Turning the Page
At first, Ethan thought it was someone playing a joke on him. He almost hung up the phone when the nasally caricatured voice came across the line telling him, “Please hold the line for a call from Mayor Galley.”
Why would the Mayor be calling me? The Mayor’s booming baritone came across the line with his deep Southern drawl.
“Ethan, my boy, something of grave importunacy has come across my desk. I do not like it, nor do I desire for it to come to fruition,” Mayor Galley told him.
The one-sided conversation continued for several more minutes before Mayor Galley asked, “Do you understand what I am saying, Son?”
No, I don’t.
“Good. I will see you in my office at 11 am sharp! I have meetings all day so do not be late,” he told him.
Ethan hung up the phone. As he stood behind the counter, a perplexed look covered his face. His mother, a quiet woman born to be church first lady, watched him closely.
“Is there something wrong, Ethan?” Hester Strom wanted to know.
“I was summoned to the Mayor’s office today for a meeting at 11,” he told his mother.
Hester checked her watch. “You only have a half hour. Since you don’t have time to call anyone in to cover the shop, I will stay and handle things for you,” Hester said.
“Thanks, Mom, that means a lot,” he told her. The great thing was, his Mom came to the bookstore every Wednesday for a cup of Palheta’s Bouquet. One day, Ethan was slow getting the dark brew started, and his mother learned how to operate the coffee machine. Since she was in the shop each Wednesday anyway, Ethan trained her to man the register, stock shelves, receive inventory, and update the POS system. Leaving his mother in charge of the shop was an easy thing to do. Getting through the next few hours he found to be more than taxing on his patience, his nerves, and his eyeballs.
Janie didn’t really know what to make of Mayor Galley’s request to come to his office. She was told to be there at 11 am sharp. Dressed and ready to head out the door, she stopped briefly to update her brother. Jem was out of school and able to man the store for her in the morning, and Meg would be in at noon to start her shift.
Not quite certain what to wear, as well as having no fashion sense whatsoever, Janie donned her favorite pink tee shirt and a loose fitting pair of gym pants and headed to her meeting. Once she arrived, she immediately understood her favorite tee was probably not the best choice of clothing. This became evident when a black man standing in front of the Mayor’s office began to gawk at her chest. It wasn’t as if Janie was a triple D-cup, but she had enough to fill up an average sized male’s mouth. Her mother always told her that more than a mouthful was simply too much.
Still, the way he stared at her breasts was rude and uncalled for; she would not take his forwardness without a challenge. “Hey, bub!” she called to him. “My eyes are up here.”
Ethan was appalled. He had been caught staring at her shirt. Not only was the shirt a neon hot pink, which is what first caught his attention, but what kept him focused on it was the image. He asked, “I’m sorry. Is that a weight lifter on your shirt?”
Janie’s hands were on her hips in defiance, “Yes, it is!”
He could not stop himself from frowning when he said, “The position and pose of the weightlifter implies that he is performing a dead overhead lift of your…”
“Again, my eyes are up here, Bub,” she said.
Ethan could not let it go. He had never seen anything so blatantly sexist and sexy all in one neon hot pink package. The courage she had to wear it in public was one thing, but to wear to a meeting with the Mayor was another. She strolled past him into Mayor Galley’s office, as pretty as she pleased, shaking the Mayor’s hand and taking a seat.
Evidently, Ethan was the only person in the room who had not officially met the one and only Janie Cimoc. Neither the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, nor the Mayor’s assistant paid any attention to the tee. Ethan’s eyes kept wandering back to it. There was even a weightlifting bar that sat perfectly under the two mounds, which held two black half circles that made it look as if her boobies were being cradled in the cups. The look on the weightlifter’s face implied he was straining to hold up the two masses.
“I’m glad you are both here. I think once we finish this meeting we are going to have a great plan to save both of your businesses and the sanctity of our town,” Mayor Galley Said. The rest of his team agreed with him.
Janie and Ethan spoke at the same time, “Our businesses are in trouble?”
The Mayor stood up and walked around his desk. He wore a long jacket that favored a tuxedo coat with tails. This jacket was complimentary to a pair of pin striped pants. To Ethan, the man looked like Mayor McCheese, bulbous nose included.
“The infidels are at the gate, and they are trying to destroy our way of life,” the Mayor told them both. Through a series of rants filled with pontifications and lopsided allegories, the meeting boiled down to a big box bookstore coming to Venture.
“Ethan, my wife looks forward to book club at your store. I also send my assistant over every Thursday for a large cup of that Guatemala Huehuetenango. That is some mighty fine coffee there, my boy,” the Mayor told him.
He turned his attention to Janie. “My kids have grown up in the Comic Book and your store is a staple in this town as well.”
So that is who she is. Janie Cimoc. In the flesh.
Ethan spoke up, “Sir, I am not certain what this meeting is about. Can you please clarify why we are here?”
The Mayor looked at Ethan as if he had just burped up a bologna mouth fart. “That big box store is going to run you both out of business. You will be out of business in less than a year unless we can get ahead of those bastards!”
Janie spoke, “Sir, I am certain there is enough business for all three of us to survive.”
“That is where you are wrong, Janie girl,” Mayor Galley told her. He went on to explain that corporate stores like those bring in their own management teams. “Locals are only hired part time at best. The book prices are too high and what they give back to the community is minimal.”
His eyes were filled with fire when he spoke to them, “You two understand this town because you live here; you grew up here. Our way of life is about uplifting and supporting each other.”
“What are you proposing, Mayor Galley?” Ethan asked.
Mayor Galley rubbed his rounded belly, “The city has two buildings, one on your side of town, Janie, and the other on your side, Ethan. The taxes are past due by three years, and now the properties belong to the City of Venture. I will let you have either building. You can pay up a year on the back taxes and set up a payment plan on the rest if you can’t pay the taxes out right.”
Janie was looking at Ethan and Ethan at her. She asked the same question of the Mayor that Ethan had, “What are you proposing, Mayor Galley?”
The Mayor seemed frustrated with them both. A large gust of coffee tinged breath came out of his mouth as he exhaled in exasperation. “In order for you two to be around after those corporate bastards come to town, you are going to have to combine forces!”
Ethan was staring at Janie’s shirt. “She and I combine our businesses?”
“Son, until now, I had never thought you to be daft. I am starting to wonder,” Mayor Galley said with a frown on his face.
“Your Honor,” Ethan said as he rose, “I am not daft, nor short-sighted, but if I am given a choice on whether or not to combine my business with a random stranger, I would rather not!”
The mayor slammed his hand on the desk. “Fine! You will be out of business in less than a year. You too, Janie girl!”
He breathed deeply before waddling his way behind his desk. “I am trying to do what is best for the two of you as well as the citizens of Venture. You two are young, and if you put your heads together, I am certain you can work out a fair deal and create the best of both worlds.”
Mayor Galley opened his desk drawer and pulled out two sets of keys. “Here are the addresses and keys to both of the buildings. I need you two to make this work,” he told them as he checked his watch.
Janie knew that meant their time was up. “Thank you, Mr. Mayor,” she said as she led the way out to the office.
In the hallway, she faced Ethan. My new business partner. He’s kind of cute. Based on his slow-witted responses in the meeting, he doesn’t seem very smart, though.
Janie stuck out her small hand for a shake, “Put it there, part’nuh!”
Ethan’s head was whirling. He accepted her handshake, then her business card that looked like a six-year-old had doodled stick people on a piece of card stock that was cut out at a whopsided angle. Janie proceeded to rattle off a list of things she needed to get done by the end of the day.
Why is she telling me this?
“Call me later, after four, so we can decide to meet or ride together to look at those buildings tomorrow,” she told him. He watched the neon pink shirt walk away. She was as interesting coming as she was going. On the back of the shirt was the same cartoon weightlifter, face down, doing pushups on dumbbells. The dumbbells were strategically placed on her butt cheeks. Each time she took a step, it looked as if the weightlifter was doing a one-armed press.
What just happened? Better yet, where in the hell did she get that crazy ass shirt?
That, he would have to answer later. Right now, his mind was focused on his arms. The fine hairs were sticking up from all of the goose pimples that had arisen from when she shook his hand.
Ethan was about to start a new chapter in his book of life. There was a great deal of information that would need to be set up in order for the story to flow smoothly. If not, this story would end just like his last novel; a hot, flat, mess.
He was smiling when he got into his car.
I have goose bumps.
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