Carrie could never be sure the exact day, or even the month, the handsome older man had first started coming through her check out line. One day... , he was just there.
Being surrounded by people is the loneliest job in the world, she thought. Living each day in a world full of strangers—after a while, none of it seemed real. It's like watching some kind of a weird distorted music video.
It had not always been that way. In what now seem like another life; Carrie had spent her innocent childhood surrounded by a warm and loving family. Then, as she had grown older, her family had started drifting away.
One by one, —they moved, or died, but more often than not, her family members just lost track of one other. Now without a family or a single friend—she was well and truly alone.
Some days, it was if she was on remote control. For hours, she would perform the same endless routine with each customer. Fake a smile... , a friendly hello... , ring up their grocery items... , give them their change... , and yes, lest she forget, remember to bestow upon them the cashier's special goodbye, Have a great day. A mind-numbing routine, in a mind-numbing job.
For Carrie Minton, one dreary day stretched wearily into the next. She sometimes felt that she had become a human Automaton. Carrie, the robot, that's me, she cynically thought, unable to blot out a trace of bitterness.
As for the old man: the simple truth—she had first become aware of his kindness—before she had even become aware of him as a person.
It had been one of those days ... One of the Store's cheap grocery bags had broken. Items had hit the floor. They scattered. With a line full of impatient customers waiting, there she was, down on her hands and knees, trying to pick up the items.
"Here, let me help you pick this stuff up, Sweetie," she heard a voice say. How long has it been since anyone called me Sweetie? She thought. Glancing over, she vaguely recognized the older man now trying to help her was someone who had occasionally passed through her check out line.
Maybe it was the day she was having—or, perhaps it was just gratitude for his kind thoughtful gesture—she felt her eyes brim over with tears. Whatever it was... , a few moments later, when she turned around to thank him, he was gone. She caught sight of him a bit later as he exited the Store.
A few days later, when she looked up after waiting on another customer, she found him standing in front of her checkout counter. He was grinning at her.
"Hi, Carrie got any grocery items you'd like me to help you pick up today?" he said, with a wry smile. He was obviously teasing her.
"No," she said, returning his smile. "But, I'll keep your application on file, in case someone decides to drop a bag."
He nodded. They both laughed. He loved her sassy sense of humor.
For Carrie, her world turned suddenly brighter. Somehow, her job didn't seem quite so mind numbing. He's the first person I've had a meaningful conversation with in days. Is he trying to flirt with me? She wondered. Doesn't he know he's a little too old for me? Oh, well, she thought, laughing at herself, it's not as if guys are breaking down my door.
Carrie is Rescued by an Ancient Knight...
Leaving the store on Wednesday, Carrie was faced with an all too familiar problem. I'm barely getting by," Carrie thought. If I want to pay my rent, I had better wait to buy that stuff to soak my feet in until payday.
But, by the next day, her feet were worse. By Thursday, she was limping badly from the pain. Checking the amount of money she had left—she realized she had barely enough to purchase a half gallon of milk, and a TV dinner. Well... , tomorrow's payday, she thought.
Limping out through the store's parking lot that evening after work, she was suddenly aware someone was approaching her. When she turned and saw who it was, she smiled.
"You look like you're having a hard time making it to your car," he said, "Here, at least, let me carry your groceries for you."
"Oh, thank you!" She said. "My car is right over here."
"What's wrong with your foot?"
"It's from being on my feet. I have been neglecting to soak them—so sometimes they can get this way."
"Carrie, I'm an old man and I live alone. Why don't you come home with me? Let me cook supper for the two of us. Afterwards, I have some stuff you can soak your feet in that I'm sure will help them."
"It's nice of you to offer, but I don't even know your name, Sir."
"Well, you could call me Mr. Wonderful—or Brad, would be just fine," he said, giving her a friendly grin.
"I wouldn't want to put you out."
"I'm a pretty good foot Doctor, and I work cheap," he said, trying to entice her. "Oh, and did I mention... , I live alone?"
"You said!" she laughed. "Can I trust you not to take advantage of a poor working girl... , with the accent on poor?" She said, laughing at how he seemed so eager to entice her.
"Trust me... ? Of course, you can. I would love your company. I'll fix us a nice meal and then we will doctor your feet. And... , no fair holding it against me just because I repeat myself," he said, delighted that she seemed to be considering his suggestion. "Old men have a tendency to repeat themselves you know," he said, with a mischievous grin.
A few minutes later, they pulled into a double driveway. A click of the garage door remote and they were inside the garage.
Carrie stepped out of the car. Taking the few steps toward the stairs, she was almost unable to walk from the pain. When she attempted to try climbing the stairs, the old man stopped her.
"Here," he said, "We need to get you off your feet. Put your arm around my neck." What's he up too with that? She wondered. She decided to trust him.
Once she had put her arm around his neck, he reached down and picked her up in his arms. He smiled at her the whole time as he carried her up the stairs. She could smell his after-shave lotion. It smelled expensive. A moment later, she felt herself being carefully deposited in a kitchen chair.
"Golly, I was afraid you might hurt yourself," she said. "You surprised me—you're really strong for an old man."
"Bite your tongue, young lady. Didn't anyone ever tell you? Age is only a number, "he said, grinning down at her. "And, what's with this old man business, anyway? You trying to hurt my feelings?"
"Okay, Okay... !" she said, pretending to be exasperated at him, "After the way you carried me up those stairs—I can see I'm going to have to change my opinion about old men. In your case, there are old men—and there are old men, she said, grinning at him.
"I'm just so gosh darned happy you noticed," he said, grinning at her. The main thing you need to remember is—this old man is one of a kind, darling. One of a kind!" he said, winking at her.
"I just hate it when you go all modest on me," she chided him. Is this old guy for real or what? She thought, feeling happy for the first time in days.
"Let's take look at those cute little tootsies of yours. Wait right here while I get a basin of hot water and some Clifford's Foot Soap. You can soak your feet in the hot water while I'm fixing supper."
The Doctor is in...
Carrie was surprised at his gentleness. Upon his return, he pulled another kitchen chair over in front of her. Reaching down, he begins to loosen her shoestrings. A moment later, he slipped off her shoes. Carefully he removed her socks.
For the next half hour while she soaked her feet, she watched him moving around in his kitchen. The kitchen begin to fill with the delicious smells of supper in progress.
"That smells so good," she said, "What are you cooking?"
"Ever heard of Beef Stroganoff?"
"I've heard of it, but I've never tasted it."
"Well, you're about too. It's almost ready."
"Oh, good... ," she said, "I'm hungry."
"You've soaked them long enough. Here, let me dry them off for you."
More relaxed, Carrie was beginning to enjoy letting him pamper her. It's nice to have someone be nice to you, she decided.
Reaching down he lifted one of her feet out of the hot water. Taking a warm soft towel, he begin to gently dry her foot. When he tried to dry between her toes, she made a small sound.
"Yes. That just tickled when you were drying between my toes."
"Well," he said, "You do know they have a cure for tickling, don't you?"
"You're teasing me, right?"
"No. I'm serious."
"What is it? Tell me."
"I would have to show you," he laughed. "Are you sure you want me to?"
"Sure," Carrie laughed, "but this better not be some kind of trick," she said, grinning at him.
Smiling mischievously, he reached down and raised her foot up to his lips. Still smiling up at her, he kissed each of her toes, starting with her big toe. His lips felt so warm. She felt an involuntary tingle in her stomach. When he took each of her toes into his warm mouth for a moment, she didn't resist.
"Ohhhh... ! That feels so nice. It gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling," she said.
"Gives new meaning to that old saying, " ... If you don't like it, you can kiss my foot," he said. "Doesn't it?"
"Except... ," she said, "I liked it! I liked it very much. May I ask you something?"
"Is this your way of trying to seduce me?"
"No... ," he said, "It's not. But, you'll have to admit—there are a lot worst ways two people could spend a winter's evening. Right?"
She smiled and nodded. "Do you realize I don't even know your last name?"
"Would it help my chances if you did?" he said, teasing her with a quiet grin.
"Okay, my name is Brad Kelly."
"You look like a Brad Kelly," she said. "But, I think I'll just call you Kelly. Is that alright... ?"
He laughed. "You know what they say, A Rose by any other name..."
"Are you going to put my shoes back on for me, Kelly?"
"No. You're going to put your shoes back on, while I dish out the Beef Stroganoff."
"Can I help you with anything?"
"Sure. There's milk or juices in the refrigerator. Maybe you could pour each of us a glass of whatever."
"Okay, two glasses of whatever coming up."