"What are you doing here?"
Jackson Rippner lifted his head, a slight look of surprise crossed his face as he snapped shut the thick paperback book he held.
"Hello, Lisa." He smiled pleasantly up at me.
I glared back at him. "What are you doing here!" I hissed again.
I was standing in the middle of the biography section of the West Pico Barnes and Noble on a Saturday afternoon at the beginning of April. It had been about six weeks since our bizarro-world meeting and, much to my relief, I had not seen him since.
Jackson frowned and looked around, as though he were genuinely confused. "I'm sorry?"
I clenched my teeth and put my hand on my hip. "Don't play dumb, Jackson. I said, what are you doing!"
His eyes narrowed for a moment before an unnervingly placid expression settled over his features. He raised one eyebrow and held up his paperback as proof. The cover of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces in all its cartoonish garishness caught my eye. I recognized it immediately, of course. It was a copy of the same book I'd had on my nightstand back home six weeks ago when Jackson had picked the lock on my back door and yanked me through my kitchen window.
"I am not doing anything. I am calmly reading."
He leaned back into the over-stuffed chair, brought his right leg up over his left knee, and settled back comfortably into his previous position. He cracked open his book again and began reading, ignoring me.
I could feel my mouth twisting into a sour expression as I stood there looking at him. "So, what, you're stalking me now? Is that it?"
He sighed and closed his book again. "Last I heard, this was still a free country – though I'm not sure how long that's going to last," he muttered to himself. I scowled at him.
"How long have you been here?" I demanded.
He turned his wrist and glanced at his watch. "About forty minutes longer than you, it would seem. Who's following whom, now, Leese?"
"So, out of all the bookstores in the Los Angeles area, you just happen to patronize this one? Today, of all days?"
"Well, it is the closest one to my house, so…"
I recoiled at the thought that he might actually be living in my neighborhood. Great. Running into Jackson Rippner at the corner coffee shop or during my morning run would be such a great way to start my day from now on.
"What's so special about today, anyway?"
"You said, 'Today, of all days.'"
"Oh. Well, it's April first."
"April Fool's day?"
"Riiiight," he nodded.
"And you expect me to believe this is a coincidence?"
He shrugged and smiled, batting his ridiculously long eyelashes. "Maybe it's fate?"
I rolled my eyes and shifted my stack of books from one arm to the other. "Hardly. What it is, is you…following me around, trying to freak me out. Well, these tactics are not going to work, okay, Jackson? They are not going to work!" I hissed in righteous indignation.
He sighed that world-weary sigh in the way he does - the way a parent would sigh when they're at their rope's end with an irrational child. I really wanted to hit him.
Jackson stood up, rising to his feet with a kind of languid ease that I associated with him - and cobras. I immediately took a step back.
He brushed back the sides of his jacket and planted his hands firmly on his hips. "I'm really disappointed, Lisa. I thought we were past all this." Christ, he sounded like a high school principal.
"I don't know what you could be expecting. You turn up - not once, but twice, out of the blue – and you act like we're old acquaintances…"
"You don't like me on your turf. I get it. If it's all right with you, Officer Krupke, I'll just buy my book and go."
"Stop the presses. Did you just reference West Side Story?"
"I believe so."
I looked up to the ceiling in an expectant manner.
"What are you doing?" he asked, parroting me this time.
"Looking for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I'm expecting them any minute now…"
He laughed. Actually laughed. Out loud.
"It wasn't that funny," I said after a minute of watching his shoulders shake in an attempt to suppress his own laughter. I think he might have snorted, too.
He finally pulled himself together and his infuriatingly placid demeanor returned. "No, you're right. It wasn't that funny. I just can't get over the fact that you actually have a sense of humor."
I threw my hand up, shaking my head. "Every time we meet, you're always insulting me," I said. "And anyway, isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?"
"I have a great sense of humor."
I nodded. "Uh huh. Forgive me for retaining a healthy level of skepticism. Unless… Would this oh-so-great sense of humor include bizarre pseudo-dates involving pancakes?"
"You're forgiven… and actually it would involve bizarre pseudo-marriage proposals."
My shoulders slumped in utter mortification. "Oh, god," I muttered. "I was hoping that had been a drunken hallucination."
"Ouch!" He clutched at his chest in mock-pain and then chuckled. "I unburden my soul to you and get brutally rebuffed? You're a mean, mean girl, Lisa Reisert."
I tried not to smile. "Better rejection than a pen in the throat."
He flinched. "Hmm. True," he agreed. I grinned.
I was starting to feel a little bad. He really had been nothing but perfectly affable during our recent encounters – mild jibes aside - and I here I was, being a total bitch to him. Again. I shuffled the load of books in my arms, gnawed at the inside of my cheek, and tried to think of something to say.
"Well," he said after a moment, "good seeing you, Leese."
I was about to say, You too, but instead I said, "You…don't have to leave."
It sounded oddly desperate to my own ears and I quickly covered with: "I was just going to grab a coffee and check out, so…"
"Coffee sounds good," he said brightly, flashing a brilliant, million-watt smile, and he took my books right out of my arms before I could say anything else.
"Uh..." I stuttered, floundering for words: I didn't mean let's have coffee together... I have somewhere to be… I don't think that's a good idea… Instead I made a few vowel sounds at his retreating back. He headed toward the café, not turning back once to see if I was even following.
I looked around, wondering if anyone else in Barnes and Noble had noticed the universe was slightly off-kilter this morning; but no. They were all blissfully unaware, the lucky bastards.
I snapped my gaping mouth shut and shrugged, resigned, in that moment, to bear whatever fate had in store for me with grace and fortitude.
If that didn't work, I had mace.
Sorry it's so short! Another update is coming, I swear!