All she wanted was a chance to write, all he wanted was her but there are secrets.
|What I Wasn’t Looking For
Ch: 1 The Shop
I should have known when I first entered the store. A sense of history, something mysterious and tightly concealed, hung in the air. A grandmother behind the counter, knitting on her lap, smiled at me. Wide beams of light cut across the polished boards, permitted no further into the store than the front counter, “lest they cause the books to fade,” according to the grandmother. I should have sensed the secrets concealed within those shelves, but I was only twenty five, and with a small fortune to assist me in the pursuit of my dreams what should I have cared that he was there.
The air in the shop was stale; I pushed through it running my hand along a number of leather bound volumes, admiring their gilded titles. One day Bec, one of yours will be sitting on this shelf, I thought as I pulled one down and opened it to inspect the binding. I smiled.
“Can I help you?”
The grandmother was smiling at me, her knitting discarded on the wooden countertop. Returning the book to the shelf I quickly crossed the floor and extended my hand.
“Hi,” I began “I’m Becky, well Rebecca actually, and I’m new here in the city. I just enrolled at the University, St. Charles, perhaps you’ve heard of it?” The old lady smiled politely her pruned lips and wrinkled eyes nodding in recognition. So far so good. “Anyway, I used to work in pharmacy but I’m looking for a new job, and I was wondering if you had any positions available?” She frowned and collected her knitting again; obviously she had heard this spiel several times before.
“I’m very sorry dear, but as you can see we’re a rather quiet shop. I’m afraid we haven’t enough business to support two employees,” she finished matter of factly giving me a sympathetic smile before returning to her work. I hadn’t really expected to find work on the first day; I know that even in a large city these things take time, but I was surprisingly disappointed at the woman’s dismissal. This shop would have been a brilliant place to work on my writing. Damn it. I shrugged my bag back onto my shoulder and thanking the grandmother turned to leave when my path was blocked by a tall man emerging from one of the darkened shelves.
I had noticed him before, but had taken him for nothing more than a quiet customer and had paid him little mind. The man seemed not to notice that a person was in his path, though how he could miss me when I was standing right in front of him I’ll never know and I was forced to wedge myself in between the tall counter and a low round table display. In doing so, I sent a number of books tumbling. Nice one Bec, I thought as I stooped to collect them dropping my bag and losing a number of highly personal items which began to scatter and roll about on the floor. Oh god, I knew I should have put those tampons in the zipper compartment!
The man was courteous enough not to step on me but that was the limit of his social graces. He did, however, move aside as the old grandmother came scuttling around the counter and began to quickly grab for anything that might remotely be mine and shoved it into my now open bag which she righted on the table top.
“Tell me, Miss…?” His words resonated in the air as he looked down at me, like some sort of disapproving headmaster.
“Becky,” I answered, standing and stacking a handful of books back onto the display table. “Becky Heart.” I extended my hand. He sneered.
“Miss Heart, could you manage to leave my shop intact and the contents of your bag off my floor?”
I quickly swallowed the words which were clawing to escape; I felt mortified, and furious at the same time but I wasn’t ready to start my new life on the wrong foot just yet. The little grandmother handed me my things and I swung the bag over my shoulder careful not to repeat the scene which had just played out.
“Don’t worry dear, I’ll right the rest,” the grandmother added helpfully as I fumed silently toying with the idea of storming off in an indignant huff or telling the rude bastard exactly what I thought of him.
“Don’t bother Margaret, if she’s going to be working here she’ll have to set the displays eventually,” he replied, turning his back and proceeding down a narrow flight of, until now, unnoticed stairs. “Miss Heart,” he added, turning around at the door and peering at me over his glasses, “I do hope your efficiency in creating the displays is significantly better than your method for dismantling them,” then he disappeared.
How rude! As if I would work for him. I turned and bent to collect another book which still rested on the floor. The old lady patted me kindly on the shoulder.
“He really is a nice man…once you get to know him,” she finished thoughtfully, before moving back around the counter to resume her place and her knitting. I shrugged and tried to arrange the books in something which resembled their previous shape. In the end I gave up and merely stacked them in three neat piles placing one book at the front of each facing out towards the window. Yeah, a real sweetie, more like a royal pain in the ass. But still, I was hired. Not only hired but in a fantastic shop that had little business which meant after the dusting and the register was counted what more could there be for me to do than write. I smiled, it was almost perfect. Except for the owner, it was almost like life was cutting me a break, ‘here you go Bec, just for you, something to make up for all the crap you’ve been through. A job where you get paid to do nothing but sit behind a counter and write, or in Margaret’s case knit.’ I looked over and she smiled at me her hands working continually over some bright orange ball of atrocious fluff.
“Margaret, how long have you worked here?” She squinted her prune face, in deep concentration.
“Oh, about eight years, dear.”
“And do you see…,” I didn’t even know my prospective employer’s name, “do you see him often, when at work?” I asked. She smiled, knowingly, and shook her head.
“Only when I bring him his tea and even then most times he’s got his head buried that far in his work he barely knows I’m there,” she answered eyeing me shrewdly. Well that’s not so bad, I thought as I stared at the closed door at the bottom of the stairway. Really, how bad can he be?
“Do you want the job sweetheart?” Margaret asked, gently smiling at me from behind miniscule spectacles. There really was only one answer wasn’t there.
“Yes, when do I start?”
The sound of the city slapped me as I stepped back into reality. It was ridiculous, but I was forced to look over my shoulder as I headed down the street. What are you doing? Checking to see if it’s really there? I had to laugh at myself, but there it was. The strange little shop with the elegant letters that read O’Riley’s Book Emporium. For a moment I starred at the sign contemplating what those words meant for me, food, drinks, ink for my printer, a trip to the zoo with mom, maybe her favorite music, maybe a cat to keep her company, maybe… Something caught in my throat, I had to breathe deeply to hold it back. I wiped my eyes, Alright Bec, get control of yourself, I made what must have been the world’s loudest sniffle, Geez Bec, Margaret’s probably watching. I turned, having forgotten that the shop even had windows and saw Margaret wave her orange fluff at me. I managed to give her a smile and quickly ducked my head moving down the street promising myself I would splurge on some Thai food as way of a celebration and a pick me up.
Back in the apartment or ‘the cube’ as I like to affectionately call it, I shoved a few of my unpacked boxes together to make a make-shift coffee table. A few of my friends from back home had already left messages asking the usual post move questions. “How was the trip? Have you settled in? When can we come visit? Did you kill the fish?
“Oh my God! Puck!” I dropped my food and ran to the kitchen where I had left a box labeled ‘open upon arrival’ it had been left at the bottom of a stack of dishes and like all good delivery companies do, it was upside down. Shit! Furiously I rummaged through the contents of the package until I pulled a tuperware container from within. Ripping off the lid I crossed my fingers and peered within. Orange eyes starred back at me and then disappeared in a swirl of liquid color. Collapsing on the floor I rested my head against the cabinet door.
“See, moving here wasn’t such a bad thing,” I reasoned looking at Puck as he circled around in the salad container. “At least now I can buy you fish food.” For some reason he seemed less than impressed.