This is part of a story that’s in my head that I’ve started to try to get on paper. I’ve only gone over this once after writing it, so it’s technically in the “Unedited” category.
Engrossed in her book, Maggie didn’t notice Agent Peterson until he sat in the chair across from her and asked, “Mind if I join you?” With a slight jump, she looked up and took a second to recognize him, out of context and in her favorite neighborhood café.
“It appears you already have,” she said, closing her book and setting it aside. “So, what brings you here?” she asked, looking around, “and where’s your partner?”
“Actually,” he said as he smiled at a passing waitress, “I’m just here for lunch.” When the waitress stopped he ordered a Diet Coke and asked Maggie if she needed anything else. Maggie politely declined and silently commanded the butterflies in her belly to not get swept up by his nice manners and charm.
“Really? You came all the way out here just for lunch?” She was suspicious of his presence, but Agent Peterson’s smile was disarming, and she found herself grinning back at him. And then there were the butterflies that completely disregarded her earlier instruction. Cool it, she told herself, he’s only here because of the investigation.
“Sincerely,” he replied, pulling out a menu from the napkin and condiments holder, “I come here all the time.” He glanced at the empty space in front of her as he perused the lunch options, “What did you get?”
“Oooh, a usual!” His eyes were twinkling the way they had when he stood on her porch, “You must come here even more than me, Ms. Edwards!”
“Um. Yeah,” his playful tone mixed with the formality of his address threw her off-kilter. “And you don’t have to call me ‘Ms. Edwards’ – it makes me feel old.”
He put down his menu and, after summoning the waitress with another killer smile, ordered a club sandwich with sweet potato fries and a piece of heated peach cobbler for dessert. Maggie frowned, suddenly regretting her chef’s salad that was presumably on its way. Agent Peterson moved his head into her line of vision and caught her gaze with his eyes. Images of salad and cobbler vanished as she was pulled deeper into this trance. “And what may I call you, then?” he asked.
“Maggie. Or, some people call me Margaret.” The waitress delivered the chef’s salad and assured Agent Peterson that his order was being expedited so the two could have their lunch together. Usually Maggie loved the café’s salad, loaded with fresh vegetables, a couple perfectly hard-boiled eggs, and mounds of deli meat and cheese. Plus she always got it with a side of their famous house dressing and an extra garlic bread stick. But today, she stabbed at the greens and meat with irritation instead of enthusiasm. Curse you, Agent Peterson, and your stupid sweet potato fries and your stupid peach cobbler and your stupid brown eyes. She looked up at him, with sudden trepidation that he could somehow read her thoughts. “You never really answered my question about why you’re here, Agent Peterson.”
“Hey now,” he said, “I thought we were going to be on a first-name basis here. My name is Justin, but my friends call me J.P.”
“Do you have a preference?” she asked, wondering if he would stop smiling that captivating smile if she stabbed him with her fork.
“Do you have a preference? Between Maggie and Margaret, I mean.”
For as long as she could remember, she had always gone by both. Her father called her Maggie, but her mother always stuck with Margaret. And her very best friends, like Michael, often had completely different nicknames for her. “I really don’t,” she said, pulling off a piece of her hot breadstick.
He leaned back in his chair and looked her over, seeming to size her up and making her squirm a bit under his scrutiny. “Ok, Margaret, call me J.P. Only my parents and teachers call me Justin. All my friends go with J.P.”
“Ooh,” now it was her turn tease, “does that mean I’m in the friend category?”
He didn’t respond, but just smiled as his club sandwich was delivered with a pile of steaming hot sweet potato fries that Maggie immediately coveted. She watched as he lifted the first fry from the plate to his mouth. “Want some?” he offered, and Maggie turned scarlet realizing she had been staring at his mouth but her thoughts were no longer on sweet potato fries.
“No. Thanks,” she had to look away to regain some sense of sanity. “But I do still want to know what brought you so close to my house for lunch, J.P.” As soon as she said his name, she knew it was a mistake. She was having a hard enough time drawing the line when she saw him as an authority figure. Blurring that line now with familiarity was going to make it even more challenging to resist his beguiling ways. Dammit, J.P.! I mean, Agent Peterson!
As they ate, he explained that he lived only ten minutes away, which meant they were practically neighbors. Pushing aside all thoughts of how easy and convenient a late night excursion would be, Maggie focused instead on talking about the neighborhood. J.P. had only been in the area for a few months, so she played virtual tour guide, giving him all the inside tips on local establishments. Once on a neutral topic, the conversation flowed easily and naturally and before they knew it, the waitress was setting down the plate of cobbler complete with a just-melting scoop of vanilla ice cream.
“You know you want some,” J.P. handed Maggie one of the two spoons.
“Some?” Maggie teased, pulling the plate closer to her.
“Ahh! I see how you are! You’re one of those I’m-just-going-to-order-salad-and-then-eat-the-guy’s-dessert kind of girls. Ok. Good to know.”
Maggie mocked offense as she took a spoonful of the cobbler and ice cream, “What? Me?” She put the spoon in her mouth and closed her eyes to savor the bite, enjoying the contrast of the hot and the cold on her tongue, while the soft peaches and crisp crust melted together in pure sugary ecstasy. When she opened her eyes, J.P. was watching her. Blushing she put down her spoon and pushed the plate back toward him, “Thanks.”
“Is that all? I was hoping to watch you eat at least a few more bites.”
“I, uh, need to… ummm. I have to get back to work,” she stammered, looking for the waitress and avoiding eye contact with J.P. This is bad. Really, really bad. Her heart was in her throat, and her stomach was doing flip-turns, and this was absolutely the wrong time with absolutely the wrong person, and she needed to get away and sort all of this out.
“Margaret, it’s fine, you go. I got this. My treat.”
She shook her head and opened her purse to look for cash. She did not want to be indebted to him, not even something as small as a lunch. Regardless of how far she had let her mind wander today, he was still looking into Micky and until she knew what was really going on, she didn’t know who she could trust. Pulling out a ten and a couple of ones, she spread the cash out on the table and placed her water glass on top. Taking a deep breath, she finally looked up at him, “It was nice running into you, Agent Peterson.”
Still with that smile that would haunt her thoughts all day, he nodded, “Ms. Edwards.” She picked up her book and purse and walked out as quickly as she could without actually running. Agent Peterson watched her go, waiting until she was completely out sight before turning back to his cobbler.