Chapter 12: Nicknames, Smiles and Shoelaces
I frowned to myself, still frozen to the same position. Minutes had passed before I’d realised that I hadn’t replied. I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and I flinched again.
“Are you going to turn around?” I could hear the confusion thick in his voice, but I could also hear him smiling.
I replied to what he’d said before he asked me if I was going to turn around because I obviously wasn’t. I’d made too much of a fool out of myself now. What if he was movie star gorgeous and I’d just ruined my chances with some kind of God? Best to avoid further humiliation, I decided.
He stayed silent for a few seconds more, and in those seconds I realised how weird I most likely looked in that moment. Having a conversation with my back facing the person I was talking to. I tapped my foot on the ground impatiently.
Eventually, I decided to take the upper hand in this unbelievably awkward situation.
“Can you please hurry up and tell me what book it is, because I have somewhere I need to be right now.” I sighed, pretending to be annoyed.
With no hesitation, he replied.
“Only if you answer my question.” I could still hear his smile.
“Are you going to turn around?”
“Are you going to tell me what book it is?”
“If you turn around.” He was holding back a laugh.
“Why do you want to see my face so badly?” I crossed my arms over my chest for effect, before I realised that he couldn’t see me.
“Why don’t you want to see my face? I’m not that bad looking...”
“Okay fine.” I whipped around, turning to face the stranger who had approached me.
The boy stood before me didn’t come close to a movie star, or a God for that matter.
“Nice eyes.” He said.
“Uh-thank you.” I shifted awkwardly on the spot, wondering if he was crazy to say something like that to someone he’d only just met.
“Why are you looking at me like I’m crazy?”
“Are you a mind reader?” I asked Mr Smile, who was no longer smiling.
“No?” he looked lost, “Are you supposed to be left alone or do I need to call someone?”
“What’s that supposed to mean!?”
“It means that I’m not really the crazy one in this situation, you are.”
“Oh really?” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“It’s not every day that I have a conversation with someone’s back and get asked if I can read minds.”
“And it’s not every day that I get crept up on by a stranger in an empty library.” I retorted.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it creeping up on,” he gave a throaty laugh, “I tapped your shoulder and said hello quite a few times.”
“You did?” I hadn’t heard him.
“I did.” He replied.
I gave him another hard stare. He was handsome, but a rugged kind of handsome. Ruffled blonde hair, ocean blue eyes, some freckles scattered on his cheeks. His clothes were crumpled and stained, and I noticed thick layers of mud coating the bottom of his boots.
“Your laces are undone.” I pointed out.
He rolled his eyes in exaggeration, before bending down to do them up.
“God forbid my laces being undone. I’m surprised they let me in here.” Sarcasm dripped from his voice.
I continued to study him. The way he moved. The shape of his mouth as he spoke. His smile and his eyes.
“I recognise you.” I told him.
“Oh-” he stammered, “you do?”
I frowned for possibly the eighth time since I’d met this boy. For the first time since he’d tapped me on the shoulder he seemed awkward and unsettled, compared to less than a minute ago when he was all cocky and confident.
“Yeah...” I trailed off, eyes never leaving his face.
“I hang out here a lot,” he decided, “you might’ve seen me before.”
“Maybe. I am-”
“Here every day.” He finished for me.
“Um...” I gave a nervous laugh, unsure of what to think to that.
“Told you I hang out here a lot,” he ran a finger through his knotted hair, “I remember every face that walks through them doors.” He nodded his head towards the doors.
“I don’t know whether to find that creepy or impressive.” I gave yet another nervous laugh, digging my hands deeper into the pockets of my hoodie.
“It’s not a big deal,” he seemed unfazed by my comment, “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
I was about to ask him why not, but decided at the last minute that I didn’t want to get too personal since we’d only just met.
“You must really like books.” I tried to change the subject.
“No.” He shook his head, eyes hard.
“W-What?” I stammered, stifling a laugh.
“I said no,” he repeated, “I hate books.”
“What?” I was almost sure I was hearing him wrong.
He seemed to study me for a moment, eyes gentle and calm. I could’ve sworn I saw them sparkle.
“Have you got hearing problems?” He broke the silence that had begun to settle over us.
“Hey!” I shoved his shoulder playfully.
He laughed and moved closer to me, so close that I could feel his breath tickle my neck. I cleared my throat before moving away suddenly, butterflies flocking the lengths of my stomach. In that moment I was reminded briefly of Austin, and how I’d felt when he’d gotten a little too close on the car journey back from school.
This boy though, he didn’t look embarrassed at all. He just continued to smile that same smile, except this time it was a little brighter.
“You-” I struggled to keep an even voice, “hate...books?”
“Finally!” he clapped his hands melodramatically.
“That is the weirdest thing I have ever heard. For someone who spends most of their time in a library, you would expect them to maybe like reading? I don’t know maybe I’m crazy.”
“And for someone who didn’t have the guts to turn around and face me earlier, you sure have a lot to say for yourself now. And we’ve already established you’re crazy.”
I ignored his remark, letting silence blanket over us for a few seconds.
“Why do you hate reading books?” I asked, curiosity casting it’s spell on me.
He smiled clumsily, “Because I’m living my own story.”
My breath caught in my throat as I continued to look at this oddly fascinating boy that stood before me. And my eyes wouldn’t budge.
“The Boy That Hates Books...” I whispered.
“That’s me.” His eyes shone.
“There we go, that’s your nickname” I decided.
“Yup, it was Mr Smile in my head but I think this one’s more suited.”
“Yeah,” he chuckled, “Just a little.”
“The Boy That Hates Books.” I said again, clarifying this to myself.
“I like it,” his eyes danced with mine, “and I think I’ll call you Sunshine.”
“Because there’s this light in your eyes when you smile, which makes it kinda hard not to smile back.”
And for the first time that night, neither of us could find any more words. It was nice really, I was content with what we had said. So we just stood there smiling at each other like idiots, and for the first time in a long time I felt like I didn’t have to go off and read a book to forget the day. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to run away like everyone else.
It was only when I said goodbye to The Boy That Hates Books and was already in my truck on the way to see the twins, that I realised one crucial thing.
I never did find out what book he had of mine.