Amanda Cook

Pulling the ribbons that held back the drapes that would cover the painting at night, he glanced around the rest of the gallery to make sure everything was in place. Rodger grabbed his keys from the top drawer of the front desk and walked out the door, making sure to lock it and set the alarm.

New York never looked the same to Rodger as it did to everyone else. The bright lights of the city were harsh on his eyes and he did not ’t see the same beauty as the other people his age. Stopping at a street corner, Rodger could see his reflection in a nearby window. He was dressed in what he was told was a blue suit with a lighter blue shirt and black tie, his hair short and trimmed neatly back. He was a presentable man who looked like he ran a business, but he did not  feel like one. He did not have the circle of friends or close colleagues that businessmen did. There were not many 27-year-old men living in New York City who did not go out and have drinks with friends or take their girl out on a date in the middle of Times Square and go ice skating in the winter. But that was Rodger. He did not see the value in wasting time.

Rodger rounded another corner, keeping his eyes low and a hand up to try and help his vision focus on the area in front of him. He was nearing the bookstore he went to nearly four times a week, meaning that he was almost home. After he passed by the door to the bookstore, Rodger paused and cursed under his breath. He had finished his book at home and would need another one to get him through the next two nights. That was the downside to having no friends—, it left ample time to do other things, like read many, many, many books.

Pushing open the door, Rodger called out a ‘hello’ to Miss Stacey, the elderly southern woman that who did checkouts, made his way to the fiction section, and looked for an author that he recognized. He skimmed the grey covers until he found one that looked interesting. Cross by James Patterson was one that he had heard of but hadn’t read because he was in the middle of a series by Lee Charles Kelly.

Rodger was looking over the other colorless covers, looking for another book to buy when a feminine voice sounded next to him. “James Patterson, I haven’t read anything from him since Maximum Ride.”

Without looking up from the back of the book Rodger nodded, “I’ve never read any of his work, but several of my colleagues have recommended it.”

“If you like murder mystery, you should try this one.” Suddenly, a book was pushed into his line of view. The cover was nothing special, but the title read Bark M for Murder. Recognition flared into his head as he read the list of authors and found Lee Charles Kelly to be one of the authors. Rodger instantly turned to thank the stranger, but found that the power of speech had left him. The woman stood, contemplating the two books in her hands. That wasn’t what shocked him though. The thing that amazed him was that this woman wasn’t colorless or dull like everyone else – she was vibrant and vivid with colors.

Her hair, a crimson red, tumbled around her shoulders in long curls. The black jacket she wore went down to her knees, dark in contrast to the light tone of her skin. The woman’s jeans were dark and tucked into the calf-high brown boots she wore. A dark green scarf around her neck completed her look, and gave Rodger yet another thing to stare at as he took in all the colors.

Rodger continued to look her over, the colors of her clothing seeping into his memory. Turning away to place a book back on the shelf, Rodger felt his heart beating hard in his chest. Never had someone appeared in colors that bright. Sure, he had a sense of which colors were which when looking at a painting, but never had he seen them like this. Rodger shook his head—he was sure that he had imagine it. He glanced over his shoulder to double check and saw that she was in fact in color, but also that she was moving out the door.

Rodger took off after her, forgetting the books in his hands as he ran out the front of the bookstore, fighting for a glance of the woman. Once outside, the night lights of Times Square attacked his eyes, making it impossible for him to see. A hand on his arm pulled him back into the store where the lighting wasn’t as harsh. Once his eyes adjusted, Rodger saw that it was Miss Stacey.

“Rodger, are ya alright? You ran out the store in a panic and y’all pale and sweaty.” Miss Stacey frantically searched him all over to make sure that he wasn’t hurt. Rodger regained his composure and nodded to the older woman who was still staring at him with immense concern.

“I’m sorry to have worried you, Miss Stacey. I’m fine, but I would like to buy these books please.” Shakily he handed her the books as well as his wallet and took a seat by the door. She nodded and ran off to ring up the two items for him.

Miss Stacey quickly brought his wallet and books back. “Ya sure y’all right?” she insisted as she handed him the plastic bag as well as his wallet. She crouched down in front of him, holding his hands in hers. “It ain’t right for a boy like you to be alone all the time,” her eyes shining with tears as she spoke. “Maybe you should come over and have supper with me and my family this Friday night. All my kids will be there and they’s about your age.”

Rodger quickly shook his head. He was fine, but he wouldn’t mind having company some of the time. He just didn’t want to impose on the kind woman in front of him. He definitely didn’t want her pity.

“Thank you, Miss Stacey, but—” the glare from the elderly woman in front of him made the words die before they left his throat.

“Now, you listen to me, Rodger Mitchell Strauss. I’ve known you too long to have you lie to me. I know you too well for that, so here,” Miss Stacey pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and a pen from her apron and scribbled something down, thrusting it into his hands when she was done. “Dinner is at five thirty sharp—don’t you dare be late, and bring a bottle of wine. It’s my baby Sadie’s twenty-ninth birthday.” With that, the elderly woman stood up, gave Rodger a quick hug from where he was sitting, and ran off to check out the other customers who had lined up at the counter. It took Rodger a moment to process exactly what had happened.

After a few minutes, Rodger got up, plastic bag in hand, and began to head home. For the first time in a long time, he had plans on Friday night. The thought brought a sincere smile to his face.

* * *

Five fifteen rolled around and Rodger was already standing outside Miss Stacey’s house. Rodger shifted his weight from one foot to the other. In one hand he held a bottle of wine, in the other, a bouquet of flowers. He was nervous, he had never met Miss Stacey’s family. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do or say. She was important to him. He couldn’t risk messing this up. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door.

Silence enveloped him as he waited for someone to open the door. Miss Stacey pushed it open and ushered Rodger inside. Rodger smiled when he saw that it was a cute, southern looking home. It suited Miss Stacey with the lace doilies and hardwood floors – something that wasn’t really a thing for Rodger who lived in a one bedroom apartment.

Rodger continued down the long hallway whereMiss Stacey directed him down as she took the flowers and wine to the kitchen. There were two people seated at the table, both were men who looked to be his age or slightly younger. Rodger knew that their names were Cedar and Seth without even asking, but he wasn’t sure who was who. Miss Stacey talked about her children often while drinking tea at the bookstore if Rodger had time to visit with her after work.

The older looking of the two stood up and extended his hand, “My name is Seth, you must be Rodger. Ma talks about you all the time, so it’s nice to finally have a face to the name.”

Rodger accepted the extended hand and gave a firm handshake. “I feel the same. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The younger one, Cedar, stood and gave a similar handshake. “Then you must know who I am, nice to meet ya, Rodger.” Cedar looked to be a bit shy, but polite nonetheless.  

All three men took their seats at the table and began to chat idly about nothing. Rodger found out that Cedar was a college student at the local community college and was only nineteen but was living with a couple of his friends nearby. Seth on the other hand was a full-time resident at a hospital in Brooklyn. Rodger found talking with both men to be quite enjoyable and that the conversation was moving easily. Something that he wasn’t accustomed to.

At five thirty Miss Stacey came into the dining room and told them that Sadie was on her way but had gotten delayed at work. None of them minded though and continued their conversation, but this time with Miss Stacey sitting with them.  

The sound of the door opening and closing broke Seth and Rodger out of their conversation about the current election. Seth got up and walked with his mother to greet Sadie. Rodger stood up and straightened out his clothing as he waited to meet the last member of the family.

Miss Stacey led the way back into the room with the other two close behind. Rodger couldn’t believe his eyes. The woman in front of him was none other than the one that he had met at the bookshop. The woman in color. Rodger couldn’t move or take his eyes off the young woman as she introduced herself and extended her hand with a smile. When he didn’t respond, Cedar, who had stayed in the dining room with him, jabbed him in the side with his elbow, snapping Rodger out of his daze.

She was as stunning as the first time that he had seen her. Her red hair was let down in even gentler curls across her shoulders. Sadie’s eyes met his and instantly Rodger became nervous. Her calm eyes reminded him of grass swaying in the breeze. It was that calmness that set his stomach churning. Nobody had eyes like that.

“I-I-I’m very sorry. My name is Rodger Strauss, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Sadie. Your mother talks about you all the time.”

Sadie smiled even brighter when she recognized him. “You’re the gentleman from the bookstore! I would have tried to stay longer if I had known that you were the Rodger.”

After the introductions were made, they all sat down and Miss Stacey brought out their supper. Rodger ate and talked, but his eyes were constantly being drawn back to Sadie who was glancing his way all the time too. Once they were done, everyone moved out to the living room to have some tea. Rodger took a seat on the couch next to Miss Stacey as he watched Seth teach Cedar how to start a fire. Sadie sat on the chair closest to them.

Once the fire was started and tea was served, Cedar decided to be the one to start up the conversation again. “You know, Rodger, you ain’t the only one here who is color blind,” Cedar began as he took a sip from the teacup. “Sadie is too. Hasn’t seen color a day in her life.” Rodger snapped his gaze to Sadie and she smiled sheepishly at him.

“It’s true. That’s one of the reasons I entered a music program instead of an art one. I couldn’t stand being in a room that was supposedly filled with color when I couldn’t see it,” Sadie began twisting the skirt of her dress in her hands uncomfortably. “That’s why I found it interesting when Ma said that you were colorblind and yet were working at an art studio. Wasn’t it difficult?”

Rodger looked at her and shook his head. “I couldn’t miss something that I had never seen,” shrugging his shoulders, Rodger placed his tea cup onto the table next to the couch. “Besides, I can see you in full color.” It was Sadie’s turn to be surprised at his words. She looked from him to her mother and then her brothers. Silence consumed the room and Rodger began to wonder if he was overstaying his welcome.

Rodger quickly stood up and bid farewell to everyone in the house. Nobody moved or said anything, but at that point Rodger didn’t care. Placing his hand on the door knob, he went to turn it when he heard the words, “I see you in full color too.”

* * *

Rodger opened his eyes to see Miss Stacey  kneeling next to him, with a hand on his knee. Sitting upright, Rodger realized that he was still in the bookstore, the piece of paper that Miss Stacey had given him tucked into the open book that was on his lap. Miss Stacey looked up at him with concern in her eyes.

“Ya alright, Rodger?” She gave his knee a little shake. Rodger felt confusion cloud his mind. There was no way that he was still in the bookstore. He had gone home and Friday night dinner had already happened… Right?

“Miss Stacey… what happened?” Miss Stacey’s worried frown only got worse with his question. “Well…” Rodger sat up and took her hands, looking her right in the eye. “What’s wrong, Miss Stacey?” Clasping her hands tighter, Rodger stared into her eyes, his own pleading with her.

Miss Stacey sighed and took a seat in the chair next to him. “After you ran out the store, I chased you, brought you back, and sat you down at the bench by the door. You handed me your money and I paid for the books for ya. After I handed you the paper, you told me ya wanted to read for a bit before going home. You moved over here, and not long after reading, you fell asleep and nothin’ could wake you.”

Rodger blinked and looked at her. None of this made sense to him. Hadn’t he gone over to her house? Hadn’t he met her children? Hadn’t he had dinner with them? Hadn’t Sadie been the only colorful person to enter his dull world? Was everything just a dream. He had seen Sadie—hadn’t he?

“Miss Stacey, what time do you think that Sadie will be to the house on Friday night—I’d like to talk to her more,” Rodger was holding her hands very tightly.

The elderly woman next to him gave a puzzled look. “What do you mean again, Rodger?” A perplexed look took over her face. “I met her a moment ago—when she came into the store, didn’t you see her?”

A hand went across her mouth as Miss Stacey looked him over for a moment. She stopped and looked him in the eye and held his gaze for a moment. Finally, Miss Stacey reached down into her apron and pulled out a round photo case, holding it delicately in her hands.

“It’s impossible Rodger. I think you have my Sadie confused for someone else—my baby died four years ago.” Tears filled her eyes, and she gently opened the case, showing Rodger the pictures inside. On the left was a picture of the two men that Rodger had seen in his dream, Cedar and Seth. But his heart dropped when he saw the woman on the other side.

It was the woman in color.

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