Home > Love and Kerosene

Love and Kerosene
Author: Winter Renshaw

 


ONE

ANNELIESE

solivagant (adj.) wandering alone

They say everyone has a doppelgänger. Statistically speaking, there could be seven people sharing the same face at any given moment. But the odds of meeting someone’s double are in the neighborhood of one in a trillion.

Highly unlikely.

Impossible, even.

“Anneliese?” Florence, the owner of Arcadia Used Books, waves her hand in my face. “Did you hear me?”

I peel my attention from the brooding man on the sidewalk outside the shop—one who shares the same messy auburn mane, hooded gaze, and chiseled jawline as my late fiancé.

“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” she says with a hesitant chuckle as she places her palm over my hand. “Sweetheart, you’re trembling and pale as a sheet. Is everything all right?”

Cool sweat blankets my forehead as I focus on the small stack of used books on the counter. The words on their spines fade in and out, growing blurry before turning clear again.

“Um, I’m sorry. What was the total again?” I steal another glimpse outside. He’s still there—standing the way Donovan used to: one hand in his pocket, the other tapping out a text message with his thumb. Same build. Similar height.

It’s uncanny.

“Fifteen dollars and twenty-eight cents,” Florence says, her stare weighing on me. “You sure you’re okay?”

No. I’m not sure.

“I just . . .” I shake my head, a feeble attempt to pull myself out of this daze, and then I slide my debit card her way. “I thought I saw someone I knew.”

Her crinkled gray gaze drifts to the man on the sidewalk. She squints, but her efforts are in vain. Florence wouldn’t know him from Adam. We’d only lived in Arcadia Grove for two months before his untimely passing. Granted, this was Donovan’s childhood hometown, but Florence isn’t a local—she’s as fresh off the boat around here as I am.

“That guy right there?” She swipes my card and hands it back. “In the brown jacket?”

“Yeah.” I draw in a steady breath. My heart has yet to calm down, but it’s not for lack of trying. “But it’s not him.”

It couldn’t be.

Even if it were, Donovan would never dress in a leather bomber jacket, ripped jeans, and dusty boots. And he certainly wouldn’t leave the house without running a comb through his hair. This guy looks like he’s been riding on the back of a motorcycle for days.

“Well, he is a looker . . .” She slides me a pen and the receipt to sign before placing my haul in a thin canvas bag with have a great day in faded red print. “If I were your age, he’d make me break out into a sweat too.”

Florence winks. Maybe she thinks I was checking him out. Or maybe she’s trying to make me smile.

“I’ll call you when the next shipment comes in,” she says, referring to the vintage and international baby-name books and rare dictionaries she sources for me. As a part-time naming consultant, I’m always looking for new and unusual terms and monikers to add to my arsenal. Florence never fails to deliver.

I wait by the exit, feet frozen on the wooden floor, and watch as the man who isn’t Donovan scans his surroundings, shoves his phone into his back pocket, and exchanges it for a set of keys. A second later, he climbs into an olive green vintage Ford pickup, proving me wrong about the motorcycle. Cranking the window down, he fires up the engine and backs out of the slanted parking spot.

I emerge from Flo’s shop as soon as he disappears over the hill, and I continue my Saturday-morning shopping with that stranger’s image burned into my mind’s eye.

Wandering the flower-lined merchant district of Arcadia Grove, I mostly shop the windows. It’s all I can afford these days, though it’s not like I’m in dire need of a new outfit for a hot date. I’m half-tempted to mosey into a home-accessories boutique to grab something pretty for the house, but then I remind myself I’m putting the cart before the horse per usual. There’s no sense in buying kitchen accessories when my current one consists of a folding table, microwave, dorm fridge, electric teakettle, and single-burner hot plate.

I spot an empty park bench and take a seat, flicking through one of my books. While my eyes scan the words on the pages, nothing registers. It might as well be a jumble of nonsensical letters. I close it and return it to my canvas bag, opting to close my eyes and take a second to simply exist in this moment.

The late-morning sun is warm on my skin, trickling through the treetops and wrapping me in a much-needed hug—something I haven’t had in three months, three days, five hours, and thirty-two minutes.

Not that I’m counting.

Before I met Donovan, I was content to wander alone. I wasn’t trying to land a significant other, tangle myself up in some fairy-tale whirlwind romance, or wind up in some quaint town in the middle of Vermont. I also wasn’t trying to uproot my entire life and pour every last cent of my savings into renovating a dilapidated Queen Anne.

But love—real or imagined—changes a person.

Some days, I hardly know who I am anymore.

Most days, I struggle to remember a time before he came into my life.

When I glance down at my left hand, there’s a void where my engagement ring once glimmered.

After Donovan passed, it took me thirty days to take it off. I kept thinking one more day, and then that turned into one more week, which inevitably turned into one whole month.

I couldn’t rip the thing off my finger fast enough when I found out he’d lied about the money I’d given him for the renovations. I’ll never forget showing up at the Arcadia Grove Savings and Loan to find out if there was enough in our joint account to cover his funeral costs . . . only to be told there was no joint account.

The bastard stole my heart, and then he stole my life savings.

And now he’s six feet under—a world away from having to atone for the mess he left.

My stomach rumbles when I notice a little pop-up coffee shop ahead. Collecting my things, I head that way, order a small latte and petite blueberry scone, and call it brunch. The sooner I get home, the sooner I can finish sanding the floor in the dining room.

Eyeing the sidewalk on my way back to my Prius, I look for the auburn-haired stranger in the brown leather coat, but all I spot is the usual cocktail of tourists and locals. Young couples holding hands. Families pushing strollers. Grinning teens taking selfies. Retired couples dining al fresco.

All around me, life moves on.

Yet here I am, wandering alone.

I make it back to my car and load my books onto the passenger seat. A white sedan pulls into the spot beside me, and a lovely-looking couple exits a minute later. They meet at the sidewalk. She picks something from his dark-chocolate hair, and he kisses her blissful strawberry-red smile. Before they vanish into the crowd, he wraps his arm around her shoulder as if to show the world she is his and he is hers. That was us once. I can only pray that what they have is real and not some get-rich-quick scheme.

I start my car, shift into reverse, and glance into the rearview. It’s in that exact moment that the olive green Ford passes by.

I pull out of my parking space and end up behind him at the light on the corner. A sticker in his back window says IN TRANSIT, and the spot that should hold a rear license plate is vacant. With my knuckles white against the steering wheel, I catch a glimpse of his eyes in his side mirror as he peers my way . . . and my stomach drops.

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