“Tomorrow, I’ll be dead and… would you kiss me?”
Nine words kept bouncing around inside my head, trying to find a way out. Meanwhile, I was one graffiti-covered door away from the hottest guy I had ever even considered dating—a guy who may or may not be dying, like tomorrow.
I had left town with a stranger without telling a soul, but that didn't worry me. I didn't mind that this total barf-worthy bathroom hadn’t been cleaned since like, ever. No, the biggest deal in my whole tragic life was that all my underwear was as all as ugly and dull as I was. I had one thong to my name, and it was soaking wet, for the worst reason possible: an argument in a Denny’s parking lot plus a November rainstorm.
You know, it’s kind of a long story. Maybe I should start over.
If someone wrote a book about my life, no one would ever publish it... let alone read it. Up until two hours ago, critics would have been stumped, trying to describe my trifling existence with sharp words and poor ratings. ‘Twenty-something college dropout works in bookstore. Dreams of being an author, but thanks to a sudden dash of real life is too afraid to try. Likes dogs. Two stars.’
And up until five hours ago I knew exactly where you could find me tomorrow: at Price’s Used Books on 32nd Street. Sounds like a great address, but it's in a ratty strip mall hidden behind a Walgreen's, sandwiched between a long-closed video rental joint and a new neon-encrusted vape shop. I would have been at Price's tomorrow, just like last night and most nights of the last two years. I was content, mostly, encased in a sarcophagus of books. The walls were yellowed, the pages were yellowed, the carpet was yellowed, the thermostat was stuck on Broil, and my beat-up old blue Ford was the only car in the parking lot. The heater had kicked on again, threatening to turn the whole damn place to cinder. I had already stripped down to a black cami, and my bare legs had begun to grow slick with sweat under a very modest pencil skirt. My dirty blonde hair looked more of dirt than of blonde twisted in a messy knot, loose tendrils sticking tight to the back of my neck like thick scars.
I am sure I looked like a ghost of an edgy librarian as I wandered the aisles of the store. All I needed was a fog machine and some kids to scare as I glanced through rows and rows of books.
You would be surprised at how hard it can be, to find something to read in a bookstore. I was just about to leaf through my favorite Abbbi Glines novel when the bell of the door gave its usual half-ass clink, but in the unoccupied space it was a sudden and terrible as a clap of thunder.
Dropping the book by my bare feet, I became conscious of how I was dressed. Though, I was sure at the time it was just a regular. The men who came in looking for Michael Crighton and other old military-themed paperbacks would likely ogle my boobs and make a half-dozen crass jokes—though honestly they always ogled and made sexist comments—and probably would continue to do so even if I decided to wear sweats every day. Trust me, I’d thought about it, but I didn’t want to sweat to death.
Or kindly Miss Fuller, who pretended to only be interested in wholesome Christian Fiction and owned more Regency Romance than Harlequin. She would probably just tell my mother about how I dressed for work. Or worse, blurt it out at in the hallways in church. Not that I had bothered to attend in a few, four years.
And if it was my boss Mike—
It was none of those people.
It was no one I had ever seen at all.
It was a boy—a man really, with dark shredded blue jeans. They did not have holes, but the jeans had large patches where it looked as though they had been carelessly dragged across dirty cement. Perhaps from the back of a loud black motorcycle.
I hated to typecast the characters of the bookstore, but this guy was nothing like the people who came here. He wore a red, long sleeve T-shirt, which was thankfully devoid of any road rash. It did, however, stick to his shoulders and flat stomach like it was wet. Like he had been out for a stroll in the November yuck, instead of coming into a bookstore to bother me.
Beautiful boys were hard work, and outside of fiction they were usually assholes. Still, I had to dig deep to be able to despise him, so I worked my face into the best frown I could manage just to eclipse the look of shock I was sure had just been set on my lips. I had just got my arms across my chest, goosebumps prickling my unclothed arms, before he noticed me and smiled.
“Hey,” he said, like we were the best freaking friends. “Nice rack.”
I would like to think my mouth did not hang open like an idiot, but I am in denial about a lot of things in my life.
“No, seriously,” he told me, but I don’t believe him. “Shakespear, Sendak, Bradbury, Hemingway. Some of my favorite dudes and all on the same display. It’s awesome. None of those books even match!”
None of them matched. I had said that exact same thing to Phil—the guy who owned the bookstore, and I hadn’t been talking about the array of different volumes and covers. But Phil just looked at me with his usual tired indifference and said, “They’re all dead.” I repeated Phil's words now.
“Come again?” Redshirt arched a perfect eyebrow, and I really wanted to ask him not to do that. Only I knew it was better not to prove I was insane.
I could hear the voice of my father, warning me it was better to look like a fool than to open my mouth and remove all doubt.
But I knew I was going to remove all doubt anyway.
“The authors who wrote them,” my voice sounded smooth—which was good because I felt just as goosebumpy on the inside as I was on the out. “The authors who wrote them, they’re all dead.”
The heater stuttered to a halt, but my traitorous heart refused to do the same. The damage had been done, I had long ago passed the threshold of glistening and had leaped over to the side of sweating like a pig.
“Are you sure?” he asked, but his voice had taken on an off far away sound. It was hot, but I really wanted him to leave so I could write books about him. Books where he wasn’t an asshole. Books that I would hide under my bed for the next… oh, seventy or so years. You know, until I died and couldn’t be embarrassed anymore.
“Yeah,” I snapped, “sure.”
Sure, I was about to think of a whole damn series of books about the hot, sensitive guy, who was into ridiculously sexy librarians. I mean…I have to keep up with the theme I had built up. If I wrote about my own mundane self, no one would give a crap.
“Really?” He scoffed, and he slung his arms across his red chest, mocking me.
By the time I dropped my arms to my side, I didn’t have to work so hard at hating him.
“So I assume you’ve seen the bodies? Because writers, sweetheart, writers are villains. I don’t know about you, but I never ever believe a villain is dead until I see the body.” He dropped his arms, too, and there was a smile behind his brown eyes.
“Oh, we are not—” I stopped and corrected myself. “Writers aren’t villains.”
“What’s your name?” he asked, but I just chewed my cheek and admired his leather shoes. I didn’t really want to be on a first-name basis with some moron who thought writers were the bad guys. As usual, what I wanted, and what happened were two starkly different things. In this case because—
“Kaylee!” He shouted, “Sorry, almost couldn't read your name tag, what, with all the stars and… stuff…”
He stopped at stuff.
I had clipped the stupid tag all awkward on one thin spaghetti strap. I had also covered most of it in blue and silver star stickers, but he didn’t need to know why.
“John Greene fan?” he asked, and his stupid eyebrow went at it again!
Also, yes. I am a huge John Greene fan, but that wasn’t it.
“Anyway, like I was saying. Authors are the absolutely worst sort of villains.” He says it like it’s a dare, and like he dares people to do dumb things all the time.
“That is such a stupid thing to say,” I told him. Straight out.
I wished I could just walk away. I, Kaylee Hall, am a firm advocate for the traditional flight response to confrontation. Sadly, I worked here and couldn’t just leave. It didn’t mean I couldn’t daydream of tossing him right out of the door.
“How so?” he asked, and I think right away it couldn’t be that hard. He couldn’t possibly weigh that much… and then I realized he couldn’t really be responding to the soap opera in my head. Writers are villains, that was probably his whole argument. He probably wasn’t going to explain anything.
I started to form a rebuttal in my head, but I knew it was useless. It was just like the high school debate team. There was no beating the jerks whose daddies were State Senators. It didn’t matter what I said, because dudes like him won at life. I worked part-time in a thrift store for books. I hadn’t won at high school, and I definitely hadn’t won at college.
You know what, I really shouldn’t go there.
“Writers are villians. Presidents?” he says, positioning himself so he can lean against the second-hand rag mags, “People of power? They may push buttons and launch bombs, but not without the might of the people behind them. Not without armies. Not without ammunition and guns. But writers? They wave pens and ruin lives. They break hearts with punctuation marks. They could be merciful. Saint-like. But they aren’t.”
My heart stopped right there next to the display of dead guys. Apparently it wasn’t good enough my life was dull, it had to be wrong too. Was this guy for real?
“Who are you?” I asked him.
I couldn’t believe my mind had shocked my remaining organs back into working order.
Did I dream you into existence?
“I’m Jackson Bennett. Mind if I ask you a question Kaylee?"
The good news is, I managed to nod without falling to pieces. No need to tell him after his last speech he could ask me almost anything because my brain was total mush. Anything but where we kept the manga, or porn, because that was the only thing the young hot guys did ask for.
“Great, but don’t answer until you consider all the facts first,” he said.
“Okay.” If I sounded skeptical, it was because I was skeptical.
“Tomorrow, I’ll be dead and… would you kiss me?”
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