It was the name of our town. There was nothing special about it, except for the catchy name maybe. Capricus was the kind of town where rain was always present. The streets were often wet and you’d have to watch your steps for fear of falling into a puddle. If you could do that, then you were relatively safe here. People were used to it by now. The rainy days became a part of people’s lives. People adapted, and life went on. It amazed me, the uncanny ability of humans to embrace whatever life threw at him. Or the stubbornness to push through despite the discomforts of life.
The people of Capricus were the best example for this. A biased thought I had to admit. I didn’t really have anyone to compare it to. I’d never been out of town. The farthest I went was in South Dock. The sea that served as both an entrance and exit to Capricus, separating and connecting us from the rest of the world. I used to sit all day on the rooftop of some old and abandoned building, it gave me a good view of the port. Just eating peanuts while watching ships come and go. Looking at the people leaving and entering. It was a strange feeling. There were times when I wanted to catch a ship and go on an adventure. But there was always something holding me back to this place. Like an imaginary pull.
“Ding dong, ding dong. Life is a song. Just look, just look. Life is a book.”
Stella, the pet parrot I inherited from my late Grandpa Beck, recited her usual cheesy greeting. From the counter, I could see a group of teenagers pouring into our front door. All of them craned their necks as they saw Stella. In just a matter of seconds, SkyesStocks, the bookshop which was another one of Grandpa Beck’s former ownership was now crowded. “Welcome to SkyesStocks. Feel free to look around for any books that take your fancy.” I greeted the newly arrived customers.
A beautiful half-Asian girl smiled at me. She walked towards the counter table and said, “Hey, Hunter,” then she turned to the fluffy, multi-feathered parrot sitting on top of a cabinet, “hi, Stella.” Stella didn’t bother saying hi back, instead she flapped her wings and gracefully flew her way to my direction and landed her talons on my shoulder.
It was a good thing I was wearing a hoodie, Stella’s claws were sharp for a parrot. My black hair was unkempt per usual. And my murky gray eyes, which I was often told was a disturbing color, were looking at the floor as I offered Ana a quick apology, “Sorry, she doesn’t really like guests.”
This half Asian girl with rich dark hair draping her shoulders was Ana Danclaire. Being a small town, it was expected that everybody knew everybody. Ana Danclaire was the daughter of the mayor. Unlike me, she has been all over the world. Her family liked to travel. She went to an all-girl’s boarding school outside of our town and only stayed in Capricus during holidays and summer.
“Wished she’d let me pet her.” Ana cooed, the smile not leaving her face.
“It takes a while for her to warm up.” I said, while risking to raise my eyes for a split second to look at her then turning my attention to Stella who was hoisted on my shoulder.
“Hm”, she paused to think, “maybe I should come here more often then.”
A rush of joy swept through my body after hearing Ana’s words. I’d been attracted to her for the longest time. She was pretty. That was a given. But she was nice too. On my grandfather’s funeral, she skipped school just to attend and talked to me all afternoon when I refused to go out and meet the guests.
“Ana,” a boy from the group of teenagers who just came in called out to her, “did you get what you came here for?” His voice was muffled by the chatting and the giggling of the other customers. He decided to get closer to us, passing through the stacks of books.
Stella hopped off my shoulder and landed on the counter, clearly excited with the arrival of the new customer.
“Not yet, Kurt.” Ana answered. “I was just having a little chat with Hunter, do you mind?” She gave Kurt an impatient look.
“Sorry, little cousin. But we’re in a bit of a rush, we got a party to attend to.” He pointed to his wrist watch and returned the impatient look right back at her.
“Kurt is a hottie.” Stella broke the conversation between the two with her squeaky voice and flew on Kurt’s shoulder.The old parrot was a big flirt.
“Stella, you beauty, you’re still a sweet talker as always.” Kurt made kissing sounds directed at Stella.
Ana laughed and so did I. Kurt was a childhood friend, and a frequent visitor of SkyesStocks. Unlike his cousin Ana, he had blonde hair, blue eyes and a muscular body to match.
“You should marry Stella already, Kurt. I give you my blessing.” I teased.
“Sure, I will.” He agreed almost instantly and pointed to Ana. “Cous, you’ll be the flower girl.” She laughed again with her cousin’s silly comments.
Kurt extended his hand for our usual handshake. “Hunter, you’ll be the ring bearer.”
I accepted his hand, reaching over the counter and doing the complicated handshake we came up with when we were little. “Let’s just hope I won’t lose the ring.”
“You won’t, as long as you don’t fool around too much with the flower girl.” Kurt said as he tapped my shoulders. I knew he was kidding but that made want to throw a bucket at him for saying that in front of his cousin. After all these years of crushing on Ana, I still didn’t have the courage to ask her out. Let alone let her know that I liked her. Yeah, I know. I was such a wuss.
“How much for this book?” Another customer came up to the counter, saving me from the embarrassment. I scanned it and replied, “That would be 10 dollars.” The customer returned the book back to the bookshelf and continued scanning through the dozens of books lined up.
Ana cleared her throat, catching my attention. “By the way, before planning this whole wedding thing, we’re having a small party at my house. You should totally come, Hunter.”
“I invited him weeks ago, cous. He’ll come, he gave me his word.” Kurt piped in.
“I-ugh.” Since my grandfather’s death, six months ago, I hadn’t been to any parties. Kurt had been constantly trying to get me back into the social scene. “I dunno, man. I’m not really in a party mood right now.” I said, while touching the back of my neck.
“Oh, you will go to this party. I’ll be dragging your ass out there if I have to.” Kurt warned. And I knew he wasn’t bluffing. He’d tie me up to chair if that was what it would take. He was just being a good friend. Grandpa Beck’s death, my only remaining relative took a huge tool on me. I had been distancing myself from everyone, especially in school.
I sighed before replying. “Alright, I will.”
Ana’s face cheered up and Kurt started doing awkward dance moves with Stella on his shoulder.
“It’s gonna be fun, Hunter. I promise.” Ana smiled at me.
If you’re there, I’m sure it will be.
“Alright, you better get what you need already.” He faced Ana. “There are still some last minute preparations that we gotta do.” Kurt looked even more excited than before. “I’ll be in the car.” He turned to me and announced, “I want to see you so wasted tonight you’ll be confessing your love to a kebab.” And with that, he headed for the exit with a small wave and a flying kiss for Stella.
“He’s a riot.” Ana shook her head when her cousin was out of sight.
“I’m used to it by now.” I shrugged, stating a fact.
“I should go out soon before he starts causing a ruckus.” She said more to herself than to me. “Do you have the book already?”
“Oh, yeah, I do.” I opened the drawer and pulled a book out of it. The book made a light thud against the wood’s surface, dust sprung out of it as I placed it on the counter. “It’s a bit old and the pages are sorta falling apart.” I stated the obvious poor condition of the book.
Ana’s black eyes popped out from the sight of the book, looking very much pleased. “All herbs available in Capricus are in here,” she squealed and touched the book’s cover with utmost care, “I can’t thank you enough right now, Hunter. Your grandpa was an amazing herbalist.”
“Grandpa would have been glad to tell you all about herbal medicines if he was still around.” I felt a sense of longing at the mention of my grandfather. “Anyway, this book is more useful to you than to me, so I’m giving it to you.” I added, changing the topic to a less serious tone. “Free of charge.” I was pretty sure my grandpa shifted in his grave just now. I gave away one of his treasured books.
“Really? That’s really nice of you Hunter.” Ana sounded so happy as if I just gave her a mountain of gold.
She first came to the shop a week ago and ordered for a copy of my grandpa’s herbal medicine book. As it turned out, my grandpa was a big shot in the world of herbal medicine. Ana was interested in herbal medicine because of her Chinese mother and admitted to being a fan of my grandpa’s works, she wanted to see the original copy for herself.
“Glad I can help”, I said with a casual tone, “and if I ever get a headache or something, I know who I can run to now.” My lips form into a smile, she was so happy, I couldn’t help but be happy for her too.
Then she did something that I thought could only happen in my dreams. She tiptoed and reached over the counter to give me a peck on the lips. It was light and quick. But the sensation lingered there, making me feel lightheaded in a good way.
Before I could go in shock, Ana thanked me again, motioning to leave. As she got to the door, she waved at me. I was too stunned to wave back. The shutting of the door made me jump and finally get over the initial shock of my first kiss. I blinked. Ana kissed me. Not minding the crazy stares I would be getting from the remaining customers, I did a victory dance as the realization sank in.
It was late in the afternoon. My head was still in cloud nine from Ana’s kiss. There was a permanent smile displayed on my face. For the first time since Grandpa Beck was gone, I was looking forward to go to a party. I glanced at the windowpane, and I saw dark clouds starting to form. What a beautiful day it was! Beautiful day indeed to get kissed. To make the time pass quicker, I grabbed a Chemistry book from the Science section. The bookshop was empty of customers so I had the free time to do what I wanted.
The room was getting darker, making it harder for me to read. I whistled and Stella immediately flew toward me, a little trick I learned from my grandpa. “Turn on the lights, Stella.”
Stella was capable of doing a few commands, one of them was turning on the chandelier. Stella did as she was asked and flew back to my shoulder. I gave her a marshmallow from my hidden stash as a treat. I leaned back on my chair, my one hand on the book and the other one holding a marshmallow.
When I was about to turn to the next page, I saw a flash of lightning struck the lamp post right across our street. “What the―,” I jumped up on my chair, dropping the book and the marshmallow.
Stella squawked, the poor bird was flying around in circles. I whistled but she ignored my call. Another lightning struck, this time it was right in the middle of the street. I could see fire on the hard cemented floor. Smoke slowly rose from it. Loud crack of thunder boomed, shaking the walls of the store. Then the rain started pouring, quickly extinguishing the fire. Stella witnessed all of this, she squawked louder, flying above me and knocking the chandelier at one point.
I whistled again, “Stella, come―.” I never got to finish what I had to say. Because the door suddenly opened. And then there was darkness.