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Who knows where you'll find love?

By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published March 1, 2007


BRANDON - The girl with a scar on her arm picked out a card at the CVS. It had a computer chip in it. When you opened it, it wolf-whistled.

She wrote: This is just to let you know I noticed you a long time ago. She signed it, Me. She drew a heart.

When she went to mail it, the clerk took it from her before she could change her mind.

* * *

Her name is Angie Hawkins. She's 30, coltish, with curly brown hair she ties up in a ponytail most days. She wears jeans to work.

She has two kids, a 12-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son, and since September she has supported them by working at a sandwich shop in a strip mall in Brandon.

He works two doors down at the paintball store. He would come in almost every day and order the same thing: a club sandwich with everything on it.

They would talk while she fixed it. She noticed his shy smile, his buff legs.

One afternoon, Angie came to work straight from jury duty. She was wearing dress slacks, and her hair was loose around her shoulders. She saw him in the parking lot and said hello. He almost didn't recognize her.

Wow, he said. You look terrific.

I've been wanting to hear that from you for a long time, she said.

When she went into the sandwich shop her heart was pounding.

* * *

The part of Hillsborough County where Angie works was farmland not so long ago, but now it's all beige houses and chain stores.

It's hard to cultivate desire in a place like this. No one walks anywhere. People spend their lives in their cars, stuck in traffic, sealed away from each other.

You could drive by a sandwich shop like Angie's a hundred times and never know it was there, never know that the girl at the counter has long legs and curly brown hair.

Really, what are the chances that any of us will find someone? You might see someone in a restaurant. You might see someone across a parking lot.

You have to take a chance where you find it.

* * *

The day before Valentine's Day, he came in for his sandwich.

Hey, she joked, I need a new car.

You want a Benz or a Porsche?

As long as it's black, I don't mind.

They smiled at each other.

I'm sorry about the other day, he said. I had this beautiful girl looking at me, I got tongue-twisted.

She laughed. She was thinking about the Valentine in the mail.

I did something today that's crazy, she said.

What?

I can't tell you. I feel silly for doing it. You'll find out in a couple of days.

I don't like games, he said.

Me neither, she said.

* * *

The scar on Angie's arm is from when a man punched her once, hard enough to break the bone. Under the long white line a plate and screws hold her together.

Last year she ended a long romance with someone who couldn't stop drinking.

"Love is not painful," she says. "It shouldn't be. I don't see how you can love someone and all you do is fight."

* * *

On Feb. 14, Angie wore her brown T-shirt with pink hearts all over it, but he didn't come in for a sandwich. He didn't come the day after. Then it was the weekend, then Monday.

On Tuesday he walked through the door.

I got your card, he said.

He was blushing. He looked at his feet. She felt her hands shake.

But I'm dating somebody, he said.

* * *

It's okay, Angie says now.

She's making a chicken salad sandwich. She scoops the meat out of a Tupperware container and molds it onto the slice of bread with her thin fingers.

"I was just enjoying having a crush," she says.

She's glad she went for it. Maybe if he's ever single he'll give her a call.

Besides, she said, look at her horoscope:

"Love and affection might knock on your door this week," she reads aloud.

She slices the sandwich and places it on a tray. Last weekend she met a man at a bar. He has a motorcycle, she says, and thick dark hair.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 813 661-2442 or srosenbaum@sptimes.com.

Encounters

About the series

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, please contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727)892-2924.