Being rude to people in the bookstore line was no way for Ellen to get back at her brother but she couldn’t help herself. For weeks now he’d been on her case about working in what he called “the dead zone” as if nobody went to book stores anymore. What did he think she did all day, watch soaps and eat bonbons? The store was busy right now. Where was Jason? Why didn’t he take a day off his precious college education and come see what really happened in a bookstore all day?
She’d asked him that when he called far too early this morning. He had to get to class, as if that was an answer.
Jason vanished in a puff of smoke as the George Clooney type passing the register got her attention. She smiled, as she always did at the customers. Sometimes it was easier than others, right?
“How can I help you?”
He took a step closer and lowered his voice. “I need to find this book on site planning and Amazon wants a hundred bucks for it. Thought maybe this antique store would have a used copy cheaper.”
More like Elliott Gould. Only more abrasive.
“Technology is along that wall,” and she pointed toward the back.
He glanced the direction her finger pointed, then turned back, puzzled. “You put architecture in technology? This really is an antique store.”
Her nostrils flared a smidgen. “You said a website planning book.”
He was shaking his head like men do when they already know you’re wrong when you haven’t even finished your sentence for crying out loud.
“I said ‘site planning’ but I didn’t say ‘web’. It’s for planning architectural sites. Building houses. Planning the way a house is laid out on the lot before you build it. Capiche?”
Like he was Italian. She could even tell he was spelling “capisci” wrong.
“Yes, I understand. Using the word ‘site’ on its own isn’t particularly elucidating.”
She paused and smiled, tilting her head enough to show him she didn’t mean the smile. At all.
“Sure. Nice word, by the way. Do you sell books on ancient technologies like architecture?”
He probably didn’t notice her sigh. Men like him never noticed anything.
“Architecture and construction will be along this wall, here to my left, beginning about half-way back and going to the far corner.”
She stopped again while he looked that direction. Instead of moving, he turned back to her, his own head tilted slightly, mimicking hers.
“Why, thank you. I appreciate your assistance.”
He patted the counter and winked. “That means help.”
He was already walking off, waving one hand over his head.
“I’m sure you do. Thank you.” He said it in a sing-songy way that she knew was meant to irk her. It irked her that it worked.
Ellen’s breathing had barely returned to normal when the oaf returned empty-handed.
“You don’t have it.”
Then he stood there, like she was supposed to do something about it.
“I’m sure we can order it for you.”
He stared. What did he want? Here she was offering to provide an extra service, above and beyond the call of duty, and he stared.
She spoke slowly, enunciating each word. “Would you like me to order it?”
Aroused from his stupor, he laughed.
“What, buy a copy from Amazon and mark it up? I can order a copy. I have this thing called a computer and there’s this thing called the internet.”
This man is infuriating.
“I’m sorry we disappointed you. Please, enjoy the rest of your day.”
He glanced at the front door as the little bell jangled. Then he looked back at Ellen.
“Can I help you with something else?” Or maybe you could just leave, you cretin.
Turning to the clearance table behind him, he grabbed a book off the corner, dropping the small paperback on the counter without even looking at it. He stepped closer. This time, the smile almost looked real.
“Wanna go for coffee sometime?”
Now it was Ellen staring.
“Do I what?”
She knew it sounded stupid. Stupid people often made others sound stupid. It wasn’t her fault.
“Doesn’t have to be coffee. I just thought that was a better opener than drinks or dinner.”
“Drinks or dinner?” She hadn’t meant to say it so loud. The glances from others in the store were becoming embarrassing.
She leaned in and lowered her voice. “You’re kidding. No. I think not.”
It didn’t seem to slow him down. Much.
“Just thought I’d ask. New in the neighborhood, meet a cute smart girl, thought I’d take a chance.”
He was still smiling, trying to make it look sincere.
“Meet a what?” See? Just talking to him made her sound stupid.
“A cute chick. Smart. You. You’re smart, and cute, and I thought I’d ask.”
She jerked back as if he’d poked her.
“And you are rude and doltish and you needn’t ask again.”
She hated it that when she was angry her eyes would tear up. Jason always made a big deal about her crying. She was just mad, that’s all.
This oaf seemed to think she was funny.
“Needn’t ask? I knew you were smart. Don’t use it all up on me, though.”
He dropped a credit card on the counter. “Let’s complete our transaction, shall we?”
She ignored his mocking, slid the card through the reader, bagged his book without asking if he wanted it in a bag, tossed the credit slip and his card into the bag, and shoved it at him.
“Thank you so much. We do appreciate your patronage.”
She stood back and crossed her arms.
He gathered up the bag, tilting it so his card slid out.
“And thank you, ma’am.”
He was still smirking when he turned back at the door to look at her.
Get lost, Eric Miller, get lost.
She hadn’t meant to read the name on the card, but you had to look at them to get them into the reader right side up.
She glanced toward the front window as an elderly woman piled three romances on the counter to pay.
Eric Miller smiled at her through the window, then turned and disappeared.