Friday, November 19, 2010

No. 17: Booked!

1. Eric Bader pulled his bicycle from the garage and looked around at where he lived, at the trees lining the streets and down the street at the next intersection. He hoisted his backpack onto his back and got on his bike. He pedaled down the street toward the UCLA campus, thoroughly enjoying the sun beating down on his wavy brown hair. As he went through campus he waved and smiled at the other students he passed until coming to a stop underneath a group of trees where Annie Smith, Ray Bevis and Andy Dumane were sitting.

“Are we still on for our trip to Mexico?” Eric asked as he skidded to a halt.

“Yep,” began Andy, standing up and stretching. “I’m gonna skip my afternoon classes today to take a nap and the three of us will pick you up at Starbucks at nine.”

“Awesome! This is going to be the best trip to Mexico ever!” Eric shouted and beamed with excitement.

“Isn’t this your first trip to Mexico?” asked Annie.

“My first,” Eric replied, still smiling.

“Well, I have a surprise for you when we get a hotel room. I’ll see you tonight, I have to get to class,” Annie said and walked away.

“Dude, she is totally going to sleep with you,” Ray said.

“Man, I hope so. It’s hard seeing her with all these other guys when I want her so badly,” Eric and his friends began walking toward one of the campus buildings. Eric always had a thing for Annie but she had resorted him to ‘friend’ and although there were sparks between them, they never acted on them.

It was an hour before Eric was supposed to leave for Mexico with his three best friends. He had already checked out and continuously stared into space whenever filling a coffee cup or wiping down a table.

The phone in the back rang and the shift manager Paolo Kelley answered it. “Eric Bader?” he confirmed. “Just a moment.” Paolo walked over to Eric who was staring at the TV which was on CNN. “Eric, you have a phone call.”

Eric arrived in back and picked up the receiver. “Hello?” he listened and the look on his face became more sullen as everything around him silenced and he just focused on that moment. He muttered something unintelligible and walked over to Paolo.

“Who was that, Eric?” asked Paolo, taking a cue from Eric and spacing out on CNN.

“It was my mom. I’m gonna need to leave early tonight and have the next couple of weeks off,” Eric revealed.

Paolo took his eyes off CNN and looked at Eric. “Why?”

“My father passed away.”

2. Centennial, Indiana was your stereotypical small town. Maple and oak trees lined the brick streets and the connected buildings of the downtown lined Main Street between Fifth and Seventh and Sixth between Fir and Cedar. It was a sickening quaint town with numerical streets running east to west and the names of trees, in alphabetical order running north to south.

Eric was sitting in the passenger seat of his sister April’s car and looked out toward the rolling fields and woodlands lining the highway. Except for the obligatory hellos at the airport, the car ride was completely silent. They entered the city limits of Centennial and she turned left onto the second street in, which was Grove Street. Two blocks later, she pulled into the driveway of their parent’s house. Eric pulled his suitcase out of the trunk and walked up to the porch where Eric’s mom rushed out and embraced him.

“Oh, Eric!” she cried.

Eric rolled his eyes and patted his mom on her back. “There, there. It’s okay,” Eric said, at a loss for anything else to say. Eric pushed his mom away toward April who had just ascended the porch steps. “Are the funeral arrangements all made?” Eric asked.

“No,” April began, “we were wondering if you would handle them because you have a better head for stuff like that.”

“What? I haven’t been home in three years. I have no idea what Dad was like since I moved to California!” Eric protested.

“Well, Mom is in no condition to do that and I have to get the word out to other family members and friends. And console our mother,” April said hugging their crying mom.

“Fine! Did Dad have a will or anything?” Eric asked as he went in the house. “Did he want to be buried, cremated, placed on the curb for the trash collectors?”

“Eric!” April snapped.

“Buried. In Mount Prairie Cemetery,” their mom sniffled.

“Okay, did you guys already buy plots or…”

“No…” she cried.

“All right, I need to call the funeral home and cemetery. Is next Friday all right for the funeral?” Eric asked, noting it was already Thursday and the next Friday would offer plenty of time for people to travel to Centennial. “Where’s Dad’s body? Never thought I’d have to say that,” Eric chuckled.

“At Montgomery Regional Medical Center in Gardner,” April answered sitting their mom down on the nearby couch.

“Okay, I’m going to the funeral home and get everything set up. I’m borrowing the car, Ma,” Eric took the keys off the hook by the door and left the house.

Eric pulled away from the funeral home and began driving around Centennial and noticing that not much had really changed in the last three years. A housing development was springing up on the northeast side of town. He didn’t recognize anyone walking through town but he figured most of the guys he went to school with were in jail and the girls were all pregnant and caring for their own children.

While Eric was stopped at Centennial’s very first, and only, stop light at Sixth and Main, he noticed a girl on the opposite corner walking away from the intersection. Eric made a left turn and slowly pulled up alongside the girl. The girl looked at the car following her and picked up her pace. She took one more look and saw Eric’s face.

“Eric Bader?” the girl approached the car. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in California.”

“I was…I am. I’m back in town for a family thing. Hop in, I’ll give you lift.” The girl, Crystal Mercer, opened the door and slid in.

It was nearly midnight when Eric walked in the door and saw April standing in the front room with her hands on her hips. “Where in the hell have you been?!” she shrieked.

“Well, first I went to the funeral home. The funeral is next Friday at 10 a.m. and the obit will appear in Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday’s paper and his casket is a beautiful white and gold with mahogany. After that I drove around town and ran into Crystal Mercer, remember her? Man, she’s cool. She has this birthmark on her upper thigh near her…”

“You had Mom worried sick! You are supposed to be organizing Dad’s funeral and you’re out picking up girls?” April scolded.

“Well this funeral has forced me to cancel my weekend trip to Mexico so it’s only fair I get something for having to interrupt my life!” Eric pushed past April and began walking upstairs. “I’m going to bed.”

“Damn it, Eric! Dad has died! You’re supposed to be in mourning!” April shouted.

“I am in mourning!” Eric yelled back.

3. The obituary read:
RANDALL E. BADER, 52, of Centennial died Thursday at Montgomery Regional Med Center in Gardner. Mr. Bader was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to David and Elaine (Brown) Bader August 16, 1953. Mr. Bader married Sheryl Ludwig on September 13, 1972. Mr. Bader was owner and operator of the Vagabond Bookstore in Centennial since 1977 but was previously employed with Hops-Star Dairy from 1972 to 1974 and Carrington Electric from 1974 to 1977. Mr. Bader was a member of the Knights of Columbus and Freemasons along with being an organizer of the Centennial Tree Street Festival from 1987 to 2000 and a city council member from 1992-1996.

Mr. Bader is survived by his wife and daughter, April, both of Centennial; 3 brothers; 1 sister; and a son, Eric, Los Angeles.

Family recommends condolenseces be sent in care of Baldwin-Lamb Funeral Home and memorial contributions be sent to either the Centennial Tree Street Festival Fund or to the American Heart Association in care of the funeral home.
The funeral was also very nice and crowded as it seemed that everyone who Eric’s dad had walked past were at the funeral. Eric soon got sick of everyone offering condolences and offering advice or their own stories about losing a parent. Eric went outside during the gathering afterward and just sat on the sidewalk.

“Are you Randy’s son?” a man asked.

“Yes,” Eric looked up.

“Hi, I’m Steven Niccum and I am your parents’ attorney. I was wondering when would be a convenient time to go over your father’s will.”

“He’s only been in the ground an hour and you’re worried about the reading of the will?”

“I do apologize but…” Mr. Niccum started but Eric interrupted.

“No need. How about Monday? The sooner I get out of this town, the better,” Eric smiled and shook Mr. Niccum’s hand.

On Monday, Eric, along with his mom, April and his aunt and uncles were sitting in Mr. Niccum’s office and reading over the will. Most everything went to his mom since she was still living but heirlooms from his parents went to his brother and sister. Eric mainly just sat there bored and rolled his eyes when someone cried.

“’…And my bookstore: The Vagabond. It’s been an important part of my life for nearly thirty years. I leave it to my son, Eric, who will run it for one week before doing what he wishes with it,’” Mr. Niccum read.

Eric sat straight up and looked at each one of his relatives. “What?” he asked. “I refuse to do it! I have to get back to L.A.”

“Eric,” April began, “it’s only a week. Honor Dad’s wishes and mind the store. After a week, you can do whatever you want with it.”

“I’m gonna sell it!”

“Eric…” one of his uncles began but Eric interrupted.

“It makes sense. That business is barely breaking even especially now that there are two mainstream bookstores ten miles away in Gardner. I don’t even know anything about running a business and I need to get back to school!” Eric slapped his hand hard on a side table and suddenly the office was silent and motionless.

Eric regained his composure and sat back in his chair. “I will do it,” he said poignantly. “But when the week is up, I am getting rid of the inventory and selling the building. My mind is made up and that’s the end of this discussion.”

The room stayed quiet for the better part of a minute then Mr. Niccum resumed reading the will.

4. Eric unlocked the door to the bookstore and walked in. The bookstore was crowded with bookshelves full of old and new books. The smell of paper, ink and dust filled his nose causing him to cough and then sneeze.

“I never realized this was such a hole-in-the-wall,” Eric said softly.

The door behind Eric opened and a booming voice echoed in the room. “You must be Randy’s son, Eric!”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I’m Alan Weaverly. I’m—I was,” Alan corrected, “your Dad’s business partner.”

“Business partner? Dad never told me he had a business partner,” Eric muttered but Alan still heard.

“Yeah, a couple years ago, when the second bookstore opened in Gardner, he needed some extra help so, being his best friend and believing it could work, I quit my job, took out a loan and became his partner. I’m only about 35 percent owner but Randy always treated me as equal.”

Eric didn’t want to reveal his plan to Alan quite yet so hesitated and asked a question. “Does anyone else work here?”

“Three other people. One to work the register, one to be what we call a ‘rover’ and one to operate the coffee nook,” Alan answered.

“No wonder this place hardly makes a dime if Dad was paying a wage to three worthless people,” Eric said as he headed to the back of the store where the office was located.

Alan ran his hand through his gray hair as he followed Eric. “They are not exactly worthless and a couple of them actually needed a job. Randy gave them a job—knowing he couldn’t really afford it—when no one else in town would.”

“Hmm, that’s great. Everybody has a sob story,” Eric flicked on the light to the office and noticed the crowded setting.

Two desks were pushed together and facing each other while dismantled shelves lay scattered against the walls and on the floor. Eric had to be careful where he stepped in order not to step on nail or screws.

“We never did get these shelves repaired…” chuckled Alan.

“Get them out of here!” Eric ordered.

“What?” questioned Alan.

“Gather up all the wood, nails, screws and all the other crap in here and throw it away! I want it all out of here by the end of today!” Eric said sitting in his father’s chair and looking very sternly at Alan.

“I can’t do it by myself. I’ll need help…”

“Then get one of our employees in here to help you,” Eric stood back up and proceeded to leave the office. “Have them actually earn their paycheck for once,” and Eric was gone.

Eric was behind the check-out counter on a stool in the corner reading East of Eden, which he had just grabbed off a shelf. A girl, Kaitlyn Jones, was also behind the counter but she was minding the cash register. Kaitlyn looked over occasionally at Eric until finally walking over to him.


Eric never flinched from the book as he answered her with a tone that would cause a lightening bolt to stop and turn around. “What?”

“I…I just wanted to offer my sympathies about your father. I know what you’re going through because I lost my grandpa a few months ago,” Kaitlyn said.

“You have absolutely no idea what I’m going through,” he still wasn’t missing a beat from his book. “A father and grandfather are two completely different mourning processes. Secondly, I didn’t ask for you sympathies and finally, you are in my personal space. Begone!” Eric raised his hand and waved her away.

Kaitlyn’s face went cross but she shrugged and walked over to the small coffee nook on the other side of the door. “What was his problem?” asked the boy behind the counter with a thick Russian accent.

“Well, I hope he’s just having difficulty handling the death of his father but a part of me just thinks he’s a jerk,” Kaitlyn smiled as she looked over at Eric. “Are Alan and Adam still cleaning out the office, Larry?”

Larry, real name Valeri Zakahrov from Kiev, Ukraine, leaned in and nonchalantly pointed to Eric. “Yes. According to Mr. Boss, they have to get the office cleaned by the end of today.”

“What a jerk! I don’t care if he is Mr. Bader’s son, he should not be treating Alan like a work horse.”

“We work in a clown car, guys,” Eric said from his corner, fixated on his book. “I could hear every word you just said.”

Eric locked the door to the bookstore and began walking away. Kaitlyn, Adam and Larry were still hanging around. Kaitlyn called over to Eric, “Hey, Eric. We’re gonna go see a movie. Do you want to come with?”

Eric turned around, casually eyed Kaitlyn’s small chest and scoffed. “No, I’m meeting an old girlfriend. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Eric turned back around and continued walking.

“You’re welcome,” Kaitlyn sighed.

5. Eric and Crystal were in her bed having sex. Her legs were raised in the air and both were moaning and panting heavily. “Don’t…don’t you need to…get to the store?” Crystal gasped as she sank her fingers into Eric’s arm and back.

“Screw ‘em. Right now, this is more important,” Eric leaned in, kissed Crystal, repositioned himself and began moving harder. “Besides, we all pretty much sat around yesterday anyway.”

When Eric finally arrived at the bookstore, everyone was impatiently waiting around the door. Kaitlyn and Larry were sitting on the one step and stood up as Eric fished the keys out of his pocket. “Where have you been?” Kaitlyn scolded.

Eric looked at Kaitlyn, then stepped back to look at the bay window with VAGABOND BOOKSTORE printed on it. He looked back at Kaitlyn and smiled. “Are you questioning why I’m late to open a store that I am owner and operator of?”

“Maybe I was just concerned or just curious. I wasn’t judging or criticizing but I was asking a very legitimate question,” Kaitlyn replied trying to hold back her anger.

“Well maybe you should mind your own business and stay out of my life just like I am staying out of yours,” Eric retorted.

“Listen, asshole! I have been nothing but kind and nice to you and you’ve been treating me—and everybody else—like shit! I don’t know what your problem is, little spoiled boy from Los Angeles, but you now have to grow up whether you like it or not!” Kaitlyn said.

Eric very calmly spoke. “Will the young lady from Indiana please shut up,” he suddenly threw the keys to Kaitlyn, pelting her in the chest. “Fine! I didn’t want to do this anyway! I’m glad I’m selling this dump. I’ll see you all later. You’re on your own!” Eric stormed away from where he came from leaving Alan, Kaitlyn, Adam and Larry alone on the sidewalk.

Alan found Eric in a bar called Cully’s Corner and sat next to him on a stool at the bar. “So what’s the problem?” Alan asked.

“Uh-oh! It’s Dr. Goodfriend the psychiatrist coming to offer me a session,” Eric said as he looked down at his glass of beer. “So how’d you find me?”

“Cully’s is the only bar still open in Centennial. Anyway, why are you like this? I remember when you were growing up you were such a happy and optimistic child. Then about 15, 16 you changed and became more withdrawn from family and friends and, from what I heard from your father, when you started UCLA you never came home for birthdays or holidays and never wrote anybody unless it was in an email. And now getting mad at some of the nicest people you don’t know when being late and not opening the store is your fault falls under the category of crazy. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t have to sit here for this,” Eric started to get off the stool.

“Yes you do because if something is wrong, I want to help. It’s the least I can do for your father,” Alan said.

“My father…” Eric began but left the end open.

“Are you mad because you had to fly back to Indiana to attend something as piddly as your father’s funeral?”

“No, it’s just…” Eric sighed heavily and continued, “he never saw me become anything. He always had such hope for me and…he never saw me grow up.”

“Don’t worry, he will,” Alan paused for a couple of beats. “You should give Kaitlyn and all of them a chance. They are the best people you’ll ever meet and, despite them being so young, I consider them friends.”

“I will. Thanks, Alan,” Eric said.

Alan got off the stool and began to walk away but stopped and placed his hand on Eric’s shoulder. “I was talking to your dad a couple days before he died and he just couldn’t stop talking about his son at UCLA. He had a twinkle in his eye and the biggest smile on his face. Boy, he was proud of you!” Alan placed the store keys on the bar next to Eric, clapped him on the back and left Cully’s.

Eric sat motionless until finally, Eric lowered his head and began to cry.

6. Eric and Alan were resorting the books on the shelf while Adam was opening boxes from the new delivery and Larry was over in the coffee nook polishing the coffeemaker. Kaitlyn came in, scowled at Eric and threw her book bag behind the counter. As she prepared to get ready for work she looked down onto the counter and saw a single white rose. “What’s this?” she questioned and held up the beautiful flower.

“A peace offering,” Eric began walking over to Kaitlyn. “Hope you don’t mind but I refuse to buy red roses. I just wanted to apologize for my behavior and attitude the last couple of days. I already have these guys’ acceptance, Ms. Jones, and I understand if you don’t accept my apology.”

“Of course I do,” she began and briefly smelled the rose. “I knew there was some good in your heart, Mr. Grinch,” she smiled.

Eric smiled back and looked down but kept his eyes on Kaitlyn’s face. Her short blond hair was illuminated by the big front window and Eric noticed, for the first time, just how beautiful she was. He blinked, cleared his throat and turned around. “And as another peace offering, I am offering up a trip to Gardner to bask in the glory that is Liberty Pizza—my treat.”

Everybody accepted and began talking to each other and then slowly resumed their work.

All five were gathered around a table at Liberty Pizza in Gardner. Eric was telling a story about him and his friends in California and everyone was listening intently and stifling laughter.

“And that is why my friend Ray’s apartment was raided by the ATF,” Eric finished. Everyone laughed loudly as Eric took a drink of his soda.

“See, Eric, you are a wonderful person to talk to,” Kaitlyn said. “So why were you in such a bad mood this week?”

“Because my father died the same day I was supposed to go on a road trip to Mexico,” Eric said casually.

“What?” Kaitlyn’s eyes opened wide and she looked at everybody else. “Seriously?”

“You’re dad was a good person,” Adam spoke up. “When my mom got sick I needed a job fast and Mr. Bader just hired me. My mom got better and is slowly starting to go back to work but I don’t want to quit. I can’t imagine my life without that store.”

“When my family moved here from Kiev, I knew very little English and I couldn’t find a job. One day I went up to Mr. Bader and asked for a job. He rejected me but took my name and phone number and a week went by and Mr. Bader called me to run the coffee nook. I was so grateful and I was able to learn some English and read American literature. He was a good man,” Larry said and looked solemn into his soda.

“Oh, man, it’s almost ten?” Alan suddenly spoke up. “I have to get going!” Alan excused himself from the table and everybody said some form of good-bye.

Everyone quieted down and looked at the various things around the restaurant. Eric groaned. “I should go to because I said I was going to meet a girl at eleven.”

“Not that girl who caused you to be late opening the store yesterday, right?” asked Kaitlyn getting up from the table.

“Yes, actually but it to tell her we’re not gonna see each other anymore,” Eric revealed which seemed to bring a brightness to Kaitlyn’s face.

Kaitlyn had ridden with Eric to Gardner and Eric was now dropping her off at her place. She didn’t immediately get out of the car but rested her hand on the door handle and looked as if she was deep in thought.

“Something wrong?” Eric asked.

“Yeah. Don’t you want to hear my sad story that caused your father to hire me?”

Eric looked at the clock on the dashboard. “I’m kind of running late…”

“I was two months pregnant and my fiancée was killed in a train accident. He worked for the railroad. Your father offered me the cashier job during my interview. It was only going to be a temporary thing but three years later, here I am.”

Kaitlyn opened the door, got out and attempted to shut the door before Eric spoke, “You have a three-year-old child?”

“No,” Kaitlyn looked into the car, “I had a miscarriage.” She shut the door and walked up the sidewalk to her house.

7. The rest of Eric’s stay flew by and Eric had kept his decision to himself but his mind was made up. In the meantime, Eric also had to deal with a blossoming relationship between him and Kaitlyn. They had gone out numerous times and watched movies at her place but both were still uncertain about their future.

Eric came out of the office and walked over to the counter. “Everybody, could you all gather up here?” he ordered. Everyone circled around Eric as he took a deep breath. “All of you are wondering what my decision is on the fate of the bookstore. I was essentially given free reign with the future of this store and when I heard I had to make this decision, I immediately decided to sell it and I have stuck with that decision.”

Everybody gasped and began talking to each other,

“Shut up. I have squared all this with my lawyer and everything is set up for the new owner to take over on Monday,” Eric continued.

“Are you going to tell us who the new owner is?” asked Adam.

“Yes. Alan Weaverly,” Eric announced and looked at Alan, “if you’ll have it.”

“Of…of course,” Alan seemed speechless. Eric handed the keys to Alan and he promptly took them.

“This last week has been great but I’m done. I’m out,” Eric threw up his arms as if in surrender. “She’s all yours, Alan.” And with that, Eric exited the store and began walking away.

Suddenly, Kaitlyn was next to Eric, grabbing his arm to stop him from walking. “What do you mean, you’re out?” she asked.

“I’m going back to California. There’s nothing for me here in Centennial, Kaitlyn.”

“What about us?” she asked.

“Look, I find you incredibly wonderful but I’m not the boyfriend type of guy. I’m happy with my station of life right now and I don’t want anything to mess up that happiness.”

“Then why did we go out and do all that stuff together?” Kaitlyn began to tear up.

“It was all for friendship. You were a great friend and I’ll never forget you but my life is in California, not Indiana,” Eric began backing away. “I’m sorry.”

Eric began walking away and Kaitlyn watched as Eric headed down the sidewalk. She then bounded toward him, spun him around and kissed him full on the lips. For a full minute they kissed and embraced, and then Kaitlyn pulled away. “I’m gonna miss you.”

8. Two months later, in California, Eric stopped his bike in front of Annie, Ray and Andy. “Are we still on for Mexico?” he asked.

“Yep. Unless another relative dies, Eric,” Andy said.

“Nope. Everyone was perfectly healthy when I emailed April yesterday.”

“Well, I’m gonna skip my afternoon classes so I can grab a nap then I’ll pick everybody up and grab you at Starbucks at nine, okay?” Andy organized.

“Months of anticipation for my first excursion to Mexico and it’s finally here…again.”

“Well that surprise I had for you during our first trip is still open if you want it,” Annie offered.

Eric’s smile soon turned into something else as he shook his head and looked apologetically at Annie. “I’m sorry but I’m gonna decline that offer if you don’t mind.”

“That’s fine. I understand. I’ll see you all tonight. I have to get to class,” Annie said and walked away.

“Dude! She was totally going to sleep with you!” Ray said.

“I know but since I came back from Indiana, the spark is gone,” Eric and his friends began walking toward one of the campus buildings. “I mistook lust for love and now I know what love really is and how it feels.”

“Man, what happened to you in Indiana?” asked Andy.

“Let’s just say I grew up,” and Eric picked up his pace as a smug look came over him.