"'I admire your persistence' was what he said, which, as you know perfectly well, was his way of saying, 'You just don't quit, do ya, buddy?'"
His slightly trembling hand clutched a piece of yellow paper, on which was written the phone number of a girl he'd met at a party. He had been out with her a few times on casual dates and he had become quite enamored of her. There had been very few women in his life, but from the way he spoke I got the feeling that he might have been in love with her.
"Not love," he corrected, "That's not what it is. It's boredom, that's what it is. Otherwise, I would've taken the hint already. I would've realized that, 'Hey--this isn't happening. I keep leaving messages with her roommate and she doesn't call me back. Something's up here.' But frankly I don't have that much ego to worry about, so who cares if I keep calling and leaving messages, right?"
I nodded and listened while he sucked on a Dr. Brown's black cherry soda. He was nervous about telling me this. Which was odd because we'd been friends since childhood and he was always willing to share absolutely anything with me. But this time there was a little quiver in his voice, a little shudder in his index finger as he gesticulated, a little twitch below his eye.
"I followed her," he said. He paused to let the words sink in and nodded with irony. "I followed her."
"Did she know?"
He blew his nose in his napkin and continued. "Well I didn't really follow her. But you know how, sometimes when you like a girl, I mean this is really high school kind of stuff, but you know how, maybe you'll kind of drive by their house and see if they're in or something like that?"
"Well, that's what I did. It was on my way to work anyway so it wasn't like I was being a sleaze or anything."
"I was looking for someone wearing a red coat because that's what she always wears. This Christmassy red overcoat which makes her blond hair really stand out. I looked down her block. Empty. No red coats. No black coats. No nothing."
"But then right ahread of me was a girl with blond hair and a red coat. I crept up next to her and honked the horn and she turned toward me. Nope. It was somebody else. I knew she took the el to work so I looked up on the el platform and there were five or six women with the same red coats. I looked at all of them careful as I could. None of them were her either. I kept on driving. In the direction I thought she might be walking. And everywhere there were people with red coats. Men with red coats, little kids with red coats, and for a split second everyone was her and then everyone wasn't.
"I was becoming obsessed with it. I wanted to find her even though I knew that logically she might still be at home or already at work or whatever. But it was like there was that feeling inside of me that says, 'Well, you went this far--might as well take it a step further.' I went over by this bus stop. Figured maybe she was taking the bus this day. I didn't know. Someone was there, in a crowd of people waiting at the bus stop over by Wrigley Field, wearing the exact same red overcoat. Not just any red overcoat, but that specific overcoat. And that person had the shoulder-length blond hair and the same way of standing, kind of caveman like, not real sexy, but real noticeable."
"This time I figure it could really be her. But I gotta make it look like an accident, right? Can't make it look like Sleazeman's following her."
"I park the car in the 7-Eleven lot and try and look at her from across the street, but the bus is coming in. I don't know what I was thinking, what I was smoking, whatever. I'm like, 'I gotta get on that bus.' I tear across the street, almost get hit by like three cars and push my way to the front of the line, pay my fare. Bus doors close. Smells like hell in there. No place to move, I'm shoved up against one of those big metal poles and I'm looking for her and I'm looking for her and there is not one single damn red coat on the bus. I get on the bus but she doesn't."
"I'm looking through the window trying to see if she's still there at the bus stop. Can't see a damn thing. I'm like, 'Jesus Christ. All right--get a hold of yourself. Get off the damn bus.' Next stop, I shove my way off and start jogging back to the bus stop. I get there. A minute has passed. Maybe a minute and a half. Tops. She's not there. Only one there is some old bag lady reading Good Housekeeping. It's like she flat out disappeared."
"Are you sure she wasn't on the bus?"
"But she was gone."
"Right. But the funny thing was, I called up her place again and her roommate answers, the guy who's always like, 'I admire your persistence.' And he's like, 'Oh yeah. You're the guy who keeps calling.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah. That's me.' And he says, 'Well, she saw you this morning.' And I'm like 'What?' And he's like, 'Oh yeah. At the bus stop. She saw you. I'm like, 'No. This can't be happening. I know she didn't see me.' He's like 'Oh yeah. She did. We've been laughing about it all night.'"