“Excuse me,” said a voice from above the skirt, out of Carlton’s view.
“Yes Ma’am,” he replied.
“Hi,” her voice was edgy, slightly irritated. “How much longer is this going to take?” The feet, in pumps with a small heel, were shifting around. He sighed. His neck was stiff and hurt from craning so long, so he lowered his head to the floor before answering.
“Ma’am,” he began, “I wish I was done now so I could get up and take a look at you.” The words were out before he thought what he was saying. He winced, expecting a kick.
She chuckled, “I can’t believe you said that,” she relaxed a little, and then walked off.
As she turned Carlton caught a glimpse of a faint circular scar in the back of her right knee. His heart skipped a beat. He remembered something similar on Rachel Robbin’s leg, something that he had put there.
They had been on a school field trip to a nearby farm when they were about 12 or 13 years old. It was close to the end of the trip, all the kids were playing King of the Castle on a big haystack. Carlton had stayed close to Rachel all day, who played along, being friendly and eating her lunch with Carlton. He was infatuated with her.
During the game in the haystack Carlton had been King, defending his position and throwing the other kids down as they tried to take his place. He lost his balance and fell, crashing into two other kids as he went down and he wound up in a heap of bodies. There were legs and arms all over the place. He got kneed in the head and elbowed in the ribs. In a fit of exuberance grabbed a leg and bit into the flesh behind the knee. There was a scream, and he received a powerful kick in the face. It had been Rachel, and after that she didn’t speak to him again.
Carlton concluded that the woman who had just spoken to him could be Rachel Robbins. His heart beat faster, his hands started sweating, his mouth became dry and he came close to panic. What if it were Rachel? This was a terrifying prospect, but so was the possibility that he was getting himself worked up for no reason, and it was some other woman who wore skirts and had a bite mark.
The next moments were torturous as Carlton snapped tight the last tube clamps, checked seals, replaced panel covers and collected his tools and trash. He got ready to get up and meet the lady, whoever she was. It involved having to wriggle out from under the counter in a rather undignified way. Then he was out and on shaky legs he stood up.
He looked around to see where the woman was. She was close by, her back to him, and he checked her out, head to toe and back again. Twice. It was a skirt all right. Neat, straight down to her knees. The upper body was in a matching suit jacket. There was a flow of long hair straight down from a center parting to a point between her shoulder blades. It moved as she moved, and caught gleams of the sun from the skylight. Carlton got lost in the beauty of the moment enjoying the play of light on the silky hair.
He was staring at her with his mouth open when she turned around. She recognized him and her countenance brightened. Remembering Carlton’s silly remark from under the counter she narrowed her eyes and said, “I should have known.”
Carlton stammered a response, then she gave a girlish laugh and ran the few steps between them, catching him in an embrace. She smiled and said, “Is that really you, Carlton Feathers?” then she winked at him, “Close your mouth sweetie.”