A knock startled me. I coughed and turned around. I coughed again when I saw that it was Diana Salvaggio. The Diana Salvaggio. The alive one, at least. Her hand was still in a fist against the doorframe. I gave a smile, which she reciprocated. I couldn’t tell if she recognized me.
“Daises,” I said.
I held up a hand and squeezed my eyes shut for a second. I was going to blow it and I had only said two words.
“Sorry,” I said. “Hello. You bring daises normally. That’s how I know who you are. You visit the Salvaggio plot.”
She paused a moment before nodding. “My grandmother always liked them. I’m the only one in the area still. My parents moved down to Toms River.”
“Nice,” I said.
She shrugged. “I’m Nicole.”
“Tyler,” I said. She held out a hand and I shook it. Smooth skin, soft, just like I imagined.
“How can I help you?”
I hoped it was nothing. The sum total of my capabilities was weed whacking and trash pickup. I could handle week-dead flowers without vomiting on them. I could wield a shovel like a beast and move dirt, but I didn’t think she’d need that.
“I just wanted to let you know that it looks like there’s animals eating some of the flowers on my grandmother’s grave and some of the other ones. Is there anything you can do about that?”
I shrugged. “Not really. Deer get in somehow over the fence. And then there are rats and possums and raccoons and everything. They tend to come out at night.”
“I see. Is there any kind of stuff you can spray on the flowers? Insecticide or pest repellent or anything?”
“Sorry, can you hold on one second?” I asked as I turned back to the window. The guy was still there. I wondered if he had moved at all.
“What was that?” Nicole raised an eyebrow.
“Nothing,” I said. “I just had to check something out.”
She gave me the same smirk a couple of cheerleaders had given me the one time in high school when I’d tried to talk to them at lunch.
“Really, it was nothing. I just had to check something. I’m in charge right now,” I puffed up my chest a little, trying to not make it obvious. “I just had to check something.”
I threw a thumb over my shoulder at the window then brought it back and held it in my other hand. I squeezed.
Brain vomit, my mind was telling me, you’re speaking brain vomit.
Nicole took a step forward. “What are you checking on? No one is going anywhere.”
“Nothing,” I said. I stepped back. I could smell her on the little breeze she pushed into the space between us. She smelled like what I imagined Victoria’s Secret smells like.
Nicole crossed her arms and leaned to the side to look out the window around my head. She shrugged, straightened, and remained in place. I contemplated telling her about the guy. If I did, she might freak out. She could run out there and try to preemptively stop him and that wouldn’t end well for anyone. If she didn’t freak out and something happened, I’d have to share the press coverage with her. We’d be in it together. I went back and forth in my head about that. We’d be in it together. In pictures. I could comfort her. She’d take solace in nuzzling into my shoulder. I practically felt her hair under my chin already.
“There’s a guy out there,” I said. “That’s all. He’s having a tough time and my boss told me I needed to look after him.” I paused. “Just in case.”
“Just in case what?” Nicole asked as she brushed past me and stood in front of the window. Her head moved left and right before seeing the man. I wondered if he had moved and I also wondered if she knew him. If she did, that could maybe make things easier.
I didn’t say anything. The crowd on Maury was heckling someone on stage. I looked at the screen quickly and when I looked back Nicole had turned around. She raised her eyebrows.
“In case,” I said. “You know. In case he tries to off himself.”
How were you supposed to talk about that? Did you say kill or off or what? What was the proper parlance?”
“Does that happen a lot here?”
I shook my head.
“Should you maybe stop him?” Nicole moved back towards the door. I caught another whiff of her.
“What if he isn’t going to do anything?”
“Would you want to be the one that has to clean that up if he did?”
I had let her in on part of what was going on. Did I tell her about my plan that involved me not cleaning up anything but awards?
“I just don’t want to scare him. Like a deer, you know? Sometimes its better to not move and just let things happen. Let the deer graze.
“So you’re saying the guy is the same as a deer?” Her voice wasn’t angry, but it wasn’t not.
I bent one knee, then the other. What was I supposed to do now? Nicole didn’t seem to be leaving and I wanted to go back to watching the guy. I had my moment with the girl I’d thought about all summer and it was not nearly as good as I thought it’d be. I just wanted to watch that guy. Just in case. We passed a minute in silence. What did she want from me?
She swayed as she stood, looking over me out the window every few seconds. It looked like she was trying to decide something.
“Well, if you have to watch him, why are you in here? What if something does happen? You wouldn’t be able to get to him in time.”
She had a point, one I hadn’t considered, but I could tell it wasn’t coming from the same place I was thinking. I shrugged and she grabbed my hand.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go outside and watch.”