Authors: Jez Strider
When She Falls
By Jez Strider
©2013 Jez Strider
wasn’t having a bad day. No, she was having a bad year. When her foot hit the lone ketchup packet in her path and she went flying onto her back, Candice realized it was becoming a bad life. The rain of French fries pelting her in the face as she looked up from the floor of the mall food court pushed her over the breaking point.
Today’s breaking point surpassed yesterday’s. It wasn’t the run of the mill hiding in the public bathroom and crying until she felt better
kind. This time it was a full on meltdown. Through trouble after trouble, Candice had been strong, resilient, and even defiant. Not one time had she cried in public. Not until today.
The food court was fairly empty since she was taking an early lunch
break from her dead end retail job. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been busy, the tears and deep guttural sobs were spilling forth no matter what. Her hands went up over her eyes and she made no attempt to move from the spot where she’d fallen.
“Are you okay?” Someone asked. When Candice gave no response, the person moved on and talked in hushed whispers to her friend.
Another person gathered up his trash. There was the sound of a chair scooting across the floor and footsteps as he stood and left the awkward situation behind.
No one else tried to console her fo
r what seemed like a long time. Then, there were footsteps approaching. Candice assumed it was security coming to ease the tension of the situation. She wiped at her eyes with the sleeves of her cheap, but clean, thrift store shirt. The cotton absorbed the tears, but could do nothing for the ache of her already puffy eyes.
“Take my hand.”
Candice opened her eyes. She knew all the mall security guards and this voice was unfamiliar. Commanding, and yet, soothing at the same time. Her track record with men had left her bitter, but immediately a sense of trust enveloped her.
“Take it.” He repeated.
She did as he requested, clasping her hand into his and rising easily as the handsome stranger gently helped her to her feet. He was the best looking man she’d ever seen. Candice had spent her entire life in the city where she was born. Never in that time had she encountered a man quite like this one.
His suit alone must have cost more than she’d made in a lifetime. She was sure of it. He wore stylish
glasses that oddly enhanced the brilliant green of his eyes. Not one strand of his dark hair was out of place. While his grip was strong, the palms of his hands revealed that he had been privileged enough to be spared hard labor. Their eyes remained locked and silence stretched between them. Neither seemed inclined to release hands even after Candice was safely standing on her own two feet.
“That was a nasty fall.” The man said, picking a fry out of Candice’s short
black hair. She’d chopped off the locks in a heated moment of frustration.
“Yeah. I slipped on something.” When she looked down at her foot and noted the splatter of the red condiment, she identified the culprit.
Hunky McSexy, she had decided that had to be his name, was still holding onto her hand. All she could think about was how he must feel her palm sweating.
How unattractive that must be
. She thought. The stress of thinking about her unflattering hand worried her so she jerked it away from him a bit too hastily. Of course, she regretted the abrupt behavior, but reaching out to take hold again would only make her seem crazy. No way. She was not crazy.
My name is Logan Harworth.” He gestured to the right slightly behind him. “Family business.”
’s Jewelry had opened a new store in the mall a few weeks earlier. It was the place all the women wanted their gifts from now. Stores were popping up everywhere. The television ads showed unique and exotic jewelry for every occasion from Valentine’s Day to weddings. The store was always busy since there was nowhere else to go in town for expensive gifts.
“I’m Candice. I work a
t Maxine’s. It’s a clothing store down that way.” She pointed at her name badge as she introduced herself to Hunky… Logan Harworth.
ow me to buy you another meal, Candice.”
Her hands went deep into the pockets of her khaki pants. She could
barely afford the first lunch, let alone a replacement. Payday was still two days away. “I can’t let you do that.” The growling of her stomach argued and she frowned.
“I insist.” Logan said in
a tone that left little room for protest.
Candice gave a half nod. She glanced around, but if anyone was staring she didn’t notice. Everyone thought she was weird already. If anything, she had upheld her reputation with the outburst.
They were all lucky it didn’t happen more often.
Logan offered her the tray
after purchasing the meal. When she reached out for it, he pulled it back. “Maybe I should carry it.” He smirked to let her know he was joking and Candice actually cracked a sincere smile. It wasn’t like the fake smile she put on in front of all the customers at work.
“Funny. Real funny.” She said, following Logan. The grin stayed across her face the entire time. They sat down across from each other. Logan didn’t eat anything, but watched Candice intensely as she did.
“So… was all that crying from embarrassment or something else? I have a black belt. I can take care of it if someone is harassing teenagers in the mall.”
mid-bite and looked up. “It’s personal, but thank you. Wait, did you just call me a teenager?”
Logan opened his mouth to speak, but seemed unsure how to start. “Well, you look young. I… apologize for any wrong assumptions.”
“I guess I’ll take it as a compliment. I’m pushing thirty, though.”
And still stuck in this shithole of a town
. She thought. Luckily, the words didn’t escape her lips.
He leaned forward, examining her more closely with
out subtlety. “Well, that changes things.”
“Sorry. I can pay you back for the food after
I get paid this week. I didn’t realize you thought you were helping out a kid.”
Logan laughed. “No. It means I can ask you out.”
It definitely wasn’t what she was expecting to hear. Candice hadn’t dated since leaving her asshat of a husband and that had been almost a year. A
bad year. The divorce had only been finalized for a few months. She had little interest in dating, but then again, this guy wasn’t like anyone else in town. He was kind, handsome, and rich.
“You must be as screwed up as I am if you want to go out with a girl you met while she was bawling
on the floor.”
“Maybe.” He snatched one of her fries. “Maybe I need someone to
catch when she falls.”
Candice’s eyes widened so Logan cleared his throat and added something less intense.
“Or I could just be bored as hell in this town. I’m only here supervising until this new store is firm
ly on its feet.” He said.
“Well?” Candice asked.
“Are you going to ask me out?”
Another fry was stolen and Logan chewed it slowly to tease her before responding. “Would you do me the honor of joining me for dinner tonight?”
Her fight-or-flight response was off the chart, but Candice nodded. “I can meet you at your store
tonight after I go home and get cleaned up.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to pick you up at your house?”
“Alright, then. How about eight?”
Candice took the last sip of her soda before standing. “Sounds good.” She dumped her trash in the can before sitting the tray on top. Her heart was pounding and she had no idea if she would actually show up. She had started to walk off, when she turned back. “Hey, Logan.”
He lifted his head slightly to indicate he was listening.
Logan Harworth spent the rest of the day distracted. Why had an emotional, punk looking woman caught his attention? She wasn’t even his type. Or was she? Usually, he dated the well-to-do daughters of his father’s business associates. Of course, he’d yet to fall in love with any of them. They were, in his words, shallow and dumb. Sure, they were perfect for getting laid, but Logan was nearing his mid-thirties and something was severely missing in life.
“Sir.” The store manager said, having to repeat himself when Logan didn’t respond. “Mr.
“Sorry, what? I was looking over these sales numbers.” He lied. Logan had been leaning back in the office
chair with his feet up on his desk. He wasn’t setting the best example as he thought about the girl he’d met.
“There’s this girl that works in the mall. She’s been living out of her car for
a few weeks. Mall management has let it slide, but many think it’s a bad image for the stores.”
This had Logan on his feet. “We can’t have homeless people decorating our parking lot.” Candice was forgotten for the moment. “We’ll send her to a shelter or something. Anywhere, but here. I’ll give her some of my own money.”
The manager was nodding. “My thoughts exactly. She left a few moments ago and headed out there. The car is parked behind the movie theater.”
“I’ll take care of it.” He placed a hand on the man’s shoulder.
Logan was ruthless when it came to business. Failure in his father’s eyes was not an option. He walked in long strides in the direction of the beat up four-door vehicle. The person he saw stopped him in his tracks. Candice had the trunk open and was rummaging through her meager selection of clothing to find something to wear on the date.
“Shit…” He said underneath his breath.
Candice shut the trunk after pulling out a pretty dress she’d bought, but never worn, for five dollars at Goodwill. Logan ducked behind the closest vehicle. The alarm sounded as he leaned against it. He crawled on the ground away from the noise in his custom fitted suit. If the woman saw him, she’d surely be mortified.
“Hello?” Candice called out before shrugging. Car alarms were always going off in the parking lot.
She headed back toward the mall entrance with her clothing in hand. Logan watched until she was out of sight then slumped to the ground and rested his hand against his forehead in shame. If it had been anyone else, he knew he would have run them off without question or waiting for an excuse.
Determination filled Logan as he rose to his feet and dusted off the seat of his pants. He was going to help Candice and it
would be more than a free meal.
Candice stared at her reflection in the mall’s public restroom mirror. It was near closing so the building was mostly empty. Her eyes were still slightly swollen and she grumbled as she smeared a dot of cream under each eye before applying some eyeliner and dark eye shadow. She’d slipped on the blue dress which matched the make-up on her eyelids. The clothing was a little loose. She remembered her cleavage being more prominent when she bought the dress while living with her sister.
“Maybe I’m not eating enough.” Her voice was laden with anxiety. She turned to the side and sighed. “Get your shit together, Candice. You’ll never get another chance with a guy like th
In the mirror, her reflection nodded back at her. Her bangs were pinned with a white clip. There was just enough slack to give the front a modest amount of poof.
She gave herself an encouraging wink, but her brown eyes held only worry. Then, her mouth curled into a frown. It stayed there as she threw all her personal items into her purse with force.
Her date was leaning against the locked doors of the jewelry store. He pushed off with one foot and uncrossed his arms to greet her with a warm smile. For a brief moment, the stress that threatened to shut down her body was completely gone and she returned the affection with a smile of her own.
“You look beautiful.” Logan said and meant it.
“Thanks. I… don’t date a lot. I hope this is okay for where we’re going.”
He was still wearing the same suit from earlier, except his tie was gone and his jacket was open down the front. “Perfect. The driver is waiting on us outside.”
blinked a few times. Driver? When she stepped outside, a stretch limo was parked in front of the mall. The broad built driver opened the door. Candice looked back to Logan who gave a smile and nod.
“Holy shit….” She said under her breath before stepping forward and gliding into the back seat.
Her date followed, slipping an arm around behind her. “I like to travel in style.”
Logan removed his arm from around her after staring at her with those mesmerizing eyes for a long moment. A bottle of champagne was on ice. “Hold this.” He handed Candice a glass and poured the sparkling liquid into it. “I should probably I.D. you since I thought you were so young. The last thing I need is a scandal.”
The tone of his voice told her he was obviously teasing, but with her free hand, she reached into her purse and flipped open her wallet to show him her driver’s license. “Twenty-eight.”