Chapter Three

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No wonder Dolores had been in charge of timesheets: 9am, on the nose, she knocked on the door. Michelle waved from the window, toothbrush still in hand; she hurried through her brushing, grabbed her running shoes, locked the door behind her, and sat on the steps to do the laces.

"Good morning!" Dolores sang out, swinging her arms. "It's going to be a beautiful day today. I can just tell."

Michelle agreed, tying the last bow. She hopped to her feet. "Where to today?"

Dolores shrugged easily, humming.

"We usually continue north," Michelle mused. "Why don't we try a different direction? Um... We could head for that coffee shop my brother took us to. That's a decent distance away. Take a break, have a coffee, then walk back."

Dolores made an elaborate "after you" gesture, and the pair strode off, slipping into a rhythm.

Through trial and error they had discovered what not to talk about: job hunting, politics, and religion—focusing instead what they had in common. Dolores in particular was a big movie buff, often going to the tiny second-run cinema nearby. "Especially now, I can go to the matinées, and it's cheaper" was her silver lining to unemployment.

Michelle had previously thought of herself as a movie connoisseur but couldn't touch Dolores on breadth of knowledge: foreign films of all nationalities came under her scope, as long as they were dubbed (she disliked having to read subtitles, owing to the fact that English was her fourth language) and she didn't only recall storylines or dialogue but directors, stars, locations, trivia. Whenever Michelle needed to catch her breath or felt like listening for a while, she only had to ask: 'So what have you seen lately?'

"How is your brother doing?" Dolores asked, after a pleasant silence. They'd stopped to admire a pretty front garden, then continued their amble along the sidewalk.

"Uh, good, I guess. I haven't heard from him in a day or two."

"Ay, you talk to him that often?"

"Well, yeah, I guess. Online, anyway." Michelle considered, starting to walk again. "I think he's really serious about this gym idea. He's usually not this preoccupied." Dolores absorbed this, trying to keep up. Michelle's unconscious pace setting was pretty brisk so she slowed. "If he does start a gym, I'll get us memberships! I'm sure he won't mind." She glanced over, smiling, expecting Dolores to grin in return, but instead her companion frowned. "Or not..."

"I... I'm not a gym person," Dolores said, carefully. "A nice thought, but I think walking is enough for me."

"Well, yeah, for now," Michelle agreed, easily. "But I mean, eventually the walks will get too easy. I mean, that's how it works, right? We keep wanting to do more?"

Dolores gave a slight shrug, her gaze fixed on the concrete slabs of the sidewalk, slowing down even further.

Obviously a sore subject in need of a change. She'd already asked about movies, so... what else was there... she racked her brain for another subject of enthusiasm. Dogs? Philosophy? Cooking? Love of languages? "I heard about this new app, it's supposed to be good for teaching yourself different languages. Spanish, German... Swedish? Maybe Norwegian? I can't remember, one of those Scandinavian ones. Heard about it?"

Dolores shook her head, her expression and pace picking up. "My German is so rusty. Maybe I should try the app, practice more."

"Could be fun," Michelle agreed, pleased. "I could practice my French, I took two years in University—but never really used it afterwards..."

By the time they reached Java Jones, Michelle was privately cursing. Even in her running shoes her feet hurt, and her calves twitched. She'd forgotten about that big hill on the way. Dolores, beside her, was red-faced and puffing. Michelle waved her towards one of the outside patio chairs. "I'll get it. What would you like?"

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