Grief

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        Next morning at Morey's bookstore, the regulars drifted the aisles, no longer looking like ghosts, but instead looking haunted.  They seemed sad, and somehow desperate.  Even Rose looked a bit haggard, thought Jim, and finally he realized that when she'd come in, she hadn't taken off her overcoat and hat.


        "Rose?" he said.  He'd been about to ask if she was okay, but she cut him off.


        "I'm all right, Mister Morey. I just didn't sleep so good last night."


        "Do you need to..."


        "No, I'll stay at work.  I need the hours."  Her lips were pressed together in a severe line, as though she had a headache.  It was safer at the bookstore.  Nice as her apartment was these days, it wasn't as safe as a big store full of used books.  Especially a used bookstore where the person working at the register could stand right next to a big shelf full of best loved books.


        Jim awkwardly trailed off, feeling unable to get a word in edgewise.  Most of the customers looked no happier than Rose.  They were huddling around the register and drifting back amongst the shelves, but they weren't buying much of anything.  Several of them had gone next door for coffee, and come right back into the bookstore to drink it. "Rose, can you run the..."


        "Sure, go ahead," she cut him off again.  "I can handle the place for a while, I'll call you if it gets busy."


        Shaking his head, Jim wandered back to his office.  Rose was cranky and tired, and he wondered if he was getting on her nerves.  He had a bunch of accounting and paperwork to catch up on, and figured whatever was up, she might appreciate some time to herself.


        Rose watched him go.  She hadn't meant to be sharp with him.  She was just distracted.


        ***


        Rose looked up.  They'd been drifting out in the afternoon, and now there were only two other freaks left in the store. Sonia had come in around two, but the one looking at her ...  was Mike Clelland, the same guy who'd resented her at herself so badly when she got the mandala.  What do you want? she wondered at him.


        Sorry about that, he thought.  And, to her surprise, he really was sorry.  He shared his actual regret with her, not just a social form.  I'm always impatient, he was thinking, and I was desperate that day.  Bad dreams.


        She understood instantly, and shared a twinge of sympathy with him.  But bad dreams or not, it just wasn't a way to treat people.


        He seized on the sympathy and did something with her disapproval that was sort of half-accepting and half-ignoring.  Bad dreams again last night, too, he thought at her.  He seemed desperate for sympathy, for understanding.  He had something a hell of a lot worse than bad dreams in the undercurrents of his mind.  He wondered if, maybe she'd had them too?

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