Jarrod grabs his cell phone and texts someone frantically. “It’s ok, I’m glad I anticipated this.” And again, Jarrod swooshes his hair off of his eyes. Within seconds, I hear the bell tingle on the front door and in rushes the limo driver with a six-pack of Perrier. “Thanks George.” The driver exits as quickly as he came in with the bell still tinging from the first trip.
Then Jarrod walks over to the podium atop a mini riser where Barton is to do his reading. Behind it on an easel is a huge poster with the picture of the My Woman book cover. There’s a slew of people that have taken their seats, some are standing, all waiting with anticipation for Barton. Jarrod looks at the light that is aimed at the podium. “Is this as bright as this gets? Don’t you have a Tungsten? This has to be much brighter or he’ll be upset. He may not want to read.”
Oh, brother! I nod to Scooter who ups the dimmer switch to its highest position. “That’s as bright as I can go.”
“Ok, it’ll have to do.” And another hair swoosh.
“Can we begin the event now?” I ask with a condescending tone.
Jarrod takes a look around. “Alright, I suppose this is as good as it’s gonna get.”
Jarrod finally takes it down a notch. “Emma, I’m sorry. I’ve been working with Barton for a long time and he’s particular. I love your store, I really do. Opening up a bookstore is on my personal bucket list. I just…well…I just sort of got stuck where I am.” He looks forlorn. I almost feel sorry for him. “Ok, let’s get this show on the road.” He says snapping out of his mini-despair.
I’m about to meet Barton Wallace. My heart does flip flops. I walk with Jarrod to the front door, the little bell tinkles as he exits. I hang back. Lustful adrenaline is pulsing through my veins. I push my glasses up from my nose that are sliding down from my instantaneous break out of a cold sweat. The limo driver, who has been patiently standing by the idling car, opens the back door. I see a polished black shoe landing on the curb. It’s Barton Wallace. The driver quickly closes the door behind him. There he is, right in front of me. He’s even more alluring in person wearing tight, dark blue jeans, a soft pink, crisp button down shirt topped by a cream colored, linen blazer. His dark brown hair, buzzed short on the sides and long on the top, swirls with the gentle breeze of this spring day. I lick my lips. Jarrod motions for me to come over. I take one step toward Barton and BAM, I trip on the sidewalk and fall flat on my face.
“Oh, my God, are you ok?” Jarrod helps me up.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, I tripped on…” I turn to look at the ground, there’s nothing there. “I tripped on the…something. I’m alright.” I try to compose myself. Jarrod leads me to Barton.
“Barton, this is Emma Miller. She’s the owner of The Book Bin. Emma, I’d like you to meet Barton Wallace.”
Barton’s green eyes look directly at me but I’m frozen. I feel my chin start to quiver. I hate it when that happens. Ever since I was a little girl if I get too excited or tense, my chin quivers. I can’t speak but it’s ok because Barton speaks first.
“What the hell is this? Are we at a children’s birthday party?” Barton swats at the helium balloons tied to the sandwich board.
Jarrod chimes in. “I think it’s kind of nice that…”
Barton cuts him off, “What the hell do balloons have to do with romance?”
I finally find my voice. “I bought them. I wanted to do something visual to help attract attention for your arrival.” I feel like a meek, scared, mouse.
Barton takes a deep breath and with his hands on his hips, shakes his head and looks up to the sky. “I don’t need balloons for attention. Let’s get this thing done, shall we?”
Jarrod takes the lead. “You bettcha. Right this way, Barton.” And we all head to the book store. Jarrod scoots in front and, using his hand, he muffles the door’s little bell and whispers to me, “It’s probably not a good idea for Barton to hear a bell.”
I walk in first, followed by Barton who strolls in as if he were John Wayne in an old time Western. The crowd of mostly women with a couple of flamboyant gay men, hush upon seeing him. I race up to the podium.
“Ladies and gentlemen, The Book Bin is pleased to welcome a man whose words have inspired millions of love-struck women to…” Barton steps up to the podium and pushes me aside leaving me to hover on the tiny riser.
“Well hello there, Ladies.” He basso voice says into the microphone raising his eyebrow while he scans the room. Ironically, it’s the flamboyant gay men that are the first to applaud in a seal clap fashion. The rest of the audience doesn’t take long to follow suit. I’m standing behind Barton, half in the spill of the light and half out. I’m stuck. I can’t go right, I can’t go left, I can’t go backwards and I most certainly can’t step forward. I’m stuck behind Barton.
“How many Together, We, fans do we have out there?” He says while leaning down onto the podium. There is a huge applause. I clap too, unable to scoot away.
“And how many of you folks have read my latest book?” I start to clap again but this time my excitement gets the best of me and I fall backwards off of the mini riser and into the easel that goes toppling over landing the poster on Barton’s head. Jarrod rushes over and grabs my arm to help me up but he’s stopped by Barton. “Jarrod! What the fuck is going on here?!”
Jarrod pulls me to safety and with the help of Scooter, they restore the easel and place the poster back up. Barton smooths out his hair while I beg for forgiveness, “I’m so sorry Barton, I tripped and…” Jarrod grabs at my arm and leads me over to the side. He whispers in my ear.
“Let it go, Emma. I’ll take the heat for this later. Better me than you.”
“Well, that was a cluster fuck!” Barton says into the microphone eyeballing me with disdain. The audience titters with nervous laughter. “Why don’t I read a brief chapter from my latest book, She’s My Woman.”
Jarrod jumps up to the podium and whispers into Barton’s ear. “Oh,” says Barton, “It’s just My Woman. Alrighty then. Let’s see…” Barton pulls a few folded-up manuscript papers from the inside of his blazar, adjusts the microphone, gives an “ahem,” and begins to read. “It was a dark, black night, the only stars that were shining were in Beth’s eyes as she looked lovingly upon Harlan who…”
Beth and Harlan? That’s not from My Woman, that’s Together, We. I glance over at Jarrod who looks as confused as I do. He opens his briefcase, pulls out another set of manuscript papers, hops onto the podium, and whispers into Barton’s ear.
“Whoa, sorry about that folks! Seems my assistant here is an ASS and doesn’t know how to hand me the right reading!”
Jarrod slumps in defeat but gives a wave to the audience accepting Barton’s tongue lashing as if it was something he deserved. Jarrod again swooshes his hair away from his face and, through his needing to be cleaned glasses, I see a tear.
Barton holds up the papers and waves them in Jarrod’s direction. “We got this all straightened out now, Nimrod?”
Jarrod pulls his lips together and shakes his head.
I’m appalled. I would never talk down to Scooter like that no matter how juvenile he can be sometimes. He’s my employee and I respect him. I whisper to Jarrod, “Why do you let him talk to you like that?”
Jarrod raises his finger to his lips. “Ssh, it’s ok. I’m used to it.”
Barton looks over toward our direction. “I’m sorry, is my reading interrupting your conversation?” He looks to the audience for back-up.
Jarrod takes a deep breath. “Sorry ‘bout that everyone. Please, continue.” He gives a half-hearted salute toward Barton.
“Ya think you can keep your yap shut this time, Jarrod?” Barton says right into the microphone and adds, “Let’s have a round of applause, who wants Jarrod to keep his mouth shut?” Barton starts the clapping. The audience obliges with awkward hesitance. “See that Jarrod, they came here to listen to me, not you!”
I’m stunned. This is not AT ALL what I had hoped for and Barton isn’t nearly the suave, romantic man that he puts into his words. Jarrod’s head dips low leaving his hair hanging in front of his eyes. I’m not going to put up with this. I jump up to the podium pushing Barton out of the way.
“Excuse me, how DARE you speak to Jarrod like that? He and I have worked very hard for this special appearance and you have the nerve to demoralize him?”
The audience is stunned silent.
“Ok, ya know what?” Barton says to me like a cocky, high school jock, “I don’t need this shit. It was that idiot, Jarrod who made me come to this Podunk town in the first place.”
Podunk town? “I’ll have you know, I was raised in this town, my parents were raised in this town, my grandparents, and these fine people all live here.” My chin’s not quivering now. I get right up in his face. “You got some nerve, Mister.”
“How ‘bout this for nerve, I’m outta here.” Barton throws his hands in the air. “Jarrod, let’s go.” He gets down off the riser, turns, and gets in my face. “And whatever perfume you’re wearing, ya fucking stink, alright bitch? Jarrod, NOW!” Barton storms off and opens the door so abruptly the little bell falls off the handle sans tingle.
Jarrod sucks in some much-needed air. “I’m sorry, Emma. I really am. Barton’s not used to small towns, he’s a little cranky from the plane ride, and he’s been on this really strict macro-biotic diet that is making him kind of ornery. I’m really sorry.” He heads toward the door but addresses the audience first, “I’m sorry, folks. Please don’t let his bad-temper ruin your evening.”
I follow Jarrod to the door and catch him when he bends down to pick up the little bell and put it back on the door handle. “Jarrod, wait.”
“Emma,” He stops me before I can say anything more. “You were so convincing on the phone that I thought I could slip your little shop right past Barton but apparently, I can’t. Why don’t I send you a case of books on us to make up for this scene? I better go.” He walks out the door but then turns to look at me one last time. “And by the way, Chanel No. 5 smells great on you.” He gives me a soft smile, looks lovingly at me, turns, and heads toward the limo.
My body breaks out in goosebumps. A chill runs up my spine and into my soul. Jarrod noticed my perfume whereas Barton thinks I stink. I have this all backwards.
“WAIT!” I run up to the limo as it starts to pull away and knock on the window. It comes down. Jarrod and I are now face to face. “Don’t go.” I say to him tears running down my cheeks.
Barton is sitting on the other side of Jarrod and screams at him, “Jarrod! Let’s get the FUCK out of here!”
I put my hand on the open car window and stare into Jarrod’s eyes. “Don’t go. Stay.”
Barton hollers again, “Jarrod, NOW!”
Jarrod turns to look at Barton, then turns back to me. “I gotta go.” And he rolls up the window.
* * *