Another few months of work in the art business went by and I was glad to know I really did pick the right field of study in college. I think a lot of kids go to college and pick a major based on all the wrong reasons. Either it’s what their parents wanted them to do, they were told it was a vacant field with lots of jobs, or it promises to make them money. None of which will make you happy if you hate your job.
Though I may have been steered in the art direction by Helen, I had always loved it. Now that I was making money doing something I loved, and found interesting, I couldn’t have been happier. Bili was even starting to show signs of kindness. In small doses of course, as I’m sure was her way, but I was happy for any improvement.
My personal life however was still in a constant state of blasé. It was times like this that I missed my mom more than ever. She was always there when I needed her and I could count on her telling me that everything will work out for the best. Though things were starting to happen for me I would get in these dark moods from time to time and they are harder to shake when you feel alone. It’s easy to let yourself dwell on the negative when you don’t have that one special person, whether it’s a significant other, or a family member, to keep you grounded and look to the positive.
It was quiet day in the store and I was doing some research on the Asian Art Market while Bili worked the front. She was on the phone with someone when she walked into the back. I heard her say that she was on her way before she disconnected the call.
“I need to run an errand. Think you can handle the floor while I’m gone?” She said.
“No problem. I will have it mopped and cleaned before you get back”.
She stared at me with a tilted head and her usual scowl. I knew this look perfectly.
“Relax. I’m joking. Yes, I can handle the customers and the phone at the same time. I’m even chewing gum.”
I think she smiled, but really it could’ve been a twitch.
“If someone comes in and wants to buy something you are not familiar with call me. If you have any other questions immediately lock the doors, go back to the bookstore, and beg for your old job back.”
“Thanks. I can handle it. Get outta here.”
“We’ll see.” She said before leaving out the back door.
It stayed slow for the next couple hours. I only took two phone calls and had one person come in and look around. Not a serious buyer, which was obvious after he looked at couple price tags. I knew the feeling well. You felt like he had to browse just long enough to make it seem like you couldn’t find what you wanted. I made sure not to stare at him so he could make his exit quickly and gracefully.
I was in the back room getting some cleaning supplies when I heard the front door chime. I made my way out to the front with haste. If it was Bili or Theo I didn’t want them to think I was screwing around in the back. Leaving the front area unmanned for more than a few minutes was a no-no. Though most of the high-dollar items were closer to the back, there were still a few pieces near the door worth a pretty penny.
I rushed through the swinging doors and stopped in my tracks as soon as I saw who it was. It wasn’t Bili or Theo.
“Hey. Hi. What are you doing here?” I said stunned. I was using every ounce of inner strength to remain calm.
“I came to see you.” Viktoria said.
“How did you know I worked here?” I said.
“The short answer is your roommate Ted told me. I could tell from his reaction to me that he had heard about our first encounter, but I was able to convince him, after a lengthy conversation of course, that I wasn’t crazy and I meant you no harm. I hope that was okay?”
I couldn’t wait to get home and kiss Ted on the forehead. The next question that popped into my head was how she found out where I lived. I thought I would sit on that one.
“Of course. Now that you have successfully stalked your prey, what can I do for you? You need an end table or a Picasso?” I said trying to act as casual as I could.
Viki laughed. I didn’t think my joke was that funny, but I wasn’t complaining. Anytime I could get her to smile was a joy.
“I was hoping I could take my homeless friend out for dinner tonight. Or does he have a reservation at the local soup kitchen?”
“He does not and he would like that very much, as long as he doesn’t have to refer to himself in the third person all night? Unless of course we are going to Cafe Tre’ on Third Street.”
Another smile and a laugh. Pure sunshine.
“Tell me there’s no such place?” She said with a straight face.
“No, but I think I have just found a way to make a fortune.”
“No you didn’t. As your business adviser I recommend you erase the idea from your mind immediately.”
The ease of our conversations and the way she made me feel comfortable in my own skin was nothing short of miraculous. She was so far out of my league that it didn’t make sense, but she never once made me feel that she felt that way.
“What time do you get off work?” She asked.
“I’m stuck here till eight. What time did you have in mind?”
“How about I meet you at the coffee shop at nine then we can walk to one of my favorite places nearby. Is that okay with you?”
“It is.” I said.
“This is a nice place Jack.” Viktoria said, looking around at the various works.
I walked her around the store showing her all of the nicer pieces, attempting to impress her with my art knowledge. She seemed to be interested, and seemed to know a fair amount about art herself. It only made her more impressive, as if she needed help.
“How long have you worked here?” She asked
“I started shortly after our last coffee together. Maybe you brought me some luck.”
“That would be a first.” She said.
It was an odd comment, especially when I saw the look on her face when she said it. There was a story behind it for sure, but again, everything is clear in hindsight. Right then I let it go as quickly as she said it.
“I’m going to get ready. See you at-” She started to say when the front door chime rang.
It was Bili.
The two locked eyes on each other and I could have sworn the temperature in the room dropped 10 degrees. I could almost feel it in my bones. It didn’t make any sense either, because neither of them said or did anything unusual.
“Viktoria, this is my boss, Bili.” I said, hoping to get past the unknown weirdness.
“Viktoria.” Bili said, but she never stopped to shake hands or offer anything further. She just kept walking.
“Nice to meet you Bili.” Viki said, but Bili was already well past us.
Bili walked straight into the back room and out of sight. I would have thought Bili was being very rude, but that was her way. She obviously figured Viktoria was not a real customer, therefore she didn’t feel the need to be at all pleasant.
“Please don’t take offense. That’s just how Bili is. Actually she was more polite to you just now than she has been to me since I met her.” I said, trying to lighten the mild tension.
Viki just shook it off as no a big deal.
“I understand. I work with many different personalities too.” She said.
“So I will meet you at nine and then off to the unknown restaurant. Sounds very surreptitious.” I said.
“Good word. I see your money wasn’t wasted.” Viki said.
“Wait till you hear my synonyms for synonym.”
What the hell am I talking about. I’m about to ruin the best thing ever with stupid chatter. Just say bye.
“Can’t wait. See you in a couple hours.” She said as she walked herself out.
I watched her as she left, unable to control my stare. I couldn’t believe it. Not only did this beautiful woman make an effort to find me, but when she did, she asked me out on a date. This kind of stuff just does not happen to the average Joe. Ask any Joe you come across and he will confirm it. Maybe she was a stalker, and or, slightly mental. There had to be an explanation, but I was not interested in the why at this point. I was just happy I was going to spend more time with this person.
The second she was out the front door Bili reemerged from the back with some paperwork.
“Who was that?” She asked.
“Viktoria. Remember when I introduced her 15 seconds ago?” I said. Then, just to satisfy my curiosity I asked. “Have you met her before? I could have sworn...”
“No, never seen her before in my life. Where did you guys meet?” Bili asked quickly.
“I ran into her at the coffee shop awhile back. Should’ve been there, it was a real treat, but I saw her again and we had a good conversation. I thought I would never see her again, until she showed up here. Do you think that’s weird that she came here and asked me out on a date?”
“You never told her where you worked and she just showed up?” Bili said as if it was the rudest thing she had ever heard.
“Uh, yeah, well actually she showed up at my apartment and my roommate sent her here. So I guess he’s the rude one”. I said trying to make light of it. If I started dating this girl I didn’t want my boss to hate her. I could already see the drama on the wall.
“How did she know where you lived?”
“I was wondering that myself, but I figured internet. You can find anything there these days.” I said defending her.
I wasn’t sure if I really believed it, but nothing was that difficult in the information age.
“Keep an eye on the sales floor. I have some computer work to finish up before we close.” Bili said as she went back to her office area.
“Okay.” I said to no one, as she was already out of the room. That seemed to happen a lot.
I had heard somewhere that pretty girls didn’t like each other, but I had always thought that was nonsense. The more I thought about it I figured it was more about Bili and her issues.
Why did Bili care about this girl? It’s not like she was jealous of her. Was she? Why the third degree? She never asked me that many questions about anything. Why did Viktoria ask me out to dinner? That was a better question.
I didn’t know what I was more proud of. The fact that I had a date with a woman that was bordering on perfect or that I was able to maintain a mild confidence while being around here. I have dated a few pretty girls in the past, but nothing like her.
Bili and I closed up the store as we did every night, but she was more silent than usual. After I finished the usual clean-up and locked up the more valuable items, I gathered my things and started walking to the front exit.
“See ya Bili”. I said as I headed for the front door not expecting her to answer.
“Good night Jack. Be careful.” She said.
It came out nonchalant, but I couldn’t help but think she meant it a little more literal. I guess she assumed Viki was going to break my heart and leave me more pathetic than she found me. I was way ahead of her as I already ran that scenario through my head numerous times. There is a certain peacefulness that comes from going into a situation expecting the absolute worst. When you approach things this way, anything over and above a complete disaster is just a pleasant surprise. I don’t know if that’s the doctor recommended healthy way to start a new relationship, but it helped me relax.
I walked out the front door as I would have any other night, calmly and in no hurry, but as soon as I was out of sight I bolted into a run. I didn’t have much time.