“But I put the order in a month ago.”
“Sorry, Sal. You know how these things work sometimes.” I smile tenderly at the older gentleman. He’s a regular, comes in at least twice a week with the strangest book requests. His latest mission is trying to find a first edition of Huckleberry Finn. I actually did find one, overseas, but getting it here is a whole other story. I feel for the guy. I’m sure if I paid five hundred dollars for a book I’d be concerned too. “Maybe next week. I’ll call them again tomorrow morning, how’s that?”
He sighs but flashes me a smile after a moment. “If it was anybody else I’d be a whole lot angrier, but I can’t be angry with the best book consultant in New York. I’ll just take my usual order.”
I nod, retrieve it from his designated shelf behind me and hand the pile of books over.
“What’s the damage?” He asks me, as I find myself eyeing the clock on the wall.
My palms immediately start to sweat. “It’s one fifteen forty seven today.”
He slides his charge card. “How goes that job hunt?”
“It’s going,” I chuckle. “No openings right now, unfortunately.”
My mother is a semi-famous poet, and my father is a professor of English at Boston College. From the moment I was born, they had destined me for great things, felt that I would grow up to be a famous Pulitzer prize winning author, or a world renowned professor. I did neither. I decided to help people instead, get my degree in Library Science, and try to find work in the New York library system after I graduated. I’m working on it. Those jobs are a little hard to find, but I’ve been busy in the meantime. I work part-time at a cute little bookstore on the lower east side of Manhattan and volunteer at a senior citizen center during my free time. Sure, it’s not the most exciting life, certainly not the one my parents envisioned for me, but at least I’m independent, and one day I’ll have a job that they can be proud of. We talk often, and I go home most holidays to spend time with them.
My love life, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about. I was a nerd in high school, too busy keeping my nose buried in a book rather than worrying about going out with boys. Since I moved to New York, I’ve been stood up for most of the dates that have been set up for me, and the ones I’ve been on...
I shudder at the memories.
“Keep at it.” He winks as I bag his books. “You’re a young, attractive woman. You’ll either land that job or a hunk soon enough.”
“There are no good men left in this city, Sal, but I’ll keep an open mind. I’ll call you if the book comes in.”
“Take care sweetie.”
I bid him goodbye, watch him walk out the door, my eyes lingering after him. I wish life could be that easy, coming down to a simple book on order. Unfortunately, my life is anything but at the moment. With expensive rent due by the end of next week, and a stack of bills to pay, I won’t be doing much of anything until I can land a better job. My parents have money, but I don’t ask them for it. I don’t want to give them another reason to sigh and ask me why I chose the career path that I did.
Oh yeah, another Mr. Wonderful stood me up a couple of nights ago to top things off.
I’m done dating.
I’ll just look forward to Fridays at 3:15 instead. It’s a much safer play. Sports Fiction guy doesn’t even know I exist, thanks to those earbuds shoved in his ears, and that’s good. He hasn’t caught me staring.
At least not yet.
“Is he here yet?”
Sandra fixes her hair and her boobs once she’s confident our crotchety manager isn’t lingering nearby. Determined like never before to have an excuse to say something to the guy, she took the liberty of screwing up the order of every book in his favorite section at the start of her shift today. Talk about being productive.
“Not yet.” I look up at the clock again.
3:15 on the dot.
“He’s bound to come to the counter today,” she reassures me. “Then we can get a really good look at him. You know, make sure he’s not one of those faraway hotties.”
I roll my eyes.
“Es, come on, you know the lighting in here is the worst in New York. Remember the last guy?”
“He was clearly ugly from across the store,” I laugh. “You just forgot your contacts that day.”
“My brain is more like it.”
The bell tinkles above the door and our conversation immediately stops.
I know it’s him right away. The music is blaring out of those earbuds of his, the volume on his iPod obviously turned up past the safety level. He never notices though, never glances around to ensure he’s not bothering anybody. His head bobs in time with the beat as he blows past us and over to his favorite section of the store, without so much as a glance in our direction.
Three fifteen to four o’clock on the dot every Friday without fail for three months, he’s graced us with his presence. He never says a word, never buys a thing, and normally I’d just ignore him but I can’t seem to. Something forced me to look over at him from the very first time he came into the shop and I was hooked ever since. That first Friday I stared at him for a good half hour, but he never noticed. He has and seemingly always will be oblivious to his surroundings.
He’s tall, that’s the first thing that caught my attention. At least six feet. I like tall guys because I consider myself to be too tall for a girl at five foot seven and a half. This guy could easily tower over me if I wasn’t wearing heels, and the other day I found myself buying an expensive pair of dress flats just in case the opportunity ever arose to have dinner with him.
I’m ridiculous and pathetic.
“I think he got more doable since last week,” Sandra hisses. “My God, look at those arms. Those biceps are just...and those cheekbones...mmm.”
“What do you think he does, seriously?”
“I dunno,” I mumble, as I watch him looking through his normal section of books. His brow is furrowed, and I’m sure he’s confused about the lack of organization. Maybe Sandra’s idea will work.
A smile cracks at the corner of his mouth suddenly and he pulls a book off the shelf, flipping it open to the place he left off last Friday afternoon.
“Shit,” Sandra hisses.
“Well he’s not stupid,” I whisper.
“Still, I thought he’d get lazy and ask. That’s what most men would do.”
“Well he’s not like most, I guess,” I chuckle, but don’t take my gaze away from him.
“I’ll find out what book that is and hide all the copies next week,” she says, devilishly. “Then he’s bound to talk to us.”
I shrug. “Or he could pick out a different book.”
“I doubt it. He’s read that same book with the blue cover for the past four weeks. We should make him buy it. Maude would,” Sandra says.
“Yeah, but are you gonna tell him to buy or scram?”
I lean against the counter. “Well, that makes two of us.”
“Anyway, back to the original question. What do you think he does?”
I look at how he’s dressed like I always do. Khakis, polo shirt, loafers, black rimmed reading glasses that he only slips on after he settles himself inside our store. It’s business casual but that doesn’t narrow things down much. So far Sandra and I have determined that he couldn’t work construction, he’d be dirty. Couldn’t work in a restaurant, he’d wear more comfortable shoes. “Maybe he’s just some rich guy that’s going to graduate school.”
“He’d buy the book if he had money.”
I shrug. “Maybe he’s cheap?”
“He’s too cute to be cheap.”
“Sandra,” I laugh. “His looks don’t have anything to do with being cheap. Besides, we already know that he’s waiting for something or someone. He stays exactly forty-five minutes, and looks rushed when he leaves.”
“Maybe he’s a gigolo,” she cackles. “Waiting on his boss to pick him up for his shift.”
A completely inappropriate scenario pops into my mind at the thought. Me, in fuzzy handcuffs, him, in leathers, straddling me from behind.
I either really need to get laid, or I just have a sick, sick mind. I shake my head. “Doubtful.”
Sandra takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly as she keeps her gaze fixed on him. “I can’t wait around any more.” She shifts her boobs around again and straightens out her blouse. “I’m going to talk to him.”
“No.” I grab her arm before she can get two steps away from me. “He’s in the moment, don’t bother him.”
“In the moment?” She tugs her arm out of my grasp and gives me an odd look. “It’s a damn book, Esmerelda.”
“He might have a girlfriend,” I warn. “Maybe that’s who he’s waiting on.”
She shrugs. “I’ve never seen him with a girl.”
“You don’t see where he goes after he leaves here,” I laugh. “C’mon Sandra...”
“You know, Es, you’re right,” she says, seeming to forget her mission to go talk to the guy. “Maybe--oh man, I have the best idea.”
“What?” I grunt it out.
Sandra, while I love her, never has the most brilliant ideas. She flunked out of NYU her sophomore semester and has been working at this lame ass book store ever since. She really has no other goals, no drive, no ambition. She stays here because it’s easy and pays her rent.
At least I’m trying.
“One of us should follow him,” she grins.
“We can’t leave,” I scoff. “Maude would go ape shit.”
“Not tonight. Next week. You should ask to leave early and I’ll take the day off.”
“Stalking is illegal in all fifty states.”
Mr. Sports Fiction coughs, clears his throat, but doesn’t take his focus off his reading.
“It’s not exactly stalking,” she says, innocently. “We’d just be walking in the same direction.”
“I’m not doing that.” I shake my head. “Let me know how it goes and please, don’t use your one phone call on me, all right?”
“I’d just prefer not to get arrested.”
The bell dings again, and a woman with two children walk into the shop immediately striking up a conversation with Sandra. She wants to know about some new books we may or may not have, and so, Sandra comes around the counter to show the customer what she’s looking for, not without letting out a harsh sigh from the loss of her eye candy. The books she’s been asked to look for are on the second level of the shop.
That means I’ll be left alone with Mr. Sports Fiction. That’s never happened before. Sandra has been here every other time. A small smile pulls at my mouth but I quickly hide it away, try to busy myself with the computer and make it look like I’m actually working.
Shit, time sure flies. I hate waiting for Fridays to come around again. Sometimes, I hope that he’ll just randomly stop by to tell me he can’t take it anymore and needs to buy that book. Of course, I would get it for him, place it into his large, strong hands, before telling him to have a nice day. Then he would pull me into Travel and Leisure and do me against the bookcase, unbeknownst to the rest of the world.
In another lifetime, anyway.
The music is blaring louder now, and I know he must be right there in front of the counter. I keep my gaze glued to the computer screen, too petrified of the guy to move. After a few moments, I force my gaze from the computer and onto him. His earbuds are out now, hanging down around his neck, and he’s the one staring at me this time.
“Uh...hi...” I squeak.
God, he’s anything but a faraway hottie. He’s gorgeous up close. Green eyes that just pierce you, bury themselves deep into your soul you the moment you look into them, tear you all apart inside. Right now they look a little tired, a little sad, and the stubble under his nose and around his jawline suggests he’s in the middle of twelve different things. He’s got really curly light brown hair that looks like it’s about to puff out and look crazy in a few minutes. It’s this damn humidity. I bet I could recommend something great to tame his issue.
Great, now I’m going to be his beautician and his sex slave all in one.
“Do you think you might be able to uh--hold this one for me?” He slides the book across the counter and glances at his wristwatch. It looks old, beat up. The leather strap is worn and the glass face is a little scratched. “I didn’t see anymore out there.”
“Um...yes...I can, I think.”
A small smile flashes at me. It’s perfectly aligned, kind, makes his eyes and entire expression just light right up, forcing the sadness and fatigue away. Then it all returns as quickly as it left.
It’s the type of expression my mother always gets on her face when my father tells her he has to go out of town.
Something’s wrong, in his life, and maybe it’s the reason why he’s here every Friday.
But it’s none of my business.
“I mean,” I take in a small breath and can feel the redness in my cheeks. “Of course I can hold it. I just wasn’t sure when you’d be back.”
“Oh, next week, same time,” he nods.
“Sure.” I scramble for a hold form, my hands shaking, my heart beating furiously inside my chest. I want to ask him everything, force him to tell me his life story right here and now.
3:57, the clock reads.
Crap. Time’s almost up.
“I just need your name.” My voice quivers as I say the words.
“It’s Ryan,” he says, glancing at his watch. “Is that all you need? I gotta run.”
He’s inching closer and closer to the door as I scrawl his name down on the slip. “I...good.”
He’s gone in a flash.
Oh my God, I’m an idiot. I could have gotten his number, could have told him that he’s one of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and all I could say was Hi, Sure, and Good?
“Was he...did he just come up here?”
Sandra’s back, looking slightly disheveled and very disappointed.
“Yeah,” I laugh softly.
“Well, what happened? Did you introduce yourself? Is he single? What’s he do?”
“I didn’t get much out of him. He just wanted me to put this on hold for him until next week.” I hold the book up and force a smile for her.
“Tell me you got his number at least?”
I shake my head. “Just his first name. It’s Ryan.”
“You’re useless. Really, Es.”
“I kind of froze. I don’t know...I didn’t know what to say.”
“You were supposed to either ask him out or tell him you have somebody you want to set him up with.”
“Sandra.” I narrow my eyes.
“Well at least he’ll have a reason to come to the counter next week, and if a customer comes you’re taking them.”
I sigh. I expect that, but really, it’s better this way. Sandra won’t have a reason to stalk him, and I won’t have another chance to embarrass myself in front of him. I doubt I’m his type anyway. I’m not outgoing like Sandra is, not as sexy or put together. I’m a bookworm and I doubt that’s him. He probably plays baseball, since that’s what the book is about, or maybe football. He probably has a pretty girlfriend and if not, Sandra will do nicely.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be able to stop staring at him.
There’s just something about him.
Next week I’ll let him know that I have a first name too.