Jax and Lana come into the bookstore after dinner. You cannot be serious, he tells her as he sees Raul go back behind the help desk, a pair of reading glasses on, a lanyard around his neck with his name on it. He jerks his head for Lana to look and watches closely for her reaction. She looks back at him calmly and shrugs. No wonder it’s the best book store in the city. He chuckles at this. Gotta say, I knew I’d beat Bettina, but I didn’t think it would take her this long. Want to do a book swap? he asks her. Not especially. I know what I like. What book would you get me? She looks at him. I think I’d get you a newspaper. Which one? A Barron’s weekly. It’s for the serious investor. Do you read it? He asks her. She bites her lips. It takes money to make money, Jax. I’m just getting my rainy day fund built back up again. What’s your rainy day fund? Enough liquid that I can live for six months if no work comes in. What would you do if I got you a sex book? He says with a big grin. Let me put it this way, Jax. If it was blank, I’d be amused. If it had pictures, I’d slap you into next week. He looks down at the table, now embarrassed to have brought it up. I’m going to use the bathroom, he says. Bettina and Rolf come up and join Lana; Bettina gives her a big hug and sits next to her as Rolf heads to the bathroom. Raul works here, help desk. Shall we go say hi to him? Bettina nods. And they walk over together. Hello, Raul. I told Jax that it makes sense that you’d be the manager of the best bookstore in town too, Lana tells him with a grin. He smiles back at her. What do you recommend, Raul, for dessert? Bettina asks. Tiramisu. Thank you, she tells him, and rubs his arm briefly and smiles up at him. Excuse me, a woman behind them says indignantly. And stares at Bettina’s hand. Bettina jerks her hand away. I’m so sorry, she says, turning to face Samantha. I do it unconsciously, without thinking; I don’t mean anything by it. Sam, Raul says sternly, and shakes his head no. She slides $60 across the counter. I got angry and broke his phone, she tells Lana. I offered to buy him a new one, but this is all it costs to get a used iphone on ebay apparently. You look familiar. Where do I know you from? Lana looks down. It’ll come to me. I want to buy a book for my boyfriend. What should I get him? She asks Lana, as she smiles at Raul. An empty book. Please excuse us, our dates are waiting. Kiss me before I go? Sam asks Raul. Safe travels, he tells her. Oh, one last thing. Show me where to find Winnie the Pooh. Right this way. And she grabs his arm as he leads her to the section.
She is smoking hot, Jax says, watching the interaction with Rolf. She’s not going to let it go, Rolf replies. She’s going to come up to us and try to embarrass the girls. Should we shut her down? Nah, let it play out. Five minutes later, Samantha stops in front of their table, The Complete Stories of Winnie the Pooh in hand, with a receipt sticking out of it. I overreacted; I’m sorry, she tells Bettina. Please, join us. Jax tells her. Any woman that is willing to give Winnie the Pooh a try is welcome at my table. He gestures over the waiter. Payback? She asks Bettina after she’s seated, and then grips Rolf’s arm. I love how you stood up for Nickelback. He grins at her. I wish I was with you though that night. I’m bando adept. Me too, Rolf says with a big grin, and everyone laughs. What does that mean? Bettina asks. Bando is a martial art. Adept means that she’s a devoted practisioner, far beyond a black belt. I’m impressed, Sam says. What’s your name? Sam. I’m Rolf, this is Jax, Lana, and Bettina. So Winnie the Pool? Jax asks. Raul recommended it to me over dinner. But I had to buy it, she says dramatically. See this? She shows them the Bible verse on her palm. He wrote that there. That’s not a compliment, Sam. Rolf says, as Bettina and Jax race to look it up on their phones. Bettina looks over at Rolf shocked after she reads the verse. Jax laughs and shows it to Lana, who looks over at Rolf. So I’m a pig? I asked him. And you know what he told me? Guess. She looks around the table. No, of course not. Bettina says. Lana looks down and doesn’t answer and kicks Jax under the table. Definitely not, Jax says with a grin. Prove me wrong, Rolf says. Everyone stares at him. He’s right, isn’t he? Jax asks. How did you know that? It was in a book I recently read. The moral being that it wasn’t the size of the man, but the size of the heart in the man. What’s the name of the book? Lana asks. Make Your Bed. Jax looks at her, and then gets up. Sam watches him go over to Raul at the help desk. He comes back five minutes later with it on audiobook, in a shopping bag, and gives it to Lana. She looks over at him, and grabs his hand, and smiles. Thank you, she whispers. He looks over at Sam. I asked her what would happen if I got her a sex book, and she told me that she’d slap me into next week. Now we’re good. Lana puts her forehead in her palm. Jax, she says softly, then pauses, we’ll talk about this later. Bettina glares at him. Jax, I can one up that. Sam says. Please don’t. Bettina says. On our first date, I told Raul that I was going to marry him. Why would you do that? Bettina asks her. Because he’s an exceptional man and he gets me. How did he respond, Sam? Jax asks. He said that I’m not Catholic and that I shouldn’t make a decision that would determine my temporal happiness based on a whim. Bettina nods. But that didn’t dissuade you? Jax says. No. I’m still hung up over his Psalm 128 criteria though. He told me to read it and then tell him what I thought. Bettina looks over at Rolf. He shrugs. She reads it and then hands her phone to him. Children plural bothered you, Rolf says. At least not for seven years, or until he gets tired of me and we stop having constant sex. Lana puts her face in her hands and shakes her head. I want kids, and I want to be a stay at home mom, Bettina says. And I want to adopt a little girl from China. She rubs Lana’s back. Why? Lana asks. Because God has laid it on my heart, and I want to be obedient – we are to care for the widows and the orphans. Lana kisses Bettina on the cheek.
Their dessert comes and Sam gets up. Thanks for the coffee and letting me join in, guys. I’ll leave you to your evening. Rolf stands up, when she does. I’ll walk you to your car, he tells her. No you won’t, but I appreciate you standing for me, and the offer. And she gives him a peck on the cheek. Bettina grabs her hand. Stick around, Sam, and I’ll introduce you to the rest of the band. Here - she gives Sam her tiramisu. I’ll share with Lana.
Sam looks at her, then sits back down and digs in. Why were you late? Jax asks. I expected to beat you by thirty seconds, not by fifteen minutes. I would have beat you by two minutes if I didn’t run into that trooper. My license is now suspended. Rolf had to drive the rest of the way. Make out session? He asks Rolf. I tried but the cop just wasn’t up for it, he tells Jax and everyone roars with laughter.
So what do you think of her car? She’s a keeper and will go the distance. Bettina blushes and looks down happily at the compliment. Simon, Mike, and Jon come into the bookstore and make a beeline for them. Quick, sit by me, Bettina whispers to Sam. But it’s too late as Simon vaults the railing and climbs into the chair next to Bettina. I’m in love with a stripper, he sings to the gang. And Lana bursts out laughing. Please let me sit next to him, she tells Bettina. The girls switch, and Lana hugs Simon and puts her head on his shoulder. I cannot wait to hear what you’ve done. Jax makes the introductions. Simon, Jon, Mike, this is a new friend, Sam. My girlfriend Lana, and Simon’s sparring partner, Bettina.
Warning, Mike, she’s bando adept, Rolf tells him. Sam, I like the whole package. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up. Thanks, Mike. When was the last time you used your training? I bullied a guy a day ago. Say on, Simon says, as he takes her tiramisu. It’s rude to talk and eat at the same time, he explains. So I followed him to his house, and was leaning against his car when he came out. And I asked him out on a date, my treat. Oh, I’d asked him out a couple days earlier and he said no thanks, that he’d made plans. Well, he turns me down again. So I put my knife through the sidewall of his tire. Let’s take my car, I tell him. And he pulls out his phone and goes to call an Uber. And I tell him to put his phone away before I break it. He walks back to his porch and I grab his arm so he cannot get away from me. He spins around breaking my grip without hurting me, and sits down, and says that now we’re on camera, and nods above his head, and pulls out his phone to call an Uber. So I knocked the phone out of his hands, and smashed it with my platform heels. What are you going to do about it? I ask him. And he says that he’s going to go inside and call the police and get a restraining order. Mike looks over at Rolf and Jax. You hang with the coolest people. Jax looks over at Lana. She catches his eye, and nods behind her in Raul’s direction. Bettina and Rolf see her gesture. Don’t stop, this is a really good story, Simon tells her, as he cleans his plate.
So he unlocks the door to his apartment and I shove him out of the way and barge in ahead of him. Mike chuckles nervously. I’m going to get to his phone, right. But my man slams the door shut behind me, and I spin around. And that’s when I hear a shotgun rack. Another voice says don’t move, but I’m already walking backwards to close the distance. You are awesome, Mike says. I would have wet myself. I doubt that, she tells him, and he beams at the implied compliment.
So I’m backing up quickly, when I tripped over a wire that had been strung across the hall for just such a contingency. I fall backwards, and it’s lights out. Hit on the head with a lead sap, I think. The moral of the story, Mike, is not to underestimate your opponent.
What happened? My throat is so dry from talking. Mike springs up and goes to get her a water. That cake was amazing, Simon says. Bettina? Have you tried it? You’re eating hers. She gave it to me. Just before you sat down. He slaps his forehead.
Simon, my hit piece is starting to become a novel. Lana and Jax and Rolf break down laughing. Straight out of the tap, unfiltered, no ice. Mike tells her when he returns. Thank you, Mike. She takes a long sip. What happened next? Mike asks her. He really hurt me. She says. I woke up on his couch. There was a glass of water on a napkin on the end table. A bottle of Motrin. My cell phone and car keys all within reach. And a Bible. Were you tied up and naked? Simon asks. Fully clothed, unrestrained. So how did he hurt you? She shows him the Bible verse on her palm. Rolf knew what it said; they’ve already heard the ending of this story. Why does that not surprise me? Simon sighs. Jon hands Mike his phone. He winces. Ouch. He hands the phone to Simon, who reads it and closes his eyes. That is magnificent. It’s the best silent close I’ve ever heard. He looks around. Is there a waiter here, or do I just yell out my order like when I’m in France. Lana shrieks in laughter, and puts her hand on Simon’s shoulder. Her laughter is contagious. Simon, I love you. I know you do, Lana. What book did you get? She takes it out of the bag and shows him. Jax bought it for me. Simon looks at Jax in bewilderment. And you like this? It’s exactly what I wanted, she tells Simon, and throws Jax a kiss with her hand. He catches it and turns it into a bird. That was the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen, Sam says, grinning at Jax.
I want to hear the rest, Mike tells her. Raul comes up with an apron on. What is your pleasure? Five coffees and crème cakes – he means the tiramisu, Bettina interjects, and two waters, Simon says. Raul nods and leaves immediately.
Where was I? Stalking some guy who turned the tables on you. Simon responds. So when I go out to my car, the tire service guy is changing out his tire, and I put it on my credit card. Then I go back to my hotel, and take a shower and a nap. What hotel? Mike asks. Four Seasons. I get up and head down to the fitness center to get a quick workout in, then I change and am going to run to Whole Foods for something to eat, when I see my guy, sitting in an overstuffed sofa reading a Barron’s magazine. Lana gives Jax a knowing look. I went up to him and told him that I’d buy him a new phone. And he asks me if I want to get something to eat. Sure. Panera? Sure. Would I be willing to drive? Sure. And he says that he likes how I look. And she gestures to her outfit. I usually wear expensive blouses and bell bottomed suit pants.
So we get into my 06 GTO. Been there, done that, Jax says. What are you driving now? A Hellcat. It’d be close, she tells him. From here to the Four Seasons, he replies. You’re on, she tells him. I’m in on that-Bettina insists. No, you’re not. Lana tells her. I’m driving us home. She lost her license tonight, she tells the guys. What are you driving now? Bettina asks Simon. Jon’s Tuscan. What color? White. She smiles at Jon, and gives him a thumbs up. He looks down shyly at the table.
I want to hear this. Mike says. So we get in my car and he asks what’s special about it. Corvette engine. And I punch the peddle and throw him back in his seat when we hit the on ramp. Jax did that to me on our first date, Lana tells the others. “So I’m a pig” I tell him as I show him my hand. And he looks at me and says “prove me wrong”. This guy has ice in his veins, Mike comments. And that shut me up.
So we go to the restaurant and talk, and he got me. I let something slip and he picked up on it instantly, and intuited what I’d been through. And I told him that I’d kill him. And then he put a date on it. Now I know why you drive an 06 GTO. And I told him that he was a dead man, and left the table and went in the bathroom to cry. He was still there when I got back, waiting for me. And I told him that no man gets to see me naked and live, and that I was going to marry him. You are so intense, Simon tells her.
And he asks me if that’s what I think marriage is. And I tell him that it’s to know and be known. And that impressed him. And he didn’t say anything. But it’s not your answer. And he shakes his head no, and tells me to read Psalm 128, and see how I relate to that. And I look it up on my phone, and tell him that I’m not ready for kids and to be a stay at home mom. But we could still get married and have constant sex: recreation not procreation, right? And then he told me that he’d met someone else, who had seen him naked, to use my metaphor. And he believed that she liked him, but that she was with someone else. And I told him that I didn’t believe in unicorns. I promised him I wouldn’t hurt her and hers, if he told me her name. And he told me the story of how Nancy Drew and Callie Shaw won the respect and admiration of the most dangerous man on this continent, and that her picture now sits on his desk.
And now I believe in unicorns, because I’ve met them. Jax puts his head in his hands.
Raul brings out the coffee, cakes, and waters. More waters? He asks. Please, Rolf says. And thank you. Raul nods and disappears.
Sam, I cannot believe you told them our story, Simon says. She smiles at him. Bettina, just what have you been doing while I’ve been away singing for the suppers of our great grandchildren? I met a wolf in sheep’s clothing at church, and Lana had to rescue me. Her boyfriend was a complete gentleman though, she points at Sam. I’m not saying I approve, Sam, but you seem to know what you’re signing up for.
I suppose I was never going to hear about his, Jax says suddenly to Lana. She looks down at the table. Did you know? He asks Rolf, who shakes his head no.
Sam, this is my family, Rolf tells her. They know I’m different, and they accept that and make allowances for me. Please look at me without blinking. She does. Samantha Zeller. She blinks. Is going to Mexico soon. She blinks. To meet Don Ramon Ortega. You’re scaring me, she tells Rolf, unable to take her eyes off of him. Unicorns don’t get hurt. Do we understand each other? She nods and blinks. Forget that you’ve ever met me and begone. She gets up abruptly and hurries out of the bookstore.
Mike, don’t go looking for her. She’s the most dangerous assassin you’ve never met.
I have a gift; it’s why I live alone. I don’t like to talk about it. Nor do I want it talked about. But I’ll use it to protect my own.
Jax, you mind giving me a ride back to my place?
Sure thing, brother.