Jeff was stressed out.  

His constantly furrowed brow, his tense shoulders, the death grip he had on the phone all showed the tension he was allowing to build up within him even as he talked to Javad, his housemate.

“Another 55 hour week and now, somehow, I broke my goddamn Macbook charger by pinching the goddamn thing under my desk chair.  Now its this frayed fire hazard that I ‘m afraid to use.  How much could they be to replace right?  Well it turns out they cost 80 goddamn dollars even before all the goddamn taxes.  I’m about to spend a hundred goddamn dollars on five dollars of goddamn plastic and 2 dollars of goddamn wire, and OH BY THE WAY, all my work is on that thing. Everything.”

“You wouldn’t be so beholden to your Apple overlords if you would have gotten a windows laptop, there are models just as cute as your precious Macbook” Javad was offering no sympathy.

“I know.  You’re right!  I just like the Mac better but I do have buyers remorse a little bit, these things are expensive to buy and all the shit that goes with them is expensive too. Anyway… I’ll get over it.     Hey aren’t you supposed to be out drinking downtown with Robyn and Adele by now?   You better hurry they’ve been at it since like noon or something is what Sarah told me.  They have to be quite the sight by now.”

“You get good intel dude, how long has it been since you left Datascape?  A year now?  I would have thought you would be way out of the office gossip loop long ago.  I’m just getting out, asshole Scott called a last minute meeting so I got stuck and as it so happens I am meeting someone tonight so no drinks with the stew crew for me tonight.”

“Meeting someone!”  Jeff replied with surprise.  

“Yeah, I usually resist blind hookups but I looked him up on Facebook and stalked his profile and I found myself intrigued.”  Javad said laughing.

“Intrigued!  Is that gay code for ‘horny’?”

“Fuck you Jeff, you wish you were as in demand as this guy!  Javad was, of course,  referring to himself

“I do!  I’ll admit it!  I’m Jealous! Since Catherine I’ve had like, what? Two drinks dates with women?  Two, and neither one of them wanted to see me again.”

“Dude, you know you’re like a brother to me, I love you, but lately you’re such a fucking downer!   THAT’S your problem!    You need to lighten up.  You just seem so sad all the time. “

“I know.  I’m trying, Javad.  I really am. “

“You want my opinion, breaking up with Catherine was the best thing that ever happened to you.   That chick was bad juju man.  Look, I gotta go.  I’ll check ya later. “

“Ok man, hey have a good time on your date!  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

As soon as Jeff hung up he started beating himself up.

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do?  What is this 1975?  Could I BE a little more of a geek?  No wonder I can’t get a date.  The goddamn gay guy is going out, I’m going to the Apple store.  Maybe I should be gay.  Be gay?  Go gay?  Is that the word?  What the hell.  Whatever. If I can’t spend my money on going out I guess I can spend it on wires….  and subway fare.

Walking to the subway, Jeff started to think about how much he missed Catherine. 

It had been 18 months give or take since Jeff broke up with her.  That’s Catherine, not Cathy.  She was no Judy.  She was definitely a Catherine.  “The stick was lodged way too far up her ass to be a Cathy.” Jeff used to say as it all fell apart.   Jeff and Catherine lived together for two years and right away he knew it was a disaster.    

Catherine was too intense and way to controlling for him. Hyper-controlling.   Catherine was the boss.  Their first argument was about what kind of can opener to buy.  Catherine insisted on a Cuisinart electric model, but Jeff preferred the old-school hand turned method.    

The argument consumed the day, day one of a less than blissful cohabitation.

In spite of it all he was so in love with Catherine.  When they met, he really turned on the charm trying to get her attention, but even as they started dating he could tell, as beautiful as she was, that this was a relationship that was doomed.  Anything that runs that hot will burn out eventually.

Catherine Pierce was the 10thof 10 children from a large Catholic family, the Pierces all graduated from either Ivy League schools in the states, or McGill.  Except for Catherine who went to Ryerson.  And although she graduated with high honors, she never felt she got the same attention, respect and pride from her parents.

It’s not that they weren’t loving and attentive, they were as much as they could be given ten kids, Catherine always needed more it seemed.  It was like the attention bucket had just about run out when she needed it most.

It made her grow up needy but extremely self-reliant and it allowed her set the agenda for herself.  She became a hard charger, an entrepreneur.   This week she fell into an opportunity where she had a chance to take over the ownership of an upscale hair salon and was in the final negotiating stages of the purchase, even though she knows nothing of the hair business. What she does know is business and marketing.

This opportunity was, of course no surprise to Jeff, it was Catherine after all that encouraged him to get out of working for Datascape and start his own freelance web marketing practice.  She gave him the tools to grow that business.   He would always be grateful to her for encouraging him to spread his wings. That was the thing about Catherine, she was nurturing and loving, but SUCH a ball breaker. He found their life together alternately fulfilling and exhausting.

Jeff stewed about losing Catherine the whole subway ride downtown.

There was something about that greasy exhaust smell of the subway that Jeff always loved.   It’s not like he was sitting on the platform at Dundas huffing the fumes,  but when he smelled it, even in passing from the street grates outside, he knew he was home.  The combination of the subway fumes mixed with smog dogs cooking on the food carts outside was unique to Toronto, at least Jeff thought so when he moved here. He loved it.  It was intoxicating to his soul.  

Inside the Apple store Jeff located the charger he needed and looked for a smug hipster to give his money to.

“Can I pay you for this?”  He asked the first bearded, blue shirted Apple head he could find.

“Oh man, there’s a flaw dude.  I can’t take payments, I work over on the genius bar, see the woman over there? That’s Percynthia, she can help you out no problem!”

The hierarchy of the Apple store irritated the hell out of Jeff, that and the fact that there were no lines. “I’m Canadian,” he thought to himself, we LIVE for lines.”  Everything was a chaotic scramble ordered only by those who had made appointments via their Apple store app.

“Hi!  I’m Percynthia you all set?”

“In the world of made up names, why in the name of all that is holy would this woman have chosen this one.  Even a stripper would have come up with a better name.”   Jeff thought.

“Okay!  That will be $115.00 would you like the receipt e-mailed to you?”

“No thank you Percynthia” Jeff said with so much sarcasm he started to feel bad about his tone.  She was just doing her job funny name not withstanding.  “can I have no receipt?  I don’t want to be reminded I spend almost a quarter of what it costs to buy a brand new Windows laptop on a charger for a Mac”

“I’ll print it and recycle it for you”  Percynthia smiled at Jeff

Jeff felt bad for being so snotty.  “Thanks, I know its not your fault these things are so pricy, you must hear it all the time from people huh?”

“Part of the job Mr….Collins” she said handing him back his credit card.

“I’m sorry I’m such a grouch..rough week”  

“Not at all” she said with a smile so warm it only made Jeff feel worse for being such a jackass.  “you have a good evening and come back again soon.”

As much as Jeff did feel buyers remorse for the Macbook and as much as he really didn’t like the whole Apple store experience, he did feel a sense of coolness bestowed upon him by the simple act of carrying around the unique white with silver Apple store bag.   It was like a techy status symbol of coolness.

Walking down the mall with his bag he looked for others with similar bags. They gave each other “The Nod”™, or so he imagined,  much in the same way that motorcycle riders give each other the secret wave as they pass one another.

He nodded at one guy with an Apple bag as if to say “’sup, I’m an Apple guy too”

The guy looked at him as if he was trying to figure out where he knew him from and why Jeff was doing “The Nod”™ at him.

Armed with is newly bestowed badge of techy hipster cool Jeff gave “The Nod”™ to a few other people, none of which returned it. 

“Is this even a thing?” he said to himself, out loud  “I am just nodding to random strangers, what the hell am I doing? It’s a beautiful Friday night and I’m walking around Eaton Centre  randomly nodding at strangers.  I’m officially losing it”

After stopping for a lonely fast food gut bomb, which was predictably disgusting at the food court, Jeff decided to walk around the mall for a bit and people watch. 

One of the reasons he moved to Toronto, loved Toronto was the busyness, the motion.  A million stories walk right in front of your face.  He loved seeing the people moving around talking in a hundred different languages.   Some folks shopping, some using the mall for the subway stop as they head out to Yonge and Dundas.

This, was part of why he fell in love with this city.   He was about to leave and head out to some bar before making the trek home.  Then he saw her.

She walked out of one of the boutiques and into the busy mall.  Jeff’s mouth just hung open.  In a town full of beautiful women, this one was special. There was something about her that just took his breath away.  She had longish, slightly wavy shoulder length brown hair, and enormous brown eyes with just the slightest, most adorable, overbite.   

” I just want to get another look at her”   he thought to himself as he doubled back, this time making sure that as she traveled south in the shopping center that he was has heading north, he wanted to get one good look at her, just one more good look.

As she came out of yet another boutique, Jeff was looking right at her. She had a faint trace of freckles across the bridge of her nose, you almost couldn’t see them unless you were staring, which Jeff was, a sweet smile on her face but she didn’t even see him, which is good because he was obviously, awkwardly and probably disturbingly trying to make eye contact.

“Fuck” he muttered as he doubled back again to get another look, once again making sure he was heading in the right direction, “I keep doing this I’m going to get escorted from the place, Jesus Christ, my name will be in some kind of goddamn stalker book”

As she passed again, he tried to once again make eye contact, which did not happen, he wondered, “is it possible she was getting more beautiful by the minute?

Jeff sat on a bench of outside of a shop she wandered into.  She was casually looking at the clothes, occasionally touching, ever so lightly, the fabric of pieces that got her attention. Every move she made was like was like the moves of an angel as far as Jeff was concerned

He was getting depressed.

“I am not the first lonely loser to literally stalk a beautiful woman, who is clearly out of my league in this building. Get some self-respect man!  Go the hell home and watch TV like a normal loser.” 

Jeff sat on the bench looking for glimpses of the woman.  He exhaled loudly.

“fuck” he mumbled again.

She walked out of the store and walked down the mall.  Jeff followed her, she was heading toward where a street exit was, so he figured one last look and then out the door he would go in search of a beer someplace.

She walked into Roots.

He walked in behind her.  “I’m going to talk to her, what they worst thing that could happen?  Arrest and embarrassment?   I’m going to talk to her.

Jeff watched her looking at and holding up, fleece sweatshirts.   He wandered over to where she was.  “I have nothing whatsoever to lose beside dignity, which I don’t have much of anyway.”  He thought.

Clutching his Apple Store bag to tightly that the plastic started to make marks in his hand he walked over to her.

“Hey! What the hell are you doing shopping?”  He said, immediately regretting the choice of words, the tone of those words, the shirt he had on, that his hair was a mess and his ever leaving his apartment in the first place.

The look she gave him wasn’t really disdain, or disgust.  She actually smiled, but it wasn’t a welcoming smile. It was a surprise smile, maybe a mocking smile.

“Excuse me?” she said, with more than a hint of indignation at the stranger challenging her presence.

“It’s Friday night, it’s a beautiful night, I was just noticing you. You’re a beautiful woman, why in Gods name are you out shopping by yourself and not on some awesome patio having dinner with some awesome guy, you know such a guy would obviously be the opposite of me in the scale of awesomeness. The polar opposite, you know, if there was such a scale.”   

Ok here comes the word puke.  She will be calling the cops any minute now.

“Well, I don’t think that’s any of your business.” She said politely with a smile. Not the sweet smile from when Jeff was watching her walk down the mall, more of a dismissive smile.  Jeff was thinking that there are a lot of different kinds of smiles, a lot of them not good. She went back to looking at the sweatshirts and fleeces.

“It’s not, sorry to bother you.  Have a good night” Jeff was embarrassed.  As he turned and headed for the exit from the store and back out into the anonymity of the mall proper he started to dissect the words he used.  

Was the tone too aggressive? Was it not aggressive enough?  Did I scare her? ”  He sure scared himself.  

Was I out of line?  Jeff guessed that a sentence starting with “What the hell are you doing…” was not pick up line material.  Was he trying to pick her up?  

I just wanted to talk to her Whatever, what’s not to be, is not to be.  She was way out of my league.  Go home asshole

Before he could get too far away he felt a tug on his arm. It was her.

“Wait, I really want to know.  What business is it of yours what I am doing alone on a Friday?  I don’t think I know you, do I?

“No, I don’t think we have ever met.” 

Goddamn right we never met, you think I would have forgotten meeting you?  

“So what business is it of yours what I do tonight, tomorrow or any night?”

She didn’t seem angry.  She didn’t seem like she was accusing him of being inappropriate.  She just wanted to know what his deal was.   Jeff was taken aback and suddenly more nervous than when he approached her.  He posture had changed from taken aback to slightly aggressive.

“I don’t know, I just thought I would ask. You’re really quite lovely and I know why I am walking around the mall, I have nothing better to do, but you, you are so beautiful I was just ..I don’t know. Wondering, thought I would ask you”

“Well it’s a scary way to approach a stranger don’t you think?  Everything you see in the news and you come up and ask me what the hell I think I am doing?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that, I didn’t mean to scare you” Jeff was fully aware that his natural conversational style was to have “a tone”.  Having “a tone” was his default setting.

“You didn’t..look. You know…try to be a bit more ..I guess friendly when accosting strangers ok Captain Curious?”

Captain Curious made Jeff laugh… “Ok, I will and I am sorry again if I was a pest.”

“Oak  then” she said with a chuckle and that sweet smile from before. “You have a good evening”

“You too” he said as she turned and headed down the mall.  “Wait” he half shouted.  “Wait..one more question”

“Yes?” 

“Would you have dinner with me?  Right now. Anyone of these restaurants here, or nearby.  I don’t care. I’ve already eaten anyway.  Just let me buy you a meal and sit with you for an hour.   I’ve watched you walk from store to store and you’re the most beautiful woman, hell, human being I have ever seen and if you want, we can make sure you can get away if I creep you out or something, but if you could just….have dinner with me, at least I will have done that much, at least I got to spend a few minutes with you.  You don’t even have to tell me your name.   You don’t have to give me your number.  Just give me a chance, one hour, dinner, right now, anywhere you want”

Jeff heard the words in the air.  It sounded like his voice but he couldn’t believe that it was him saying them.

She looked at him, looked him up and down.  “Well,  you don’t look like a psycho.”

“What’s your name?” she  asked.

“Jeffery Collins” he said, with more than a hint of childlike hope in his voice.

She looked at him for another minute, as if she were trying to remember any media reports of the police looking for a Jeffery Collins.

“Look, Jeffrey Collins, you said you pretty much stalked me down the mall and I never knew it.  You waited for me to come out of a store and watched me some more.  Then you waited for me to go into that store there,”  she said pointing, “ which I might add has exactly no other people in it beside the clerk who was staring at her phone, and essentially confronted me for being alone.  So I’m going to have to PASS on dinner Jeffrey Collins.”

With every word out of her mouth he could feel the sweat rise on his neck as he tried to shrink into the floor.  He wished he had gone out  drinking with his former colleagues instead. 

“I know.  I’m sorry again.  I sure didn’t mean to scare you.  I apologize.”

“Get your shit together Jeffery Collins, ‘meet cute’ only happens in the movies, and not very good ones.”