Sheila followed The Secondhand online. It was the only website she visited on her computer every morning. She even set up “alerts” on her phone, so she’d be the first to see new ads. Sheila knew this was not what her friends had in mind when they suggested she jump back into the dating pool. But this was what she’d become, a stalker.

The owner of the store posted on Facebook which bled into Instagram. He wasn’t on Twitter, though. He could be old enough to be her parent’s generation because of the slang: groovy, cool, right on. So was it the bizarre old books he Facebook-posted? Was it the picture of the Van Briggle owl bookends? Was it the eternal basket of apples that sat on his counter for his customers? What, really, was it about him that drew her to obsess so? He didn’t post pictures of himself, but Sheila had seen somebody’s old Facebook “Memory” of when he played guitar in a band. Back in the day. Ha! Whatever that meant. He’d worn his long hair in a single braid and had those big sideburns. Porkchops? Lambchops? Muttonchops.

Standing now in front of his store, The Secondhand, Sheila almost lost her nerve to open the door, but a wind had picked up. The sky churned with thunderheads, and a splat of rain hit her square on the top of her head. She took a good steadying breath and pushed on the door. It didn’t budge. She saw it was an old-fashioned handle that she had to actually turn. With a twist of her wrist, she ventured through the door.

Sheila stood in the real-time, physical Secondhand. She sniffed: old books. Maybe dust. And? Was it… patchouli? Yummy. Something spicy and earthy. Delish! She stopped at the first table and sorted through a pile of cellophane-covered art prints, wondering at her motives. How did her online stalking translate to this here and now? She glanced, yes, there sat the apples’ basket, apples stacked all aglow. A gust of hard rain pelted the window. The water raced down the glass making outside look wobbly and uncertain.

She peeked over her shoulder into the small space which was The Secondhand.

He leafed through some old tome. Ha! Tome. But this was that kind of store. He was that kind of man. Old wanna-be Colorado-hippie cowboy. Skinny, leathery. But in a good way. His jeans were snug. His snapped plaid shirt was securely tucked in, the top three snaps unsnapped, a black t-shirt underneath. Sexy. Yes. Hair long and the now-graying braided-tail flicked around as he bobbed his head, Sheila imagined, to some song-track running through his mind. She rounded the table to see him from a sideways angle. No more muttonchops. His bare face was lean and planed.

Sheila glanced at his left hand. No rings, but that didn’t mean anything, and did it matter? She wasn’t going to say anything or do anything. Was she? She liked how the braid seemed to be alive, snaking over his shoulder then flipping back with each gyration. It must have been a good song because now he tapped his fingers on the counter to whatever beat he heard.

Her face grew hot at the thought of something. Something happening. Sheila pushed air out of her mouth, pursing her lips in a kiss. Pouting her lips further, she swiveled her head around, resting her chin on her shoulder. Coquette, the word came into her head.

O God!

He was looking at her! Sheila didn’t think he’d be looking at her. She would die of embarrassment. No one dies of embarrassment, and she shook herself in a little shiver of silliness. She smoothed the plastic-slick prints she still held in front of her.

Then he was standing next to her, the thumb of his right hand looped casually in a belt loop. “Can I help you?” he asked, producing an apple from behind his back as if by magic.

“Umm,” Sheila cocked her head, can he help? “Yes,” she said. “You can help.” Sheila dropped the sheaf of old prints from her grasp and reached for the fruit. Her fingers brushed his callused hand. I touched his hand! “I’m Sheila. And you are?” She asked and bit into the crisp apple, juice dribbling down her chin. “Oops!” Those apples were juicy!

The sudden squall that had ushered her into the store stopped as if someone had turned off the faucet.

“I’m Hank.”A snow-white handkerchief appeared at his fingertips, and Sheila took it, dabbed at the stickiness on her chin. She couldn’t help it. She held the square under her nose for a delicate sniff. Definitely patchouli.

“Um.” Sheila held the white square out, but Hank closed her hand over the cloth.

“You keep it.”

She did.

After Sheila’s death, their daughter for the life of her couldn’t imagine why her mother kept a simple white square in her ancient jewelry box.

Anne Moran Hunsinger earned her BA in creative writing from Iowa State University and her MA in creative writing from San Diego State University. She is active in Northern Colorado Writers, Lighthouse Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and several critique groups.