AN: Carina said she loved me. She also said she wanted a sequel, so here it is. Online declarations of affection can get you everywhere with me. ;)

Ex Libris Juliet

Chapter 2

                By bending his head just a little bit, he could look past the moldy editions of Nancy Drew and right to the other side, where she stood stiffly, her head bent over her latest find. He moved closer to the bookshelf, pressing his fingers against the grainy wood.

                Her hair was cut very short, like always, cropped to the sides of her head. Her eyes were bright, almost viciously sharp in appearance. Her hands showed evidence of toil and trouble, yet she obviously took no notice of the numerous calluses on her fingers and palms.

                She was a woman you could completely ignore. So why had his life kicked itself out of orbit to start revolving around her?

                He had found her—he liked to think it of that way—in this very same bookstore. He had watched her from afar, as she ran her hand down the creaking, broken spines of ancient books. He had memorized the curve of her cheekbone and the way her lips parted slightly as she read books standing up.

                And he had talked to her only once. He could feel the blood rushing to his face as he recalled the shameful things he had said. What had come over him? To be so frank, so brazen?

                It was something in the air of that bookstore. Something in the whisper of the books from the sagging shelves. Something far beyond their imagination.

                And now, as he watched her pacing back and forth along the Fantasy section, that very same something tugged at his heartstrings, making him step out of his vantage point… directly into her path.

                She looked up at him, warily. It was then he noticed the change in her appearance, details he hadn't noticed from afar.

                Her clothes, usually plain and bordering on dull, were crisp and obviously well pressed. They didn't seem expensive, yet she had obviously taken care with the neat tweed skirt and the clean white blouse. Her hair was neat, and carefully brushed to one side, when before, it had been tousled and windblown from the torrid weather in their part of the world. And—his eyes narrowed slightly, amusedly—were those earrings?

                She coughed, her eyes narrowing as well. He quickly bent his head, realizing that he must have been staring. He could feel his face grow warm.

                "It's you again."

She spoke first.

A thousand answers ran through his head, some charming, some polite, some cold… others, just plain stupid. He settled for cryptic. It always worked.

"Me. Who am I?"

                She had to crane her neck to look him in the eye. He must have been a foot taller than her. Yet around her, he felt so small.

                "You. You are the boy who has been following me around this bookstore. You have been spying on me through the shelves and reading the books I leave behind."

                Her answer sent him reeling. She knows.

                He covered up his shame with a half-hearted laugh. "Correct. And you. Who are you?"

                She tilted up her small chin, almost defiant. "I am the girl you're in love with."

                Silence. The dust motes danced in the dying afternoon sunlight. He noticed how the sunset painted everything orange.

                "Correct again. What is this? Twenty Questions?" He stepped back, suddenly aware that they were standing too close to each other for comfort.

                She noticed that. She stepped forward, backing him into a corner. "No. I just want to know…"

                Her finger touched his arm, very lightly. It felt warm against his skin, which had gone almost clammy with—what? Fear? Ridiculous. He breathed in, straightened up. "What?"

                Something glinted in her gaze. "Have you read The Mad Tea Party? By Clinton Palanca?"

                His mind raced frantically to register that book's title.

         She had left, walking quickly out the door, her coat hem swinging around her pale ankles.

                He walked casually over to the shelf she had been leaning against, and just as casually picked out the very same book she had been reading.

                "The Mad Tea Party; the pleasures of taste. By Clinton Palanca." he read aloud, noting the cracked spine and the dog-eared corners of the thick book.

                He turned to the page she had folded over, knowing from experience that this was how she marked books and passages she loved. He smoothed out the page, and finding a seat, began to read.

                "Taste is scent, flavor and touch, and the rarest purity of taste is apprehended in darkness and silence; and there is a taste of love, as unique and tangible and recognizable as that of vanilla or cinnamon or oranges.

                Those who have never tasted it may not recognize it as it seeps through lips or skin or rumpled sheets: but once tasted it is never forgotten, and the desire for it is corporeal, a craving that surpasses addiction."

                He swallowed, smiled shakily down at the finger that was pressed into his forearm.

                "Yes, I've read it. Parts of it, really."

                She looked satisfied, like a cat that had the cream off a milk bottle. "Beautiful." It was a statement, not a question nor a request for his opinion. He nodded. "Beautiful." He repeated.

                She turned her back, walking back down the aisle. Covers of metallic dragons and gleaming swords winked at her from every side. He watched her walk, entranced by the slender form of her ankles, the paleness of her hands. She looked back at him.

                "You can go now. I don't really want to see you again. You make me-" she searched for the right word. "-uncomfortable."

                He grinned, lifting his hands helplessly. "You have the same effect on me, thrice over, if I must admit."

                She smiled, dryly, and walked away into the Poetry section.

                He waited for the click of her heels –heels? —to fade before following her again.

***

                Her rough hands quickly folded over a page before returning the thin black book to the shelf. She looked up sharply, and he ducked behind the door, like a child playing hide-and-seek. She watched the shadows for a moment, then she was heading for the door.

                He knew the bookstore was going to close anytime soon, yet he sneaked to the same shelf and pulled out the same book. It was a lightweight in his hands, and he held it reverently, wondering if she wore perfume that would leave any scent on the pages that he would turn just as respectfully as she did.

                No. But the page she had folded over contained some of the most beautiful writing he had ever known.

"Somewhere someone is thinking of you. Someone is calling you an angel. This person is using celestial colors to paint your image. Someone is making you into an image so beautiful it can only live in the mind. Someone is thinking of the way your breath escapes your lips when you are touched."

                The world was quiet for a moment. He read over these lines again and again, wondering what meaning she must have found in them to mark them important to her.

                "Such life saving power when you smile. You will never know how you have cauterized my wounds. So sad that we will never touch. How it hurts me to know that I will never be able to give you everything I have."

                He closed the book softly, his breathing suddenly too loud for the peace he felt in him. So she was a romantic at heart. he thought amusedly as he returned the book to the shelf.

                "So sad that we will never touch…" he murmured to himself as he headed for the door, headed for another empty apartment and another night alone.

                "How it hurts me to know I will never be able to give you…" she stepped out from behind the door, her eyes as bright as ever. "…everything…" her voice softened as he looked at her. "… I have." It was then that he knew that she had marked those passages for him. Just for him. Even the clothes. Her hair. The earrings. All for him.

                Silence touched them. She cleared her throat, looking almost abashed. "Henry Rollins." she explained. He smiled. "Solipsist."

                A cool breeze was blowing. She smiled back. "Yes. Have you read it?"

                He stepped forward. Stepped closer, until he could smell her skin and the color of her eyes. "Parts of it, really."

                She breathed. Softly. "Beautiful." Again, the statement. She took his hand in his. "Beautiful." he echoed.

                Beautiful.

Credits:

The Mad Tea Party; Pleasures of Taste – Clinton Palanca

Solipsist – Henry Rollins

Motivation – Pichouette :)