Peter didn’t know she liked him. No, Peter was oblivious to such things. He rarely noticed people at all, but he had noticed the young woman who frequented his book shop, Peter’s Well Loved Books, most Saturdays. He thought of her often and Saturday had become his favourite day of the week. He would have liked to speak to her, or rather, he would have liked to be the sort of man who spoke to strange women.
All Peter knew of her was that she had a pleasant smile, she always bought something and she spent a great deal of time between the narrow rows of shelves. Saturday afternoons she could be found in his shop. thumbing softly through pulp classics, seeking out a dog eared Virginia Wolf or pouring over thin paperbacks; Beat poets, Chaucer, D.H. Lawrence. Peter had noticed her some weeks ago because of the smile they’d shared. She had caught him unawares with an armful of books. He had stumbled, and felt his face split into an awkward rictus, something his face rarely did, and didn’t do very well. Her smile had been warm and bright, ever so slightly mischievous. Little did he know, that she was not there for the books, she was there to see him.
Naomi had an apartment full of books but you’d never know it by the hours she spent at Peter’s shop. She very much looked the part of a well read introvert: glasses, mousy hair, a shy, sweet face that looked like it was from another time and place. She presumed that the swarthy man who dusted stacks of books and climbed up and down the sliding ladders, was Peter. She liked the look of him, and that in her mind’s eye, he was like her: living in a universe of words, with a heart too soft and plain for the modern world. Every Saturday she made her pilgrimage to his shop, and every Saturday night she went to bed with her hand between her thighs and her face in a first edition atlas she had bought from him because it smelled like the smells she knew him by.
On this particular Saturday, Naomi was lost in thought as she travelled across town to see Peter. Under her tweed skirt her tall socks were held up with garters, and she absentmindedly felt the ridges of the straps along the front of her thighs as the city bus whisks her ever nearer to Peter’s Well Loved Books. She tried in vain to banish the thought of his hands on her thighs, his elegant fingers lucking at her garter straps and unbuttoning them from her socks, rolling the grey argyle down over her knee, his palms caressing her calves. Was today the day she would speak to him? She had heard his voice, low and patient, speaking to other customers, or more likely to a looky-loo who needed directions or asked if there was a restroom they could use. Naomi had never felt the thrill of Peter’s voice directed at her but she longed to watch his lips form the three syllables of her name. Finally at her destination, she stepped of the bus, and walked back the half block to the tiny hovel of a shop. She paused before she pulled the big brass handle on the door, one last deep breath before she entered his world.
The cluster of brass bells on the door, made Peter turn and look towards the windy street. She was back-lit at first so he didn’t recognize her. He smiled all the same, and nodded, noting, to his embarrassment, the slice of pale thigh between her socks and skirt. He turned back to the pile of books he was sorting and felt his mouth go dry. He looked back again but she had disappeared down a cluttered aisle. If it was the smiling woman, as he thought it was, he knew she would be found amongst the classics, or may the occult section. She was odd and intriguing, and quickly he found a book in the stack that needed shelving, and made the quick jaunt across the store to where she was.
He didn’t intend to speak, he never did. In fact, Peter spoke so little that sometimes a butcher or bank teller was met with a croak where his voice should have been. He was as solitary as a man in a bustling city could be, utterly alone, even in a crowd. Something about the way that the smiling woman had looked at him once, had registered that she knew the same silence and solitude. He turned around the corner into the row of classics and there she was, leaned against a shelf, a tattered copy of The Iliad in her hands, her lower lip chewed in concentration. She looked up and their eyes met through a palpable arc of electricity. She smiled her knowing smile and he attempted to smile back. He extended his arm, and offered her the large format book, bound in blue canvas.
“Another,” he paused to clear his throat, “Another atlas. I set it aside for you in case you wanted an earlier version of the last one you bought. That one was from 1902 and this one is from,” he awkwardly flipped to the title page and turned it to find the publication date, “Ahhh, here it is. 1896.”
Naomi smiled her enigmatic smile and took the book from his hand, her thumb grazing one of his knuckles. Another spark leapt through the air, rendering them each a bit breathless. She handled the book reverently, which he noticed; her care and focus was endearing. She smiled to herself, eyes on the thin, brittle pages, feeling his gaze wash over her. She looked up and he was still looking at her face.
“I’ll take it.”
“Yes, silly. What else would I mean?”
Peter chuckled along with her, internally embarrassed and trying not to bumble.
“I can put it up at the front desk if you want, unless you want to look at it more.”
“I’ll have plenty of time to pour over it.” Naomi smiled to hold her heart in her chest and stopping it bursting out.
Peter smiled, (it was getting easier), and turned to take the atlas up front for her.
He turned and looked back down the row of old books.
“I’m Naomi. Thank you for thinking of me when you the atlas came in.”
‘I think of you often.’ he heard himself say in his mind. Instead, he smiled again and gave a small bow, awkward to his core. When he reached the front desk he braced himself for a moment to catch his breath, wishing he could make the words come. Instead he pulled a bookmark from the drawer, scribbled his name and phone number on it and tucked it into the atlas. With shaking hands, he slid the book into a bag and went to the back room to sit down and think of what to say next to Naomi, the enigmatic angel, atlas aficionado, now that he was sure he was in love.
[ This vignette is a character study, and is not intended to be a fully realized story, more just an exercise to see how two very similar characters might interact in a romantically charged scene. It’s not sexy, it’s wholesome, and I’d love to hear what you think of the characters – leave your thoughts in the comments! ]