– Two Months Ago –
“But why, after the group’s protesting, did Hauro agree to meet this cloaked figure in the dark of night? From your brief samples, he appears rather cunning thus far. Logic has been his sharpest tool. Logic says to remain with his friends.” A voice spoke up among the metal chairs crammed together in the nook of Quinn’s Books and Brew.
Sitting in a desk chair with his book on his lap in front of a crowd of four people, Tristan tilted his head back and forth until he made eye contact with the questioning guest.
“Desperation. He’s in this new city filled with millions of people, and one out of those millions not only recognizes him, but is seeking him out with information about his family. Hauro will take any lead he can to find his family. He must; he has made it his life’s mission. So, despite what his friends might tell him, despite what logic tells him, Hauro’s love dictates his path.” Tristan tried to explain and entice the audience with his answer.
“You mean his obsession,” someone else chimed in.
Tristan recognized it as Quinn’s voice. He responded, “What’s the difference?”
A silence followed. Everyone sitting in the chairs looked back and forth between the two wondering what comes next. Nothing. Tristan concluded his book reading by thanking the audience for coming and hoping that they’d be interested in finding out what happens to Hauro. Quinn followed by asking them to browse all the books, drink lots of coffee, and help themselves to the selection of bars and goodies on the back table.
Tristan walked up to Quinn. They watched people scatter. One person left. Two people remained seated, chatting too quietly for them to hear. The fourth person, the one who asked the question, roamed the bookshelves with a coffee in one hand and a scotcheroo in the other.
“Thanks,” Tristan remarked. “I just don’t know what I’d get done without you.”
Before Quinn’s heart could warm and stomach flutter and as much as she wanted them to, she killed the thought. Her head told her heart, just friends. “I just wish I could have gotten more people to show up.”
“I can’t believe this book is a book!” Grinning, he held a copy in his hand. “I’m one step closer to getting Emily back. It’s just a matter of time now.”
“Tristan…” Quinn tried to tune out his last comment but failed.
“Stop. Be happy for me, just for today.” Tristan quickly chimed in before Quinn could add anything. “And, your comment back there? Nice try, but there is so a difference between love and obsession. I love Emily, and I gotta show her that it was worth it. That’s all.”
“I know.” Quinn resigned. “I just don’t want to see you hurt.” Quinn decided to add one small point, “and I feel as though Emily is the cause of that.”
“You’re right,” Tristan spoke sincerely. “She ripped my heart out. But I made her leave. My sadness isn’t an effect of her leaving. Her leaving was an effect of my writing. I caused it all. And now I have to fix it. I will do whatever it takes. Don’t worry. I got this.”
“You say whatever it takes?” the customer spoke while roaming the shelves and hearing Tristan’s rising, emboldened voice from the back.
Quinn and Tristan became aware again of the other people in the store. Only, after they looked around, they realized only one remained, the one talking and coming towards them with a crumpled napkin sticking out of his coffee cup.
“Excuse me, this is a private conversation,” Quinn spoke at the customer.
“Pardon me,” the customer replied. “This store is quaint, and nary a sound travels too short of mine ears.”
Tristan took a step back as he heard the distinct accent of the customer. Quinn leaned forward on the counter to hear more.
“You see… your predicament pains me greatly. We are kindred spirits. I, too, know what it’s like to have lost true love, unconditional love. Indeed, I take responsibility. It was but my own arrogance which led me down this lonely path. I see that now. But take heed weary traveler. I have found remedy for such pain. If you could indulge an old soul, let me share with you some of my wisdom.”
Tristan rolled it around in his mind. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to hear a fresh and sympathetic point of view,” Tristan remarked, hoping Quinn felt that jab.
Quinn scoffed. “I’ll start cleaning up.”
Tristan and the customer watched Quinn walk off.
“She seems to be weary of my presence,” whispered the customer.
“No, it’s me. She doesn’t think I should even try to get Emily back, my, uh, ex fiancée,” replied Tristan.
“She doubts true love?” the customer quietly inquired.
“Well, she just looks out for me. We’ve been friends for a long time. You know?”
“Let me offer you my first piece of advice. Love is the only thing worth living for. You find what you love, and you do what you can to keep it,” the customer clenched his fists in front of his face. “You,” he paused, pointing at Tristan with an aged, gnarled finger. “Do what is necessary to keep it.” Then, he brought his hands up and shrugged. “Otherwise, what’s the point of life?”
Tristan let the words linger. He felt slightly validated, his quest for love vindicated by this man, a random man he just met, yet their meeting seemingly kismet. But, that one word confused him. “Necessary?” asked Tristan.
“Yes, dear boy. You may believe you’ve hit bottom or you can’t sink any lower into this abyss. But, I mean to tell you, it’s only when you’ve lost all belief than you’ll discover any means necessary to acquire that haunting possession you desperately seek.”
“And when I’ve reached that point?” Tristan inquired.
“That’s my second piece of advice. The remedy I have concocted for pain, for loss.”
“What is it?” Tristan pressed, his voice filling the store.
Quinn, who had tried to tune out the conversation happening on the other side of the store, walked back over to both the man she didn’t know and the man she felt she didn’t know anymore.
Tristan recognized that look on her face. The customer read the look on her face. Anyone could have deciphered the emotions behind those pursed lips, that furrowed brow, and her reddening cheeks. Tristan and the customer turned to each other. Tristan wasn’t sure who was going to talk next; he was afraid to be the first.
“If your love for this girl is boundless, seek me out and I shall reveal all to you, and you alone,” the customer concluded the conversation by flipping a business card between two of those same gnarled fingers and slipping it into Tristan’s shirt pocket. Then he found the door.
“I think you should just go now too.” Quinn sighed as she watched the customer leave.
“But I can help you finish. It’s the least I can do.” Tristan replied.
“Please, Tristan. Just go for now. I will call you later.”
“What about the books?” Tristan said, his hand resting on his copy.
“Just give them some time, a month or two. We’ll cool down, meet up, and see how things are progressing.”
“But what am I supposed to do until then?”
“Tristan, I’m not going to be able to tell you what to do all the time. Figure it out.”
– Present Day –
Tristan opened his eyes. What time is it? he thought. His arm slumped from the bed to the floor and began grasping for his phone. He lifted it to his line of vision, the light nearly blinding him. 2:00 a.m. He slept all day since returning home from that, that, whatever that was in the park. As he let the light from his phone pry open his eyelids, he became aware of just how awake he felt. He sat up in his bed, moving his pillows to lean against. Scrolling through his phone, nothing kept his attention. Tristan decided to see if he could fall back asleep by pretending to watch something on Netflix. Instead, he’d fall asleep from an endless loop of scrolling, hopefully. Tristan leaned over and reached on the floor for the remote. Right next to the remote lay his shirt. Tristan grabbed that too. As the Smart TV loaded Netflix, Tristan put on his shirt and buttoned it, his palm brushing against his breast pocket.
Tristan stopped everything. He threw off the covers, flipped on the light switch, feeling slight shellshock, and shucked heaps of clothes from the floor in search of a shirt. His second shuck produced the shirt in question. He picked it up, felt the shirt pocket, and pulled out the business card. Tristan read: