Snarkling Clean

Snarkling Clean- because you don't have to cuss to make fun of stuff. Two dedicated readers discuss romance novels- from what made us weep with joy to what made us want to poke pencils through our eyeballs.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Something to Keep You Company

I'm going to New Mexico tomorrow. My mom lived in Albuquerque for about 12 years; my brothers and I were born there. She loved the Sandia mountains. So one of her last wishes was for her kids to scatter her ashes there, and that's our mission this weekend.

We're soooo having a party on Saturday, and the small ceremony Sunday morning. I honestly don't know if I want to do this. It's made me think hard about my own wishes after I'm gone, and what it will mean for my kids and my husband. Ah, well. I'll see you back here on Tuesday. In the meanwhile, I thought I'd treat you to another one of my flash fiction shorts. You're so lucky, I know!

See You Next Thursday

Emma Fergusson glanced at the cover of the latest bestseller she was stocking in the back room. An immensely built woman was falling out of her dress, ruthlessly embraced by a rugged highlander who was in danger of losing his kilt. The glittery raised letters proclaimed the title: Captured By Love.

“I wish,” Emma muttered to herself, too aware she hadn’t been captured by anything lately except a malfunctioning turnstile at the train station. As she mechanically shelved books in the stock room of her small bookstore, her mind wandered. She had just been to the wedding of another college buddy, and Emma felt as if she was the only 26-year-old woman in the world who had never had a truly serious relationship. She’d dated, certainly, but none of those men had ever turned out to be the love of her life. If there even was such a thing.

There was Tad Stone, though, Emma considered as she swept her honey colored hair over her shoulder. He was a good friend. He was funny and kind, and she liked and respected him. But love? She knew that she didn’t love Tad and never would, but he was the only one who had offered marriage to her.

“C’mon, Em, we’ll do well together. You’ll see,” he had told her last night. It was a passionless proposal from him as well, and they were both aware of it. They were lonely friends, not lovers. Marrying Tad wouldn’t be a romantic dream come true, but she wouldn’t be lonely anymore. Would she?

A noise from the side of the building caught her attention, but when nothing out of the ordinary happened, she dismissed it. There was little crime in this neighborhood, and she didn’t suppose her tiny bookshop was much of a target, anyway. She always did her backroom inventory on Thursday nights after closing because several off-duty cops congregated at the diner next door on that day. She had always felt safe; tonight was no different.

But maybe next Thursday would be, she thought. Next Thursday she could be Mrs. Stone, and go home to a cat and a husband instead of a cat and a T.V. Tad wanted to go to the courthouse as soon as possible; all they needed was her blood test. Emma paused, paperbacks in hand. She’d do it. Life with Tad would be okay. At least she wouldn’t be alone. Her dreams of a man who looked at her with love in his eyes would just have to stay buried.

“There’s that noise again,” she said to herself, heading for the back hallway. She drew up short when a tall, broad-shouldered man walked into the room.

“There you are, Emma! I’m so glad I didn’t miss you. I knew you’d be here, though. It’s inventory night.”

Emma just barely kept herself from screaming. Then she recognized the man. Ian something. He’d been in the store a few times the past week, and had kept to the science section. He had been pleasant and polite. She’d seen him get into intense discussions with a few of her regulars, usually on odd, abstract subjects. He was obviously very intelligent, and Emma had briefly wondered what his story was. But he had watched her covertly, she knew. She hadn’t thought about it beyond initially being flattered. He was too old for her, for one thing. In his late forties or early fifties, he was tall and solid, but slightly rumpled and slightly geeky. His wrinkled, old green sweater and small wire-rimmed spectacles rendered him distinctly non-threatening.

He passed a small stack of books from the latest ‘life coach,’ and muttered, “Where did you get these? You hate self-help books.” Then he looked at her and smiled. Surely he wasn’t going to ask her out, was he? That would be too embarrassing. Then a thought struck her. It was after closing time, and the doors were locked. He hadn’t hidden in the store or restroom, since she always checked those areas carefully before closing the shop.

She stood up straighter. “Ian, isn’t it?” At his nod, she continued. “How did you get in here?”

His smile grew fond. “Your alarm code should really be something besides your birthday, Emma. I’ve told you that for years.”

A kernel of fear started to grow. He knew her name from the I.D. tag she wore at work, but how did he know her habits- inventory night- and her alarm code? And how did he know she hated self-help books? Maybe he was after more than a date.

She tried to be nonchalant as she backed away from him, putting the rolling metal book cart between them. “Well, I’m afraid I don’t have time to talk right now.” She smiled, trying to put him at ease. Maybe if she didn’t rile him he would leave. “Perhaps we could talk tomorrow.”

Apparently he saw through the act. He stopped, just looked at her for a moment, and sighed, his head shaking in regret. “Oh, Emma, I’m sorry. I forgot that you don’t know me yet. I’m probably scaring the daylights out of you.” He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m not here to steal anything, or hurt you. As if I could ever hurt you.”

Emma was thunderstruck. His dark brown eyes held a sweet familiarity, as if he’d known her for years. There was something else in his eyes, too- but she didn’t stop to define it. He had to go. Now. She opened her mouth to tell him so.

“Then what are you here for?”

Where had that come from? This man may have been stalking her, for goodness’ sake! But he looked so…non-threatening. His brownish black hair was cut short, but ruffled, as if he continually ran his hands through it. He was actually kind of attractive if a little nerdy. When she’d seen him earlier in the day, the words almost adorable had gone through her mind. He was standing a little taller.

“I’m here to help you. You’re about to make the biggest mistake of your life.” Purpose suddenly radiated from him, as the apologetic posture dropped. “You cannot marry Tad Stone.” He took a step toward her. “You don’t love him.”

Emma backed away even farther. “Who are you? How do you know that? Have you been following me?”

He took a conciliatory step backward, as if he sensed her heightened fear and sought to relieve it. “Fair enough. I know I’m springing a lot on you at once. My full name is Dr. Ian MacBain.”

Her blue-green eyes widened. “You’re a doctor?” she whispered. Oh, great. He probably knows ten different ways to carve me up.

He shook his head. “Not a medical doctor. I’m a scientist, a theoretical physicist. I do work for the government.”

This was getting more bizarre by the second, and Emma was determined to extricate herself from the situation. “I’m sure you do a fine job, too,” she said sweetly. “Why don’t we go and get something to eat? The diner next door has great burgers.” And cops.

He smiled. “You need to eat, too.” He looked pointedly at her coffee cup sitting on the worktable. “You always drink too much coffee on Thursdays, and don’t eat until you come home. You know it upsets your stomach.”

That stopped her cold. Not being one to complain when she was sick, no one else knew that. She stared up at him, bewildered. How on earth did he know these things? “Please, who are you? What do you want?” Her voice was shaking as much as her hands.

When he saw how frightened she was, he became rueful. “No, Emma honey, no, don’t be scared. I’ll not hurt you, I told you that. I could never hurt you. It would be like hurting myself.” He came toward her slowly, and gently drew up a chair, motioning for her to sit. Not trusting her legs right then, she sat. He bent down next to her on one knee.

“Emma, you can think of me as a friend. A guardian angel, if you like.” He smiled, a secret smile. “Whatever.” He drew in a deep breath. “Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and maybe you’ll understand why I’m here.”

Emma nodded slowly, never taking her eyes from him.

“I wasn’t lying. I am a scientist, and I do on occasion work for the government. I’ve won all sorts of awards and medals and had theories named after me.” He chuckled. “That’s how scientists canonize their saints. My life was full, but my heart would have been empty except for my wife.”

Emma softened a bit at that. “Y-your wife?”

“My wife. I was your basic non-social scientist nerd when I met her. Someone set us up on a blind date. I didn’t hold out much hope for it. I wasn’t very good at that sort of thing. But then, she walked into that restaurant. I felt like the ceiling had caved in on me. She was so sweet, so pretty, and her smile…it was every mystery of the universe solved in that one moment.” He had stared past her, his eyes going soft.

“I married her as soon as I possibly could, because wonder of wonders, she loved me, too. We’ve been happily married for twenty years, and I still get dizzy when she smiles.”

I’m going crazy by degrees, Emma thought. I’m actually touched by the love story of a nutcase. And somewhat jealous. The way he talked about his wife, the beautiful look that came into his eyes. She’d waited her whole life for someone to look at her that way; most likely no one ever would. But his obvious love for his wife had taken the debilitating effects out of her fear. For some inexplicable reason, she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. She decided it was time to get to the bottom of this. “Ian, tell me what this is all about.”

The love in his eyes didn’t change or falter when he looked up at her, and it shook Emma to the core. “Emma, I want you to know the kind of love I have. You deserve it. And to have it, you have to be true to your heart. That is why you cannot marry that man. You don’t love him and you know it. Have courage, have faith, and don’t settle for less than you’ve dreamed of.”

How did he know her so well? Even her best friends had bought her line over the years, the one that said she was perfectly happy by herself. Ian just looked at her for a long moment, then stood to leave.

“I’ll go, Emma, but please remember what I’ve said.” His eyes roved over her, as if memorizing every detail. “You were so beautiful,” he said softly.

He reached a gentle hand to her face, barely brushing his fingers against her cheek. Emma’s heart started to pound at the emotion emanating from him in waves. “You always said something stopped you from marrying him, but wouldn’t say what,” Ian whispered. “I never dreamed it would be me and my pet project. I am eternally grateful.” He smiled as he went toward the door. “I guess I’ll see you next Thursday.”

Emma couldn’t stand, indeed could barely breathe, as he left. The inventory would go undone that night, she thought. And she needed that cup of coffee really, really badly.


*****

At lunch, Emma toyed with her salad while her best friend Miriam droned on about the latest man in her life. Emma was glad for her friend, and told herself to become resigned to discussions like these. She might not ever get married, but she would be okay. She would be true to her heart, and not settle for less than love.

She hadn’t seen Ian MacBain in a week, but somehow she hadn’t really expected to. She wondered if maybe he’d lost his precious wife, and she reminded him of her. Then again, he could just be crazy. Even as she told herself he was a total whack job, deep down she was thankful. She would have been miserable with Tad, and made him miserable too. She had refused the proposal but managed to keep a friend, for which she was grateful. Shaking herself slightly, she forced herself to pay attention to the conversation.

Everything about Miriam was expansive. Her eyes were huge and bright, her gestures big and dramatic. Even her expertly fluffed blond hair waved around her head as if it were prehensile.

She waved her fork as she spoke. “It’s too bad about Tad, but I thank God you came to your senses. You wouldn’t have been happy. But you’ve got to get back in the game- starting tonight.”

Emma looked up. “Tonight? What are you talking about?”

“I have a date set up for you. No, don’t look at me like that. You don’t have to marry him, for heaven’s sake. He’s a practice date, to help you get your groove back.”

“My groove is just fine. And even if I wanted to go, which I don’t, I can’t. It’s inventory night, you know that.”

“For once,” Miriam warned, pointing at Emma with the butter knife for emphasis, “you’re not going to hole up in that back room and slink home at midnight. You’re going out with this guy.”

Play along, Emma thought. Play along. You can get out of it later. “So who is the poor shmuck you roped into this?”

Miriam frowned. “Don’t be so nasty. He’s one of the good ones. Even smart enough for you, Miss Snobby Bookstore. He’s a genius who works for a government think tank.”

Emma felt shaky all of a sudden. “You mean he’s a scientist?”

“And how. He’s in astrophysics- black holes and supernovas. A rocket scientist! He also works with theoretical concepts. He supposedly can think in six different dimensions. He’s working on shifting between them, or some such. I don’t know what most of it means.”

Emma felt as if the air was being sucked out of the room. It couldn’t be!

Could it?

She managed to stammer, “Y-you’re talking about time travel.”

“I knew you’d know. See? You’re perfect for him. And he is a little nerdy, but cute. Here, look.” Miriam fished a snapshot out of her purse and slid it across the table.

Bells went off in Emma’s head as she took the picture. There, in front of her, was a slightly rumpled, slightly geeky young man with a new green sweater and small wire-rimmed spectacles. His dark hair was ruffled, as if he continually ran his hands through it. She traced the image gently with her finger. Absolutely adorable.

She looked closer at his eyes. Warm dark brown eyes were behind the spectacles; and Emma knew very well what those eyes looked like filled with love. Love for her. The kind of love she’d always dreamed of. She raised her head and smiled at Miriam.

“When do I get to meet him again?”

6 Comments:

Blogger Bernita said...

Oh, lovely.
Well done!
Beautifully done!

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Kaitlin said...

*sniffle*

Miss Robyn, if you don't write something and get it published soon...

That was beautiful. *sniffle*

7:26 AM  
Blogger Bibliophile Bitch said...

I'm so sorry you have to go to New Mexico for something so sad. I hope the celebration is a doozy.
(Contrary to popular opinion, I can be pleasant).
Great flash fiction. I really enjoyed it.
Did you sub it to the Crabby Cows?

9:13 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Loved that story. I was caught.
Hope New Mexico is at least a nice trip.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Julie Carobini said...

Ya hooked me--sigh...

11:15 PM  
Blogger Missie said...

I've even read this story of yours once before, and I still loved it more this time. You go, you timetravelin, geek-writin, trueloveforeverin' girl!

8:39 PM  

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