A Life Apart
Chapter 1: John Paxton (pg. 6)
Traffic finally started to move. Paxton signaled and slowly inched his way back into the flow. Impatient, he cursed under his breath as the cars in front of him slowed to a standstill in order to survey the cause of their inconvenience. There were two cars on the side of the road, a blue Mercedes and a yellow Toyota Scion. Apparently, the Mercedes driver had rear ended the Scion. The two drivers must have already exchanged insurance information for the Mercedes driver was returning to his car. What caught Paxton’s attention were the teary eyes of the girl beyond the wheel of the Scion. Her head was turned back over her shoulder in the direction of the other driver when her eyes met Paxton’s. He was caught in her gaze.
What passes between individuals in a moment of mutual recognition is a mystery, perhaps just a fantasy spun out of the subconscious. Is that person the soul mate of dreams? Could there be in that instant of connection the promise of eliminating loneliness forever? Images of passed up encounters of the same kind flickered quickly through Paxton’s mind. Without a conscious decision on his part, he pulled the car over and slowly backed it up to the Scion. Deliberately, he blocked out of his mind any purpose to his actions as he climbed out of the car and strode to the Scion. Just as he reached the driver’s window, the Mercedes drove by, its driver—strangely—staring at him as it passed. It was not until he faced the girl and restored eye contact with her that he felt the awkwardness of his approach.
He stumbled for the right words, “are you alright?” Before she could answer, he tried to explain himself, “I thought I saw you crying. Are you hurt?”
She smiled. “No, it’s just . . . well, people can be so mean. I get rather emotional at times. I mean, I should be angry. That man who hit me is at fault, but he blamed me for stopping suddenly. I guess if I was a man I would just get out of the car and punch him in the nose!” She laughed at the irony she seemed to find in her own words. “It’s sweet of you to stop and ask about me. But, really, I’m alright.”
“Is your car okay? Do you need a lift, a tow truck, or anything?” He wanted to extend their conversation. Something in the girl’s manner, or perhaps her words, intrigued Paxton. He felt unexpectedly at ease with her. Although she said she was alright, there was nothing dismissive in her tone of voice.
“No, I don’t think I need any help. But I know nothing about cars. I guess I should at least look at the damage. Perhaps, before you go, you could look with me? Maybe you’ll have some idea how bad it is. I guess his insurance will have to pay, but I can’t do without my car for any length of time. I just started working in the city last week, at the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange. I don’t know how I would get to the ‘park and ride’ without my car.”
Paxton held the door open for her. His action gave him some cover for his real purpose which was to observe her more closely. He could not get enough of her. She was relatively tall, rather athletic in form, and quite young. Her blond hair and blue eyes reminded him of a younger version of Jill. Maybe she was in her mid-twenties, just a few years older than Mirabelle. But her youth did not discourage him, but only abetted the tide that stirred in his blood. Oddly, his conscience gave no objection to his musings. Besides, their meeting seemed auspicious in another way that bordered on the absurdly coincidental or divinely providential.
He followed her to the rear of her car and told her of the auspiciousness of their meeting. “We work in the same building—Bush and Montgomery, right? I have an office on the third floor. My company occupies space on the third and fifth floors.”
Abruptly, she turned to face him. He almost ran into her. But she was not startled. Instead, a light shined in her eyes. “You’re not John Paxton, are you?”
“I am. How did you . . .”
“. . . know who you are?” She laughed. “I overheard two brokers talking about you and a possible IPO.” This recognition seemed to please her. Then she abruptly turned away, apparently to survey the damage to her car. She bent over to get a closer look, her pants stretched tightly about her thighs. “I can’t see anything. My rear end looks perfectly okay, like it was never even touched. What do you think?”
Paxton quickly refocused on the car. “Aah, yes. It looks perfect . . . but the bumper has been pushed back against the frame. You should have it pulled out and the shock absorber refurbished or replaced. You are exposed to further damage if you don’t take care of this now.”
“But it seems so trivial. I would feel guilty to bill the other guy’s insurance for such a small matter.”
“It’s not so cheap to fix. Besides, you can consider it just payment for your tears.”
She rose suddenly and faced Paxton. “You’ve got a vindictive streak, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m just fair-minded. He hit your car and refused to take responsibility. He should pay and learn his lesson.”
“I like that last part, about ‘learning a lesson.’” She walked back to the driver’s side of her car. Paxton followed rather sheepishly. He wanted to continue the conversation, but he could see that she was preparing to leave. Again she turned to face him and said, “I really appreciate your stopping and trying to help me. Maybe we could get together sometime at work. You know, I can update you on my little car’s repair and you can fill me in on the killing you’ll make with your IPO.”
Of course, Paxton could not talk about his specific plans to take his company public, but it humored him to think his intentional leak of Solvetur’s prospective IPO was the topic of discussion in the local stock market. He pulled out his business card and extended his hand, “Call me anytime. I’m usually free for lunch . . . my treat, of course.” He blushed. He wondered how he could sound so ridiculous to himself. But she immediately relieved his embarrassment by taking his hand in both of hers, slowly sliding the card from his grasp, and whispering a “thank you.” Even at a whisper her voice carried a melodious, almost undulating quality. Then she whisked herself into the driver’s seat and closed the door. As Paxton proceeded to walk away, the last thing he saw was a smile on her face as he returned to his car.
Once there, Paxton attempted to clear his memory of this unusual encounter with the Scion driver. His foot fell heavy on the gas pedal as he recalled, she didn’t even give me her name.