The Mystery Girl
Hours had gone by since Mistel opened his shop for the day, and not a single person had come by. To say he was bored would be an understatement. There was nothing for him to do. The merchandise was dusted and arranged exactly how he wanted it. He had already read, and reread, every book he could find in the building.
Mid-afternoon came and he decided to end his suffering by closing his shop early. Mistel retreated to his new favorite part of town. There had always been a patch of unused land south of his house and over the last year it had been revitalized. There now are some outdoor tables with umbrellas for shade and all kinds of flowers planted in the area. It wasn't long until Mistel realized how much he enjoyed relaxing at the furthest table from the houses. With all the trees and flowers that one was almost hidden from view of the sidewalk. It gave him privacy without having to be locked away at home.
Like most days, Mistel brought a sketchbook and a few pencils with him. He liked doodling on scrap paper when he was bored at the shop. Over the last year Mistel decided that he should try to improve his drawing abilities. Lately he had become fond of sketching the different flowers around the outdoor tables.
After an hour Mistel had a page full of serious sketches and doodles. He was turning the page when laughter caught his attention. He saw that Agate and Fritz had walked up the steps from the southern part of town.
Silently Mistel hoped that they wouldn't notice him. He felt a twinge of guilt. While he did find Agate's exuberant personality exhausting, she is his friend. And he values that greatly. But if Mistel didn't have to waste any of his time on Fritz, he wasn't going to.
To his displeasure they went directly to his house. Agate didn't bother knocking. She flung the door open and went right inside with Fritz following at her heels.
With immediate worry for all the fragile items he had for sale, Mistel ran back home. He opened the door with so much force it hit the wall. His teeth sank sharply into his bottom lip as he realized his unwanted house guests weren't on the first floor. Does their rudeness know no bounds, he wondered.
"Breaking and entering is still illegal," Mistel growled as he started up the staircase.
"There you are!" Agate burst, rounding the corner to the stairs.
Mistel passed Agate and stood next to the couch Fritz was sitting at. Fritz stared at the floor nervously; not wanting to meet the blond's gaze.
Agate's large smile dropped a little. "What's wrong Mistel?"
His violet gaze moved to Agate. "Both of you know that you're not allowed in my shop without supervision."
Agate laughed. "You act like Fritz and I are troublesome children."
"You are," Mistel said flatly.
She pouted. "You don't have to be so mean Mistel. We just wanted to visit you."
"Yes, I'm sorry," Mistel sighed. He sat in the chair across the table from Fritz. "So was there anything you wished to tell me Agate?"
Her eyes lit up as she smiled. Agate sat on the arm of the couch next to Fritz. "So today Fritz and I were walking back to town from the safari and we saw a family of bears!"
The sun had long fallen from the sky when Mistel's unwanted guests had finally gone home. His head was still pounding from the thought of Agate's tale. He couldn't believe that he had to explain to her why approaching baby bears is a bad thing. The fact that Agate and Fritz made it to his house unscathed was absolutely baffling.
Mistel was about to get ready for bed when it hit him that he needed to retrieve his sketchbook. He hurried outside to the table and quickly grabbed all of his things. When he returned to his bedroom he placed his pencils on his desk. He thumbed through the pages of the sketchbook, admiring his progress.
Suddenly, a foreign piece of paper placed in between two pages caught his attention.
He backed a few steps and sat on the edge of his bed. Mistel placed his sketchbook in his lap and held the unknown folded piece of paper in his hand. Unfolding it, he realized it was a letter; and his face burned red as he realized it's a letter addressed to him.
The door was closed. The curtains were pulled. And yet that tiny piece of paper made him feel like he was being watched. His stomach twisted. Mistel really believed that no one in the town had been observant enough to have seen him frequenting that table for sketching. Clearly he was mistaken.
I saw your sketchbook unattended. Don't worry I didn't look at anything. I was hoping to talk to you but I missed you it seems.
Would you like to go to dinner with me tomorrow? Meet me here at this table around 6pm and we can go to Raeger's restaurant.
Dinner…..with me? That can't possibly make any sense, Mistel thought to himself. "Iris!" he called, but nobody came.
Sighing Mistel kicked his shoes off and laid down on his bed. The silence of the house reminded him that Iris wasn't returning from her trip until tomorrow. His eyes returned to letter. He read it over again.
His stomach fluttered. His lips curled into a small smile. I think someone asked me on a date, he wondered. A heartbeat later his smile sank. That cannot be correct.
Unfortunately for Mistel that next day happened to be one of his days off from the shop. There was no distraction for his mind to get him through the day.
It was mid afternoon when Mistel was digging through his closet trying to decide on what shirt to wear.
A sudden knock on his door startled him. "You home Iris?"
"There you are," she said opening the door. "You forgot to unlock the front door this morning. Meeting with my editor is exhausting. I'm lucky I found where I put my keys."
"Sorry," Mistel mumbled as he kept looking through his closet.
It was then that Iris looked at the disarray of her brother's room. The bed was still unmade. Clothes were tossed on the floor, and Mistel still appeared to be in his pajamas. "Mistel look at me." Her voice was full of concern.
Mistel turned to look at her. Sluggishly he ran a hand through his hair. There was no mistaking the dark circles around his eyes.
"You were awake all night. Are you alright?"
"No," he said simply and turned back to his closet.
"Mistel what's wrong?"
He plucked a purple button up shirt and tossed it toward the bed.
"Do you have plans tonight?"
"Read the letter on the desk," he said pulling pants and socks from a drawer.
Iris walked over to his desk and quickly read the over the note. When she finished she had a large grin spread across her face. Iris turned on her heels to face her brother.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed. His gaze would not meet hers.
"Mistel why does this have you so upset? It's cute."
"I shouldn't go."
"Even though you've picked out a handsome outfit for yourself?"
"I'm not going."
"Why not? It's quite cute. A mystery girl left you a hidden letter. She dots her 'I'swith hearts. I need to use this as a plot in a future novel."
"I'm not going," Mistel growled. He made eye contact this time. "Someone is clearly playing a joke on me."
Iris' lips pressed in a hard line. Her gaze hardened and did not leave her brother. "Please then Mistel, enlighten me as to why you think that."
"No one would ever bother asking me on a date."
"And yet someone has."
"They're planning on making a mockery of me." His gaze fell to the floor. His fingers rubbed and messed with the fabric of his pajama pants.
"I highly doubt that, Mistel. Really," Iris said softly
"No one in this town seems to share my interests. There is nothing romantically stimulating about me. I look like a child and barely taller than one." His voice was practically a whisper by the end.
Iris took a few steps forward and placed a hand on Mistel's shoulder. "You shouldn't be this hard on yourself. There are some sweet girls in this town, and I'm sure many of them would argue against your previous statements."
Mistel neither spoke nor did he look at Iris.
"There isn't a single girl in this town that you fancy?"
Mistel's gaze hardened as he looked at his sister. "There are plenty of lovely girls in this town. I'd be a fool to deny that, but I'm not particularly close to any of them."
Iris smiled. "That's why dating is fun. You get to know one another."
"I'd rather get to know someone before I commit myself to a real romantic date," Mistel spoke flatly.
"That's fair. I still think you should give this mystery girl a chance, but nonetheless I'll support whatever decision you make."
Mistel nodded and Iris left his room, closing the door behind herself.
The sun was low in the sky. It was twenty minutes to 6pm when Mistel was exiting his house. He had only shut the door behind himself when he saw Iris leaving Klaus' house. He stood there with his hands in his pants pockets and his front teeth biting down on his bottom lip.
Iris approached with a smile on her face. "You look very nice tonight."
Mistel looked at her for a moment. He felt so unsure about everything. Am I too dressed up? Does my hair look weird being brushed nicely instead of hastily? Am I wrong about this being an elaborate joke?
"I'm serious," Iris continued. Her smile faltered. "Mistel, I'm not used to seeing you lack confidence. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do."
"Thanks," he said. Mistel took a deep breath and composed himself. He straightened his posture; and held his head high. "You're right. I should give people a chance. That is what I am doing tonight."
"Good luck," Iris grinned. She opened the door to their house. "Don't stay out too late."
"Just go back to your pen and paper," Mistel shot as he started towards the tables.
For a while he just stood there focusing on his breathing. His nerves were eating at him. He felt torn between wanting to believe the glimmer of hope that someone honestly asked him out to dinner and that someone was blatantly making a mockery of him.
It was dark when Mistel slammed the door shut. Some of his more delicate pieces of merchandise rattled on the shelves, but for once he didn't care. Mistel went up the stairs and pushed past Iris at the top.
"Mistel what's going on?"
He opened his bedroom door and turned his head, looking over his shoulder at Iris. "Well it turns out that I was in fact correct. Someone was clearly screwing with my emotions, because no one showed."
Before Iris could get a word out Mistel slammed the door shut behind him. At that moment he wasn't sure if he was more mad about the situation or about his eyes welling with tears before he was alone.
That next day Mistel opened his shop on time. He had himself dressed normally, and he kept a calm demeanor. But there was no hiding the dark, swollen skin around his eyes. It was a long night and Mistel hoped that it would be another dead day with no customers. He sat behind his counter trying to concentrate on one of his favorite books.
Iris slowly made her way down the stairs to the shop. She yawned as she looked at her brother. "You know you can give yourself the day off, right?"
Mistel looked up from his book. His stare was cold. "I am perfectly capable of working today. It would be rather unprofessional to grant myself another day off."
Sighing Iris headed back up the stairs. "If you need anything just holler," she added.
"Of course," Mistel answered flatly.
It was noon when Lillie entered the Antique shop. A large smile was spread across her face. For a moment she pretended to look at some statues on a table in the middle of the shop. Her gaze kept going to Mistel, who was busy reading.
When she realized that Mistel was not going to acknowledge her presence, Lillie approached the desk directly. "Hi Mistel."
Lillie's upbeat mood was the last thing Mistel wanted to deal with. "Hi Lillie," he said not even looking up from his book. He hoped she would leave.
"Can I help you with anything Lillie?" Mistel said finally looking up from his book.
Lillie looked like she was going to burst from excitement. "I was wondering if you've seen Minori at all lately?"
"No, I haven't," Mistel answered dully. He looked back at his book.
Lillie's smile vanished. "But what about last night?"
Mistel dropped his book. "Excuse me," he burst.
Nervous now Lillie started backing to the door. "Uh….I-I...should be going."
"No you shan't," Mistel snapped. He was standing now. "You know who pranked me."
"N-no I-I don't. N-no prank."
Mistel walked around the counter. His stare was burning into Lillie.
"Mistel what is going on down there?" Iris called from upstairs.
"Iris!" Lillie yelled. "I'm frightened."
"Just tell me who it was," Mistel growled.
Iris rushed down the stairs. She put herself between Mistel and Lillie. "Calm down," she said to her brother.
Lillie took another step backwards towards the door.
"Don't let her leave! She knows who left the note."
"N-no I don't."
Iris turned to look at her. "Lillie dear, come here." She said kindly; and held an arm out for her to approach.
Lillie went to Iris seeking her protection. Iris smiled at her and put an arm around her shoulders. Looking up at Iris she said, "I don't know what Mistel is talking about."
"Of course you do," Mistel said sitting on the counter now. "You know something happened last night."
"Lillie, I'm taking my brother's word on this," she said sweetly. "Be warned I'm not going to ask a second time this nicely. Tell us who got my brother's hopes high and then smashed them."
Lillie didn't have to be asked again. She knew that Iris wouldn't let her leave now. "Okay," she whispered. She looked at Mistel. "It wasn't a prank," she insisted. "Minori likes you….she likes you a lot."
"That's absurd," Mistel said looking away from the two girls. His face was heating up.
"This isn't something I would lie about!" Lillie burst.
Mistel's gaze snapped back.
Iris removed her arm from the girl.
Angry, Lillie walked right up to Mistel. Staring him in the eye she continued, "I feel horrible for betraying my friend's trust. Her crush shouldn't find out about her feelings like this but I don't think you two would have let me leave!"
"Lillie-" Iris started.
"Please let me finish my story," she said calmer, and taking a step back. Lillie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "We were walking around town. Minori was hoping to see you, but she only spotted your sketchbook out on that table out there. So I told her that we should wait around there because you were guaranteed to return. That scared her."
"Why would that scare her?" Mistel spoke aloud without thinking.
"Could you be anymore dense?" Iris said. "If she likes you then she doesn't want to mess anything up in front of you. So she's probably too nervous to actually talk to you."
Lillie sighed. "That's exactly it."
"That's so cute," Iris said sweetly. "I really do need to use all of this in a future story."
Mistel wouldn't make eye contact with either girl. His face was burning red. The whole situation felt unreal to him.
"That would be so cute," Lillie said to Iris. Turning back to Mistel she continued, "I told her to write you the note asking you out. I thought it would be romantic and she would get a chance to actually talk to you."
"Well..I guess she changed her mind," Mistel muttered.
"No!" burst Lillie. "I was with her yesterday after she finished her chores. She's been working so hard to learn to make new clothes and she finally made a new dress. And shoes. Minori was so excited to be wearing them. I did her hair for her. She had every intention of meeting you yesterday."
"And you haven't seen her since yesterday?" asked Iris.
Lillie turned towards Iris. Her eyes filled with worry. "She was supposed to meet me this morning but when she didn't show I thought that maybe she was here."
"Well I think someone should go check on her to make sure everything is okay. Even if she did get too scared to show up last night, why would she not meet up with you this morning?"
"You're absolutely right," said Lillie. "I'll go track her down now."
Lillie dashed for the door. She was turning the knob when Iris spoke.
"Lillie wait. I think Mistel should go check on her."
"Oh!" A pink blush spread across her cheeks. "That would be romantic. It would make Minori happy," said Lillie.
Mistel got up and took a step toward Iris. "I have a store to run. What makes you think I should go?"
Iris grinned. "You've been blushing terribly for quite a while now. I think you want to go and get some answers."
Mistel stared at his sister for a few moments. He felt torn between his responsibilities to running his shop and to the fluttering feeling in his stomach at the thought of someone actually being interested in him. He took a deep breath. "Just close up the shop."
"Consider it done."
On the walk up the mountain Mistel felt like his head was swimming. A part of him still wasn't believing Lillie's claims of Minori's affections for him. Why would she like me?
He kept trying to think of what she would find appealing. From what he could recall she never spoke much to him. Minori would visit his shop at least once a week to look at his inventory, but she never stayed long. Sometimes they would exchange a few words at the town festivals, but she was usually too busy competing to talk to anyone for long.
He smiled at the memory of Minori at the last harvest festival. Her smile was beaming when they announced her the winner. She was so excited. It was really sweet, Mistel thought. His smile faded as he also remembered how many of the other eligible bachelors in this town commented that day on how fond they are of her. Raeger, Fritz, Nadi….they all find her charming. There's no reason to chose me over them, he thought feeling sick in the pit of his stomach.
Mistel was out of breath when he reached the top of the mountain trail. He was surprised to see how much Minori's farm had changed. Last time he was out this far was when the town paid their last respects to Miss Eda. From what he could recall, Minori's farmhouse was tiny and much of the land wasn't in use.
Now her farm house had an addition. There were plenty of crops growing in the fields and the fenced field around the barns were full of animals.
Mistel was heading for the farmhouse when he could hear a faint sound. He followed it to the fence surrounding the barns. As he approached he realized someone was humming.
He couldn't find the source at first. Not until a cow moved away from the fence. That's when he saw Minori.
Her back was to him as she was grooming a cow. She was humming a tune to herself. Mistel couldn't place what song it was. After a moment he called out to her, "Minori."
At the sound of his voice Minori's body tensed. The brush in her hand fell to her feet. Slowly she turned her head to look over her shoulder. Her expression saddened.
Mistel's attention honed in on the gauze bandage taped to her face. He immediately climbed through the fence and approached her. He instinctively reached out to touch the bandage but he stopped before he touched it. His mind was racing with every possibly of how this could have happened and how bad the injury underneath was.
Minori's eyes started filling with tears. She turned her head away from him. "I look hideous, don't I?" Her voice was quiet.
Mistel took his handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed the tears rolling down her cheek.
Minori looked at him confused.
He kept wiping her tears away. "Minori, you have never been nor will you ever be hideous," he spoke so gently it surprised even himself.
She closed her eyes and blurted out, "I wrote the letter you must have found in your sketchbook."
"Unfortunately someone beat you to that revelation, but that letter is why I am here." It was then that Mistel realized that Minori was visibly shaking.
"I'm so sorry," she said trying to wipe away the new tears escaping her closed eyes.
The motion caused Mistel to notice another gauze bandage on her arm. He suspected here were more on her legs. "Minori."
She opened her eyes. They were still glassy, ready to flow with more tears at any moment. Her body was still trembling.
Her name had fallen from his lips. Sweet and gentle as before. He wasn't sure what he was going to say but more words kept coming. "If you tell me why you're covered in bandages, I'll consider forgiving you."
"Okay," she muttered. "Can we go inside? I need to sit down."
"Of course," Mistel answered.
Minori picked up the brush she dropped and slid it into her backpack that was on the ground next to her. She then slung it onto her shoulder and headed for the gate.
"Minori, you're limping," Mistel exclaimed.
She stopped and turned to look at him. Her face was still wet from tear streaks and the skin around her eyes was turning red. She gave him a weak smile. "It's a part of the story."
"Please let me help you," he urged, standing next to Minori now.
Her shaking slowed. "It's...I'm okay."
"Can I at least carry your backpack for you."
Minori slid the bag off her shoulder and handed it to him.
In return he held his handkerchief out for her to take. When she stared at him puzzled he said, "For you to dry your face. There is no need to cry."
More tears welled from her eyes as she shakily took the handkerchief from his hand.
Slowly they made it to Minori's farm house. Mistel felt absolutely baffled by Lillie's comment about Minori's feelings for him. She looks at me like I'm the most frightening thing she has ever seen. The thought kept circling around his head.
When they got inside Minori limped over to the couch. She wiped away her tears again, and then held the handkerchief in her hands in her lap.
Mistel wasn't sure where to put himself. He had never been to Minori's house before. Minori always seemed to be friendly with everyone in town; he wondered if anyone ever returned the favor and paid her a visit at home.
Biting his bottom lip Mistel observed what he could see. The house was generally what you saw upon entering. In the far back was the kitchen. To the left was a couch. Next to it was an end table with an antique lamp on top. Mistel made a mental note to examine the lamp later. To the right was a small dining table with a chair on either end of it. Against the wall near it was a large bookcase with only a few books on the shelves. He could see a closed door on the far right wall. Mistel guessed that door must have lead to the bathroom because on the wall to the left he could see a door ajar. That door was to the new addition to the house. That must be the bedroom, Mistel decided.
Unsure of where to put himself Mistel decided to indulge his curiosity of what books were there. He was surprised to see that many of them were similar topics and stories that he liked to read. For some reason that made him feel less nervous.
"Mistel?" said Minori. Her voice sounded more like herself.
Mistel turned around to look at her.
She made eye contact for only a moment and then stared at her hands in her lap. "I planned on showing up yesterday," she began. "The whole thing was silly. Lillie pressured me into writing the note." Her cheeks started burning.
But for Mistel, her words stung. I knew it, he thought. She doesn't like me like that.
"-I had recently finished making a dress. Something for special occasions. And Lillie….when we saw your sketchbook she thought it was a sign for me to make a move."
"I'm sorry she pressured you into doing something you didn't want to do," he said bluntly.
"Mistel you have the wrong idea," Minori said forcefully. Her gaze met his finally. "That dinner was something I wanted."
For once Mistel's mind ceased with thoughts. He felt tongue tied.
"I wore my new dress. Lillie did my hair and gave me pretty heels to borrow, but…you see it's really dumb what happened. My ankle twisted and I'm not used to wearing heels." She held her face in her hands now. "It's so stupid. It twisted when I was on the mountain trail. Falling there only made me tumble downhill off the trail. All the rocks, branches, and thorns destroyed my dress." Minori had to start wiping away tears again. "I got the mud out but I can't fix the cloth nicely."
Mistel frowned. "A dress is replaceable. You're not."
His words stunned her.
He continued, "How are your injuries?"
For a moment Minori felt like she had forgotten how to speak. As she searched for words her hand came up to lightly touch the bandage on her cheek. She winced, but she was thinking more about the pain when it happened than the light sting now.
Mistel took a few steps towards the couch. He had no idea what to do. All he knew was that he wanted to help in some way.
Minori opened her mouth to speak. "Everything is...fine," she finally said. She gave him a small smile. "My knees have scrapes. Reminds me of when I fell off my bicycle as a kid."
"What about your pretty face?" Mistel asked. That bandage had been staring him down for a while now. And finally, it hit him why he was so concerned. Mistel felt responsible.
Minori could feel the burning blush on her cheeks; all because of that one word. "I-It's not too bad. The cut only bled a little."
Mistel didn't say anything. His eyes studied her face.
She looked away from his gaze and back down to her hands in her lap. "I bandaged them the best I could. I probably went overboard but I didn't want anything to get infected."
"How is your ankle? Have you been to see Marian yet?"
"No," she said simply and with a slow shake of the head. She stood up."It's sore to be up on my ankle but farm work doesn't end."
"Then why are you up now," Mistel exclaimed.
"Town is too far away to go, and it's not that serious," she said limping towards the kitchen.
"You're only going to make it worse. You should rest," Mistel pleaded.
Minori ignored him as she took an ice pack from the freezer and limped back to the couch. She took her shoes off and put her foot up on a pillow. She winced as she laid the ice pack on her ankle.
Mistel watched her forlornly. "It's terribly swollen."
"It will be fine in a few days," Minori mumbled. She handed his handkerchief back to him. "So you heard my pathetic story. I'm really sorry for the mess." She felt like crying again from embarrassment.
Mistel shoved his handkerchief back into his pocket.
"I'm sorry for keeping you this long too," Minori continued. A heartbeat later her eyes widened. "Shouldn't you be at work?"
"It ended up being another slow day. Not a single customer," Mistel answered simply.
"I'm sorry about that," she said looking away from him.
"Should I be going now?" Mistel began. "Should I get anything for you so you can rest?"
Minori smiled. "You're far too kind to me."
"Nonsense," Mistel said flatly. "I should go bring Marian here to check on you. And that still wouldn't be far too kind."
Minori's cheeks burned red. "No. I'm okay. I'll be okay."
"I hope so," Mistel exhaled. He made it a few steps toward the door when he realized he forgot to ask something. His heart started pounding in his chest."Before I go. I was wondering something."
Minori looked at him. "What is it?"
"I was wondering why you asked me to dinner in the first place. Why the letter?"
Minori bit the inside of her cheek. She suddenly felt like she was covered with sweat. "Well…I.I.." She swallowed her spit and took a deep breath. "You may have noticed, but this has probably been the calmest I've spoken to you."
"There's no reason to be nervous," Mistel said simply. "Believe me, I'm more frightened of you than you are of me." His lips pulled into a small smile.
"That's just silly," Minori said quietly. A moment later she continued. "You always seem so busy. I worry I'm going to be nothing but a bother to you, and...I'd like to get to know you, Mistel. So Lillie and I thought maybe a dinner would be a nice way to talk."
Minori's face managed to grow even redder.
"All of this-" Mistel began. "-because you wanted to know me better?" He looked at her in awe. "Minori my work unfortunately brings me few steady customers. It's lonely a lot of the time. I would gladly welcome company. I can't imagine you ever being a bother."
"Okay then," Minori squeaked.
"I fear I am making you uncomfortable," Mistel said trying to repress a smile. He was beginning to find her skittish expression amusing. "I'll be going."
He opened the door. I think I'd be happy to know her better, he thought feeling delighted.
He looked over his shoulder.
"Now that I know I won't be a bother...I'll try...try not to be so nervous. I'd like to be friends."
"I'd really like that too," Mistel said with sincerity.
I was going to add more, but every time I started it felt like it was opening a new story. I like where I chose to close it. It felt more final at this point, but it gives me a whole world of possibility to come back to the story if I wish too.
Side note between you and I, Mistel did send Marian to go check on Minori.