An "Un-Remarkable Girl"

        by dj otterson

Part Two -- Perennial Dusk




    I don't know whether it was nerves, the strangeness of being in a place I'd never been before- a little extra bit of awareness I absorbed from Randy and Cheryl, or what- But by the time the woman's shift at the pizza place ended, everything felt and almost looked different- The night took on a 'dream like' quality. I got the distinct impression that everyone who walked by us was shuffling through a dream- and none of them had any control over their actions. Luckily, I thought, none of them were being controlled by any violent urges.
    I glanced at Cheryl and she looked like she was aware of my discomfort with the idea that none of the people out there were actually in control of their lives or themselves.
    Her eyes looked like they adjusted to register pleasant surprise at something she saw in me- Then she leaned back into the shadows and almost disappeared. 
    When my eyes registered the presence of her shadow within the shadows of the back seat, I may have sighed audibly. I'm not sure. I know I was relieved to think that she couldn't actually make herself literally invisible.
    Randy half turned toward the back seat as he watched the pizza woman and her current man friend say good night to the man who locked the door behind her, "The apartment on the second floor's still vacant, isn't it? Think Geoff would let him stay there a couple days- until his car is ready?"
    The shadow nodded, "He even mentioned that- I think we have clean sheets and blankets and towels- It would take me, maybe two minutes to gather up that stuff and it's just across the hall-"
     I realized they were talking about me- arranging a place for me to stay. I don't know whether I was happier about them caring about me or my figuring out what they were talking about,. "I'm exhausted-"
     I could feel Cheryl smiling at me

    As Randy drove us back to the restaurant/apartment house I felt a little apprehensive that I didn't know my way around this city at all. If left on my own, I would be completely lost. But I also felt more relaxed than usual, almost as if friendly molecules of air were rushing toward my forehead and running down my temples and almost tickling me as they passed.
     He turned a corner and drove up, onto the sidewalk, and stopped about six inches short of a wooden fence between a Brick wall and a stone building. His sideways grin gave me the impression that he'd been hoping I'd be at least slightly shocked by his driving, "Don't go nowhere-" he had an amused tone to his voice.
     Randy turned sideways, kind of glided out of his seat and took a few steps toward the wall. I couldn't see exactly what he did, but he must have unlatched something. The wooden fence became a gate when he picked it up and pushed it back into the night. Headlights revealed a narrow alley and then a wider area of darkness ahead.
     And Randy slid back into his seat and eased his vehicle forward. A motion detector lit a light on a wall that was back about six feet from the outside edge of a wooden porch- Wooden beams cast shadows, I realized a fog had gradually stated itself. Bits of moisture in the air caught the light and almost twinkled-
    "Here's where we get out-" Cheryl almost giggled, like she was reminding herself and found that amusing.
     I sort of automatically guessed I was part of that 'we' and opened my door, stepped out and pulled my seat back out of her way so she could climb out through my door.
     She was not as tall as I'd thought she was. Her eyes were not as small as the eyes of the girl in Geoff's sketch- It did register that there was something remarkable about her eyes- but I couldn't tell what-
     She stepped around me as I closed the door.
     The door closed with a solid thud that sounded a bit 'removed', distinct but distant? Randy stepped on the gas and the vehicle quietly moved backward and then angled toward the brick building, where several garage doors hinted at that building's function.
     Cheryl laughed through her nose and I turned to see her open the door with a key. I got the impression that she was having a bit of difficulty getting used to the idea of carrying a purse around with her.
     Subdued lighting in the hallway- The odd impression that echoes from our feet went on forever- I followed her into a world that was relaxed, but alien- If someone told me I'd been drugged at this point I would have believed it.
     She opened a door into a stairwell and we climbed. Our echoes didn't continue on into forever any more, but they seemed unnaturally crisp.
     The turns at the top of each leg of the climb made me feel like I'd spend the rest of eternity turning around.(There was a landing halfway to the second floor- a glance up near the railing gave me the impression that there might have been four stories to this building- I wondered why I hadn't stepped outside in the daylight to figure that out. Then I wondered what I'd done all day. -followed Geoff up into his studio- got a look at the portable room on wheels he'd built for Cheryl- did not have the guts to actually go inside the thing, (felt too much like trespassing in somebody's private world) but I did look inside and thought it looked 'cozy'. I sat on a chair that had been a car seat and watched Geoff put on a welder's mask. I sat there, half in awe, as he fiddled with hunks of metal and rods and created a fairly large wall hanging that looked like metal ivy- We went down into the restaurant to eat something, I got out my credit card, but Geoff wouldn't let me pay for it, "You're my guest-" and then Randy came in, dressed in black (or real dark blue?) with his little Karate patches and his night stick and looked at me with his hawk like eyes. I think we ate some kind of brown rice and big chunky vegetable thing and I called the auto repair place and got a recording and Randy asked me if I wanted to go sit with him while he kept an eye on a woman who was afraid she was being stalked.) 
     Here it was, almost midnight, and I was following Cheryl around like an overgrown puppy.
     She led us out of the stairway, walked to a door, unlocked it, "Just a second, let me make sure Geoff isn't sitting around naked or anything-" She disappeared for a moment into a grey mist and returned with a smile, "It's safe-"
     She flipped a wall switch as I walked into the grey mist and a room materialized around us. The lights she'd turned on were fake candles in a candelabra in the wall. All the walls were white or off white. There was a fireplace (painted white) which had a large square of metal (painted white) bolted in place to render it useless, a pretty large mirror over the fireplace with a lot of tiny squares of mirror all around the edge- I took a couple steps toward the mirror and realized the ceiling was very high and then realized that the little guy looking up at me was me, in the mirror.
     I heard the floor creak and turned around as Cheryl handed me a pile of sheets, blankets and towels and then I was following her again- out into the hall, a couple more steps- she stopped at a door that was almost directly across the hall from the door we'd just been through and back- I glanced sideways and wondered how far the hallway went, and wondered if the inside dimensions of this building anywhere near matched the outside dimensions...
     She tried a couple keys, shrugged, might have blushed and then got it right-
     It took her a moment to find the light switch and the light in there was too harsh-
     She turned and stepped into the room. I took a step forward and glanced down at a rather unique, probably antique, end table- it was curved like it was supposed to fit in a corner, had what looked like leather built into it, had a pair of drawers above the largest flat area and an open space on either side of those drawers, I guessed, for books- I don't know whether it was the lighting, or my state of mind or what, but I could swear the darned table was sentient. If it sighed and walked away I might have taken that right in stride. It seemed surprised to see me- I blinked and stepped sideways into the 'living room'.
     This living room was basically a mirror image of the one across the hall (without the mirror- I thought would have been spooky). The floor was mostly covered in a brown linoleum thing that was in pretty sad shape (black, worn spots abounded). The walls were white, but sections of the walls had just been fixed and the white in these spots was a whiter, chalkier white than the rest of the wall. The fire place here, almost identical to the one across the hall- had not been painted white, but had been stained a chestnut brown. There were sections where the stain needed help- it looked sad. The metal plate bolted in place to cover the area where a fire could have been was rusted brown and black. There was a black fake leather couch in the center of the room with a couple tears in its fabric through which white cotton stuff was trying to escape. 
    There was a hexagonal extension to this room that I hadn't noticed in the room across the hall. Large, thin pieces of material (that almost resembled Persian rugs) had been tacked up inside the windows of this hexagonal area and kind of lent their blues and browns to the whole room.
     I followed Cheryl through a kitchen with a breakfast nook (and another thin piece of Persian inspired cotton in the window) past a bathroom and into a large bedroom. The bedroom had a double sized mattress on the floor and a blue corduroy covered recliner and a tall dresser that needed a bit of attention (broken bits of the curved stained facade were missing- It looked proud of itself and I got the impression that it was trying to pretend that it hadn't suffered the indignation of any broken pieces of its brave front-
     Cheryl pointed at the bed and I set the blankets and stuff down on the recliner, looked around, She said something, but the echoes in the place garbled ever word and I followed her back to the door- She made a side trip to a thermostat and I caught a glimpse of dust swirling through a ray of electric light that managed to sneak in around the slight curved opening between the fabric and the wooden edge of the window-
     In spite of the sad fixtures and furniture, the place had a 'safe' feel-
     I blurted as Cheryl was about to open the door and escape, "Is this place blessed?"
     She turned and her eyes widened- "You can feel it? Yes- Our former tenant was superstitious and went and got a Catholic priest to bless the place before he moved into it."
     "Why did he leave?"
     She shrugged, "Transferred to another college- I think-"
     I nodded.
     She smiled- "See you in the morning-"
     I nodded.
     She kind of bowed and left.
     The door closed with a quiet, but somehow 'final' click.
     I reached out automatically and locked the locks (three of them.)
     I don't know whether I had to go to the bathroom, but I sort of watched myself walk into that room and turn on the light. Blinded by what looked like brand new (or newly polished) white tiles (with a border of smaller, two-tone blue tiles). I wondered if I'd heard her say something like, "The bathroom is all newly cleaned and restored-" The tub had sliding glass doors (and a mat with suction cups lying upside down on the wide flattened top of the large porcelain tub itself-) I saw my hand go out and touch the old style spigots and 'heard', "Be careful about the hot water- it's very hot- and don't worry about running out-"
     I turned around and almost thought I saw a black and white sketch of a nine year old girl come to life. That girl in my imagination was standing there looking at me. That portrait was haunting me-
     The shower was magic- I could have stood there forever- then I panicked and wondered if I'd had enough sense to go get the towels- Turned the water off, opened the door and yes, there were towels there, on the white pre-sentient marble over the chestnut (restored?) cabinets near the oversized shell motif sink- I imagined the room in green and almost thought I was in a forest where a magical set of bathroom facilities had materialized out of nowhere-
     Dried, wrapped in the largest towel, I walked barefoot to the bedroom. I grabbed the blankets and turned around in time to watch a mouse see me and turn and run across the mattress. I froze for a moment, turned and looked at the recliner and the next thing I knew, I was wrapped in blankets, reclining in the recliner with my clothes on top of the dresser and every light in the apartment was out- A blue, white and brown pattern from the fabric covering the bedroom windows felt like it became three dimensional and filled the room. I could have sworn the recliner turned and floated out into the night. I know I went somewhere- but I blinked and it was getting lighter outside- I felt cheated- like I hadn't really slept- so I yawned and closed my eyes.
     A while later I opened my eyes and jumped, looked at my wrist- 10 A.M.
     At ten fifteen I was dressed and wandering around, lost in the first floor hallway. I found a door to the street, stepped out, realized I was locked outside when the door shut- So I wandered around the block, more terrified with each step that I'd stepped into another dimension and might never find my way back-
    But then I turned the right corner and saw the restaurant right there and solid in front of me.
     Geoff looked up when I came through the door, grinned, glanced at the door that Randy had come through the evening before.
     I turned around and assured myself that the sun was shining out there somewhere and the sunlight actually touched the sidewalk I'd just been walking on-
     "Hungry?"
     I nodded, sat down at the counter.
     I was almost finished with the eggs and toast when somebody sat down beside me, "Call about your car yet?"
     I shook my head and turned to recognize Randy.
     Geoff set a plate full of toast and a bowl of hot oatmeal in front of Randy and refilled my coffee cup-
     "Did you say you had to be anywhere in the next couple days?" Randy sampled his oatmeal.
     I shook my head, "As a matter of fact, I was on my way home from a weekend at a friend's- I've got like two weeks of vacation before a severance check comes in- pink slip time."
     Randy raised his eyebrows as he stared at his oatmeal, "Think you could handle a night job, wandering around an empty warehouse, punching time clocks every fifteen minutes?"
     I shrugged.
     "Pay isn't bad- Right now, this job is a fill in- ten hours Saturday night, ten hours Sunday night and Eight hours Monday night."
    "Tonight?"
     Randy nodded- "Guy just quit last night- One free uniform if they have your size- then a uniform allowance if you last six months-"
     I nodded.
     He shrugged- "After Breakfast- I can drive you to your car and over to the agency, we can fill out the paperwork and you don't mind being finger printed, do you?"
     I shook my head.
     "Ever taken any Martial Arts training?"
     I shook my head, "Used to drive my neighbor's kids to their Karate Classes and the instructor had the whole class show off their warm up routines in front of me a couple times.
     Randy shrugged, "I'll tell the boss you're a beginning student of mine- he pays an extra buck an hour for that." 

     We got the keys to my car while the mechanic was busy with another customer. I almost choked at the smell inside the car. One suitcase in the back seat, two in the trunk. I noticed Randy and the mechanic talking and grabbed my tool box, jack and lug wrench.
    Everything safe in Randy's power wagon, I walked in on their conversation.
     Randy noticed I was there, "Oh, Jake, this is Jack-"
     I offered to shake his hand.
     Jake scowled at the layers of grease on his hand and shook the air a few inches in front of my hand- "One of Randy's students, huh? My kid has improved from a C average to A minus since we been taking him to Randy's 'Karate for Kids' class- broke a couple lamps, but I think he's a lot happier than he used to be-"
     I nodded.
     Jake sighed, "Anyway, I told Randy, your car ain't worth fixin- cost more than its worth in just labor to rig a whole new electric harness and all the hoses and belts are melted- I tell ya what though- I got this blue four wheel drive automatic Subaru station wagon that needs brake lines, it's got a fairly new motor and doesn't look like much, but its good for another hundred and fifty thousand miles- can't kill them suckers- it's yours for a thousand-"
     I did some quick calculating. Severance pay would more than cover that- Insurance? Registration? I could see the car outside in a line with three other cars- "How old is it?"
     We walked outside-
     Unlocked it- smelled like air freshener- cloth seats. I moved the seat back and liked the feel- flipped open the compartment behind the shift lever, opened the glove compartment- spotless-
     "...Passed inspection- no problem there..." floors and behind the back seat- also spotless, I glanced toward the odometer- "Eight hundred is as low as I can go- but then, if anything strange pops up when I'd doing the brakes, that'd have to be extra."
     I looked at Randy. Randy nodded.
     More calculation- "I've got a check that will more than cover that coming in about two weeks- right now...I, um, think I have about three hundred available on my credit card-"
     Jake blushed, "Eight hundred includes your car as a trade in- I have a friend who can use the parts-" he glanced at Randy.
    I shrugged.
     "Two hundred on your card and six more in two weeks, when your check comes?" Jake looked thoughtful, "Might take me a couple days- to get the parts and get to the brakes-" I noticed clouds reflected in the station wagon's window- looked around and everything was kind of grey and subdued. Jake was wearing greasy grey coveralls, Randy was dressed in black jeans and a black jacket and wore mirrored sunglasses-. I nodded. Randy grinned.
    The sound of the credit card imprinter was a little too final for me, Jake scribbled something on the receipt and then ran the card through the telephone thing and punched in some numbers, "Receipt function on this thing here's on the blink, glad I found this old piece of- junk-" he nodded and wrote a number on the receipt- "Okay, I'll give Randy a call when it's ready- or if, God forbid, I discover anything else wrong with the car- oh, anything I do is guaranteed for a year unless the manufacturer's got a better deal- then it's longer- I can give you lifetime on front disk brakes- even with four wheel drive-"
    Randy didn't like the smell when we climbed back into his truck.
     I grimaced.
     "Electric fires-" he shuddered, opened his window. We drove through the grey universe, parked in front of a grey stone building, walked down an alley and into an office.
    A woman with curly brown hair and huge brown eyes looked up, grinned at Randy, "This the new guy?" she handed me a form to fill out and a pen, "Go right in- he's ready for ya-"
     I followed Randy into a small office with a large desk. There was a small, balding gentleman in an older suit jacket glaring at a computer on a second desk that had been squeezed in, along the side wall, "Oh now what the fuh- oh-" he noticed us there- "Hi Randy- this your friend?" He did stick his hand out.
     "Yes, Jack Owens, this is Fred Kraemer-"
     Fred smiled warmly at me, "Always like a man with a strong grip-" then he shrugged toward his computer, "Froze up on me again-"
     I looked at the computer, "What is it, a 486?"
     Fred Scowled, "No- it's a Dell-"
     Randy tried not to laugh, "He means what generation is the chip inside it-"
     Fred shrugged, "It was fine before we upgraded to windows 98-"
     I tried not to sigh too loud, followed the phone line from the back of the computer to the wall- "You're not on line with printer sharing turned on are you?"
     "Huh? You know something about computers?"
     I nodded.
     He pulled the chair in front of the computer out and indicated with both hands-
     A couple clicks later I was looking at his system's settings, trying not to roll my eyes, "Okay if I fire up your virus checking stuff?"
     "Something wrong?"
     I reached behind the mini tower and unplugged the phone line, "Just a gut feeling-"
     He nodded-"Yes, run that virus stuff-"
     Almost immediately we had a flashing red screen telling us he had a Trojan Horse program running through his hard drive.
     "What's that mean?"
     "It means somebody is looking through every file you've got and may or may not already know about everything you've got in there- It has to email its results back to the sender."
     "They can do that?"
     Randy and I nodded in tandem.
     "Where'd you learn this stuff?"
     "I won a free course in programming at a company party- Before that I was just a computer nut, now I'm a certified computer nut-"
     Fred let out a nervous chuckle, "You got a degree in computers and you're working as a night watchman?"
     I shrugged, "Not a degree, just a certificate."
     The screen came up that said, "Click here to remove Trojan Horse."
    "Okay to delete the trouble maker?"
     He nodded.
     "Just what exactly can you do with a certificate?"
     I laughed, "Pin it up on a wall and hope nobody laughs too hard when they read it? We learned how to write database programs to store information- keep track of employees hours and figure in the withholding and all that- print checks..." I shrugged, "keep everybody's names and addresses on file- print out route sheets for everybody- make invitations to parties and all sorts of useless gimmicky stuff-"
     "You could do my payroll here?"
     "No problem-"
     "How much would that cost me?"
     "To set up the program? Almost nothing- take me a couple hours to set up the specifics... How much to make the program work? - depends on whether you have a time clock connected to the computer doing the work or somebody entering all the information by hand- a couple minutes a week to push the right keys to generate the reports, keep a running total of each employee's time and totals and print the checks, with all the important information on a second form above the check or beside it, depending on the printer- maybe half an hour if the time clock is connected to the computer and the times are either all entered here- or by remote- Maybe a couple hours if your secretary or somebody has to enter every thing in by hand-"
     Fred looked confused,"You could do that, though- you're sure?"
     I nodded.
     "You can hook a time clock up to the computer, no problem?"
     I nodded-"Depending on the time clock, it might need some kind of device to go between it and the computer and some of those are cheaper than others-"
     Fred covered his chin with one hand and walked around nodding- "How long will it take you to do that?"
     I shrugged, glanced toward Randy, "I've got a program that I did for the course sitting on a disk I could probably have here and installed by tonight- take me a couple hours of driving to go get it and a couple hours back- That would be the 'somebody types the times in manually' version- If your time clock works with this computer as is- I could spend a couple hours on that tomorrow- and get that going-"
     "What's the most it could cost?"
     I rolled my eyes, remembered a commercial for a new computer, "The most it could cost would be the price of a new computer with enough memory to run your whole business, including keeping track of the hours and all that."
     "Couple thousand?"
     I nodded, "Fifteen hundred to two thousand, five hundred- with firewall hardware and exotic connections if needed."
     Fred walked around in a circle, nodding, "And I'd still be ahead of the game- How about you work on the details? We have that other office in there that isn't doing anything- Call around, find out everything you need to know about time clocks and connections and tell me what I need by tomorrow evening? Meanwhile, fill out that form and we'll still have to check your fingerprints- policy... So- unless you're a serial killer, you got a job- want to cover that watchman job until we find somebody to replace you?"
     I blinked a couple times.
     Fred was off in the ozone- "You can get me a new computer that will do all the scheduling, keep track of everybody's hours, save me at least ***three grand a year...Where the hell have you been hiding all this time?"
     They did have a uniform that fit.
     Randy and I drove to a computer place where one of his students worked as a computer security specialist. This guy called Fred and sold him a server, running linux, with a dozen time clocks activated by key pads that would dial up the server whenever a specialized plastic card was inserted- Three thousand dollars. Worked with Fred's printers, had enough security to make a bank happy- And he tossed me a program that would convert any of my old C++ Windows programs into Linux programs. No charge.
     The three of us popped most of that stuff into the back of Randy's truck and had it installed by three pm. At four the first remote time card entry registered. Fred almost squealed with delight. He went into the next room and growled on the phone for half an hour with the company that was doing his payroll and came back grinning, "They said they were going to sue me. I reminded them of their errors and we discovered the damned contract's up next month anyway- This will be ready by next month, right?"
     We all nodded. Fred looked around this (shabby) office, "A little paint, some better furniture, Hell, I can almost afford to hire you a part time secretary-" then he frowned, "Don't quote me on that- lets see how this floats first-" he walked away chuckling to himself.

     Six pm. Randy and I walked into the restaurant through the inside door - I was telling myself I could probably remember the way in-
    He headed right for a table where Cheryl and Geoff were sitting, facing us and somebody with blue and green (half and half) hair was sitting facing them.
    Randy pointed to the two tone hair do and whispered, "Angela-"
    Cheryl looked up and smiled. Angela must have realized we were coming up behind her- she started to stand up.
    Geoff grinned, "Angela- this is Jack- He might be moving into the apartment across the hall from us-"
    Angela stood up slightly straighter, turned and offered her hand, then took one look at me and her jaw dropped. she fell into the chair and gasped, "Oh my god-" stared at me- I couldn't tell whether she was terrified or just stunned- "I've been dreaming about you- she shook her head, then blushed, "You don't want to know what we were- " she clamped her hand over her eyes, "I don't believe I almost said that."
    Randy pulled a chair from another table, plunked it down facing her and pointed- He had a grin that was much too big for his face-, "Jack, this is Angela- she has most of her screws and bolts and at least half of them are connected and screwed down tight enough-"
    She kept her face in her hands and kept her head shaking, no, I don't believe this.
    She peaked out between her fingers at me as I sat down, "Did he run away yet?"
    "No," I said, "He's still here."
    Randy sat on the other side of Angela and announced, "Jack might just have waltzed into a full time job in the office- we talked Fred into a secure server with dedicated time card remote gizmos and Fred's day dreaming he might have Miss January for a part time personal secretary with the money he saved.
    Angela turned her head and peaked at Randy through her fingers, "What are you, ganging up on me? Did my mother pay you to find this guy and fill my head with dreams of- never mind, if my knees would hold I'd run away-"
    She turned back to me and let one of her hands down from covering her face- she touched my arm, "You're real? I'm not hallucinating. It's Monday- I'm not upstairs dreaming- will you help me get my foot out of my mouth?"
    I laughed, "Relax- I only bite on Thursdays and full moons."
    She grinned from ear to ear.
    I got to see her face. She had the kind of clear skin that almost looked like she just climbed out of a pool? Her eyes didn't match. One was Emerald Green, the other was almost purple.
    She must have seen confusion on my face, "Contacts-" she said, leaned forward and popped one of the contact lenses out, glanced up at me with one normal green eye and one purple-, "They match- I promise-"
    I stared into her eyes, shrugged, "Cool-"
    She swallowed and shuddered, "Scuse me while I melt- damn-" she licked her lips, "If you're a serial killer I'm in trouble-"
    I blinked.
    Randy laughed, "Not a chance-"
    Angela grinned and shuddered again, "Oh god- I'm in trouble anyway-"
    I swallowed, "I have to work later tonight- uh, with Randy-" shrugged, "You want to go somewhere- find a movie that takes a credit card or something?"
    She blinked, "sure you don't want to just come up stairs and go to bed with me?"
    I swallowed, "Well, that too- but- don't you want to make sure you won't hate yourself in the morning first?"
    She shook her head.
    I shrugged, noticed Randy beyond Angela's shoulder.
    "What are you looking at me for?" Randy cackled, "looks like Angela's got a date- what's your mother's phone number? Should I tell her he's black or something so she won't drop dead when he isn't Jewish?"
    "You're not Jewish?" she looked crestfallen. 
    I shrugged and shook my head, "Does this mean we go out to a movie instead?"
    She shook her head, "Well, yeah, if that's what you want."
    I shrugged, "Can we play it by ear?"
    She reached up and touched my ear, "Okay-"
    "I might need help finding your apartment- I seem to have instant dyslexia when I'm in this building-"
    She chuckled, "Suppose I sit here and melt while you eat, you might have to help me walk when it's time to go-"
    I laughed.
    He eyes sparkled (it was easier to tell with the 'naked' green one.)
    She swallowed and pushed her hair back, "My, um, hair doesn't bother you, does it?"
    I shook my head, "It's attached, right?"
    She nodded.
    I sighed, "Just don't go pulling a wig off without warning me- a guy did that once and I almost died on the spot."
    She looked concerned.
    "Shock-" I nodded.
    She nodded. 

    I think I ate something. I think she liked the looks of something on my plate and I gave her a forkful. I think we fed each other pudding, using our fingers. She swore her fingers were clean and didn't want me to get up and wash my hands to be doubly sure.

    I have no idea whether Geoff and Cheryl got up and left or stayed there with us.
    When we stood up, she did manage to stay on her feet.
    Again, when I tried to pay for the meal, I was told that Geoff wouldn't allow it. I had a couple bucks to leave for a tip, though.
    Angela opened the door and stepped into the hallway beyond.
    I closed the door and turned around and she was staring up at me, "You're taller than I thought-"
    I shrugged, "Sorry-"
    She shook her head, "None of that-" glanced down at my crotch and then up at my mouth.
    "Want a hug?"
     "Oh at least-"
    I leaned down and picked her up, she wrapped her legs around me, "If you don't like me you better take me right to the hospital- I can't stand this."
    I frowned.
    She stared shaking, "What?"
    "If I didn't like you that would sound an awful lot like emotional blackmail."
    "I can't help it, dammit, this never happened before-"
    I tipped my head sideways, "Kiss me- see if it's real-"
    She looked terrified, nodded, then sighed- Kissed me. "Again?" kissed longer- "This is fun- you even taste good-"
    The door opened, Randy patted my shoulder, I could almost hear him thinking, "Better you than me, pal-"
    Angela laughed, "There's an elevator, but it doesn't work- If we climb the stairs like this you might not have enough strength left-"
    "Does that mean I should put you down."
    "No- that means I'm trying to think into the future-" she kissed me again, "I love this- damn."
    I laughed.
    "That tickles, laugh again."
    I did.
    "Wow- lets get nuts- ooops, can't, we're already there-"
    I let her down.
    "Oh shit- I'm already planning wedding gowns- what are you doing to me?"
    "Nothing-"
    "You're sure?"
    "I'm still trying to figure out what happened last night when I was trying to sleep-"
    She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the stairs, "No kissing on the stairs, if we fall down they might not give us beds in the same hospital room-"
    So she climbed a couple steps, turned around and leaned forward.
    I caught her.
    This works, she tipped her head sideways.
    We kissed.
    "So what happened while you were trying to sleep?"
    "First, I slept in the chair because a mouse ran across the bed-"
    "Ewwwww-" she kissed me, "I'm not like this with anyone, you gotta believe me-"
    I nodded.
    "So you slept in a chair?"
    I nodded. 
    Her forehead was against mine so her head rolled up and down as I nodded, it tickled. "So then what?"
    "Huh?"
    "You slept in the chair, want a cat or do you think we should try to use Geoff's have a heart trap? Are you a vegetarian?"
    "Almost-" I sighed, "There's a fabric thing in the window- I felt like it expanded into three dimensions and filled the room-"
    "Wow-"
    "Then I felt like the chair spun around and me with it- we flew out through the window and out over the city at night."
    "Oh that's wild, can I come with you next time?"
    "Sure- if it ever happens again."
    She laughed, "Ya never know around here- I like this place so much I thought I'd never go anywhere and find a boy friend. It's been years-"
    I nodded. 
    Second floor- "That's where You're going to be staying? I love those hexagonal rooms- I'm right above you- Wanna grab any clean clothes for later?"
    "Randy had his boss give me a new uniform."
    She nodded, wrinkled her nose, "Randy's a decent guy, underneath all the bravado and stuff. I think he's the only straight one here-"
    "Straight?"
    "You haven't noticed? Everybody in this place is some kinda weird-"
    I shrugged.
    She laughed, "So do you wanna grab your uniform and bring it up so we'll have that much more time together or what?"
    I shrugged, wondered what I'd done with the key and found it in my hand, "How long have I been holding this?"
    She shrugged, "I'm clueless-"
    We blitzed into the apartment and to the bedroom and grabbed the uniform and I opened one of the non- stinking suitcases and grabbed some clean underwear. She looked like she was fascinated by what might be in my suitcases, "I never could imagine myself washing a guy's underwear-" she shrugged, "I've had women lovers- you okay with that?"
    I swallowed, nodded.
    "Couple guys too- last one beat me, I swore off men- how do I know you're not another Jeckel and Hyde?" she shrugged- glanced toward my bathroom, "Oh-" she giggled, "Geoff just paid some guy to clean my bathroom when he finished renovating this one- so I can swear it's cleaner than ever and you don't have to worry about any kind of blob things crawling up your legs or anything-"
    She was holding her hair in two sort of pony tails as she said that. I thought that was the cutest thing I'd seen in years, reached over and touched her cheek. She closed her eyes and rubbed her cheek against my hand, opened sparkling eyes (both their natural green now) (contacts in a container in her pocket.)
    "Tell me I'm crazy-" she kissed my hand.
    "Why?"
    She looked confused, shrugged, "That would explain everything."
    "I'm not going to figure out any of this for years- save the explanations for later."
    She raised her eyebrows, nodded, "Sounds good- lets make love."
    "Right here?"
    She looked around, wrinkled her nose- "Can we go upstairs? I feel real safe in my own world up there- I don't know, if the mouse sees me naked and laughs it might break the spell or something."
     "No mice upstairs?"
    She shook her head, "The cats chased them all out, I don't want to think they ate them- stupid cats- you're not allergic to cats are ya?"
    I shook my head, "Would you get funny about cats laughing at you naked?"
    She laughed, "They do it all the time- We dance around and sing and they meow- it's great."
    So we walked out of my apartment and locked the door and we made a mental note of which pocket I put my key in and almost raced to the stairs where she spun around and kissed me once on the nose and then raced up to the landing.
    She turned around and leaned on the bannister and watched me climb, "What are you grinning at?"
    "I'm remembering you playing with your hair, like you made two pony tails? I liked that-"
    "My hair's too short for pony tails-"
    "Nahhh- would you be mad at me if I said I just made a connection and thought you almost looked like the girl clown on that television show for kids?"
    She tried to look serious, crossed her eyes and focused on her odd colored hair, "Me, a clown, whatever gave you that idea?" she grinned, "the one with the couch? I love her- my favorite show- I think, she has to be some kind of yoga nut or something to do some of those things she does..."
    I shrugged.
    "You don't watch it that much?" she shrugged, "No problem- The only way I know what channel it's on, well- that's the only one I watch- no cable- no antenna, nothing else comes in, and it's free- what a concept-"
    She turned and started climbing the second half of the stairway to the third floor, "I'm not talking you into something, am I? I mean- well, am I?"
    I shook my head, "I don't think you could talk me into anything if my heart's not in it- tell me you didn't notice me squirming since the first time I looked into those emerald and purple eyes of yours."
    She laughed, "Oh, I have that effect on you, do I? Is it entirely physical?"
    I shrugged, "I don't think I can be entirely physical about anything- Just don't work that way."
    "Okay- he looks and sounds perfect, what's the catch?"
    "I turn into a pumpkin at 11 PM and won't get home until 8 tomorrow morning-"
    She looked thoughtful- "So- if we still like each other, wake me up when you get home and screw my eyes out?"
    "Why don't we see if we can stay focused enough to get to first base before we give the signal to steal home?"
    She laughed, rolled her eyes, "Oh, god, a freakin baseball player- I shouldda known-" she sat down on the stairs with her chin in her hands and her eyes sparkling. "My uncle gets season tickets every year- First base line okay? We gotta check ahead of time, usually...You root for the wrong team and I'll kill myself-"
    "Don't even think about it-"
    "I did- I couldn't try it though-" she shrugged, "I felt too sorry for anybody who'd have to clean up the mess- and when I thought, hey, maybe I could hitch a ride on an ocean liner and jump off in the middle of the night- I thought- well, shit, what if it only gets worse when I get to the other side and they're mad at me for killing myself-" she sighed, shrugged, "Not a chance- I mean- not even you are worth that- I don't think."
    I laughed.
    She grinned, "You think I look good in pony tails? You wanna wash my hair and brush it every night?"
    I shrugged, then nodded.
    She licked her lips, pouted, drew a slow deep breath in through pursed lips, "Uht, oh- he's serious-" she stood up and kissed my cheek and ran up the rest of the stairs.
    Again, at the top of the stairs she leaned on the bannister and watched me climb, swallowed, "I like the way you look at me- Man I can almost feel the magnetism-"
    I nodded.
    "Ya know? Randy almost believes this building has some kind of super secret experimental metal beams that make everything that happens in here seem more intense?"
    I shrugged, shook my head.
    "Give him a chance- he'll tell you all kinds of crazy stuff- He only looks normal." 

    She unlocked her door, looked worried, poked her head inside and then opened the door- grinned, almost blushed, "I forgot. I have a roommate- she's not here this week- we're safe."
    The living room, same size as mine and Geoff's. Had a bit of stage scenery, a forest and a castle sort of cut out and nailed to a two by four frame that had a rather solid looking pair of support beams- two by fours, holding it upright between the windows and an area where an overstuffed couch was covered in what looked like dark purple velvet.
    "You like it!?" she sounded tentative.
    I pointed at the scenery, "Don't you?" nodded.
    She shrugged, "I think I want to paint the leaves off the trees and make it a winter scene, but I was sick of winter when I put it together. Janice hates it. but it blocks the sunlight when she wants to watch her morning teevee, so she tolerates it. She looked suddenly guilty, "Why don't you stay here for a couple minutes while I go shovel a lot of my mess into the closet...Unless you're crazy about water beds, then we can go mess up Janice's bed and she'll never know the difference. Sure you wanna make love?"
    I nodded.
    Beams of pure adoration shot from her face, "You're not just saying that to make me feel okay are ya?"
    I shook my head-
    She grinned, kind of half inwardly, "Wait here-" she pointed at the couch and pranced away sideways. Then she pranced back and either flipped a couple switches or messed with plugs or something. A couple seconds later a bunch of strings of Christmas lights came on and started blinking, all out of sync with each other.
    I sat down on the couch and stared at the blank television screen and watched bits of various coloured lines flash on and off all around me.
    She was back a lot more quickly than I'd expected, barefoot, her denim shirt open most of the way. she had a couple small bottles and sprayed both wrists (one at a time) with one squirt from either of the bottles, "Perfume ever put you in the mood, here-" she sat on my lap and put one wrist at a time up near my nose- I shrugged after the first one, but the second one- I nodded.
    "Cool" She hopped backward almost pulled me to my feet, "Good, you can leave that stuff here on the couch."
    The phone rang.
    Her shoulders sank, she looked like a marionette whose strings had just been cut, "Not now-"
    Two rings later, "This is Angela- I'm busy. Call later or leave a message, I don't want to get paint all over another new phone-"
    Laughter- "This is Randy- I'll give you guys a wake up call an hour ahead of time- Don't you dare feed Jack anything in your refrigerator- We'll get something to eat on the way to the job-"
    She grinned at the answering machine, "God Bless answering machines-"
    Now she tugged on my arm and I followed her. Kitchen appliances on one side, breakfast nook on the other. Bathroom right over mine- but then, where my bedroom was, there was a hall way- She crooked her thumb- "Janice has the windows." She pulled me a little farther down the hall- flipped a light switch on and then off- "that's my studio- don't look-" I had fading impressions of a couple easels and some huge pieces of plywood and that's all that registered. She tugged me toward the room across from Janice's, "I sort of have a window-"
     She flipped a light on- a couple of cat sized blurs ran away. She pointed, "That's like a ventilation shaft or something that goes right down to the basement- It's just real creepy to think that somebody over there can look into my bedroom, so I painted it solid indigo- I thought maybe a happy face would drive whoever was over there nuts, but I never got around to that-"
    She had a king sized mattress on the floor, hastily made with a blue, purple and black, thick blanket or maybe even a thin rug over everything- she also had a black and brown leather thing that looked like a stereotypical psychiatrist's couch- covered with a purple Persian rug inspired velvet blanket, "I'm not anorectic-" she pushed me toward her bed, "I just don't really have a good schedule and I keep forgetting to eat like three solid meals a day. I'm actually a pretty good weight for my size and whenever we go out anywhere I wear baggy stuff so people think I'm fatter than I am- 
    I sat down on her bed. There was a bureau beyond the couch and another bureau with a mirror near a closed door that I guessed had to be the closet- "I'm starting to feel like I'm making a fool of myself, so you better kiss me or run away-"
    I reached for her wrist, she hopped to one of her bureaus and stood poised by a small stereo- "I've got three cd's of space music ready to go or we can argue over a radio station-."
    "Space music's fine-"
    "Continuous or continuous shuffle?"
    "Either way."
    She nodded, "Black light? If we get bored we can paint each other or something."
    "If we get bored you better shoot me-"
    She laughed. Kicked the door shut and flicked a black light on. Something spun past me and she bounced on the bed, "You really think I look good in pony tails?"
    We nodded as she brought her mouth to mine.
    She did not look anorectic (she looked better, and 'curvier' than I expected) She also had a lot more energy than I thought I did. Neither one of us was thoroughly worn out (thank goodness) and when after a couple hours or laughing and bouncing around we settled down and stared at the ceiling together I asked, "Are you always this energetic? or is it nervous energy or what?"
    She sighed, shrugged, "That's like asking me what I'm like when I'm in love- last week I thought I knew- after tonight, what happened before seems like I was lying to myself- ya know, all I want to do for the rest of my life is lie here and listen to your voice and I want to know everything there is to know about you- and I have no freakin idea why? I mean, who are you? Where did you come from? How did you know I needed you now? Of all times? Why the hell didn't you show up last year when I was almost suicidal? I mean, I decide, hell- I can live without love and dream about you and figure you're my subconscious mind tempting me, so I let it happen, I mean the dream was almost as good as the real thing- and when I wake up I shrug and say, what the heck- something like that would be pretty damned good, but I'm not gonna hold my breath- I think I dreamed about you three or four times in the last two weeks- you always seemed to be just there- I mean, like I could have told you to go away and you would have? but I kind of always broke down and said, what the hell- and reached for you and you always looked like you hoped I would? Do you have any idea what I'm saying?"
    "I think so-"
    "Good, because I don't-"
    "Think maybe you're happy that I let you make the decision?"
    "I don't know- I would have said yes, but sheeesh- it's like, are you a robot, I put a quarter in a slot and push a button that says 'sweep me off my feet' and you do? Do you have anything to say about this?"
    I nodded.
    "You always this passive?"
    "Passive?"
    She laughed, "Now that you mention it- Well, I'm glad you took the initiative- but- this is scary- I never even tried to pick up a guy before, never made the first move in my life. I mean- no girl likes the way she looks, I figured it was hopeless and maybe I'd never miss what I never had- then one guy with thick glasses and bad skin asked me out and the first time he touched me I liked it too much. So we never went all the way, he moved on to Jordanna Levine, a cheerleader? and a couple weeks later Jordanna came to me and said he told her he thought I was a lesbian and I didn't think so, but she thought she liked me so we gave it a try.It worked- I wasn't too crazy about kissing her, but I got to like it-" she shrugged, She did things that he didn't have the nerve to do- you're pretty good at that, had lots of practice?"
    I shook my head.
    "Once or twice-?"
    "Half a dozen times with the same woman?"
    "She dumped you?"
    "For a lawyer."
    "What a jerk-"
    "Me or her?"
    "Her-" Angela leaned up and over and kissed me on the forehead, "Her loss, my gain-" 
    So I turned on my side and stroked her side.
    She grabbed my hand cupped it around her breast and squirmed backward against me. I covered us with blankets and the phone rang.
    "It can't be ten o'clock-" she groaned.
    "Hello, Angela, it's your mother, just thought I'd give you a call- Your cousin Josephine got engaged last week- okay- I'll pretend you're out on a date with a doctor- give me a call when you get home."
    We both laughed.
    "You'll hate my mother- I do-"
    "You do not-"
    "Well, I try real hard- The weirdest part is- she takes it so seriously- she's a freaking joke and she loves it."
    "Nice, easy, well defined role- She's got a dozen women comedians telling her how to do it."
    "Maybe- at least a dozen."
    "So are computer geeks a couple steps down from a doctor in your mother's world?"
    "Hard to say. A Jewish computer geek would be about even with a Christian Doctor- I might have to show her a pay check or a bank account balance to get her to believe you just might be human."
    "Uh...maybe, but not until there is a balance, okay?"
    She laughed.

End Of Part Two -- Part Three of this Story

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