Want to start at the beginning?
“Hey Colleen,” Anna said, wandering over pushing a cart. “Who was that?”
Colleen stopped beside the film books. “Firemen. They were inspecting us.”
“They were darling.”
“The red head is married.”
“Who cares? He’s still daring.” Anna winked and headed for the warehouse.
Anna was right. They were both darling, but the dark haired one was available. Colleen looked toward the front of the store wistfully. It had really been a long time since she’d looked at another man that way. Or since she’d noticed another man looking at her.
“Colleen please call four four four. Colleen four four four.”
Colleen picked up the phone on the children’s information desk and dialed. “Yes?”
“You have a call on office two.” The office manager told her brusquely.
“Okay, I’ll be back.” She hurried back to her cluttered desk and picked up the line. She was not destined to finish the schedule for Thursday. She dug it out of her desk as she picked up the call anyway. “Hello?”
“Colleen, it’s Laura. Sorry to bother you at work.”
“That’s okay. What do you need?”
“Actually, I was calling to see if you wanted to come over for a little cook out the day after tomorrow. I wanted to pay you back for all the baby sitting you’ve done.” Laura’s voice sounded light which meant she was up to something.
“I don’t mind a little baby sitting,” she murmured trying to sort out if there were enough people scheduled for information and who had register at two on Thursday.
“Still. Can you come?”
“For a free meal? Sure. Do you want me to bring anything?”
“No. Just your pretty self.”
“My pretty self,” Colleen repeated. There it was. Laura was up to something. “What do you mean by that?”
“This isn’t an ambush is it?”
“Oh, you’re so suspicious. You just show up Thursday about eleven. You are off Thursdays, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” Colleen sighed. It sounded a lot like an ambush. And this was the second time Laura had done it since her schedule settled down after the store opened. The last one, though good looking, had the personality of a dishrag. She wished Laura would just let her be single for a little while. She wasn’t ready yet. Nice looking firemen not withstanding.
“Good. Jimmy will be very happy to see you.”
“Tell him I love him. I’ll be there Thursday at eleven. Bye Laura.”
Colleen looked over the schedule. Actually, she had it almost done. She plugged in the last few things and put it in the general manager’s mailbox. Then she went back to the warehouse. Grace was walking out with a cart load of magazines and she could hear Gary growling in the aisles.
“Where did your firemen go?” Grace asked.
“All finished, they left.”
“Did we pass?”
“Of course we passed.”
Grace grinned her Cheshire grin. “Just making sure.”
Colleen followed the sound of growling and found Gary trying to climb the shelves with a box in his hands. “Here, let me hold that. The paramedics just left, I don’t want to have to call them back right away. We have ladders, you know.”
“What are you so crabby about?” Gary handed the box down to her.
“I think my cousin Laura is trying to fix me up with somebody again. I guess I’m not allowed to be single for more than ten minutes.” Colleen cradled the box and thought about her ex.
She’d gotten her job at the book store her freshman year in college for the discount and the extra spending money. She’d started dating David six months later. A year after they started dating, they had gotten engaged. He’d been very attractive. Tall, athletic, dark brown hair and grey eyes. And he’d been smart. Two years ahead of her in school. He graduated at the end of that year and decided to go directly into graduate school. They moved in together in her junior year. She had taken an assistant manager’s job that summer to pay their bills. She had some how finished her senior year with decent grades while working full time to support them. David couldn’t work full time. He was in grad school. He worked part time at the university book store to supply a little money. After she graduated, Colleen got a second part time job waiting tables so she could pay off her student loans. David continued part time at the university bookstore because ‘he was in graduate school.’ Colleen paid their bills, bought their groceries, paid on her student loans and listened with envy as other managers discussed applying for positions at the rumored new store in Los Angeles.
Not that she wanted to move to Los Angeles, not without David, but the change sounded so exciting. She felt that her life had stalled. She was out of school and working at a bookstore. David didn’t want to get married until he finished grad school. She couldn’t move anywhere with out him and there really wasn’t anything for her to do with a BA in English in Columbus, Ohio other than work at the bookstore.
Then one day in October she was sent home from her waitressing job early because it was a slow night. When she unlocked the front door of their apartment she heard giggling from the bedroom. She walked across the living room and eased open the door. She couldn’t remember now exactly what she had seen, but it had been enough to send her silently out. She had gone to the bookstore that night and filled out the internal application for the new store. She also composed a note to her general manager explaining that due to personal circumstances she needed to get out of here and start over. He’d been trying to talk her into applying and she had been resisting.
She packed her things the next day while David was at class and never saw him again. She moved in with a friend until December when word came that she had been chosen to be one of the managers at the new store, then she went to Ann Arbor for training and to meet the other new managers before they all headed out here. David had not tried to contact her in that time.
“Is there something else you wanted to do?” Gary asked.
Colleen blinked. The last aisle was clear. She didn’t remember any of it. She’d been so enthralled with her past that she’d missed the present entirely. “No. I guess not. Thanks, Gary.”
Gary looked at her for a minute like he might say something, but he didn’t.
She smiled and left the warehouse. She really wanted to be single for a little while. She’d been in a relationship for four years and engaged for three. But nobody out here knew that. She was a blank slate to them. She dropped into her desk chair and started Friday’s schedule.
“You’re going back to that book store, aren’t you?” Jack asked.
“Sure, later. That was a great book store.” Mike tucked in his shirt.
“You’re going back for her.”
“What bookstore? Her who?” Greg asked.
“I’m going back because it was a great bookstore.” Mike tried to sound convincing.
“I don’t believe you.” Jack picked up his jacket and folded the event schedule Colleen had given him into the pocket.
“What happened?” Greg pestered.
“We inspected that new strip mall this morning and he thinks the manager we talked to likes him.”
“She was awfully friendly.”
“She works in retail. She’s probably that friendly to everyone.”
Mike shrugged and grabbed his jacket. “It’s still a great bookstore. And I like bookstores.” He walked out.
“Colleen please call two two six. Colleen two two six.”
Colleen surfaced from her work trance. Doing schedules was very soothing. It required enough of her concentration that she couldn’t think about anything else, but not so much that she got tired quickly. At least not any more. And after the open she’d had today, she need to be doing something soothing. Bad safe count, two call offs, short out in the espresso machine, firemen, Laura. She picked up the phone and dialed wondering why Sonya was calling her. While the phone rang she realized that she was in the middle of Sunday’s schedule. If she didn’t slow down she wasn’t going to have anything to do next week. As if. “Yes?”
“Oh good, you’re still here. Your fireman is back.”
“The cute one with the dark hair.”
Colleen blinked. The facts started to snap together in her mind. Fireman. Dark hair. The available one who asked Grace about Wheels and Gears. “What do you mean ‘oh good you’re still here’?”
“It’s four o’clock, dear heart. You were off an hour ago.”
Colleen looked at the clock on the wall. Four oh three. Damn. She had laundry she could be doing. Well, it would wait. There was a fireman waiting for her. “I’ll be over.”
“Good. Find out if he has a brother.” Sonya cackled as she hung up the phone.
Colleen tidied up her desk for the weekend. She didn’t want a serious relationship just now, but the dark haired fireman had been pretty cute. And who said it had to be a serious relationship?
He was sitting at one of the tables by the window with a cup of coffee and a book.
“Did you come to see if I kept my word?”
He looked up and smiled. “No, I just wanted to check out the coffee.”
“You like it?”
“Pretty good.” He picked up the cup and toasted her with it before taking another sip.
“What are you reading?”
He looked at the cover. “Ethan Frome.”
She nodded. It was on display just inside the front door. He hadn’t searched the store for her, but did that mean he really came for the coffee? “That’s a good one. We got those aisles clear.”
She hesitated. She hadn’t flirted in a long time and she couldn’t really remember what to do. He wasn’t giving her any cues either. He was watching her though. Very carefully. “Mind if I sit down?”
“Go ahead.” He smiled and Colleen felt her knees go weak. That was a great smile.
Sonya appeared next to her with a cup of coffee. “Cream and sugar. Just the way you like it.”
Colleen slipped into the chair across from Mike. “Um, thanks Sonya.”
“I guess it pays to be a regular,” Mike commented.
“Sonya is my roommate too. She has an odd sense of humor.”
Silence fell between them. Colleen picked up her coffee cup to have something to do with her hands. She had no idea what to say and nothing seemed to be surfacing.
“This is a really great bookstore. I wandered around a little before I sat down.”
“Oh thanks. We work really hard to keep it that way.” She looked over her shoulder at the rest of the store. Her store in Columbus had been a little worn and dirty when she got there five years ago and it hadn’t gotten much better over time. This store was blindingly clean and obsessively organized in comparison.
“You must like to read to work here.”
“I have my bachelor’s in English literature.”
“So you graduated college.”
“I went to Ohio State.”
“I’ve heard of that. You’re from Ohio?”
She nodded. “I’m from a little town north of Youngstown called Brookfield.”
“So what brought you all the way to California?” He leaned forward.
She looked at the table top. She wanted to say that David propelled her here, but she couldn’t. That revealed too much. “Are you kidding? You mean everybody doesn’t want to come to California? Especially from the Great White North? I’ve been writing my parents evil letters filled with weather reports.”
Colleen smiled. He had a good laugh too.