Barnes & Noble, North Dallas.
Sunday afternoon . . .
I’m at the bookstore, again. There’s all kinds of people milling about, browsing for something that catches their eyes in the magical six seconds. But me, I’m actually here to surprise Angela.
After we ate pizza at Luigi’s, we talked on the phone for over 30 minutes. For me, that’s like a world record. I never talk to people on the phone very long, because it seems so impersonal. But with Angela it’s not like that at all. She’s very interesting and her voice is wonderfully soft and pleasing to hear on the otherwise cold, colorless phone line. She does that, she adds color to things.
And since my life deals with places that have no color, I could use more of her kind of energy. That’s why I’m here to say hi to her. I can smell coffee and books, and it’s just right. There’s energy here, but it’s a quiet, restrained energy. Not as stuffy as a library, but much more tranquil than a McDonald’s.
As I’m walking towards her section, which I know she’ll be working in, I see some elderly couple book shopping together. There’s no way to explain how simple and nice this little moment in time is. Everything is the way it would be in a perfect world. We’re all just going in our different directions, looking for the word from somebody else.
That elderly couple, they might be looking for adventure classics, or traveling books for their next trip to Europe. They could be searching for books that discuss aging, or scientific journals that specialize in anti-aging techniques and medicines. With their white hair, and wrinkles, and thick glasses, and pants too ugly to imagine ever having to wear, they look exactly the way they should look. They’re perfect.
I walk by them and see the backside of a very attractive girl. I know that pair of legs. They sat across from me at Luigi’s Pizza for hours yesterday. And I’m confident that she’s not going to slap a restraining order on me. I’ve got a surprise for her.
As I approach she stands straight up, stiff as a board, as if she knows somebody is behind her. Slowly she turns and she’s got a book she’s holding, face out. The title, Remembering The Real YOU. Her eyebrows do this little up and down thing like she’s saying, check this out.
I smile and approach to within a few feet of her. I look at the book, at her, at the manila folder in my right hand, at her, again. She’s very pretty today. Her hair is loose, down to her shoulders, but very straight and neat. I notice she doesn’t wear much make-up. Truth is, she doesn’t have to.
“Hi, Jack,” she says as she taps on the book, “I’ve been expecting you.”
I was going to surprise you, I say. But I see that I’m a bit of a foregone conclusion.
“No, not at all. I was kind of hoping you might come by and see me. That’s why I told you I would be working today, like five times while we ate pizza yesterday.”
Well, I’m very perceptive, so . . .
“What’s that?” she asks, her eyes glancing at the folder.
Oh, this old thing?
“Is that for me?” she says, smiling like it’s Christmas morning. It’s hard to be clever around a girl who knows everything you’re going to do before you do it.
I hand it to her, nodding.
She trades me the book I’ll probably never understand, for the gift she might not enjoy. Very carefully she opens the folder and inside is a full color, glossy print of the video she saw yesterday that has the possible ghost sighting on it. Ricky helped me put a yellow arrow on the printout so that it points to the probable entity.
She glances up at me a few times. Her eyes keep going back and forth from me to the ghostly image.
“That’s what you saw yesterday, in the office” I said to her, realizing that maybe it isn’t as interesting as I assumed she thought it was. “I just figured you might be interested—”
“That’s . . . incredible,” she says. “It really looks spooky, huh.”
You have no idea.
She squints at the picture, “So is this a real live ghost?”
Well, I’m not sure. I mean, technically it wouldn’t be a live ghost, but I suppose that’s a semantic question. And, well, there’s no way of proving it, of course. But . . .
“It’s creepy, though,” she says looking up at me. And then her face softens to this kind of pleasant, compassionate gaze. “I like it very much. Thank you.”
I’ll be honest, I’m not real good at taking compliments or thank yous. I don’t know what to say. So I switch gears, “You look very nice, Angela.”
And then she just reaches out and grabs my wrist. “I want you to meet my friend. It’s my roomate Jesse.” Then she starts tugging me towards the front of the store, near the check-out registers.
I hope people don’t think I’ve just been caught shoplifting, the way she’s holding my wrist and all. About ten feet from the check-out registers she stops and turns to look at me. And this may be the closest we’ve ever been to each other. It’s so close that I’m not sure if I’m violating her personal space, or if it’s the other way around.
I take a half step backwards just to hedge it on the safe side.
“Jack . . . .did you do something different with your hair?”
“Huh?” I say, running my hand through my short-cropped hair. It can’t be longer than a half inch. I didn’t even know there were other things to do with short hair other than just, well, having it.
Then she giggles, “I’m kidding, you look nice. White is a good color for you.” And then we continue toward the registers.
I glance down at my shirt. I’m wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, which may seem a bit odd due to the fact that it is really hot outside this time of year. I’m just keeping my spiritual invisibility tattoos covered for now.
When we get to the register I’m introduced to a short girl with short blond hair that explodes in different directions. Her hair, it’s like a firecracker that just went off. But in a cool way. She’s trendy, this girl.
“This is my roommate, Jesse.”
Jesse smiles and extends her hand. She had black nail polish on her fingernails, and that’s a bit odd considering that she’s fairly attractive, and doesn’t seem like the Gothic type. Her eyes are light blue, and kind of narrow on her face. She has a unique look. I could see her in a rock video.
We shake hands and Jesse says, “You must be Jack.”
I glance over at Angela, and then back to Jesse. I nod.
“Angela told me a lot about you.”
Really? I say. I mean, there’s not that much to tell.
Jesse smiles, and she has big perfect teeth . . . and a tongue ring.
Did that hurt? I ask, tapping my tongue with my right index finger.
Then she moves her tongue around really fast making clickety-clackety noises on her teeth with the piercing. “It was worth it. It’s my own form of expression.” Then she lowers her voice, “My secret Mohawk.”
She should meet my tattoo artist, Chuck. They’d get along famously.
For whatever reason, I happen to glance down behind her and I think I saw just the hint of something that shouldn’t be here. And this quick flash of heat washes through my body, my heart rate climbing for an instant. I smile at her, kind of awkwardly and glance down again.
“What is it?” Jesse says, looking down around her.
I couldn’t see them when I was walking up, because the wooden counter blocked my view. But now that I’m right here near the register I can see them just fine. There are three of them.
And the thing is, I don’t know what to do. I can’t tell Jesse that the door-to-door salesman of death are starting to watch her. That would guarantee me being labeled a freaking lunatic. I’d be that weirdo guy that chases ghosts and sees shadows.
And I know that this is a difficult moment between all of us. I’m just sitting here, stupidly thinking of ways to tell this girl she’s done something to warrant a spook entourage. She’s dead soon. No way around it.
Nowhere to hide from it.
No stopping it.
The Jesse that is, today, will be the Jesse that was. My quick estimate is a week, maybe less. They aren’t bouncing around like crack junkies, yet, so she’s still got a little time. But only a little. And, this predicting death based on spook activity isn’t an exact science.
“Jack,” Angela says, “ . . . are you alright?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I apologize to them. “I just remembered something that I had forgotten back at the . . . at the office. It was very nice to meet you, Jesse. I hope to see you again.” And I wasn’t just saying that to be polite.
I take a few steps back, and turn around. Angela walks with me. “What’s going on? You okay?”
I say, Can I . . . I need to talk to you . . . about Jesse.
Angela’s face turns to something between concern and apprehension. “You can tell me, what is it? Do you know her or something? Did she do something?”
There’s no way to tell her what I want to tell her without guaranteeing that she’ll never speak to me again. So I consider my angle. We walk back towards her section, and then we turn into the isle.
Your roommate, Jesse, she doesn’t believe in God, does she?
Angela shakes her head, not sure where I’m going. “Well . . . she’s kind of an atheist, I guess. We don’t really talk about it much.” She shrugs, “She’s not super religious, no.”
I take a deep breath, letting it out slowly. I say, “Look, you need to take her to church, or read her the bible, or something, because it’s really important for her to establish some kind of relationship with God.”
“She’s got her whole life to figure things out,” Angela says, almost miffed that I would be so brazen as to try and convert somebody I just met.
Maybe she doesn’t, I say delicately.
“Doesn’t what?” Angela says, crossing her arms. She’s assuming the defensive posture, and I know that means she’s putting up barriers between us. I’m losing her before I get her. I’m destroying a foundation that hasn’t even been built.
“ . . . doesn’t have her whole life to figure things out,” I say. “Life is tricky and there’s no pattern to it. It’s your best day, and then it’s your worst day, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You can’t plan for the unthinkable.”
She’s looking at me differently. “I didn’t even know you were religious. What difference does it make to you if she believes in God or not? You never asked if I believed in God. Do I need to go to church and read the bible, too?”
Angela’s definitely offended by what I’ve said. And that’s perfectly understandable. She’s a self-reliant woman, who is confident and intelligent. And it’s an insult to both to try and push someone like that to your beliefs. It’s like saying, ‘you’re too dumb to make the right choice.’
Angela, I say carefully, I have a sense for these things. I think your friend is in real trouble if she doesn’t make some changes in her life. If you care about her you’ll trust me, and talk to her about God. Give her some reason to believe.
“But I’m not even sure I believe in God.”
“Well,” I say to her, “ . . . you’re not the one who’s going to die, soon.” And the second the words leave my mouth I regret saying them. I’ve blown it, for sure.
“What in the hell is wrong with you?” she says, and her eyes are very narrow and angry. This girl doesn’t want to talk to me, probably ever again.
“I just have a feeling about these kinds of things. Please trust me.”
She reaches out and takes her book back, and there is so much disappointment in her face.
I tell her, I’m sorry, Angela.
And then I turn around and walk away. She doesn’t say anything to stop me. Then again, why should she? On my way to the glass doors I see a spook lumber past me, slowing down a couple of feet away and checking me out, then hurrying on to the business at hand.
Now I have to worry about the restraining order, for real.