I got to work an hour earlier than anyone else that morning. Hidden in my pocket were the four silver rings she'd left in my bathroom.
The editor who'd hired me for the internship was the second person to arrive. He told me that he was glad to see me so early and complimented my ambition.
This bureau of the newspaper was just a few rented rooms in a university building one town over from the main campus where I went to school. It felt like an old-fashioned newsroom, with steel desks pushed up against each other and no cubicle walls to hide behind.
I'd never paid much attention to her desk before. This morning it was cluttered with sheets of early design sketches and page layouts marked up with a red, felt-tip pen. There were two framed pictures. In each one, she was kneeling and holding one of her daughters. The girls didn't look much older than 6.
I lined up the rings single-file between the edge of the desk and her keyboard.
I was 20 years old and I wanted to be a writer — in other words, on track to becoming an asshole. I liked my internship at this small, local newspaper because it was job experience and because I didn't clock in until 1 p.m., which meant my bar routine went undisturbed.
I'd been surprised when I saw her at my bar because I knew she lived in that next town over, the newspaper town, and I'd taken her for someone who rarely went out. It's close enough to say her name was Rose, she was 33, and she had some graphic design job I never asked about. She had long, brown hair falling loose around her shoulders and a tiny silver nose piercing that winked in the light. Her friends were the same age.
"We need to properly welcome you to the business!" she told me, and her friend brought over glasses of tequila.
A few hours later, I was having trouble standing up straight. It wasn't the booze but the dancing, which I tended to avoid for reasons I'm sure were obvious. "We need to have an afterparty!" she said, and off I went with her and her friend.
While she drove, she sipped from a bottle of Smirnoff Ice. When we got to the friend's house, she asked me to stay in the car. I watched her and her friend talking on the lawn.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" her friend asked. Rose said yes. She got back into the car and asked me where I lived.
I woke up when she pulled the sheet out from under me.
"What time is it?" she asked, suddenly jumping out of the bed. She found her jeans and started pulling the legs back from inside out. "I really need to leave."
"It's OK. You can spend the night if you want to," I told her. "It's almost morning anyway." I looked at the clock. It was close to 5 a.m.
"No, no, I'd rather stay," she said. "It's just that, if I don't get back soon, my husband will wonder where I am."
I don't remember exactly what I said to her. I was trying to figure out how someone had snuck in and detonated a neutron bomb under my bed.
In a small college town, the problem for a young man with no car and unarticulated rage problems was that there were only two or three bars where I could drink regularly. That made me easy to find.
So I shouldn't have been that surprised when Rose showed up a few weeks later at another bar a block away from the one where we'd met the first time.