Quid Pro Quo.
From time to time, given the supreme graciousness of the position and the inhabitant therein, the God of Death may do you a solid. This is not a binding agreement.
-The Book of the Dead, Revised Edition
Note: Sorry! I’m still working on the pacing/length of my chapters. This is really part two of Chapter Three, but I thought it was too long as a single chapter. From now on, when a chapter is too long, I’ll post both “parts” on the same day. Ok, back to the story…
Alice stood with her hands on her hips looking at the empty space Ben used to occupy. After a few minutes she folded her arms. “Well great!” she exclaimed loudly and then waited a moment.
“Now I can finally get some peace and quiet!” she looked around the store. Nothing. Ben didn’t answer.
She walked purposefully over to the bookshelf next to the TV mumbling to herself, but also to Ben in case he was listening. “Sixteen years and today you listen to me?”
She snatched a book off the shelf. It was Lord of the Swings, one of her favorites, but it still wasn’t improving her mood.
“You’ll be quiet? Fine. Don’t threaten me with a good time.” she grumbled, tucking her book under her arm with more force than was strictly necessary.
She headed back to the counter and flopped onto the stool. “I’m glad I’m finally getting a chance to read. THRILLED ABOUT IT!” she said loudly.
Alice started reading, but it was hard to concentrate. Not because she was bored and without Ben to bicker with, the silence of the store just started to feel depressing and…lonely. Nope. Not at all. She was just…just…tired.
She tried to lose herself in the book and it was beginning to work. She was just getting to the part where Modo was setting out on a quest for a playground in the next kingdom when the bell tinkled again.
It took awhile for Alice to look up from her book. When she finally did, all she could see was a young woman with pink streaks in her hair.
She was pretty. Gorgeous actually. She looked like she stepped right out of the pages of one of the fashion magazines Alice had piled on her dresser at home. She was laughing and gesturing to someone in the next aisle but they were standing behind a shelf so Alice couldn’t really see them.
“Babe, we don’t need the nectar coolers! Your parents are buying a case of Riverbloom Cranerlet for the party. Don’t be weird…” she said to whoever was behind the shelf.
Alice snorted. What a comment! Don’t be weird? Please.
The man she was talking to stepped out from behind the shelf. “It’s not weird honey. They’re gonna make this engagement party so over the top and I just want something chill for us to do when we sneak away from all my crazy relatives.”
It couldn’t be.
But it was.
Alice hadn’t had a boyfriend since the 12th grade and now here he was: Mark Eggleston. In. the. flesh. Alice felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. He looked over at the counter, his eyebrows raised in recognition.
“Alice Martin?” He was practically shouting, he was so excited.
Please don’t come over here, Alice prayed. She gave him a half-hearted wave.
“Unreal! I can’t believe you still work here. Honey, come and meet my friend from high school.” He gestured to the woman—his fiance, apparently—and they started walking towards her.
Alice felt her whole body get hot. She looked down briefly at her hands to make sure they weren’t actually on fire, which wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Mark Eggleston. Why was he coming to her place of work after all these years and on this night?
Alice looked up. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.
He smiled and laughed. Alice shook her head no, but it didn’t stop anything.
By 12th grade, Alice was already used to being the weird girl. What small group of friends she did have, she had already pushed away. Mark played in a rock band, he had cool hair, and he was way out of 12th grade Alice’s league. But he and his bandmates got together to play Lockup and Llamas and they were down a player. He invited her to join one night and Alice, so lonely that it had begun to physically ache, agreed.
As it turned out, Ben was aces at the game. He told her wild stories which she wove into crazy scenarios as the game master and whenever Ben wanted to have a conversation, she just pretended it was “story inspiration from beyond.” The band loved it. They loved her.
She and Mark grew closer and closer until they started dating. When it was time for prom, he asked her to go and she was so excited. They had their first real kiss…
And that was when it happened.
The slight headache.
The tugging feeling.
One minute she was having her first kiss, the next minute Mark was growing weak in her arms. Somehow, she knew she was sucking the life out of him. Ben kept yelling at her to focus, but he sounded distant. It took everything Alice had to ignore his instructions and push Mark away. When he fell back, she saw that a section of his dreadlocks had turned white.
She broke up with him immediately.