Friday, July 17. 2009
Posted by The Mad Giggler in Playing a meta-game with the same theme
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I had to admit to a certain level of anticipation and excitement at this point. I already thought Ben was a pretty great kid after just briefly chatting with him a few times after that first shift, but he'd totally managed to get Erica interested in him. He had a bit of a sordid past judging by Kim's hints, and he seemed to have completely won Dave over. I was dying to find out what made him tick. That's probably why things went down the way they did.
I got there a little earlier than was normal for opening the store up. I quickly got the cash drawers in order and made sure the store was straightened and ready to go. As soon as I opened up the front of the store for customers, he walked in with a rakish grin and laughingly declared with a really horrible attempt at an Irish accent, "Top of the mornin' to yeh, Lass."
"Fresh off the boat from Ireland?" I gave him my best smile.
"Ah, Lass. The Emerald Isle is but one of my many homes, yet the closest to my heart. The gateway to dreams, it is."
"Is that so? Did you start reading one of the novels from that author I told you about? He has a thing for Ireland too."
He dramatically placed his hand over his heart and lamented, "You wound me to the core. To suggest I'd borrow from a mystery author? Nay, Lass. I did borrow it from this memoir Dave suggested." He started laughing and I couldn't help grinning at his infectious good humor, even if the joke wasn't that funny. He still hadn't quite recovered when our first customer of the day hesitantly approached the registers with a paperback from our bestsellers display.
Ben quickly dropped the Irish accent and very politely asked, "Ma'am. I see you've found one of our bestsellers. Now is this for you or a gift for someone else?"
She replied, "It's a gift for my husband. His birthday is coming up and this looked like something he might enjoy."
"Oh, is that so? Well, we happen to have something very similar here in our bargain books section, perhaps you'd like to take a look?" And with that he whisked her off. He returned with her a few moments later; she had two additional books and a very big smile on her face.
As I rang her up, she gushed, "Oh what a nice boy. He practically read my mind. I feel so much better about this purchase. I just know Orson will love these books. You are so lucky to have such a helpful employee here. I'm going to recommend this place to my friends at lunch today."
I cocked an eyebrow at Ben as I handed the lady her bag of books. Erica was right. He really was a natural. After our happy customer left, he acknowledged my look with a grin and said, "Sometimes it's just a matter of helping people find what they're looking for."
"Right. That lady totally came in here looking for a stack of books to take home. I bet she spent twice what she'd been planning when she walked through the door."
"Just because she didn't know what she looking for when she came in, doesn't mean she wasn't looking for what she left with."
"I suppose. So you're a master salesman. Do you also juggle?"
"Only on weekends and holidays. How about yourself? What secret talent are you hoarding?"
"I can become invisible, but only when no one is looking at me."
"You stole that from Mystery Men. Come on, you can be more original than that. Tell me your real secret power. Do you use it for good or awesome?"
"Awesome. Of course." I postured at being cool, but it's not really my strong suit. "So, anyway, Ben. What's your story? You seem like a nice guy with lots going for you, what brings you to this little bookstore?"
He laughed at me. "Little? Are you kidding? When was the last time you had to vacuum? Because I did it last night and it took forever."
Hmm. Avoidance. "So the bookstores in your hometown are smaller than this? Whatever did you do in your free time?"
"Free time? Ha! Somehow I managed to fill the long dull hours without selling little old ladies a stack of books."
"Well, yeah. That's what I'm asking. What did you do? This is what people talk about when they enjoy each other's company. What do you like to do?" Oops. I'm not sure that came out quite how I'd wanted.
"Ah well, If you put it that way," he had the good grace to smile. "I suppose I mostly spent time with my friends." He hesitated oddly on the word friends, as if it meant something different to him than most people.
In the spirit of investigation, I tried to lead the conversation forward, "Doing. . ."
"Doing? Well, you know typical stuff. Movies. Whatever. I'm sure it's all the same stuff you do with your friends."
I laughed self-consciously. I should have known the conversation would lead back to me. It wasn't that my social life was boring so much as I just rarely found time to do anything besides work and school. I tried to think of some way to deflect the conversation from me and draw more out of him. "My friends? Well, we, uh, read books, heh, obviously. I mean, why else would I work at a bookstore. Not for the great pay, you know."
He laughed. "Come on. The pay isn't that bad. Well, it's pretty bad. You probably take most of it home in the form of books, huh? Just like Kim."
"Yeah, Kim and I have a lot in common."
"Oh really? What else do you guys have in common?"
"Heh. Uh, I guess I've never really asked Kim what her other interests are. So maybe it's just the one thing." D'oh. Stupid. Why can't I think faster, I silenty berated myself. "I don't know. You guys must do a lot together, right? I mean you live with her now. What do you guys do after work hours?"
"When Phil isn't there? We've played lots of Scrabble. When Phil is there, either they are moonily sitting on the couch together or he's watching sports; when they're not, you know, doing other stuff."
"Erm, sorry. I just meant, like going out on a date or something. I think they go see movies pretty regularly. I mean, they've been to a couple in just the two weeks I've been there, so I guess that's normal for them."
"Oh. Um, yeah."
"So. Want to see a movie after work?"
Uh, wow. He moves fast, I thought. I briefly wondered how Erica would react and figured I didn't really care. Ben certainly didn't. "Um, which one?"
"Oh, I don't know, whatever's playing. Let's just go and flip a coin to choose between the standard action movie and standard romantic comedy. There always seems to be one of each playing at a multiplex, right?"
"Sounds like a d. . .plan."
I wasn't able to dig much further into his past the rest of the shift. When we weren't busy helping customers, he'd laughingly evade my questions and ask about my history. It was frustrating, but I held out hopes for finding out more after work. I managed to hint subtly that I didn't want the other employees to know about our, um, trip to the movies, and he actually picked up on it. So when our shift ended that afternoon and the lucky folks closing the store arrived to take our places, we left separately and met up at the multiplex.
We decided after a coin flip to try our luck at the romantic comedy. As it happened, the movie was "inspired" by a book I'd read a couple years ago, so I was half expecting a train wreck and half thinking/hoping they might pull off an enjoyable film. The book wouldn't crack my top 100, but it was good enough I'd still hate to see it ruined by Hollywood execs over-thinking things and playing for the lowest common denominator.
We bought our tickets and walked in to find our seats. Ben seemed to share my fears. "I hope they don't ruin the book for you. Every once in a while they get an adaptation right. Maybe fortune will smile and the magic of the coin flip won't disappoint."
I tried to be philosophical about it. "Sure. I mean. It won't ruin the book. It'll be fine. If it's horrible, we can make fun of it at work later."
"Aww. Don't be bringing work up. This is just two people who 'enjoy each other's company' having a good time. Not co-workers looking for something to talk about at work."
I wasn't sure if it was cute that he was using that phrase on me or mortifying. I couldn't really decide how I felt about him to be honest. He wasn't all that much younger than me, just a year. But he was the boss's nephew. He was kind of interesting and funny when he didn't get too carried away laughing at himself. I tried to push those thoughts from my mind. "Right sure. Just two people. Watching a movie, about a girl who loves a man who thinks he might be a werewolf, but somehow isn't sure."
"Haha. You make the plot sound so dumb. I'm sure it'll be way better than that."
"No. Seriously. Girls falling in love with fantasy creatures is all the rage, this just happens to be the only light-hearted comedy in the genre."
"You read this book all the way through? Oh man, I can't wait. Don't spoil the ending for me."
"Okay, but there's no guarantee I even know what the ending will be. It's just 'inspired by' the book, remember?"
"Haha. I'm just giving you crap. You must have read a lot of books. Wait! You almost got me started talking about work. Hurry, tell me something about yourself that's not book or work related."
"Um. I speak Mandarin Chinese."
His eyes got really wide. "Seriously? That's awesome!"
"No. Total lie."
He looked kind of shocked, then laughed. "Come on. Lying isn't allowed. Tell me something about yourself."
"I hate John Grisham novels."
He sighed in mock sadness. "Reese. Something not book related. Come on. You can do it."
"When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up."
His eyebrows narrowed, then he seemed to think better of whatever he was about to say and smiled. "So. Was this before or after you wanted to be on the police force? Did you also want to live at the Fire Station?"
I laughed. "You found me out."
"So, what made you give up on your great dream of joining the movement to make science fiction a reality?"
"Well, I soon learned of the vigorous physical requirements and how few candidates are accepted. Being a very practical child, I decided to choose something more easily attainable."
"Oh. That's kind of sad." He actually looked like he meant it. "You decided to settle instead of reaching for your dreams. I wish more people would stretch instead of take what's within easy reach."
"I guess I never thought of it that way. It could kind of be construed as a sad comment on my life. However, people are allowed to change and find new interests, and I found that I have a very strong affinity for books, and nothing so far has stopped me in my goal to acquire every last one."
"Haha. You and Kim both. She likes to call all her employees 'book whores.' Not in a mean way though," he added hurriedly, although I wasn't offended. She'd referred to us as such just the other day.
I said as much and he replied, "Oh well. I think maybe that word is too strong. Certainly your love for books allows you to work for inferior wages, but I think that's understandable given the enjoyment you get from reading." He smiled and casually leaned closer to me.
"Well. I do love reading. Haha. Can't seem to get my nose out of a book sometimes."
"Hey. You're at a movie today. So there's a step in the right direction."
I grinned back at him. "Yeah. Thanks. It's nice to be out and about."
"I'm glad you agreed to join me. To be honest, I wasn't sure you liked me that first day we met. Kim said I got too carried away trying to be funny. I felt afterwards that bookseller humor wasn't really the right way to go as far as making a good impression."
"Oh. You know. You hear a lot of it after a while. I wasn't really sure what to make of you to be honest. Kim said very little about you. I mean, she obviously loves you a lot, but she was hesitant to talk about what brought you here."
His face clouded and he looked at me for a moment before replying. "Yeah. It wasn't. . .a good situation at home. Things got. . .complicated. I was really grateful to Kim for letting me move in with her for a while."
"Yeah. She's a good person. I've enjoyed working with her. She mentioned some trouble at school. Did you have a clash with a teacher?" I inwardly winced and hoped that wasn't too prying or direct.
"Well, not exactly. It, uh, was more an issue with meeting all the expectations people place on you. Oh hey! The movie's starting!"
Ugh. He was right. We'd talked right through the trailers. But I was more determined than ever to find out what all the mystery was. "So, you had trouble keeping up with obligations?"
He put a finger over his pursed lips to shush me, then whispered, "No talking during the film."
That made me mad but he motioned around us and there were a few glares being directed at me. Sheesh. I resigned myself to waiting until after the movie to continue the conversation.
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