Sequel to Austin
Austin, Again (working title)
My arms start to ache. The horde of fiction weighs me down, and I’m eying the cash register with my bottom lip turning white, my large teeth biting with anticipation. I am rocking back and forth from my heels to the balls of my feet, anxious to unload these books, when I feel a hand brush lightly on the back of my shoulder.
I jump with surprise. The books tumble to the floor. My arms practically sigh in relief as I feel my cheeks burn and I angle my head towards the floor.
“Hey. I know you. From our business class?”
Austin stands in front of me. His skin is pale. His cheeks are hallow, gaunt. He wears a navy polo that hangs loosely around his body, searching for his once prefect abs to pull and stretch the cotton. A nametag reflects the florescent lights. Austin. His name flickers. Austin.
We begin to pick up the books together. Austin cracks a smile and I see that he still has perfectly aligned white teeth. There is a cut below his lip, small and subtle. He’s clean shaved except for near the cut; I see there is a trace of stubble he left behind for fear of irritating his skin further.
“How have you been? How is that guy? Uhm. You know. That one. Patrick?”
The book in his hand looses its firm rectangular shape. It’s turned into an arc as Austin’s hands run along the cover, squeeze the binding, fold the pages inward. His ring fingers are stark naked. There’s dirt under his nails.
“I don’t know. He’s managing, I think.” I shrug and flash a small smile. I never spoke to Austin. How does he remember me? I think about Patrick waiting near the doorjamb of our business class. Austin and his friend with the curly blond hair would leave with their skateboards already grazing the ground. I would trudge behind, tired and weary, until I saw Patrick waiting for me. Both of us were stuck in the mechanics of our habits. He waited for me passively. I went to him passively.
Something triggers the aching in my arms. I see Austin setting the pile of books back in my grasp. For a moment, his hand lingers on the paperback he places on top. He pretends to scan the cover before his eyes drift upwards to meet my gaze. I say nothing, and move my bottom jaw rigidly as I think of the right words to fill the silence. Instead, I clear my throat and grin. I mumble thank you and run towards the checkout.
The register beeps with every book sliding through the machine. On a frail receipt my purchases will be documented. After closing, Austin will slip in and pull up my information, despite not knowing or caring much about me. He is excited that I am here and exposed, that I’m so easily accessible, that he will never have to read me because he knows that in mere moments he will know more better than any past or future Patrick ever will.