Her eyes follow his steps as he passes her desk on his way to the staff lounge. The words of Thomas Harris—spoken so chillingly by Sir Anthony Hopkins over twenty-five years ago—ring in her ears: we covet what we see every day.
And oh, how she covets.
She watches his retreating form: the sinew of his shoulders flexing as he strides confidently to his destination. The curl of his brown locks poking out from under his cap. The way his faded jeans cup his ass.
I want. She feels foolish. The saliva is working in her cheeks like a teenager at the high school prom. But she can’t help herself. I want.
She’s worked at the library for thirteen years now, calling wayward bibliophiles who’ve kept their books out too long, filing returns in their proper place, never once straying from the Dewey Decimal System. At night, she retreats to her apartment, binge-watching Dexter or Breaking Bad, her iguana, Mr. Greenjeans, in her lap. After dealing with books all day, the last thing she wants to do at night is crack open the pages. She’d once thought her job—hell, life itself—had quelled all the embers of passion thrumming inside her. The library has killed her desire to read. She’d thought that was the only craving she’d had left, now reduced to chilled, blackened coals. But then he came into her life—as casually as a leaf fluttering from tree to earth, sashaying in the breeze as it skims down to settle on the ground.
We covet what we see every day.
It doesn’t help that he works right across the street. After months of his daily visits to her stacks, she finally got up the nerve to stop into the Crusty Cruller last week before clocking in. She’d gazed at the frosted, sprinkled wares through the glass, her senses overwhelmed by the pinks and purples, the yeasty smell of freshly kneaded dough, the noise.
Oh, the noise. Chatter and laughter and a little girl wailing because her big brother had gotten the last chocolate bomb—a dark cakey doughnut with thick chocolate glaze, topped with fudge chunks—and the music, piped in overhead, the Beatles telling her most hidden of thoughts, over and over: she loves you, John Lennon insisted, spilling her secret.
She fled before ordering so much as a coffee. It’s clear if she’s to go through with this, it must be on her turf.
She’s managed to resist for—hell, a decade, if she’s truly being honest in her counting. Is that really the last time she allowed herself a bit of decadence? Where had the time gone? Her sassiness? Her ability to grab onto the best things about life, things that would no doubt kill her in the long run, but were oh, so sweet in the moment?
She was looking at fifty, now—and not from that far a distance. Time was running out. Life had turned bleak and mundane. She missed the pinks and purples. They’d shocked her only because they’d been absent from her life so very long.
But today. Today is the day. She’s ready for a change. To indulge her wanton and wild side. She’s tired of being proper—a rule follower who never steps out of line, who apologizes if a colorful word accidentally slips past her lips, who scowls when giggles break out in the YA section.
His gait takes him past the circulation desk in a flash, so quick she almost misses him. Oh, no you don’t. Not today. Today it’s my turn. The wheels of her chair get caught on the foot of the desk as she pushes away, standing. She bangs her stomach against the rim of the desk, lets out a soft oof!, and hurries to follow.
She catches up right as he’s placing his wares on the table in the staff room. A dozen doughnuts, still warm from way the heat radiates onto the cold tabletop and is nipped away. His eyebrow kinks up as she faces him. Her cheeks fill with heat, and she bites back the instinct to flee. She glances down at what he’s brought: four powdered jellies, three crullers, two pink sprinkled, two purple. One chocolate bomb. She inhales sharply, letting the sugary scent set her synapses to firing. I want.
“I want.” She speaks it out loud, and the words are a release, giving her the last boost of confidence she needs to go through with it.
“Yes?” The softness, eagerness in his brown eyes propels her onward.
“I want that chocolate bomb.”
There. She’s said it. Type two diabetes and celiac disease be damned: she’s denied herself long enough. We covet what we see every day.
He makes a big show of pulling a napkin from his breast pocket, snapping it in the air like the unfolding of a bedsheet, and scoops up her doughnut, presenting it as a prize.
She takes it, biting in without so much as a thank you, closing her eyes to let the fudge and frosting and cake-like morsels run rampant across her tongue. She’ll pay later, of course: she’ll need a shot of insulin and will no doubt be running to the bathroom all afternoon with stabbing abdominal cramps. But for now, oh, for now . . . she’s tasting a little bit of heaven, right here on earth. She offers the doughnut guy a black-crumbed, toothy smile.
“I’ll bring two tomorrow.” He taps the brim of his cap, winks, and leaves.
Isn’t he a doll, she thinks. Too bad he’s half my age. She licks the sugary glaze off her fingers, sighs, and takes another bite.
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Most recently, her novella “Brando and Bad Choices” appeared in Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.