A couple of days had gone by before I went back to the Antique store. I was glad to see the sign still in the window as I walked in. As soon as I cleared the door and my eyes adjusted to the lighting I saw an employee standing behind the counter. I couldn’t believe who it was.
“Can I help you” the young women said as she was cleaning something from her hands with a rag.
“Yes. I saw your sign in the window the other day. Has the Job been filled yet?”
“Was the sign still in the window?” She said.
“Um, yeah.” I answered
“Then no, it hasn’t.”
Great. Another smart-ass.
“Do you have any experience in the Art world?” She asked
“Well, not in the conventional sense. I have never worked in the business, but I think I am more than competent when it comes to all things art related. I even have a firm grasp of antiques as well. My Gran-”
“The painting behind me.” She said cutting off. “What can you tell me about it?”
It was a smaller painting, but the style was unmistakable.
“It’s a Jackson Pollock.” I said with a bit of a smug tone, knowing I was right.
“A first grader with a closed head injury could have told me that. What can you tell me about it?” She said as if I was wasting her precious time.
Feeling a bit deflated I thought for a second.
“Well, it’s one of his earlier works. It has obvious Picasso influences, which means that it was before he went almost totally abstract. That would put it in the early 1940′s, not long after studying under New York artist Thomas Benton. It’s called The Mask if I am not mistaken”.
“Wait here.” She said before disappearing into the backroom.
I had seen her at the book store yesterday. Why didn’t she mention it? She had to have recognized me. She almost stared me to death.
She came back out and handed me a single sheet application and a pen.
“Have a seat and fill this out please.” She said in a business like tone. She was not unfriendly, but she was not dripping with personality either.
I sat down and started filling out the paper. The girl took out her cell phone and walked into the back room. It only took me a few minutes to complete the simple one page form, so after I finished I got up and looked around. I waited for five minutes before she came back and took the paper from me. She looked at the paper and then back to me.
“Thanks. I will give this to the owner.” She said with a look that made it clear that the conversation was over and I should leave promptly.
“Okay. Thanks Miss...?”
“Thanks Bili.” I said.
I was going to leave without further questions, but the curiosity was more than I could stand
“Didn’t I see you the other day?” I added.
“I don’t recall. Thanks for applying. Someone will be in touch.” She said in an obvious attempt to move me along. She turned her back on me and walked toward the back room again.
I took the hint and left the store. A cold shoulder from a cute girl, what else was new?
I didn’t have to be at work for several more hours, so I sauntered over to the Coffee Shop to grab a cappuccino for the walk home.
I was lost in thought, wondering if I made a mistake applying for that job, when I grabbed the handle on the big wooden front door and pulled. The usually very heavy door seemed extra light for some reason and then I saw why.
As I pulled on the door, someone was pushing on it at the same time.
“Oh shit.” I said under my breath, but no doubt she heard.
A slight tremor of panic hit me. She stopped and so did I. The fraction of a second that neither of us moved and stared at one another seemed like an eternity. Her surprised look quickly changed to friendly before she spoke.
“It’s you.” She said.
Her smile caused me to pause then stumble over my words.
“Yeah, I guess it’s me.” I said, wondering what kind of a turn this conversation was going to take. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she punched me in the face.
“I owe you an apology. Jack, right?”
“Um, yes. You don’t really...”
“Please. Of course I do. The last time I saw you I was a rude bitch. You must have thought I was a total psycho? My morning started off horribly, I was in a terrible mood, and to make matters worse I thought you were someone else. Long story. All of which is no excuse for my atrocious behavior and I was hoping I would run into you sooner or later so I could say I was sorry and here you are. I’m sincerely sorry. Can you accept?” She said.
She stuck out her hand for me to shake, which I did instinctively. I didn’t think it was possible for her to look any prettier, but seeing her smile changed everything.
“Apology accepted. No big deal.” I said.
“Thanks. I’ll sleep much better tonight now that I have this off my conscience.” She said this in such a cute playful way that I couldn’t believe that this was the same person.
“Take Care Jack.”
With that the redhead turned and started to walk away.
“Whoa, wait. I didn’t get your name?” I said with a mild panic, not wanting her to leave.
She stopped and turned back to face me.
“How rude of me, again. You must be seeing a pattern here. Don’t worry, I’m probably only half as bad as I seem. My name is Viktoria, but everyone calls me Viki, or just Vik. ”
“I knew a Vic when I was a kid.” I said.
“Girlfriend?” She asked.
“No. Neighborhood bully. He used to beat the crap out of me bi-weekly.”
I got her to smile, which I took as a good sign. I was feeling bolder than usual so I went for it.
“Are you in a hurry? I was just going to sit down and have a coffee”. Slight fib. “Care to join for a few minutes?”
Viktoria was dressed nicely in all black with her hair down, so I figured she was on her way to work or a meeting of some kind. I knew she would politely decline, but I figured what the hell.
“I have a few extra minutes. After you.”
She opened the door for me and we walked inside.
I couldn’t believe that she agreed, but I didn’t let myself dwell on it too much, or I might have become overly nervous.
I grabbed a coffee, as she already had one, and I followed her to a table by the window.
“You sure I’m not keeping you from anything important?” I asked
“Nah. I have a pretty flexible schedule.” She said.
“I’m guessing you’re not a student. Did you go to U of M?”
“No. I went to the University of Pennsylvania. I graduated a few years back. Now I work for a financial company a few blocks from here.”
“Impressive. The University of Pennsylvania is a great school. Did you know that it’s one of the oldest colleges in the United States?”
“I think I may have heard that once or twice”. She said.
Even though she said it mockingly, it wasn’t unfriendly or mean spirited. I was on high alert waiting for any sign that she may turn hostile.
“Of course you did. You went there. Duh.” I said, making fun of my own stupid question.
“Tell me about you Jack. You a Wolverine?”
“Was. Graduated last year.”
“Congrats. What field?”
“The most coveted of all Majors among the hip and homeless”.
“Art History?” She said without missing a beat.
“Yep. Look out Wall Street. I did give myself a safety net though. I dabbled a little in journalism, just in case I want to write about life on the street.”
“Smart.” She said in a silent giggle. “I bet your parents are proud. This is a great school.”
I never know what to say when the topic comes up. Do I go over the whole story? Do I lie and pretend they are alive so I don’t make anyone uncomfortable? I just met this girl and I didn’t want to start off with a lie just in case I did see her again.
“They would have been. Well, my mom anyways, but they were killed last year, and please, please, don’t feel bad, you didn’t know.” I said quickly, trying to stop the guilt trip I most certainly just sent her on.
“I’m sorry.” She said sincerely.
“Last year? It wasn’t here in Ann Arbor was it?”
I could tell instantly that she knew about it.
“Parking structure?” she said with a pleading look.
I just nodded. Being from the area there was no way she wouldn’t have been aware of it. I was surprised by her reaction though. She had a look as though she was personally responsible.
“I’m so sorry Jack. Now I really feel like an idiot.” She said as she looked toward her lap and then back to me.
“It’s okay. Please don’t worry about it. There is no way you could have known, new topic. How about those Wolverines?” I said giving her a reassuring smile.
“Football doesn’t start for a few months.” she said.
“I meant the Women’s Field Hockey team. What else?”
I made her laugh again, releasing some of the tension. I couldn’t believe that this was the same person I encountered the first time. She was utterly delightful.
“I’m almost afraid to ask, but are your parent still around?”
“No, they both died a long time ago. I was very young and frankly I don’t remember them very well. I don’t even have a picture of them.” She said.
“I’m sorry as well. Boy, what a depressing pair we make. We would be a huge hit at dinner parties.” I said.
“Everyone would be in therapy within the first hour.” she said.
Viktoria and I had a great talk for about thirty minutes and I was pleasantly surprised how smooth the conversation went. Her sense of humor was close to my own and we picked up each other’s sarcasm with ease. To me there is no better sign you are compatible with someone.
Though everything was going great I didn’t want to be the guy who overstayed his welcome. I knew from personal experience that a first meeting, or date, can go from great to lame in a matter of minutes if there are too many awkward silences. Forced conversation was also a mood killer. I wanted to make sure that this particular conversation, which was going far better than expected, ended before I had a chance to ruin it.
“Thanks for the great talk Viki, but I have to report to my meager underpaid job soon. Maybe I will run directly into you again sometime?”
I didn’t have to work, but it was the best thing I could come up with to end the conversation without seeming rude.
“I could think of worse things.” She said as she was gathered up her things. I couldn’t see her face when she said that, but it still shocked my system.
When a gorgeous woman drops a blatant innuendo like that, an outsider might see it right away. However, the receiver of such a comment, after the initial excitement, comes up with fifty reasons why the comment was nothing more than an innocent statement that had no sexual reference what so ever. It defied logic.
I said goodbye and made sure I walked the opposite direction from where she was going. Nothing worse than saying goodbye only to step onto the street and walk awkwardly next to that person for three blocks.
Maybe she wasn’t crazy after all.
I was feeling good about myself after I left, analyzing the hell out of the ‘I could think of worse things’ comment, until I realized what an idiot I was. I never got her phone number. I was so worried about not looking stupid that I completely dropped the ball. What good was a great first meeting if there was no chance of a follow-up? Then doubt set in. Maybe she wanted it that way. She never asked for mine. If I would have asked she probably would have politely told me she had a boyfriend or even a husband, and deny my request anyway.
Things happen for a reason I told myself. It’s always easier to blame things on fate when life doesn’t go your way.
What I have learned over the years is that sometimes what we believe are the worst things in our lives, turn out to be blessings. But in the same vein, the opposite could be said about what we think are the best.