12 awkward seconds later . . .
The first thing she does is look at me and smile. She’s got on her green Barnes & Noble shirt, but she’s taken off the name tag. She’s wearing blue jeans that are almost faded to white. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and her face, it’s gotten some sun on it since we met the other night.
I so hope she’s not here to serve me with a restraining order. Because, she looks very attractive right now, and having her hit me with an invisible 500 meter boundary would be brutal on my book browsing.
“Hi, Jack,” she says.
Hi . . . Angela.
I look at her hands.
“What?” she says, looking down at herself. “Do I have something on my pants? I was doing inventory this morning, that’s why I’m dressed so trashy.”
I’m still standing at the door, waiting for a lawyer or a game warden or something. How do they serve those restraining orders, anyway?
No, I say. You look fine. I just thought . . .
She looks at me, her eyes kind of big and brown and wonderful. “I hope you don’t mind me coming by. Your brother . . . Ricky, he gave me your business card and said for me to stop by on Saturday if I got a chance and you’d show me around.”
She peeks past me, looking in at our electron-filled office. “You know, I wasn’t sure about coming and meeting you . . . ”
“Oh,” I said. My head might have lowered a bit when she said it.
“No, no,” she said, “not like that. No, I just didn’t know if . . . you know,” and then she started staring down at her hands, kind of touching the tips of her fingers together, index to index, pinkie to pinkie.
My head lifted a bit. I ask her, “So, you’re not here to serve me with a restraining order?”
She laughs, her left hand reaching out for my right forearm and touching it briefly, “No. Why on earth would I do that?” And she laughs some more. I like her smile.
Her being happy, it makes me feel better. So I smile to her, present my hand and say, “My name is Jack Pagan, let me welcome you to the After Life Group.”
We shook hands, her warm little hand in mine. And she looked up at me, her eyes liquidy and full, and she said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, again, Jack Pagan. My name is Angela Lima.”
And then I stepped aside and led her into to my life, if only peripherally. As we walk past the threshold of the door her expression becomes one of awe. She doesn’t say anything, she just walks with me, staring and blinking.
We make our way past several of the workstations and she is just like a small child at the zoo for the first time. Everything is new and interesting. On the walls large flat screens have the different news stations from around the world streaming by video and information.
Everything is right here, right now.
She’s so quiet, this Angela Lima, that I wonder if she’s spooked.
Are you alright? I ask her.
“What is all of this? I mean, what do you do for a living, Jack Pagan?” And then she turns to look me in the eyes. “You look different than you did the other night at the store.”
Different good or different bad? I ask. Because, you know, we have brighter lights in here, and they’re colder, so it may make me look funny, and—
She smiles her lovely smile again, “No, not bad different. You look, I don’t know . . . more confident. You’re bigger.” Then she curls both of her hands to her stomach, doing a little bodybuilding pose and says, “Bulkier. Stronger.”
And now I laugh.
I tell her, Maybe that’s the lights, too.
She’s about a ten on the cuteness scale. Her features are kind of smooth and exotic. Her body thin and fit.
“So, Jack, seriously . . . what do you do here? I mean,” she glances around, “what is all of this for?”
“There’s no easy way to put this,” I tell her, “ . . . it’s really complicated.”
“Complicated? I’m a smart girl, I’ll understand if you keep the words small enough.”
I’m not trying to insult her. This is weird. I reply, “Oh, no. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just . . . without sounding like a goof, well, the skinny of it is, we are paranormal researchers.” And I wait for the question that always follows, preparing to defend us against the Ghostbusters image. But she doesn’t say it.
Her eyebrows wrinkle a bit, “Hmmm. That must be difficult work.”
I glance around the room, my eyes too embarrassed to make direct contact with hers.
I say, I know it sounds ridiculous, but that’s what we do. Although, in my defense, I’m fairly new to it. So I’ve got a lot to learn about the business.
“Jack,” she says as her fingers start to touch tip to tip, again, “would you like to have lunch with me and explain your interesting line of work?”
My heart skipped like three beats just then. This beautiful girl likes me. At least enough to see if she actually likes me.
Do you like pizza, Angela? I ask, trying to find out just how close to perfect she actually is.
“Love pizza. Absolutely love it. It’s in my blood. I’m part Brazilian and part Italian,” she answers, and then gives me a narrow glare. “Pepperonis or hamburger meat?”
“Canadian Bacon and pineapple?”
Not over my dead body.
She takes my hand into hers and says, “Let’s go to lunch.” And still, there are no legal documents to be had.
As we’re walking towards the door she glances over at the workstation I was at, squinting, “What’s that?”
Oh, it’s a job we did recently. We’re analyzing the video to look for anything conclusive.
“No,” she says, “ . . . that in the corner there, by the doorway?”
That’s probably nothing, I say, realizing that she just saw, from across the room, at a full stride, what I had mined out of the video after two hours of being an inch from the monitor. In just three seconds she found the shadow.
How good are your eyes? I ask her as we head out the door.
“I can see everything, Jack. Everything.”
Good, I tell her, because you’re going to have to drive . . . I kind of forgot where I put my car.
She laughs and tugs on my forearm a bit, and even though it slightly stings with my fresh ink, I don’t mind one bit.