This is a little short that’s been on my mind for a couple of months and I finally took a breath to write it. Let me know what you think!
The post office was crowded that Tuesday morning. Since Monday was a holiday, Todd knew to expect a line halfway out the door which was why he decided to bring his package in that morning as opposed to lunch time when the rush would be even greater.
All four of the kiosks were manned and each one looked to be a seasoned employee, so he was sure it wouldn’t be too long of a wait.
He stepped up to the long, angled counter where the line had already began to form and set his small package down before shoving his hands in his pockets to spend the next fifteen minutes or so in peaceful patience.
A few seconds later, the sliding doors opened up behind him. He heard the woman first as she briskly walked towards the space on the counter behind him. It was hard to ignore the clink of keys banging against her thigh with each step.
He glanced behind him to get a look at her. She was young, probably a couple of years shy his senior, with brown hair that looked a little tousled by the windy weather outside. She wore a modest t-shirt and jeans. The hem of each pant leg nearly covered his shoes and grazed the tile where she stood.
But what struck him most was how pretty she looked. Not quite beautiful, but he could certainly stare at her the entire time while he waited in line. Todd opened his mouth, ready to offer his spot to her when he noticed something else about the woman. She was nervous.
Her package was nearly three times the size of his and she set it down on the counter with a heavy thud. With brows pinched together, she marched towards a stand in the corner were free tape dispensers were offered to customers. She snagged one up and fumbled with separating two adhesive labels from a stack.
As she made her way back to her spot, Todd regarded the way her brows were pinched together and mouth set in a thin line as if she were concentrating on each step.
The line moved forward and he slid his package down, giving her more room. He glanced over his shoulder, watching her progress as she applied strip after strip of tape along the top to close the box and the outer edges. By the time she was finished, Todd was sure the package would be sealed enough to be tossed in the ocean without the contents ever getting wet.
The line moved again and more customers filed inside, sandwiching the anxious woman between him and a growing crowd of strangers. Her actions told him that she was perfectly aware of the lengthening line. Her hands were shaking as she applied the blank address label on top of the layers of tape. She still managed to make it slightly crooked, but Todd knew the post office attendants wouldn’t care.
He took another step forward and she followed with a laden sigh. Todd turned and leaned his body over the countertop as if he needed to stretch out his back. With his package fit snug between his elbows, he continued to watch the show going on next to him.
Then, she pulled out a black pen and bright pink sticky note from her pocket. The woman hastily copied the recipient’s address and transcribed her own. But she didn’t stop there. For the next two shifts down, she rewrote over each letter until the two sets of addresses were bold and ragged from her efforts to make it readable to the postman.
Todd took a peek at the sender’s name. Abigail Crawford. A rather traditional name, but he liked it. She looked like an Abigail too.
Giving up, she put the cap back on her pen and stuck everything in her pockets with the exception of the tape dispenser. She looked between it, her package, the stand where she got it and the line that now extended outside the automatic doors.
She took a deep breath, her chest rising with the effort, and turned to Todd. “Can you hold my place?” she whispered.
Todd gave her a smile and nodded.
Abigail grabbed the dispenser and hustled back to the stand, put it away, and returned to cradle her package against her stomach. Todd would have thought it comical the way her fingers made imprints in the cardboard as she gripped it tightly. But he couldn’t laugh at her anxiety or the way she looked around at everything but the people, refusing to make eye contact and distancing herself at least two paces from him and the people behind her.
Such a pretty girl shouldn’t have been so edgy. Todd was sure that he was the only person interested in what she was doing. All the other customers were either talking to one another or had their eyes glued to their phones. They were the only two who had nothing to occupy themselves and he could tell that it was driving the woman up the wall not to be busy.
“Special package?” he asked. He knew there would have a fifty-fifty chance that she would either ignore him and pretend that he wasn’t talking to her, or that she would give some monosyllabic answer.
Abigail looked up, her green eyes wide and jaw tight. Todd kept his soft, pleasing smile on his face, the corners of his lips tilted up just enough to tell her that he was friendly, but not too much that she would think he was a creeper.
After a moment of being frozen under his stare, she nodded and shrugged one shoulder. “Yeah. It’s my niece’s birthday present.”
Todd inclined his chin towards the package. “Does she live someplace where people steal and rip up packages that don’t belong to them?”
She looked down at her handy work and gave a short laugh that was laced with tension. “No. I just want to make sure it doesn’t pop open during transit, you know?”
Todd nodded and glanced to the front of the line, just three people away. “I can understand that.”
Then, she surprised him. “What about yours?” she asked.
Todd looked to her, brows arched. Abigail recoiled and began blabbering, “I mean, you asked about mine, so it’s only fair that you tell me what you’re sending. But, if you don’t want to, that’s fine. I understand the need for privacy. It may be something personal, so don’t worry about it. Forget I asked.” Her last words were drowned in a mumble and Todd hated his face for causing such a frenzied comeback.
“No, it’s fine,” he replied. “I’m returning a book to a friend who lives out of state.”
Abigail’s lips drew together and he knew that he just might have ruined his chances of helping her relax. Her striking eyes looked away and silence stretched between them for a long moment before Todd extended the proverbial hand of friendship again.
“Have you ever read ‘The Last Lecture’ by Randy Pausch?” he asked.
She gave him a curious, but guarded look and shook her head.
Todd grinned. “It’s a great book. It’s what I’m mailing,” he said, showing her the small square package. “Randy Pausch was a professor dying of cancer and his book is basically a personal lecture to his children and the world about how to live out your dreams and live your life to the fullest. He talks about lessons he learned from childhood and other lessons he learned as an adult. It’s really interesting.”
Abigail’s softened and she smiled. And what a smile it was. Genuine and open. Todd wanted to keep it there. “It does sound interesting. What was it called?” she asked as she shifted the package between her hands to pull out her pen and sticky note.
Todd saw the package began to lilt to one side and lunged forward to catch it just as it left her hand. She gasped and let out a tiny squeak of alarm. Customers looked up from their phones or turned to see what happened. Nearly every eye in the room had turned on Todd and Abigail.
She covered her face in embarrassment as he set the heavy package down on the counter. “Thank you,” she said, utterly mortified that she had almost dropped her neice’s birthday present.
“No problem at all,” he assured. If he behaved as if this were nothing to panic about, as if the attention of every person in the room wasn’t a big deal, then perhaps she would be more at ease too.
Indeed, she followed his lead and took a deep breath before unveiling her face and looked up to him in completely mortification. But his unruffled demeanor helped her not to spiral into the fit of anxiety that she might have been tempted to fall into.
With her senses partially rattled and everyone turning back to their previous activities of talking or social media browsing, Todd took the pen and paper out of her hand and wrote down the title of the book, the author, and his name and phone number.
He gave it back to her with calm and steady composure. Abigail accepted the paper, her fingers trembling. But she was dumbstruck when she looked down at the note and saw his information.
“When you’re done reading it, give me a call and let me know what you think.”
He was next in line now and the wait seemed to pass by all too quickly for him.
The smile returned to her face, though a little more hesitant this time. “I’ll remember to do that,” she said. “My name’s Abigail, by the way.”
Todd nodded and gestured towards the note. “Todd,” he replied, more or less trying to be polite than redundant. “It was nice to meet you,” he added just before the next attendant ushered him forward.
He left the line to finish his business, but occasionally stole glances back in Abigail’s direction. She didn’t seem so nervous anymore with her shoulders square and eyes forward. Muscles that were once bunched and tense were loose and he noticed she didn’t grip her package so tight as she brought it up to the kiosk beside his.
He paid for the shipping charges on his package and turned to Abigail. “Have a good day, Abigail.”
She shyly looked to him and with a coy smile, she replied, “You too, Todd.”
Todd walked out the post office that morning and he felt like Abigail’s simple blessing to have a good day would certainly come true, just because she said it first. And he hoped that one day, he’d get a call from the timid girl he met in the post office, saying that the book he recommended changed her life.