A Woman of Mystery

9 Jun
Stealing a furtive glance

Playin’ it cool

With three hours to kill before it’s time to pick up my teenager from a party, I could drive home and back, but that would eat up an hour. Instead, I pull out my writing bag, an oversized tote into which I could probably cram a Volkswagon if it wasn’t already filled with pens, notebooks, reference cards and other writing tools.
I head to Panera’s, where there is always a quiet corner.
Ahead of me in line is a woman pulling a suitcase on wheels with a large purse perched upon it. Unusual to see a suitcase here; we’re as far from any train or bus depot as we could be. Ever on the lookout for interesting characters for my writing, I watch for clues as she places her order and rolls her luggage noisily around the corner. What’s her story? She doesn’t appear to be homeless; she’s nicely dressed and she paid for her sandwich with a credit card.
I purchase my salad and head around the corner, where she is sitting in my favorite spot. Drat. I grab the second-best seat and dig through my giant sack for a book, which I pretend to read while I give her the once-over.
She’s about my age, and she is also reading. I stare at the suitcase, which is on the chair beside her. We are near the interstate…perhaps she’s hitch-hiking up the coast, and her most recent ride dropped her off here before heading west. No, that won’t do. Nobody hitchhikes these days.
I reach back into my bag of tricks and swap the book for a notepad. May as well record my observances. Neat brown hair, just enough makeup. Hmmm. She’s also writing. I’ll bet it’s a note to her husband, telling him what a cad he is and saying she can’t take it anymore. No, that doesn’t work either. The suitcase is too small for a life-changing escape. Besides, she wouldn’t bring it into the restaurant, would she? Perhaps it’s something too valuable to leave in the car? Perhaps it’s full of something that would melt. Like chocolate. I perk up. This woman just might be my new best friend.
She catches my stare and returns it. I feel my face flush. Have I been found out? Sheepish now, I return to my note-taking. Ice blue eyes. Questioning expression.
The heck with notes. She’s going straight into my blog. I open the bag again, this time to pull out my laptop and begin typing away. In my periphery, I notice she is rummaging in the suitcase. Pull something out already! The suspense is making me nuts.
Out comes a computer. For Pete’s sake, it’s not a suitcase at all, but an extra large briefcase. A fancy one though. I’m momentarily envious. One day I’ll work from a cool portable office like that. What a let-down. I can’t build a character around that. Too ordinary.
Still, when she gets up to refill her drink, I quickly grab my own cup and rise as well, just so I can walk by her screen. Trying to appear casual, I glance down for an eyeful. I know, it’s not nice, but curiosity has me in its grip.
She’s coming back, but I saw enough. I get my drink and sit back down to finish my writing. Today’s blog is about a woman who came to Panera for some quiet time and ends up writing about a mysterious woman sitting near her. A woman who must have an interesting story. Who may or may not be homeless. A woman who appears to be carrying all her worldly possessions in an enormous tote bag.

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