Skies are Blue

Handing the plastic bag across the counter, I smiled. "Here you go."

The elderly woman sent me a grateful smile in return as she took the bag. "Oh, thank you so much! I'm sorry I was so much trouble. I should have known the author before I even came in here." She fumbled through her purse, talking as she did so. "It's for my grandson. His birthday is tomorrow, and I wanted to surprise him."

"Oh?"

"Yes, and—oh dear." She pulled out a ten dollar bill from her purse; it was soaked in a sticky red liquid. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know, but there's a melted lipstick in here, and it just—"

Grabbing the nearby Kleenex box, I pulled out a handful of tissues, mopping away at the bill. "No, it's fine, really. I'm just doing my job."

"Oh, thank you!"

"Any time," I said, as she walked out through the front door, the bell tinkling as she left; I could not help but breathe a sigh of relief.

I work part-time in a book shop on weekends. Just to make a bit of extra cash, you know, while I work on my doctorate work in children's literature. This sort of thing is normal; it happens every day. But little did I know, as I cracked open my copy of The Wizard of Oz for further annotation, that my day was going to be more than just ordinary.

The bell tinkled loudly, forcing me to put my opened book down on the counter. "Hi, Mark! Are you buying something today?" Mark Annesley is a good friend of mine, also in literature. During slow hours, he sometimes swings by the shop to chat.

"No, thanks anyway. How's business?"

"Fine." Suspicious, I narrowed my eyes. "What do you want?"

Marc laughed. "Dude, why do you always assume that I want something?"

"I don't know, maybe because you do?"

"Fair enough." Leaning on the counter, he said in a conspiratorial tone, "I need fifty dollars."

My eyes widened.

"Just a loan, mind you," Mark added hastily. He grinned. "I'm thinking of proposing tonight."

"Really?"

"Yep, I think she's the one!"

"Which one, exactly?" I asked dryly.

"Nadine. Who else?"

Instead of answering, I simply rolled my eyes. The chances of the moon being made of green cheese were higher than the chance that he was actually going to go through with it.

"Don't give me that 'yeah, right' look! You need to get a girl, you know that?"

"Um…"

His mouth fell open. "Wait, dude. Don't tell me—you've actually got one, haven't you?"

I shrugged. "Sort of."

"Come on."

"Well…she comes in here most Sunday afternoons to meet with her friends. I also see her a lot around campus, like in the park or the library, so I think she's a student. There's a nice bench under a big elm tree in the park that she likes, but there aren't any good unexposed benches anywhere nearby, only a large shrubbery nearby, so I have to settle for that, and—"

"Wait a minute. Have you ever actually…well, talked to the girl? Do you even know her name?"

I grinned. "I do know her name. Her friends have referred to her as 'Dora'."

"But have you talked to her?"

My grin faded as fast as it had come. "Um, no, not really."

Folding his arms across his chest, Mark frowned at me. He gave me the standard disapproving gestures before what I knew was going to be a lecture. "Dude, you're so stupid."

That certainly wasn't what I had been expecting. "What?"

"Dude, seriously. Stalking a girl is not the way to get her to date you. Trust me. I tried it once, way back in the day, and honestly, she was more creeped out than anything else. Got a restraining order against me, for some reason. Can't see why, but that's the way girls are."

"Then what am I supposed to do?"

"Give me the fifty dollars and I'll tell you."

It was obviously extortion, but what else was I supposed to do? Pulling out my wallet from my back pocket, I forked over fifty dollars. "All right, now tell me."

"Huh?" Mark had been distracted by the shiny new money I had "lent" him; I knew I would regret it later.

"Tell me what I'm supposed to do."

"Oh…right." He smiled sheepishly. "About that…"

"You don't know, do you?"

"Sorry, dude. Thanks for the loan, though." Before I could chuck my copy of The Wizard of Oz at him, he had already beat a hasty retreat. Good thing, too—I really was going to throw it, I was that angry. I'm generally a peaceful sort of guy. It takes a lot to make me that mad. I don't know how I managed to calm down enough to put the book back down on the table. Everything was all right; everything was fine…

"Oh, who am I kidding?" I muttered to myself. Shoving my book into my bag, I heaved the book bag over one shoulder and closed up shop as quickly as I could. I am entitled to a lunch break, after all.

Originally, I would have gone to the park, just to catch a glimpse of Dora, but remembering Mark's words, I decided to buy lunch instead. I stopped by a small store I often frequent, where I bought a small plastic basket of chicken strips with orange marmalade. I love marmalade on chicken; I don't know why, but the tangy flavor just appeals to my taste buds.

As I walked down the sidewalk, dipping the chicken into the marmalade and stuffing it into my mouth, I could not help but shake the distinct impression that I was being watched. I stopped. "All right," I said, "I know you're there. Come out."

Nothing happened.

"Come out, or else I'll…I'll…" I sighed. "Just come out, okay? Please?"

Behind me, I felt something scratch at my pant leg. Looking down, I turned around to find the source of the scratching; it was a big, mangy dog with shaggy fur made up of many different patches of color, ranging from white to black to a chocolate brown. The eyes were a particularly distinctive green; a light in them seemed to plead with me, begging for a tiny taste.

I frowned. "No."

The dog whined loudly. Its eyes seemed to say, "Please? Just a tiny-winy piece?"

I wavered. "Well…okay. Let's find a place to sit down, okay?"

The dog followed me over to the steps of a nearby building, where I set down my book bag and the basket on one of the steps. Taking out a strip of chicken, I tore it in half, handing one half over to the dog. It looked puzzled for a moment, before happily snapping up the proffered meat.

After it was done, it smiled at me. "More please?"

I sighed. What else could I do? Those darned begging eyes. "Here." I gave the dog the other half of the strip.

Like a child that had just been presented with an extra-special present on a pure whim, it happily ate up the marmalade-soaked chicken. Frowning, I said, "You could at least say thank you, you know."

It ignored my complaint. Instead, after finishing, it simply begged me for more.

"No. No more. This is my lunch! Understand?"

The dog seemed to. Without fanfare, it grabbed hold of the basket with its teeth and took off down the sidewalk. I barely had time to yell, "Hey! Come back here!"

I sprinted after the dog; it was my lunch, after all. I chased the dog a block or two before I heard a call: "Yooooop!" The dog skidded to a halt. "C'mere, boy!" As the dog walked past me, its ears droopy and sad, it dropped the basket by my feet. Suspicious, I turned around.

And then, there she was, standing there in front of me. She had blue eyes, deep, dark, mysterious blue eyes. I never knew her eyes were blue before that…

Then I realized she had been talking to me. "…and I'm really sorry if he inconvenienced you or anything, he—"

I somehow regained my voice. Clearing my throat, I said, "I didn't think you could have dogs on campus."

"Oh, I live off campus, actually."

"Oh. Yoop, that's an unusual name."

"Yeah, a lot of people think it's weird. It's from—"

"The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Yoop is a giant that loves meat and marmalade."

"Yeah! I didn't think there were any L. Frank Baum fans out there anymore, I mean…" She trailed off. "Hey, I know you."

"Me? You know me? Cool. I mean, yeah, of course you do…do you?"

"You work at the bookstore."

"Oh. Yeah, I've seen you. You come in Sunday afternoons from three to five, except last week, when you skipped a week. Um, if that was you," I added quickly, as I saw a strange expression cross her face. Mark was right about something for a change. "Uh, I think that came out wrong."

"You think?"

I smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I get nervous, you see, and—"

"No, I think I see." She extended out a hand, a smile on her face to match mine. "I think we just got off to a bad start. My name's Dora. I'm working on my B.A. in history. You?"

Maybe it wasn't so bad after all. I took her hand and shook it. "My name's Will. I'm a graduate student at the university. My field is children's literature."

"Oh, that explains the L. Frank Baum."

"Yeah."

Neither of us said anything for a moment; then we both tried to speak at once.

"Do you—"

"Would you—"

We both laughed. "Go ahead," I said.

"No, you go ahead."

"I insist."

She smiled again. It was very refreshing. "There's a café down the street with outdoor dining. It lets you bring dogs. I was just going over there for lunch before Yoop ran off. Would you like to join me?"

"Well, um—"

"If you're busy, I don't mind," she said hastily.

"No, no, I'm not busy. I just need to be back at the shop soon."

"Well, come on, then." Her hand latched firmly onto my elbow. "Time's a-wasting."


A/N: This was written for the "Whatever is so last week" challenge at the Lounge Forum.