This Book Is Stupid


francois_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title This Book Is Stupid
Synopsis Unlike Harry Potter, where people only hated the epilogue. Francois attempts to explain himself and doesn't get that far.
Date February 7, 2009

Ichihara Bookstore

Nestled in the heart of the main street marketplace, the Ichihara Bookstore is an old and crooked structure pressed between two newer high-rise tenement buildings. The old glass windows and creaking wooden door on the shop's front give it a rustic and old-world feel. Catering to both antique books and newer prints, the narrow aisles and tall shelves are packed full of literature. A single shelf for periodicals lies near the front counter, while signage both out front by the register and in the back of the store indicates that tarot card reading is done on-site at request for ten dollars per reading.

Behind the old and weathered wooden counter that contains the register and a small stack of reserved books, a narrow wooden staircase leads upwards to a black wooden door with peeling paint, revealing red paint in narrow strips beneath, a rope crossing in front of that door hangs with a small sign that reads, "Private".

There's a new kid at the counter today. By 'kid,' the reader may take to mean he is a specimen from that demographic of underachieving quasi-intellectual twenty-somethings recently-popularized by Apatow films, unusually handsome and youthful-looking, except that he has a rather cartoonish mutilation of his face. The left corner of his mouth is slit open an extra inch from where the fullness of his lips end, exposing teeth framed within a snarl of coarse scar tissue. It's like he thinks he is Batman, or Two-Face, and went Marvel-crazy on his own head with a bit of costume glue.

Except, you know, that he hasn't, and one might wonder a little why the proprietor chose to hire such a perturbing-looking salesman. Appealing to the 'weird crowd' that tarot readings and immigrant store names trend toward maybe. Pity, possibly. Either is possible.

Perhaps it's a trial-run. It's not like Ichihara is actually open; the will-be clerk is merely visible through the plateglass, boasting a proud CLOSED sign, while he alphabetizes and unboxes the latest slew of vampire novels. Few people are wont to look through or try the door anyway, this hour of a Saturday. It is preposterously early: the streets outside bustling with couriers, bankers, cops carrying boxes of fresh donuts, and those that would normally constitute the rush hour of yellow schoolbuses, carpools, and hastily-hailed taxis are busy being asleep right now.

Teo is wearing a shapeless hoodie, his puffy winter jacket heaped up on the chair behind the counter and his great shaggy head is stooped over the open panels of a nondescript shipping box. All of the books therein are flipped over and tiled as exact copies one of the other except for one, turned over, that he can read the synopsis on the back. It is not the Twilight series, but reminds him of it. The Vampire's Apprentice. Hneh hneh. He's kind of one of those. Hneh hneh. Of course, Hana is categorized as more of a slayer than a monster, in his mind, eternally.

Ultimately deciding this book is stupid, he turns it back over.

This place doesn't contain only stupid books. Well. That depends on your perception of Francois' writing, and his story, and Francois already has a fair idea of Teo's opinion. He roams his gaze over the face of the rundown little bookstore as if trying to find something in its angles and demise that rings a bell, and it doesn't, but that's New York for you. Ice packs into the crevices of the grimy Roosevelt Isle. streets, and the air breathes sharp into lungs from the sheer chill of it, iciness seeming to soak up from the pavement to stab through the soles of Francois' boots, and he looks at the Closed sign.

And more or less ignores it. His hands are bare and mottled against the cold, seeking out the door handle and levering it open. Considers maybe he should have brought coffee or tea with him, but it's too late now, wandering on stage and lacking a script.

Francois' eyes dart towards the sign about Tarot cards, mouth quirking in a smile, before he thinks to rap sound knuckles against the inside of the door he's opened to the arctic cold outside. While traffic doesn't exactly factor in as the forefront of ambient sound this way, the hiss of wind blowing through becomes sharper to hear, though somewhere a wail of a police siren sings out. At this hour, too.

"We're not—" Teo looks up. Teo's eyes close and open. Teo doesn't whip out a gun before or after the realization sets in, tidal-waving the action potentials through his myellinated brain-matter, but it takes far more muscles to smile than it does to do that so, lacking the verve to do one, he doesn't do the other thing either. Not that Francois was expecting him to. "Open," he finishes, idiotic tweenage vampire book gripped in hand in a manner not unlike that with which he had held the water bottle back in Mexico.

It isn't thrown, though. Teodoro remembers the art of holding a day job just well enough that he is not going to be so irresponsible, and childish, and impulsive as to fling the merchandise around like so. He squints at the quirk of Francois' smile like he is searching a crime scene for clues with comb as fine-toothed as the narrowness of his eyes, before relaxing his face abruptly, a downward sigh blown out into books too fresh and boxes too briefly on the road to hold an appropriately dramatic roostertail of dust.

They have played this game too recently for Teo to recognize the point in playing it again. He is not sure what the game is, exactly, but it is as clear in its objectives as it is confusing in its procedural operation, pieces, symbolism, and the skills that it's trying to test. It might be more like the quiet game, or it might be like Battleship, or charades; it isn't ill-camoflaged Whack-A-Mole anymore, which might lead one to suppose that the situation has improved.

Teo digs an armload of books out of the box.

Or poker, without the cards and higher stakes. Francois bats closed the door, gently, sealing out the cold and the desolate street beyond minus the wandering city debris, cast offs like the pair of them. His clothing looks recently bought, and as boring now as it's ever been, earth colours and warm, brown suede of his jacket like hairless deerskin, and no scarf, just buttons up past his collar bones. Shoes scrape off rain water and melted snow, urban dirt, before moving on towards the counter.

It could well be the same game, but perhaps it's time for round two. Francois isn't holding anything to throw at Teo, though, except himself~, which he doesn't. "Flint and I drove as far as Mississippi, and then he went on ahead of me. Abigail bought me a plane ticket from there. Did she tell you?"

Once Teo has his books clear of the box, Francois is snagging his fingers over the cardboard rim and dragging it down the length of the counter towards him to wander his attention among its blocky insides.

Most of the Vampire's Apprentice are gone, now, lifted away in the bracketing of Teo's hands. The Sicilian himself moves down the aisle, glowering at shelved books, innocuous displays, and the various black-and-white photographs and trinkets that decorate the place. It's terribly 'indie' in here. Teodoro views its indie-ness with an odd mixture of grudging appreciation and obscure contempt. He isn't really down with pop-culture enough to realize that he is having a reaction to the faint traces of hipster. "No.

"Last time we spoke she told me to go to Italy to see my mom who got shot so I'm avoiding her until I get that done. I guess she probably also gathered that I think you're a huge cock for trying to commit suicide-by-Deckard. Seems like the kind of thing I would get mad about.

"Stay mad about for a proportionally passionate interval of fucking time. You know he left because—?" Several of the Shaw volumes go into the shelf below the Twilight series, the little white hands and the little red apples and the little moons and the melodrama of black backgrounds. He feels his chest decompress fractionally at being out of sight and away from the shop's front windows, a relaxing in his bones, sinews, and the surly clench of his heart in its ribcage, and then gets annoyed at that; that he feels better. It's very annoying, being made up of so many arbitrary human parts. The way they grind, knock into one another, rasp and buckle, falter and fail.

Underneath the vampires, in Francois' box, there are three Penguin publications of The Catcher In The Rye.

"He hated my guts, last I checked," Teo's voice gets louder, but not because the distance has increased. "So I guess it's almost fucking predictable you guys had a bromantic road-trip halfway home. Did he sign Abby's snatch over to you too? Do you need another sock to jerk off into? You have the real thing, now. You could quite literally fuck off."

The sound effect is delayed, in that first the box has to slide along the desk, and then tumble, but when it does, heavy paperbacks and hardbacks alike go avalanching to spill across the ground once the thing is batted away. A copy of The Catcher In The Rye has its cover bent under its own weight. By the time Teo might think to look back again, Francois is already heading for the door, though his pace slows, stops, a hand up to rub at his face.

Then; "Talk about her like that again, and I will hit you. And I imagine you will understand when you are done."

Now would be a good time to beat open the front door, storm out, that little hesitation excused in a gravel voiced threat, but he doesn't. Turns back to the interior of the bookstore, eyes glinting in a hard kind of way. "Instead she thinks I can win you back. Soothe your pride. But if you are also mad at me about what Deckard thinks of you, about your mother, your face, then why should I try?"

Were Teo were a little more Ghost he'd be pleased that he had somehow managed to incite proportionally stupid and childish behavior in a man who thinks himself above such things. There would be a mean thrill of triumph. Instead, Teodoro is merely shocked for about three seconds between phases of spiteful discontent.

Which is to say he returns to spiteful discontentment in short order, but this time their metaphorical flames are dancing in oily evasion away from its original wick, because it was a stupid bitchy and admittedly unfair wick woven out of foolish frustration, and onto the somewhat more concrete and tangible aggravation provided by all the damaged merchandise. What the fuck? That book looks fucking bent. Fucking— book is bent. Probably other ones are too.

Teodoro doesn't want to blow his first day's salary on buying books he read twelve years ago, particularly not if it's going to be his last day's salary as well. What kind of person damages a book? Francois' kind of person. Teo's kind of person just snarls vicious derision at female sexuality and individual sincerity when he needs a cheap shot. Because that's how Sicilian pigs do it.

He comes to stoop over the books, stares down at them from under the shaggy stalactites of his hair, but he is too proud to pick them up while Francois is still there. "Parenthood books eschew the use of sarcasm and rhetorical questions when dealing with children," he informs the other man. His voice seems to be the wrong shape and size for his throat, but he glares back gamely enough.

Francois isn't going to pick them up either, that's not his job. He's too busy sneering, and saying, "I never said I was good at it." Dealing with children, and all, and he stops looking at Teo and looks at the books he pushed over instead, insufferably childish, and he tolerates it from himself far less than he does from other people's door punching, bottle throwing selves. He's come to a halt somewhere at the far corner of the counter, fingertips grazing its ancient wooden surface, fingernails catching long the flaws making seams in the woodwork as he tries not to let heat rise up on his face and flush it coloured.

From anger or shame or some symbiotic combination. He clears his throat. "I knew how the abilities worked. I knew what would fail, and what would work, but not whether I would live through it." His voice is cautiously even, deliberate, more American by default while he's watching his own tone. "I thought I was doing something heroic."

"Get out." Finally, the secondhand pain he feels from the sight of the stupid Salinger novel's bent fucking cover catches up to Teo. He stoops and snatches it up, his fingers tightened around the wrinkled lines in the matte fibers. He starts to work the cover smooth with his thumb and his forefinger. Despite that his finger is rough from calluses, a scar or two and bone oddly knit underneath, it wouldn't have gone flattened out any better in Abigail's hand. He pushes others around with his boot. Jab, poke. A cat swatting at alien, irrelevant paraphernelia to see it bounce.

He gestures with it, a vicious flap of the book. It is nothing much to look at, compared to the blazing guns and muscle-powered fists, the negative-color nuclear explosion and the tendriling blackness of Volken's ability that they saw less than a month ago. Teo's waving a book in a bookstore. As with all the flashy dynamism of the historical violence, though, there isn't a dirty cop or bankers with their underpaid overtime or sleeping schoolchild who has particularly cause to care. "Go outside. Go away. Vaffanculo. Not the fucking sock anymore, you remember?

"Find some other masturbatory redemption arc to wipe your fucking boots on, vecchio." Possibly, Teodoro Laudani doesn't have any right to talk about other people's masturbatory redemption arcs, but he lacks for self-awareness lately. Sees red. Tunnel vision. He wipes the broken side of his face with his hand and resists the urge to spit to make the excess slime fit. "I need to clean this shit up. I have to go see my mom and. I swear to God, if take three of Francois Allegre gets dead is by my hand I will finish the fucking job.

"You're going to leave me the fuck alone, again," this particular small word unexpectedly vicious, outfitted with rockets and a scope for accuracy, and enough self-pity that the two Plath pieces Teo had read recently had felt gratingly frivolous, really. But no one does misery like Giacomo Leopardi or his countrymen. This is their vanity. "One way or another. On your feet or in a fucking bag."

There is much more to say. He shouldn't have paused there. Words like, but I was wrong fairly stall out into nothing as Francois blinks across at Teo, open-shut blinking of glassy green and his mouth shuts. He bridles, almost visibly, a step back taken, and it might be better if he left the room like a storm, Wicked Witch of the West music playing in a tornado wake of fury with the door slamming shut and hurting his feet against the cold concrete as he makes a blind escape out into Roosevelt Island.

He takes a few seconds to power down, instead, measuring words and the power behind them as he drags his eyes up— not realising he'd wandered it— to consider Teo's. He has to clean those up, and go see his mom. Okay.

"D'accord." Consent sounds ashy, but he's moving, turning on a heel and making a smooth escape, dignified except for when the door jars slightly upon not turning the handle completely, but even that is a split second of interruption before Francois is blessedly clear of a room that was becoming claustrophobic. The Closed sign swings in his wake, settled where it should be and reading the opposite back at the Sicilian.

It doesn't say 'Open.' Just 'Closed' backward. People just know when it is open. Maybe if Teodoro would lock the damn door, they'd get when it was closed too.

Teo's hand is white around the Salinger novel and his mouth — normally a somewhat oversized ludicrously pink thing to rival the prominence of his nose — is anemically pinched down to a ridiculous line. His head is fuzzy from sleeping too much instead of hurting. No more of Ghost's superpower-fuelled migraines or his baby-self's creaking balance between titanium robot parts and eroding bone.

He thinks, perhaps, that Francois should not have left before cutting loose a maniacal riff of evil laughter. Or elaborating at great and portentous length, what the new Agenda was and what grandiloquent venues he was going to do it at, so that Teodoro would know where to avoid or generate an armor of fresh insults should he have to.

Maybe tried to hug him. Teo might have enjoyed rejecting a hug. Perhaps another odiously transparent lie or overstatement or something would have made the encounter feel somewhat more complete, that he could have then showed off his cynical new wisdom by tearing apart the new ruse, proving it false, and its maker as stupid and worthless as the idiota who'd fallen for the alpha version. Instead, rhetorical questions and obvious explanations were framed by what bore a dangerous resemblence to sincere dismay and it's all very—

Quiet in here.

Teo rubs his eye.

What follows feels like a ragged page ripped out of somebody else's adolescence. Somebody he used to ignore, push past, may have been obscurely admired by and failed entirely to understand. He is careful not to look up at those who walk by as he drops down into a crouch. Getting up feels heavy, and he has an armload of books hugged to his chest while he tries not to think of the better-looking fellow who threw them on the floor.

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