The few months that followed that luncheon were a very prosperous time for me, but there's no need to get into that here. Suffice it to say that my talk with Kelly had sparked something inside me that told me this was a real job, somehow. With that mentality, I worked like mad to come up with ideas I could sell to anybody who cared to give me an ear. I really am a pretty good salesman, and when you combine that with a hot idea, well then you've got a solid sale most every time.
I did sort of hope to see Kelly again, even though I couldn't get in touch with her. Twice meeting her, and then lunch; it had to be fate, right? But after a month or so I began to realize that there are a lot of people in Milwaukee and our chances of meeting a third time were slim to none. I went to Willingham's whenever I was downtown, and sometimes in my free time, but I never saw her there again. I'll admit that I'd pretty much given up hope when I saw a familiar brunette head in front of me at the ATM machine one sunny Tuesday morning. You guessed it: Kelly Coleman.
"Why hello, Miss Coleman," I said, smiling. She turned around quickly, because I guess she was surprised to hear a voice so close behind her.
"Oh, hello Mr. Brown," she greeted me nervously but cheerfully.
"It seems we can't avoid meeting each other like this."
"Or you're stalking me," she laughed, and I knew she was kidding.
"How do I know you're not stalking me?" I asked, playing along.
"Because I didn't sneak up behind you at an ATM machine," she replied. I got the hint and stepped away with exaggerated solemnity. I even made a show of looking up at the sky while she completed her transaction and she laughed when she saw me. I stepped up to the machine and got several twenties, pretending to look over my shoulder nervously at any passing stranger. She laughed again. I was embarrassing her, but I hoped it wasn't in a bad way.
"I suppose you're on your way someplace," I guessed after I had placed the cash in an envelope and stuck it in the inside breast pocket of my jacket.
"I am," she verified. "I have a story to write."
"Oh really? What about?"
"It's nothing that would interest you, I'm sure."
I looked at her with a look that I hoped said, Come on, tell me.
"It's a short article about the art museum's new Native American exhibit, if you must know." She sounded slightly perturbed, but I caught a little something in her eyes that said she wasn't so annoyed at my curiosity. I hoped I was right. But there I was, keeping her from getting to her office, or the museum, or home, or wherever she did her writing. Still, I couldn't let her slip away a third time. I've always heard that if you let something go and it comes back, then it was meant to be. Well I figured I needed to capture this butterfly once and for all, because that Grand Entomologist was probably getting tired of directing her my way. I decided in a flash I had to get her number.
"You know this is the third time we've met," I started, "and I can't help but think it shouldn't be the last. You left me standing outside Gillian's that day without any way of finding you again. If you don't mind, I found your company agreeable and I'd like to have lunch again."
"You don't mean you haven't had lunch since that day? Poor thing," she smiled wryly. Why is it anyone else would hear that sentence and understand it, while she had to poke fun at my syntax? I liked her.
"Eh heh, no, that's not what I mean."
"Then what do you mean?"
"I mean, that I would like to have lunch with you again."
"Do you like me, Mr. Brown?" I wasn't expecting her sudden directness. She raised her eyebrows just a little, inquiringly but not curiously. She knew very well what I should say, what any man should say. But of course I was much smarter than she gave me credit for.
"That would be a little forward of me to say, don't you think?" I rejoined. Then she raised her eyebrows higher, and it wasn't such a friendly look. The truth is, I had answered wrong and I knew it. "I just feel like me meeting you again is a very happy coincidence, and one I don't mind in the least. If you'd think about-"
"I can meet you at Sunny Bridge park for tea-"
"You take tea?" I asked, raising my own eyebrows a little.
"On occasion," she assured me. "I will be there at four o'clock."
"Then I'll be there as well. Until then, Miss Coleman." I gave her a little bow before I left and she laughed a little for it. I turned to walk away but didn't get very far before my absent-mindedness caught up with me.
"Nathaniel!" she called out, "Your card." Before turning around I retraced my steps in my mind to find that my card was still in the machine. When I turned, reality agreed with me. An old lady with a hooked nose who must have been waiting behind me in line was looking from me, to the machine, to Kelly, and back to me confusedly. I quietly retrieved my card, gave Kelly a nod and a little embarrassed smile, and quickly made my retreat. I can't explain it, but I felt her smiling at me even from behind. That feeling lasted well into the ensuing afternoon.