Paul Ferris noticed the woman the moment he walked through the bank door. She was standing two places ahead of him in line, sandwiched in between a bike messenger whose tattered clothes and scraped up knees indicated he had taken one too many spills onto the hot asphalt, and a blue-haired little old lady holding a plastic grocery bag full of pennies. Ahead of the old lady were six other miscreants of one stripe or another, all waiting impatiently to be serviced by one of the two tellers who actually bothered to show up for work.
Paul would have cursed his bad timing, perhaps even walked out of the bank altogether, were it not for the woman. She was quite simply the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Her smooth, tight skin shimmered with the light brown edges of a fresh tan. Her pink cotton halter top and Capri-length blue jeans were tailored perfectly to her lean, gym-hardened body. And, as he noticed the first time she turned to look at him, her emerald green eyes were positively arresting in their bright intensity. What Paul saw standing just a few feet away from him wasn’t merely a woman; it was the absolute embodiment of perfection.
In an instant, he knew that he had finally found the person he was destined to spend the rest of his natural born life with.
Paul had a simple checklist of qualities that he looked for in the women he worshipped. They had to be slim, they had to be blond, and they had to notice him, not just with a polite smile or dismissive glare, but really truly notice him. The vast majority of women he came across fell depressingly short in the latter category.
But with her second glance, this one accompanied by a soft smile, this woman was an astonishing three for three.
At first he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He instinctively looked around for the better looking man who surely must have walked in behind him. But there was no one else. That smile, as hard as it was to believe, was meant for him. It was a smile that melted him like warm butter; a smile that touched a place in his heart he never knew existed; a smile that said ‘I see you. I like you. I could really go for a guy like you.
But why? he thought to himself, instantly killing his own buzz. Why in God’s name would a woman like this even give me a first glace let alone a second?
By his own admission, Paul Ferris was no prize in the looks department. He was thirty-nine going on fifty-two, balding and had a midsection the color and consistency of a marshmallow. And at a whopping five feet three inches tall, most women he came into contact with, most of the perfect ones anyway, towered over him. It was easy to look past a man when all you could see was the top of his head. Paul had been looked past quite a bit in his life.
But not today. Not by this woman. As unlikely as it seemed, her attention to him was not accidental. She actually seemed to like him. Her third glance back all but confirmed it.
This time Paul summoned the courage to smile back. His lips quivered, portraying a nervousness he could only hope she would find endearing, even cute. A woman like that was probably used to making men like him nervous. His hopes were realized when he saw the corner of her pink mouth curl into a tight smile as she tucked a lock of curly blond hair behind her ear and shyly cast her glance away. Paul felt a surge of excitement rising in him that he could barely contain.
As the teller motioned her to the counter, Paul plotted his next move. Would he somehow try to get her attention as she walked out? Maybe he would step out of line and wait for her by the front door. Maybe he would walk up to the counter right now, tap her on the shoulder and… wait, wait, wait! That would be coming on way too strong! Damn it man, think straight for a minute would you?
The painful truth was that Paul didn’t have the first clue of what he was going to do. He didn’t exactly have a wealth of experience to draw from. Actually, he didn’t have any experience to draw from. Everything in his life up until now had told him that women hated him; women pitied him; women laughed at him. He was a five foot three inch version of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. Why wouldn’t they laugh?
But this woman was different. That smile, that glance given to him too many times to be accidental. She was the real thing. And she was absolutely perfect.
He longingly watched as she approached the teller with the fluid, purposeful stride of a ballet dancer. He allowed his mind to briefly indulge in the image of her wearing knee-high leg warmers, pink ballet shoes, and nothing else. The thought alone made him gasp.
Before she reached the counter she glanced back one more time and smiled. His heart jumped to the other side of his chest. If there was even the slightest bit of doubt in his mind before, it all but vanished in that moment.
But there was still the matter of actually talking to her. He had never closed a deal this big before. Hell, he had never even been invited to sit down at the negotiating table.
It’s doesn’t matter what you say to her you idiot! Just say SOMETHING!
As Paul inched closer to the front of the line he could see her reach into her purse and pull out a small envelope, which she promptly handed to the teller. He couldn’t see her face, but he was positive the smile was still there.
Then something made him look at the teller. Maybe it was the sudden expression of shock in his eyes as he opened the envelope, or the fact that all of the color instantaneously drained from his brown face as he read the note inside.
Paul’s eyes shifted back to the woman. He barely recognized her.
Her face was no longer soft and inviting. It had suddenly become something that frightened him; something he wanted to run away from as fast as he possibly could. But he was frozen where he stood, horrified by what he was seeing, yet unable to turn his eyes away from it.
A second before the gun appeared she spoke the first and last words that he would he would ever hear come out of her mouth.
“Reach for the alarm again and I swear to Christ I’ll shoot you!”
Her voice sounded nothing like Paul imagined it would. The voice he imagined had a quiet, almost sheepish tone. In the fantasy reel that had been running continuously in his mind, he would finally summon the nerve to ask her out for coffee, and she in turn would graciously accept his invitation with the demure uncertainty, yet unmistakable excitement of a teenager being asked out on a date for the first time.
“I would love to have coffee with you,” she would say. “I wanted to ask you myself, but I’m usually not brave enough to approach guys like you.”
Paul let the reel play in his mind over and over again, allowing it to drown out the real and terrifying scene playing out in front of him.
He could see the woman mouthing something, her full pink lips curling up not with a smile, but with blood-chilling rage, as she held the gun up to the teller’s face. Though the increasing volume of the fantasy reel had prevented him from hearing what she was actually saying, he knew there was nothing at all gracious or demure about it.
Paul could feel the growing chaos and panic around him; could see the horror burned on people’s faces as they held their purses and wallets high in the air. Still, it didn’t seem real. He thought for a moment that it had to be some kind of sick joke; a twisted, sadistic version of Candid Camera. He began scanning the bank for hidden cameramen, waiting impatiently for everyone to stop screaming and break out into spontaneous laughter after realizing the prank had finally gone far enough.
But no such laughter would come.
Instead he saw the love of his life, the woman he was convinced was perfect in every way imaginable, approaching him – gun extended, pointing directly at his pasty, perspiring forehead. This time when their eyes met, she was not smiling. In the brief seconds before the end finally came, Paul had time for one last thought:
Why are the perfect ones always so fucking difficult??