I felt, rather than saw, the unusual coin the clerk handed to me as part of my change. Strange, I thought, she must've mistaken it for a quarter.
Indeed, it was almost identical to that common coin, except the edge was smooth; like a nickel. As I walked out of the store, I was paying more attention to examining it than to where I was going. That's when he bumped into me.
A chime quite unlike any thing I'd heard before. Actually, it didn't sound like anything real at all...
I felt something hit my foot, and that's when I noticed what was happening around me - or rather what wasn't happening. Nothing. No movement. No sound. It was like God hit Pause on his VCR, except I was able to move. Ever the pragmatist, I took a look around.
The guy that bumped into me was Drew Zimmerman. Of all the people to bump into coming out of Escape Velocity Comics, it had to be Drew. All I needed was another ration of crap from him.
I wish he weren't such a jerk, I thought, knowing it'd take a miracle to make that happen.
I was brought back to my current situation when I really looked at him again. He wasn't moving. Nobody was. I looked down and saw that weird coin on the ground by my foot. Heads, I thought. I picked it up and looked around again.
"What the heck is going on?" I asked myself.
I walked around Drew, thinking how like a scene from It's a Wonderful Life this was. On impulse, I reached out and touched Drew on the shoulder. And just like that, God hit Play and everything started again. Drew turned around to face me, a look of bewilderment on his face.
"How'd you get back there? I just bumped into you over here," he said, not quite sure if he was correct.
Thinking fast, I said, "Oh, I spun right around. Momentum. Years of Akido will teach you to use it instinctively." He looked at me half-disbelieving, then looked down at my books.
"Comic shopping again, huh?" he asked. Funny, there wasn't the usual sneer in his voice.
"Uh, yeah. There's nothing wrong with it."
"Whatever. I didn't say there was," he said almost apologetically.
What was up with this? Here's a guy that yesterday would've as soon kicked my butt for reading comics, let alone writing for them, as look at me. Something weird is going on.
"That's not what you've said in the past," I said, still a little defensive.
"Yeah? I don't remember one way or the other. Forget about it. Hey, you going to Tremble tonight? SpitShine is playing. Eh, but you're not into Punk, are you? Goth's more your thing, right?"
Now he's asking me if I'm going to the bar tonight? And when did he care to know I was Goth? "Actually, Evan, their drummer, and I are friends. He said I should come out to the show. I think his girlfriend wants to introduce me to a friend of her's again. Not that it'll work out, but I thought I'd go because he asked me to."
"Hahaha! You really are Goth, you know that? Pessimistic through and through! Who cares if it works out? What matters is: it might. Get over yourself and go. If nothing else, you can have a beer or two. Or do you prefer snakebite?"
"Actually, Tremble is the only place in town that can make a descent rattlesnake."
"A what? Oh, never mind. Maybe I'll see you there later. I gotta go."
And with that, he walked away, leaving me standing there wondering what just happened.
Oh, You have nothing better to do. I told myself, might as well go. So, I took a shower, got dressed and hopped on my Vespa and rode to Tremble. There was quite a crowd by the time I got there. SpitShine is probably the region's best Punk band. Even though it's not quite my thing, they do still put on a hell of a show.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around. It was Evan, and Grace was with him.
"Hey Colorman! Glad you made it out." That joke was the extent of Evans ironic sense of humor. For as long as I've known him, he's called me Colorman because I never wear colors.
"Hey Evan. Grace. How're you guys?" I asked.
"We're fine, Booth," Grace said, calling me by my last name. Her brother is named Anthony as well, but she doesn't like him, so she calls me by my last name. Most everyone else calls me Ant, which is funny, considering I'm a little taller than most everyone. "How're you tonight?"
"I'll be better once I get to the bar," I said, motioning that way so we could continue the conversation on the way there.
"Well Grace, you gonna go get Cleo, or what?" Evan said to her. Oh boy, here it comes. I must've made a face, because he turned to me and said, "Hey, It ain't gonna be that bad, Ant. She's sweet!" He amended this proclamation with a gesture like a chef, kissing then flaring his fingers as if to say "Magnifique!"
But he'd already spelled out my doom. Anytime someone tells you a girl is 'sweet,' they're usually telling you what she's not. Grace smiled, patted my arm, then walked away. I turned Evan towards the bar and headed back that way.
"I wish Grace wasn't so hell-bent on finding me a girlfriend," I said, a little exasperated.
"Oh, it's too late for that. Ever since you broke up with what's-her-name, she's been determined to find you a nice girl that isn't an evil, psychopathic bitch," he laughed as he said this last. Well, he wasn't so far off on that description, I'll give him that.
"All right," I said, changing the subject back to what we were talking about, "what's this girls name again?"
"As in 'Cleopatra'?" I cringed. Anthony and Cleopatra. If it's not a joke, it's a bad omen.
"Exactly," He said. "Grace met her a couple weeks ago. She's just moved into town. And you know what a die-hard romantic Grace is. You were the first thing she thought of when she heard this girls name."
"You're joking, right? I mean, nobody names their kid 'Cleopatra,' do they?" I was really starting to get that 'oh-no-you've-got-to-be-out-of-your-mind' expression on my face when we reached the bar. Evan ordered our drinks. A Guinness for him. A rattlesnake for me. I was surprised that he'd remembered.
"Well, it could be just Cleo, but I think Grace said it was Cleopatra. I know," he said, holding up his hand to forestall my next comment, "but it'd be really cool if it goes over well. Don't you think?"
The grin on his face told me he was enjoying this at my expense. I really have to remember this so I can properly pay him back someday.
We turned away from the bar and I just about bumped into Drew for the second time today.
"Hey man, you made it out. Cool. What's going on?" He looked at Evan and said, "Ev, what's happening, dude?"
"Oh, we're just waiting for Grace. She's got someone for Ant to meet."
"Yeah," Drew said, smiling, "that's what he said this afternoon." He was all smiles; and a little rosy-cheeked. He'd been here a while.
"Where'd you see Ant today?" Evan asked. More than a little curious. It wasn't everyday that Drew carried on a civil conversation with someone outside of a bar.
"He was coming out of that comic place on Cedar. He bumped into me and rolled right around me like he was the Flash. That's that really fast guy, right?"
"That's him, all right. Are you a superhero now, Ant?" Evan said chuckling. Drew started laughing, too.
"Naw! He said he used Tae Kwon Do or something to move really fast around me. I think he's gonna be the next Bruce Lee!" This last got both of them laughing more. I just stood there and sighed.
"What's so funny?" I heard Grace say behind me. We all turned to look at her.
I said matter-of-factly, "Evan and Drew are poking at me again. Nothing unusual."
"Well then," Grace said, "I'll save you from any more." Grace turned a bit and pulled a girl around to face us and said, "Ant, this is Cleo. Cleo, this is Ant. Spare me the jokes Evan."
I must've looked like I was in shock, because Evan elbowed me and whispered, "Say hello, idiot!"
"H-hello," I managed. I was in shock. Why didn't anybody tell me she was beautiful?
"Hi," Cleo said to me, smiling. She was a little bit humored at my reaction. "How're you?"
"I'm fine, I guess," I said, regaining what composure I could.
"OK, before anybody makes any jokes," she said while glaring at Evan, "I had to introduce you two. So sue me. Anthony and Cleopatra; it was too perfect. Now Somebody get me a drink before I have to kill Somebody."
She meant Evan and he knew it. Grinning, he asked her what she wanted and then looked at me as if to say: Ask her what she wants!
"Um... Can I get you something... uh, should I call you Cleo or Cleopatra?" I asked.
She grinned at me and said, "Cleo's fine. I don't know what I want. What's that?" She was pointing at my drink.
"It's a rattlesnake. Never had one?" She shook her head. "Well," I said, grinning, "we'll change that." I love introducing people to these things. "Be right back."
I followed Evan to the bar and Drew came along. "This is too much," he chimed in over my shoulder. "Anthony and Cleopatra! I gotta find Elsa." With that he turned to go.
"Well damn," I said to Evan, "now everybody's going to know. I'll come in here Saturday for Goth night and they'll throw a toga party for me."
Evan laughed. "Thanks for the idea, man! That sounds like a lot of fun!"
"You do and I swear I'll find a guy named Refinement to go with Grace after you're dead." This got him laughing even more. We got the barkeep's attention and the drinks and went back to the girls. "Here you go, one rattlesnake," I said to Cleo.
"Damn," Grace said, "I should've had you get me one, too. Oh, well. Enjoy it, honey. It's a wonderful shot."
"Thanks," Cleo said, smiling at me. Looking at the drink, she asked, "What's in this?" I told her. She smiled, made a 'yum' sound and all four of us tapped our glasses together and tipped them up.
"Oh wow. That's good!" Cleo said. "I'll have to remember that."
"Ant won't let you forget," Grace said, "he loves those things."
"Well, I gotta get going," Evan said. "We're due to go on in a little bit and I have to help Steph with her guitars. I promised." He walked off mumbling something about what a Punk guitarist needs with more than one guitar, he didn't know.
"Evan told me you just moved into town. What do you think so far?" I started thinking Grace might know what she's doing. Cleo was quite a pretty girl, and at first impression, seemed rather sweet as well. I decided I liked her. Even the name thing didn't bother me now.
"It's a lot bigger than Elkwood. But it's not as intimidating as I thought it would be." She smirked a little, showing an expression of relief.
"So, what brought you here? A job?"
"Yeah. I just started as a photographer for the Journal. I wanted to get on at the Times, but they didn't need anybody."
"So, you were looking to move here?"
"Well, it's not too far away from home, so I can still get back to see my folks easy enough, but it's far enough away that I'm out on my own."
I don't know why, but I chose to change the subject right then. I pulled the strange coin out of my pocket and showed it to her.
"What do you think of this?" I asked, holding it out for her. She took it and looked at it closely.
"It looks like it might be from the Middle East. Did you go there, or something?"
"No," I laughed, "I got it back in some change today. The thing is, it made a really strange sound when I dropped it."
She looked at me, then at the coin and dropped it.
I felt a tiny bit of nausea and looked up from the floor. I felt someone tapping my shoulder and turned around to see who it was. Some girl I didn't know was looking at me.
"That was weird," she said. "How'd you do that?"
"You didn't see? Everything went still. Like a photograph. No sound. No movement. Then I tapped you on the shoulder and everything started up again."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Do I know you?"
"What?" She said to me. She looked shocked. "Look, if you don't like me, you don't have to act like you don't know me. Just tell me and I'll just be on my way."
"How can I dislike you when I don't know who you are?"
She looked really pissed at this and said in an angry voice, "I'm Cleo. Grace's friend. What the fuck are you doing? She just introduced us a few minutes ago. If you decided you don't like the 'Anthony and Cleopatra' thing, just say so. It wasn't my idea anyway."
"You're Grace's friend... Cleopatra?" I half laughed, "that's pretty funny. I think I might remember if Grace introduced me to someone named Cleopatra. I'll have to have a talk with Evan, this is probably his doing. He loves playing practical jokes on people."
"Fucking forget it. I thought you were a nice guy, but if this is the way you are, fucking forget you, too." She turned and stomped a few steps away, stopped and turned back around, "and fucking forget your stupid coin, too!" With that, she threw a coin at me. It hit me in the chest and fell to the floor.
Somehow, I got turned around. And several people nearby were looking at me. I turned around to find Cleo, but she was gone.
I looked down at my feet and there was that strange coin next to my foot again. This time it was tails.