Fun fact! The shop that Rilla works for – Love Letters – was actually my final for my Small Business 101 class. I got a 4.0 on that project – and for that class – and if I had a clue how to put together the capital, probably would have tried to open the business.
Lightning by the Sea, cont.
A few hours later, a bit further north and to the west of I-5, Nerissa was desperately trying to ignore the war between the gulls and the pigeons that was being staged on her balcony in the hopes of acquiring a few more moments of sleep. She wasn’t succeeding.
The battle of the birds aside, the bedroom itself was quiet save for the steady breathing of the woman lying still in a bed that seemed too large for what little it held. She groaned and rolled over to stare at the gauzy canopy that obscured her view of the ceiling. The bedroom around her was a study in creating atmosphere, though it was the thrifty DIY version. Aside from the canopy draped around the bed, mirrors from import stores decorated the walls and various Moroccan style glass lamps hung from the ceiling on chains, and furniture that probably once graced a second hand store had been repainted a deep mahogany with touches of gold gilt. A great deal of work had been put into maintaining a particular look in this room, which made the very modern alarm clock all the more out of place. At 8:00 am, the seemingly anachronistic clock began to beep shrilly, and Nerissa reluctantly sat up.
Silencing the alarm with a gentle tap of her fingers, she then ran those same fingers through her tangled mass of hair. She sighed and glared at the clock for a moment, then rolled her shoulders before swinging her legs around the side of the bed and standing up. After the obligatory stretching and scratching, she stumbled over to a soft, striped, comfortable looking cotton robe that also viciously clashed with the room around her and after donning it, continued out into the hall.
The hallway was still pretty quiet – the college girl she shared this floor and bathroom with was either gone to an early class or sleeping in while the opportunity presented itself. After a quick shower and a few minutes twisting her hair up into pin curls, Nerissa headed back to her room with a little more speed and purpose. Clothing had been laid out the night before, and after wiggling a cute hat down over her pinned hair, she checked the mirror and decided that it would do.
Boots in hand, Nerissa moved as quietly as she could down the hall and then down the stairs. The house was two stories plus a basement, with two renters per floor, a small common living room, and a much larger common kitchen. While stepping into said kitchen, it became apparent that she wasn’t the only one awake.
“Morning, Rilla,” said the doe-eyed, amber-skinned beauty with an extreme case of bed hair sitting at the table with a cup of black coffee.
Nerissa – or more accurately, Marilla though most people naturally shortened it to Rilla – stifled a giggle at the hair. “Morning, Karin. You’re up early.”
Nodding, Karin tried to run a hand through her hair, and failed. “God, what a mess. Yeah, up early, though not of my own choosing. I have an interview in a couple hours, for a job that does not involve me taking my clothes off. Fingers crossed that it goes well.”
“Fingers duly crossed,” Rilla replied, holding up her hand. “Though I thought you liked stripping? Or at least, liked the money.”
Sighing, Karin nodded. “I do like stripping, and I love the money. However, I hate the customers.”
“That’s fair. Well, as stated, fingers crossed for you. If you get the job but miss taking your clothes off to music, let me know, I’ll get you an audition with Keyhole Peek-a-boos.”
Karin smiled. “That could be fun. I like the idea behind burlesque – feels like it takes the bits I like about stripping and adds more art. Well, some do, anyway. Why are you up?”
Fishing a crumpet out of a bag in the fridge, Rilla popped it in the toaster then proceeded to hunt for preserves. “I’m opening today. Traded shifts so that I wouldn’t have to run straight from work to last night’s show, but I thought he was asking me to cover next Saturday.”
Karin winced. “So you’re pretty low on sleep, then. Well, if you’re going to catch the bus, you might want to get moving.”
Rilla slathered marionberry preserves on her crumpet, then sat down long enough to pull on her boots before grabbing her breakfast and heading out. “All right, I’m off! Let me know if you want that audition!”
She had to jog a bit to catch it, which left her panting and a bit flushed, but the bus did not leave without Rilla on it. In fairness, she could walk to work – it was a bit of a hike, but she had done it before. However, that would mean having to get up earlier, and Rilla didn’t necessarily see the merit in that. She headed towards the back, to get a seat near the rear door, and proceeded to covertly eat her crumpet in defiance of the large signs saying that no food or drink was allowed. She was ill-manneredly licking the remaining jam from her fingers when the bus pulled up at her stop, and with a quick shout of “Thank you!” she was out the door and down the street.
Love Letters had only been open for about the past six months, but had been enjoying a fair amount of success due largely to the novelty of the place and the quaint, Neo-Victorian decorating scheme that made it a big hit with the local Steampunk groups (of which there were many). They were a bookstore, but they were a very specialized bookstore. Love Letters carried only romance and erotica novels, and nothing else. Now, they could be any variety of romance or erotica, and they had everything from fantasy to horror to historical, but if it didn’t have romance or erotica somewhere in its classification, they didn’t carry it. Rilla found this concept endlessly amusing, and when the owner (who had been a regular customer of the shop Rilla used to work at) tried to woo her away from her old job, Rilla relented. She was just grateful there wasn’t a period dress code – corsets were fun, but not while restocking.
Unlocking the front door, Rilla darted in and locked it up again so that she could make a circuit and be sure everything was ready before customers were allowed to invade. There was a shipment of books that came in yesterday and never got stocked, but they were already entered into the computer so the hard part was over. The store boasted a little hot chocolate bar, and Rilla checked to make sure they were good on milk and chocolate, but the owner was fairly fastidious about that. Confident that everything was settled, Rilla returned to the front door, unlocked it, and flipped the sign to “Open”. Then she went about putting the new books in their place.
The morning was slow. While they never tended to have an intense influx of customers, it seemed that the morning was even slower than usual. By noon Rilla had made two sales, to the only two people who had come into the store. So it was much to her not only surprise but also delight to see Karin sail in at 12:15 with a bag of take out from the dim sum place down the way.
“Bless your gorgeous head,” Rilla exclaimed as she opened up a box with two steamed bao and three shumai. “How did the interview go?”
“Fantastically,” Karin answered between bites. “Or at least, I think it did. I could be lying to myself. I don’t think so, though.”
Rilla could only nod, her mouth full of barbecue pork. They ate in appreciative silence for a moment, until the bell on the door jingled, signalling that through some miracle someone else had actually entered the shop. Swallowing, Rilla stood up from the bar they had been sitting at, dusted herself off, and turned around only to pause in surprise.
“Chris,” she asked, her voice clearly stating her surprise and confusion. “What are you doing here?”
Chris shook his head, flinging water out of his short blond hair. “Dammit, I need to buy a hat. Hi, Nerissa.”
Sighing and ignoring the confused look on Karin’s face, Rilla stepped forward. “We’re not at the theater, so please refer to me as Marilla or Rilla. The entire point of a stage name is to only go by that name when on or near a stage. Why are you here?”
“Rilla,” he repeated, smiling. “You know, I always wondered. Look, I’m sorry to bug you at work, and I swear I’m not stalking you. I was having lunch with Trina, mentioned that I wanted to get a hold of you, and she told me you were only two doors down.”
“Oh, I see.” Rilla relaxed visibly, and motioned for Chris to follow her around a row of shelves back to the hot chocolate bar. Doing so brought him into line of sight with Karin, and Rilla couldn’t help but notice he almost tripped. “Chris, this is my roommate Karin. Karin, this is Chris, one of the studio groupies.”
Chris glared at her. “I thought we agreed to stop the ‘Chris is a whore’ line of discussion.”
“That was last night. New day, new rules.”
Karin was looking Chris over like she might not mind the implications, and Rilla rolled her eyes before sitting back down to her lunch. “So, Christopher, why did you need to see me?”
Breaking off his admiration of the exotic temptress, Chris redirected his attention back to Rilla and grinned. “I need to know the times and dates for your next couple of shows. You have an admirer.”
“Oh,” Rilla asked with a certain skeptical humor to her voice. “I’m going to guess it’s not you.”
“No, I only let any woman turn me down once. Then I move on.”
Karin leaned in towards Rilla. “You turned him down,” she asked sotto voce.
“Yes, some time ago.” Rilla looked back up at Chris. “Well, fine, if it’s not you, who could it be?”
The smug look on Chris’s face almost begged to be smacked off, but it also helped her make the leap in logic she had been missing. Her own smirk disappeared and was replaced by that expression of slightly stunned surprise he had seen on her the night before, and the same faint flush to her cheeks.
Karin couldn’t stand it. “Will someone please let me in on what this is all about!?”
Words seemed to be failing Rilla, so Chris obliged. “My friend Marius. I took him to the show last night and by the time we left, Rilla here had a new fan. So, Rilla, when are you on next?”
Attempting to cover her discomfort, Rilla adjusted her hat and picked up her second bun. “Well, I don’t have another show at the theater for three weeks. The Ocean is over, time for a new run. However, I’m doing something with Keyhole Peek-A-Boos on Wednesday at the LSC if you can’t wait that long.”
Chris grinned. “Fantastic. We’ll see you then. I promise not to come in here and make a nuisance of myself too often, but I might say hi when I’m in the neighborhood if that’s all right.”
Rilla smiled a little. “That’d be fine.”
Turning to Karin, Chris’s grin became more charming. “If you happen to also be there on Wednesday, I would love to buy you a drink.”
Karin smiled in response. “I might see you there, then.”
Nodding, Chris waved and headed back out into the street as Rilla glared at his back and munched viciously on her bun. After a moment she became very aware of the fact that Karin was watching her. Moreover, Karin was watching her with a rather unnerving focus.
Rilla swallowed. “What!?”
“Who is he,” Karin demanded, grinning. “Not Chris, this guy he’s talking about! I’ve never seen you get like that at just the mention of some guy. Granted, we don’t hang out that much, but we’ve been to each other’s shows a few times, and I’ve seen you flirt with people but I have never seen you go all quiet and blushing!”
Rilla brought her hand up to her brow. “And the humiliation just keeps coming,” she muttered, then sighed once again and looked up at Karin. “His name is Marius. I don’t really know anything about him, we didn’t speak for long. Pieter came into the dressing room last night saying Chris wanted to ask me something. He didn’t bother telling me that Chris wanted to introduce me to someone, so I came out quickly in my robe. He’s… well, he’s really good looking.”
Karin didn’t speak, but she did lean forward with her chin propped in her hands. It was the most adorable listening posture Rilla had been confronted with in some time, and so felt forced to continue.
“All right, where do I start,” Rilla mused, leaning back in her chair and biting her lip as she thought. After a moment, she nodded to herself. “Well, he has this hair. It’s like a lighter chestnut brown and thick. Not very long, just long enough for you to tell he has some natural curl. The desire to run my hands through it was pretty intense. And he has these gray green eyes that would seem cold if his face wasn’t so friendly. Strong jaw, full lips, clean shaven. Broad shoulders. He had a very striking manner as well, an almost old fashioned quality to the way he spoke and moved.”
Karin looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. “That makes sense. You need someone a little old fashioned.”
Looking up mid bite, Rilla pulled back from lunch. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Exasperation clear in her expression, Karin looked Rilla over. “Have you seen yourself lately? I mean, really. You have so much vintage clothing that you’re a pair of horn rimmed glasses and a PBR away from hipsterdom. Your bedroom looks like it came straight out of some movie like Jupiter’s Darling.”
“I’m surprised you know that reference,” Rilla smirked.
“You’re not helping the hipster argument with that,” Karin returned, grinning. “In all seriousness, I think I’m right. Even if I’m not, this is fantastic. You’ve dated three guys in the past year, none of which lasted very long, and I think you only went out with them because they asked and you found them vaguely attractive.”
Opening her mouth to protest, Rilla paused and considered. “No, you’re right about that.”
Smiling, and clearly pleased with herself, Karin tipped up her chin and tossed back her hair. “I am wise. I know things.”
Rilla stuck out her tongue and then went about cleaning up the remains of her lunch. “So are you going to come on Wednesday? I can get you in for free if I know for certain you’ll be there. We’re allowed a comp most weeks, and I haven’t used any of mine in a while.”
Thinking it over a moment, Karin nodded. “Yeah, I’ll come. If I’m going to consider auditioning I should go to a few more of their shows.”
“Really? You’re not just going to hit on Chris?”
“Oh, I’ll do that too.”
“I’m sure you’ll do far more than just hit on him.”
Karin put her hand to her chest and reeled back as if she had been struck. “Rilla! How could you! Just because I’m an exotic dancer does not mean I’m easy!”
Arching an eyebrow, Rilla smiled. “Karin, I would never imply that being an exotic dancer made you easy. You’re a sexually liberated woman and I respect that, and I know that it would be true no matter what your profession.”
Karin’s eyes twinkled. “Oooh, that was a good recovery! Well done. As for Chris, well, I’m guessing he’s not actually a whore. What’s the rumor mill around the troupe say about him?”
Shrugging, Rilla went about wiping off the counter. “All good things, actually. Not the best lay on the planet, from what I hear, but pretty good and willing to listen. He’s also conscientious – always uses protection, doesn’t assume he’s staying the night but doesn’t immediately take off either, things like that.”
“But commitment phobic?”
“I would think that went without saying.”
Another grin. “Well, as for Chris, we’ll see how he behaves.”
The bell above the door jingled again, and Karin stood up. “I should go. This was nice, though. We should hang out more often.”
Rilla nodded. “This was nice. Oh, and thank you for lunch. I’ll see you at the house.”
Scooting around the bookcases, Karin headed out the door as Rilla came out to greet what turned out to be the UPS guy. She clamped down on the long sigh that was threatening and signed for the stack of packages that had come in. The owner had a tendency to order things whenever the mood was upon him, and so there was a good likelihood that more packages would be arriving throughout the week with nowhere to store the excess. That was retail for you.
The rest of the day was spent finding homes for the new books and heart-shaped spatulas (which went next to the section full of aphrodisiac cookbooks). A few more customers, but by far it was a hopelessly slow day, and Rilla winced at the certainty that it was a financial loss for the owner. The store closed at five, so by 5:15 she was heading down the windy street to her bus stop.
One short bus ride up a steep hill later, Rilla was walking with purpose towards her house, shivering as the wind managed to keep finding ways into her coat, despite her best efforts to stay bundled. It seemed that the winter this year came quite suddenly. Over the course of a couple days, the temperature dropped by about fifteen degrees, and the weather had gone from cool early autumn to cold early winter. It was not often bitterly cold in the Pacific Northwest, and they certainly didn’t have to contend with drifts of snow or anything of that sort, but Seattle streets were ugly and treacherous when icy, and if it was already this cold Rilla was not looking forward to the implications of what awaited them in the next few months.
Picking up her step, she not-quite jogged down the street and up the walk to her front door. Once inside, the heat hit her like a wave which inspired momentary irritation. While it was a pleasant change from the outside, it also meant that someone had turned up the heat again. Rilla made a mental note to have a little chat with the likely culprits about how they would be expected to contribute more to the utility bill if they kept it up.
Peeling off her coat and scarf, Rilla hung everything up in the hall closet and made her way into the silent kitchen. The house was very quiet, but there was evidence that people were around – empty wet mugs in the rack by the sink, a book on the counter. Rooting about in the kitchen, Rilla went about the process of making herself a cup of tea before heading up to her room. Once there, she pulled off the hat and began unpinning her hair. Just as she was unwinding her last curl, the phone rang.
She checked the phone before answering to see who it was and what name she should be expecting to be addressed as. The number wasn’t in her contact list, and wasn’t one she recognized, but it was local so she decided it was worth the potential risk.
“Hi, Nerissa? It’s Rachel. Well, Bunny DeVil. You know, from the burlesque troupe?”
Rilla smirked, wondering where else she could have possibly thought she might know someone named Bunny DeVil. “Yes, I remember. Hi, Rachel. What can I do for you?”
“Oh, good, I’m glad I had the right number! Anyway, the troupe received an open invitation to a party tonight, and we wanted to see if you could come! Will you? Lita thinks it could be good exposure, given the sponsors and all.”
“Lita thinks everything is good exposure,” Rilla returned, amused. “I’ll come, though. I had planned on going out tonight, but hadn’t yet decided on where I’d be going, so it works out.”
“Fantastic,” Bunny gushed. “We’re planning on being there around nine or so. See you then!”
“Bye.” Rilla set down the phone and looked out the window, consider what to wear and how it would handle the rain that was already coming down.