Maddie followed him down the aisle. His shoulders were stooped, as if to make his tall frame seem smaller, or if he had spent his whole life carrying too many books in his backpack.
Most likely the latter, she thought as she passed along the shelves of books. She had never come this far into the bookshop. It was too fusty-smelling and stuck up compared to the comic book store where she worked. Everyone was welcome there, whereas here, only rare book collectors and their bored-looking assistants came in.
She hesitated, wondering if she should practice what she wanted to say to him, but then decided against it.
So what if he’s more bookish than me? I’m not going to use ten-dollar words just to try and impress him. He’ll either like me or he won’t.
He stopped to re-shelve a few volumes of some old crusty text by some old crusty white dude, and she seized the moment. She smiled at his bewildered expression as she cornered him against the shelf.
He clutched a book against his chest. “Uh, hi.”
“Luke, right?” she said. She nodded to his plaid-shirted chest. “You guys don’t have nametags here, huh?”
“Um, no we don’t…How do you know my name?”
She waved her hand dismissively. “I asked your boss, he told me when you’d be getting off lunch. So listen, would you like to get lunch with me tomorrow?”
He blinked so fast Maddie thought his horn-rimmed glasses might fall off his face. “I – uh, I don’t know. I don’t even know your name.”
She pointed to the nametag on her shirt. “You must be really near-sighted.”
Ugh, why is he so damn cute?
“Maddie, right, of course,” he said. “Sorry. You, uh, caught me off guard.”
She flashed one of her infamous grins. “I’m good at that. So, whaddya say? Lunch, tomorrow, at Subway?”
“The one down the street?”
“Yeah. I’ve seen you head there before. Some days we have the same lunch break.”
His brown eyes narrowed. He stepped back, his spine touching the row of spines behind him. “Have you been watching me?”
“I’m not stalking you if that’s what you mean. I work at Lee’s Comics.”
The furrow between his brows smoothed, but his eyes were still wary. “That’s why you look familiar.”
“Do I?” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. She pulled her hand away in a flash of anger at herself.
Dammit Maddie. Really, the hair tuck? Keep it together.
“Yeah, I’ve seen you around too,” he said. He cleared his throat, and hope flickered in her wry heart.
Ok, this is going well…Although he still hasn’t given me a Yes or a No.
He shifted the book to his other arm. “So, do you always ask guys out the first time you meet them?”
She laughed, and his eyes crinkled when he smiled, and she thought her wry-ass heart was going to leap out between her ribs.
“Not always. Sometimes I ask their name second, instead of first.”
He nodded, his eyes traveling from her boots up to her purple hair. He pointed to her knees. “Your, uh, tights are pretty.”
She looked down at her legs, then back at him. “My…tights?”
“Yeah, they’re, um really pretty.”
Hoo boy, hold that thought. Romeo needs a little work.
“Y’know for a bookworm you’re not as articulate as I thought you’d be,” she said.
He bristled, and for a moment she was afraid she had crossed the line – as she always did – but he recovered well enough.
“If we’re talking books, then sure. With people, though, not so much…”
She crossed her arms and gave a half smile. “Ok then, let’s talk books. What’s that doorstop you’re holding?”
He held it up. “It’s the French first edition of Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. Isn’t it beautiful? Look at the printer’s mark on the colophon. And the marbled frontispiece.”
She reached towards the swirled design on the page, but he pulled the book away.
She rolled her eyes. “Books are for reading and loving. Not for putting in vacuum-packed plastic, or in glass cases to never be touched.”
They studied each other for a brief second, under the dim glow of the dusty light bulb above. Doubt crept into Maddie’s mind.
Wow, uptight much?…Maybe I should abandon my quest to date Bookish Guy?
The light bulb buzzed and flickered, breaking the silence. His face softened, and he held out the old tome.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I just get protective sometimes.”
She took it and admired the hard leather binding, the way the gilded edges shimmered in the soft light.
“It’s beautiful,” she said gently. Then she smiled. “I can think of a certain DC superheroine who would look even more fabulous with gilding on her pages.”
He chuckled. “So have you read it? Crime?”
She wrinkled her nose, twitching her hoop piercing. “Nope. I think they assigned it in high school, which means I definitely didn’t read it.”
“Oh,” he said, his face falling. He spun around on his leather brogues and pulled another gold-edged book from the shelf. “What about The Old Man and the Sea by-”
His shoulders drooped, and he returned the books to their places, deftly yet carefully. She shrugged.
“Sorry, I’m not a big fan of the classics.”
“What do you read then? Just comics?”
“Mostly. Y’know, you could learn a thing or two from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”
Luke rolled his eyes. “I don’t look good in spandex.”
Maddie’s banter senses tingled. She was about to retort when the owner of the bookshop appeared at the end of the aisle with his hands on his hips.
“Luke, have you finished re-shelving those volumes?”
Maddie pulled the Dostoyevsky from the shelf and put it back in an incorrect place. Luke blushed again, but was clearly hiding a smile. He returned it to its rightful place, and turned just as Maddie was mis-shelving another old book. He stepped forward to block her from view.
“Yes Mr. Harrington.”
“Good. I’ve got some more here for you. A new Tolkien first edition’s just come in.”
Luke and Maddie both gasped.
“Which one?” she asked, shoving him out of the way.
Harrington squinted at her. “A Silmarillion.”
Maddie strode to the front of the store, and found the beautiful book on the counter. She had been looking for this edition since she was a girl. It was the only ‘classic’ she really loved, since it was one that wasn’t assigned in school, and therefore all the more tantalizing for the even more rebellious teenage Maddie. Ever since she had found the 6th American edition in a used book shop, with its teal hardback cover and original map still intact, she had wanted to find a first edition. And now, here it was.
Harrington squinted again at her through smudged glasses. “Well, it’s not worth that much. One hundred?”
Maddie’s heart sank. It was more than she could afford right now. “I only have fifty. But can I pay half now, and the rest tomorrow when I get paid?”
The book seller considered her, then nodded. “I don’t normally do this, but sure. You work at Lee’s right?”
“Tell him I’m still looking for that Spiderman issue. He’ll know which one.”
She grinned and put the money on the counter. “You’ll get the rest tomorrow. If not, take it up with Lee.”
Luke slapped another fifty dollars onto the counter. His eyes crinkled at her.
“Let’s split it.”
It was Maddie’s turn to blush this time, but she recovered swiftly.
“Deal. If you let me buy you lunch tomorrow.”
He smiled. “Deal.”
“Deal,” Harrington said, smiling at them both. “In fact, Luke, why don’t you and your new friend go for a coffee break? I’ll finish reshelving.”
“Deal,” said Luke.
“Oh my god, stop saying ‘deal’,” Maddie said. “Come on.”
She took him by the hand, and took the Silmarillion in the other. Harrington watched them disappear around the corner, but they soon returned. Luke cleared his throat. He and Maddie looked sheepish.
“Could we use ten of those dollars for coffee? We’re both broke right now.”
Harrington shook his head as he handed them the money. “Here.”
“Thank you so much, I’ll pay it back-”
“Don’t worry about it,” Harrington said. “Just don’t spill any coffee on your new book!”
Maddie flashed a grin over her shoulder.