he was the only one who knew.
Below her left ear, smooth, perfect skin curved over a pleasing feminine jaw line. Fine wisps of almost-black hair showed on the back of her neck when she reached for the printer. Her delicate chin and curious mouth oriented her to her task. Slender shoulders called for his caress. He wondered if she thought the same types of things about him. The words came out of his mouth, unplanned. “Do you want to grab a beer or something after work?”
She tried to conceal her surprise, he could tell. “It’s my last day,” he said, “so I don’t care. I can give you the dirt. Office politics and all that. It doesn’t hurt to have a handle on that stuff.”
Her pupils darted from side to side, studying his face. Riley wore a mask of earnestness he knew she could not penetrate. Everyone always said he was a blank.
“Yeah, ok,” she said, uncertain. He’d change that soon enough.
Riley’s departure at 5 p.m. was met with little fanfare. He boxed up a few things while Sophia stood by and waited, awkwardly eying Patrick, who awkwardly watched her wait.
Riley sealed the third box. “Ready?” he asked Sophia in a too-familiar way, which he realized when her eyes widened, like she had been caught stealing.
He turned to Patrick. “I’ll be back for these if that’s okay.”
The men shook hands and Patrick said, in hushed tones, “When you get things straightened out, let me know. A spot might open up somewhere.”
Riley smiled and patted his shoulder. Whatever you say, pal, he thought. I’ve found Sophia.
During the elevator’s brief descent, she said, “I could have helped you carry the boxes.”
“I sold my car a couple days ago.”
Riley didn’t care about the junk in the boxes, even the picture of Maddie he’d found in the bottom drawer. He only packed it up so he’d have an excuse to come back and see Sophia again.
On the walk up to Hilltop Tavern, Riley occupied her with idle chit chat, but he didn’t listen to her answers. He was thinking about how he could make her love him.
(Tomorrow… the explosion-free conclusion!)