I casually turned my head to see if it was the teenage cashier, Katie, needing my assistance once again. It wasn’t Katie. Far from it. In place of the thin, sixteen-year-old blonde girl was a man…a tall man. There was a dignified manner about him just by the way he stood there, looking so out of place. His face revealed a certain amount of urgency which was unusual all by itself. The people who came into this shop either knew what they wanted or they had all the time in the world to decide, even after my hundredth suggestion.
His eyes glanced down at the book in my hand and then back to my face. Before I had a chance to say anything, he spoke, his voice low and pleasing. “The appealing character of Admiral Wentworth made Persuasion an enjoyable story, don’t you think?”
A tiny smile pulled at the corner of my mouth. Any Jane Austen fan worth his or her salt knows that Wentworth, as appealing as he is, was only ever a Captain.
I cocked my head to the side, attempting to take in a good view of the man before me. His eyes were blue, icy blue. They were so clear I felt like I could almost see right through them. In contrast, his hair was dark, so much so that the bright overhead lighting seemed to make it glisten. Yet he was clearly uneasy about something. He tried to hide it, but it was there in his eyes.
I wondered what to say. Should I correct him? He was the most interesting person to stop by the store in...well, I’m not sure how long. I certainly didn’t want to insult this creature who finally brought some intrigue into this most tedious of days.
“Captain Wentworth,” I emphasized, “has always been a favorite of mine.” I wanted to embellish my answer, to elucidate all the critical literary expositions I had studied, read, and written about during my long and illustrious career as a college student.
Before saying anything more, he glanced to the left and to the right, apparently scoping out the place. I didn’t know what he was worried about. The shop was filled with shoppers, browsers, and look-i-lous. There were even a couple elderly ladies finishing a cup of tea in the tea room. Katie was more than likely sitting in a chair behind the counter reading one of her countless fashion mags while she waited to check out customers.
His frame of mind was unreadable as sparkling eyes focused back on me. He was absolutely the kind of man I had daydreamed about coming into the shop and sweeping me off my feet with similar interests in literature and art. I was sure he was just making polite small talk with his opening remarks and he would now move on, browsing until he came to what he was actually looking for. But he didn’t move on. Instead, he progressed toward me, compelling me into the wall at my back, the book in my hand dropping to the floor.
A shiver of fear swept down from my head to the tips of my toes. I tried to remember what I had learned in that self defense class. In the blink of an eye, this attractive, melancholy soul had turned from interesting to down right terrifying. Maybe I should rethink my ideas of having some excitement thrust into my life.
I wanted to scream but it was like my throat had tightened up and I had no power to force out the smallest of sounds to alert Katie to summon the security guard. The next moment his hands wrapped around me, one at my waist and the other behind my neck. Then he did the most surprising thing of all. He lowered his face to mine and kissed me. Being almost thirty years old, I had of course been kissed before, but never like this. It may have been due to the whole exciting situation of basically being violated by a stranger in such a way, but it was the most magical kiss I had ever experienced. Yes, magical. Like one of those Sleeping Beauty kisses that wakes up something inside of you.
He whispered to me now, “Tonight. At eight. Near the south side exit.” A tingly sensation exploded all over me as his warm breath caressed my neck. His hand at my waist moved to the pocket in my pants, slipping his hand inside. The next second he had moved back. He glanced at me for a moment more with a kind smile on his face as if his previous actions had been an unfortunate necessity. Then he turned and walked out the door, the sound of the bells chiming his exit.
I remained glued to my spot, looking out the windowed entrance where my mystery man had just departed. After bringing a finger to my lips, I could still felt the heat. With my heart continuing to whirl with exhilaration, I realized I had absolutely no idea what that was all about. I was intrigued.
Smoothing down my blouse and then my pants, I felt a slight bulge in my pocket. It was then that I remembered how he had slipped his hand inside just before he stepped away from me.
Reaching into it, I pulled out a matchbook from Mary Jane’s Place, a seedy cocktail lounge and restaurant downtown. Evidently, he wanted me to meet him at this place at eight o’clock tonight. It was completely ridiculous to even contemplate going. This man was a stranger. He was unknown and frankly, he seemed a little dangerous.
Exploring further into the expanse of my pocket I discovered something else. It was a tiny, flat manila envelope about two and a half inches in length. It was sealed with a number written on the front in pencil, File no. 31457.
What was this? Was I meant to open it? Was it for me? Or was this… All the thoughts careening around in my head ceased as I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that this was much bigger than I had at first surmised.
I stared at the envelope in my hand. What did these numbers mean and why had this stranger given it to me? Why me? It was thrilling and horrifying at the same moment to think about meeting him and seeing where all this led. I glanced at the discarded copy of Persuasion near my feet. Anne Eliot had so much to regret as her story opens. Here I was at my time of life and I didn’t have any real regrets because I hadn’t allowed myself to do anything to have them. But was I seriously brave enough to see this through? Am I insane enough?
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