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While I get back to reading, I hold my book a little closer to my face than usual in some weird attempt at hiding from the world. There is no sign of the customer. Maybe he went to look somewhere else, I tell myself. Maybe he couldn’t find you. Unless Rileigh gave him directions... oh shit, I hope she didn’t...

The sound of a voice drags me back into reality.

"Um... hi..."

I glance up over the top of the book. Standing there is a lanky boy who looks about my age. I wonder if he wandered into the bookshop because he was lost. He is mixed-race probably, with an explosion of curls the colour of coal and a pair of black glasses that suit his face so well they could’ve been custom made. Amongst all his hair sits a large red pair of Beats headphones, and even though he’s a good few feet away I can hear the quiet thrum of the kind of beat found in a rap song about smoking weed and getting high with bitches.

“Hello,” I say, not looking up at him.

“Are you the girl the shop assistant told me to find?” he asks, almost shouting over his music.

“Yes!” I shout back. “You might want to take those off,” I add when he looks at me with a confused expression.


It’s enough to make me want to whack him with my book - and I never use them as torture weapons. “Your headphones,” I say, raising my voice and pointing at them. “You might want to take them off.” Only afterwards do I realise I sound like I’m speaking to someone who doesn’t speak a word of English. Still, he hears me, taking off his headphones and hanging them around his neck. The twang of a guitar and a bassline joins in with the drums for a few seconds until he gets out his phone and turns it off. It’s not rap music.

“You’re not a fan of rock music, are you?” the customer asks.

What have I got myself into? I know fuck all about music. “I never said I wasn’t,” I deadpan.

“Well, you kind of made a face when I took my headphones off and the song was still playing, that’s all.”

“I expected it to be something worse, to be fair.”

“It’s Funeral For A Friend,” he says with a grin. “They’re amazing.”

Do I look like I care? I want to say. “Cool. Anyway, what did you want to ask me?”

“Basically, I need some recommendations. I don't come here normally, and I don't know where to start. I don't read. Not at all.”

You strange, strange human being. "So, why did you come here?" I hate furthering the conversation, but I couldn't not ask the question.

The customer puts his head in his hands, and I can see the sort of smile through the gaps between his fingers that only appears in times of embarrassment. "I hate admitting this," he says, "but I'm here because my mum made me go." How old are you? Ten? “Apparently, I’m ‘too dependent on technology’ and she wanted to remind me that 'doing pointless shit on my phone' can't be put on my Personal Statement.” He rolls his eyes. “I tried to get out of it, but then she threatened to confiscate my headphones... so, here I am.” He shrugs.

“How come you don’t read at all?”

“I just don’t like books.”

“What? Why?”

“I just find them boring,” the customer explains. “Wait... I’m not offending you, am I?”

“I’m used to it. I know more people like you than people like me,” I say,. “How many books have you actually read in your life?”

“Just the ones I got forced to read,” he says dryly.

“Have you read Harry Potter?” I suggest.

“Only the first book, then I got bored. The movie was better anyway.”

“Sorry, what was that?” This conversation has to end soon, otherwise his mum may never end up seeing him again.

“The movie was better anyway.” All I can do is sit there, shaking my head. “Oh. Please don’t kill me for that...” he says.

“Nah, I’m feeling nice today, so I’ll just educate you instead,” I say. “It's so easy to ruin a story by turning it into a film. They change or leave out so much in the films when the story's good enough as it is. Like in the first Percy Jackson movie where the pen that turned into a sword was a click pen and not a cap pen like in the books."

"That's hardly anything," the customer points out.

"There's bigger things too. Hey, you know Harry Potter, right? Remember Peeves?"

"Not really."

"They didn't put him in the film! They took out the whole thing with... oh wait, you didn't get as far as the Goblet of Fire. Shame."

“Prove me wrong then,” the customer says in a tone he might use if he were daring me to do something dangerous. “Show me a book that’s better than the movie. I don’t know if it exists, but hey, you probably know more than I do.”

“Challenge accepted,” I tell him as I stand up and stuff my book into my bag. “I think I know something you’d like.”

I lead him into the labyrinth of bookshelves, and when I check behind me, in case he's run off (which is probably for the best for both of us) I notice how he looks kind of disgruntled by everything. It makes me think of a parent with no interest in the drawing their child did for them. As I browse again, it makes more sense as to why he asked me for a recommendation: I can’t see him picking up many of these and reading past the first chapter. There’s a reason you never see boys in the YA section.

“I’ve found something,” I say, turning round. I was about to address him by name, but I don’t know it, and I’m not planning to ask.

“What is it?”

I thrust a book into his hands. “I don’t know if you’ve read The Hunger Games, but if you haven’t, boy, you’re missing out.”

“I’ve seen the movies though,” he says nonchalantly. “I know the story. I know the ending. What’s the point?”

“Have you seen anything else you’d want to read?” I ask. “Something that hasn’t been made into a movie yet?”

“Everything else is either about vampires, fallen angels or people with cancer. Still... this is better than nothing, I guess, and if it’ll finally shut Mum up...”

“Trust me, you’ll like it. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t.”

He begins to turn towards the checkout, but then he stops. “Wait... um, I’m sorry if I sounded like an arse just then, by the way. I’m not like that normally... I don't think I am anyway.” The customer fumbles for words, but none come out. “Oh yeah - your name is Nicole, right?”

And then I self-destruct in one big fiery ball of annoyance. “No,” I say, begging myself not to erupt again. “It’s Nick-ol. Like David Nicholls.”

“Oh, uh... sorry. I’m not the first person to get it wrong, am I?”

“Only my dad and Rileigh ever get it right.”

“People spell my name wrong all the time,” he remarks. “I better go and pay for this then; I have to be home for half four. Thanks for your help, Nick-ol.”

“Congratulations! You are now the third person to pronounce my name correctly.”

But again, he stops before he can walk more than five or six feet away from me, and looks back at me over his shoulder. Turn around, I want to say, feeling myself bristle. Pay for the book, enjoy the book, and get home before your mummy loses her temper so what just happened can fade into the past.

“I’m Johnnie, by the way.”

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