Jack crushed his cigarette into the ashtray then reached for another from the pack that was sitting on the dashboard of his car. Absently, he lit the new cigarette, his second of the two he allowed himself each day, as he stared through the rain washed windshield and into the coffee shop across the street.
Lisa was in there. He’d seen her enter the shop just as he had pulled into his parking slot. She hadn’t seen his car, but then she wasn’t looking for him. As he smoked, he watched her order something from the counter, then walk to one of the tables and sit facing towards the door. She then reached into the satchel she had set on the floor beside her and pulled out a sheaf of papers.
For several minutes, nothing happened. Lisa sat quietly drinking from her cup, as she looked over the papers, pen in hand which she used every so often. It began to rain harder, so Jack turned his ignition to auxiliary so he could turn on his windshield wipers. In between the back and forth movement of the wiper blades, the glare of headlights from passing cars made visibility more difficult. Jack considered getting out of his car for a better view, but he didn’t want to risk being seen by anyone, at least not yet.
Cars passing by on the street caused Jack to remember when he first saw Lisa, on a rainy night much like this one. It had been a fairly quiet evening at the auto parts store where Jack worked. Jack was putting the last remnants of a shipment away, carefully lining up boxes of fuel filters when she entered.
“Can you help me?” She said as she approached the counter.
“What do you need?” Jack replied as he put the last box in place and walked towards her.
“I think I need new windshield wiper blades. The ones I have now are just pushing the rain drops around. I can’t see a thing when it’s raining hard.”
Jack led her to the wiper display. He could see her blue Nissan parked right outside. It was the only one in the lot besides his and his manager’s who was somewhere in the back of the store.
“These should do nicely for you.” He said, picking a package up off the display and handing it to her to look at. He then noticed how short she was, barely coming to his shoulder. Her petite, fragile looking features made her look almost child-like. Only the obvious curves gave clues as to her real age.
“Oh, good. I’ll take them.” She said taking the package from Jack.
She walked with him to the checkout. As he rang her purchase up, she asked him to help put the new blades on her car, admitting a complete lack of skill in that realm. Jack had taken off the old blades and replaced them with the new ones as she stood beside him holding an umbrella over them both. Jack still remembered the smell of her perfume, a light flowery scent that he later learned was of jasmine.
“Thanks so much for all your help.” She had said, climbing into her car.
“Anytime, and come again soon.” It was the standard statement he made to customers every day, but for her he meant it. The scent of her perfume lingered in the store for a few minutes after she left but it stayed in his memory long after she drove off.
Jack had the same wiper blades on his own car and he watched them for a moment as they went back and forth, slowly, consistently stripping the water away to the sides of his windshield. They were worth the premium price you paid for them. He put the cigarette package into the glove compartment, and then took out a container of handi-wipes which he used to remove the last traces of nicotine from his fingers.
Lisa reached into her purse and pulled out her cell phone, looked at it for a moment then set it down on the table. Jack looked at his watch to see what time it actually was. 8:03 the watch read.
“I’m late.” She had said, as she stood on the other side of the gas pump from him. “I’m supposed to be at my friend’s wedding in fifteen minutes and silly me forgot that I needed gas”
“Well you look nice.” Jack had told her from his own side of the pump.
“That’s real sweet, but celery green is not my color.”
Jack didn’t agree. He thought that Lisa’s dress was perfect and displayed her soft curls wonderfully. He loved her hair up with the tendrils hanging down along her face. He wanted to tell her that, but instead said. “I hope you have a great time and pass along my well wishes to the bride and groom.”
“Thanks. I will.” She put the gas nozzle back onto its slot. “I sure hope Gretchen doesn’t mind the smell of gasoline, because I feel that I reek of it.”
“I have some hand wipes that may help.” Jack said quickly.
“Really? Oh that would be wonderful. Can I have one?”
Jack opened his door, reached into glove compartment and got a wipe out for Lisa. She used it on her hands and then started to walk to the nearby trashcan to throw out.
“Oh I’ll throw that away for you.” Jack had said. “You’re late for a wedding remember?”
“Yes I am. Thanks again.”
Too soon, Lisa climbed into hers and drove off, with a hand waving goodbye through the window. Jack had folded the used sanitation wipe Lisa handed to him, and put it into his pocket.
Jack realized he’d finished his second cigarette, and added it to the one in the ashtray. After waiting a moment for things to cool, he pulled out a plastic bag, that he kept in the console, and emptied the ashes into it. Tying the top of the bag together, he set it on the floor of the passenger side of his car for later disposal. He could still see Lisa sitting across the way. His heart skipped a beat when he saw someone approach, but then he saw it was just a staff member refilling her cup. They’d shared their first coffee very near this coffee shop not so long ago.
Jack had been called for jury duty, only to discover Lisa was also there for the same reason. They’d spent a couple of hours waiting to see if they’d find themselves on a jury. While they waited, they sipped on bad vending machine coffee.
“Ugh, this stuff is awful” He remembered her saying. “You’d think in a court of law that they’d have something that didn’t break all the rules of good coffee.”
Jack had found Lisa’s humor charming. “You’re funny.” He’d said, and was granted with a beautiful smile. Over the next hour, they chatted while waiting for the bailiff to come in and announce jury names. Jack learned that Lisa was a recent graduate from college and was working as a fourth grade teacher. They apparently both loved baseball, but followed different teams. Lisa loved sushi, and spent several minutes trying to convince a dubious Jack on the delights of that particular cuisine. She already knew his occupation and had asked him if he was married. He wasn’t, he admitted She’d smiled at that, patted his arm, and said, “Well maybe the perfect woman just hadn’t shown up yet.”
Before he could reply, his name was called. He’d been selected for a jury. Lisa said goodbye to Jack, and winked at him when she added, “good luck.”
Luck was what he was pinning everything on now, what he’d been pinning his hopes on for the several months that had passed since he first saw Lisa. He looked to the seat beside him. A bundle of yellow roses and a gift bag sat there. The gift bag was small; white with an attractive array of green scroll work woven throughout the paper. Yellow tissue paper peeped out from the top, and a gift tag with Lisa’s name dangled from the handle. He had been waiting, planning for the perfect time for the perfect woman.
Perfect timing had been on his side six weeks ago, when Jack just happened to see Lisa pass by in her car at an intersection. As luck would have it, his car was positioned so that it was easy to make a turn and follow Lisa’s car. Jack had been hoping to see Lisa again, but hadn’t seen her since their last chance meeting, at a pharmacy; her to pick up a greeting card, him for a prescription. He’d been hoping for another chance. Jack followed Lisa’s car into a townhouse complex and stopped far enough behind her, yet close enough to get a good idea which town house was hers. It was a simple matter from then to add a drive by her house to his daily tasks. Over the next several weeks he learned her routine. He knew that she went to the gym three afternoons a week, that she occasionally attended the First Presbyterian Church downtown, that her favorite fast food drive-thru was at the Wendys on Morgan street, which was between her town house and the elementary school where she worked. He also knew about this coffee shop he now was parked across the street from. She tended to go there on Thursdays and spend an hour grading what Jack assumed were test papers.
One day she came back into the store where Jack worked. He was returning from a dinner break to see her standing at the counter talking to a co-worker. He was quite surprised to see her there, and wondered if she knew that he’s been studying up on her.
“Oh, hi there.” She had said. “I didn’t see you, or else I would have waited for you to wait on me.”
Jack, caught off guard, didn’t reply.
“But that’s ok,” Lisa went on.” Your friend here helped me pick out the perfect gift for my dad.” She held up a small red envelope which Jack knew contained a gift card his store often sold to customers.
“Gotta fly. “ Lisa said. “See you around.” She walked out the door, as Jack took a step forward hand raised as if to wave farewell. He stood there a second, then dropped his hand. He looked over to Drew, his co-worker, to see if he had noticed Jack’s response. But Drew was on the phone with his wife again having what appeared to be another argument. Jack wanted the store to himself again, with rain falling down outside, and just he and Lisa in the room together.
Jack watched the rain start to dissipate outside. He mentally went over that routine, and all he had done in preparation for this night. He’d followed all the steps perfectly. Everything was in place. All he was waiting on now was for Lisa to make her move. Her saw her stand up, look at her cell phone again, and then shrug into her jacket. It was time.
Quickly Jack grabbed the flowers and the bag then got out of his car. Jogging across the street, he managed to get inside the coffee shop and a few steps from the door, before Lisa had a chance to get but a few steps from her table. She looked up and smiled that beautiful smile he loved.
“Sorry, I’m late babe.” A voice behind Jack said.
“I was about to give up on you.” Lisa said, crossing quickly across the room, wrapping her arms around the man who had entered the coffee shop seconds after Jack.
Jack stood there holding the flowers trying to comprehend just what had gone wrong. He watched Lisa and this interloper embrace. Where had he come from? Jack had researched carefully to see that there was no one to stand in his way. Yet there this man was, holding Lisa, Jack’s perfect woman.
“Oh, hi Jack.” He heard Lisa say.” I see you have flowers. Did you meet someone special?”
Jack stood there for a moment looking down at the bouquet. “Err, yes. Yes I did.” He finally replied.
“Well good for you.”
Lisa’s boyfriend said. “Come on babe, let’s go. We can still catch the 10:30 o’clock show.”
As they left Jack heard him say. “Traffic was brutal getting here. Next time I come to visit, I’m leaving work early, even if I have to sneak out in a laundry truck.” Lisa’s laughter faded as the door closed behind them.
Jack watched the couple leave then angrily threw the flowers in the trash can by the door. A couple of the flowers didn’t make their way in into the can, scattering themselves about on the floor. Jack spent a few moments crushing them forcibly with his shoe. Looking up, he saw people staring at him. He then turned quickly and walked outside the door of the coffee shop. Once outside, he forced himself to tamp down the anger that threatened to overtake. He chaffed at what he’d missed, vowing never to allow such a thing to happen again. The rain returned, falling harder now, cooling his face and his temper
Lisa had failed him, and in her failure it was obvious that she was far from the perfect woman. He pulled a folded square from out of his shirt pocket, and let it fall to the pavement unheeded. Lisa would be discarded as easily as he had discarded her handi-wipe. He walked back to his car where he opened the trunk. There he opened the box which sat next to his tools. He put Lisa’s gift bag next to the box. It would be disposed of later. He reached into the box pulling out another gift bag from beside its neighbors. This one was blue with silver butterflies dancing across the surface. The name Emily was written on the gift bag’s tag. The quest for the perfect woman continued on.