Hard to Love

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Around November the skating rinks are advertising their Winter discounts, and the frosty air is setting the ponds' surfaces to thin sheets of glass which will thicken to the likeness of white marble counter tops. I put my shoe box in the passenger seat beside me in the Mini and then remove the box top to make sure the skates are situated snugly and the the blades still have their protectors affixed. The mall has an indoor ice-skating rink with vendor kiosks of hot drinks and fresh pretzels and pastries, hot and fresh out of the oven. I can smell the dough baking, even through my rolled up windows as I drive passed to the repair shop.

I start making a mental list of groceries I ought to pick up on the way home for holiday cooking. Though I live alone, I always have a party in December for all of my friends before we separate to spend the holidays with our families; which means stocking up on what I need before the holiday.

By the time I get to the repair shop I realize that there is no way that I will be able to buy all that I want in one day, especially not the specialty meats. I then remember that my OTC friends, Brendan and his mates, are probably handy with a gun by now in their third year and perhaps they can take me hunting this season. I have always wanted to try hunting but my father would never allow it when I was at home. He does not care to see his meat still in its clothes before eating. A city boy at heart, my father is.

I write on a sticky note 'Ask Brendan about hunting' and then stick it to my dashboard. I am in and out of the shop within half of an hour and with a pep in my step, happy to be approved for maximum Winter fun. The shoebox goes onto the floor in the back of my car now that my skates are no longer top priority.

My next priority is grocery shopping – for must have items only today. The condensed list fills two sticky notes in my purposely under-sized handwriting. Since Winter months usually consist of baked goods and stews for me, these must-haves will last me at least to the end of the month.

Of course, when I get to the store everything changes. I see a waffle irons on sale for twenty percent off of the normal price, and I know I must have one. Belgian waffles are my weakness. My aunt used to make them for my birthday every year and she let me choose whichever toppings I liked: from whipped cream, to ice cream and sprinkles. I haven't had one of those since I moved to Astero County for university. I rarely take the four hour train ride home.

Right, so if I am going to have waffles then I need to do them right. I detour to the refrigerated section and find the airiest brand of whipped cream – which then makes me remember that I need to buy clotted cream for my scones. With waffles and scones I must also have a jam spread, and then a fresh stock of the ingredients for both. I finish off with enough produce for two weeks. That's the only thing I can't depend on to last a month, even during the cold seasons.

I busy myself at the register, looking in my purse for wallet and discount card so that I cannot see the prices tally up beyond my means; and then I am relieved to hear that, after the discount, I have saved a sizable amount and may not regret the extra purchases after all. Thank you, Jesus. Belgian birthday waffles may be six months away, but the sale was today.

Still in the cooking spirit, and hungry – I can only shop when I have an appetite – I leave the groceries in their bags and begin a delicious chili I learned from watching the 'naked' chef Jamie Oliver on the telly. It is a veggie chili, which means I don't have to worry about whether I've cooked any meat all of the way through – which is often a problem of mine. Most veggies can be eaten raw.

When the beans-and-tomato base is simmering and the potatoes are cooking, I still have twenty minutes left to sort out the rest of my groceries and put them away. The waffle iron manual has me entranced ten minutes later as I read through the various recipes and helpful tips in the back of the booklet. Beep-beep! Beep-beep! Beep-beep! I put down the manual and turn off the timer. What was the timer for: the pot on the stove or potatoes in the oven? The onions in the pan are not yet translucent as the recipe calls for, and the beans are still al dente. I give it a stir and then open the oven. The yams look beautiful, tanned by the oven roasting. The cumin and cinnamon ambush my nostrils with the blast of heat as I open the oven door, but it smells like Christmas in July. The potatoes are ready to come out.

I've forgotten to buy fresh coriander but the chili is still delicious. I stir in more cayenne and packets of crushed chili peppers from pizza delivery into the finished chili for an added kick. I set myself down at the table for a nice warm meal of a heaping bowl of the chili over rice on the brink of Winter.

On Monday I am surprised to see Brendan walk through the doors of The Comic Shop around two in the afternoon.

"Hey there," I say coming around from behind the register. "You know it's Monday, right?"

He gives a closed-smile and bows his head. "I thought I'd check out those Dark Horse comics you told me about." Brendan looks up. I smile.

"Okay." I tilt my head in the direction of the stacks and then follow through with the rest of my body as I say, "Follow me.

"There are titles you'll be familiar with from television and video games, like: Buffy, Serenity, Dollhouse, Tombraider, Star Wars, Hellboy... And then your caped crusaders like Nexus, Captain Midnight, Brain Boy, Dream Thief, Ghost...

"Oh! And these," I pull one of the comics from the shelf, "are my favourites: Dark Horse Presents. A little taste of what the best writers have to offer in short-story one-shots." I hand him the book. "It'll help you find what you're looking for. I like almost anything written by Jane Espenson, Mike Mignola, Matt Kindt, or – the man himself – Joss Whedon. Personally, I think Mignola is right down your alley."

On Wednesday, in addition to his usual stash of new comic books, Brendan has the trade paperback of Number Thirteen. The series is about a bionic boy trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, with amnesia, and find out who he is and who his creator is.

"This is a great series," I say as I ring up his purchases.

"Yeah; I read through the first few books on Monday and wanted to finish the series."

It has been three weeks since I went to the Captain America premier with Brendan and he has continued to show up at the shop at irregular times. He ended up at Whitley's register this Wednesday and so Whitley takes this opportunity to engage Brendan in conversation.

"Branching out, huh?"

Brendan nods.

"Veda over here is our expert on Dark Horse," Whitley continues. "She likes the dark gory stuff. I know you can't tell by looking at her, but..." He laughs.

I look their way and smile, having overheard their conversation.

"Yeah," Brendan says. A little colour tinges his face.

"Would you like individual plastic cases?"

"Yes, please."

"Bye," I say with a wiggle of my fingers, gloved in black lace.

Brendan takes his bag of comics, blushes, and then walks out.

When the door has closed, I take a deep breath and let it out fast. "Shut up."

"I said nothing," Whitley says.

"Shut up anyway."

"I know this has never been an issue before but, should there be a policy regarding staff dating customers?" Whitley says at the end of the Saturday evening staff meeting.

I scrunch my face in a pout and fold my arms. I know where he's going with this.

"Is this about that kid who has a thing for V? Or is this unrelated?" the blonde-haired Declan says.

"Whoa," Vaughn says. "Someone has a thing for me?" He's tall (around six feet), blonde, and muscular, with vibrant sky blue eyes. Most women would have a crush on him.

"Not you, Vaughn," Declan says, "Little V - Veda," and then he points at me.

My squinting glare falls from Whitley's face to the tabletop as I slouch in my chair.

"What kid is this?" Dunn says. He works with me on Saturdays, one of the few days Brendan has managed not to appear on.

I try not to listen as the guys discuss how 'the kid', also known as Brendan, has been dropping in on me at work, though it's hit-or-miss since he doesn't know my schedule. According to Declan, who works with me on Mondays, Brendan glances my way every so often and lingers just out of my range of sight when I am busy with other customers. Whitley has noticed the kid come in on Tuesdays but doesn't stay long when he realises that I am not on shift.

"I guess the real question is: does Veda need to hide behind a regulation to get rid of this guy?" Vaughn says.

I sit up straight in my chair. "Wait. I don't want to get rid of him. He's cool and pretty smart."

"So you want to date him?" Dunn says.

"Mmmm, I don't know."

"You already went out with him once," Whitley says.

"No!" I say before he can conjecture any more incorrect conclusions. "No, I went to a movie with him and his flatmates. That's not a date."

"That's an invitation for gang rape," Declan says.

"Whoa! Uncalled for!" the others say. Vaughn, who is closest to Declan, punches him hard on the arm. All I can do is gape.

"Sorry." He rubs his injury. "I just meant that it was unwise and unsafe, since you don't really know the guy." Declan stares at me. "Right?"

I shrug. "Not well enough to decide whether or not to date him."

"So you're going to string him along until you decide?" Whitley says.

I lean back in my chair and start to clean my fingernails in my lap.

"No," I say; though I haven't given it much thought. I just like the attention.

"I know you like to keep it strictly professional at work, Veda. That's why I'm asking if we should institute a policy here."

"I don't know... He's shy. I think it'll be a while still before he asks me out, if ever. I might have an answer by then."

"Well, what's he like? Maybe we can help you out," Dunn says.

"He and his flatmates are in the Army OTC. He isn't very talkative or emotive, but maybe that's something to do with the army thing. He's very loyal and likes routine. His favourite comics are about Captain America, either Rogers or Bradley. Bradley is his childhood hero but Rogers since wore the colours first. He came with the territory."

"He told you all of this?" Vaughn says.

"Most of it. I'm an anthropologist, not a forensic psychologist. Why?"

"Guys don't usually give up their personal information to a girl without being asked unless they like her. Really really like her. Especially the shy ones."

"But this isn't significant information, really. I had never seen him pick up anything else until I suggested Dark Horse to him." I caught the hint when they did.

"He is only reading new comics because you suggested them?" Declan said.

"Anyway, he told me that stuff before this month when he came in to see the new merch. He could not have been infatuated with me in the first five minutes of meeting me," I say.

Vaughn chuckles. "Right, because no one has ever become infatuated with someone they never spoken to before," he says.

I am trying really hard to deny the truth of that statement. I actually like being single. But what woman wouldn't like the attention?

"What do I do then?" I say.

"The way I see it," Dunn says, "you have two options: since you don't feel a mutual attraction to this Brendan guy, then you can either approach him and let him down early before he gets the chance to be rejected -"

"But he might just deny his feelings for her to save face. She did say he is shy," Vaughn says.

"But then that would be making Veda look like an idiot," Declan says.

"Or ego-centric," I say.

"If he does that, then he doesn't deserve her," Whitley says. I smile and mouth "Thanks" to him.

"Anyway," Dunn says, "the other option is to let him continue his fantasy and be happy for as long as it lasts."

The table goes silent and I know we are all thinking about this as a serious option.

"You said he is not emotive. He has good control over his emotions?" Vaughn says.

I nod and look at him, wondering what he is thinking.

"Well, he may never confess his feelings for you if he doesn't think you're interested," he says.

"And if he does? If he asks me on a date or something?" I say.

"Then," Dunn says, "he will not let you see him cry when you let him down."

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