Luigi’s Pizza, Addison Circle.
20 minutes later . . .
When we walk in, Chris greets us, “Hey, Jackie, who is the Victoria Secret Model you brought with you?”
I turn to Angela, half apologizing, “That’s one of our standing jokes,” I explain. “See, usually I eat here alone, so I always tell them I’m going to bring one of my model dates here the next time I come in.”
“I’m flattered,” she says, and she means it. She smiles to Chris, “What does he usually have?”
Chris, tall and skinny, with spiky blond hair and an Adam’s apple way to big for his throat he replies, “Thick crust pepperoni and mushroom, cold Dr. Pepper, and plenty of red pepper.”
She glances up at me, and then back to Chris as we approach the clean black counter, “Would this guy ever eat Anchovies?”
“Never!” Chris said, his voice low and forceful, as if she were asking if I would sell secrets to al Qaeda.
“Well then, I’ll have the same thing,” she said. And I can tell that everyone that meets this girl is starting to fall for her. She has this innocent charm that infects you without warning. She is so calm and real around people. There’s no pretense about her. No psychological make-up.
We go to my usual table in the corner where we can look out the window at the outside tables and the small park just beyond.
“Why do you sit here?” she asks me, not to screw with my head, but to figure me out. And this is strange for me. I haven’t really opened up to anyone other than Ricky and Ms. Josephine. But this is not the same.
I like to watch the birds walking around in the park over there, I say. They’re kind of simple and stupid, but honest. With a bird, what you see is what you get. They are what they are. And they’re funny. Like when they’re pecking around for nothing in particular.
Her hands are folded on the table in front of her, and she’s leaning forward just a bit, looking at me in the face.
“Who are you, Jack? Where did you come from?”
I’m not really good at this, Angela. I’m not really interesting, I don’t think. I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of dullard, it’s just that I’m trying to figure the world out, right now. Like a child, or an immigrant to a new country.
“Hey,” she said, reaching her hands across the table and putting them on mine, “you don’t have to tell me anything. Or you can tell me everything. I just want to get to know you. There’s something about you that I can’t get out of my head. You have this honesty to your character that I don’t see often.”
I’m the same as anyone else, I guess.
“You’re the only good-looking guy I’ve ever met in the self-help section of the store. You may be the only guy who ever actually admitted you’re searching for a chance at self-improvement. And you hunt ghosts for a living. I’d say you’re pretty unique, just from the first glance.”
I’m sorry, I say to her, I didn’t hear anything after you said good-looking.
She laughed, and I smiled stupidly, my cheeks probably turning three shades of pink.
Yeah. It’s a condition I get when I come into direct contact with flattery.
Oh, I’m way cuter than this. I’m only at like . . . thirty percent of my cuteness potential.
And she laughed again, her perfect little nose and cheeks and eyes all brightening her face. And I knew, right then and there, that I liked being around attractive girls that tell you nice things. I liked being with this new girl.
Now I know what Ricky is always going on about.
We ate pizza, and sipped Dr. Pepper, and laughed and joked, and she told me all about working her way through school on a partial scholarship, and how she came from a big family, but wanted to prove to them that she could make it on her own. The more she tells me, the more I want to hear her speak.
I feel human again.
And that was my first official date with Angela Lima, the best thing I’ve ever found in a book store.