One aisle over there were two girls searching for a specific book. They discussed the plot, which I knew and the cover, which I also knew. They needed Christina Lauren’s book “Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating” and I stood frozen at the end of my aisle. The bottom of my shoes had been rudely replaced by concrete.
They needed my help.
They might have even wanted my help.
I gripped my book cart and took slow shallow breaths. Through the gaps of the books, I spotted Reiko reading one of the many Agatha Christie books the shop sold. Apparently, she read through Agatha Christie’s bibliography once a year. At the very least. She glanced up from her page, her brow raised.
We had gone through this.
“You have to talk to people,” she had said once she noticed I avoided other people in this town like they were carrying the next plague.
“I will,” I promised.
She was unconvinced.
“I will,” I insisted.
I will, I told myself now, plucking up the courage to do it… but I wasn’t going to go without my cart. Using it as a walker, but also a divide, I traveled to the next aisle. I opened my mouth and croaked through my dry throat. “Um, I can take you there. It’s um,” I licked my lips, my face growing hotter and hotter the more they stared at me. “Christina Lauren-”
The pretty brunette clapped her hands and let out a shout of defeat, “That’s it! Oh my gosh! That was killing me!”
“Thank you,” the other one said.
I nodded and led them to the romance section and showed them the rest of the collection. They thanked me and checked out with more than intended. When they weren’t looking, Reiko gave me a thumbs up. After that, I got a little braver and started going up to people on my own and asking if they needed my help. A few times, I was able to have full on conversations with guys twice my size…. It was nice. Not being so afraid all the time. It was nice to steal a piece of my old self and that familiar confident that hadn’t quite fit in a long time.
Jess came every day to each lunch with me. He started bringing Reiko at least a coffee.
“If it isn’t my favorite boy?” she would say and smile at him.
I huffed, meeting him by one of the tables on the bottom floor. Jess brought me burgers and fries from the place next door. He was getting adventurous. At first, Liam had to be there for people to feel comfortable enough to serve Jess. Now, he could strut in and out without a problem. Some people even remembered his name and not in the kind of way everyone knew the “Boogeyman”.
“He’s the favorite?” I gawked at Reiko as she stole one of my fries. Without asking, she dunked it into my vanilla milkshake. “I’m the one who organized your classics section today.”
She waved me away like an afterthought. “I pay you to do that. No one paid him to be such a gentleman.” She patted Jess’ arm with an evil little chuckle and walked back to the register.
“Well, I know it’s a lie,” Jess laughed. “I’m no one’s favorite.”
I clutched his coat and yanked him closer. “That’s not true,” I smiled, pulling at the edges of his coat until he got the message and leaned down to my lips. Our kissing was interrupted by my grumbling stomach, so we chowed down. Sometimes he’d hang out afterwards, until Liam needed him to come back for the dinner shift. Reiko forced the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Jess when she found out he never read them.
Life had been blissful, and I hadn’t told Jess….
No, I barely let myself entertain the idea for even a moment that I wouldn’t mind staying in Dearest with all these people and our new friends. It reminded me of what Jess told me, when my grandmother told him to call her back when we felt settled somewhere.
I thought it was time to call my grandmother.
One day, I was busying myself with taking books off the shelf and dusting them. Some days were slower than others and I felt too guilty to sit around and red, even though Reiko assured me it was one of the perks. “Drew!” Reiko called my name.
“Coming!” I called and walked to the railing. I leaned over and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she scrunched her brow. “Jess is on the phone for you.”
“Oh.” I hurried down the stairs and picked the phone up from the counter. Reiko stepped away to give me some privacy, but she didn’t go far. “Hey, Jess,” I said, unable to keep from smiling. He never called me before, I was a little worried. “What’s up? Are you getting my lunch order?”
“No,” Jess said. His own excited energy popped and scattered out of the phone. “I’m calling to ask you out on that date I owe you. Just you and me. Tonight, and I’m not talking about having dinner in our room at the Inn. I’m taking you on a real date at a real restaurant.”
My face was close to breaking, I was smiling so wide. “Okay.”
I turned to find a man and his girlfriend close behind. He looked at my face in shock, before this feeling faded and was replaced by something much harsher. He scowled, crossing his arms into a tight knot. “Oh, it’s you.”
I elected to ignore that and asked, “Can I help you?”
“Uh, no. I’d like some help from someone other than you.”
Reiko straightened up. She took one step forward, but I just gripped the phone and stated, “Sir, I’m going to assume you like books or you wouldn’t be here, so I’m going to guess there’s some hope for you, yet. You can get over the fact I’m a Rogue and I can help you find what you need or you can go.” I pointed at the door, only a slight tremble in my finger.
The guy blinked, the gears whirring inside his brain. His brow narrowed deeper and he stated, grabbing his girlfriend and ripping her from a beautiful collection of Jane Austen books. “Whatever, Amazon is cheaper.”
As they walked towards the door, I shouted after them, “Your boyfriend is quite the charmer, huh!” My whole face flushed by this point, but my voice stayed strong.
The door closed and Reiko laughed. She walked up to me, pressing an impression of her red lipstick into my forehead. “That was awesome.”
From the phone, Jess spoke up, “You’re so hot. How did I get so lucky?”
“I’ll see you tonight and we’ll just see how lucky you are.”
With that, I hung up the phone with a grin. I wriggled my head a little, feeling more than just a little proud of myself. The rest of the day, I stocked the shelves with a bit of pep in my step. Reiko also let me use the phone to call the Inn. Thankfully, Grace answered and she happily agreed to gather a nicer set of clothes than the Hoodie I was wearing. She sent Ryan with a bundle.
“Thank you,” I told him, hugging the paper bag he gave me.
“It’s nothing,” he said, bobbing back and forth on his converse. He eyed the door as if he expected a flash flood or some other disaster to pour inside. “My school is on the way and I uh...” He glanced around. “Um, can I ask you something?”
“When you and Jess started dating, um… did you ask him out? Or did Jess?”
“Ryan,” I said. “Just ask Dom out.”
The freckled red-head blushed in half a second flat. He broke records with how quickly his face could go from pale to a rosy red flush. I patted his arm. “I think being direct is the best approach.”
“Right,” he nodded, and he couldn’t have run away fast enough, scurrying back into the cold and yelling behind his shoulder, “Thanks! Have fun on your date!”
Reiko and I laughed. He brought me a nice sweater and a collared shirt to go with my jeans and a blazer that Ryan loaned me from his own collection. It felt less impressive to just throw my coat over it all, but as an Omega, I didn’t run as hot as other wolves.
The front door chimed, and I hurried down from the second floor. “Coming-” I stumbled to a stop as Jess walked into the bookstore. He stood with his shoulders back and he had trimmed his beard a little to give his face a neater scruff. He fingered back his dark hair, trimmed just a little so it was off his shoulders. He wore black dress pants and a matching blazer with a white pocket square. He wore a white collared shirt, opened just at the top. He wore a nice peacoat and a scarf draped around his neck, the ends hanging loose and touching his waist.
It was amazing, he still managed to make my heart skip a beat.
“Wow,” I said, warmth trickling across my cheeks. “You look beautiful.”
He grinned, stuffing his hands into his pocket. I’ve never seen him wear anything close to a suit like this. My knees were too weak for me to move from my spot on the stairs. He strolled up to me with a familiar swagger. The look in his eyes was like molten honey and I was trapped, holding my breath until he reached me. He put his hands on either side of the railings and leaned in close. He whispered, “You look beautiful too.”
I tilted my head as he gingerly pressed his lips to mine. I cradled his face, kissing him over and over again, until my head was swimming and I forgot my middle name. He wrapped an arm around my waist and I leaned back, examining his fresh haircut. I ran my fingers through his dark locks, smiling to myself. “Send my compliments to the chef because you look well done.”
He snorted and dropped his head on my shoulder. With a groan, he shook his head, “you’re such a dork.” He straightened up and kissed me once more. “I’m going to go ask Reiko something. Grace wanted to know if she wanted to donate some books to the lobby and a bundle of business cards…”
“Okay, I’ll watch you go,” I motioned him along. He moved, suspiciously. It took a full second for him to catch my meaning and he shook his head again.
I laughed, leaning against the railing because if I didn’t catch my breath, I was going to pass out. I pressed my hand over my heart, keeping it from popping out and doing a jig across the sale’s floor. It might possibly be a dorky thing to think, but I laughed to myself, bursting with these little sparks and I did watch him go. Those were an excellent pair of pants.
The door chimed again, and a short muscular woman peaked inside. Her dark curls were contained in a messy bun with one streak of white hair. She wore a pair of blue coveralls and boots underneath a thick winter jacket with fake fur lining the hoodie. She spotted me and asked, “uh, sorry. Are you open?”
“Yes,” I said, already smiling. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s um…” She shuffled inside, wiping her hands up and down her coveralls. “It’s my anniversary in a couple of days and I thought, well I thought I’d buy my wife a collection of romantic poems or maybe…”
“I love this,” I told her. “We have sonnets and we have love letters from history. We have plenty of options.” I motioned her as I left the stairs. She followed me down the poetry and essay section, letting me go on and on with my ideas. I handed her a few options, explain the benefits of them all when Jess called my name. I perked up.
“Over here!” I said and explained to the customer. “Sorry, that’s my boyfriend. We’re about to go out. Um, Reiko should be back at the register. She’ll be able to check you out.”
In mere moments, Jess appeared, surprising me all over again. I took a deep breath, somehow still unprepared. It shouldn’t be legal for someone to be that attractive. He did a double take from me to the woman, shock flickering across his face. “Oh, hey, Athena.”
“Hey, Jess,” the woman, Athena nodded. It took me a moment, but I remembered the woman from the local garage had the same name. “You’re lookin’ good. I hear you’re helping Liam at the Inn now?”
“Yeah,” he nodded and made the world right again by returning to my side. He strung an arm around my shoulders and rested there. He said, “It’s been an adventure learning how to cook. I figured I’ll spend the next decade learning how to cook breakfast food and then, maybe I’ll try lunch out.”
Athena chuckled, settling with her eyes on me. She examined me as if for the first time. “This is your mate?”
“Oh, right,” Jess motioned between us. “Athena, this is Drew. Drew, that’s Athena.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said and put my arm around Jess’ waist, clutching a handful of his blazer. He was acting so good right now, so mature and I knew that was hard for him, especially faced with his latest rejection. I gave him one more squeeze and let go. I looked up. “Are you ready for dinner?”
“Let’s do it,” Jess grinned. He kissed my forehead and then, referred to Athena again. “Nice to see you. You should come up. I’ll make you something halfway decent.”
“That’d be nice,” Athena said.
We all walked out of the aisle together, splitting off to head outside. Jess and I made it halfway out the door, when Athena called to us. “Hey, Jess!”
Jess turned, his hand keeping the door open. Her lips quirked into a small smile. She said, “Listen, we’ve lost a guy recently. He’s on maternity leave and I was wondering…” She rubbed the back of her neck, awkwardly. “I need a guy for the weekends, if you’re interested. It’s nothin’ special. You’ll probably just do oil changes and tire rotations-”
“I’ll be there,” Jess said. He took one step forward but stopped himself. He turned to add, “Thanks, Athena.”
She nodded. “You’ve got a nice mate there.”
“That I do,” he said, his face beaming at me. I strung our hands together. The fire returned inside his eyes and he brought my hand to his lips, kissing my knuckles. My heart squeezed and I was floating so much that I unconsciously went to my tip toes. Jess waved goodbye to Athena and we walked hand-in-hand down the street.