Karen brought the cantaloupe up to her nose but wasn’t entirely sure what she was supposed to smell. No fragrance, green and hard, no good, she guessed. Or would it ripen later? If it was too melon-y it was rotten. Right? It just smelled like cantaloupe rind to her, and so she put it in her cart trying to act as if she knew all about these things.
“You know, if it smells like fish, put it down, right?” A sandy-haired man she hadn’t noticed was right beside her, squeezing the melons as if he knew exactly what he was doing. Should they give, she wondered, or was that too late?
“Yeah.” She laughed and looked up into his blue eyes. “Should smell fruity, ya know?” Well, there are some dumber things I could have said, she thought. She started to walk over to the tomatoes but he spoke again quickly.
“Takes a few days to eat a whole cantaloupe by yourself, doesn’t it? But if you buy those precut chunks they go bad quicker and you’re paying for all that work.” He smiled at her and she smiled back as a reflex.
Now she could make her getaway for the tomatoes. She was gently squeezing the orange-ish Romas when she glanced up and saw him perusing the bell peppers on the other side of the island. He smiled; she smiled. Stop that! Her Aunt Zinnia had told her more than once never to pick up a man in the produce department. It’s a known hotspot for womanizers and whackos.
“Do you know about these? How long does a half survive in the refrigerator?” He looked at her and then down at the yellow bell pepper in his hand.
“Oh, a few days. The cut edge may go soggy, but you can just trim it off. I think a lot of veggies live longer than some people say.” Did she sound like a woman in the know? She hoped so.
“Would you like a cup of coffee after the rigors of shopping? That Starbucks here in the store is pretty good. They seem to know what they are doing, which isn’t always true with Starbucks, is it?” That was kind of weird. Maybe he just knows a heck of a lot about coffee though.
“No, no thank you. I have a ton of stuff to do today.” She did not smile and knew that Aunt Z. would be pleased.
“Okay, then. Maybe another time. My name is Kurt, by the way.”
“Karen. Nice to meet you.” She left for the cereal aisle briskly and was planning an escape route through the canned goods if he followed her.
When she checked out she had to go right by Starbucks, and there was Kurt with a cup of coffee, all alone. He hadn’t picked up someone else though the store was full of women. He really did want a cup of coffee. Maybe he truly was attracted to her. She nodded to him and he smiled a little. And then she did a crazy thing, or maybe a smart thing. She ordered a latte and sat at his table when he waved her over. What could this hurt? I want to live large, but I always settle for small, Karen thought. Go big just once, you chicken.
“Nice to have the shopping done, huh? So many decisions. Now on to Saturday afternoon, I say!” He had the most endearing ease about him. He looked like he lived large all the time and never thought twice about it.
They chatted pleasantly for about forty minutes, about jobs, apartments, rents, the weather. It was so comfortable, and then he asked her out to dinner that evening at a Mexican place she loved, and she said yes. Holy Moly. But she wasn’t an idiot (she proudly thought); she would meet him there at seven. He smiled again. She smiled. She pushed her cart out the door, her thoughts whirling, and had trouble for a moment remembering where her car was.
In the afternoon she teeter-tottered about what she had done. She didn’t have his phone number to cancel (stupid girl!), but she could call La Playa and tell them to tell him. Leave no other message or number. She could be free. How large would that be though? Skimpy.
She decided on her best grey slacks, a not-too-tight lemon cream colored sweater, and casual flats. Left her hair down. No smoky, sultry eye make-up. Living large, but playing it cool. Cold in fact. This was probably a waste of time and effort, but she didn’t have anything better to do.
Karen was at her bathroom mirror, mascara wand in hand when she heard on WBLN-am that the “Rutabaga Romeo” had just been apprehended, two days after his last murder. She had not been keeping up with local news at all what with the massive overtime she had been putting in for three weeks. She was glad she had missed this story anyway! Some “Grocery Store Gigolo” had been picking up women in supermarkets (Aunt Zinnia, you were right!) all over the Tri-County area. Charming, smooth, and dangerous. Oh, aren’t they all?, Karen thought. He had struck three times, wooing his victims, taking them to dinner, and then leaving their various limbs and parts in different supermarket dumpsters. Disgruntled clerk? Deranged butcher? It was beyond awful, but Karen was guiltily cheered his victims were all described as “young and attractive.” She sat down on the bathroom floor though, wand in hand, and took a couple of yoga breaths. Aunt Z. was shouting in her brain, “Golf courses! Sporting good stores! Church! Never the grocery!”
There was no description of the killer given or she missed it. Maybe it’s not Kurt. Maybe it is. She was dressed. She was ready. And she had to know. How could it hurt? It couldn’t. Looking was anonymous, free, and harmless in every way. Blaine was too small a town to have news surface on Google this fast, and she didn’t want to wait for the local ten o’clock news to see his face. Living large meant going to look. Whatever happened, she could pick up a burrito.
Karen took another big breath when she reached for the heavy wooden door of La Playa at five after seven. She blinked a moment in the sudden dimness of the foyer. Mariachi music bounced around the walls from the ceiling speakers. The aroma of chilies, tomatoes, and corn tortillas filled the air. She was hungry. Half relieved, half disappointed she saw no one at all. An electric frisson of both fear and excitement whipped through her body. She’d never been so close to danger and tragedy! She was living large and getting away with it!
Then he came out of the bar, holding a menu, and smiling warmly with happy recognition. He gave her a small low wave. She smiled and went to him.