The Double Life

By: Nia Wilson

I walked into the store and grabbed a shopping cart. The wheel wobbled as I pushed it down the first aisle, grabbing things that looked good and placing them in my basket.

That was another thing I hated about being an adult. Lists. I’d given up on grocery lists a long time ago, embracing the chaos that was shopping on an empty stomach. I got the essentials, but giving into my hunger had made life a little more interesting. A little time on the Internet and I could find thousands of new recipes to try with the ingredients I had on hand.

My best friend, Andrea, called it hectic, I called it genius. I tried new things all the time without meaning to, and I didn’t have to plan my shopping trip. It was a win-win.

The hair on my neck raised up and I felt a tingle race down my neck and my spine. I turned and couldn’t believe my eyes. Stocking shelves behind me, wearing the blue apron all employees wear was Malik.

He smiled as me, licking his lips and looking at my breasts with smoldering eyes. Why had I ever found that even remotely attractive? Now it just made me want to ram him with a shopping cart.

I rolled my eyes and went back to my shopping. Maybe he was trying to get his life together, but I seriously doubted it. After changing my number countless times and dropping all our mutual friends, the only places he knew I’d show up were Lew’s and Wally’s. I was going to have to change my habits, and I wasn’t very happy about that.

But he’d be a fool to try anything here, so I finished my shopping and headed to the checkout.

Wally greeted me with his normal flair, loudly exclaiming that I got prettier every time he saw me. Wally was Greek and very friendly. He reminded me of the grandfather I always imagined I would have had, if he and my parents hadn’t died when I was an infant, leaving grandma to raise me herself.

The way grandma had described him, I knew that he was the kind of guy who loved everyone. And everyone loved him right back. Maybe he was nothing like Wally, but I’d like to think he was.

“Hi, Joyous! Is this all for you today?”

“Yes, Uncle Wally. I just needed a few things.”

Everyone called Wally their uncle. He was just that kind of guy, and I was going to miss seeing him every week. He scanned my items and I paid while he loaded them into my cart.

“Do you need help out? Our new stocker can help you to your car.”

I glanced over his shoulder, locking eyes with Malik and daring him to leave his boxes to follow me to the car.

“No thanks. I need the exercise and it’s not much. Have a great day!”

I hurried out of the store, sliding through the doors mere feet from Malik. I hurried through the parking lot and was relieved when I looked over my shoulder and he wasn’t there. I went past my trunk and turned around, facing the store while I unloaded the cart into my open trunk. I didn’t think he would try anything in broad daylight, but you couldn’t tell with Malik.

When I’d changed my number the first time and Malik had tracked me down, the messages he’d left had sent chills down my spine. I knew a lot of that was his heart was broken when I left. But I couldn’t be with a criminal, and I didn’t want to spend my life in prison while he got off with a slap on the wrist because of some stupid mandatory minimum law. California had a reputation for jailing women who didn’t even know there were drugs in a car, or that the car was stolen, and letting the criminal get out early for providing information.

No man was worth the risk, and I’d worked too hard to risk losing everything for a man.

I closed the trunk and pushed the cart into the corral next to the car. I sat in the driver’s seat and slid out of the space, heading out the opposite entrance from the one I’d come in. I passed right in front of Wally’s glass vestibule, and I could see Malik watching me while he broke down the empty boxes. He would never find my house, as it was still in my grandmother’s name, but I didn’t want him to know from which direction I’d come.

I held my breath until I pulled onto the freeway, easing the car up to the speed limit and letting out a heavy sigh. I cranked up the radio and lost myself in the strains of the Old Rugged Cross. I couldn’t believe that Malik had inserted himself into two of my favorite places, ensuring that we’d run into each other. He was smooth. And he was obsessed.

As soon as I got home, I’d have to talk to someone about him. I wanted to believe that the person I thought he was still existed, that he wasn’t stalking me, and that I didn’t have to worry about him. But I knew better. Malik had gone into jail a petty criminal and had come out a hardened man. With each stint in jail, he got angrier at the world. I couldn’t risk being there when his anger exploded. I knew from experience that Malik was not one to be messed with when he was angry.

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