"Hot magazine bloke is back," Dorcas whispered to her over the stack of books she was mending.
Lily looked up from her computer screen almost at once, admonishing herself immediately after for the reaction. Luckily, he had not seen her, his attention entirely on the display of sports magazines by the reading area right across from their counter. He definitely was fit, his athletic build rightfully earning him his nickname.
"I think he's going to pretend to read while he gawks at you again," Dorcas continued in a tone that Lily deemed almost loud enough to reach him. It had not, to her immense relief, despite the library being almost desolate on that Saturday morning.
That didn't stop Lily from sending her friend a silencing glare which only resulted in Dorcas laughing quietly. "It's true," she insisted. "That's all he did the last time he was here. Besides, it's not like he needs the library for free materials. Why else would he be here?"
"Don't you start with that," Lily started passionately. "Everyone needs the library."
The blonde raised her hands in defeat. "Yes, I know, libraries are not obsolete in this day in age, blah blah blah," she said, catching Lily's unappreciative glare. Before Lily could continue with what promised to be an impassioned and long debate about the importance of literacy, Dorcas quickly added, "I just meant that I saw the car he drives last time he was here. Believe me, he could not only buy himself whatever magazine he wants, he could buy us an entire magazine collection."
"Don't be so exaggerated," Lily replied, returning her attention to the computer screen. "Maybe he just likes being here?"
Dorcas let out a knowing hum. "For the view?" she asked ironically, gesturing at the storefront high windows which depicted the bleak, gray city outside. "The interesting people?" She nodded at a pair of elderly ladies invested in cat mysteries in the reading area.
Dorcas looked over her shoulder as a precaution before sarcastically saying, "Or maybe he likes being accosted by Rachelle every time he's here?"
"She does not—"
"Oh, she does," the other said with a grim nod. "She even looked at his library card account for his name and phone number."
Lily's jaw dropped open. "She's not allowed to do that, is she?"
Dorcas shot her a significant look over her glasses. "Who's going to report her? She's been manager here for ages. I'm sure they'll believe her over us."
Lily did not reply, feeling oddly unsettled by the discussion of their horrible, privacy-violating boss.
After only seconds of returning to her work, she stole a glance at the magazine section, quickly scanning the area before Dorcas could catch her and triumphantly point it out. Her heart sank slightly when she saw no sign of him, a fact she would never admit out loud.
"He's moved on to the music section," Dorcas said after a clause of silence so long, that Lily jumped slightly at the sound.
"You don't need to narrate," Lily pointed out dryly. Her curiosity, however, betrayed her and before she could control it, she looked over at the aforementioned section several feet away. He was so tall that his untidy black hair easily stuck out from behind the CD shelves as he browsed.
Dorcas was swift to notice the amount of attention Lily was paying him. She laughed, this time loud enough to earn her a curious glance from him across the music section. She immediately sobered up and offered him a polite smile.
Lily, meanwhile, sat there frozen, face flaring up with heat and wishing to be swallowed whole by the floor. His eyes moved to her, but unlike with Dorcas, they remained there longer. She felt an almost paralyzing swoop in her stomach, unable to look away. He was smirking and the fact immobilized her even more.
Finally, Lily forced her eyes back to her screen, her heart drumming loudly and her mouth entirely dry. She hated being so stricken by a person she had only seen, at most, only three times in her life. It made her, someone usually so sure of herself, feel weak and idiotic.
"Go talk to him," Dorcas urged her in a whisper.
"What would I even say to him?"
"We're in a library. Are you a librarian or not?"
"That doesn't help me."
"I don't know, you can say, 'Can I help you find anything? Books? CDs? A date?'"
Even Lily had to laugh at that. "That is really bad, Dorcas Meadowes," Lily said in mock disappointment. "Definitely not your best work."
Dorcas rolled her eyes behind her horn-rimmed glasses. "Or maybe you don't have say anything at all," she went on, a dangerous smile growing on her red lips.
Lily furrowed her brows, suspecting she would regret asking what her friend meant. She didn't need to for she went on unprompted.
"For one, you're wearing that, " she said and Lily looked down at the floral material of her pencil skirt. "And also, don't blokes have some kind of fantasy involving attractive librarians? John does."
Lily laughed once more, deciding with a shake of her head not to encourage the conversation any further with a reply. Instead, she asked, "What if he's crazy?"
"Because most of the guys who hang out in libraries are just weird?"
"I met John at a library," Dorcas said defensively. "Is he weird or crazy?"
"Crazy enough to ask you to marry him," Lily teased.
Dorcas flicked a rolled up piece of tape her direction, sticking her tongue out.
They worked in silence for a few minutes before Dorcas whispered, "Looks like you won't have to go over there. He's coming."
She did not look up from the spreadsheet she had been working on to avoid being obvious. "You help him," Lily implored, feeling a sudden stab of cold panic.
Dorcas did not reply. She wasn't even looking at Lily. Instead, she smiled at someone over Lily's shoulder with what everyone in the staff called a "customer service" smile, forced and almost painful.
To her complete horror, Lily turned around to meet a pair of hazel eyes behind a pair of spectacles. She wasn't entirely certain how long he had been standing there, but the amused smirk on his face suggested it had been long enough to catch her last words.
"Hullo," he said cheerfully, looking as though he was trying his mightiest to repress all signs of humor from his expression.
"May I help you?" she said in a controlled voice that surprised even her. The effect might have been entirely ruined by the color that bloomed on her cheeks.
"Yes, I've never taken anything home from the library before," he explained, setting a small pile of CD cases on the counter and a pair of magazines. He extracted his library card from his wallet and placed it on the counter. "What exactly can I take out?"
"Anything but us," Dorcas replied brightly.
He was taken slightly aback by the cheeky remark, but when he recovered, he laughed, eyes falling back on Lily. "A shame, that is," he lamented.
He was a lot more handsome up close than she had originally imagined. Not only were his eyes the nicest hazel she had seen, he had a faint dusting of freckles on his long nose that she would have not been able to notice had it not been for the minimal distance that was the counter separating them. But perhaps much more attractive than his face or his body was his sharp and clearly defined jaw, jolting even more as he laughed.
"Dorcas is only speaking for herself, of course," Lily quipped before she knew what she was saying. "Not everything in the library is engaged like she is."
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Dorcas's mouth drop slightly in surprise. Lily wished more than anything to see her expression full on, but currently, she held his eyes, basking in the surge of adrenaline the brave attempt at flirting brought on.
He casually leaned in on the counter with an ease that was enviable, a slanted smirk in place. "That's good to know," he said, his voice lower than it had been a minute ago.
"I'm a librarian, it's my job to provide useful information."
He laughed again and her eyes involuntarily moved to his jawline. "Is that so? I'm sorry to tell you that you have failed partly at you job today then."
"Oh, yes," he said earnestly. "There's some information you did not provide for me, which is something I have been wanting to know for a while."
"And what is that?"
"Your name," he replied casually.
She pressed her lips together, impressed with the charming, confident air with which he delivered the line. But just as she opened her mouth to answer, she heard Dorcas loudly clear her throat.
Lily did not have enough time to assess why her friend had sent her the pointed gesture because immediately after, in a voice charged with unmeasured disdain and superiority, someone said, "Evans, can you go out to the floor and shelve?"
It was a rather short woman in her early thirties with blue, slit-like eyes and a squared, pale face, shockingly contrasting with the bright pink lipstick she insisted on wearing every day. She looked at Lily with such a derisive glare, that Lily was certain everyone around them could correctly assert just how little her boss liked her.
Not bothering to explain that she was not a library page and that shelving the books back was not exactly her main priority, Lily rose to her feet, suppressing the impulse of sighing her frustration directly in Rachelle's face.
Dorcas gave her a sympathetic look, before she pushed her book cart out to the stacks. Before fully leaving the area, she heard Rachelle say to the black-haired young man, in the sweetest voice she could muster, "I can continue helping you, if you wish."
Lily rolled her eyes with such vehemence that it was almost painful, finding comfort in the fact that her horrible boss could not see her. She found the forced task oddly cathartic, however, and after only ten minutes of shelving books, she felt her temper abate.
"Er, I didn't get you in trouble, did I?" asked a voice from behind her.
It was him. He was regarding her with an expression of mild concern.
Lily flicked her wrist dismissively. "I think she would have made me do this regardless," she assured him, sliding the book she held into its proper place on the shelve.
He grimaced. "She seems horrible," he commented and Lily only shrugged noncommittally. "And awfully flirtatious." At this, he scrunched up his nose so that his glasses jolted slightly.
Lily laughed. "You noticed?"
He grinned, leaning against the wooden end panel of the shelve she was currently working on. "It was difficult not to," he said. "I'd wager her blouse is not buttoned so low on a daily basis."
It was Lily's turn to wrinkle her nose. "I'm shocked you found her so hard to resist," she said dryly, eliciting a loud laugh from him.
"At least your other friend is nice," he observed as she resumed her work.
"Dorcas is great," Lily agreed.
"And she is very astute, too," he went on conversationally. "She was right when she said you should just talk to me."
Lily paused to look at him, slightly taken aback. "You heard us?"
His smirk was back, which was enough answer for her. "Is it true you can help me find books? CDs? A date?" he asked, mirroring Dorcas's words from before.
Her face must have been the same color of her hair. His ever growing smirk confirmed that suspicion.
"Any of the three, yes," she replied, despite her fleeting mortification.
He nodded, taking the information in. "I've got enough books and CDs at home to last me ages," he said, eliminating the first two possibilities. "So I'll only need assistance with the date part."
"Ah," she replied, following the same teasing tone he was using. "Let me go get you Rachelle's phone number then." She moved towards the front desk, as if determined to do just that. James laughed and gently stepped in front of her to stop her.
"Not quite," he informed her. "I was thinking of someone considerably prettier, actually."
He was a lot taller than she was, and their proximity allowed her to see the small flecks of blue in his hazel eyes. "The only problem is that I don't really know her name. She was going to tell me when her awful boss interrupted her."
Lily couldn't help the laughter that escaped her. "Lily," she said, offering him her hand to shake.
"James," he replied, taking it.
"Well, sir," she said, earning her a grin for the formality. "I can get you that date at your earliest convenience."
"That'd be most obliged, miss," he returned, in the same faux ceremonious tone. He added a bow at the end of his sentence, which made Lily laugh quite loudly, the sound echoing around the building and eliciting the angry attention of the ladies reading the cat mysteries.
"Shhhh," James reprimanded her with an exaggerated sternness that only worked in making her laugh even more so.