The rage Within

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Chapter 15

I worked at the Book Store practically since I arrived at college. It was a good job with horrible pay, but I loved being around books and talking to people who also love books. The customers are almost always cordial and the only real complaints you would hear were, “I can’t believe you don’t have that in stock” or “book 3 of the series isn’t due until when!?” Considering the crap most retail employees have to put up with, I considered these minor inconveniences at most. The routine of my life was one of the things I clung to after it happened, and I hadn’t even thought of looking for a new job. Now that I graduated I knew I had to keep my options open and maybe even start thinking about some kind of a career.

One afternoon I was working the early shift, stocking the new arrivals, when my boss Gus asked if I would give the cashier a hand at the front registers. The check-out lines could go from 0 to 100 in no time.

Gus was a good guy, who lived for books. He was one of the original employees of the store and worked his way up to store manager. I don’t think there is a book in the store he couldn’t find if we had it in stock. We would try to stump him from time to time and he always prevailed. He knew his business. If you saw him on the street you would never guess that he worked in a book store. He looked more like a construction worker than book worm. He was big, burly, and had one of those mustaches that look like walrus tusks. I had heard that he was in the Army when he was younger, but he never talked about it. A true gentle giant and everyone loved him.

I walked behind the counter and gave the usual cattle call, “I can help the next customer in line”.

I was ringing up the books for a nice elderly lady when I noticed a girl in line. She was about three or four customers back and I couldn’t be sure because of the distance, but it seemed like she was staring at me. It wasn’t the usual ‘please hurry up with your customer and get to me’ kind of stare’ either. It was more like the crazy redhead, but with less anger.

She looked to be about my age, not very tall, had light brown curly hair that bounced off of her shoulders. She had on casual, loose fitting clothes, but it was still obvious she was in shape. Altogether she was the cute girl next door, but apparently her parents didn’t tell her it was rude to stare.

When she made her way through the line I was starting to get nervous that I might be the one who helps her. It was going to be awkward for sure. I lucked out, or not, depending on how you looked at it, but she ended up in Denise’s line. She stopped looking at me, placed her book on the counter, and paid for it in cash. After she grabbed her bag she walked right past me without a single glance in my direction.

My life has definitely become officially bizarre. There has to be an explanation for all of these strange encounters.

I was trying to pay attention to what my customer was saying and also figure out what had just happened. Was this just in my head? Her stare wasn’t as intense or mean as my last, but it was just as odd. She never showed a hint of a smile, a frown, or any emotion at all. The more I thought about it I figured I was just being overly sensitive. Maybe she was looking at something behind me and I only thought she was staring at me. The way my luck had been with women lately it seemed anything was possible.

“You know that girl Jack?” Denise asked.

“No. Is it just me, or was she looking at me…kinda weird?”

“That’s putting it mildly. Staring holes in you is more like it. Must be your cologne.” Denise said with a wink.

Denise was the store cougar, who had no problem being mildly inappropriate from time to time.

“Funny. We both know it’s because of my nerdish good looks. Not to mention that my apron goes perfect with my eyes.”

Denise laughed and we went back to the herd of customers. I rang up a few more people before getting back to my mindless book stocking.

I was looking forward to getting off work and meeting everyone at the bar. I was ready to have a few beers and maybe a few laughs. I truly needed it.

My shift ended uneventfully, and headed to The Broken Shillelagh and found my friends in one of the large circular booths. They appeared to have had a head start on the drinks, except for Ted, who looked like he just arrived. The look he gave me when I got there was a mix of relief and anger for leaving him alone to fend for himself amongst relative strangers. I was his buffer and he was very uncomfortable around my other friends without me around. Couldn’t blame him really, they could be a handful for the quiet and sober.

“Hey everyone.” I said as I jumped into the open seat next to Ted, pushing him closer to Cyndi.

“Glad you made it pal. Cyndi was just complaining that she was the only girl at the table.” Ben Said.

“Cyndi, did you hear something? It sounded like the chirp of a Benious Jackassious.” I quipped

“You may be right. They are extremely rare and native only to Ann Arbor. They are seen in public as much as the albino sloth, unless you count bars of course.” She said.

My friend Ben was a character. If there was another person on this earth more assured of oneself I have yet to meet that person. The unbelievable part about Ben is that he manages to pull it off without seeming like a total prick. Most times. He is a genuine good guy, but you did have to get past the somewhat rough exterior that tended to rub some people the wrong way at first. Many didn’t bother putting in the effort, but if they did they would find funny guy with a heart of gold.

“Ben, you still planning to move to the Keys and live like Hemingway?” I teased.

“Right after I make my first million up here first though. I can’t move to paradise and live like you bums. These things take time and planning Jack.” He then changed the subject. “Hey, is it true?”

“What’s that?”

“Ted said some hot redhead kicked your ass in a Starbucks the other day?”

Everyone at the table started to laugh.

Ted looked embarrassed. He gave me that shrug as if to say, ‘sorry, I ran out of things to talk about’.

“Wrong as usual. It was at The Art of Coffee.” I said as I took a sip of the beer that the waitress had just placed in front of me. I offered no further details leaving everyone anxious for more.

Cyndi was still laughing and said, “Stay away from redheads Jack. They’re all crazy. Trust me”.

“Spoken like freshly dyed blond.” Ben said.

“Easy Rogain. I am just enhancing the natural color of my hair, which is still attached to my head.”

We all cracked up. Even Ben couldn’t deny quick humor, even at his own expense. He laughed harder than any of us.

“So, what happened pal? I gotta hear this.” Ben pressed.

“I don’t know. Just some nut off her meds I assume. There’s no other explanation.”

“She was hot though eh?” He said with a sly grin

“Gorgeous, I think he said.” Ted added, happy to be part of the conversation.

“Hmm. Talk about a dilemma.” Ben said.

“Could you be more shallow and stereotypical?” Cyndi said with a roll of the eyes. “Hey Jack, are you seeing anyone right now?”

“No. I’m having too much fun watching movies by myself six days a week. I might be able to make a hole in my schedule though, do you know someone?” I said, trying not to sound too eager.

I knew Cyndi had lots of friends, as she was by far the most outgoing and friendly. After my parents were killed she tried setting me up a few times, but they were all disasters for one reason or another. My head was still not in it, which made for lousy conversation, which led to crappy dates. I was surprised she was willing to give me another shot.

“I might. I met a new girl recently. She’s in one of my classes. Cute, smart, and seems nice enough. I will call ya if we are all hanging out so you can ‘show up accidentally’.” Cyndi said as she threw up the finger air quotes, just in case I missed the obvious meaning.

“Please do. It wouldn’t hurt to meet some new people I guess. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“She could knock your teeth out apparently” Ben said, getting the reaction he wanted from the group.

Ted appeared to be enjoying the company and adding to the conversation, which furthered his confidence. He felt like a part of the group, and not the focus of it. When you’ve been bullied your whole life its little things that have the biggest impact. Cyndi even gave him a flirtatious smile here and there, which turned him beet red, but I know he loved it. Like I said, he just needed a chance.

Ted got up to use the restroom, which was behind our booth. He was in his own little world, probably thinking about Cyndi, when he bumped into another patron walking by. The guy was on the younger side, but tall and muscular. The crew cut and tight college tank top screamed athlete of some kind.

“Dude!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-.” Ted started to say.

“Shut up ya fat bastard. They don’t teach you assholes how to walk and look at the same time in your geek classes?”

Ted was about to apologize again, but the guy didn’t allow him to say another word. He grabbed a beer from a nearby table, threw it in Ted’s face, and then punched him in the head. Ted went down in a semi-conscious tumble, hitting his head on a high-top table as he fell. The guy who hit him must have thought that he killed him, because he ran out of the bar in a hurry.

I heard some commotion from the back and when I turned to see what was going on I saw Ted on the floor in a terrible state. He stood up on unsteady feet and stumbled toward the front door about to leave. His head and shoulders where soaking wet and he was bleeding from the corner of his left eye.

“What the…” I said, as I ran to catch him before he left.

The rest of group couldn’t see us from where they were, so no one else moved from the table.

“What the hell buddy, are you okay?” I asked.

“No. I just want to go home, is that okay, can I go home?” He pleaded.

“Of course. I ’m coming with you. Hold on.”

I ran back to the table, left some money for the drinks, told everyone that Ted wasn’t feeling well and we had to go. I thought it was better than telling everyone that my friend was a bloody mess and I didn’t know why. That would have taken way to long and I knew that Ted was leaving with or without me. I could fill them in later if need be.

I didn’t ask Ted anything until we got home. I just made sure he got there without going unconscious.

Soon as we got inside I grabbed some paper towels and followed him to the bathroom to see how bad the damage was.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“I bumped into some goon and apparently he didn’t like my face. Or he was so jealous of my good looks he felt he had to ugly me up somewhat.”

“Next time yell. Not that my skinny ass would have been much help, but-”

“Ouch!” Ted said as started wiping the blood from his head.

“You might need a few stitches buddy. Your eye isn’t too bad, but your head has a good gash in it. You want me to call the police?”

“No. I feel like a big baby as it is. Sorry if I ruined your night out. I know it’s been awhile since you had some fun.”

“You’re not a baby, and I did have fun. Another hour or so and Ben would have been drunk and obnoxious. I think it was fortuitous you got your ass kicked when you did.”

“Glad I could help.” Ted said, wincing as I put pressure on the cut.

“Come on. Quick trip to the Emergency room. Be out in no time.” I said.

I took Ted to the ER, they patched him up fairly quickly, and we walked home. We took our time, as he was in no condition to run or jog.

We were walking down Main when I noticed the Antique Shop that I went into last year to get my mother’s gift. In the window was a sign that read HELP WANTED. It was on the standard black and red sign and someone had written in marker ‘experience a must’. If my childhood and college degree didn’t make me qualified for such a Job I don’t know what would. It was closed, but I made a mental note to come back the next day.

I didn’t know if a job at a high end art and antique store paid very much, but it couldn’t be any less than what I was making now. I remembered all of the amazing pieces that were on display in this store and the owner seemed very friendly, so I thought it was worth a try.

As I said, one of the great things about Ann Arbor is that almost everywhere is walking distance. In my case it was also one of the worst things. I had to walk past the parking structure where my mom was murdered more often than I would like. I had come to tune it out for the most part, especially during the day, but on certain nights though, I couldn’t help but replay the horror of that night in my head. Time heals, but unfortunately it doesn’t give you amnesia.

The structure was well lit during the evening hours, even more so since the murders. On this one particular night, I looked up to the fourth level, out of instinct more than anything, and when I did I could have sworn I saw someone looking down at me. I was passing a row of trees when I noticed this and when I made it to a clearing the figure was gone. I couldn’t tell if it was a male or female, but someone was up there. It could have been someone smoking or a maintenance man of some sort, but it gave me a chill.

“You all right?” Ted said as he caught me staring upward.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s nothing. How’s the head?”

“As good as certified used.”

“You better not have lost any memory. There’s over a hundred grand in tuition in there.”

I got the smile I was looking for. I could tell he was glad to have a good friend, and he did. In hindsight I was the one who really benefited from our friendship, and I’m not talking about financially.

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