The shopping mall crouched licentiously on the edge of a well-groomed neighborhood, on a rainy December afternoon. The rain got in your collar and somehow into your shoes even if you had a scarf and didn't jump into even the shallowest of the many enticing puddles. The mall was situated so that it was between the elementary schools, grocery stores, movie rentals and the manicured lawns of the respectable neighborhood that lay in the vicinity.
They'd gone inside for a shortcut to the grocery store--it was movie night for the roommates of the shared house (with friends and sundries) and by some cruel trick of fate there were five bags of corn chips and no salsa. Not really a cause for too much adventure, just for one of those conversations that lasts for five minutes and then you remember it--and just to give props all around, it's there stereotype of a safe and platonic conversation.
"You won't reread a book because you don't like it." He said it as if he was amused.
"Basically." Well, it seemed obvious enough. She unwrapped her scarf from her neck and put it around her hands; she'd forgotten her gloves.
"Not even to study it?" In a futile effort to better humanity, he wiped his shoes on the mat.
"Studying it would be worse!" She shook her head. "Studying, reading--it all means I'm exposed to the material again, and that isn't good. It's filling your mind with trash, Ethan."
"Meg." He grinned. "Meg. Look, I'm not a Christian, but the argument works for me because you are, so hear me out: you read the Bible, don't you? Yes, of course you do. You're the kind of person who would. Well, have you ever taken a good look at those 'chosen' people?"
She opened her mouth to say something and no sound came out. Tried again. "That's . . . different."
"Of course. You are going to say that the Bible has a message in it, and that that is what makes it different." She nodded, still listening. "Humans, on the other hand, cannot be relied upon to try and express a . . . pure message."
"Yeah." They passed the little bakery shoppe that always smelled like cinnamon rolls; Bing Crosby's Christmas music was blaring out of the intercom system.
"Gah! Ok, you were just quoting that guy who wrote the hobbit books. Tolkywhatsit."
"I know." Then there was the electronics store. They stopped for a moment in silent agreement that the products in the window were ridiculously overpriced.
"Oh, you mean what he said about mistaking applicability with allegory?"
"Exactly. Can you see where it is that I'm taking this?"
"You mean that the message I take from the book depends on me."
"Pretty much. That your reaction reflects more on you than on the book--or books--in question."
The coffee shop. "Coffee? Hot chocolate?"
"Sure, we have time."
They stopped, and there was hardly any line for the counter, so they were walking past the enormous plastic Christmas tree in the centre of the mall before she said something.
"Is there a specific book you wanted me to read, that you made the point?"
"Ever heard of the story of Tristan and Yseult?" Gently, gently . . .
"Read it last summer for a class on legends. Gross. Must I?" Her nose wrinkled in disgust.
"Well . . . not exactly 'must', but I don't know anything about legends and I need help in this class." He poked at the marshmallows in his hot chocolate and thought about making an effort to look pitiful instead of half-triumphant.
"Ok. I can teach you a little."
"Yes! I knew it. Adam said you wouldn't for love nor money."
"Heh. So I won't for love or money, but I will for hot caffeine and good conversation."
"I proved you wrong."
They walked out of the mall through two sets of double doors and walked back into the rain, towards the grocery store.