May 1, 2012
By ajkerensa SILVER, Winona Lake, Indiana
ajkerensa SILVER, Winona Lake, Indiana
6 articles 4 photos 3 comments

I hate Tuesdays. I’m not sure what everyone in the working world has against Mondays; I mean, I suppose they are a little depressing in that it’s the first day back to work after the weekend, but you’re at least still energized from your gardening or games of golf or whatever else mature working people do to relax. It’s on Tuesdays that you realize you still have nearly a full workweek left, and you’ve already used up the energy you gained over the weekend. Plus, nothing good or exciting ever happens on a Tuesday. It’s a fact.

It’s not that I hate my job – on the contrary, I love it. I still sometimes can’t believe how I managed to luck out and get hired for a job that fits me so perfectly, especially with my background. I suppose the owners saw something in me that I haven’t yet seen in myself, but for whatever reason, they felt that I would make a good addition to The Tattered Page.

Through the large window of the storefront, I watch countless people walk past, entranced by cell phones or screaming children. I find it difficult to understand how they can’t hear the thousands of books whispering their thousands of stories, calling out to be heard. I can hear it every time I walk past a bookstore, even modern ones that only care about the latest autobiography or self-help series. I can’t even resist the smell or the feel of books, pulling me in like a magnet, especially old ones like we carry in the store. I can sense the stories begging to be heard, because if they’re not, they fear they’ll slowly die and fade away, forgotten forever. What’s the use of a story if there’s no one there to hear it?

Still, even the magnetic pull can’t drag me out of my Tuesday stupor. Bored, I flick a speck of dust off the desk that serves as checkout counter of the small used bookstore I was fortunate enough to be running on my own this morning. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina lays open and abandoned on my lap, as I can’t muster the concentration required to read the novel. I’d read somewhere online that it was the best novel ever written, but it was a bad idea to have started it today of all days. My dirty coffee cup sits next to me, the lumpy dregs drying into a crusty brown ring at the bottom. I contemplate getting up to wash it in the back room, but make the excuse that a customer might walk in at any moment, and they’d probably ask me if we had some horrid recent book by some famous celebrity I’d made the point of never hearing about. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to make cynical snide comments about their intelligence or observational skills.

As if on cue, the tiny bell on the door tinkles, and a teen boy about my age walks in, bringing with him a wave of hot humid air from the outside. I can’t help but be annoyed at how warm it is for only the beginning of June, but after a few seconds the air conditioner kicks on and manages to chase most of the heat out. The boy glances at me and gives me a furtive smile before quickly busying himself looking at the nearest shelf. He moves awkwardly and cautiously as if he’s not sure if he belongs here or that I’ll be silently judging him. Which, to be honest, isn’t completely ridiculous, but he’s not doing anything judgment-worthy, like leaving books in random places or making an uncultured taste in books obvious, so he really doesn’t have much to worry about. I pretend to be engrossed in Anna Karenina so that he doesn’t feel that I’m watching him like I’m making sure he isn’t going to steal anything or set a bookshelf on fire or something. The only word I can find to describe him – mostly because it’s screaming the loudest – is “hipster.” He’s wearing a flannel red plaid button up shirt tucked into a pair of dark skinny jeans, complete with messenger back and square hipster glasses. A pair of white headphones hang from his hears, disappearing into his jeans pocket. I can easily imagine the type of indie or ironic music that’s playing. Strangely, he was able to pull off the look well. Instead of looking arrogant, he exuded the quiet confidence of someone who is comfortable enough with himself to enjoy the company of people different from him, and willing to try new things. I even surprise myself by how much I was reading into him, but, then again, I’m a pretty good judge of character. And I’m bored. Sue me.

After a while, it looks like he’s decided on a small pile of four different books, all very hipster in nature, but still good. We wouldn’t have them if the owners didn’t think someone would enjoy them. He walks tentatively up to the counter gives me a small nervous smile as he sets the stack down in front of me.

“Hi,” he says quietly.

“Hi.” I give him a big smile in return, trying to show him that he was being stupid for feeling so nervous around me. He was just buying books, and I really didn’t think I appeared all that intimidating.

“Your name’s Cal?” he asks, nodding at my nametag. “Is that short for something?”

“Yeah,” I say as I pull the books toward me to check the prices. He seems genuinely curious, and it looks like he’s thought for a while about what to say to me. I don’t want to seem rude, so I continue. “Caledonia.”

“That’s really pretty,” he says. “I’ve never heard that before.” He shifts his weight awkwardly, but at least he’s making eye contact. I don’t understand how someone could be this nervous around me. I’m just…. me. I turn to the computer and type in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel - $4.75.

“Yeah, it’s an old name for Scotland. My mom heard in on a TV show and thought it sounded pretty.” My fingers freeze for a moment over the keyboard. Did I just mention my mom to a total stranger? I barely even let myself think about her – it was just too painful. Something about this kid just makes me comfortable, and I want to do the same for him, so I’m not even sure what’s coming out of my mouth until after I say it. It’s like I can say anything to him, and he won’t get scared off or offended. I’m not sure how I know that; I don’t even know him.

I need to get my thoughts on something else, and it seems like it will make the situation even more awkward if I don’t continue the conversation.

“So, what’s your name?” I’ve moved onto the next book: What is the What – $4.15.

“Ari.” He’s looking sideways at something on the counter now, avoiding my eyes. It doesn’t really matter, though, as my eyes are focused on the computer screen.

“Ari,” I repeat as I type in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - $3.50 into the computer. “Is that short for something, too?”

“Yeah, it is,” he says, shrugging a little. I wait for him to continue, but he keeps staring at the counter. I turn from the computer to raise an eyebrow at him.

“And that something is…” I say.

He sighs, obviously embarrassed. Finally, he blurts out, “Aristotle.”

It’s all I can do to keep from bursting out laughing, but it’s impossible for me to stop the huge smile from spreading on my face. He even manages a grin as he looks back up at me.

“Like… the philosopher?” I ask, clarifying.

“Yeah. Pretentious I know.”

“No! I like it!” I say, stifling a laugh.

“What?? My parents are, like, the definition of the rich and pretentious.” He’s laughing now, and I feel like he’s finally gotten past his nervousness. I can’t help but notice the striking hazel of his eyes, now that his personality is actually showing through them.

I pick up the final book and enter the information into the computer – This is Not a Novel - $2.40 – then straighten the books back into a neat stack.

“That’s $14.80,” I say, sliding the pile back across the counter.

“Really? That’s it?” He looks at me in surprise.

“What? Do you not check the prices of things before you buy them?”

He shrugs sheepishly, but more in an apologetic way than an embarrassed one, which is what I’d have been expecting a couple minutes ago.

“It just seems a little low for books, you know? Not that I’m complaining, of course, it’s just that I think books are worth more than that.” He reaches into his back pocket to pull out his wallet.

“Yeah, I think so, too, but the owners feel like books should be accessible for everyone, I guess.”

“Oh. That’s one way of looking at it.” He carefully counts out exact change and hands it to me.

“Do you want a bag for those?”

“No, I’m good.” He slides the books into his messenger bag, and shifts awkwardly on his feet again.

“Um.” He seems unsure, like he doesn’t quite want to leave, but knows that it’s a bit strange to stay in a store after you’ve paid.

“It was, uh, nice meeting you,” he finally says.

“Yeah, you too. Have a good day!”

“Same to you.” He flashes a smile as he turns away and starts walking across the store toward the door.

When he’s about halfway across the store, I realize that I don’t want him to leave, either. I suddenly call out, without really thinking about what I’m saying.

“You know,” I say loudly, and he turns back to me. “We have armchairs and stuff here, if you wanted to stay and read for a while. I don’t really mind.”

“Will the owners?” he asks, clearly not wanting to overstep any unspoken boundaries or get me into trouble.

“Nah, they’re really cool. I think they’d actually prefer it; you know, improve the atmosphere in here.” Realizing what I just said, I quickly continue, “I mean, you know, just with people in here reading, it encourages more customers. Or something. I don’t really understand business.” I try hard not to blush.

He bursts out laughing; relaxing a bit now that we’ve both embarrassed ourselves.

“Thanks! Yeah, I’d really like that.”

“Great!” I laugh, relieved.

He picks a seat in a group of armchairs near the counter, but not so close that it would seem weird or intrusive, and picks one of his books to start reading. I decide to try Anna Karenina again. I even manage to get through the first couple chapters while he’s here.

He’s only here for about a half hour when a customer enters the store. There are a few other customers in the store by this point, the good kind, the ones that quietly browse the shelves and pile books into their arms. I can tell the kind of customer she is from the moment she walks in the door, wearing pink sweatpants, a black half-jacket, and chomping on her gum like she’s forgotten she’d graduated middle school nearly a decade ago. She grabs the first book she sees on one of the shelves and marches up to me, looking personally offended. Ari looks up inquisitively.

“What kind of business do you think you’re running here?” she asks loudly, waving the book in my face.

“I’m sorry?” Was she offended by the kinds of books we were carrying? She hadn’t even looked at the title of the book she’d grabbed before bringing it up to me.

“These books! They’re disgusting! What kind of store is this, selling old crap like this?!”

“A used bookstore, ma’am. We carry used books.”

“Well, why the hell would you do that?!? People don’t go to stores to buy old crap!”

“Some people do, ma’am… Ever heard of antique shops?”

“That’s different!”


She splutters for a moment, trying to find an argument.

“Books are for reading! My son bought a book the other day from here, and he can barely read some of the pages!”

I think I remember who she’s talking about. A middle school boy had bought an old copy of Sherlock Holmes stories a few days ago. He’d looked happy with his purchase, and had even stayed in the store for a while, reading. He’d asked me for help with some of the words, and I’d helped him as best I could.

“Like, the pages are faded? Or he’s having trouble reading some of the words because he doesn’t know what they mean?”

“How DARE you!”

Stunned, I stare at her for a moment, speechless.

“How dare you assume that my son is stupid!? He’s the smartest boy in his class!”

“I don’t doubt that ma’am… I think I remember him, in fact. Did he happen to buy Sherlock Holmes here?”

“Yes! He loves mysteries, but he can’t read the book! You stole his money!”

“Ma’am, with all due respect, I remember your son. He is very smart, and he sat in here reading for a while after he bought the book. However, even I have trouble with some of the words and phrases in Sherlock Holmes, as it was written in the 1800s. He occasionally asked me for help with a word. What exactly did your son say about the book? Is he unhappy with it?”

“He says he can’t read it!”

“It’s probably because he’s having trouble with the words. Maybe you could buy him a dictionary? He would probably like looking up the words he doesn’t know.”

“Stop accusing my son of being stupid!” she screams in my face.

Ari has been watching this whole exchange, and it looks like he’s finally had enough.

“Ma’am, she isn’t saying your son is stupid. Stupid kids wouldn’t come to a used bookstore and buy a copy of Sherlock Holmes, then read it for hours straight in the bookstore. Stupid kids wouldn’t enjoy looking up unknown words in a dictionary. She’s very clearly complimenting your son on being intelligent, which is more than anyone can say for you.”

I stare at Ari in shock, but my mouth hangs open in a silent laugh when the lady turns her back to me to look at him. Her eyes bulge, and her mouth is hanging open, too, only her’s is in silent rage. She gapes at Ari, trying to find words to say, but nothing comes out. She finally turns to me and flings the book at my face, and I manage to grab it neatly out of the air.

“You have a nice day, ma’am. And tell your son he’s welcome back any time.”

She glares at me furiously before storming out of store.

“That was… awesome,” Ari laughs.

“Thanks for that.” I’m laughing even harder than he is. “I’m not allowed to insult customers outright, no matter how stupid they’re being. Although I do slip in some sarcastic comments that go right over their heads if I can.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I stayed, then, right?”

“I think you have become an invaluable addition to the store,” I say, and I mean every word.

He stays until closing, and, after I’ve switched off the OPEN sign, even helps me straighten books careless or inconsiderate customers have left lying around. We finally make it outside, and I lock the door behind me.

“Do you want a ride home?” he asks, waving his hand toward his expensive looking car that doesn’t look as if fit his personality at all. He must have noticed that his was the only car in our small parking lot.

“My dad bought it for me,” he explains, almost apologetically. I nod, understanding what he’s trying to say… I’m really not that pretentious, but my parents are, and they’re my parents, so what am I supposed to do? Normally, someone offering to drive me anywhere would have caused me to throw up defenses. I’ve always had trust issues, especially when it comes to guys. Yet, I feel again that there’s something trust-worthy about him; I just know that doing anything other than exactly what he says he’s going to do is the farthest thing for my mind. So, this time, my excuse is completely valid and only has his convenience in mind.

“No, that’s alright. I don’t mind taking the bus, honestly,” I say, shrugging.

There’s a pause as he thinks about what to say next.

“Hey, um, thanks for letting me loiter in your store for so long,” he jokes, but I can tell the gratitude behind it is real.

“No problem. Anytime.” No, really, anytime at all, I think.

There’s an awkward silence as neither of us are sure how to end this conversation with someone we’ve only just met. Finally, I decide to take charge and hold my hand out to him.

“It was very nice meeting you today, Aristotle,” I say formally.

He grins, takes my hand in his and squeezes gently. “The pleasure was all mine, Caledonia.”

We nod and, satisfied, he turns and walks to his car. I watch with my arms crossed over my chest. Now that it’s dark out, a chill was in the air. When he reaches the driver’s door, he turns back once more. “Maybe I’ll see you later?”

“I’d really like that.” I smile as I throw his words back at him.

He returns the smile and opens the car door, sliding into the leather seat and closing the door behind him. He raises his hand in a wave just before he pulls out into the street and drives off. I wave back and grin before turning to walk to the bus stop.

Maybe Tuesdays aren’t so bad after all.

The author's comments:
Cal is bored and lonely at work in a bookstore until a young hipster brightens her day.

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