Ah, my very first fiction story. Please go easy on me..
P.S. I got the idea for this after being challenged to start a story with the least likely sentence I could think of. So, naturally, I thought of an obscure prehistoric bird. Right. Anyway, I'm not actually interested in dinosaurs much, but I do live near D.C. and I know the Museum of Natural History relatively well. The dino part is taking some major wiki-ing the whole way through, so I think it's all accurate.
Please please please review!! Enjoy!
Update (12/06): I went through and did a lil' bit o' editing here and in other chapters...made it a bit more digestible. And finally got rid of the word-smushing left over from quickediting...man, I hate that.
"That's an archaeopteryx," the young woman said.
From her nametag and the way she clenched her teeth, any outsider would know that her name was Josie and she was frustrated. A woman in her thirties stood two feet away, with one hand on her hip, and the other clutching a stuffed toy that bore some resemblance to the roadrunner in the Wile E. Coyote cartoons, but with shorter, more reptilian legs.
"Listen, my son is obsessed with these little terra-whose-its and although I may not know much about dinosaurs, this thing"—she gestured wildly with the toy—"looks a heck of a lot like those other dino-bird toys he likes playing with. So, could you just do me a favor sweetie and ring this up?"
Josie blinked at the false endearment she laid out with a distinctive southern drawl. She didn't much appreciate being talked down to, especially when she had a perfectly good reason, in her mind, for being objectionable.
"That—isn't a pterodactyl, ma'am. Pterodactyls are reptiles. This, on the other hand, is an archaeopteryx. There are huge differences between the two, and if your son likes pterodactyls, you should get him this toy," she picked up a slimmer, green stuffed bird with a more aerodynamic shape, "not that one."
"Why not? He can make it fly around like those other dinosaurs. What's the difference?"
Josie was very offended by this.
"W-what's the difference?" said Josie. Her blue eyes widened as she fought to restrain her voice. It wouldn't do her any good to get in trouble for threatening a customer. Again.
"Lady, I did my thesis on the fundamental aspects of prehistoric birds! It's still being debated whether the archaeopteryx even could fly! Most paleontologists believe it just hopped around! Does that sound like fun to a nine-year-old boy? I certainly don't think so. And by the way, neither the archaeopteryx nor the pterodactyl was even a dinosaur, technically. The term dinosaur only refers to prehistoric walking reptiles, not flying or swimming ones. And the archaeopteryx isn't even a reptile anyway. It has feathers."
She stopped, willing her temper to die down before she did something she would regret. She forced a smile onto her face and held up the pterodactyl. "So, can I ring this up for you now?"
"Sure." The older woman decided to play along with Josie's imitation of hospitality, just so she could take the toy and leave.
It was a habit of Josie's to get carried away with the dinosaur-related merchandise, and strange enough it was one of the reasons her supervisors loved her. The stuffed pterodactyl cost $5 more than the archaeopteryx.
She worked at one of the ground floor museum shops at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C.. There were five shops in that museum alone, betraying the true intention of the respected institution: to make money off tourists. Where else would the capital city get its money? From taxes?
Josie hardly cared about the superficial business she worked in. The only reason she worked there was because she didn't get the internship with the Paleontology Department upstairs, though she suspected the girl who did, Lisa Hollingsworth, only got it because she slept with one of the department chairs.
That would be pretty persuasive, she thought, since everyone probably knows how much Paleontology Department chairs get laid. Her bitterness only went so far as to incriminate Lisa, since she had been one of her best friends in grad school and had known that she would have to resort to desperation to steal the internship from her. The department chair was just horny, not actively trying to ruin Josie's life.
It had taken a while to forgive, but she did, and decided that she might try again next year, and work in the building in the meantime to curry favor with the museum. At least she was still near the dinosaurs, and sometimes she could sneak past some of the more friendly guards to the fossil storage rooms and laboratories. While hardly ideal, with a doctorate in paleontology, she figured she was qualified enough to sell polyester-stuffed pterodactyls. It didn't qualify her for much else.
From the beginning, she knew that her only hope for a career would lie in a museum or institute of some kind. Ever since she discovered Power Rangers and Jurassic Park, she knew what she would do with her life, and not even the minuscule job market could dissuade her from obtaining a Ph.D.. Even if she wasn't quite where she wanted to be in her career yet, she liked that people had to tack a Dr. in front of her name now. There was nothing like the feeling she got when she looked at her mail and saw in bold writing, "Dr. Josephine Taylor," or "Josephine Taylor, Ph.D.."
She saw her retail stint as her superhero front, like Clark Kent's journalism job. Josie could sell stuffed animals until she could become Dr. Taylor and save the world. Or rather, the fossilized world. It was just for now, just a source of income until that internship was in her grasp in the fall.
Josie tilted her head as the southern woman turned and left the check-out counter with her purchase, a blank look on her face as she reminded herself once again why she even bothered working here. Her calm facade worked well enough until she brought a hand up to shove a dark red-brown lock of hair behind her ear.
Pursing her lips and closing her eyes, in jerky movements she gave in and pushed back each long strand behind her shoulders at the same time. Her mouth twitched as she counted to ten and breathed in deep. It had been a long day, and it didn't seem to be getting any better.
A shuffle on the other side of the counter coaxed her eyelids open and she saw a young girl with long black hair staring at her with wide brown eyes.
"Excuse me, where are the triceratops toys?" Josie smiled. The girl looked about eight, and seemed to show genuine excitement when she asked. Much more like it. A fellow dino-lover.
"Come with me, I'll show you." Josie said. It wasn't tourist season yet, so the store was pretty empty and she figured she could leave the counter.
She led the girl to a small nook adorned with multiple racks of fluffy prehistoric monsters. "Now tell me, do you know which one's the triceratops?" Josie actually loved kids. It was just the adults that pissed her off. The girl looked amused to be asked such an easy question.
"It's right there. Triceratops are my favorite." She pointed to a vivid blue creature with three horns and a frill above its neck.
Josie grabbed the dinosaur and handed it to her. "Really? They're my favorite too!" They weren't, but so what? She crouched down to the girl's level. "Have you seen the big triceratops upstairs?" The girl nodded. "His name is Hatcher. He was named after the man who found the bones out in Wyoming." The girl seemed excited by this information. It was refreshing.
"Wow! That's so cool! Maybe one day I can have a dinosaur fossil named after me too!"
Josie fought down unwanted images of there ever being a "Josephine the Stegosaurus." With where she was at the moment, she could hardly see a "Josephine the Cash Register" in the near future. She smiled at the girl anyway.
"Well what's your name?"
Josie adopted mock solemnity. "Oh yes, I could definitely see a Rebecca Triceratops. Very nice name for a dinosaur." Rebecca giggled, stars in her eyes as she imagined a scenario similar to what Josie just had. An obnoxious dinging carried from the front counter, and Josie stood.
"When you're ready to buy, just come up to the counter, okay Rebecca?" She nodded as Josie turned back to the desk, her smile slipping right off. "Can I help you?"
A man stood at the counter, poised to hit the tiny silver bell a second time. When he turned towards her, she stepped back.
He was in his mid-twenties, with intelligent brown eyes and dark hair in soft waves that was just the right length to run your fingers through. He wore a thick black wool coat (it was barely February) and suit pants, with a plaid scarf hanging around his neck. Simply put, he was damn sexy. Josie suddenly felt extremely self-conscious in her navy embroidered apron and jeans. He just stared at her for a moment. Her voice became almost a whisper. "Um…Can I help you?"
That seemed to snap him back into reality. "Have you seen a little girl, eight years old, come in here?" Feeling herself fall off of the floating cloud she mounted after seeing him, she looked down. Damn it, he has a kid. And a wife too, probably. Damn damn damn.
"Rebecca?" He looked surprised, and nodded. "Yes, she's over with the stuffed toys." Saying "stuffed animals" doesn't seem appropriate when talking about dinosaurs, even if they are in the kingdom Animalia. He thanked her and walked away, while she took her place behind the counter again, placing her elbows on the plate glass and resting her chin in her hands.
Mm, break me off a piece of that. And he raised a dino-lover, too. Damn.
She sighed. After such a slow day, it was nice having some eye candy around. She watched Rebecca tell Mr. Gorgeous about the triceratops, hoping pathetically in the back of her mind that Rebecca's babbling might make him so impressed with her that he'd want to drop his wife and screw her in the back room. Hey, it could happen.
She straightened out as she saw Hot-But-Most-Likely-Married Guy and Rebecca walk back towards her, holding hands.
"Thanks for helping out my niece here. She wandered off, and I was getting worried."
Oh score! Josie's eyes widened and cleared after finding he wasn't her father after all. But, even though he was her uncle, it didn't mean he was single. She forced herself to keep both feet on the ground on her side of the counter, before she jumped him. His strong jawline, juxtaposed with an adorable dimple when he smiled at her just looked too good up close. His deep voice carried the same kind of non-accent as everyone else who lived in the D.C.-Metropolitan area.
"I don't know what the hell she's thinking, getting into that dinosaur crap. It isn't like that's ever going to be useful. I mean, if she goes on Jeopardy, there might be a question about it that will win her a couple thousand, but come on? How likely is that? I'm just hoping she'll grow out of it." he said.
He flashed her a brilliant, confident smile, and his dimple winked at her, but the magic he sparked a minute ago fell flat. Josie narrowed her eyes.
"Excuse me? 'That dinosaur crap' is crucial to our understanding of the origin of life as we know it! It's a perfectly normal human desire to learn where we came from, and it may even help us to figure out where we're going to, as a species and as existence. Is it so wrong to want to know more about such fascinating creatures that may have died millions of years ago, but can still influence our lives in the future?"
Two dinosaur rants in less than a half-hour. Might be a new record. Even for me. It's still a pity this guy's a bastard in disguise.
"Uncle Bryan? She's right." Rebecca tugged his arm and nodded. Josie stared straight at Bryan and cocked an eyebrow.
He looked around for support, finding none. "Well, I guess I'm outnumbered. Let's buy this then. How much?"
"Fifteen ninety-five." Josie said. Her voice was deadpan. Bryan's eyebrows disappeared into the curling locks draped over his forehead. He looked at Rebecca.
"This is practically extortion." He said.
"Well, everything on The Mall was either built for the government or tourists. Everything's overpriced," said Josie.
"The restaurants too? How about dinner anyway? When do you get off work?"
His smile made it seem as though he fully expected her to jump over the counter and into his arms right then and there. As far as what she wanted to do before, he wasn't far-off, but there was no way she'd comply after she had seen a slice of his personality. Rebecca rolled her eyes and walked over to the nearest toy display. She was obviously used to her uncle's behaviour. Josie's eyes widened in shock.
"What?" she spat. "You let your eight-year-old niece wander in here alone, you demean the subject I earned a Ph.D. in, and your niece obviously has an interest in, and then you hit on me in front of her? Man, you've got balls."Josie wasn't making the observation in an admiring way.
She snatched the blue triceratops out of his hands and rang it up, opening the cash register and holding out her hand for the payment. Bryan's face went slack, but he still handed her a twenty.
"A Ph.D. huh? They give those out in Dinosaurs?"
"It's called paleontology, asshole." She handed back his change and placed the toy into a plastic bag.
"Well, excuse me for saying this but if you've got a Ph.D. in anything, why do you work here?" He seemed legitimately curious.
"Ah…none of your business." She handed him the bag and flashed the same fake smile she did earlier with the southern woman. "Have a nice day."
Bryan replied with a smug smile of his own, more like she amused him than anything. "Come on, Becca. You wanted to go see the dinosaurs again, right?" The girl nodded enthusiastically and followed him out of the store. He turned back around at the shop entrance and shot a look back at Josie that, despite his total asshole-ness, made her melt.
Is it wrong that I still really want to jump him?