Short Story by Amanda Terry Hamm
Fredrick Alight was not an adventurous man. In fact, he was exactly the sort to avoid adventures at all costs. It seemed to him that adventures caused naught but misfortune and those who sought to take them were typically worse for the wear. And so, he lived his life, each day exactly as the one before it, with no surprises, and nothing ever different from those previous. No difference at all, except perhaps the weather, as no one can control the weather, not even one so nice as Fredrick.
But it was on a particularly dull afternoon in April, after Fredrick had left his job at the accounting firm, that he was heading to his favorite café, as he was likely to do each day after work. Fredrick was particularly enjoying the monotony of this afternoon. Whereas many would find it tedious to leave work at the same time each day and walk the same path, and break at the same shop, he, for one, found the dullness delightful, and it put him in a rather good mood. So, as he entered the café, he found his favorite table, empty as always, and took a seat facing the wall so as not to be disturbed by the excitements of others.
And it was common that he chose each day either a cup of coffee or a cup of tea. And if he chose the coffee, then he also chose a piece of cake to have with it and if he chose the tea, then he had, instead, a scone. On this day, when he pondered which he would like, he decided on the tea. For in his thoughts he said – “This is a finely dull day. Much too dull for coffee.” And so, not to change tradition, he chose for himself as well, a blueberry scone.
If only he had chosen the coffee instead, then perhaps he could have continued on enjoying the rest of his day in blissful dullness. But alas, that was not his fate.
After a few moments of sitting quietly alone, a pretty server brought to him his tea and scone on a platter. She smiled politely, but said nothing to him, just as he preferred. The staff in this delightful café knew well that Mr. Alight was not fond of needless conversation and preferred to be left to his own thoughts in silence. How polite and important they must assume him to be, he mused. She turned and left him to his tea. And that, he was sure, was to be his last interaction of the day. That is, until a peculiar and unfamiliar girl took the seat across from him.
To say that she sat is a bit untrue, for it would be far more accurate to say that she splashed down into the empty seat and splattered her droplets of excitement all over him. Her brunette and violet curls bounced as she landed. And her belongings: a scarf, a pocketbook, and a pair of gloves, bound from her grasp to scatter themselves across his quiet table.
Fredrick simply stared at her for a moment, too stunned to object. What sort of person was this, to interrupt, so directly, his quiet existence? Was she lost? Was she inflicted with insanity? He could not guess what her misfortune might be, but he elected to finish his snack quickly and leave before her enthusiasm could infect his day.
However, completely ignoring Fredrick’s bewildered expression, the girl broke the silence anyway.
“I realized you’ve taken the last blueberry scone.” She answered his unasked question, gazing at him pleasantly.
“I beg your pardon?” His eyebrows raised themselves without his consent.
“That scone is the last one, and I would really like to have it. I know you would not have taken the last one on purpose. Especially since you surely did not know that I have been living in anguish and anticipation of enjoying that very scone all day long.” She said it with a confident smile, as if that decided the matter.
“I’m very sorry.” Fredrick set his scowl in a determined fashion as he gathered up his thoughts. “But this scone belongs to me. I paid for it and I intend to eat it. You will have to ask the amiable ladies behind the counter for something else.” He sounded more secure than he felt in this statement, but took his own confident tone as a sign that he should continue while he still had his nerve. “And for that matter, this is also my table and I would prefer it if you would leave it at once and –“
“But you haven’t. That’s why it’s so perfect. I have come at the perfect time!” She was giddy with triumph.
“You haven’t paid for it. Which means I could still have that scone myself and you could get something else, which is awfully nice of you. I have scarcely met a man so polite and agreeable as you are.” This took him, once again, by surprise. She knew nothing about him, and yet she was irritatingly sincere. And what was worse was that it was true. He had not, in fact, paid for it yet.
Fredrick scrambled to regain clout in the conversation.
“Nevertheless, it is on my table, and -”
“I see that, and I want you to know that I wholeheartedly appreciate what a warm and giving individual you are.” She smiled prettily at him as she slid the plate over to her side of the table. To his own surprise, Fredrick did not reach out and stop her. He wanted to, but also he didn’t. What exactly was happening? “You really are quite delightful, a person. Did you know that?” The girl picked the scone up between two brightly polished fingers and slowly sunk her teeth into the delicious pastry. Then she let out an audible moan of appreciation as she took a second bite.
Fredrick simply sat there across from her, his mouth hanging open in unspoken objection. This is not how he had pictured his afternoon at all. How could everything have gone so wrong so quickly? He was about to stand up and inform this impertinent young woman that he had been engaged with her long enough and that it was time for her to leave, when suddenly the clock on the café wall chimed six.
Her eyes grew wide, and she perked up once more, placing the half-eaten scone back on the plate. “Oh, look how late it is. I can’t believe I let time get away from me. I must be going.” She gathered up her scattered belongings from Fredrick’s table before getting to her feet. “Come now, Freddie, aren’t you going to walk me home?” She blinked at him expectantly.
“I’m going to do what?” He found himself, once again, confused, and wondered silently if everyone she interacted with felt as bewildered as he did now.
“You’re going to walk me home, of course.” She grinned playfully. “Honestly, how can you call yourself a gentleman if you won’t walk a lady home at this late hour?” She slipped on her gloves and scarf. Fredrick instead, turned and glanced behind him at the sunlight pouring in through the café window. He was trying to determine if at any point in this conversation he had actually called himself a gentleman. This poor young woman must be mad.
“But, I don’t even know you.” He replied defiantly, trying his hardest to behave as though he had any control over the conversation. She simply took his arm and gently hauled him to his feet. He resisted very little. He loathed change, and yet there was a spark of curiosity in his mind about what exactly it was that ailed her.
“Nonsense. We have been having a pleasant conversation for nearly five whole minutes now. We’re practically old friends.” She bounced with glee. He was suddenly very aware of her proximity to him, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint if this made him delighted or further irritated. “Come now. We don’t want to be late.” He made to follow her, but she halted him with a disapproving stare. “Don’t forget to pay for your tea.”
Of course, he couldn’t forget that. He pulled out his wallet and left his money on the table next to his cold teacup and half-eaten scone. Then, still holding onto his arm, she dragged him, reluctant but acquiescent, out of the café and onto the sidewalk.
The evening air was crisp as they walked along the busy street. The girl seemed to daydream as she swayed down the path next to him. Fredrick glanced around periodically to see if anyone had noticed them drifting along without a purpose.
“This is quite a lovely day, isn’t it, Freddie?” The girl was still holding on to his arm, staring up at the sun streaked sky.
“Why yes, it is rather nice-” he began, before he stopped walking altogether and stared at her. “How do you know my name?” She stopped walking and looked back at him with a smile, but before she could answer, he interrupted that thought with another. “Well, actually, Freddie is not my name. My name is Fredrick and I must insist that you do not call me Freddie.”
“Of course, Frederick. Let’s go this way.” She pulled him down another busy street. “There is an adorable little bookshop in this direction that you simply must take me to.”
“Honestly, I really must be going.” He halted on the sidewalk, determined to go no further. She stopped beside him and gave him a pretty little pout.
“Why? Don’t you like books, Fredrick?”
“No, I don’t – I mean, books are fine, I-I just have little time to read. And I rarely go into bookshops because I don’t own many books.” it horrified Frederick to find that he had begun rambling. If this was the effect she had on him, he was not pleased with it. “The books are not the point. I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Emily.” She grinned.
“Oh. Well, that’s quite a normal name, isn’t it?”
Emily didn’t seem to take offense as she gathered up his arm once more and gently pulled him back into motion.
“It is such a normal, boring name, isn’t it?”
“No, I mean, it’s lovely.” Fredrick answered, feeling a bit guilty for his tone. And because of this guilt, he let her lead him along the sidewalk once more, with little resistance.
“What exactly do you mean when you say you don’t have time for books, Fredrick?” Emily again swayed dreamily as she walked. Fredrick nodded to a passer-by whom he was sure must be thinking the two of them quite peculiar.
“I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it.” It was all he could think to say. He could not claim to be enjoying the conversation, but he hated it less than he would have expected.
“But you sit in a café at the same time every day and drink tea by yourself.” Emily giggled. “It seems to me that you have nothing but time for reading. Perhaps you just haven’t found the right book.” They came to a stop in front of a quaint little bookshop on the corner of the next street. It was painted light green, with flower pots hanging beside the door. It looked very much like a place that Fredrick would ordinarily avoid, as to not interrupt the dullness of his days. But today, it seemed, was not an ordinary day.
Together, Emily and Fredrick strolled into the little shop. It was small and dusty inside, but not unpleasant. Emily seemed to know her way around as she led him through a few aisles and to a row of bookcases in the back. The little wooden sign that hung above them said “Classic Literature.”
“Hmmmmm…” Emily said, skimming through the titles on the top shelf. “What shall we have you read?”
“I don’t know.” Fredrick did not skim the shelves. He gazed incredulously at Emily as he tried very hard to think of an excuse for why he should leave. Nothing came to mind, so he resigned himself to stay put.
“Have you read about Alice?” Emily pulled a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from the shelf. Fredrick scrunched his nose unpleasantly.
“I’ve been to school. Of course I’ve read Alice.” He answered in a low voice, afraid someone else might hear them in the tiny shop. Though, in truth, he had only read the few snippets of the book which had been required in his middle school literature class. At the time, he had not cared much for the impertinent little girl in the story. He could not relate to her or her adventures at all. Fredrick reached out and grabbed the closest book to him on the shelf. “How about this one?” He held it out to Emily without even looking at it. She took the book from his hand, scrutinizing the cover.
“Pride and Prejudice.” Emily smiled. “Hmmmm… almost.” Fredrick watched the mirth dance in her eyes as she gave him an amused smirk. “I think I know an even better one for you.” She placed the book back on the shelf and pulled out another not far away. She handed it to him. Sense and Sensibility was written in script across the top.
“Very well. I’ll take this one. Are we finished?” He looked around again to be sure no one was looking at them. To his relief, there were very few other people in this little shop.
“Just a few more.” Emily turned and reached for another book on a higher shelf.
“A few?” Fredrick sighed but took each book as she handed it to him. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Great Expectations. The Hobbit. He skimmed each title as she placed it in his hands, unsure of how he was supposed to react to his new reading assignments. After several moments, Fredrick began to feel that the stack was getting quite tall, and quite heavy. He was relieved when she turned away from the bookshelf and nodded.
“I think these are a good start.”
“A Start?” Fredrick looked down at his hands. Seven books in all, of different colors and genres. They didn’t appear to have anything in common, but perhaps that was the point.
“Alright, I’ll just wait for you by the door as you complete your purchase.”
“Oh. Of course.” Fredrick shook his head and headed for the register. A kind older lady smiled at him from behind the counter as he handed over his stack of books.
“Did you find everything alright?” She asked sweetly as she placed his items in a linen bag.
“Yes. Quite alright.” Fredrick gave her a polite nod but did not make eye contact so as not to encourage anyone else, even sweet old ladies, to begin any more unexpected conversations today.
“If you come back this weekend we are having a big sale.” The lady continued the conversation anyway. Fredrick nodded again.
“Very nice.” He passed the money over the counter and took his bag. He hurried away before she could say anything else to him, leaving his coins of change on the counter. He found Emily waiting outside, sitting on a bench and staring up at the dusky sky.
“There you are!” She popped up from her seat with enthusiasm. “Well, this has been a lovely outing Fredrick, but it’s getting dark and I do believe I must be getting home.”
“Of course.” Fredrick nodded seriously. That was why he had tagged along after all, to see her home. She took his arm once more and began strolling down the sidewalk, back the way they had come. They traveled about ten feet before she stopped and turned to him.
“Well. This is me.” She gestured to the side of the book shop. Fredrick’s furrowed brows once again directed themselves at Emily.
“I beg your pardon?”
“This is it. I live in the little apartment above the bookshop. My mother and I own it.” Emily smiled prettily. “Thank you so much for walking me home. I do hope you enjoy your new books.”
“Um, yes. I’m sure I will.” Fredrick didn’t know what else to say to her. He hadn’t really considered where they might be going next but this was not what he had expected. He tried to think of something witty or clever to say, but he was far too dull a person to say things witty and clever and so nothing came to him. When he said nothing more, Emily stepped forward and planted a soft kiss on his cheek.
“Good night Fredrick. Perhaps we will happen upon each other again.”
“Perhaps we will.” Fredrick found that a silly grin had begun spreading itself across his face. He worked quickly to get his cheeks back under control. Emily didn’t seem to notice as she spun around and skipped past the wooden gate and around the back of the bookshop.
Fredrick felt slightly askew as he headed back up the street and turned towards his apartment building. It took him several blocks to come to terms with the events of the evening. Despite himself, he found that he really did hope that they would happen upon one another again.
He could not relinquish his love of routine and dull interaction, but perhaps the occasional adventure was not so bad after all. In any case, he determined that tomorrow he would certainly order the coffee.