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Old 09-02-2020, 11:24 PM   #1
Izulde
Head Coach
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
The LARP (CK3)

"I'll sell it to you for tree fiddy."

"$350,000?"

"No. $3.50."

"...Are you joking?"

"Not in the least. Better you than my son, who would just turn around and sell it to an investor. Probably turn it into apartments or a parking lot or some other crap."

And that was how, for $3.50, I bought a bookshop two-thirds of the way across the country.

There's more to the story, of course. But right now, I'm too tired to tell it. Three days journey in a small U-Haul across the United States, with my chatty nephew, he of the chipmunk cheeks and chipped, yellow teeth from too many coffee straw chews and cigarettes, driving the whole way due to my being bereft of both car and license.

Initial impressions: A drop of 35 degrees from lower Southwest to Upper Midwest meant for a pleasant, beautiful late summer night and next day after we pulled in to the hotel, coated in grime and exhaustion. My items were promptly placed in storage that next day, and I was literally bone-aching tired. From the travel, from the loading and unloading, from the mattress firmer than a spinster schoolmarm. As of yet, I hadn't even inspected the new business I now officially owned.

Presently, it's early afternoon in this quiet, small town far more red than blue, like most locales of its sort in this country in recent years. I'm walking down the main street that leisurely runs for twenty blocks parallel to a river. The usual expected fellow businesses: bars - many with for sale signs due to the plague hurting their business, restaurants, assorted shops (one of those, on the 17th block, is mine), insurance agents, a couple of fast food joints - one national, one a regional chain, a lone gas station, a grocery store. This isn't in any sequence or semblance of anything - just random recall as I've traipsed up and down after my nephew left in a cloud of dust and smoke back home.

I've been told that the diner I'm now facing is one of the best breakfasts around. Unfortunately, it's lunch time. Doesn't matter. I'm hungry, I'm tired, and I'm tired of gas station food.

Door chime. I scan the seats and beeline for an empty booth far removed from other people. No one is masked except me, I belatedly notice as I flop down on the creaking leather.

"What can I get you to drink to get started?"

I look up into calm, dark blue eyes. I'm staring into them because they're so damn entrancing.

The owner of the eyes repeats the question. The voice is a young woman's. I blink. Blonde hair, curiously fashioned into not a ponytail, but a single, perfect oval at the back of her head. It's weird, but cool. Her face is expressionless. Probably because I'm acting weird as her hair. But then I always act weird.

"Uh... coffee."

"Sure thing." A smile, thank God. Though not the beaming, bright one of extroverts like my nephew. But the slight one of a smooth, self-assured girl who knows she's beautiful.

In the midst of perusing my menu, I hear repeated clangs. Looking over, I see the girl. She's constantly fumbling with silverware and dropping them. Odd.

Thirty minutes later, I've ordered and eaten a hamburger and onion rings. Throughout our interactions, she keeps that serene look, with a tendency to clasp her hands behind her back. The hamburger is good, the coffee great, the onion rings excellent, the girl? Well, a phenomenal server, bar the whole percussion of dropped silverware and the puff of falling napkins throughout my time there. That's okay - I'm clumsy, too.

I particularly appreciate the discretion with which she brings the bill. A careful, unobtrusive slide forward, the paper slip turned face down. It's a small gesture, but one I don't see too often these days, where servers slap the check down in open view face up, totally nonchalant.

That nonchalance I emulate as best as I can as I walk up to the counter. She breaks from her conversation with one of those old men who permanently perch themselves on counters - whether bar or diner - to take my card with that poised smile.

To avoid staring, I peer in my cashless wallet. There's a clatter. My debit card fell out of her hands and tumbled to the floor apparently. A swipe, with 25% tip, and signature later, I hand the machine back to her. She smiles broadly this time, her eyes lowered as she says, "Thank you. Have a wonderful day."

Me:



I don't know. I'm too scared to ask.

I do know her name is Nichole G. thanks to the receipt.

Or maybe it's not her. Maybe the name is wrong.

Nevermind. I'm going back to the hotel to sleep on that uncomfortable bed. Tomorrow, I'll get a look at what I bought and see just what I got myself into.

***Author's Note***
Yep, this is a Jestor AAR. That means we'll have a few posts of frame story before delving into the CK3 part of the AAR. I've set this up to allow for the AAR to continue even if (let's be honest - more like when) I get a game over. How that happens will eventually become clear.
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2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)

Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)

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Old 09-03-2020, 08:53 PM   #2
Izulde
Head Coach
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
I've never been able to sleep for very long in hotel beds - even when they pass for average. So it's no surprise when I'm at 6 am to greet the dawn (4 am in my old time zone). I stumble down to the modest breakfast bar of coffee, juice, day-old doughnuts, and oatmeal packets.

Too much work for oatmeal, so coffee and doughnut it is. Neither one tastes like anything. Fuel for the body and brain is all.

And then it's off five blocks north. A weatherbeaten, white sign made dingy grey by the last winter and neglect, informs me that this is Main Street Used Bookstore. So much for originality. Maybe I'll have to change the name.

My key thankfully works, though the lock is a bit stubborn before yielding. When I step inside, I'm enveloped in that smell of must and dust so common to old books. I'm not surprised to see hand-written signs in an array of colored marker designating sections. Industry standard in a business that has profit margins more slender than a heroin addict. Why am I doing this again?

The warped wood floors creak with every step as I wander around aimlessly. There's probably asbestos waiting to kill me. Oh well. I'm staring at a pile of World War 2 books that are haphazardly stacked on the floor due to bursting shelves when the bell tinkles overhead with someone opening the door.

It's a tiny woman with electric socket shocked white hair and a face writ with wrinkles.

"Hello! You must be the new owner! I'm Matilda Swan, though you can call me Mattie. Are you open yet?"

"Um, I guess?" No sense in turning down a potential customer.

"Wonderful!" She moves with surprising speed towards one of the sections, "A girl can't go without her romances, you know. Especially with my poor Harold in the ground 17 years and the unmarried men in this town thinking you're too old for sex. Not true, of course. But maybe that's too much for me to say."

"No, you're good."

Another beaming smile as she rummages through, as I see when I get within the prescribed six feet of her, paperbacks whose spines are mostly tattered as the presumed bodices on the covers.

"I'm so glad you've come to our little town. We've been losing a lot of people, you know. Hard times for everyone. And Jeff was so happy to be free of this place so he could move down to Florida. Disney is the best, he'd always say."

Indeed, the insanity of my predecessor is now portraying itself on the walls as I spot far too many images of America's most famous mouse. "Eeyore is better. I don't know why everyone likes Mickey so much."

"Should I get you some thistles then, Mr... ?"

"Besserdich. Barry Besserdich. My father loved alliteration."

"I don't know what that is, but good for him. I like it when people have repeating initials. It's so fun! And your girlfriend or wife can refer to your man part as a BB gun."

"..."

She turns at my silence, holding a few books in her hand, "Oh! I'm sorry! There I go again with my big mouth."

"It's all right. What did Mr... err.. Jeff charge for paperbacks?"

"A dollar fifty or 4 for $5 usually. I've got four here."

"Okay, let's just do that for now. If prices change after I review the books, the financial ones I mean, I'll let you know."

"Thank you, Mr. Besserdich! Or would you rather I call you Barry?"

"Barry's fine."

An Abe Lincoln in my hand later, the smell of lavender is in my nostrils and filling the shop. I'm once again alone. I stare at the Mickey Mouse prints on the walls. No idea why, but they irritate me to the point of wanting to tear them down. Why didn't Jeff take the damn things with him?

I spend the next hour carefully removing the prints. Maybe I can sell them. No other customers in that time frame, nor throughout the rest of the day. I get the feeling this wasn't a well-patronized place. Small wonder Jeff sold it so cheaply and ran off to A Small World.

Shoot. I should have asked Mattie if she knew anything about Nichole, if that's her name. Too late now.

Over the ensuing days, I work on straightening and organizing the current inventory, periodically studying the finances. Just as I anticipated, business was virtually nonexistent. Worse yet, as I find out in an unpleasant conversation I don't want to to rehash, there's a monthly rent and utilities obligation I have to make. Great. Now what?

On the bright side, because I don't have any animals, I'm able to quickly move out of the hotel and into the small apartment above the bookstore. This, too, has a rent of course, but it's much cheaper than the weekly rates. From one apartment to another. A house seems so far off.

Hell, just making enough money to survive - let alone be one of those modestly successful small businessmen - seems remote. I do get a few customers - mainly summer tourists' housewives who want to read while their husbands go fishing and the kids play outside or inside on their phones. I'm already quickly determining that the Romances section is nowhere near big enough and should be one of the largest parts of my inventory.

So much to do.

And then, two weeks later, just as I'm starting to get into a rhythm, the bell chimes normally when it should have tolled ominously.

Because that's the visit that comes to change everything.
__________________
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)

Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
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Old 09-04-2020, 08:09 PM   #3
Izulde
Head Coach
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Despite the faint, foolish hope that it might be my favorite waitress walking in, it wasn't.

No, destiny took the form of a boy who I assumed was a teenager. I can never tell ages. Judging from his bowl haircut, pockmarked face, and glasses that were thick rather than thicc, though... I had this kid marked out for a nerd. Not unlike me in school, actually.

"Hi. Do you have any RPG books? Mr. Winchester never let me see them. He said I was too young."

As it turned out, I did. They'd been oddly screened off behind a red, plastic divider that was marked Adult Only. On their right side was erotica and on their left was New Age books. The erotica I kept there, but moved the gaming books and New Age ones to remote corners of the store.

While I walked the kid over to the gaming section, newly printed in green marker in my horrible handwriting, I asked why he'd been blockaded before.

"Because Mrs. Cherryham said they were satanic and corrupted young minds. I think the only reason Mr. Winchester listened to her was because she has big hooters."

"...I see. Anything else I should know about outraged parents?"

The kid shrugged as he picked up one of the books and began thumbing through it.

"Dunno. Probably. Adults are weird. No offense."

"None taken. It's how these towns go, I suppose."

Another shrug and more book-paging. I was starting to feel awkward so I told him I'd be behind the counter if he needed anything.

Twenty minutes later, he came up with two books whose subject matter was Live-Action Role-playing.

"You LARP?"

"Not really. But I want to join the group that does. They're starting a new campaign soon. I hear there's actually girls that play."

I wanted to tell the kid he was going to be mighty disappointed. It didn't look like he was joining a Vampire LARP, where hot goth chicks, big-tittied or small, could at least be found. But why ruin it for him and risk losing a sale?

"That's cool. You know any of them?" I asked as I rung up his purchases.

"Probably."

"Any you like?"

"Don't know. I haven't played yet."

Fair point, I thought. We exchanged money and books now nestled in a plastic shopping bag from the local grocery store.

As he reached the door, he turned around.

"You should come play, too. Or at least watch."

"...Um... why?"

"So we can say we had an adult supervising. Nobody else will, and you're new, so it's not like you have a reputation to ruin yet."

...Little snot.

"I'll think about it."
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2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)

Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
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Old 10-10-2020, 09:21 AM   #4
Izulde
Head Coach
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
The pandemic struck with a vengeance before I could go and investigate the LARP the kid was talking about. He came in a week later to sulkily inform me that it'd been cancelled until further notice, and it could be months before it returned.



Likewise, the schools changed over to fully online instruction. Previously, it'd been that messiness called hybrid, which some of my customers would complain about to each other in different sections of the store. Me, they rarely spoke to beyond the necessity of asking where things were, the total of their purchases, and so on. Not that I minded. Odd as it may seem for someone involved in retail, I'm not overly fond of people in general. I see too little common sense, too much boasting, to be overly warm with all but a select few.



Speaking of those select few, I'd been to the diner once a week the past month and a half. Each time, I had a smiling waitress of dun hair and eyes. Good service and excellent food as that precious first time. But no Nichole G. I began to think that I'd perhaps hallucinated her - that she was a beautiful fever dream, a hallucination brought on by the pell-mell speed of my travel from west to east.



Then, one early Saturday morning, before I was due to open (Much as I wanted to, I couldn't financially afford to temporarily shutter - not even in the midst of the plague that raged through our town. All I could do was put up a "Masks Required" sign that a full 50% of them ignored and I didn't have the strength or courage to argue against. Not when I was so new), I found myself walking past the diner upon returning from a gas station stop for cigarettes.



What the hell, I thought to myself. Might as well go in. I missed supper here last night anyway.



My first sight was a table crowded with people - a grandfather, a grandmother, and two boisterous grandchildren no doubt thrilled to be having an early weekend meal with their heroes judging from the excited chatter of the pair.



Then I noticed a slender arm covered in a black sleeve. The dun waitress was rather thicker than that, so I allowed my eyes to travel up. Though her gaze was focused on sliding grandpappy his freshly filled coffee, I saw dark blue, and then a crown of blonde hair.



No loop funkiness this time. Rather, an A shaped tumbling of her hair, that due to its mid-level length as it framed either side of her face... Well, I'll be blunt. It looked like a poodle hairstyle. But from the way my heart fluttered, as it did so rarely once I passed into middle age at 30, I knew two things.



One: This was no fever dream.
Two: I was thoroughly and completely besotted.

You see, anyone can be attractive the first time you see them. Perhaps it's a favorite physical feature. Perhaps it's the novelty of a physical mannerism. Maybe it's the voice. But when someone is still so the second time you see them, well, hello and welcome to Crushland.



There was no outward sign of recognition when she came to my table. Makes sense. Last time I wore a hat and I had not yet let my salt and earth beard eat my face, as my BFF back West likes to snidely comment whenever I fall into hairy dissolution. But perhaps there was inner recognition. Nevermind.



Those eyes, darker than I remembered them, yet still blue, gazed into mine as she took my order of coffee and I found myself looking over the menu I'd completely forgotten the contents of (Fridays are fish-oriented here). A bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and a side of sausage links seemed to hit just the right morning mood.



Jangly-nerved, I proceeded to consume coffee, with periodic Nichole appearances for refills. I tried not to stare at her, though I was aware of her presence as she moved about the dining room. I fiddled with my phone, pretending to text people and scroll social media. I also wore a completely superfluous winter coat because I misjudged the morning's temperature.



I wanted to speak, to start a line of conversation. But I couldn't. I did, however, notice that she was not so fumble-fingered as our first meeting. In fact, not one clatter or crash did I hear. Maybe she got waitress training. Maybe I was an ephemeral resident of her memory and missed my chance.



The oatmeal bowl proved far bigger than I anticipated. Large enough to feed all four of the people at that first table. But I ate it all, no doubt looking like a great big honking pig.



Then I put my mask on, and I didn't realize until later that I'd put it on upside down. I can never go back. Also, I didn't have my card with me, so had to pay cash, and awkwardly asked for change - though of course I still tipped well. There was no broad smile and lowered eyes this time. Instead, a beat of silence, and then, "Have a good day," concern in her eyes. No doubt concern at the idiocy of my upside-down mask.



As I scurried out onto the street rather than the leisurely, controlled saunter I'd planned, two more thoughts occurred to me:

1. This never was going to be a thing unless I started talking.
2. I needed to shave. Badly.
3. She's a weekender.

That's three thoughts, not two. Nevermind. I'm getting back to the store and opening up. Hopefully no one comes in while I'm still gaspy-breathed like a beached whale-fish.
__________________
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)

Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
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