The Cellar, Athens, Ohio
3:49 p.m. June 5th, 2021
Michelle moved through the cases in the dusty shop, sniffling every so often to clear the dust from her nose. She loved this shop, and so did Adam; you never knew what you’d find around the next corner, or in the next case.
On her last visit to “The Cellar”—the pawnshop beneath the county courthouse that had seemingly been there forever, and by the dust very well could have been—she had been with Adam, and therefore had to work very hard to suppress her pleasure when she’d found exactly what she’d been looking for in one of the glass cases hidden in one of the ever-so-multitudinous corners in the back of the shop—how could a seemingly square shop have so many corner’s?—a man’s gold wedding band, striped with platinum in the most amazing pattern she’d ever seen. It would be perfect!
“That old man is staring at my butt again!” Chelsea hissed from behind her. She hated this shop because of all the dust, but the only time she wasn’t trailing after Michelle was when she was curled up in some guy’s bed… and even then she’d given some gross hints that Michelle might be welcome. But Michelle felt almost like she was the two-months-younger girl’s mother; they had developed a fast friendship after their actual mothers had died together in a car accident fourteen years before, and had been virtually inseparable since.
Michelle smiled. “Well, if you didn’t wear your pants so he could actually see it, maybe he wouldn’t.”
Chelsea sniffed eloquently at this, then sneezed because of the dust. She even sneezed prettily: a little, high-pitched “choo” sound.
“Eww,” she said in her high voice as she searched for a tissue in her purse. “I hate this place!” She shuddered theatrically and dabbed at her nose, careful not to smear the makeup that she had probably had to wake up two hours early to apply.
“Well, you coulda waited outside! If the ring’s here, it won’t take long to find, and if it’s not, I’d’ve been right out.”
Chelsea shrugged, and Michelle smiled in amusement at the old man’s reaction. He caught his breath at the sight of what that shrug did to her friend’s more-than-generously displayed anatomy. She liked the old man: he was unsubtle as a kick in the teeth and always friendly to her and Adam when they came in to gawk yet rarely buy. He didn’t seem to care one whit about security though; every case was left unlatched, and the value of some of the items in the small store could be measured in the tens of thousands at least, she was sure. When she’d asked about this he’d responded, “You know? It’s never really come up.”
Finding the case she was seeking, Michelle felt her heartbeat increase with nerves; could someone have bought it already? Could it have been stolen, what with the complete lack of security? But no: as she rounded the case, there it was, displayed in a small, black jewelry box between a dagger with a ruby the size of Chelsea’s thumbnail in the hilt—her own thumbnail being chewed half off—and a hand-calligraphied tome from the Dark Ages.
She swung the door open and reached inside to pick up the small box. She was surprised at the heft of it and nearly dropped it, but recovered quickly.
“Ooh, that’s pretty,” Chelsea enthused, stepping uncomfortably close as she looked at the ring in Michelle’s hand. Michelle was oddly reassured by this; she had a terrible sense of aesthetics, she didn’t really give a damn about what things looked like so long as they worked like they should. But Chelsea had an eye for beauty that was never wrong.
“You really think so?” Michelle asked tentatively as she surreptitiously stepped a more comfortable distance from her best friend. “You think he’ll like it?” Chelsea nodded with a disdainful look; she had convinced her friend to start dating Adam, but she made no bones about disapproving of the direction the relationship had taken. Michelle sometimes laughed about it. Chelsea had gotten her to date Adam with the hope that she’d finally lose her virginity, only to find that Adam was about the only guy in the twenty-first century that was even more ambivalent about sex than Michelle herself was, and that they were planning on waiting until marriage for their first time.
“Are you sure about this?” Chelsea asked. “With the way you two are, you’re never gonna get divorced, and forever is a long time if he sucks in bed… in the bad way, I mean, of course.” She added this last bit in with a wicked little grin.
Michelle flushed at this comment from her friend; her hints and suggestions had gotten less and less subtle as the years had gone by without her virginity being disposed of. Chelsea had gotten rid of hers at almost the first opportunity. “Sex just isn’t that important to us, Chelsea.”
“Wait until you try it to say that,” she quipped back, wicked grin spreading.
Michelle’s cheeks burned at this uncomfortable topic, and she knew how indefatigable her friend could be once she’d taken the bit in her teeth on something. Within days of every date she and Adam—the only boy she had ever dated—had gone out on, Chelsea had wrestled every slightest detail out of her about what had occurred on the date, and then critiqued them. She had instigated almost every move Michelle had ever made in the relationship, and if Adam ever found out how much she knew about them he would be mortified.
Deciding ignoring this topic was the best way to retain whatever last vestiges of dignity remained to her, she turned her back and walked up to the counter, spine stiffening at the low, throaty chuckle that followed her. Even when Chelsea laughed she sounded like she wanted to drag someone into bed.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Mcgilicuddy,” Michelle greeted the old man as she approached the counter.
“Good afternoon, Michelle.” He flashed his gap-toothed grin at her, and then leered lasciviously at her friend, “Chelsea.”
“Eww,” Chelsea turned with a theatrical little shudder and walked away from the counter. Old man Mcgilicuddy visibly enjoyed staring at her bottom as she went to wait peevishly at the door, arms crossed and face furious.
“I hate to see her go… but I love to watch her leave…,” Mr. Mcgilicuddy said in a far-away voice, as though quoting. Michelle burst out with a loud laugh at this outrageous comment from the dirty old man.
“You’re an incorrigible, old dog, you know that?” Michelle asked, incredulous at his comment, though she had heard similar from him on previous occasions.
“I am what I am,” he replied to her with a leer. “But you are here for business, yes? Got my ring there in your pocket?” He always sounded like he was quoting some old book or other, and on rare occasions like now she recognized a quote, but it was no real surprise that he’d read the Lord of the Rings.
Michelle shook her head, smile stuck on her face as always when chatting with him. As much as the old man seemed not to care about security, he never missed a detail; every time she’d approached the counter, he’d spotted what she’d picked out regardless of where it was secreted about her person.
“Yup, how much for it?” she inquired, annoyed at the sudden burst of butterflies in her stomach at the question of money. She and Adam were not exactly poor, but she wouldn’t like to see what would happen to them if either of them lost one of the part-time jobs that supported them in this down economy.
Suddenly displaying a mysterious expression, he inquired, “Well that depends; who are you buying it for. And why.”
Michelle blushed and looked up at the old man; she knew his game. He knew why she was buying the ring, but wanted to see if she’d tell him. “I’m buying it for Adam.”
Eyebrows rising in feigned surprise, he continued, “Has the shy lad proposed? It’s a man’s wedding band you know.”
He was going to make her say it. “No, but if I waited for him to propose we would both still be single this time next decade.”
Mr. Mcgilicuddy nodded knowingly and sighed. “I can’t let it go for… less than… fifty dollars.”
This time it was her turn to be surprised, “It is worth one hell of a lot more than that! I can’t take it for that little!”
Pinning her with his eye, he seemed to count every penny in her pocket, every dollar in her bank account. “I know how the economy is, dear; you take it for fifty… consider the rest of it a wedding present.” At this he leered wantonly at Chelsea, who flared like a sunset and turned her back again, which did not lessen his leer in the slightest… though it did shift downward by a degree or two. “If you feel the need to give me somethin’ else, just bring Chelsea by more often. She keeps my old heart ticking.”
Michelle laughed again and felt the sting of tears in her eyes at the old man’s generosity, but knew if she said anything she’d just embarrass them both. Screw it, she thought, let him be embarrassed. She stood on tiptoe and reached behind the counter to grab the old man in a hug, then released him with a laugh when he struggled, announcing, “Leave off, girl!” But he had tears of his own in his eye when she released him. “Need to dust this place.” He coughed wetly, clearing his throat.
Michelle pulled out her wallet from the back of her pants—she never carried purses; she couldn’t stand them—and laid out two twenties and a ten on the counter. For once her wallet actually had some green in it, as she had pulled five hundred out of the bank, and had hoped to be able to put the rest of the cost on some kind of payment plan or something. She felt such relief at the old man’s generosity she couldn’t speak; he was definitely getting an invitation to the wedding. Heck, she’d put Chelsea in a skimpy, bridesmaid outfit for the old dog.
Turning with a wave she scurried quickly from the shop, anxious to see Adam, though she intended to wait a bit before actually proposing. He would be so surprised!
As she passed, the fuming Chelsea fell in behind her without a word.
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Genre – Dark Fantasy
Rating – R
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