He wasn't much to look at. At least I told myself that the first time he walked away from me wearing that grin. Just a brown skinned tallish man of almost forty who needed a haircut. He was too thin like he was used to not eating. Which wasn't true. I later found out he ate a great deal but never the kinds of foods I imagined an almost forty skinny man would eat.
His name is Charlies and the first time we met, he said I stole his heart. It was at a grocery store one late Thursday evening. I had gone to see a movie after work and then to drinks with some friends. The movie was forgettable, the drinks not so much. It was summer and every night during summer is a reason to sit on a random patio and chase a few beers with stories of 'that one time we' and 'remember when's. Our laughter spilled over the worn wooden boards of the patio and on to the street, passers by finding themselves smiling as they walked on. I would have stayed on that patio until the bar closed but I promised a friend I would make her cookies. I said good bye three times before I actually left, the joy of the evening evident in the smile that wouldn't leave my face.
Though I was sleepy, I wasn't in a hurry to find my bed so I drove to the all night market in the nice part of town and strolled down the isles. I thought of summer barbecues long past as I absently dropped items into my basket. I remembered wanting to make fried pickles and wandered to the isle which held the neatly stacked jars. It was in this isle that I first spotted him.
He was reading an ingredient label so intently he didn't notice I said excuse me. I wanted the customary few moments before again saying, this time with feeling, "Excuse me." He jumped a little and looked at me puzzled, like he'd forgotten where he was. I reached for a jar of pickles on the shelf in front of him and smiled slightly. He returned the smile and apologized for being in my way. I shook my head and said, " You have nothing to apologize for. That label must be very well written."
He laughed and said something about how it could use an editor. I smiled and turned to go. "Do you like that brand best?" I heard him call out. I turned and now he a jar in each hand, a look of sincerity on his face. His light blue button down shirt had wilted in the heat, the crispness of the starch gone. His pants were in better shape, still creased but out of place atop of rubber flip flops. He closed the small gap between us and as I spoke, I could smell leather and old spice.
"I like this brand just fine. It's perfectly average." A small grin grew on his face at my answer. He relaxed a little and I noticed that the frame around his green eyes were bent.
"I guess if you are buying pickles from this place, you can't expect more than average," his reply tinged with disappointment. He placed both the jars back on the shelf and turned back to me. "What are you going to make with those average pickles anyway?" I started to walk toward the front of the store and he followed.
"I'm going to make fried pickles. It's the best way to transform anything average into fantastic," I said noticing how comfortable I was talking to this stranger.
"You are a wise woman," he replied and I thanked him. We talked all the way to the cash register and after I checked out, he offered to walk me to my car. I told him I couldn't let him do that, I would make it too easy for this van of kidnappers to spot me. He laughed and said he only kidnaps people on weekends. Our conversation ebbed and flowed as walked to my car. I was vaguely aware of time passing but wasn't sure in which direction.
After minutes or hours or days of talking in the almost vacant parking lot, he asked if we could maybe talk again in a different setting, some place that had already prepared food. I replied I would enjoy talking in a quiet booth in a dimly lit restaurant where live jazz peppered the air. He asked if Jane Austin was a friend of mine, an old one I answered.
I give him my number and he left me with a happy smile and promises of frequent calls to reassure himself that I was not a figment of his imagination.
I wanted to love him.