Chapter Eleven

Ten years earlier:


Diana placed the last book from the shipment on the shelf.  She sighed with satisfaction.  She had planned an extra week to expand, redecorate and stock her store, but was able to finish a week early.  She’d contact her friend at the paper tomorrow and run an ad letting her customers know.  She was so excited she didn’t notice the door chimes go off just seconds before.  


As she stood up she stretched her back and tried adjusting her neck to get the crick out. 


“Occupational hazard?”  


Diana squealed and jumped.  She didn’t recognize the voice and wasn’t expecting anyone.  “I’m sorry sir; the store is closed for remodeling.  I must have forgotten to lock the door when I brought in the last boxes.”  She studied the well-dressed man in front of her and prayed that he wasn’t a serial killer.   


“I was wondering when I noticed you were the only one here and you were bent over that box.”  He took an appraising look at her before he finished his sentence.  Diana then realized she was in cutoff jeans and a tank top.  After all it was the middle of the summer in Texas and the extra AC unit still needed a few more adjustments before the store was ready to open.  She pulled a pad and pencil from her back pocket and added, Call Stan about AC, before addressing the stranger again.  


“No, you wouldn’t normally find me dressed like this during store hours.”  She laughed and set her pad and paper down.  “Then I’m glad I didn’t come during store hours.”  Okay, so maybe he was a serial killer.  “The reopening is scheduled for next week.  You can come back then and see the shop and myself at our best.”  She started to walk towards the front hoping to guide him out but he didn’t move.  “I plan on coming back, but I’ll be out of town for a few weeks.  I stopped in on my way to the airport.  I have a long plane ride ahead of me.  I was hoping to buy a book or two to get me through it.”  


Diana was hot, sweaty and tired.  She really wanted to push the man out the door but she couldn’t do it. 


 “What do you prefer, fiction or non-fiction?”  


“I deal with reality, let’s go for fiction.”  


“Okay, then are you interested in political, medical, legal or corporate novels?”


“I deal with politics, legal and corporate daily, maybe something in medical.” 


Diana walked towards the bookshelves that housed the fiction books.  She set up a special section just for men that a friend of hers suggested.  He was a frequent customer and said he hated looking through all the ‘girlie romances’ trying to find the ‘dude books’.  Which was rather funny considering he bought more romance novels then most of her female customers, but she never questioned him.  Just listened to his suggestions and implemented them when she could.


“Here are several books you might be interested in.  If the flight is terribly long you might look into sequels.  Everyone seems to have one.”  She smiled up at him and did her best Vanna White, using her hands to direct his eyes to the correct shelf, but his eyes stayed on her.  “Any particular ones you’d suggest?”


“Oh, I’m a diehard romantic.  I doubt you’d be interested in the stuff I read.”   She started to back away to give him room to look, but he continued to look at her.  “I’d be interested in reading one of your favorites.”  Okay, so maybe not serial killer, but perhaps he was a gigolo.  Instead of wasting more time on useless banter she pointed to a shelf close to the register.  “I have a shelf of my person favorites.  There are a few classics, some fiction, non-fiction and a few art and travel books.  You’re welcome to browse those as well.  I need to put a few things away and shut down.”  


She walked towards the back aware of his eyes following her.  Once in there she grabbed her purse and double checked that her gun was within reach.  She did her standard shut down producers but kept the front lights on.  When she was done in the back she moved towards the front of the shop but didn’t see the customer.  Thinking he left and she missed the sound of the chimes again, she turned the under counter lights off. 


“Is there a sequel to this one?”  


Diana squealed and jumped again.  This time she placed her hand on her concealed weapon and waited for her heart to slow its pounding.  “I’m sorry I frightened you, again.  I thought you knew I was still here.”  “I didn’t see you when I came out of the back.  No worries.  And yes, the sequel is over here.”  Diana walked over to the bookshelf and reached up for the book, only to be stopped by the stranger.  “I see it now.”  He reached over her, brushing against the full length of her, where their skin touched she felt a tingle.  


She ducked under his arm and headed back to the register.  Only then realizing she’d not turned it on because of the remodel.  “Will you being using cash or credit?”  The stranger put the books on the counter and pulled out his wallet and handed her a $50.  “Is this the smallest you have?”  He checked again, “Yes, I can use a credit card if it helps.”  “I don’t have any of my machines on tonight.  Do you have checks?”  He shook his head no.  She frowned, looked at the books, figured the total with tax in her head and wrote it on the back of one of the store business cards.  “When you get a chance you can just send the money to this address.”  


She handed him the card, bagged the books up and pulled her keys out to lock up behind them.  “You trust me to do that?”  He took the bag off the counter and followed her out.  “I hope I can, but if not I helped someone through a long flight.  I don’t mind.”  She locked the door, double checked the locks and then turned towards the parking lot where she left her car.  “Hope you enjoy the books and your flight.”  She gave him one last smile and walked towards her car.  Just as she put her hand on the handle he asked for her name.  Without turning around she said, “It’s on the card.”


She slipped inside and drove away as the stranger read the name on the card and placing it in the breast pocket of his jacket. 




A few weeks later:


The Bleeding Book Band was on stage playing an acoustic version of their song, “My Heart Screams”.  Diana had known the kids in the band for years and had promised that once they had 20 songs, cover or original, that she’d book a night for them on the little stage next to the coffee bar.   

Nearly a month before they were to go on she was seeing flyers all over town.  She thought nothing of it till all their friends and friend’s friends started to show up.  She was certain they were violation several fire codes but didn’t have the heart to turn away their friends.  Instead she double checked all the doors to make sure they could easily be opened and that no one was smoking.  


“Don’t worry, it’s an acoustic set, no bad wiring will burn the shop down.”  Diana laughed at her friend Michelle.  “Am I that obvious?”  “Only to those of us who know the crazy side of you.”  Michelle handed her a drink and leaned against her.  “Next time can we audition the band first?”  Diana laughed in her cup, “I made a promise.”  “Don’t do that again.  These guys stink.”  Diana shushed her friend.  “I know, but their friends seem to think otherwise.  Just twenty more minutes.”  Michelle took a long drink and before walking off teased, “Perhaps you can suggest a name change…” Diana looked at her in confusion, “Maybe to The Bleeding Ears band?”  


Diana tried to cover her laughed but ended up snorting instead.  She turned towards the register to check the receipts when she noticed a man trying to squeeze through the door.  He pushed his way in, apologizing to the pile of teenagers swaying to the lyrical genius of; “You pour your love on me like gasoline.  My heart screams for you as it burst into flames…yeah, yeah, you make my heart scream!”  This was followed by an acoustic guitar solo that would have been laughable if the guy wasn’t so in to it.


“Lollapalooza?”  Diana smiled at the stranger from a few weeks ago.  “Yes, but it’s one band, one night, standing room only so enjoy it while you can.”  The stranger laughed and put out his hand.  “I don’t think I introduced myself last time; my name’s Aaron.”  He shook her hand and continued; “And you’re Diana?”  “Yes, nice to officially meet you.”  He withdrew his hand slowly and reached in his breast pocket pulling ot the card she handed him weeks ago and a check.  “The books were good by the way.  I may have to buy a few more by that author.”  Always the sales person, Diana walked him over to the shelf and away from the stage.  “She happens to have a few more in the series if you’re interested.  As a matter of fact she’ll be here in a few months for a signing.”    


She showed the author’s collection to Aaron and stepped over to the register to add the check to the drawer.  When she turned back Aaron was by her side.  “I wanted to thank you for letting me pick up the books while the shop was closed.  I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”  


“No, not at all.”  


“Did you worry I’d not be back?”  


“You said you’d be out of town for a few weeks so I wasn’t concern.”  


“You’re very trusting.”  


“No one’s taken advantage of me.  I’m not naive to think it’ll never happen, but there’s no sense in going through life worrying that it will.”  


Aaron took a minute to consider her words.  “I miss trusting people.”  He paused to check her reaction, when she said nothing he continued.  “I find in my line of work that trusting people is more detrimental then beneficial.  I wish I could go back to trusting people on face value.”  


“I couldn’t imagine a world where trusting a person was dangerous.  But I work in a book store.  Not much goes on.”  


“Are you kidding me?  It’s a full scale rock concert in here.”  They both laughed and watched as the singer took a bow and reminded the onlookers to tip their waitresses.  Michelle looked at Diana across the room and smirked.  “Best place to be on a Friday night it seems.”  He handed a few more books by the same author on the counter and paid.  He gave her one last smile and left.


“Who was the hot guy you were talking to while the bleeding ear dude referred to me as a waitress?  I’m a highly trained Barista for heaven’s sake.”  


“I saw several people handing you money, how much did you make?”  


“$100.”  


“You want me to put that in the register or keep it?”  


“Keep it of course!”  


“Then stop calling him the bleeding ears dude.  His name is Mark and his mother used to babysit me.”  


“Fine, but if they play here again I’m taking the night off.”  


“No you aren’t.  If they play here again I’m taking the night off.”  The two laughed and started cleaning up as the crowd began to filter out.


“But seriously, who was the hottie?”  


“He’s not a hottie.  He’s just a customer that picked up some books a few weeks ago and came back to pay for them.”  


“You let someone walk out without paying?”  


“It’s a long story.”  


“I have time.” 




A Few Months Later:


“He’s back!” Michelle hissed in Diana’s ear.  “Who’s back?”  Michelle rolled her eyes, “The hottie!”  “Like that’s going to clarify things.”  “You are kidding me right?  The hottie from the Bleeding Ear… Book Band.  You let him take books without paying.  Mr. Suit and Tie guy.  Shall I go on?”  “No, I’ve got the picture.”  Diana was setting up the window display with her favorite author’s portrait and latest books with a sign letting passers-by know that she’d be in town tomorrow for a book signing.  “He’s coming this way!”  Michelle hissed and walked away.

 
“Is she okay?”

“That’s a loaded question.”  Michelle turned her direction and shot her the finger behind Aaron’s back before adjusting a life-size standup of a children’s book character.   


“Are you coming for the book signing tomorrow?  I think you’re up to book five now in the series, is that correct?”


“Book six actually.  I was out of the country and had to purchase the last one at a local shop.  If it’s any consolation I felt terrible and I made certain not to smile or say please and thank you while there.”


“Why would you do that?”


“Well because I’d prefer to buy all my books from you.”


“That’s not practical if you travel a lot.”


“Yes but I should plan ahead next time.”


Diana wasn’t following his line of conversation but caught sight of Michelle in the background waving at her and making gestures that could either be interpreted as her needed to use the restroom or she had stomach cramps.  She mouthed to Michelle, “You okay?”  Michelle threw her arms over her head and stormed off.


“To answer your question I would love to come back tomorrow for the signing but I have another trip out of the country in the morning which is why I came today.”


“You need some more books for your plane ride?”


“No, well yes, but really I wanted to see if you were busy tonight.  I know its last minute but I’ll be honest, I was worried if I called you wouldn’t remember me.”


“Of course I remember you Aaron.”  His face lit up.  “I remember all my customers by name.”  His face dimmed a bit.


But Diana didn’t notice as she adjusted the display.  “So are you busy tonight?”  


Michelle was back on the scene, “No she isn’t.  As a matter of fact she was telling me today how much she needed to get out of the store and check out the new Dine in Theater.” 

Diana looked at her in confusion, “I said no such…”  Michelle interrupted.  “She really needs to get away.  Can you help her out?”


 Aaron knew when he was being played, but he decided to take advantage; “Excellent.  I’ll pick you up here at closing time.”  He smiled and then spontaneously took her hand and kissed the back of it before leaving.


“What just happened?”  Diana stared down at her hand that just seconds ago was pressed to his lips.


“You have a date in less than two hours.  That doesn’t give me much time to get you ready.”


“Why do I have a date and why must I get ready?”


“When’s the last time you had a date?  And are you blind?!  The man is crazy for you and gorgeous.  Why are you fighting this?!”  Michelle was talking so loud that others in the store where shushing her.


“Oh please, like you didn’t all notice the guy was crazy for her while she ignored him.  Tell me I didn’t do the right thing.  Tell me!”  Several of the patrons walked further down the aisle while regulars began a slow clap that erupted into a full applause.  “See, everyone in this town knows you need to get out of this store.” 

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Still a work in progress, but thanks for reading.