There she was.

He leaned against the counter to get a better look, tracing her steps as she walked to the aisle that housed chips and candy bars. She selected a Snickers and a snack-sized bag of Doritos, paused, then took two instead. Those were for her kids; if he looked out the window, he'd see them waiting impatiently in the minivan beside pump number five.

"Excuse me?"

Her voice contrasted her figure; she was petite, little bones wrapped in deep cinnamon skin. Her sweater hung around her, pants just shy of falling off her hips. She rolled them into pedal pushers, baring her ankles and the white gym shoes she wore without socks. Her hair, black and shining, was tied in a messy bun-

But she sounded so raspy, luscious and dark. The voice that purred over advertisements for lingerie and men's cologne. He could hardly conjure a response, even one so simple as, "Yes?"

She fiddled with her chocolate and then asked, "Can I unwrap this?" Her eyes were hazel-gold, encased in long lashes that sloped downward. Her nose was a tad big, flat and offset by her cheekbones and mouth. Her lips were too perfect, so wide and full, pink in color.

Was she Mexican? Middle Eastern? He couldn't tell, and while he saw her every day, he didn't think it'd be polite to ask. So he simply nodded, "Go ahead. I know you'll pay for it."

Her smile was gracious, and she continued to peruse, heading over to the magazines. She lingered on Home&Garden, then worked to Parenting, and finally, stopped on National Geographic. "You know, I wanted to be an archaeologist., y'know?"

"I don't have any," and he didn't realize that was the wrong thing to say until she turned her back to him.

Her shoulders were little. Her wrists and ankles so dainty. She slouched and read an article, absorbed, and he knew he was part of her escape, if only a figure in the background; these few minutes were her perfunctory comfort, the break in her schedule where she wasn't mother or wife-

She was Nila. He asked her name the second day she came in, and she cordially told him it, but also said she was married.


He stood straighter when she approached, and her eyes grazed his name tag, "Well, thank you Stephen. I'll just-"

"Consider it on the house. The gas, too. For coming here so often."

Surprise took her visage, and he witnessed, not for the first, the bruises on her forearm when her sleeve dipped with the motion of her arm. The frail column of her neck marred in subtle purple. The ugly laceration at her calf, partially hidden. "Thank you."

And she left.

Someday, he'd give her more.