Copyright 2013 Theo Fenraven
May contain material only suitable for adults; read wisely. 🙂
I returned to the bookstore a few days later and confirmed with a quick glance that Ren was behind the counter on his stool. I bought coffee in the small refreshment area and, after grabbing a book off a shelf, sat down in a chair and began to read. After getting through the introduction, I burst out laughing. Apparently, the book was about what a decapitated head might say in the ninety seconds of consciousness it had before actual death. It was a lunatic premise, to put it mildly. I glanced at the title page again: Severance by Robert Olen Butler. Still laughing, though more quietly, I read the short pieces at random, starting with Anne Bolyn’s words to her daughter after her head was cut off.
I stopped laughing and became engrossed.
An hour later, I finished, bought a second cup of coffee, and sat in my chair, deep in thought. A strange book indeed, but unexpectedly affecting. What would I say in the ninety seconds of consciousness I had, and who would I say them to? The author assumed a heightened state of emotion during that brief period, which might allow as many as 240 words to be hurriedly strung together.
It bothered me I couldn’t think of one person I’d want to hear my last words, even if I could think up something wise or pithy.
I stared out the front window, contemplating the end of life, sipping my coffee, letting my mind wander, and occasionally, glancing over at Ren. Not once did I catch him looking at me.
After a while, I gathered up my stuff and crossed to where he sat behind the counter, the usual book open in front of him. I placed Severance on the counter and only then did he look up. “I’d like to purchase this,” I said.
He glanced at it and smiled. “Interesting choice.” He rang it up, I paid, and he handed it back to me in a logoed bag.
I did not touch him this time. “Thanks.”
I left the place without a backward glance, feeling uncommonly proud of myself for being so cool. Knowing I was only pretending to be that suave kind of wrecked it, but attitude was everything, and what you appeared to be was who you were until proven different.
∞ ∞ ∞
The next two weeks were busy, and I didn’t get a chance to return to the bookstore. That didn’t mean I didn’t think about Ren. I did, probably far more than was good for me. I couldn’t get his face, his voice, out of my mind. Wondering why it was proving so difficult to get his attention, I visited him one Sunday afternoon.
It was quiet, not many people in the store. I liked that. There was less chance of anyone overhearing us.
He wasn’t reading this time. He was people-watching through the storefront window, a cup of tea beside him. As I approached, his gaze shifted, and he watched me walk toward him.
“Don’t you ever go home?” I asked. “You’re always here.”
His face remained expressionless. “I am home. I own the store.”
“Oh.” Feeling like a jerk, I hesitated, and then I forged ahead. What the hell. “Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?”
He studied me for a long moment, and I felt incredibly nervous and uncouth. How did he manage that? I was sort of famous, relatively wealthy, and normally full of self-confidence, but he had just reduced me to feeling like an insecure teenager.
“I’m working,” he said. No inflection that might have suggested disappointment, no smile that might have invited more conversation.
“Do you eat?”
His lips twitched. “Sometimes.”
“How about if I bring you something? We can dine here if you can’t leave.”
He leaned forward over the counter and lowered his voice. “Look, let it go. I’m not interested.”
For a moment, I felt dizzy; rejection was not something I handled well, and I wasn’t used to it lately, either. But I recovered quickly. “Why not?”
He snorted. “Look, I know who you are. You can have anyone you want, but not me. Buy books here, but leave me off your shopping list.”
I felt as if I’d been slapped. The breath caught in my throat, and I think I swayed a bit. “You don’t even know me,” I said softly. I caught my bottom lip in my teeth, a habit I’d long tried to break without success. “You might like me if you did.”
“I’m not into one-night stands,” he said bluntly. “I don’t do bathhouse quickies just because someone’s horny. I think a lot more of myself than that.”
Someone came up with a couple of books, and I stepped aside to let Ren process the purchase, but the moment he finished, I was back in front of him. This time, it was me who leaned over the counter, getting in his face. “I asked you out for dinner. There was no hidden agenda in that invitation. I want to get to know you. Now… do you accept, you self-righteous prick?”
Almost, he smiled. “I like sushi, and I usually take a dinner break around six.”
I straightened. “Okay, I’ll be back then.”
He had me at a disadvantage, and I think I liked it.