It’s Simple, Then

by on August 22nd, 2014
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“Mother of God,” I swore as I tugged on the door to the bank. Closed for Labor Day. The sign I had promptly ignored as I walked up and tried to force my way in. Why? Why do we have these God-forsaken holidays that gives us a blessed week day off but closes all the places we could be getting our errands done?

Someone please explain to me the fairness of that? I had about sixteen errands to run that Monday morning and nothing, literally nothing was open. It was quite possibly the most frustrating thing in the world.

I stood in front of the bank for a few more minutes, staring at the lock, hoping that by sheer will it would open and a teller would materialize so I could sort out their error on my mortgage loan, which they wouldn’t fix unless I took time out of my day to come down to their facility. So again, with the unfairness.

As usual, my extreme powers of bank-opening-teller- materializing failed me, so I stalked off in a huff. I made a beeline for the first open shop near by, which happened to be my favorite book shop slash cafe. The smell of my absolute favorite espresso welcomed me as I pulled open the creaky wooden door and stepped inside.

I loved that little shop. If I could have proposed to a building, I absolutely would have proposed to this book shop. It was ancient; it had been around since I could remember, which was roughly about twenty-six years, thirty two if it was an honest day.

The man who used to run it, a grisly old, cranky man who put the fear of god into sticky-fingered little toddlers daring to soil his books had died about five years back. He had been so scary, but at the same time I worshiped that man. He was tall, his white beard was very Santa Clause-esque and his shirts, always red flannel, didn’t exactly take away from the comparison.

He had this fire in his eyes that filled me with curiosity. He had such passion about his books, such love and such wonder and it made me want to know why they were so treasured by him. I had asked him once, when I was about eight. He responded, not with words, but by handing me a book off the shelf and waving me out the door.

I still had that book. It was inscribed on the inside, For Noah, with love and knowledge, Gramps. I had no idea who Noah was, but I had his book and I felt a little bit like a thief every time I read it. Every now and again, even at my age, I’d pick up the book, the cover worn and a little frayed, and I’d read it. The story was a little silly, a group of kids living in a boxcar, abandoned by society.

In later years I found out there was an entire series of that book, but I never read them. No, I preferred my little, over-worn copy. It was a peek into that man’s passion for books, and it fueled my own.

Not really a book writer, I still did well at my journalism job. I got to write what I loved, and I got to travel, so you couldn’t really beat that. Of course I had the dream that all not-quite book writers had, to be published in leather-bound covers one day. Would that happen? Maybe, when God stuck a couple of extra hours in the day.

For now I just enjoyed stepping into the little shop. I couldn’t hate what the new owners had done to it. They’d kept everything the same, except the storage area, which had always been empty. The new owners had converted it into a little cafe and hired a couple of extremely eccentric baristas to man the counter.

Being that I wasn’t in town much, I’d only been to the newly owned shop a couple of times. I had my doubts, of course, being spoiled by Starbucks coffee, and of course brainwashed by their friendly advertisements and wholly addictive syrups for their espressos. When I tasted the magic these blue and pink haired, pierced and tattooed baristas could do to steamed chai, however, I was sold.

The moment I got back into town I did my best to stop by and get myself a drink. I couldn’t help the deep, soothing breath I took when I walked past the old stacks crammed with books. I loved the fact that the new owners didn’t bother to tidy up the place. The old man had always crammed books into every crevice of the shelves, so none would go forgotten in the back.

No one could hate that, could they? I quickly bypassed all ideas of book in favor of caffeine, hoping that a delicious drink could get me out of my terrible mood. The barista at the counter was the younger girl, hair short and black streaked with pink. She had a big ring in her septum, which always reminded me of cows. She smiled, wide, even teeth, and immediately began brewing my usual.

I was a pretty plain looking girl, shoulder length brown hair, brown eyes, pretty short, not ugly but not movie-star either. I usually wore jeans and some sort of buttoned shirt, and found I blended in well with most crowds. I figured she recognized me any time because my plain jeans and buttoned shirt was probably pretty equal to her cow-ring.

Of course I was being a little judgmental there. After all, she made magic inside of a disposable, insulated cup. You have to respect that profession, honestly. We Americans, celebrating our silly holidays about respecting the work force by getting drunk and barbequing, are dependent on what these wonderful caffeine suppliers produce for us.

I pulled out my credit card and she took it with a grin, exchanging the piece of plastic for a hot cup of awesome. “Thanks,” I said.

“Rough day, Miss Grace?” She swiped the card through her little machine.

“Seriously, call me Stella. I mean, what’s the use of having a comic book name like Stella Grace if you can’t let the public use it properly.”

She laughed and handed me the card back. “You going to that music fest tonight?”

“What kind of music fest?” I asked, eying her cotton-candy hair. I could be fairly sure if it was her type of music, it wasn’t mine. I think the only possible similarity between us would probably be a deep-seated hatred of country music.

“Oh some folksy stuff, I think. James and I are going later.” I had to assume that James was the male counterpart barista. He, last time I checked, had short, bright green hair and a stud sticking out of each cheek.

“Probably not. More than likely I’ll sit inside and rage at nothing being open on my only week day off all year. Then I’ll probably open a box of wine and drink myself to sleep.” It wasn’t true, but it sounded like something I might do, if the opportunity was there.

She laughed again and shook her head. “Well if you get bored, come down. I’m sure there will be plenty of booze and plenty of morons in big hats and tight wranglers to write about later.”

This time I laughed. “Maybe I will, then, if it promises to be that awesome.”

I took my coffee, nodded a goodbye to her and wandered off. I found myself in the Theology stacks, as I usually did, and I was browsing a couple of titles I’d already read. My mind was wandering off a little, so I was completely startled when I hand tapped me on the shoulder.

I jumped and turned around. One of the new owners, one I didn’t see often, was standing there with a little, satisfied grin.

“Didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. It registered in my brain that I’d never heard him talk before. His voice was quite nice, soft and a little nasal, but not annoying. He was much taller than me, though it wasn’t hard to be. He had floppy brown hair and his eyes were a very interesting shade of brown.

His teeth were even, but the canines were just slightly crooked, sticking out such a slight fraction that you could only really notice if you stared really hard. Which, apparently, I was. I cleared my throat and took a step back.

“Sorry, it’s been a horrendously long morning and it’s barely nine.”

He shook his head and waved off my apology. “No worries. I kind of knew I was going to startle you. You were pretty deep in thought.”

I blushed a little. “Yeah. I was talking to myself, wasn’t I?” That was a terrible habit I just couldn’t seem to kick. Made for many embarrassing meeting, let me tell you.

His grin widened. “Just a little. I do it to, don’t worry about it.”

“So um, did you need something?” I asked. It dawned on me that he had tapped my shoulder for a reason, and probably not to tell me I was talking to myself. People who did that generally already knew, or they were completely crazy but at that point telling them wouldn’t really make a difference anyway.

“You come in here a lot, don’t you?”

I shrugged. “Often as I can. I love this shop. I used to come here as a kid all the time.”

“I think I remember you,” he said with a delighted grin. “A little girl with strawberry blonde hair?”

I tugged at a loose, brown lock. “Yeah. Thank God that phase passed quickly. How do you know that, though?” I was suddenly a little creeped out, but curious all the same.

“I used to be in here all the time,” he said. He reached above my head and pulled down a thick book with a picture of renaissance era Jesus on the cover. “I noticed that lately you’ve also been buying a lot of theology books. When I saw you come in I thought of this book. I think you’ll like it.”

I looked the book over and decided to trust him. “Thanks. I’ve got a sixteen hour flight next week, so this will come in handy.”

“Ouch,” he said and we headed to the register. “You travel a lot?”

“Too much, if you ask me,” I said with a sigh.

“If you don’t like it, why do you do it?” he wondered as he took the book and scanned it under the little knobbly scanner.

I shrugged, sighed and pulled out my credit card. “I don’t know. A psychiatrist will probably tell me that I’m running away from an unfulfilled life. Being that I’m over thirty with no kids and no steady husband prospect, my mother will likely agree. I guess I get bored of waiting around for things to happen to me.”

“So you go looking for them,” he said, which was more of a statement than a question.

“Well I do have a pretty exciting life, sometimes,” I said. “Who knows. I’ll probably end up being that crazy lady who was eaten by her cats, and when they find me ten years later, I’ll be bare bones, with an old knitted cap on my mangled corpse hair and a pen stuck between my old, sun-bleached phalanges.”

He chuckled and handed me the book back. “You were pretty witty as a kid, too.”

“Seriously, how do you remember me and I don’t remember you? I remember everyone I was friends with, even from preschool.”

He put rested his elbow on the counter top. “We never spoke. I wasn’t really supposed to come out a lot. I used to work with my grandfather, who owned this place. My job was to sit in the back room and keep quiet. He left the shop to me when he died.”

My eyes widened as my brain made the connection. “Noah?”

“How did you know?” he asked.

I laughed. “Because your mean, crazy old gramps gave me a book when I was a little girl, and it was made out to you.”

Noah laughed and stuck out his hand. “So we finally meet, crazy little girl with the strawberry hair.”

“Stella, but I guess that works too,” I said with a laugh.

He released my hand and looked at me very hard for a second. “Go to the music festival with me tonight.”

I was literally, physically startled by the question. “What?”

“I’m asking you out. To the music fest. So go with me.” His use of sentence fragments, for some reason, made me hear him better. Maybe that was why parents did it all the time to their bratty kids.

“Oh um,” I said, struggling. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go out with him. I thought he was cute the moment I saw he’d taken over the shop, and honestly as a little girl I’d always kind of fantasized about meeting the mysterious Noah, and possibly running off to have great boxcar adventures together.

“I will accept a no, but not lightly,” he warned.

“I wasn’t really planning on going to that stupid music fest. These dumb holidays don’t really do much for me, you know,” I said.

“You don’t like taking a day to honor the people of our society who work hard?” he asked. His grin was a little sardonic and I had to appreciate that.

Of course I immediately snapped into controversial journalist mode, and said, “The only people who get to benefit from these days are the over-paid, fat, corporate Americans. The ones who actually work hard, and I mean work really hard, still have to work on these days. They’re not given time off to spend with their families. They’re not appreciated, they’re expected to do their job, every day, without extra compensation or recognition. So why celebrate that?”

“So are you fat, corporate America?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

I looked down and rubbed my mid-section a little. “I’m moderately pudgy corporate America. I still have a ways to grow.”

He threw his head back and laughed. “Go with me. I’ll buy you a couple of drinks, we’ll make fun of cowboys and those people who look like their dogs, and if after an hour you hate my company, you can go home and drink your box of wine until you pass out.”

So he’d heard me, and used it against me. Couldn’t hate that, could I? “Fine. Fine I’ll meet you here at… whatever time it starts…”

“Six,” he interjected.

“Six. We’ll have a drink and go from there.”

“Deal,” he said and held out his hand.

I hesitated. “Look, there’s a reason I don’t really date. I travel so much and-“

“Weren’t you just telling me, in so many words, that you travel so you can find a sort of romance adventure?”

“In so many words,” I repeated, a little cross now.

“So why turn it down when it actually happens?”

That bastard had a point. I sighed and threw my hands up in surrender. “Fine. Six pm. No dressing up or anything fancy.”

“Deal. But on one date we have to do gown and tux, even if it’s just to the movies.”

I raised an eyebrow. “One date?”

“Or two. We’ll see how we feel in a couple months.”

He was bold, that was for sure. I took my book, unaware for a minute or two that I hadn’t actually paid for it, and I hurried out. I forgot the bank, the grocery store, the post office and the other errands I had to run. I ended up back at my apartment, with the book, and a buzzing head.

I sat down on the couch and held the book on my lap. That had just happened. It really had just happened. Now, I wasn’t some ugly, creepy loser who never got asked out, but this was Noah. A kid I had wondered about all of my life.

I also couldn’t forget that he had actually made a reasonable point about why I should go on a date with him. No guy had ever done that before. Ever. I opened the book cover and saw a little note scrawled inside the book. Cranky brown haired girl. See you tonight. Love, Noah. His number was scribbled underneath.

I shook my head. I hadn’t even seen him write that. In fact, I had been watching him the whole time. He had to have done it before I had even spoken to him.

I stood up, half impressed and half raged at his assumption that I would go out with him. I’d had half a mind to call that number and tell him the date was off!

Instead I spent an extra hour on my hair making sure it was just so.

Time seemed to race, and at the same time crawl by. I was at the book shop deliberately two minutes late. He was four minutes late. He wasn’t dressed fancy at all, but I was grateful to see he’d not chosen wranglers. I noticed the smell of barbeque in the air as he approached and I heard someone near by laugh and then break some sort of glass, probably a beer bottle.

Noah was grinning as he stepped up to me and took my hands in his. “Well, cranky brown haired girl, I’m glad you showed. You hair looks great, by the way.”

I blushed a little. “I almost didn’t show, you know. That was some smarmy little trick there, with the book.”

He pulled me closer to him, and I didn’t resist. “Liar,” he said quietly.

“Prove it,” I said with a wicked grin.

He kissed me and then said, “I just did.”

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