Anna's just leaving for the day – a half-hour later than she's supposed to, pretty good all things considered – when she notices Ellen waiting in the cold. That boyfriend of hers, the one who looks like he's not old enough to shave, usually picks her up after rehearsal these days, but maybe he forgot. And now it's going to be another forty minutes before the bus goes by, and maybe that's what makes her walk over.
"Hi," she says, feeling sort of foolish in case Ellen's got a perfectly good reason for standing out in three-degree weather.
Ellen looks over as if surprised to actually hear her speak. "Oh, hi," she says, wrapping her scarf (filmy, silky, not a good wool one like Anna's) around her neck more snugly.
"Do you, uh. Need a ride?" Anna smiles, trying not to feel like it's high school again and she's mustering up the courage to talk to one of the popular girls.
Ellen looks at her watch. "It doesn't look like he's coming, does it? If it's not out of your way..."
"No, it's no problem." New Burbage is compact – it doesn't take more than fifteen minutes to drive anywhere, really, but even if it did, Anna wouldn't mind.
They walk over to Anna's car and she jiggles open the passenger side lock, which sort of sticks, maybe because it hardly ever gets used. She's glad at least the car is clean, no Tim Horton's cups or crumpled kleenex on the floor. Ellen gets in, settles her purse on the floor, doesn't buckle her seatbelt. Anna resists the urge to tell her to buckle up and turns the key in the ignition. The radio kicks on, too loud – Anna was singing along to Proud Mary on the way into work this morning. She moves to turn it off, but Ellen says, "It's okay," so she just turns it down a bit instead, and pulls out of the parking lot.
She knows the way to Ellen's house – not because she gets invited to the parties there, but because it's just the sort of thing she knows. She's typed the address plenty of times, after all. She tries to think of something to say, something that won't sound weird or pathetic, but doesn't come up with anything, so instead she just sort of hums along to the radio. The Barenaked Ladies are singing now, one of their old ones – If I Had a Million Dollars – and Anna taps her fingers on the steering wheel at the stoplight until she realizes it's probably annoying, so she stops. "You know," she says to fill up the empty space, "they actually do have pre-wrapped bacon now. You can microwave it. I keep thinking I should try some, I never eat bacon anymore unless I'm out for brunch or something."
"Why?" asks Ellen. "All the salt, or…?"
"No, it's just that, on my own, I can never finish a whole package before it goes bad. That's why I thought, maybe the microwave kind might be..." She trails off slightly, but Ellen picks up the thread of the conversation.
"I know, it's so hard to cook for one person, don't you find? Everything comes in family-sized servings. Even Kraft Dinner," she adds with a tight little smile, just as the guys on the radio start talking about dijon ketchup, and Anna smiles back.
"I have all of my grandmother's recipes, but they're scaled to serve an army! It's sort of, I don't know, depressing to have to work out what one-twelfth of every measurement is."
Ellen nods. "I wind up ordering out a lot," she says, like it's some kind of confession. "I do buy things to make salads with, though, so it's not just a steady diet of chicken balls and pizza."
"I try to make one big recipe on the weekend and freeze it all in single-serving tupperware," says Anna, "but even the best chili in the world gets pretty tired by Thursday or so."
"I know what you mean."
They sit in silence for a moment, and Anna feels obligated to keep the conversation going somehow, so she says, "What would you do if you had a million dollars? I mean, if you won the lottery tomorrow or something."
Ellen looks bemused. "I don't know. Pay off my house, first of all, and all my debts. Then I'd probably splurge on some designer clothes. Maybe I'd even buy a car," she says ruefully. "Take a nice vacation somewhere..."
"Would you retire?"
"Oh, no, I don't think I could. I'd get bored. Besides, I haven't played the Nurse yet, so I've still got that to look forward to," she says grimly. "What would you do?"
"I'd buy a fancy new copier to replace the one in the office. One that can collate and staple and doesn't get jammed all the time." Anna realizes that, as fantasies go, it's kind of a lame one, but it's the first thing that leaps to her mind.
"Oh. It's this street," Ellen adds, almost too late, and Anna swings the wheel to take the turn, a little more recklessly than she should have. Ellen hangs onto the garment hook as the car fishtails, and for a minute it's like they're Cagney and Lacey. Anna knows she'd be the Tyne Daly one, except for the part where she's not married of course, and she's okay with that. It's fun to imagine, anyway.
She brings the car up to Ellen's house, letting it idle even though she knows that, environmentally-speaking, she should turn it off if she's stopping. But she doesn't want Ellen to think she's angling for an invitation, even if maybe she is, just a little bit. It would be okay if Ellen suggested it, she thinks. If Anna asked for herself, Ellen might feel obligated to invite her in, or worse, sorry for her, and that wouldn't be any good at all. Maybe Ellen's got a date tonight anyway, with that delivery boy or whatever he is.
"Well, thanks for the drive," Ellen says, gathering up her bag. She tries to open the door, but she doesn't know the trick about jiggling the handle.
"It sticks," Anna says, embarrassed for no good reason, "sorry. You have to kind of... wiggle it as you pull, just... that's it." The door finally pops open and Ellen begins to step out, when Anna hears her Granny Conroy's voice, clear as anything, saying "Hmph, those girls are probably just jealous of you. And besides, you'll never make any friends if you don't speak up for yourself, girl!"
"Ellen," she says quickly, before she can second-guess herself, "do you want to get some supper? We could go to the grocery store and get some of those things made for two people that we never eat because there's only one of us. If you wanted."
Ellen stares at her, and for a minute Anna's sure she's going to say thanks but no thanks, but instead she breaks into that big wide smile she has when she's actually happy about something, and says, "I'd like that. I haven't had Kraft Dinner in ages."
"And bacon," Anna adds as Ellen gets back into the car. "But not the microwave kind. To tell the truth, I think it probably sucks."