Tristan’s eyesight slowly recovered and transitioned from the cloudy outside to the illuminating inside of Kadwalloper’s store. As his vision focused, he saw Kadwalloper now standing directly in front of him, his hand outstretched ready to receive Tristan’s. Tristan complied and shook Kadwalloper’s hand, but Kadwalloper’s grip overtook Tristan’s. His knuckles buckled and pain shot through his hand. Tristan winced and released his grip to end the shake. Kadwalloper made no acknowledgement towards Tristan’s discomfort.
“Hello, hello, Tristan.” Kadwalloper bowed as he spoke. “My, have I been expecting you.”
“You have?” Tristan asked.
“Yes, of course.” Kadwalloper replied, “I believe we had an arrangement.”
Kadwalloper paused for Tristan’s response, but Tristan could only rack his brain for that last day they met. Amid all the new information Quinn just unloaded onto him, the last couple weeks fell by the wayside.
Kadwalloper continued, “Oh come, surely you can remember our most productive lunch meeting. But, please, let us enter my office to continue our conversation. The sales floor is no place for discussion.”
Tristan followed Kadwalloper past the table lamps, past the standing lamps, and past the licensed lamps, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Darth Vader.
They entered Kadwalloper’s office which housed a long, red cedar desk and a red leather office chair of royal proportions. Although he owned a lighting business, Kadwalloper’s office was lit by only one average incandescent bulb. The light coming from it bounced off the table and reflected a reddish glow to the entire office. Tristan glanced at it then turned back to the sales floor, admiring the juxtaposition.
“Strange? My poorly lit office in a store of lighting? Let’s just say, I prefer a dimly lit environment. Now, please, take a seat.”
Both men sat down at their respective spots, but equals they were not. Kadwalloper’s office chair towered over the average, poorly padded spot to which Tristan was resigned. Looking over the desk and down to Tristan, Kadwalloper continued.
“It comes to my mind that our last talk ended in a promise, a bond. I promised you your book would be a success in good faith that you would return to me, dear boy. Have I held up my end of the bargain?”
Tristan remembered more of the conversation they shared at the deli. It was hot that day. He was supposed to do something. What was it?
“I forgot to call. I forgot. Yea, it happened like you said. I got the call from a publishing company. They optioned my book,” Tristan confirmed.
At those words, Tristan remembered they were the same that Quinn said outside the store. She told him it was her who called the publishing firm. Who was telling the truth? Why would she lie about it? How did Kadwalloper know it would happen?
Kadwalloper’s responses were too quick for Tristan to dwell on his questions.
“So, you’re a success now? That’s wonderful. That means that I have held up my end of the deal. I have shown you truth. Have I not?” Kadwalloper cheered.
“Yes, but how did you know?” Tristan asked, trying to make sense of the conflicting accounts.
“How? Why does it matter how? What matters is results. What matters is trust. Have you really forgotten everything I told you?” Kadwalloper pressed, his voice deepening.
“No, I remember.” Tristan did remember now. He remembered that he vowed to do what was necessary. He still believed in that vow, now more than every as time dwindled.
“Now that I have taken that burden from you, trust me when I say I can lift all your burdens from you, starting with your unrequited love.” Kadwalloper offered, again, with a lighter tone.
“But, sir. She is getting married tomorrow. I can’t wait as long as I did before with the book. This needs to happen now, if it can.”
“Ha-ha. I hope you do not mean if, for then surely you do not trust me. Indeed, time is a crucial element in all of this. If you would like for everything to take place before their scheduled wedding, then so be it, that’s up to you. It does make it much easier for all involved.”
Tristan didn’t follow. Could he really get Emily any time he wanted?
Kadwalloper got up from his chair and walked to a filing cabinet. Pulling out a document, he returned back to his seat and looked at Tristan.
“Why I’ve been ready to meet with you for quite some time. I have everything drawn up right here.” He flashed the document towards Tristan, but put it down again before Tristan could actually make out any of the writing on it.
“May I read it?”
“Oh, he’s a lawyer now, is he?” Kadwalloper chuckled. “Basically, it states that tomorrow, at their wedding, your dearest Emily will have a change of heart, realize her love for you, and leave the alter to seek you out.”
Smirking, Tristan tossed the idea around in his head.
“I dare say I have a flair for the dramatic now and again.” Kadwalloper added.
“Yea, okay. That will work. And this is guaranteed?”
“As long as you sign on the dotted line.”
“But what do you get out of it?” Tristan inquired, a voice in the back of his head thinking it’s too good to be true.
“Oh? Me? Why I get a wonderful, eternal friendship in the likes of you, dear boy.” Kadwalloper grinned flashing a thin line of pearly white teeth against his red lips.
“That’s it? I mean, where are the Terms and Conditions?” Tristan bemused himself.
“Terms and Conditions? Hidden fees? Secrets?” Kadwalloper’s voice rose. “Have I ever given you reason to mistrust me? Do you still not believe me to be genuine? Then I feel that we must bring this relationship to a close. I will consider this contract null and void. You may keep any gains or benefits previously discussed. But that is all. Good day sir.” Kadwalloper stood up in his chair as he finished.
Tristan saw the sincerity on Kadwalloper’s face. He meant business. Fear of losing Emily for good washed over him. Fear of not standing up and trying everything he possibly could to get her back. Fear of taking a risk.
“I’ll do it!” Tristan said standing up from his spot and grabbing the piece of paper out of his hand.
“Of course, you will.” Kadwalloper agreed, that large, thin grin returning across his face.
At that moment, Tristan heard a familiar sound, a ringtone. Taking a few seconds to register, Tristan realized it was Emily’s ringtone. Emily’s calling me? Tristan clumsily racked his brain while it rang. Do I pick it up now and possibly anger Kadwalloper? Does he hear it too? Is she calling because Brock is away and she’s free to talk to me? What do I do?
“You may take the call.” Kadwalloper answered Tristan’s thoughts.
“Thank you, sir,” Tristan replied hastily.
As he pulled the phone out of his pocket, the ringing ended. His screen returned to its normal lock screen. He was too late. He had just sent Emily to voicemail, if she would even leave a voicemail. But did it matter? She would be his any second now. Once he signed that document, he’d have won. He’d have achieved his goal of getting Emily back. That’s all that mattered. Didn’t it?
“Now, let’s continue, shall we?” Kadwalloper handed Tristan a red fountain pen.
As Tristan took the pen, his phone flashed again showing a new voicemail from Emily.
“I just gotta listen to this one thing, sir.”
Kadwalloper nodded in approval.
Holding the pen in one hand and staring at the contract, Tristan put his phone up to his ear with his other hand and listened.
“Hi, Tristan? It’s, uhh, taken me awhile to get the nerve to call you.”
As Tristan heard Emily talking to him, his other senses ceased to work. His muscles relaxed, his vision blurred, his mouth lost all moisture.
“I just wanted to let you know that I…” She took a deep breath. “finished your book. I’ve finished it three times now, actually. I think it turned out so wonderful. I’m so proud of you. It’s like we always said, ‘You’re on your way to the moon!’”
A lump developed in Tristan’s throat as his vision blurred to the point where he couldn’t even see the contract still resting on the table.
“But while reading your book, Tristan, I’ve had to face some tough truths. Even though I got so excited when I got your voicemail inviting me to your book reading, I didn’t want to give you the wrong idea. I kinda thought I was falling for you all over again. But then I remembered, I am engaged. I’m about to marry Brock. And even though I broke our engagement…”
Tristan winced at those words. A tear broke from his face and fell landing on the contract which soaked up the salty discharge.
“No, because I broke our engagement, I knew that I couldn’t do that to Brock. I wouldn’t dare put two people through that much pain, especially because I love Brock. I can’t wait to be his wife. And, it’s your writing that I love, Tristan. So please keep writing. Don’t just write for me, but write for yourself. Or, maybe, write for Quinn. I can tell she really cares about you. She’s the one who convinced me to call you before the wedding. It’s like Draven said, ‘No matter how bumfuzzled we are about our present tarradiddles, we’ll be at the ready to snickersnee whatever billingsgate offends thee.’ She’s always there for you Tris-.”
The voicemail stopped. Tristan looked back at his screen. The voicemail system had cut her short. But she neither called back nor texted nor left any other message. Tristan put his phone back to his ear, hoping that Kadwalloper would think that he was still on the phone. He thought about her words. He thought about Quinn’s words. Emily was right, he knew Quinn was always there for him. Tristan had told Quinn he wanted a sure thing. But she was my sure thing. She was standing right there. Tristan thought about what signing the paper would mean. It means I would be breaking a couple up, Emily and Brock. Tristan thought of Brock sitting in the barbershop. Brock wasn’t happy just to slight me. He was happy because he was getting married. He thought about what it meant to be a sure thing. Sure, I’d get Emily back, but does this guy really want just friendship? All Quinn wants is to love me and for me to love her. That’s a sure thing.
Tristan put the pen down.
“Did you sign it? Do we have a deal?” Kadwalloper asked with a winning grin.
“No, sir. Actually, I’ve changed my mind. I will not sign this.”
“And, pray tell, why is that, dear boy?”
“Because…” Tristan knew he had to phrase this just right so Kadwalloper couldn’t twist his words. “Because I want Emily to be happy with Brock. I don’t want to see either of them hurt. I am putting her wants above my own.”
“And…you’re sure about this course of action?” Kadwalloper inquired.
“No.” Tristan answered gruffly. “I have no idea what’s going to happen. But, I’m okay with that. I am going to leave this office in hopes that everything works out for her and, separately, everything works out for me.”
“I see.” Kadwalloper folded his arms against his chest. “And there’s no persuading you?”
“No.” Tristan responded again.
“Well, there’s nothing I can do about it then. I cannot stand in the way of free will and unconditional, unselfish love.”
Kadwalloper took the contract and removed a lighter from his coat pocket. He ignited the lighter and placed the flame under the piece of paper.
“We won’t need this any longer.” Kadwalloper said as fire slowly ate the contract, the ashes scattering over the desk. When the flame reached Kadwalloper’s fingers, he let go of the paper and spoke one last time. “Well, there’s nothing holding you here now. You may leave.” Kadwalloper tipped his invisible cap to until Tristan, “Until we meet again, dear boy.”
Tristan left Kadwalloper’s office. He left the store. He stood on the sidewalk watching the cars go by. I gotta go find Quinn. When he saw a taxi drive by, Tristan’s hand rose to flag it down.
“Quinn’s Books and Brew.” Tristan said while entering the back seat.
Tristan sat anxiously, wondering why they weren’t going much faster. He looked past to the front of the dash. The digital clock read 4:30. Had I only been in there a half hour? Tristan felt good about the time and distance to the store. The smooth ride eased his mind as he thought about what he would say. I’ll burst through the door and say, “I love you Quinn-y”. He thought of romantic movie tropes of the last second revelation of love before the other one left on a plane or train. I’ll walk in and-
Tristan’s concentration stopped as the taxi stopped in front of its destination.
“That’s $35, fella,” the cabbie turned around to tell Tristan.
“Lemme just go grab my wallet. It’s inside.”
“No, you’ll not be getting out of this car.”
So much for a grand entrance, Tristan realized.
He called Quinn’s phone.
“Yea?” Quinn answered.
“Hi, I kinda need some money from my wallet to pay for this cab.”
“Alright, I’m coming.” Quinn replied and hung up.
Quinn came out from the store and paid the cabbie.
Tristan trailed behind Quinn as they entered the store and walked to the back where she had consoled him the night before. Tristan turned Quinn around and stared into her eyes. She looked like she must have been crying since she left the sidewalk at Kadwalloper’s. Her smudged mascara made her look like a sad raccoon as trails of dry tears covered her cheeks like war-paint.
Tristan gave her a hug, wrapping his arms around hers and said, “Let’s both go to New York. There’s nothing here for me now, and I want you to be happy doing what you love most of all. Let’s move there together”
He released Quinn again and looked back into her eyes.
“As friends?” Quinn asked softly, her eyes building a fresh wave of tears.
“As best friends.” Tristan replied, wiping the tears from her face. He moved into her, hunching over to match her height, and closed his eyes. He held his lips millimeters apart from Quinn’s. Quinn inched herself forward just enough, and their lips touched. They gently eased into each other and held the kiss. Tristan broke it and whispered in her ear, “I love you.”
They held each other as hard as they could to try to make up for decades of lost time. Right before Tristan was about to kiss her again, Quinn broke the embrace and turned her head violently up towards Tristan.
“I almost forgot, Laurie called!” Quinn told him.
“Did you tell her you’re going back?”
“No, hush, it wasn’t about me. It was about you. Your book. She wants you to write a sequel, a trilogy, if you can. I wasn’t supposed to tell you. She’ll call you herself.” Quinn smiled and hugged him again. “But now you can write about a new adventure for Hauro, the gang, and his son.”
Tristan returned Quinn’s hug, and as he did so, he finally and wholly let go of his obsession with Emily, looking to his new future with Quinn.