I Read A Lot Ch. 02bylill_street_writer©
Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback and encouragement. I am still working out length, and such.
He was cute, rugged but cute. I only had to deal with the Mommy and then I would get a chance to hear his voice. Low, I figured. His voice would be low and a little bit gravelly.
Then Rob, the store manslut, had to do his nightly flirtation-rotation. I swear to god that nothing turns me off faster than a guy who throws the goods at me. If I wanted a hook-up, I'd go to a bar. At least he got my drink right, but it was still a little embarrassing.
When the cute guy asked for a book I knew wouldn't be out until the next day, I didn't have the heart to make fun of his lousy calendar skills. Something about Tom just told me that he wouldn't appreciate finding out he had messed up. So instead, I played at the computer for a few minutes and tried to let him down easily. He was so defeated that he kind of mumbled something and then wandered off.
The one cute guy I see that night and I have to disappoint him and make him frown. Why did I always have to pick the hard cases to fall for? I swore, if I fell for one more straight or confused man, I would be forever convinced that 'gaydar' was a total hoax. I might as well take Rob up on his ever-ready invitation, I was so hopeless at attracting any guy I would actually want to be with.
After about an hour of pointing out where the newest releases and book club picks were displayed and drinking my entire drink, I definitely needed a break. As I passed by the café, I noticed cute-and-quiet sitting by himself, reading. I detoured by the stockroom and opened a few boxes until I found the one I was looking for and I grabbed a clean book. Now I had a reason, or an excuse to interrupt my crush. Maybe he would even be grateful?
One of the perks of working at the bookstore was having sneaky access to books before they were released to the public. If this were Harry Potter or Twilight, I wouldn't be able to get anywhere within 50 feet of the secured boxes until midnight. But this was thoughtful, intelligent fantasy, not a huge blockbuster and the boxes were just sitting around waiting to be shelved tomorrow. A few days ago, no one had even noticed when I slipped one out of the store right after they were counted. Inside trick: if you can read without cracking the spine and bring the book back quickly, a bookstore is as good as the library.
Anyway, I palmed the book and headed out to the café. He sat there sort of curled up and completely absorbed in his book. I thought he might merge with it bodily. This guy would never stand a chance at sneaking free books like I did. Reading was practically a full-contact sport for him. He had the cover curled all the way back and I could tell that he already had half a dozen pages dog-eared. If he weren't so big and obviously manly, I would have said that he looked like a little kid, totally off in his own little world.
I swear I didn't try to scare the pants off of him. As I walked closer, I shuffled my feet and finally cleared my throat a bunch in an effort to get him to notice me. It occurred to me that he might be ignoring me, but mostly he seemed to be off in some trance. Finally, I stepped into his light which forced him to look up. His eyes were unfocused as he looked at me and I could tell he was having a hard time coming out of his book. Man, this guy was intense.
When Tom, that was his name, pulled out the chair next to him, I sat down and we started to talk. I was sitting next to him, not across the table, and I felt my body want to lean even closer. It was totally strange -- like he was some sort of magnet. And when we talked, I noticed that I really didn't want anyone to hear, and not just because I was sneaking a book to him. I wanted him to myself, I was feeling greedy.
A while back, I tried to figure out if I had a 'type'. All the labels bore me, since they pretty much only say something about a guy's looks. I mean, look at that guy Rob, at the bookstore: he would be perfect if he only had a brain and a personality. His appearance is great, but the rest of him needs a lot of work.
Then, I realized that I probably wasn't all that interested in only how a guy looks and I started thinking about what my past flings had in common. Granted that I didn't really have enough experience to get a good scientific statistic, but I did notice some similarities. It seemed that I liked them strong in body and mind. I never seemed to go for guys who weren't at least my physical and mental equal. Who knows, maybe I love a challenge? There used to be this sculptor in Art School, he did metal welding, and he was hot. God, I could just watch him for as foreplay. A man who was at least assertive was good too, since I was a little shy when it came to making the moves. I just didn't have the cocky attitude that made me confident enough to go up and flirt with some adorable stud. They wouldn't even have to break me in two to make me feel weak, just a laugh in my face would crush me.
So what exactly was I doing when I sat next to Tom and engineered a way to see him the next day? It wasn't like me to try to make the first move, even if I was being subtle. Usually, I waited until a man showed some interest in me first. And I didn't know if he was interested in me, let alone gay. But something about his intensity and the humor I could see in his eyes made me want to get to know him better. Nothing would come of it, I was sure, but what the hell.
I stayed up all night reading, like a total idiot. And I didn't only read, either. I seemed to be doing a little fantasizing of my own. There I was, plopped on my ancient, but decadently comfortable couch, completely submerged in a great fantasy novel when I realized that in my mind, the hero now looked just like cute-boy Gabe. Then I would close my eyes for a minute and pretend that we were together, and not on some quest. Who did this guy think he was, distracting me from my favorite distraction? With an effort, I kept reading but I didn't finish the book until the sky outside my windows started looking streaked and pinky-gold. Finally, I dragged myself to bed and slept like the dead.
When I woke up it was like a bolt of electricity had just rushed through me. One minute, I was happily rem-ing and the next I was sitting straight up, breathing hard and checking to see what time it was. Two-freaking-o'clock? How in the hell had I slept nine hours and what had caused me to wake up like the world was on fire? An image of Gabe's face swam behind my eyes, and suddenly I was up, across the room and in the shower before the hot water had even had time to make it through the pipes. Cold water blasted me in the face and immediately woke up my confused and stupid self.
The night before, I had idly wondered that if Gabe got to work at 10am, would 10:01 be too early to show up at the bookstore. Maybe if I were there at 10:02, I wouldn't seem too eager. Now it was after 1pm and I was dripping wet, anxious and hungry. I'd be lucky to even get there my 3pm and by then he would probably think I'd forgotten all about it and stiffed him for the price of the book. Crappity crap.
Then there was the sad fact of my laundry, which I only did on Sundays every other week. My wardrobe was never something to write to GQ about, but at least I wasn't a slob. That is, I wasn't a slob unless it was the day before laundry day. At this point, I'd be lucky to have underwear in my drawer. There was a pair in there, I soon found out, but I don't know if I was lucky or not. The pair of red bikinis that stared back at me screamed 'go commando' and I groaned out loud to no one. Since I refused to go sniffing through my dirty clothes and I feared getting hit by a car, only to have the emergency room doctor find I didn't wear underwear, I swallowed my pride and shimmied into the red thing. After I found a semi clean pair of khaki pants and a clean top, I realized that no one else would ever know that I really looked like a dork underneath it all.
Once out of my apartment, I couldn't get to the bookstore fast enough. Forget food, checking my e-mail or grabbing a cup of coffee. If I had stopped long enough for a deep breath, I would have realized that I was losing major cool points by being so impatient. I mean, I was turning this into aerobic exercise. By the time I got there, my heart rate was in the red zone and I was breathing heavily. God, he was going to think I was some sort of overzealous stalker.
At the checkout desk, I asked if Gabe were around and the girl directed me to the children's books. I found Gabe, kneeling on the floor in front of a display for Thomas the Tank Engine and a big basket of books next to him. My hands started to move toward his shoulder as I stood close to him and I felt my fingers reach out to touch him. I snatched my hand back just in time and managed to rumble out his name. Since I hadn't spoken at all that day, I was surprised that I was at all coherent.
Gabe's head swiveled to look up at me and I fell into those leonine eyes. I swear my mouth fell open and I could hear my own heartbeat in my ears. When I heard the first words out of his mouth, I thought my heart would break.
"Oh, I thought maybe you forgot about me."
Right then, I wanted to fall to the ground next to him and tell him how incredibly wrong he was. But trying to explain that it was thoughts of him that kept me away was just too confusing, and besides, I don't think I could talk anymore. I just shook my head and held out my hand to help him to stand. He was tall, taller than me by at least two inches. And I couldn't seem to let go of his hand. I would not be winning any awards in the 'smooth moves' category of the Dating Games today.
"Sorry," I managed to mumble. "I stayed up late, reading."
Gabe grinned at me, wide and a little goofy. It was then that I knew we were okay. Maybe now my heart could start beating normally.
"You are a nutcase." Gabe took his hand back and clapped me lightly on the shoulder. Then he said, "Buy me a cup of coffee and I'll forgive you."
Work was sucking. The security alarm had gone off in the middle of the night, and the manager needed the early crew, which included me, to go over the store with a checklist and a fine tooth comb looking for possible damage. When he got to the stockroom, I was terrified that he would want to count all the new releases to make sure everything was present and accounted for. Luckily, that didn't happen. But that was where my luck ended. For my sins, I was picked for all the crap jobs that morning. Garbage and bathrooms were only the beginning. I was actually relieved when he told me to clean up children's books.
Story time might be great for kids, but it is the sixth circle of hell for bookstores. Kids are all over the place, pulling books from shelves, smearing them with God only knows what and making a racket that would wake the dead. Most of the parents disappear the minute the story-teller starts talking. They figure the kids are all occupied and they can have fifteen minutes of peace and quiet reading time. Seconds after story time starts, the café is jammed with haggard looking parents begging for coffee. When it's all over, someone has to go back to de-slime and re-shelve all the books. That's where I was when Tom (finally) came in: crouched on the floor, wiping off books and contemplating the wisdom of reproduction.
When I saw him, I'd like to say that I didn't feel a wave of relief for anxiety that I didn't realize I'd been feeling, but I did. Luckily, Tom seemed to be suffering from guilt at showing up so late and didn't notice my embarrassment. Reason spoke in the back of my mind that it wasn't like we'd made a date or anything. The man only needed to come in and pay for a book that I'd filched on his behalf.
Once in the café, I started to relax for the first time all day and was very pleasantly surprised when he came back from the counter with a truly sinful looking drink and handed it to me. I have lots of weaknesses and whipped cream with my coffee is definitely one of them. Another is a man with that barely-rolled-out-of-bed rumpled look. How could Tom look so sexy in a thermal shirt and wrinkled pants? It could have been the broad shoulders, the chocolate eyes or the apologetic smile on his face. Whatever, I was pretty much a goner.
"Thanks Tom," I said, reaching out to take the cup from Tom. "What do I owe you?"
Tom's eyebrows squeezed together. "For what?"
"The coffee, genius?" What did he think I was talking about?
"Nothing, my treat." Tom sat down next me and I started to feel relieved. If he had sat across from me, I might have thought he wanted distance, but he didn't and our knees bumped into each other. After a couple of sips of his drink, he looked into my eyes and spoke. "I kind of read that whole book last night." His sheepish look of embarrassment was adorable.
"And? What did you think?" I had been dying to talk with him about it, but since I knew he hadn't read it yet, I had contained myself. "What did you think of the end? Do you think he'll write one more to finish out the story, or do you think he'll leave us hanging with all the open questions?"
"You've read it? And you didn't say anything?" Tom just stared at me, dumbfounded. "I had no idea."
"Yeah, I was trying not to ruin the story for you. But now that we've both read it, tell me what you think."
And that was like starting an engine. Tom started talking and in the beginning he was looking at his hands as he played with his cup. After a bit though, as he got warmed up he was more animated and looked directly at me. Soon we had our heads together and were in a full-fledged discussion of the author, series and genre. Tom had told me that he liked to read, but his knowledge went way beyond that of a regular reader. At one point I called him 'Tom-pedia' to poke fun at him a little and instead of getting defensive, he blushed just a little.
"Sorry," he apologized. "I'm kind of a geek."
"That's okay," I replied. He shifted in his seat and his knee pushed into mine. That had happened a few times and I wondered if it was inadvertent. I hoped it wasn't, but decided not to get my hopes up. It seemed like he was getting up and I didn't want this to be over.
"Well, I should get going. I paid for the book already, so I think I'm all set." Tom held out his hand to me, and I shook it. "Thanks again, and it was nice to meet you."
With all the normal social requirements over, Tom probably could have left at this point. But he didn't, he stood behind his chair, not quite meeting my eyes. I tried looking up at him and then stood up, wondering if something was supposed to happen next. It was one of those strange, in-between moments; one of us had to take the initiative and I don't think either of us knew how. A picture of us at that moment could have been titled "What do I say, now?"
"Hey Tom?" I said. Mostly, I wanted to see his eyes. I thought if I could see the look in his eyes, I might have some idea what was going on.
"Gabe, I'm starving." Tom did look at me then and I just cracked up. What a non sequitur!
"I think I forgot to eat dinner yesterday and I haven't eaten yet today. And I know it's not dinnertime or anything, but I think I need to eat." He was babbling now and kind of flapping his hands in a helpless way. I decided to help him out.
"How about a great dive-Mexican place I know near the University? The salsa is homemade and the margaritas are insanely good."
A huge smile broke across his face and I felt part of my stomach flip-flop. We had solved the communication-crisis by avoiding it. Without either of us asking the other on a date, we were going out for not-dinner. The ambiguity of the whole situation cracked me up.