'Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.' Josh Billings
"Oh, God. That guy's here again."
Stacy looked up from her computer quickly. "Who, Greg?"
Carla turned away from the window and rolled her eyes. " 'Who, Greg?' is not the right response when someone tells you your stalker's back."
"He's not a stalker," she interrupted, then hastily hardened her voice. "He's just a jerk."
"…And then they found her dismembered body in a trashcan," Carla finished in a sing-song voice.
"Oh, please," Stacy said, swallowing the last dregs of her first coffee of the day. "He'll go away when he realises I'm not interested."
"Like he did yesterday?" Carla demanded from her desk by the window, accompanied by some self-righteous stapling. "He bought a newspaper from the stand across the street and then sat reading it for over an hour. And he kept looking up at the building."
"He can't see us; this is the eighth floor."
"So … that makes it okay? Do people's lives not depend on your character judgement?"
Stacy thought about making a cutting remark, but finally shrugged and smiled. "What's he doing?"
Carla glanced over her shoulder. "He's sitting on the terrace of the café across the street."
"What? He's wearing knee-length black shorts and a white shirt – could be Nike, afraid I can't tell from this height – a pair of sunglasses and jogging shoes. He has a bottle of water and some kind of pastry in front of him. Is that enough?"
Stacy attempted to re-affix her eyes to the emailed article she had been reading. "I don't care. I have work to do," she feigned detachment, "I'm pretty sure I can outlast him."
Just before eleven, she snapped.
"This is insane. It's been almost three hours. I'm going down there."
"You go, girl," Carla deadpanned dryly, not looking up from her computer screen.
She marched down to the street floating on righteous indignation and barely looking out for traffic. He didn't even flinch as she approached. Finally, when she drew to a halt at his side and prepared to open fire, he cocked his head at her and glanced over the top of the dark glasses. A slight frown of confusion marred his brow.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
She kept it down to a low hiss out of respect for the other customers. "What exactly are you trying to achieve, apart from convincing my entire office that you're a nutjob?"
"Well, that's a start," he riposted nonchalantly. "As it happens, and, as evidenced by my all-too-appropriate clothing, I was out for a run and happened to feel like," he swung his head back and looked at the sign above him, "French-Danish food. Which would explain the snails in this pastry."
"Great," she interrupted. "And I'm glad you're wearing your jogging gear. I like to think that when I call the cops, you'll have a fair chance."
He eased into an irritating smile that left her curiously un-irritated.
"If you were going to call the cops, you'd have done it yesterday. And I'm not doing anything wrong."
She hesitated, then drew out the seat next to him and sat down. "Listen, I know our date didn't go too well-" she began, in a conciliatory tone.
"Actually, up until you threw the water in my face, it was more or less as planned," he shot back, but his voice had grown suddenly devoid of that childish teasing whine, and the cocky grin had faded. He sounded jaded, ironic and faintly despairing. His eyes, over the sunglasses, were roaming uncomfortably and his fingers drummed incessantly on the tabletop. A cloud shaded the street, and he pulled off the dark glasses. His eyes were slightly bloodshot and underscored by bags. He looked at her, then quickly fixed his stare on the table.
It remained there for almost a minute. She wasn't sure what to say. She wanted to suggest another date, a retry, but she was too damn proud. Instead, she slowly stood up.
"I think I'd better-"
"Goddammit, why do you," he broke off, shook his head jerkily, eyes still down, and let out a frustrated, tense laugh, "why do you have to make this so damn hard? All I wanted to say is that you're smart, funny, smokin' hot … and I just want you to give me another chance to … well, I can't prove I'm not a jerk, but I was hoping to at least warm you to the idea of dating a jerk. I mean, I'm pretty much a jackass – no redeeming qualities, but I hear some chicks dig that…" he trailed off.
There was a long silence as she tried to absorb the disjointed phrases muttered at great speed.
"I'm guessing you don't do the whole romantic-declaration thing a lot," she said slowly.
He looked up, the boyish smile back in place.
"I can honestly say that I've never done it before in my life. Also, I haven't apologised to anyone since I was about eight."
"Oh, God – was there supposed to be an apology in there?" she laughed. "You're not great at this, are you? I suppose …" she paused, wondering whether she was completely crazy, "you could have another go if you take me to dinner on Friday."
His face didn't show whatever relief or satisfaction or outright joy he may or may not have felt. A quick lip twitch of satisfaction was the sum of his expression. She stood, hands on hips, blushing at her own lack of guile.
"Fine. You've twisted my arm," he heaved an exaggerated sigh. "What time shall I pick you up?"