"Umm, excuse me, ma'am?"
Whoa. I am so not a ma'am. I mean, come on! I'm only 26. I turned around to see who had addressed me with such an offending title...and there he was. Standing right in front of me. Sandy-blonde hair, light green eyes. And tall. Oh my stars, he is cute. For a second I forgot how to breathe. I forgot how to speak. Heck, I even forgot my name!
"You work here, right?" He gave me a half-smile and gestured to the nametag hanging from around my neck.
"What? Oh, yeah! I do. Sorry. I was...yeah. Never mind. How can I help you?" I wanted to die. Right then I would have accepted any form of murder, just as long as it would have saved me from having to talk with The Reader when my face was that shade of red.
"I was hoping you could help me find a certain book. I have a title, but I don't know the author." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, opening it towards me as if to prove that he was telling the truth. Since I was still trying to remember the basics of inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, I gave him a slight nod of the head and willed my voice to not squeak when I spoke.
"Sure thing. Let's just go over here to the computer and we can look it up."
We walked the five steps to the info desk. I positioned myself behind the counter and he lazily leaned up against the counter in front of me. Why? Why are you so cute? And why am I wearing this shirt today?!
"What's the title?" I asked as casually as possible. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my co-worker Holly, waving her hands in the air and pointing to The Reader. I could tell that she was trying not to laugh out loud. Great. This can only end in tears.
"The book is called The Pirate Lord." He looked straight at me and I noticed that he had a faded scar above his left eyebrow.
I typed in pirate lord and waited for the search results to come up. The first title that appeared was indeed The Pirate Lord, but one look at the cover told me that it was not the book he was looking for.
"Ummm, are you sure that's the right title?"
"I think so. Why? Is nothing coming up with that title?"
"Oh, no, something came up with that title, but I don't think it's the one you're looking for. Unless…" I swung the screen around to let him look at the cover, “…unless you enjoy the occasional Harlequin romance.” His cheeks turned a little pink when he saw the image of the wannabe Fabio, long hair blowing in the wind, baring his rippling pectorals that graced the cover of the tawdry romance novel.
“Wow. Ummm, yeah, that is not what I am looking for.” I smiled to myself at the embarrassed look on his face. It made him even more attractive.
“Do you have any other information about the book you are looking for? What is it about? Publication date? Anything?”
“Well, I can tell you that it is not a romance. It’s science fiction or fantasy, I think. It’s a book my friend recommended to me. He said it’s pretty new, and he also said that it was maybe the second or third book in a series.” His embarrassment passed, The Reader resumed his position of leaning against the counter, somehow feeling even closer to the computer and me than before.
I modified my search parameters, my fingers fumbling over the keyboard and my hand shaky on the mouse. I was still keenly aware that he, The Reader, was standing right in front of me, looking at me. I only trusted myself to raise my gaze as far as his shoulder. And what a lovely shoulder. Nice chest, too. The new results appeared on the screen and I immediately recognized what book he was looking for.
“I think the title you are wanting is actually called The Pirate King, not The Pirate Lord.” I scanned the information on the screen and remembered what I knew about this particular book. “The author is R.A. Salvatore – he’s a quite a well-known fantasy writer. And it is the second book in a series called Transitions, which is actually part of a larger series called Forgotten Realms, and there are like eight different series within that series. I think the first series, called The Icewind Dale Trilogy, came out in the late ‘80s or something. Anyways, the first in the Transitions Series is The Orc King, which came out just last year. The Pirate King is the second in the series and it came out a couple of months ago in October, so it’s only going to be available in hard cover. The third book is scheduled to come out next year and it is called The Ghost King, so I’m guessing there is a whole “king” theme going on here…”
I finally looked up at him and was taken aback by his expression. It was an odd mixture of amusement and confusion. He continued staring at me, those light green eyes somehow laughing at me. Or mocking me. Or maybe admiring me?
“Ummm, does that sound like the book you’re friend recommended to you?”
“Yes, yes it does,” he chuckled. “You are certainly very knowledgeable about all of this stuff.” He waved his hand towards the computer. It was at that moment that I realized I had just rambled off a whole bunch of information that he probably had no desire of hearing. Smooth, Katie, very smooth. The Reader is finally talking to you and you impress with him with unsolicited trivia that he could probably care less about.
“Yeah, well, when you are surrounded by books all day long, you kind of pick up on these things.” I gave him a sheepish grin and shrugged my shoulders.
“Well, I guess that would be an occupational hazard.” He flashed me a real smile this time and I had to hold onto the edge of the desk in order to remain standing. I chanced a look over his shoulder and saw that Holly was still standing by the display she was supposed to be restocking, just staring at me with a huge grin on her face. She was enjoying my humiliation much more than she should. Again, this can only end in tears.
“So do y’all have the book in stock? Actually, do you have the first one in stock, too? I should probably start with that one.”
“The computer says that we should have both titles in stock and they are going to be upstairs in the Sci-fi/Fantasy section. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where they are.”
“Awesome. Thank you.”
I moved out from behind the counter and made for the up escalator. The Reader followed close behind as I approached the moving steps. I hesitated as I put my right foot down and then quickly lifted it again, not wanting to step on one of the cracks instead of the actual step. In the moment after I wavered and shifted my weight back to my left foot, I was immediately pushed forward and found myself flying toward the moving machine. I stumbled onto the escalator, just barely placing my feet on the edge of a step. I regained my balance only after I had grasped the railings tightly with both hands. Oy vey. That could have been a disaster. Wait a second…whose hands are these?!
My relief at not having face-planted on the escalators in front of The Reader had temporarily distracted me from the reason I had almost face-planted on the escalators. When I hesitated stepping onto the moving death-trap, it seems The Reader did not notice that the bookseller in front of him was not moving. It was his bump that sent me flying onto the stairs and it was his hands that were currently on my waist, steadying me in my precarious position on the step in front of him.
“Whoa! Are you okay? I’m so sorry; I didn’t see that you had stopped!” His apology was accompanied by the aforementioned hands on my waist, holding me upright.
I immediately straightened and planted my feet firmly on the step. The escalator continued its upward journey and I felt his hands slowly leave my waist. Oh my stars. What the heck just happened?
I turned to look down at him and was surprised to find that we were now at eye level. His concern was evident by the crease between his eyes, his scar showing a little more prominently. He continued apologizing until I held up my hands in front of me, palms out towards him as if I were fending off his advances. Advances? What advances? The guy nearly killed me! I could have died! Okay, maybe not have died, but I could have seriously hurt myself. Oh! I wonder if he would offer to carry me if I were to break my ankle?
“I’m fine! It’s okay! Really, I’m fine. No worries.” I was beyond fine. I was incredible! Here I have been watching this guy come into the store almost every day for the past month and he finally asked me (or any bookseller, for that matter) for help. And to top it all off, he touched me! True, I could have made a complete fool of myself in the wipe-out of the century, but no matter. No worries. I was fine. He was fine, too…
We finished the ride in silence and came to the top of the escalator. I stepped off and turned to the left, heading to the Sci-fi/Fantasy section.
“They’re going to be right over here,” I said, pointing to our destination.
“Great. And again, I’m sorry about the escalator.”
“Not a problem, really,” I assured him. He continued following me as I made our way to the right section. I scanned the shelves and found the S’s. I ran my finger over the spines until I came to Salvatore.
“Alrighty, here is the first book in the series, The Orc King.” I placed the book in his hands and gave him a small smile before returning to the shelf. I swept my eyes once again over the books before me and found the one he wanted.
“And here is the second one, The Pirate King.” I again placed the book in his hand and waited as he scanned the fronts and backs of both books.
“Great. This is what I need, thank you. I think I’ll get both of them.”
“Oh, you’re actually going to buy the books today?” The question was out of my mouth before I even realized it, incredulous tone and all. My hand flew to my mouth and my eyes opened wide as I saw those light green eyes glare down at me.
“What was that supposed to mean?” He looked genuinely offended at my rude question.
“I mean, ummm…I’m sorry. Never mind.” I felt my face flush as I stared at the ground. Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up.
“No, really, what was that supposed to mean?” I raised my gaze and saw the amusement return to his face as he folded his arms across his chest and smiled down at me. I could see the bottom of his tattoo peaking out from underneath his shirt sleeve and for the second time that day, I wanted to die.
“Nothing, I just…well, you know, I’ve…ummm. I’ve noticed that you’ve come in before and you never seem to buy anything. You just sit and…read. You just read. You don’t buy the books.” You’re The Reader.
“True, I do come in to read a lot. But obviously you haven’t been paying well enough attention, because I do buy some of the books I read.” He gave me a patronizing smile that I did not like. I did not like it one bit.
“Fine, you buy some of the books you read. But what about all the other books? Huh? Don’t you think that’s kind of like stealing, enjoying the merchandise without actually paying for it? You’ve gone through at least ten different books that I know of and you’ve bought how many? Maybe two or three? Three or four? Still, that’s a lot of books that you’ve read that you haven’t paid for. So I think it’s perfectly justified for me to wonder if you are actually going to buy these particular books today when in the past two weeks I have not seen you buy one book!” For some reason I was feeling very passionate about our topic discussion and I could not restrain myself.
The Reader listened to my tirade patiently, his expression growing more and more playful. By the end his eyes were dancing with laughter and his lips were struggling to remain in a neutral position.
“Wow. Okay, so according to you I’m a book thief. I didn’t realize you cared about me so much.”
“I don’t care! I just don’t think it’s right, that’s all. If you want to read a book, you should buy it first. Wait…what? I don’t, I don’t care…about you. I mean, ummm, I don’t even know you….” My mind was a jumble of thoughts and words, and I wasn’t sure what kind of mess I had just gotten myself into. What did he just say? What did I just say? What the frak just happened?
“You say you’ve noticed me? Well, I’ve noticed you, too. And you are a very good bookseller person, if I might say so. Very helpful, very smart…and very cute.” He unfolded his arms and took a step toward me. I once again forgot how to breathe. I once again forgot how to speak. And I once again forgot my own name.
“Your name’s Katie, right?” Was it? I nodded weakly. “Your friend Holly told me you’d be working today and I wanted to introduce myself.”
I tried to clear my throat enough to be able to form a response. “Okay. Nice to meet you.” It came out more like a question.
“It’s great to finally meet you, too. I was wondering if you would like to continue our little debate about me being a book thief over dinner sometime this weekend. How about Friday night?” The Reader flashed me another smile. A real smile. A make-your-heart-leap-in-your-chest smile. Be cool, be cool, be cool.
“Ummm, sure. That, that would be great. I’d really enjoy dinner…with you.” Too much? Too much. Be cool, be cool, be cool.
“Awesome. Why don’t you walk me back downstairs, so I can pay for my books, and you can give me your phone number?” Oh, I can give you my phone number, buddy. Would you like my heart, too? Because it’s yours…
“Oh, and I’m Reed, by the way. My name is Reed.”
Reed. Reed, The Reader. Go figure.