~Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world~
I. Hate. You.
Ok, so it’s not the nicest thought one could have first thing in the morning, but it fit my sentiments toward my alarm clock perfectly.
I rolled over and peered at my demonic clock through half-closed eyes. Five-thirty, it read in beaming green letters. I tried hitting snooze in a desperate attempt to stop the noise, and only succeeded in knocking the clock off the bedside table. The sound of the machine crashing to the ground startled me awake, and I groaned, knowing my time in bed was finished.
I crawled out of bed and threw on some work clothes. Good, sturdy jeans and a plain shirt. It never mattered what I wore. No one but the animals saw me in these clothes anyway.
I ate a simple breakfast, suddenly yearning for the huge meals my mom had made for our family every morning. Had made, before…
I cut the thought off before it could take root in my heart and started my day, heading out to deal with the ever-picky birds.
Why did I do this to myself? I asked myself repeatedly that evening as I lay sprawled out across my living room couch. Mowgli, one of my feline rescuees, was perched lovingly on my stomach, purring. It was only five o’clock, but it may as well have been midnight. I was exhausted. But, as so frequently happened, my mind was not ready to release its hold on consciousness, though my body wanted nothing more than sleep. My thoughts started to tread dangerous paths unbidden: the past.
I need a book, I thought suddenly. Anything would be better than thinking about the past. I scanned every bookshelf in the house, searching desperately for something new. No luck. I’d read every book my family had ever owned, even my dad’s veterinary school textbooks (I hadn’t understood half the words in them, but I’d read them).
I groaned. I needed something to read, and NOW. I glanced at the nearest clock. Five-fifteen. Elizabethtown had a bookstore. A nice, hole-in-the-wall place where no one knew me and no one would bother me. It was only about ten miles away. I could be there before the sun was down and back before it got too late.
Spur-of-the-moment decision having been made, I threw on some clean clothes (more jeans, go figure), grabbed a purse, and pulled up my chestnut brown hair. It was dirty and uncooperative, and the number of pins I had to use could have held up London Bridge. I wasn’t pleased with my appearance, but I had essentially given up on ever being pleased with my appearance again. I jumped into my beat-up white Ford F-250. At ten years of age, she had definitely seen better days, but she still pulled her weight around the farm, which meant she got to stay.
The drive from Cecilia to Elizabethtown was uneventful. I kept my mind occupied by changing the radio station, trying to find anything but commercials or country music. Gotta love Kentucky. I mean, I love George Strait as much as the next girl, but I wasn’t in the mood to listen to “A Father’s Love” fifteen times in a row.
In fact, I doubted I’d ever be able to listen to that song again.
I parked in front of the bookstore, cleverly named “The Mighty Pen”, and ran inside, taking in the smell of paper and ink and dust. It was comforting. I headed to my favorite section, my feet going there almost instinctively. I pulled a random fantasy book off the shelves, only to realize it was book six of a series. Intrigued, I picked up book one and sat in the aisle, instantly immersed in the wars and politics of a distant land, where everyone speaks with an Irish accent and magic makes everything better.
“Miss, this ain’t your personal library,” a voice scolded from above me. I glanced irritably up from the pages of the book to find the store’s only employee looking down at me. He was a gangly, pimple-faced young man in his early twenties. His eyes were narrowed in aggravation. “Either buy it or leave it.”
“Why would I buy a book I might not like?” I asked in reply, “You should be pleased. Because if I’m allowed to read in peace and quiet here, I will come back when I wish to buy the other five books in this series. But if not, then I can always purchase them from another store that will let me read in solitude. Perhaps a national bookstore chain.”
The thinly veiled threat accomplished its purpose. The employee left me alone, looking somewhat irked.
“You sure showed him,” a playful voice laughed beside me.
I started as my head whipped in the direction of the voice. The source was a boy my age, perhaps a year or two older. His face and the grin he wore made him seem younger, though. Blue eyes that rivaled my own in brilliance peered curiously at me from under a curtain of black fringe. A black beanie covered the rest of his hair. His face was oval, with soft features. He was dressed casually in a blue polo shirt and dark jeans. It struck me suddenly that he was quite handsome, almost pretty. The realization made me blush. When had he sat next to me? I hadn’t even noticed…
“I’m sorry,” he said sweetly after gauging my reaction, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s alright,” I said, turning back to my book. My social skills had always left a lot to be desired, and I was already absorbed in the story.
“I don’t remember seeing you here before,” the boy continued, “Are you new in town?” Could he not see that I was busy?
“I don’t live here,” I answered shortly.
“Oh,” he said, “Where are you from then?”
I groaned inwardly. All I wanted to do was read… “I live in Cecilia.”
“Oh, I’ve been there!” he replied excitedly, “It’s great town, so small and cute. Everyone knows each other.”
I nodded, not bothering to look at him.
He didn’t take the hint. “I’m Ari,” he said, holding out his hand right in front of my face. I shook it tentatively.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I murmured shyly, turning back to the novel.
“So…you don’t have a name?” Ari asked. I could hear in his voice that he was smiling.
“Of course I do,” I said, “I just don’t give it as freely as you do yours.”
“Ooh, is it embarrassing?” he inquired, “Like, are you named after your great-great-great with 20 ‘great’s grandmother who settled with the Puritans in Massachusetts?”
“No,” I answered simply.
Ari didn’t leave. He just sat for a few seconds, watching me. “You like that book?” he finally wondered.
“Yes,” I grumbled. Gosh, he’s so irritating.
“You gonna buy it?”
“Yes,” I answered. Strange, I hadn’t made up my mind until he asked…
“What if the ending is sad?” he asked completely innocently. He sounded like a child.
“You don’t mind sad endings?” he inquired curiously.
“No,” I replied. Nothing in this book could be worse than my own ending, my mind added.
“Me either,” he said suddenly, “But only when I’m in the mood for something sad.”
I nodded absentmindedly.
“Really, Ari? That’s very interesting,” he whispered to himself, evidently filling in my half of the conversation for me.
“Hey, lovebirds,” the employee called suddenly, “It’s seven forty-five. This is Tuesday, I was supposed to be closed fifteen minutes ago.”
I realized he was talking to me and Ari and blushed vividly. “Sorry,” I mumbled, rising and holding out the book. “I’d like this one.”
“It’s about time,” the employee grumped, carrying the book to the cash register.
How did someone with his personality ever get a job in retail? I wondered as I followed meekly behind.
The crotchety young man managed to ring up my purchase without comment. Just before he hit the total button, a pile of books landed on the counter.
“She’d like these, too,” Ari said. Included in the pile were the other five books from the series, as well as two that came from the same author.
“No I wouldn’t,” I said firmly, shaking my head.
“Yes, she would,” Ari insisted, sliding the payment in cash across the counter. What is wrong with this boy?
“What are you doing?” I asked him, slightly horror-struck. He’d better not expect anything from me for this.
“It’s the least I could do, considering I messed up your reading of the first book,” he said with a radiant grin.
I looked at him as if he were insane. At this point, I was relatively certain that was the case.
“Here you go,” the employee said, sliding over a bag full of books. I couldn’t stop staring at Ari, mouth slightly agape, eyes full of confusion.
He laughed at my expression. “I’ll take that,” he said, grabbing the bag and placing it in my hands.
I blushed softly when his skin brushed mine. He may have been insane, but he was still beautiful, and I’d always been shyest around the beautiful ones. “You don’t have to do this,” I mumbled.
“I already did,” he replied cheerfully, “Let’s go before Grumpy here calls the other six dwarves to kick us out.”
I giggled in spite of myself. It was a strange sound, foreign. I hadn’t laughed so spontaneously for a long time. The after-effects of the flood of amusement were startling. I followed him out of the bookstore, mildly enchanted.
“Well, miss,” he said, “I suppose this is goodbye!” He took my hand and kissed it before I could stop him. “May I have the pleasure of knowing whom I am addressing?”
“Prudence,” I whispered shyly. His actions, and the candid way in which he performed them, left me extremely flustered.
“And you’re sure you’re not named after your great-great-great Puritan grandmother?” he asked, obviously trying very hard not to laugh at my name.
“I’m named after a Beatles’ song,” I replied curtly.
He saw that he’d offended me, proving that he did, in fact, have some perception. “Sorry,” he murmured, genuinely apologetic, “Of course. White Album, disc one, track….two, right?”
I nodded, surprised.
“I like that album. It’s not every day you meet someone named Prudence. You must be pretty special.”
“I promise, I’m not,” I replied solemnly.
My statement seemed to not impact him in the least. “Well, Miss Prudence, of Cecilia, Kentucky, it was a pleasure meeting you. I’ll see you around.” He spun quickly on his heel and walked down the sidewalk with such pizzazz and grace, it seemed more like he was dancing.
I watched him walk away, shaking my head slowly. Such a strange boy…