Loosely based on this story: Bald suspect wanted for stealing Rogaine from NY pharmacy.
“It isn’t you,” she said, chewing her lip guiltily as his heart reeled from the sudden sucker punch.
“I… you…” he mumbled, trying to keep the room from spinning away under his feet. Though he (thankfully) couldn’t see his face at this particular moment, he could only imagine it as wearing an expression similar to a terror-stricken antelope just as the lion’s jaws clamped down on its back end – the sag-mouthed horror and white-rolling eyes.
“Don’t be like that,” she said, with the old petulant pout that made him weak. The room pitched dangerously with that quirk of her lips, and he momentarily wondered if he would pass out cold on the middle of the braided rug. “Don't be dramatic. I just said it isn’t you!”
“Well, who else is it, then?” The question came out as more of a shout, heavily tinged with desperation. It echoed sickeningly in his ears.
“It isn’t like that
,” she said with a leftwards-shifting glance that meant it definitely was. “It’s just… you know we’ve been growing apart. The old spark hasn’t been there lately.”
He knew no such thing and told her so. The spark was as bright as ever, in his opinion, maybe even brighter and more vigorous than it had been when they first met. He begged, he pleaded, he tried to use logic. She’d made up her mind, though, and that was that. She packed a few bags while he sat in the bathroom pretending not to cry, and then left without saying another word to him.
Headed to her new boyfriend’s place, no doubt. The thought made him sick.
He stayed home from work for three days, and in that time the thought of her mysterious new romance grew larger and larger in his mind. By the end of the third day, his obsession had yielded into something even more unsettling - a plan of action. He would find this new boyfriend, figure out what made him so damned special
, and find a way to bring him down.
After his first day back at work (the majority of which he spent pretending that he was still slightly sick with the flu to keep his coworkers at bay), he drove over to the 24-hour-clinic where she worked. He parked his car in an inconspicuous spot from which he had a clear view of the employee exit and slunk down in his seat to keep watch.
He didn't have to wait long. His entire world may have been upended, but she still kept to her usual schedule. At a few minutes after six, she bounced out of the clinic in her powder pink scrubs and heavy coat, her white sneakers gleaming in the winter afternoon gloom.
If he had expected her to look distraught... upset... even mildly put out
, he was sorely disappointed. She fairly bounded across the asphalt, her face carefully made up and glowing. In a single nauseating instant he realized that her friend Julie would not
be the one picking her up today, as usual - she would instead be quickly entering the proximity of his nemesis and he had not fully prepared himself for the sight.
It was too late. Before he could avert his eyes, she reached out and popped open the door of a spotless silver SUV. Inside, the silhouette of a man leaned over to greet her, kiss her... but his eyes were not focused on the point where their lips met, no! Would that it were so. Instead he stared in horror as the difference that set his replacement apart was clearly limned by the light of the setting sun. Of course! How could he have missed it?
In stark shadow, ablaze along its luxurious rills and ridges, was an abundant head of hair.
He sat back, utterly deflated. Almost unconsciously, his hand crept to his skull, as if tentatively hoping for something other than the cold hard reality that had faced him in the mirror every day for the past seven years. His hand met nothing but smooth, hairless skin.
So acute was his horror that he didn't even watch them as they drove away. He only slumped in his car in horror, his eyes staring off into some alternate past where he had never lost his hair. She had always asked him to do something about it, always worried that it made him look older and less masculine. He had just laughed off her concerns. What a fool he'd been!
Suddenly he sat up, his hands slapping down on the steering wheel in resolution. He hadn't done anything about it then, but he could
do something about it now. They had seven years of history - what if he suddenly reappeared in her life with a full head of hair? Surely she couldn't ignore his willingness to change for her or his obvious dedication to making her happy. This new guy and his shiny SUV wouldn't stand a chance. He wrenched the keys in the ignition and slammed the car into drive, roaring out of the parking lot.
When he reached the pharmacy, it wasn't too busy - just a few grandmas doing their evening shopping and some kids checking out the candy selection. He walked purposefully back to the hair care section, determined not to be embarrassed. So he would buy something to supplement hair growth - what was wrong with that? Plenty of men did it!
It was only upon reaching the aisle and the rows of glinting Rogaine boxes with their lush-headed models that he discovered the flaw in his plan. Each box - each tiny, nearly insignificant box - cost a staggering fifty dollars. And he knew, egg-headed as he was, he would need far more than one box.
For a moment he stood in anguish. What could he do? Money had been tight - would continue to be tight - since she had left. His job as a grocery clerk would barely bring in enough money to cover rent and a small number of groceries. He certainly couldn't afford multiple fifty-dollar boxes of Rogaine.
But he loved her. His desperation to get her back surrounded him at all times, making his heart hammer in his chest and his tongue go dry at the thought of her.
He had to have it. He had to have the Rogaine.
As stealthily as he could, he made a circuit of the store. When the cashier wasn't looking, he pulled a small, beat-up looking gift bag from its hook and slid it into the front part of his jacket. As he made his way back to the hair care aisle, he tore off the price tag. With many glances in every direction, he carefully pulled three boxes of Rogaine from the shelf and deposited them in the gift bag. He felt almost sick with anxiety, but no one said anything to him.
As nonchalantly as possible, he made his way to the exit. He carried the gift bag as if he had had it all along, dangling unnoticed from his right hand. As he hit the threshold of the store, he heard someone call out.
"Sir! You have to pay for that!"
Panic exploded in his lungs and he moved out of instinct alone, sprinting into the parking lot with his keys at the ready. Behind him he could hear the small tumult of the cashier's shouting, but it already seemed so far away. He ripped open the door of his car, threw the bag into the passenger seat, leapt in and fired up the engine. As he peeled out of the lot, he saw the cashier running back inside the store, but it hardly even fazed him. He was doing what he had to do.
When he reached the apartment, he was so worn out that he dropped the bag on the rug and collapsed on the couch. The day's stress had taken its toll, and he quickly dropped into a fitful doze.
He awoke three hours later to the sound of his phone ringing. Her
She was laughing so hard she could barely restrain herself. "Tommy, did you..." she briefly lost control, "did you go to the pharmacy today?"
His heart sank like a stone.
"It's just.... there's this video on the news, of a man stealing from the pharmacy... stealing...." she collapsed into laughter again. "And I was just thinking - he looks a lot like you.
Without speaking, he hung up the phone.