harriet: chapter two

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Read chapter one here.

Harriet didn’t like meeting people because it always took too long to get to know them, and the beginning conversations and time spent together was always so boring. “What can we talk about besides how many siblings we have and where we grew up?” So she tried to avoid it at all costs. At least to keep the boring and the bother out of her life.

She continued to run all the way down to the bottom of the hill to her house. It was a sweet little home with a garden and french doors overlooking the back yard. She never kept them locked and so hopped inside with Captain through the back entry.

“Bark, bark!” Said Captain for a treat and Harriet obliged.

Creeping to the front of the house, she spied out the front windows to check if her neighbor was skulking around outside, but no trace of her could be seen. So Harriet took advantage of her apparent absence to take out the trash. Yes, characters in books have to do menial tasks, too. It isn’t all love and fighting dragons, is it?

I like taking out the trash, in a way. It is a good feeling to rid your living space of garbage, and satisfying to start an empty, clean trash bag.

Harriet began to drag her trash cans to the curb and had not taken three steps when she heard the voice of Grace. A pang struck her stomach at the thought of being confronted while she was unprotected by the shelter of her house.

“Was that your trash that was out early last week?”

Grace was an older, stocky woman who always wore her hair in two buns on top of her head. She had lived in the house next-door for 20 years and made sure you knew that fact. She loved knowing about the garbage schedules and telling you how to correct your recycling organization. Her name did not match her personality as she was a stickler for the rules. The kind of woman who enjoyed being the hall-monitor in her elementary class. She allowed no grace. Not when it came to the garbage at any rate.

“No, it wasn’t mine.” Said Harriet continuing to drag her trash to the curb.

“Whose do you think it was? It was sitting out far too long. The raccoons might’ve got to it and spread trash all over. Who could it have possibly been? Maybe Harvey?”

“I’m sure Harvey knows the garbage collection schedule; he’s lived here for years.”

“You’re right; maybe it’s the new neighbors on your side.”

“It probably was them as the trash is in the front of their house.”

“But I told them the trash comes on Wednesday morning, so they should know.”

“I think everything will be okay, Grace. It’s Tuesday now, so tomorrow morning everything will be taken away. Also they’re new; give them time to adjust to a new collection schedule.”

“I think maybe I should tell them about the garbage schedule again.” And she scurried off across Harriet’s lawn to knock on the neighbor’s door with very important garbage information they surely did not want to know.

Harriet hurried back inside, feeling a little sorry for the neighbors, but not enough to distract Grace from the garbage sermon they were about to receive.

It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and the rain still hadn’t come, so Harriet decided to walk down to her favorite place with Captain for a coffee and a read. She only pretended to read, and instead eavesdropped on other people’s conversations to compile funny stories for her own amusement later on.

She grabbed a bag and book and called Captain to follow her into town. The walk to the cafe was very peaceful. It was quiet today because the weather looked ominous, so not many people were out walking. Sunny days are nice, but they always draw everyone outside to the cafes, shops, and restaurants. If only everyone didn’t like the sun and the warmth so much.

Harriet’s favorite cafe was called The Southern Sea.

It was in an old corner building with latticed windows and tiny bistro tables. The walls and window trims were ivory; dried flowers in chipped vases sat on the shelves, and paintings of stormy seasides hung on the wall. Yes, it was very ideal and quaint. This is my story after all, so I can make anything be whatever I want.

Alan was the main barista there; he was a skinny, awkward, yet kind kid who hid behind glasses and film references. Harriet loved that he wasn’t very chatty but remembered Harriet’s regular drink and loved to give Captain a pet. Drink in hand, Harriet sat at her favorite window spot, and looked around for someone to listen to. Unfortunately, the place was quiet today; every other customer was solitary and either reading or working. She pulled out her book and began to read, too.

It was not long before the rain finally broke through the clouds - at first a drizzle and then the downpour. The sound on the sidewalks and window panes was heavenly, and just as Harriet suspected, it drew a couple of wanderers inside — a man and a woman by the sound of their voices. Harriet’s nose remained stuck in her book, but she stopped reading. They took a moment to wipe their feet and shake out their umbrella, then tentatively walked up to the counter while staring at the menu to order.

“I’ll have a latte, but can you make it extra hot?” Said the man.

“And I’ll take one of your pumpkin spiced lattes with extra whipped cream.” Said the woman.

They turned around to scope out a table, and once settled, decided to select a game from a cabinet nearby.

Harriet didn't look up at them because they didn't acknowledge her dog as they went by, and she didn’t care about people who were indifferent to dogs. After a while of listening to their boring conversation, she knew how their relationship was and could form a picture of what they must look like in her head. The man seemed condescending. He was teaching the woman how to play a game he already knew.

"I'm really good at this game," she heard him say to the woman. They then started talking about the colors they should choose as game pieces.

"I chose red, white, and blue because of the colors of the flag and then, green, because of Christmas" he announced as if it was something profound, and a pause ensued as he waited to be acknowledged by the woman. Harriet heard her say something quiet and unremarkable. She ventured a look out of the corner of her eye at the woman. She's wearing light pink — of course. Short brown hair, mid thirties, gets pumpkin spice lattes every Tuesday morning with Tiffany…or so Harriet assumed. And she amused herself with this picture of her female eavesdropping prey.

They seemed like the kind of couple that had been married for 15 years but still didn't know each other. Each spoke very carefully and politely to the other, as if they were trying to heal their broken relationship at the suggestion of a therapist.

Her ears perked up as the man picked up a new game. He asked the woman, "want to play? It takes two minutes to learn."

"Sure,” she said tentatively.

Fifteen minutes later they were still reading the directions together, very confused by the sound of their voices. Harriet still hadn’t looked at the man. She saw his shoes and baggy jeans out of the corner of her eye. By the sound of his voice, he seemed like a boring guy in his late thirties. Loves Sunday afternoon football and golf, is on some committee at a church, likes to talk about how he's a loving and respectful husband, has to meet Josh on Saturday morning for breakfast where they'll talk about "holding eachother accountable."

They had given up on the new game, and sat in silence, looking around and sipping their coffees. The rain continued.

Do you ever wonder at the consciousness of other people? How are they walking through life? Are they awake or just going through the motions? Do they think complex thoughts? Do they wonder about other people’s lives or how they could be more present?

Harriet day dreamed about this for a few minutes when the door of the cafe opened and another wanderer came in. She kept her nose hidden in her book, but waited for a conversation to listen to. By the sounds of it, this stranger was a young man who seemed to know Alan. Harriet had never heard Alan sound so excited to see any person before.

“Jack! How have you been?”

What kind of person is allowed such a warm welcome from shy, pessimistic Alan? Unfortunately she could not risk a peek at the counter without Alan and the stranger, Jack, noticing. Eventually Jack took a seat at a table behind her and was quiet.

The boring couple began to talk again, and Harriet listened for more details of their life. Surely she would one day fill a novel with eavesdroppings. Perhaps this would be her claim to fame. She listened closer when all of a sudden a voice whispered in her ear, “You’ve been on that page since I came in; Are you really that slow of a reader?”

Absolutely appalled and startled, Harriet turned to this personal space intruder only to find him to be that young man with the longish blonde hair who she had tripped on earlier that day.

This was ‘Jack.’

Of course it was him - who else would I write in here?

Recognizing her, too, he quickly added, “Hey…you’re that girl who stepped on my stomach and then ran away.” He was not at all mad, but somewhat amused.

Completely flustered and terribly angry that this person kept forcing himself into her story, Harriet managed to squeak out, “Yes, I am, but that doesn’t mean you can just butt your way into my space.”

“Your space? You stepped on my stomach. If that isn’t invading of personal space, I don’t know what is.”

“Look, that was an accident, but I need to go. It’s hard for her to write long conversations with people. I’m not supposed to talk that long. I was promised this isn’t a love story, and as I’m assuming by both of our comedic meetings that you’re my masculine lead, I need to get out of here.” And with that Harriet threw her things into her bag and ran out the door.

Completely dumbfounded because he hadn’t broken through the fourth wall of his own story or hers, Jack sat still for a second with his mouth agape, but then ran out the door himself.

“What are you talking about? What do you mean by ‘her’? And who promised you this ‘wasn’t a love story’? Are you crazy?”

“Yes, yes I am, so please leave me alone!” She turned and started quickly walking back home again, shouting over her shoulder as she went, “I’m psycho! I might do something crazy at any moment. I’m dangerous, so stay away!”

We all know that Harriet is far from psycho, but Jack doesn’t. Also if the warning “stay away” doesn’t intrigue you and call you to do the opposite of that, you may actually be psycho.

So Jack walked back to The Southern Sea, wondering how he could find out more about this “dangerous” person.