James never entered this bookstore before. He’d never been inside any bookstore before. Reading was not an act in which he indulged voluntarily unless the words appeared in bubbles connected to costumed men with incredibly biceps or women with incredible breasts. Never would he have had any motive to even humor a bookstore with more than a glance if not for the giftcard his literophilic aunt bought him for his birthday. It was a selfish gift: she hoped to spur in him the same attraction she had for books. Fortunately, he found better uses for the card. One of his closest friends, Anne, had a birthday approaching. She loved to read, so he would dispose of the card on a gift for her and spare his wallet the twenty dollars that books cost. Why are books so fucking expensive? he thought as he delicately maneuvered his cream-colored sedan across two parking lot spaces. His car didn’t warrant such gluttonous possession of space either in size or in price, but it was a precious machine to him. He wanted the world to know.
He walked down the trail to the bookstore and improvised a plan of blitzkrieg: find that book that Anne had mentioned, buy it, and get the hell out! He didn’t remember the name of it, but he vaguely recalled the cover: an apple against a black backdrop. He doubted he’d have trouble finding it. It was a very popular book. Even the supermarket had a shelf dedicted to it. Sure enough, he saw it immediately as he pushed open the double glass doors: a massive cardboard display of the book cover blown up to ten times its actual size. The shelves at the display contained hardbacks, paperbacks, and audio versions of the book. He stretched his arm for the paperback, remembered that he had a giftcard, and grabbed a hardback. He pivoted on his heels toward the registers when a statuesque sight hooked his peripheals and petrified him.
“Brooke!” he gasped just loud enough to beckon the attention of the tall slender blonde walking toward a jungle of shelves. She shifted her toward the sound, hesitated for a brief blink, and turned with a glittery face toward him.
“James!” she squeaked. She dashed to him with arms spread wide. He unfolded his own in time to welcome her embrace. “I haven’t seen you in forever!” She held him tightly and ended the hug with a quick squeeze.
“Yeah,” he said. It was all he could say. His cheeks flushed with a greater tint of rouge at his spontaneous muteness. She either didn’t notice or mercifully ignored it.
“It’s so great to see you.” Her eyes still glittered as her mouth displayed a tranquilizing smile. His nerves relaxed.
“You too. What have you been doing since high school?”
“Oh, nothing really.” Her words lacked the enthusiasm that beamed out of her a moment before. “Just been going to the JC and working here for the last few years. Meanwhile, Jennifer and Rebecca and Amy and the others are off at universities becoming doctors and architects and engineers. As for me, I’ll probably be stuck in this shitty town a few more years!” Her green eyes scuttered to the corner of her eyelids.
“Don’t say that!” James proclaimed with resurrected confidence. “You’re doing something with your life. At least you aren’t one of those losers who sits on his ass at home all day.”
“God, I’d kill myself if that was me!”
“I know! Same here! Be proud of who you are. So what if you don’t go to a university? After they graduate, most of them will be stuck in shittier jobs paying off their insane student loans. I see it all the time.”
“I guess that’s true.” A smile sneaked upon her lips.
“You’ll do great in life whether or not you end up at Harvard or Yale or whatever.”
“Oh, James,” she blushed.
“I’m serious.” His tone mimicked his words to show her their sincerity. “You’re intelligent and talented and sweet and most of all you’re unique, Brooke. I always thought so. You’re going to do great things in life.” Her face now flooded with a ruby shade.
“Oh, you’re so sweet, James. You know what to say to make me feel better. You’ve always known what to say.” A goofy giggle escaped his slackjawed mouth. She responded with a smile. “What about you? What have you been up to?”
“I work for my uncle. It’s really lame, I don’t really like it.”
“Well, it’s something,” she said with the utmost sincerity. She mercifully aborted the subject. Whether or not she knew it was a lie was unknown. “I really missed you, James I know we didn’t talk much in high school, but I always thought you were special.”
“Oh, thank you,” he blushed. “I really liked you too.”
“Really? I didn’t think you liked anybody,” she jested.
“I didn’t,” he laughed, “but you were one of the few exceptions.”
“Oh, I’m honored.” No sounds followed but a few affectionate laughs through untamed smiles. A middle-aged woman dripping flab from her neck broke the silence.
“Excuse me, Miss,” she said with emphasis on every word, “but I can’t find Earl Warren’s latest book, Mo’ Prayers Mo’ Money. I need you to help me find it.” James’ fisted clenched behind his back and teeth gnashed behind his lips.
“Yes, definitely, madam,” Brooke said. “Can you give me a second though?” The hag sighed.
“Fine, but I don’t have all day. I’m leading a group to witness to the lost souls at the Catholic church tonight. I’m a born again Christian as you might have noticed.” She fingered the golden cross that hung from her neck in a manner similar to a rapper’s. It even sparkled like a rapper’s harem of gold chains.
“Oh, me too,” Brooke smiled. James thought she must’ve rehearsed that smile for such customers.
“What I meant was that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
“Uh, okay.” Brooke turned to James and pulled his hand near. “Call me. Let’s do coffee sometime.” She scribbled her number on the back of his hand.
“Definitely,” he exhaled.
“Bye, James.” She smiled as she pulled away.
“Bye, Brooke,” He tried in futility to muffle his puppy eyes with a forced smile. Mercifully, she didn’t notice how famished they were. He watched her until she and the fat lady disappeared behind a large aisle of books, then he floated to the registers, paid for the book with the cash left in his wallet, and walked to his car. He almost crashed a few times on the drive home. His entire attention centered on stitching every detail of that magical minute with Brooke into his memory. He painted every detail from her subtle botanical scent to soft flush of freckles on her ivory cheeks. He even gave attention to the small darkened impressions around her eyes.
He turned on his computer as soon as he arrived home. He closed the windows that automatically open to his favorite websites upon startup. Instead, he opened Microsoft Word. “Life Changes to Make,” he typed. He typed for an hour. Satisfied, he saved the document, turned off his computer, turned off the lights, and went to bed. “Tomorrow will be a new day,” he thought as he closed his eyes and gazed at his memory’s masterpiece.