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.
“…isn’t that right Alice?” Mark said jarring her from her thoughts.
“Wha…uh…sorry. I didn’t hear you…” Alice fumbled around, trying to get her thoughts in order. Did he dye his hair now?
“I said, this is my fiance, Leslie, and the only reason I’m with her is because you broke my little nerd heart in high school,” he laughed.
“I can’t thank you enough!” Leslie said with a playful wave of her hand.
Alice laughed too, even though she felt like crying. Could it get any more embarrassing?
“So what are you doing here? I remember you worked here in high school but…”
It could get more embarrassing.
Alice gulped. “I…well…I still work here.”
Leslie looked taken aback. She frowned but only for an instant. “Oh, that’s…nice,” she tried.
“Wow! You’re doing the art thing then?” He nudged Leslie, “Alice over here was always a great artist. I’m a corporate drone now but she’s living the truth!” He gave Alice a huge smile, “It’s awesome that you’re doing what it takes to support your art. So what are you? Saving for a studio?”
“I…” Alice looked around the store for inspiration. What the fuck am I going to say?
Leslie nearly squealed. “Oh my gosh! Art? Do you do invitations? We’d love to get something custom and special for the wedding invitations. What do you charge?”
“I’m not really…er…that is I don’t really…” Alice couldn’t get the words out.
She felt the hot tears beginning to form. The second time this week! She didn’t normally think about how embarrassing and pathetic her life was but that seemed to be the theme du jour.
What was she supposed to say? That she hadn’t picked up a paint brush in years because once she realized there was no way she could sit through college classes with Ben in her head that it didn’t seem to matter?
They both looked at her expectantly. Alice swallowed again. Just say the words, she coaxed herself.
“I just…sortaworkhere…” she mumbled, letting the words run together.
Shame radiated from her top of her head down to the floor. She wished she could curl up in a ball and disappear. She might as well. Her whole life had stagnated, there wasn’t really much to lose.
A not-so-small part of her missed Ben. At least when she was normally exposed as weirdo, she wasn’t truly alone. She put her face in her hands but looked up when she heard a loud bang. Sparks and black dust rained down from the ceiling.
Ben stood in the middle of the chaos looking proud of himself. “Who knew that I had any control over the power grid? I wonder if this is a new god power?”
Alice bit her lip as laughter bubbled up inside of her. Leslie and Mark were doubled over coughing and wiping their eyes.
“It’s just the uh…old wiring in the place. And the black…dust…mites. Gives us some trouble every once and awhile,” Alice managed to get out.
“Oh…” Leslie looked unsure, “Okay well, here’s my number. Give us a call about the invitations. I didn’t hear your answer about the price over the explosion but I’m sure we can work something out.”
Mark straightened up, “Definitely. I’m glad to see you’re doing good. Man, you really gotta get that looked at. I don’t think it’s safe!” He cast a last look at the ceiling before gesturing to Leslie and walking out the door.
As soon it closed, Alice burst into laughter. She doubled over, gripping her sides. She was, obviously, a complete fraud, but that was a problem for another day.
“I helped?” Ben asked.
Alice’s smile was slow. “Yeah, for once, you actually did.”
A Few Hours Later…
Alice sat behind the counter flipping through channels. Most of them were static. In Ben’s overzealous display, he had knocked out the power to the satellite dish.
“All I’m saying is that you could have been more precise in where you aimed your magic!” Alice grumbled.
“More exact? How dare you even…” Ben trailed off.
“What? I mean, far be it from me to stop you from insulting me but…” Alice stopped and followed his gaze.
His attention was focused on the television. A commercial for the Unparalleled Windenburg Baking Show was playing. It was the normal fare: Rory Webber dressed in some garish suit parading around a serene country kitchen. Bakers frantically whipping batter in bowls and glancing at the clock while being overly friendly to each other. And in the end, someone won some dumb trophy and a small bit of prize money. It was really all sort of silly.
“That,” Ben said, pointing at the TV. “We need to compete in that. We must win that prize.”
Alice crooked an eyebrow. “Ben. What ails you? We can’t compete in that. And that prize? It’s just some ugly owl sculpture. I bet the winner sells it to a pawn shop to get the money so they can go on a real vacation.”
“No! That’s not some ugly sculpture! It’s an object of great mystical and powerful energy. We must have it!” Ben shouted. His voice was frantic.
“Ben! Get a grip. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m flying half way around the world to compete in some baking contest so you can get some god treasure!” Alice snapped. But it had no heat in it. Ben still had some goodwill from saving her from the ultimate embarrassment.
“Goodwill? Then you’ll do it?” Ben said hopefully.
Alice snorted and changed the channel. “No way buddy. You don’t have that much goodwill. Besides, I don’t even know how to bake.”
“Yet,” Ben corrected.
I used some great poses and builds to make this scene work. Many thanks to the creators!
7/11 Convenience Store by sbodine1989
Expressions Poses by Apple Pie Dimples
Facial Expressions by JoanneBernice
Facial Expressions 2 by JoanneBernice
Facial Expressions 3 by JoanneBernice