James did a bit of a double-take when he saw her, his heart thumping alarmingly in his chest as adrenaline shot through him. Was that who he thought it was? His mind scrabbled for a name to match the face. Jessica. That was it, Jessica Prince. She was small-town-famous right now, a local woman heavily referenced on the news lately. The women at his work tended to call her Jessica Princess and Queen Jessica with heavy, sarcastic intonations. James knew the ladies didn’t like her because she was beautiful and liked beautiful things. Women who had to work hard for simple things seemed to shun the women who didn’t work at all and had luxury items. Right that minute though, none of that really mattered. He was almost positive she was the woman in front of him. Her hair was a bit darker than the photos shown on the news but the profile was almost unmistakable. Was that her Mercedes?
The question immediately brought a flush of shame to him and he looked away, hoping she hadn’t glanced up and seen his face. Turning slightly to hide his eyes James let the shame expand and fill every crevice of his being. He encouraged it to burn him, a purifying heat that would extinguish his awe of the woman before him. He wanted to be a better person. He needed to be a better person. James fully intended to go over and introduce himself to Miss Jessica Prince and wanted to present himself the way he always saw himself in his mind. That wouldn’t happen if he had fan-boy plastered all over his face. He knew he wasn’t a catch, as the ladies often said but, he was moderately good-looking with a steady job and normal interests and desires. He felt that he was non-threatening to the fairer sex but still had a bit of the bad-boy in him somewhere. That seemed to be a key ingredient for a lot of women. How often had he seen one of his co-workers talk about her man doing something a bit daring and seen that particular gleam in her eye that told everyone watching she was genuinely enamored. James longed to have a woman look that way when she talked about him. He let his muscles relax and the tension drain mostly out. The first step was to introduce himself and not come off like putz. He looked carefully around again to be sure they were still alone then started toward her.
Thirty minutes later James was practically flying with excitement. He had managed to introduce himself without feeling completely foolish and hadn’t made any stupid statements about seeing her on television. He had been painfully aware of how much he talked with his hands as he tried to engage her with a few knowledgeable comments about their surroundings. She had seemed unimpressed with both him and their location, her own hands moving restlessly over her skirt as they chatted. For a moment James had felt himself losing hope and rushed himself to the point of things, asking her if she would be interested in meeting him later for a stroll around the area and more conversation. To his utter amazement she had agreed. A few moments later, feeling the giddy fan-boy in him rising to the top he made his exit and left. He couldn’t help looking back a couple of times to admire her. That long, flowing hair made him a bit weak in the knees. Not to mention the direct gaze. Miss Prince was not one to be intimidated easily. Despite his intentions of not being insecure about asking her out James had found himself a bit jostled by her blue-eyed stare and had actually glanced away once. She had a very strong personality, unlike most of the people he met on a daily basis.
Once safely out of sight James took out his cell phone and opened Google maps to drop a pin on the exact location he would be returning to. He didn’t want to mess this up. Feeling like the luckiest guy in the world he named the pin Jessica and saved it. The very act of typing her name made him smile.
The morning and afternoon seemed to pass in a rush as James took care of his weekend chores.
Mowing the lawn was a lazy job, something he could do at a relaxed pace and let his thoughts wander freely. Time was of no consequence while he strolled along behind the mower, changing his stride and shifting his shoulders forward and back, seeing which manner of walking made him feel like he would appear more mysterious to an observer. He always found people with a thoroughly relaxed set to their shoulders as the most intriguing. James wondered if he would be able to pull that look off? He doubted it. His nerves were running too high for him to feel completely casual and himself. He was sure Jessica would peg him for a fake almost immediately. The mower bumped roughly over a slight hill in the ground and spat dirt and grass out the chute. James glanced at the sun, noting its position in relation to his house. Time was moving along. He would have to finish up the mowing and get into the shower. Date time was approaching.
What to wear? What to say? Which direction to walk in? What could he talk about that wouldn’t sound dumb? There was only so many things about the city and its sights that he could mention without turning into one of those conversation hogs that totally loved the sound of their own voice. His thought-parade jerked to a stop when he realized that she probably knew everything that he knew, she was a local after all. That was a bit of a hitch in his conversational-giddy-up. So what could they talk about? Being a bit of a history buff when it came to the local sites perhaps he could offer some interesting facts about the local mythology? Maybe Jessica wouldn’t know all there was about the giant sawdust pile with its alleged circus elephant bones, or the missing train in the forest? There was also the mysterious stone plaques throughout the county that marked the existence of a man named Priant who apparently thought enough of his hiking abilities to erect monuments to himself. Priant was long gone but the plaques were still around. James felt a little better as he thought about these things and his hopes rose again.
After a day that had seemed filled with activity and thoughts James abruptly found himself at his departure time. He slid behind the wheel of his car feeling not quite ready but pressed to go anyway. He couldn’t abide lateness and always arrived to things fifteen to thirty minutes early. He would rather be someplace waiting than to get there late, it made him edgy and left him feeling out of sorts for hours. Carpooling had never been a successful option for him since pretty much everyone he knew didn’t view time the same way he did. The Taurus started smoothly and he backed down his driveway.
James was delighted to discover Jessica already at their agreed spot. His stomach fluttered with emotion as he approached. Could she be just like him? He moved as casually as he could over to the black Mercedes and waved a hand at Jessica. She seemed just as pleased to see him as he was to see her. James opened the car door and helped her out. Her noted the softness of her arm in his grasp. She was toned but not overly so. He liked that. Without thinking about it he took her by the hand and headed out.
Later James marveled over the ease of the date. They had talked about everything. She had known about the circus elephants and the train and also had heard about Priant’s plaques but had never seen one. They quickly became engaged in a philosophical discussion about the root of general local myths and how they got started. Laying in bed, replaying the conversation in his head, James felt that Jessica might actually be the one. People seemed to believe there was one special person for everyone. Being overly practical in nature he had never given the idea much thought but now, after the incredible date and the airy feeling he had in his head, James found himself thinking about things in a new way. Could he be falling in love? Was this what it felt like, this hollowness that didn’t actually feel empty, and the warm fuzziness in his head? Even his stomach was doing flips.
The next week was a blur of happiness. At work James suffered the comments of his coworkers over his unusual good-naturedness with nothing but smiles and chuckles. On Wednesday, Anita, the head of the house-keeping department fixed him with a knowing eye and stated that he must have ‘got hisself a girlfriend’ because he was practically giggling over every little thing. James didn’t argue but he refused to confirm or deny. At the end of his shift he punched out at the time-clock and raced home to change and meet Jessica at their spot every evening for more talking and walking. At the end of each date he helped her back into her car, closed the door and asked to meet her the next day. She always agreed.
Friday rolled around on the wings of ambition. James raced home to run the vacuum again and make sure everything was ship shape. He had asked Jessica if she wanted to come for dinner at his place and she had agreed. His nerves were jangling worse than they had when he had first introduced himself. He planned to serve a nice spinach salad to start with a fresh fruit bowl. The main course would be his specialty meal, mushroom lasagna made with four different types of mushrooms and Monterrey Jack instead of mozzarella along with garlic toast points. For dessert he had picked up a small cherry pie from the local grocery store. James stared into his refrigerator with anxiety gnawing at his spine. Would Jessica like it? He glanced at the clock. Four-forty-five. It was too late to change his mind about anything. He would have to leave to meet her in thirty minutes.
Trying to relax James flipped on his television and turned to the local news. He flopped onto his couch and stared at the screen as the voice of the anchorman, somber and measured hit his ears like a spike.
“Rescue divers have discovered the body of local woman Jessica Prince, missing since last Friday night, at the bottom of Inlet Bay. It appears that she drove off the State Pier in her Mercedes and drowned. Authorities have commented that her body seems to have been moved and replaced since the accident, a theory based on the condition of her clothing. Who may have moved her and why is a mystery.”
James turned off the television feeling as though he had been slugged in the stomach. All of the happiness he had felt turned to gravel inside him. He almost couldn’t move, his limbs felt heavy and filled with wet sand, the same way they felt after every dive. The scuba gear, stacked neatly by the door seemed to mock his anguish. He wanted to cry. The past week might as well have never happened. It was over. Jessica had been found.