I sat at a corner with a book in my hand, reading in stealth where no one could approach me, especially not when they only intended to carry out small talk, outsiders be damned. Initially I only came to the bookstore to buy a book for my niece, those pop-up ones she read every night. That day it was summer, one of those rare rainy summers that called for a cosy day in. I didn’t catch the memo until I arrived the bookstore, and then drizzles turned showers and I thought I might as well hang around. I had my niece’s pop-up book on the floor to my right and a Young Adult novel in my hands. Mom would’ve nagged me about how unhygienic it was to sit on floors if she saw me here. This bookstore was old and rustic, probably been up for a few decades, couldn’t blame them for sticking to their roots. Then again, a bookstore this compact didn’t have room for chairs anyway.
When the rain stopped, dusk was slowly closing in. I went ahead and paid for the pop-up book and came back the next day to pick up from where I left off, of the novel I had been reading. That day a guy came and asked the lady by the counter about a title I never heard of. Despite being nowhere near them, such a miniscule space and cosily quiet ambience could amplify the slightest sound as if it was drummed near your ears. When I heard them walking in front of me, I sneaked a glance and caught him smiling while talking to the lady. He had brown hair and equally brown eyes, and his smile was quite charming.
Days rolled by and I kept coming back to the bookstore every chance I got. The store owner knew about me and he could’ve kicked me out for not purchasing anything other than that one time, but he was kind enough not to say a word. He smiled and gave a knowing nod each time he saw me walking through the doors. Honestly, I couldn’t afford buying so many books just for the pleasure of it. All the money I saved went to my college funds and I couldn’t take that away merely for the sake of fulfilling my leisure time. The guy who came and left the other day, stuck around this time, sitting between sci-fi and horror racks, quietly reading, just like I was. From where I sat, I could see him in full view. We acknowledged each other’s presence, though not a word was exchanged.
Most days, the only customers around were just us two. Summer meant fun in the sun, doing all sorts of outdoor activities, not quite the time to be buried in books. I was a little out of place, as usual. The guy, however, didn’t seem to be the type. He looked neither bony nor meaty, which would seem the case if he only spent his time indoors. He was rather fit actually, like someone who played a lot of sports. While I was peeking through my novel, he stood up, put the book back in its place and left. Right before he tucked the book away, I could’ve sworn a piece of sticky note was placed inside the book. He could’ve used it as a bookmark, but then again a sticky note seemed unlikely. When I heard the bell of the doors chimed, I got up, snuck the book out and flipped through the pages. Then, I saw it. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.
“Hi, I like the colour of your nails. They’re cute. Smiley face,” I read it loud enough only for me to hear. Involuntarily, I stretched out my fingers in front of me, analyzing my nail-polished nails. They were chipped and looked disgusting. Was the note really meant for me? I purposely switched out my usual flats for sneakers the next day, see if he noticed it, and also to clarify if the note was really written for me. It seemed obvious, seeing how there wasn’t anyone else but me. Still, I couldn’t help but be sceptical about it.
He left another note, this time it said: Sneakers look good on you 🙂
I smiled. So it really was for me. I wanted to come up with a witty reply, something that would make me seem funny yet interesting. At last, I managed a Thanks and drew a heart on the side, then second guessed the drawing and decided to scribble it off. The paper looked like a bug just died on it. I quickly shoved the book back in the rack and skittered off, saving a mental note to swing by later than usual tomorrow to avoid embarrassment.
The next day, it was pouring heavily. It wasn’t supposed to; the weather was totally whacked. It seemed ridiculous to even step out of the house, but I was bonkers and did anyway. Even with a raincoat on, my hair still caught some rain, though that was the least of my concern. I went straight ahead to look for the sticky note and when I read it, it made me giggle, because it was adorable. It said: I didn’t get to see you today 😦 When the actual meaning behind the words hit me, I realized I was kind of bummed too.
Outside, the weather wasn’t getting any better. What initially was a heavy shower, now transitioned into a thunderstorm. At this point I had to wait it out before I could go home. A few shots of lightning went off, temporarily illuminating the bookstore with iridescent lighting, followed by a roar of thunder. Then, it went pitch black. “Oh, crap,” I said, then I heard the lady by the counter said, “I’ll go check the power box,” to the store owner. “You go do that,” he replied.
I froze on the spot and kept repeating the word “crap” as if it was going to make me feel less afraid. I should’ve done something more useful like pray for the better, or at least try to think positively, but for illogical reasons not known even to myself, I didn’t. If I were to list out my greatest fears, fear of the dark was pretty high up on the list. The darkness was equivalent to the unknown, which made my imaginations run wild of the possibilities that lured beneath. I was completely terrified of what would happen to me. Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I yelped and hit the hand as a knee jerk reaction. “Hey, I got you. It’s me,” a calm voice said and it took me a second to process that it was the guy. I thought he had left.
“Sorry about that,” I laughed sheepishly. As if on cue, the lights came back on.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. We both stared at each other for a moment and broke into laughter when it got too awkward. “I thought you weren’t coming today,” he tried sounding casual.
“I thought you left,” I said.
“I went upstairs to look for a book for my friend, after I wrote the note.”
“I like your rain boots.”
“What?” I was caught off guard by his randomness. It took me a second to realize he was now saying the compliments he wrote on those notes, instead of writing them out. I looked at my feet and giggled. “Thanks, I guess.”
“Not drawing a heart for me this time either?”
“What?” I said, another sheepish laugh resurfaced and I felt my cheeks burn. “You weren’t supposed to see that.”
He smiled and said, “I’m Cole by the way,” offering a handshake.
“Beatrice,” I took it.
“Beatrice,” he grinned for what felt like a minute, then turned away and said, “I’m sorry, I must be creeping you out. I’m just happy to finally, officially meet you.”
I smiled at how adorable he was being. “Yeah, me too.”
“Do you want to hang out some time? Maybe go skateboarding?”
“Um, I’m really bad at sports.”
“I could teach you. I mean, I haven’t been practising in a while ’cause I’ve been ditching my friends to come here, but I think I still got it.”
He ditched his friends to come see me? “Really?”
“Well, yeah. It was worth it though,” he smiled, “So, what do you say?”
I nodded a little too enthusiastically and answered, “I’m in.”
At that moment, all I could think of was how lucky I was to have a niece that liked pop-up books.