"Call me when you get home, got it?" Dana, my best friend ordered, standing on the porch of her thoroughly trimmed lawn.
I nodded as I scraped my mousy hair into a tight bun. Damn! If it wasn't so hot. I hated walking home on a lazy sunny afternoon. The thought of an ice-chilled latte was so welcoming, but getting to that little paradise called Starbucks meant I had to walk for another twenty minutes.
Nah! I'd pass.
My messenger bag felt heavier than usual, Dana had loaned me a few books for the weekend so I could keep up with school. I had taken leave for almost a week, a result of all those delicious mouth-watering ice-creams. The cold was bad and I slacked off the entire week. Putting a sick person's mask on meant I could enjoy reruns of The Vampire Diaries and movies on my rugged couch. It stopped being so much fun after I was told by Katy Hagen that I was flunking chemistry.
As I walked home in a daze, the new book store across the street caught my eye. I'd been waiting to check it out for ages.
Oh well, a little peek wouldn't hurt, now would it?
I made my way towards the store, crossing the street. The 'Open' sign dangled from inside the door. I pushed the door open and the cool breeze of the air-conditioner welcomed me. I stopped having hot flashes that very second.
"Hi." A middle aged woman beamed at me from behind the counter. "May I help you?"
"I was just looking around." I responded, trying to mirror her warm smile.
"There isn't a wide collection of books, but I'm sure you will find something you'd like."
"Thanks." I grinned back.
Books always were my first love and I could never hold back even if my final exams were up, that's what pissed off the woman who called herself my mother. She could practically burn down my little library back home if she got her hands on the keys of my room. Yeah, My mom ran the Ruthless Club. No wonder the neighbours loathed her with a passion. I could never blame them.
I turned towards the Romance books section; skimmed the new arrivals and grabbed a paperback with a plain black cover. The italics of the title were in pink. It read 'Love at first sight.' I opened the book and sniffed the goodness of the new pages.
I was just busy reading the back cover when someone pushed me harshly. causing the book in my hand to tumble down. I began to pick it up but the man who'd pushed me, reached for it first. I stared into a pair of pale green orbs; framed with long, dark, eyelashes; his hair was a ruffled mess, a shade between dirty blond and copper. His other hand was balancing a pile of heavy books; his smile was apprehensive as he handed me the book before disappearing behind the long endless shelves.
I took a peek and watched, mesmerized as he climbed a ladder and his taut muscles flexed when he arranged them. I swallowed hard. That dude was gorgeous and what's with that yummy Italian tan?
Wait a second? He just shoved me and didn't even apologize? Italian tan or not, that was downright rude.
Then it just clicked.
He's sexy and he knows it.
I slammed the book on the counter, "I'd like to sign out this book for the week, please."
"Sure, honey." The woman smiled warmly, pulling out the register, "And your name is?"
"Just call me Grace."
I had a hard time concentrating in school after that day, I kept rewinding the moment when the boy had pushed me accidently. I read the book I'd issued the other day really fast, burning the night light with droopy eyes, just so I could see him sooner. I needed to see him again. Pogo, my sleep buddy, hopped onto the bed and plopped down next to me on the comforter. I played with his tail. He twirled and gave me an accusing glare with a meoowww. So I gave up the play and nestled close to him, drifting off to sleep.
Several days later, I was convinced he didn't have an interest in me. He worked right under my nose, but refused to exchange any kind of friendly greetings, avoiding me like a plague. A week later, I summoned up the courage for small talk. He stood near a pile of books, jotting down on his pad and quite oblivious to his surroundings or maybe he was just a pro at the pretence game.
I cleared my throat, "Hi."
He continued to do his job. The ignoring game being played in full swing.
"Can you just help me find books by Stephen King? A mild horror one would do. Not that I haven't read the spooky ones but I'm in a mood to read something light this time."
Wow! The babbling just went overboard.
He was acting really stuck up. He hadn't even looked my way. In fact, he reacted like I was freaking invisible, like my existence was worthless. Way to treat a customer. I had an urge to complain to the lady about the misbehavior of her employee, but in the end, the forgiving heart that I had told me to go against it, so I issued yet another crappy book and walked out of the store in utter disappointment.
Another week later
Dana tapped her French manicured nails on the table in frustration; "I know those types of men. They are the attention seekers. The more you're out of his reach, the more you're a subject of his intrigue. Why don't you just pass a note to him?"
"You're kidding?" I munched onto the blueberry muffin, the gooey texture melted in my mouth.
"I'm not. Look, Grace, he is your first guy you've talked about, which makes him one of a kind. I wouldn't be surprised if the guy had horns. I think you should at least tell him about your feelings. Who knows, maybe he secretly likes you and the ignorance is just a pretence or maybe he is just a shy guy or--"
"Or maybe he has a girlfriend and doesn't want me to bother him." I completed the sentence for her.
Dana analyzed me for a moment, measuring the odds. "That's possible, but don't give up so fast sweetheart. Give it one last and your best shot this time. Friendship is a great way to start."
Dana gave me the heads up. Rules on how I should deal with the guy and even promised to loan me a dozen books on 'How to get a boyfriend.' I snorted, funny how she read all those magazines and managed to remain single. Shouldn't she be the Lady Casanova by now? I kept a large rock on the little self-dignity that was still intact and made my way to the book store. I wanted to find out what the heck was up with him, tell him how arrogant and self-centred he was. The tiny bell hanging above the door dinged, proving my presence in the store.
"Hi, Grace. It's so nice to see you again." the lady said.
"Hey, Janice, I have a school project coming up and I needed a few books related to the matter."
"You see those shelves over there" she pointed towards the far end of the wall, "Those might be the right shelves. Take a look and pick as many books you'd like."
I thanked her and trotted in the general direction she'd pointed in, crossing my most favourite shelves area. An hour of book hunting later, I had collected two books and I still needed one more that might cover up the last unit of the assignment. I'd successfully avoided the boy for an hour but my heart fluttered the second I laid my eyes upon him. He stood near the shelf opposite mine, rearranging a few books, checking the list in his hand occasionally.
"Thou art a douche, what do you think of yourself?" the question was directed to him. "I'm starting to wonder if you even speak English or you probably think it's so cool to keep ignoring people every time they ask you something. I'll let you know that it's a low blow. At least answer instead of giving me the silent treatment."
He didn't respond, as I chuckled. "Right, you are so full of yourself that you think you aren't entitled to answer my questions."
He remained silent, like he had invisible ear phones plugged in. Who am I kidding?
"Hey, I'm talking to you." I couldn't hold myself as I closed the distance between us, seized him by the arm and forced him to look at me.
"What is your problem?" I was expecting him to kill me with his broody gaze but he surprised me with a warm dimple kissed smile.
His hands reached to his ears as he pointed to each one and then lowered his fingers to his mouth and waved his thumb at me—indicating that he couldn't hear nor could he speak. The cruel heart inside me twisted in a large knot. How could I be so stupid? I was overwhelmed with a pyramid of emotions, guilt and shame washed over me.
Tears clouded my vision as beads of tears grazed my cheek, "I'm sorry."
"Ahh. ahh. " that's what he could manage to say, he pushed a large sized chemistry guide in my hand. He'd been looking for the book that I'd been searching for. I began to regret not having a bag of tissues.
"Thank. you." I said each word separately and wished I knew sign language. I thought of making small talk. I pulled out a little notepad and a pen out of my bag and wrote.
My name is Grace, Yours?
He stared at it for a second then took my pen and wrote below.
Nice to meet you Grace, I'm Duane.
We grinned at each other foolishly, I wrote back.
What time do you get off work? How about a Coffee with me?
Duane's eyes glimmered cheerfully as he nodded his head earnestly. God! He was an eye-candy, almost like a walking Ken doll. I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me this guy had invisible wings and a halo.
Duane got off from work, almost two hours later and the store owner stared at us in awe as we walked out of the store together. We entered the little café just across the street. I never knew someone like Duane in my entire life but I wanted to make him feel comfortable. He pushed the menu card towards me and I pointed at the coffee of my choice. I thought of ordering myself but Duane was the one who took it in his own hands.
"Hey Duane." the waitress greeted him cheerfully, and smiled politely when her eyes halted at me, "wow, looks like Duane has earned a pretty date today."
Duane waved his hand at her shyly, I'm sure he didn't understand what she said; just that she was teasing him. She jotted down our orders and disappeared into the restaurant.
Duane began to fidget as he retrieved the notepad and wrote something in it.
Are you in high school?
I jotted down below it.
Yeah, senior year. You? If I could guess correct, he looked like he was a university guy. Probably, somewhere in his mid-twenties.
Done with university, I want to be a librarian.
I showed him a thumbs up, "That's nice."
I had no clue as to how time passed by, completely forgotten about the project which I was due to submit the next day or the fact that my lazy cat was meowing for his food in the room. I wrote on the note.
Duane, Can we do this again someday?
"Ahh. ahhh." That was enough for my heart to go into an excessive overdrive. He didn't need to talk. I bid him farewell and rushed home with a bag of cat food. I couldn't keep my happiness at bay the entire day, though at night I cried my eyes out. Cried because I hated the way I thought of him before I found out the truth.
Days turned to months and I knew that I had developed this special relationship with Duane. Every time I was close to him, I felt a sense of peace, a feeling that he belonged with me. The book store lady told me that his parents died tragically in a car accident when he was young and that he'd been alone since. I kept thinking how life could be unfair for him. For someone who smiled each day, had no regrets. My affection and feelings for him did not come out of sympathy or remorse, it was pure love.
I'd been in the store for almost two hours searching for another important book, and I threw a fist of victory when I found it. Duane peeked in through the other shelves and grabbed for the book from my grasp. It read 'Sign language for beginners'. His green eyes smouldered to a lighter shade when he noticed what I had been up to, I thought he'd be mad at me for that but I noticed as beads of tears formed in the corner of his eyes. Duane rested his palm on my head and I wrapped my arms around him. He hugged me back. I wished the three unspoken words would just reach him somehow.
"You think I can find that book in that new store?" Ben, my classmate and good friend asked me. He was looking for a travelling book for a long time. Ben was an avid traveller and collected travel related books.
"I'm sure you'll find it there or I can tell my friend to look for it." I answered.
I greeted the book store lady as usual; Ben was really enthusiastic about looking for his book so he dashed through the shelves. Janice told me where I would find Duane. Without further ado, I dragged Ben towards him, excited to introduce my friend to him. Duane appeared to be seated idle on a small stool, a book sprawled on his lap.
"Duane." I stood in front of him. He glance up at me and flashed his mischievous smile, it quickly faded when his eyes zeroed on Ben.
"Duane, this is Ben. My friend. " I had learned the alphabets in sign language so I proceeded to explain Ben's name with my hand gestures.
"And Ben, this is Duane. My...boyfriend." the wishful thinking was talking.
Ben's eyes went wide, but I knew he was a great guy and definably not the judging type. He shook hands with Duane. I explained to Duane about what book Ben was looking for and in a matter of seconds Duane handed it to him. He gave Duane a harsh pat on the back and a thumbs up, "Thank you, man. I'd been looking for this book for ages."
Ben made his way to the cash register giving me a quick hug which looked more like a squeeze, and Duane probably noticed the little affectionate interlude since his expressions were that of a dejected and wounded man. He refused to acknowledge me after that, disappearing into the never ending cluster of shelves. I had just introduced Ben as a friend, why would Duane get the wrong idea?
I followed suit and found him heaving the large paperback books tumbling down, his body shook with unsettled erratic breathing. I touched his shoulder but he pulled away, "What's wrong?"
I tried using my fingers but decided against it. I pulled out the notepad out of my denim back pocket. I wrote.
What is wrong, Duane?
He shook his head. I cupped his face in my hands and forced him to look at me, "Have you still not figured out what I feel for you?"
Still clueless he grabbed for the notepad and began writing down.
He can talk and listen to your voice. I cannot do that. Are you not ashamed of me?
Silly boy. Why didn't Duane understand that he didn't need to speak or listen to me in order to be special for me? I loved him because of his simplicity, for his kindness, because he understood me like no one else.
I wrote back.
You make me proud Duane; I have never met someone so clear and pure like you.
He seemed deadpan, shook his head writing back.
I don't want your pity, Grace.
How could he think I was being with him out of pity? "Silly, silly, Duane." I continued, "I love you."
Duane remained puzzled, I wrote below in the notepad.
I love you.
He stared at me in bewilderment; he hadn't expected me to throw the 'L' bomb on him. I took his hand into mine and lowered it towards my rapidly beating heart, "feel, that?"
"This is what you do to me, Duane." I confessed, the butterflies fluttered deep within me, "You make me feel alive."
He took my hand in return and placed it over chest, and I felt his heart pounding with a much faster pace, with his other hand he pushed a strand of hair behind my ear. I went up on my toes as my eyes fluttered closed, that's when his lips grazed mine before swallowing me whole. His soft affectionate kisses became a full blown kiss; my hands automatically got tangled in his tousled hair.
A girl barged in on us but that didn't snap us out of our little world. She giggled shyly and left muttering an "Oops. Sorry."
When Duane put me down, reached for the notepad and wrote.
Be mine, always and forever, baby.
I diced the vegetables slowly as I hummed to the new beat drifting from the stereo on the marble counter. A pair of hands wrapped around my eyes, blinding me, "Duane, baby, is that you?"
I spun around to face my husband who didn't give me a chance to be surprised and pecked on my cheek. He looked immaculate with his crisp white shirt and the loose tie. I snapped out of the beautiful spell when our little boy barged into the kitchen, "Daddy. Daddy."
We pulled away at once; John was a splitting image of Duane with the exact hair colour and eyes. John glanced from me to his father and back like watching an important tennis match, he asked. "Daddy, can you help me with homework?"
"John, how many times did I tell you to use sign language with your father?" I glared at him.
"Right." John muttered as he showed a gesture with his hands to Duane.
Duane's face lit up with realization, he turned back to me.
"Go help with homework." I told him, "I. Will. Get. Lunch. Ready."
Duane's face glimmered with admiration and love, he nodded. Duane had started to learn lip-sync slowly. John hopped and grabbed Duane's bicep while the other twin, Taylor swung on the other one. They clung onto the either side as Duane wrestled them towards the living area.
"Jonathan and Taylor, you harass your father and I'll be the first to ninja kick your butts. Watch it!"
I heard a 'yes mom' being yelled in unison then I heard a loud crash and the sound of giggles.
"Hey, you tell your father that if I see my crystal smashed, I'm coming back to ninja kick his butt."
It's been five years since I became Mrs Harrison and I couldn't remember being so happy ever in my life. Each day was a lesson for me to learn. Duane was an example of my happily ever after and I couldn't be more grateful of the day he walked into my life, or rather when I walked into his life.
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