I turn a page of the book I’m holding, but I’m not reading.
Sitting opposite me in Maggie’s Laundromat, a guy about my age bounces his knee and flicks through a motor racing magazine. We are alone. His slick black hair, crisp white t-shirt and blue jeans remind me of the movie star, James Dean. Gran had a major crush on him in her teens.
‘You’d think a fast cycle would be quicker than forty-five minutes.’ The guy grins at me and a small dimple appears on his right cheek.
Shit! He’s cute.
He throws the magazine on the small table next to him and drums his fingers on his thighs. He glances at the watch on his wrist. ‘My machine broke. You?’
I clear my throat. ‘Same.’ I don’t want him to know I’m here once a week. That a washing machine is a luxury I won’t be able to afford any time in the foreseeable future.
He leans forward to shake my hand. ‘I’m Henry.’
‘Gretchen.’ I take his hand and his grip is strong.
In the distance, a police siren wails. Henry stands and starts to pace before looking out of the shop window and up and down the street. The summer sunlight makes him look like he’s glowing. He bites his lip and checks the time again.
‘I’ll be here for another hour if you want me to watch your stuff,’ I say.
Henry turns to me. ‘Look, this is going to sound strange, but I need you to do something for me.’
There’s a familiarity in the way he speaks. Do I know this guy? Have I met him somewhere before?
Henry wipes his brow. ‘Remember this number.’
‘What makes you think I want your number?’
‘It’s a code; four, two, eight, five. Don’t tell anyone, don’t write it down.’
The sirens get louder.
‘The code is for a lock on a briefcase. Remove the ceiling panel above washing machine three and you’ll see it.’
‘What are you talking about?’ I rest my book on my lap. I’m afraid to stand.
He kneels in front of me. ‘Tell me the code.’
‘What’s the code, Gretchen?’ Henry’s brown eyes fix on mine.
My heart races. ‘Four, two, eight, five.’
‘Good, that’s good.’ Henry frowns. He raises his hand to stroke my cheek, but he doesn’t touch me. ‘This isn’t random. I chose you for a reason, Gretchen. Remember that.’
Henry reaches into his back pocket and takes out a small wooden box. He opens the lid and a blinding light fills the laundromat.
‘I’ll wait for you.’ Henry tips the box and a ball of light rolls into his hand. He closes his eyes and like a star collapsing in on itself, he disappears.
I blink as my eyes readjust to the natural light and I reach into the space Henry just occupied.
Where did he go? What just happened?
I glance up at the ceiling panel above machine three and I shiver.
‘Four, two, eight, five.’
© Michelle Upton