BY DEBORAH LEAN
Deborah Lean is a mixed media artist and writer living near Cobourg, ON. Copyright is held by the author.
NICOLE WAS IN A RUSH; the alarm hadn’t gone off, it was a bad hair day and she couldn’t find her keys. By the time she left the apartment she was 20 minutes late. She had a meeting at nine, there goes her prep time, she thought.
Everything seemed to conspire against her. In a rush to open the car door, she dropped her purse scattering the contents across the floor of the underground garage. Bending down to retrieve her belongings she hit her left cheek, hard, against the edge of the door.
“Oh damn, oh damn, that hurts,” she said as she raised her hand to her face, and lowered it to check for blood. “Thank goodness I’m not bleeding.” She didn’t have time for this, for another delay. Nicole quickly gathered her necessities of life from the floor, threw everything back in her purse, tossed it on the passenger seat and got in the car.
With a quick check in the rear view mirror she could see the red welt across her left cheek and, grimacing with the pain, shook her head in dismay. Great, she thought, now she’d have a headache, as if the meeting wouldn’t have given her one anyway.
Exiting the underground garage she entered traffic, joining the countless number of other drivers making their way to work along city streets. With another peek in the mirror she could see her cheek was swelling and starting to bruise. When she spotted a coffee shop ahead, she turned right and slipped into the lineup in the drive through lane, ordering a can of juice to use as an ice pack.
Nicole had her timing down to the minute for her drive to work, if she left at her regular time. Now, because she’d been late in leaving, she’d hit the worst of the rush hour traffic. Why today, why today?
She continued down Delaney Street holding the can to her cheek, the cold feeling good on her bruised and battered face. While she drove she reviewed a mental list of the things she needed for the meeting. White board, markers, copies of the minutes…her recitation interrupted when she heard the quick blast of a siren. With a glance in her side mirror she saw a police car behind her, the lights flashing. When the officer saw her looking he gave another blast of the siren in warning for her to pull over.
“What now?” she wondered and glanced at her speedometer, relieved to see she was not speeding. She set the juice can in the cup holder and, at the first opportunity, pulled to the side of the road and put the car in park. She could see the police car park behind her and waited nervously for the officer to approach. What had she done wrong? Her heart was racing, her palms damp and her injured face throbbing.
She reached for her purse and struggled to remove her driver’s license from the see-through compartment in her wallet when, startled by a tap on the driver’s side window, she dropped her wallet and fumbled to open the window. Her immediate view was of a trim waist and hips, decked out in blue, wearing a gun belt and assorted official tools of the trade.
Before she had a chance to register much more, the body was replaced by a face as the policeman leaned down, left hand on the hood of the car, the other on the open window. Intense blue eyes zeroed in on her and held as he asked for her license and registration. Dark brown hair was visible under the hat that shaded a ruggedly handsome face. He looked tough and exuded authority.
As a large delivery truck passed close behind him he stood to watch it and watch his back. The sudden movement released her from his commanding stare and she reached for her wallet, removing her license and registration as requested. With the truck gone he once again leaned in the window, and this time, the eyes were less intense and there was a hint of a smile as he spoke, “Ma’am.”
Nicole bristled at the polite tone, bristled at the use of the word ma’am as opposed to miss. It was further confirmation that, with her 30th birthday, she had moved from the young maiden to the old maid category. Without saying a word she thrust the requested forms at him, and placed her hands on the steering wheel and stared out the front of the car.
As much as she was annoyed at being called ma’am she couldn’t resist looking in the side view mirror as he walked back to his cruiser. There was something about a man in uniform, she thought, especially when he was tall, dark and handsome. Nicole continued to watch him in her rear view mirror as he did his police thing and was prepared when she saw him get out of his cruiser and make his way back to her.
“Ma’am,” he said in a voice full of authority, “do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No, I don’t,” she replied. “I wasn’t speeding, I’m sure of it.”
“No, you weren’t speeding. Are you aware of the new bylaws prohibiting the use of a cell phone while operating a vehicle?”
“Yes,” she stated, unsure as to why he was asking.
In the process of handing her the documentation, he pulled his hand back and out of her reach when he heard her answer. “You’re aware of the law regarding cell phone use and yet you blatantly continue to use a cell while driving?” He was surprised at her admission, expecting her to feign ignorance to avoid any ticket or fines.
Nicole looked at him in confusion. “I wasn’t on my cell phone,” she told him, wondering when her day had crossed into the realm of the ridiculous.
They both started to speak, and both stopped, looking at each other until the silence was strained.
“Ma’am,” the officer tried again. “I saw you a few blocks back, talking on your phone, and I pulled you over to inform you of the law regarding cell phone use while operating a vehicle.” Shaking his head he continued, “I was going to give you a warning but you’ve admitted you’re aware of the law and have chosen to disregard it.”
The stress of the morning and his words shot her from bristled to brazen. She looked at the name tag on his chest and spoke slowly and emphatically. “Officer McLaren,” she said, “I was not speaking on my cell phone.” As she reached for the can of juice to show him what he’d perceived to be a cell phone she was shocked when he yelled at her to put her hands on the wheel and was stunned when his hand moved toward his weapon.
All her bravado disappeared and she quietly did as he instructed. Within minutes he had directed her out of her car and had her sitting in the back of his cruiser. Could things get any worse, she thought, at least he hadn’t put her to the further indignity of cuffing her. She could see him looking in her car, wondering what he expected to find when, obviously finding nothing, he made his way back to his car.
“Where’s your cell phone?” he asked, looking over his shoulder to where she sat behind him.
“It should be in my purse,” Nicole said. “I wasn’t using it.” In the time she’d sat alone in the car she’d realized what had happened. Talking to herself, she’d been holding the can of juice to the side of her face, much like when holding a cell phone, and the police officer had misinterpreted her behaviour.
“See this,” she said, turning her left cheek toward him as she raised her hand to pull her chin length hair back from her face. His manner instantly changed from wary to concerned.
“Were you assaulted?” he asked.
“No, it was an accident,” Nicole said and proceeded to give him a quick rendition of her chaotic morning, ending with her driving with the cold can to her face to reduce the swelling before her big meeting, which, she informed him, she was now going to miss. Somehow in the telling she’d gotten a bit of her mad back and sat, glaring at him, her arms crossed over her chest.
Dave McLaren, a five year veteran of the police force, thought this was one for the books, and turned his head to look out the front of his car, so the irate woman in the back could not see him trying to hold back a laugh. He didn’t want to make her any angrier than she already was, though the anger gave her cheeks an attractive rosy glow and made her otherwise pale eyes a dark, stormy grey.
It must not have been his morning either, he thought and winced when he heard her speak.
“Are you laughing at me?” she yelled, and started banging on the door, trying to get out. “I didn’t do anything wrong and you can’t hold me like this. I’m not a prisoner and I demand you let me go this instant.” Realizing she was babbling and couldn’t open the door, she sat back, hands in her lap, took a few deep breathes and tried to calm down.
He was in the wrong, though it was an honest misunderstanding, and he needed to apologize. The first step was to let her out of the police car. He hoped she would look at it as a humorous episode, a good story for around the water cooler, and not as the undignified and frightening experience it had probably been.
Dave got out of the car and reached over to open the rear door. She was out of the car in a flash and right in his face, tilting her head back to look up at him. “You had no right,” she said and stopped herself before poking him in the chest with the finger she had cocked and ready.
“Is that thing loaded?” he asked and couldn’t hold back the laughter.
That was the final straw and she stormed past him and got in her car. Just wanting to get away she went to start her car, not caring if the officer had given her permission to leave.
“Oh-my-god,” she exclaimed, “I don’t believe this day, is it a full moon, or what?”
Looking in the side view mirror she once again saw the handsome officer approach.
“Ma’am…,” he started.
“Please don’t call me ma’am,” she asked quietly. “Please.”
He still had her documentation and looked down at her driver’s license, “Ms Cameron…Nicole,” he said and leaned down in the open window, sorry to see she looked more defeated than defiant. Once he’d understood the situation, he’d liked that spark of righteous indignation he’d seen.
“Nicole, I’m sorry to have inconvenienced you, but you had all the appearance of one talking on a cell phone and I was obligated to inform you of the law.”
“I understand,” she told him. “Can I go now, I am so late for my meeting.”
“You’re free to go,” he said and handed over her license and registration.
When she reached for the papers their hands touched and she felt a tingle of awareness shoot through her and looked at his face to see if he had noticed. His eyes held hers, and for a moment all the noise and activity of the city street faded away. Wrong place, wrong time, she thought and took the papers, tossing them on the passenger seat. There was a break in the traffic and she quickly pulled into the street and was on her way, glancing back to see him slowly make his way back to his car.
By the time she arrived at work the meeting had broken for coffee and she joined her co-workers, apologizing for being late and regaling them with the tale of her morning. The meeting was over by noon and she skipped lunch, working to make up the time she’d missed that morning. She had trouble concentrating, her mind wandering, her thoughts going back to the handsome policeman and all the what-if’s based in fantasy, rather than reality.
Nicole left work at the end of the day, feeling a little down. Not in the mood to cook, she decided to stop at one of the fast food places on her route home for a quick bite to eat. She pulled into McDonalds and parked, deciding to eat in rather than do take-out.
Standing in line she heard the familiar musical tones of her cell phone and pulled it out of her pocket. It was her friend Macy and, after explaining where she was, Nicole promised to call later and disconnected. She continued to stare at the phone in her hand, remembering the trouble earlier that morning when she heard a familiar voice behind her.
“Are you aware of the new law prohibiting the use of a cell phone while standing in line?” Dave McLaren asked her, a big grin on his face.
“No, I don’t believe I know about that law,” she said, keeping her expression serious though her mood was definitely improved.
“Why don’t I take you somewhere for dinner and I can explain it to you, in great detail, it’s not something that should be rushed.”
“Yes, why don’t you,” she replied as she looked up at him and smiled.
Reaching for her arm he led her out of line and toward the door. Suddenly the day seemed brighter and full of promise.
“And this time,” she said, “I’ve got nothing but time.”