I can’t help but feel slightly used.
“Why’d you pick this pose? Seems so… pedestrian.”
Michael had talked me into showing him the submissions I drew for the contest, by bringing them up on his computer. Now he was critiquing them. He wasn’t being mean or anything, but I feel like whatever flirting I may or may not have read into his actions was a lie. I mean, it’s possible he likes me. It’s also possible he saw me buying Fantastigirl, assumed a stereotype about buying a ‘girl’ comic, and figured he could use me. I don’t even know what to think any more.
“Well, I decided to just draw the character walking because I think almost all the entries would be these over the top action poses. Putting in something a little more mundane in this case can actually show variety.” I’m surprising my own self with my ability to talk right now. I guess having gone over all this with Kara when I first drew the submissions made it easier.
“Ah! Makes sense.” His face never leaves the pages. I don’t know what he expects to do about it right now, but he’s very intent on analyzing each and every drawing I downloaded to the computer. It was rather surprising, we’d been at this for half an hour and I still haven’t seen any one else come in. He really does get as few customers as he says.
“So here’s what I was thinking,” Michael finally looks up at me again. I’m slightly less enamored by his smooth skin, and charming eyes now that I know he just wants me for advertising purposes.
“If you make it into the tournament bracket, we should do some kind of event here! Like, have fun cheering on a local, or something. Plus, that’d be great to put in advertisements…”
I really want to say no. I really don’t want to say no. Argh! What do I-
“…And in exchange, I can give you free comics or something.”
He gives a giggle.
“Absolutely, so long as I can afford to keep this place open.” He leans back in his chair, turning to face me. “You know, you’re a pretty good artist.”
My face feels significantly warmer. I can’t imagine the shade of red I must be right now.
“Thanks.” I manage to eke out.
There’s a slight jingle as the bell attached to the front door opens. Must be another customer. I slide out from behind the counter where we were looking at the computer to avoid being mistaken for a worker.
The man who enters looks fancy. Too fancy to be coming into a comic shop. His blonde hair is kept short, neatly groomed with some kind of product in it. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the brand of three piece suit he’s wearing, but the material is nice enough that even I can tell it’s expensive. That light hair, decked out in black, with piercing blue eyes feels intimidating. He gives off an air of confidence.
“Hmm, this place is even smaller on the inside,” the newcomer mumbles to himself.
Michael doesn’t seem to notice the vague insult.
“Hi! Welcome to Multiversity! Anything I can help you find?”
The well-dressed man looks him over.
“Yes, I’m looking for the owner of this shop.”
Michael chuckles, not really believing getting that twice in one day.
“That would be me. What can I do for you?
If the customer was surprised at this revelation, he didn’t show it.
“I have some very specific items I’m looking for. Could you tell me if you have these issues?” He produces a small slip of paper, and hands it to Michael.
There’s a gleam in Michael’s eye that, just for a moment, betrays his naturally friendly persona, and reveals the greedy monster lurking beneath.
“Yes! I do believe we have these comics. Let me go grab them for you.”
And with that, he rushes off into some back area of the store.
The stranger turns to me, as I realize I’ve just been awkwardly staring a little at this whole exchange.
“Do you work here as well? Perhaps your boss could use some help.” His voice isn’t really cold, but it sends shivers up my spine all the same.
“Oh, I don’t work here. I’m just a-a…” Oh crap. What am I? Acquaintance? Customer? Lustful stalker? “Friend.”
He gives me the same once over he gave Michael, as if scanning me to reveal the truth. Not that I’m lying. At least, not that I think I’m lying.
“Interesting. Do you enjoy graphic novels as well?” His body barely moves, yet there’s a slight shift toward me that I notice. Why is he so interested?
“Yes… yes I do.” My eyes find they can’t hold contact with his for very long. I turn to some of the comics on the shelf behind me and start looking through them.
“By any chance, do you read Fantastigirl? It’s expertly written.”
My ears perk up and I turn back around in a snap.
“Yes! I love that series! It’s so ground breaking-”
I’m cut off by the man holding up his hand.
“Less is more, my dear.” He finally moves, his steps very deliberate, yet graceful. Like he’s gliding over the carpet. He reaches out for a magazine on a shelf, and starts flipping through it. “Have you heard of the contest for the new artist?”
“Oh, yeah, well, actually, I entered it.” I look away, thinking about all the questions that arose from Michael finding out I entered the contest. Don’t want to have to go through all that again.
There’s a slight twitch in his hand when I responded, though. It was so slight, I’m surprised I noticed it. He turns his attention from the comic in his hand back to me.
“Is that so? Yes, most interesting.” His eyes search mine, as if they held some kind of secret he nonchalantly wanted to know. “I wish you luck in the tournament, mister?”
“Jules. Just call me Jules.
He glides over to me, extending his hand as he crosses.
“Jules. Pleased to meet you.”
Oh god, I want to leave. Why is this happening?
“A-and you too, I guess…” I trail off as I take his hand and give a very weak shake.
Right at that moment, Michael comes back into the room, arms loaded with comic books.
“Yes! We had pretty much everything. I am missing that 1956 issue of Night Fiend, but I can acquire it for you, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“I better go!” I spit out. “Michael! We’ll talk more soon, okay?”
“Oh! Yes! You have a good day, Jules!”
I give a quick nod to Michael, then turn back to the stranger, whose eyes still haven’t left me.
“Have a good day!”
“Oh I shall, Jules. I shall.”