"Hello," the stranger says quietly, having made his way over as Greg and Tessa conversed, "Have we met before?"
"No, sir. I don't think so, at least," Greg answers. When he looks up at the man he's shocked to see the bright silver color of his eyes.
"My name is Thomas Novak." Not even realizing he's doing it, Greg shakes the hand he is offered.
"Greg Nugent," he answers.
Tessa looks at Greg like he's insane for giving this stranger his full name. He doesn't notice her look as he is transfixed by the silver stare.
"And what might your name be, love," Novak asks turning his gaze onto Tessa.
"This is my girlfriend Tessa," Greg tells him looking at her, trying to tell her with his eyes to go with it. He doesn't like the way Novak looks at her.
"Girlfriend, eh?" is all he says before turning back to Greg. Tessa looks at Greg as though he has three heads, but she doesn't oppose so he supposes she won't beat him too bad later.
"So," Greg says, wanting to be done with this man, "Is there something you need?"
"Just a friend," he answers. "A companion of sorts. Someone to help in my business."
"What kind of business," Tessa asks, unable to hold back her curiosity. Greg would like to kick her under the table, but he just cannot look away from Novak's eyes.
"Oh, just a small shop a few blocks down. I sell books and the like," Novak answers.
Tessa, starting to get a little weirded out by their unblinking stare, asks, "Who do you have working with you?"
"That's why I'm here actually," Novak says, finally breaking his and Greg's gaze.
"Yeah?" Tessa asks, as Greg shakes off the dazed feeling. "What are you looking for?"
"Just someone to look after the store while I'm in the back, or to help restock shelves and things," Novak says looking between Greg and Tessa in a way that is obvious he hopes they will accept his not-so-subtle job offers.
"How much are you willing to pay?" Greg wonders. Even though he gets the creeps from this guy, he really needs a new job. He is so sick of working fastfood.
"How does fifteen dollars an hour sound to you?" Novak offers, not really expecting them to take it. Needless to say, he is very surprised at the looks on their faces.
"I'm game for fifteen an hour," Tessa says leaning back in her seat looking between Greg and Novak, a small smile slowly spreading across her face as she sips more from her coffee. "When do you need us?"
"Well, if you don't mind, I'd like a hand filling the shelves with the books and things I have now," Novak says looking at Greg again, trying to recapture his eyes. "So, in, say, two or three hours?"
"Sounds good to me," Tessa says, "I don't have anything to do this evening. What do you say, Greg?"
"Uh, sure," he says. I can't just let her go and be alone with this guy for God knows how long. "We'll be there, Mister Novak."
"Oh, please," he says, waving his hand, "Call me Thomas."
"Thomas, then," Greg amends, smiling in a friendly way.
"I shall see you at, around seven thirty or eight, then?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," Tessa says, going back to her coffee. Greg nods politely and turns to his drink as well. Thomas leaves the small shop. Greg only just realizes that the whole time he was talking with them, the man hadn't once sipped his drink.
Later the same evening, around 6:45, Greg picks up his most prized possession (his Jeep) from the shop. He happily climbs into the driver's seat. "Oh, I missed you, baby," he says patting the steering wheel affectionately. The mechanic, Elroy McGillicutty, just watches him with an amused smirk on his face. He scratches the stubble on his chin then looks up at Greg.
"Dustin acts just like that with his car," he says, chuckling lightly, "Simon picks on him for it sometimes, but we all know he loves that car just as much as his brother." Greg laughs. He hadn't realized he was talking aloud.
"Can you believe that I've had her for about four years now? My dad taught me to drive in this thing," Greg tells him stepping out of the Jeep.
"Well good for you, son." Mr McGillicutty says accepting Greg's payment.
"Thank you, sir," Greg says shaking Mr McGillicutty's hand, thanking him both for the work on his car, and the complement.
"None of that sir nonsense. Call me Roy," he says, waving off Greg's politeness. "I've known you since you were born, Nugent."
"I know, Roy. It's called respect, man." Greg says, laughing as he pats Roy on the shoulder.
"Well, it makes me feel old." Greg laughs and tells Roy that he'll see him later.
He climbs into his green Jeep and starts her up, grinning at the hum of her engine. He pat's the dashboard then sees that it's almost time for him and Tessa to be at the bookstore. He has to get there first. He doesn't want Tessa sitting there alone with this Thomas Novak until he knows more about him.
He decides to call her and have her go on some unimportant errand so that he can get there first.
"Hey, Tess," he says once she's answered the phone, "Can you do me a huge favor?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"Do you think you could drop by my place and grab my backpack?" He asks, just coming up with this on the spot. "It's just inside the door by the shoes."
"Sure, Greg," he can tell she's a little peeved, but she'll do it anyway, because she's just awesome like that.
"Thanks. You're the best, Tessa." He hangs up and starts toward the bookshop.
He makes it to the book shop across town just at 7:30. He knocks on the door, there is an Open/Closed sign hanging on the door, flipped to the Closed side. He waits for a second before he tries the door opens and he walks in, looking around the front room at all the empty shelves and stacks of cardboard boxes stacked five high all around the room.
"Hello?" He calls out, "Mister Novak?"
"I've told you to call me Thomas," Greg hears from behind him. He nearly has a heart attack at the suddenness of his voice.
"Sorry, Thomas. It's a habit, I guess."
"Where, might I ask, is Miss Tessa?"
"I asked her to make a quick stop at my place before she got here. I'd forgotten to grab my backpack before I left."
"Well, I don't think she'll mind too much if we get started without her," Novak says leading Greg toward the first shelf and the boxes stacked next to it.
"Yeah, I think you're right."
As they worked, they started talking, learning more about each other. Soon, Greg starts thinking that, perhaps, Thomas isn't such a bad a guy. Yeah, he might've seemed strange at first; but now Greg knows that he just had a troubling past, and a less-than-awesome childhood.
Tessa shows up about an hour after they got started, looking extremely pissed off. Greg drops the very heavy book he is about to put on the shelf just above his head, and bites back the curse he wants to let out as it lands on his foot, just above the steel in the toe of his boot.
"Greg, you're such an ass sometimes," she says as she dumps his backpack on the floor near the front desk. "You knew that your mom would make me sit and talk with her for hours."
"It was only an hour," she gives him a look full of malice, "And a few minutes."
"If Thomas docks my pay-"
"He won't! And if he does, then I'll pay you back from what he pays me. I promise. The last thing I want is for you to be mad at me." Greg looks at her with such a look, she is slightly taken aback.
"I'm not mad at you, calm down. But your mother, on the other hand..."
"I'm sorry, Tess. But I needed my bag, and I was already here."
"Well, there it is," she says, going over to where he and Thomas are alphabetizing books and separating them by genres. "What are you doing, Greg?"
"I'm working on the Fiction, Thomas is working on the Young Adult section," he informs her, "Pick a box labeled something different and start loading them up over there." He indicates a section a few shelves behind him.
Thomas stayed quiet through their little spat, looking between them like it was a tennis match. He had told Greg that he'd never had an actual friend growing up or even when he got older and out on his own. He found it very interesting to watch and listen as two people who have known each other and have been friends for such a long time interact and communicate with each other. They used gestures and facial expressions they weren't even aware of. He'd always wanted a friend that he could talk with and understand as these two understand each other.
After all the boxes are empty, it's nearly 10 o'clock. Tessa informs Greg of this, and he checks the enormous Grandfather clock standing in the corner near the cashier's desk to be sure. It reads 9:45. His father will kill him if he isn't home in 15 minutes.
"Dude, you have to leave. Like, now," Tessa tells him gesturing for him to get his ass out the door this very instant. He nods and snatches his backpack off the floor where Tessa had left it.
He sends a half wave and quick, "See ya, Tess," to her and a, "Later, Thomas," to him as he darts out the door. He starts his Jeep and does his best to obey the speed laws on the way to his house, making it inside the door just as the clock strikes 10.
He looks at his father sitting in his recliner near the door, waiting for him to get home. He just looks at Greg, taking in the smug look on his face before glaring at him and switching off the television and going upstairs to join his wife in bed.
"Night, son," he says as he passes him on his way to the stairs.
"Night, pops," Greg responds as he heads to the kitchen to get a drink before he hits the hay. Meaning he goes to his bedroom and gets on his laptop and starts back and forth with Tessa and researching random things till he can't hold his eyes open any longer.
Greg's phone buzzes across his nightstand as his alarm sounds for him to get dressed for school. He glances at the clock and nearly chokes. Apparently he had snoozed the alarm several times in his sleep; the clock reads 6:40am.
He yanks on the jeans he'd worn the day before and a clean shirt and yesterday's flannel as well before stopping dead in his tracks. He realizes that he doesn't really need to be rushing like this because he has his jeep parked right outside. He slaps a hand to his forehead and, with exaggerated calmness, laces his boots onto his feet and slips on his jacket. He swaps out the day before's flannel for a clean one and just leaves the pants. He probably would've redressed in those pants again anyways.
By the time he does actually leave his house, Greg actually doesn't look all windswept and he's feeling pretty good about the day.
He should know better.