“Kuchi Kopi’s Den of Comics, you bag ‘em we’ll tag ‘em. Louise Belcher speaking.” She chomped on the last piece of sushi tucked into her bento box while leaning into the novelty phone booth she’d installed.
“Oh…I really won’t have to kill anyone, will I?”
Louise groaned at her sister’s confusion. “It’s a slogan, Tina.”
“But if you need me to kill something I could kill some germs. I do need to do some spring cleaning…”
“Tina, what do you need?” Louise groaned. She leaned against the counter of her shop and swept the interior with suspicious eyes. The place was thriving but she didn’t entirely trust her client base. The thing about becoming an adult meant that you knew exactly what sort of ridiculous BS kids could get up to. She didn’t trust a single one of them, though she really needed their money and thus only yelled at them occasionally when they messed up her stocks or left fingerprints on the collectibles case.
“My publisher wanted to know if you would mind stocking the latest issue of Ladies and Werewolves: The Bitey Stuff in your store…”
“I don’t think my shop’s the right place for your porny werewolf stories,” Louise said. But she said it lovingly. Tina was, after all, making a lot of coin off of this whole Amazon e-pub thing. She had a pretty devoted following of fans, all of whom were apparently willing to go to great lengths to read her butt-touching, zombie-kissing adventures.
“But they’re cool and quirky, and sure to become collector’s items someday!”
“…Tina, you’re reading a press release…”
“Oh. Was I obvious?”
“Yes, very,” Louise said. She’d seen the press release her own eyes, after all. At that point the front door let forth with a monstrous groan. “Got a new customer, gotta go. Just send a couple to Mom and I’ll shove them in next to the Twilight stuff.” Teenagers were almost hilariously unpredictable in their tastes, but there were almost always a couple of mopey teenagers who wanted to read something loaded with angst. She could easily sell them. No, scratch that – she was Louise Belcher! She could sell ice to penguins!
Then the stranger approached, his arms crowded with tabletop gaming manuals. “Hey,” a too familiar voice said, half-hidden behind a pile, “I was wondering if you had anything for the game Wonderful World of Mithrlos?”
“Third row Sh-WAH?” Louise’s mouth fell open as she was confronted by the presence of a long-forgotten enemy. Logan Berry Bush, alive and in the flesh and all grown up. He seemed to recognize her at the exact same moment and his expression took on a sour twist.
“Ugh,” he grumbled, heaving the books onto the counter. “If I knew YOU were working here I would’ve gone to the place on the other side of town.”
She narrowed her eyes at him and rang him up. “Questing For Savings? Ugh, they’re so…corporate!” She huffed. All of the townie kids blew their allowances there but they always came to Louise, dissatisfied and annoyed, for the hard to find stuff. “Thirty eighty five!”
“Yeah, and I bet I could find what I needed without choking to death on some dust bunnies!” he threw a gold card at her.
She swiped it and shoved the card into his face. “FINE! Go to stupid Questing! Their game section smells like butt!” She waved her fist at him as he retreated. “Like butt! THANKS FOR YOUR MONEY!”’’
The next day her door jangled open, and Logan hustled his way toward her as if she were the last boss on the final level of Kill For Dough 5. He was already talking to her before he hit the display case she was leaning on. “All right, I said some harsh stuff yesterday, but I still don’t have that guide book, so if you could just point it out to me I’ll buy it and be out of your hair.”
“HAH!” she grinned. “Come crawling back to me, did you?” She smirked and leaned on the case as he narrowed his eyes at her. “That’s right. They always come back to Louise!”
“Just tell me the stupid shelf again.”
“Nope. Watching you suffer is going to be way more fun.”
Logan glowered at her. She was then treated to the sight of him running around the shop trying to find the stupid thing. After she got a last cackle in over his foolishness, she came around the counter and stopped him right in front of the shelf.
“Bend,” she said, “and you will get what you seek.”
“Ugh, fine,” he growled. And as he bent over and she prepared to punt him in the rear with a well-aimed foot, she saw it.
And let out a garbled “oh no.”
“His butt. He had. A nice butt.”
Tina sat back and let out a low whistle. “Oh boy. When those cheeks suck a girl in you’re done for.”
“POKE MY EYES OUT!” Louise howled. “POKE THEM OUT SO I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO ADMIRE THEM AGAIN.”
“Here!” Gene yelled, handing her a plastic knife, “I just finished cutting pickles with these!”
“Louise!” cried Linda, as her daughter contemplated picking up the implement. “Don’t you dare hurt those pretty eyes of yours! We didn’t spent sixty dollars a year at the eye doctor so you could poke them out again!”
“Ugh, why didn’t I invent brain bleach?” She grumbled. “Stupid college rules about no chemicals in the dorm rooms.”
“I told you to stay in school but no,” Gene tisked. “You kids never listen to me!”
“Gene,” Bob called from the kitchen. “I know you don’t see your sisters that often, but could you please finish setting out the condiment bar? That funeral’s letting out in ten minutes.”
“They’re just going to cry all over the mayo dispenser again!”
Gene waved. “Toodle-oo, have a date with some onions!” He was only five inches away from Louise, Tina and Linda’s conversation but his humming gave them a level of mock-privacy.
“Back to me and my problems,” Louise said. “I don’t know how I’m going to when I see him again – and I’m gonna see him again, Wonderful World of Mithrlos has like, six hundred different little pieces to it. I’m sure his kid’s dumb enough to swallow a bunch of them.”
“Just do what I do,” Tina said breezily, “take all of your butt-related frustration and shove it into something creative. That’s how I came up with Harlots and Handles – the Re-Buttening.”
“Yeah no, I have too much of a life to do that.”
“I understand,” said Tina.
It was a week later when Logan came into the shop. “Uh, I went digging through a bunch of FAQs and I still don’t have any idea how to advance on my enemy.”
“You don’t advance in The Wonderful World of Mithrlos,” said Louise. “You crush your enemy from behind!”
“Fine. Teach me how to do that.”
Louise laughed, put down her cell phone and rummaged around under the table for a loose board and some pieces. “Start setting up your pieces. I’ll be yellow, you be red.”
“What if I want to be red?”
“Then you can teach yourself how to play!”
“Ugh, all right.” He frowned and carefully arranged the many little figures on their board. “Now what?”
“Now,” said Louise, “we decide between a pre-made campaign or make our own. For the sake of time, we’ll go with a pre-made one.” She slammed the guidebook onto the counter. “Now, you’ll need to start by naming your general and pointing him toward your objective – a dungeon, Doom Blood Mountain, whatever…”
Thirty surprisingly absorbing minutes later, Logan’s character had been taken through a full gamut of experiences and was now poised at the point of death.
“’…And as Alex the Amazing falls into the volcano and burns up, he realizes that everything he’s done hasn’t been in vain. He’s made sure that the people of the forest will live forever, and he’s secured his daughter’s future. His dying thought is of her face, her kind eyes. The nuns at the parish will raise her well.”
Logan’s mouth had actually dropped open. “Wow. You’re…kind of good at this.”
“You think so? I mean of course I am! I’ve been playing since I was sixteen.” Louise started putting away the hundreds of plastic men in their proper place.
“Oh yeah - didn’t I steal your dice one year?”
“And you threw them into a pot of Jimmy Pesto’s marinara sauce.” She laughed. “That was how my dad won that year’s Italian Festival.”
“Oh yeah.” Logan scratched his neck. “Hey Louise…I guess you might not be as lame as I thought you were.” He grabbed up the dice and ran out of the shop. “Okay, bye.”
“Bye!” Louise slapped herself when she heard her own chipper tone. “I mean, good riddance!”
But by then Logan was long gone.
“So wait, you think you like Logan? This is too confusing, I need more coffee.” Tina rubbed her temples.
“Have the triple espresso! It’s Phyllis Diller’s favorite.” Gene leaned in, putting himself forehead to forehead with Louise. “THEN WHAT HAPPENED?” he asked.
“Gene, stop bugging your sisters. Or sit down. Wait, what,” Bob peered over the order window. “You think you like Logan Bush? Didn’t he spend most of your childhood teasing you? I think he took your ears once , right?”
“Yeah, but we’re both totally mature adults now,” Said Louise.
“He only smells a little like butt,” Gene nodded wisely. “The best romance since Gentle Ben ran away with Flipper!”
“I think it’s sweet,” Linda said. “Every boy acts that way around a girl he likes!”
“Lin, didn’t a guy do that to you when you were nine? And didn’t you kick that guy in his groin and tell him never to talk to you again?” Bob asked.
“Yeah, but he deserved it! Louise’s Logan is different!”
“Can you please not call him that?” Louise moaned.
“We’ll call him Jim,” said Tina. “I always liked that name.”
Louise moaned and sank down behind the bench as Gene poured her more coffee.
Logan came back the following day with a bundle of stuff tucked under his arm. “Sorry I took your dice yesterday,” he said, plopping them onto the counter. “Uh…I got something for you too.” He shoved a plastic grocery bag in her direction, and Louise cautiously opened it. Inside was a brand-new pair of dice. “I felt kind of bad, when you reminded me what I did. I taught Logan Junior to be better than that – thought I’d lead by example.”
“Huh.” Louise took the dice, rolling them in her palm. They felt solid in her grip. “Maybe you’re not as terrible as I thought you were – sort of.”
Logan stood up a little taller. “And maybe you aren’t a gross little snot drop like I thought you were,” she said.
They stood there, nose to nose, staring at each other.
“Are you busy on Sunday night?”
“Pick you up at eight?”
“We’ll go to the new Chinese place near the wharf. Gene gave it a twelve out of ten on his food blog.”
Logan impulsively kissed Louise on the nose. “See you.”
She didn’t let out an outraged scream until he was blocks away, whistling his way down the street to his waiting car.