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Chapter 4 H

  • “Theo, would you please start packing those books?” Emma called as she pointed to the empty boxes beside Theo. “How can we possibly start with the renovation if you won't move your ass on that Godforsaken bag?” She continued when she noticed he didn't even flinch, he still felt comfortable as he slouched on the bean bag at the corner of the Café, Facetime-ing with Stacey, a girl he met during their field trip.
  • “I'm definitely going to call you later, baby girl... Yup, alright, bye gorgeous!” Theo pouted his lips for a fake kiss then closed his laptop. He eyed his villain furiously. “I was talking... to someone!” he scowled in a standing ovation. Emma gave him a serious look, but her facial expression shows she found Theo's reaction funny. “How can you be that disrespectful? I'm not your employee here, Emma.”
  • “Might as well act like a responsible boss if you don't want to be an employee,” his sister answered sternly, untied her apron then placed it on the nearest table beside her.
  • First rest day for the Café's renovation. The smell of the Spanish bread she made put their sweet strawberry air freshener to shame. A satisfied smile curved on her lips as she sniffed in the air.
  • Their parents are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in Quebec, where her mom was born and raised. Theo was left to manage the café with his sister, Emma, a business-minded twenty five years old.
  • “Which books should be boxed first?” Theo yelled from the reading nook, he went out of the nook then found Emma at the millennial pink bean bag that he emptied, she answered “It's up to you.”
  • ***
  • “You mean to say, that first day of renovation was the same day you found the letter?” Emma confirmed as she sniffed to smell her Ristretto, her voice had always been on a high pitched tone. “You know, Theo, it's so ironic that I never understood the types of coffee, I mean, we all know I'm more of a milktea person. But look at me, managing a coffee shop,” she added out of the topic then sighed. “If only you could be responsible enough.”
  • He knew her plate was full because she also had to look out for the three restaurants their parents owned. The Barkley's Diner is considered one of the finest restaurants in town, one of it is at Autumnsfield and two on the outskirts, the Café had been their mom's favorite. ‘A breath of fresh air from the usual food I smell at the diner,’ she would say.
  • “Emma, do I have to repeat myself?” Theo asked in annoyance, stressing the whole line for her own good. He ignored her complaints, he didn't feel like arguing about family business. “Besides, between the both of us, you were the one who insisted on keeping this café open, even when they're away. If I am to be asked again, I want mom's ‘breathe of fresh air’ closed until they get back. I should have been on the beach, enjoying summer.”
  • Emma rolled her eyes, as if saying his reasoning was stupid. “Start storytelling about your weirdo admirer then.”
  • “I'm not storytelling a shit. I just need to know if you know someone named Melan at The Happy Shelves.”
  • Emma let out a distressed sigh. “Wasting time to someone who seemed to be just another prankster is something you would unlikely do.”
  • “Same goes with managing a café but here I am,” he pointed out then stood to make himself a coffee, and fill his stomach with Emma's Spanish bread.
  • “Do I look like I am investigating every book shop's crew? Hello? I have my own books sleeping, and untouched in the reading nook, which actually, already could've been resting inside the boxes if you didn't waste your time digging for some strange letters,” Emma chanted, rolling her eyes and sipping on her coffee. “If you want another girl to cast your old cheesy lines with, you can just fool around and choose which girl to lure,” she added sarcastically.
  • Theo bowed his head down then sighed. Is this Karma? He chewed the last bite of his first bread in silence. If Emma finds everything ridiculous then he has to continue boxing the books, but if he does that, he'd never get the chance to track the remaining letters. I have to think of something. “Fine, Emma. Nevermind.”
  • Emma brushed her curly, ash-dyed hair then tied it in a ponytail. She looked like a lady version of their dad, she even got his deep gray eyes and his aristocratic nose. He thinks she was just taking life seriously that's why some guys find her intimidating, not even his friends are comfortable with her.
  • She sighed then groaned. “Ugh! For the love of God, who was that witch writer?” she asked out of the blue. “Except for the fact that I was shocked to see you asleep when I got here—at ten in the morning, you're asleep—I am utterly disappointed that the books are still untouched since I left last night.
  • “Theo, you do understand that The Happy Shelves is not our supplier, right? It's been ages since I dropped by a bookstore. With all the books we had disposed of and the books that are being imported here, did you really think I still have time to browse any shelf other than the Café's?”
  • “You could've just told me you don't know her. You don't have to put this subject in a roller coaster conversation,” he answered crisply then walked his way into the reading nook.
  • He heard Emma's sharp sigh. He took every Harper Lee book out of the shelf then started flipping the pages as fast as he could but he found nothing on the first three books. He picked To Kill A Mockingbird and he immediately knew there was something, the center of the book has a gap on it. He took the letter then walked back into the dining room. There he found Emma reading a letter while biting her index fingernail.
  • “How are you so sure that there's going to be another letter or that this is not just a joke?” she asked aloud without looking at him.
  • “I'm sure, because I just found the next one.”
  • She turned to him with eyes widened, she seemed searching for a proof which Theo held up for her. Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird on his right hand and an envelope on the left. He saw how Emma's face turned pale, yet he knew his expression remained neutral. He gave her an ‘I told you so’ look.
  • He placed the letter on the table then let Emma open it. He watched her unseal the envelope in a most delicate way, unfolded the paper inside it then started reading.
  • Dear Theodore,
  • He was taken aback by what she read. “Now she knows my name,” he commented as he walked to occupy the chair beside her. Unbelievable, he thought. How can someone know my name that fast?
  • He started doubting the letters again. No one calls him Theodore except Emma, when she's really, really mad at him.
  • I hope I won't sound like a stalker because I'm not and I will never be. How I found out about your name was something I didn't expect this soon.
  • Emma continued. Now, whoever was writing the letter appeared to read his mind too.
  • Honestly, I could've been satisfied if I discovered your name on the last day of my ‘crush letters.’
  • I never wanna know you that late though, he thought.
  • “Crush letters, huh?” Emma commented with a half smirk on her lips, which I ignored.
  • One of my favorite memories was during the second week of Autumn, last year. The tangerine leaves were simultaneously falling like confetti while I was walking underneath. It was humid, yet comforting. I turned around then started spinning. I felt free, as if the world was mine. It was more like meditating, my mind was empty and stress seemed to float away with the wind. But then, a car honked and to my dumb surprise, I fell on the ground.
  • It was a cream Volkswagen Circa.
  • Theo's heart skipped a beat. His parents drive the same car.
  • “A very familiar car,” Emma commented again.
  • The old lady was wearing a peach knitted sweatshirt and a huge white hat, the hat’s left side was adorned with small baby pink flowers, coordinated with black and white feathers.
  • Emma remained quiet for a few seconds. She glanced at Theo as if saying ‘she already met mom’. The silence began to make him feel antsy. For a moment there he was suspecting that the letters were from Emma, until he saw her expression.
  • Emma cleared her throat. “Too much of a coincidence if that was mom,” she mouthed in denial then put down the letter. He tried to let the silence consume him while Emma started scraping her pearl-colored nail polish that was beginning to peel off her nails.
  • He blew out a sharp breath. “C'mon, just finish the letter,” he urged. He knew every words could feel like a mystery of torture as the letter goes deep, he felt that every time he paused on the previous letters. He was all fine tracking and reading, until Emma found out about it, her expressions and reactions all the more made him feel something strange.
  • “I'm starting to hate this.” She picked up the letter then started reading again.
  • “Dear, are you alright?” the old lady asked, her voice was soft and bright. The old guy beside her—which I suppose is her husband; wearing a navy blue polo T-shirt, a black framed eyeglasses and mustache perfectly shaped in the 60's—was peeking out at me.
  • Dad, he commented in his mind.
  • I'm not into romance novels, I don't know, maybe trust is my issue. But whenever I see an old couple, Love Story by Erich Segal pops into my mind. I still feel bad that Jeni had to die.
  • “Y-yes, I am, Ma'am. I'm sorry if I blocked your way,” I apologized while wiping my pants, regaining myself on the great fall earlier.
  • "Looks like you love the season, sweetheart,” she answered, smiling with her fake teeth.
  • Emma's lips curved in a frown, Theo chuckled. It was true, their mom has dentures. He didn't need to hear another confirmation that it was their mom the writer met.
  • “Weren't you the lady working at The Happy Shelves?”
  • I nodded in response. I don't remember her being our customer, because I’d known if she had been there. I’ve been remembering faces of people that came to and fro in that bookstore. I didn't know where the conversation would go, but I wanted it to end. I wanted to go home before Chris did.
  • The next thing I know, I was at The Barkley's Diner, having a Roasted Beef Burger coupled with Red Iced Tea.
  • “How the fuck did everything went easy for her?” Emma asked, lowering down the letter again. “From observing you, to meeting mom, that's…”
  • “Odd,” Theo cut in, placing his face on his palm, never sure whether to look at Emma or grab the letter. “But you couldn't do anything about it so I suggest you keep reading. You're delaying the chances of meeting my ‘prankster,’ he added sarcastically, stressing the word prankster.
  • Emma glared at him then continued.
  • Mrs. Barkley only needed to know one thing from me and I think the food was too much for a bribe. But never have I eaten at The Barkley's before. I think the place was only meant for an expensive group of the human race.
  • Walking in, no one would not feel the big-ticket ambiance. The round glass tables were arranged with chairs of cushions, the staff wore three fourth white sleeves top coupled with amethyst shade skirt; slacks bottom for gentlemen.
  • She asked me if The Happy Shelves ever supply books, and if I could help her choose the good ones in case we do. The last thing I would want to do is to disappoint Mrs. Barkley, but I had to tell her, right?
  • “Well, mainly, she was the reason why mom lost hope on putting up this business,” Emma murmured.
  • Clearly, their first choice of supplier was The Happy Shelves, the bookstore was near, and trusted, but what does he know? He never cared an inch about their family business. Theo was aching for more of the content but his sister has the right to interrupt.
  • “If you could talk to your manager about it, it would be a lot of help,” she said as she stood up to follow me.
  • “I will try to convince them.” I just said that to comfort her, but that's never a promise, because Dear God, we are just a book shop, I'm a hundred percent sure about that.
  • “Thank you, dear. You're a very nice person,” she uttered as the Maitre d’hotel opened the door. I smiled. “You can reach me in these numbers.” She gave me a small business card. I nodded politely then walked my way out. I ran as soon as I felt the freezing autumn air hit my face. The dusk of the day was beginning to uncover.
  • When I got home, Chris was already there, gulping his Whiskey while watching TV.
  • That night, even after a couple of sobs, I still couldn't believe I talked to one of probably the wealthiest people at Autumnsfield. And so, before I went to bed I researched them. I can't believe that all along, I have been writing to her son. Your photo on the internet was cute, but you were so much younger then.
  • “Cute,” Emma said sarcastically.
  •  If it weren't for my co-worker, I wouldn't know that The Barkley's own Moonbeam Café too, she knows too much about the couple's only son, said she has a crush on him. On you.
  • It's too late to quit writing now. I know you have your influences and connections, but please, never ever try to find me. Do not put yourself on a danger's list.
  • Always,
  • H.
  • Emma placed the letter on the table carefully, Theo pulled the paper then traced each word written. She has average, clean and cursive penmanship, he noticed. It was calming to look at, if only what's written wasn't disturbing, he would feel so proud that someone has been writing him crush letters.
  • “If I follow my bookworm instinct, the letter could be really hard to ignore. But the last time I checked, I still live in reality. A letter in a book is a ridiculous way of communicating to someone if you want to be found, Theo.”
  • “What do you mean you want to be found?”
  • “If her identity was supposed to be a secret, why would she ever mention The Happy Shelves?”
  • Emma's point was undeniably heavy.