Caleb walked toward his car with his sight fixed on the ground, he found it fun to follow cracks in the pavement. He hoped one would, by an off chance, run the entire length to his car. Light from the parking lot lamp went on and off, making it hard for Caleb to play his game but he persisted regardless. It was something akin to a horror movie; a lonesome man walks through a parking lot in the middle of the night when suddenly the lights begin to flicker. The killer jumps out from behind a car and with one swing leaves the man a bloody mess. Caleb was used to the walk though. He’d walked through the parking lot hundreds of times under the same circumstances. There was no serial killer in the lot, at least not that he knew of. There was the occasional homeless person on a bad trip, but even that wasn’t enough to make Caleb paranoid. Caleb had been working the night shift for a long time now. Immediately after dropping out of college, working the night shift was the most profitable thing Caleb thought he could do.
He missed school, missed studying music. To Caleb the only thing scarier than the thought of getting shanked in a dark parking lot was having to make the same walk after working the same shift every day for the rest of his life.
Caleb reached his car and swung the door open. Before Caleb could get in his car, the lamp flickered again. The lighting revealed a girl sitting on the cement slab in the parking space directly across from his. She sat with her arms bent over her knees and her eyes on Caleb. His eyes met hers but their stillness and the silence in the air made the brief moment feel like an eternity of discomfort. After opening his mouth Caleb realized he hadn’t taken the time to think of something to say. The parking lot became dark again so Caleb did the only thing he could do; he got in his car and shut the door. Caleb pressed his head into the steering wheel and kept it there until the leather cover stuck to his forehead. The parking lot was still dark when he lifted his head but that changed with a flick of Caleb’s headlight switch. She was still there. Caleb didn’t have to get any closer to see that he found her attractive. She was smiling. The kind of smile that lingers after laughter. Had he made her laugh? Was she laughing at him? The former made him want to laugh but the latter made him want to push his head against the steering wheel again. Caleb did neither. Instead, he opened the door and got out of the car. The headlights still illuminated the woman in the parking space.
“Fake I.D couldn’t get you in?” Caleb said, keeping his distance.
“For all the thought that went into that, I have to say I’m a little disappointed.” Caleb, now flustered, couldn’t think of anything to say but wouldn’t have to. Before he could open his mouth, she continued,
“It wasn’t bad though. If you want, you can get back in your car and think up another opener.” She laughed.
“Ha ha. You missed the open mic last night, you would’ve killed.” Caleb said.
“And you would’ve bombed.” A smile stretched across her lips, “I’m Charli,” she said.
Caleb mimicked her smile and in a softer tone replied, “You can come to next week’s.”
“I won’t be here,” responded Charli. “I’m actually from the East Coast, just here visiting family. I’m only at this club because my cousin dragged me here. The loud music gave me a headache, so I came outside to get away from it. The cement slab numbing my ass just seems like the better option compared to being in there.”
“I know what you mean, I can only get through this job because I’m standing outside all night,” Caleb said.
“Can I sit?”
When he asked, Charli’s eyes looked up at his. She was glad he asked. Caleb sat and wiped his palms on his pants. H was visibly nervous. He let out a soft, nervous laugh. It was like he was scared to look at Charli now. The distance between them before had worked like a safety net. He could look at her without his body urging him to look away every 3 seconds. The cool demeanor he had shown in the brief walk from his car to Charli was now a just a memory. Charli, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped looking at him and was soaking in the awkwardness.
“You’re not gonna run back to your car are you?” Charli asked in a sympathetic tone.
“I might,” Caleb responded, “Will you go with me?” He looked at her now. There was a look of surprise on her face.
“Holy shit, that was a complete 180,” She laughed. It was a big enough laugh that she tilted head back and laughed toward the sky. Caleb didn’t know how to respond. He fidgeted with his hands and raised them to his face forming a sort of prayer clasp in front of his lips. There was a smile hidden behind his hands.
“Seriously?” Charli asked recovering from her fit of laughter.
In the sincerest way possible, Caleb said, “Yes.”
“I guess sitting outside of this club all night on my last night here would be a cruddy way to end this trip.”
“A travesty,” Caleb said. “I’ll take you somewhere that’s the complete opposite of this place. It’s where I go to clear my head.” Caleb stood up and looked down at Charli. She was also on her feet shortly after.
“I really feel like I should say no, for safety reasons.”
“That’s probably the smart thing to do.” Matching grins lit up their faces.
“I’m not going with you, Caleb.” The sound of her voice saying his name gave Caleb a warm sensation that ran through his entire body.
“That’s totally fine. I understand,” Caleb said as he took a long-exaggerated step towards his car. Charli took the same long step behind him.
“I’m not leaving this dark parking lot with a person I just met. I am not doing that.”
“And I am glad you’re not doing that, Charli.”
“Are you?” Exaggerated step followed by exaggerated step got them to opposite doors of Caleb’s car. Caleb pulled the drivers side door open. “Don’t open that door,” Caleb pleaded sarcastically.
“Shut up.” Charli responded with a smile as she pulled the door open. Before long they were both in the car staring through the front windshield.
“Are you sure about this?” Caleb asked in a more serious tone, looking at Charli. Silence. He turned to look at the now empty parking space. A man, presumably one coming out of Lights Out walked into the parking space. He was in bad shape, stumbling and reaching out for an imaginary handrail to balance himself. It wasn’t long before he was hunched over, spraying his $200 dollar tab all over the parking lot gravel. His shiny black shoes and jet-black slacks fell victim to a cocktail of vodka and bile. But in his state, he probably wasn’t too worried about it. When he was done, he let himself sink down to the ground and crawled toward the cement block that had just been occupied by Caleb and Charli. Caleb turned to Charli, who winced after seeing the man’s display.
“I’m okay with leaving now,” said Charli.
There was something nerve-racking to Caleb about being so high up on a mountain he could gaze out onto the entire city. The view from the overlook was amazing though, and he took comfort in that. The lights radiating from the small city gave it life which was strange, given the time. It was about an hour from sunrise.
The buildings were small, little mom-and-pop businesses all over the city. You could assume that’s what they were because the desert that surrounded the city reminded people it was in the middle of nowhere.
Caleb would be fine staring out from the overlook as long as he didn’t look directly over the edge of the mountain. A school field trip when he was younger that ended in a hiking accident had haunted him ever since his childhood. The memory made him deathly afraid of heights. But Caleb kept his distance and sat with Charli on the hood of his car. Being with Charli made him feel comfortable, as did the silence at the overlook. When it wasn’t crowded it was one of the most peaceful places in the city. The moonlight gave Charli’s face a slight glow. Caleb would look at the city then turn back to Charli, unsure what he found more beautiful. He took a second to really study her. The moonlight made her dark hair glisten. Caleb was deep in thought as he took in the moment.
He turned back toward the city with an expressionless look on his face. There was a minute of silence before Charli turned to look at Caleb. She held the same admiration that Caleb did and studied him in the same way. The moonlight illuminated the serious look on his face. What could he be thinking about?, she thought to herself as she turned back to face it. In a city so small could there be so much to learn?
“Say something profound,” Charli said. The comment seemed to take Caleb by surprise. He giggled.
“Anything. The city…”
“It really isn’t that special. I was born in that hospital over there and-” Caleb said as he pointed out into the distance.
“But what does it even mean to have life?” Charli said, interrupting.
“That’s deep,” Caleb responded before they both started laughing. They stared into each others eyes for what felt like an eternity. The eye contact made Caleb shrink and turn back towards the city. Charli kept focused on him however, her smile still on her face.
“I like you, Caleb,” she said.
He responded by looking into her eyes again. Her eyes were glowing green, but it was the jet black pupils that sucked him in. Who is this girl, he thought to himself. It had been a long time since anyone expressed any emotion like that toward him. He started to feel the same warmth inside of him from earlier and the corners of his lips began to raise as that warmth spread through his entire consciousness. Charli met his smile with a bigger one. She began to slide one hand toward the hand Caleb laid flat on the car hood. The night was silent, but the energy radiating off of Caleb and Charli was that of quiet riots of butterflies in stomachs and blood cells on flustered cheeks.
The moment was destroyed by the sound of a car horn interrupting the silence, beep after beep coming from a car pulling into the overlook car lot. In between beeps there were drunken yells. For a brief moment, the car held Charli and Caleb’s attention, but it wasn’t long before she looked back to Caleb and he returned the look.
“I think that’s our cue to leave,” Caleb said.
“We’ll miss the sunrise.”
“That’s okay, I think there’s one every morning.”
Charlie smiled at this. It was a half-ass smile but a smile nonetheless. She knew this obviously, but she also knew there wouldn’t be more sunrises with Caleb. She wanted to protest and stay anyway, but when she mustered enough courage to do so, she saw Caleb was already one leg into the car, no hesitation whatsoever. Charli got off the hood and joined Caleb in the car. The car pulled out of the lot as their night ended.
Caleb walked into his apartment alone. It was mostly dark with some early morning sunlight illuminating poking in through the blinds. He walked into the dimly lit kitchen alone and turned on the coffee machine. The heavy smell of coffee filled Caleb’s nostrils and almost gave him a second wind of energy. Second-hand coffee some could call it. Next, Caleb put a pan on the stove. It clinked as its metal banged against the burner.
It wasn’t long before Caleb was putting an entire breakfast on a small dining table. A clean white lace tablecloth and flowers made an effort to distinguish the dining area from the dull kitchen. This wasn’t Caleb’s doing though, he had never been much for interior decorating. Scrambled eggs, check. Toast, check. The slightly blackened toast was nothing to brag about, but Caleb was okay with it. He placed the coffee mug on the right-hand side of the breakfast plate, turned around and walked out of the kitchen.
Feet dragging, Caleb slowly strolled down the dark hallway and entered a room at the end of it. He sat at the edge of his bed with slumped shoulders as thoughts of Charli flooded into his head. The image of her at the overlook and that specific smile she gave him right before they were interrupted refused to fade. Caleb raised his hands to his face and rested his upper body weight on his knees with his elbows. He let out a loud but muffled sigh.
“Long Day at work?” a woman’s voice asked before an arm reached out to him from the other side of the bed.
“You said you’d be home by two. I tried to wait up,” the voice continued.
“I know, I’m sorry. I ended up having to cover an entire shift instead of the half.” Caleb responded.
Caleb looked down at the hand beside him, then at the dresser next to the bed. He grabbed a wedding ring that was on the counter and slid it onto the ring finger of the hand.
“I made you breakfast; eggs and toast.” Caleb said with notable exhaustion in his voice.
There was a laugh from the other side of the bed.
“I love you,” the voice responded.
Caleb was quiet for a second before responding. He thought about Charli briefly before looking down at the hand, grabbing onto it tightly.