Charlie should have never read the book with the red cover. As a Reader, she should have known better. Books with blue covers were fine. Green covers were fantastic. Even a gold or black was acceptable. But a red cover– a red cover was trouble. If she had resisted, distracted herself with something droll like cleaning the sink or dusting the baseboards, she wouldn’t have lost Bennett.
But, as she liked to say, her fingertips weren’t stained black for nothing.
It had all started years ago, when her father gave her Ponies. A cheerful hardback featuring a dapple grey pony on the cover, she made him read the 27-page book over and over every night, until his voice went hoarse and he could barely croak out ”The End.” After a few disappointing bedtime tuck ins, she had decided at age 4 that she would simply have to learn how to read and entirely avoid the limitations of the human voice forever. Ever since then, she voraciously devoured any printed page in sight. Car magazines, books, computer manuals–nothing was safe from Charlie. She liked to joke that she was studying for her doctorate in literature so she could spend her life doing what she did best– reading.
And then, she met Bennett.
On a cold grey day perfectly suited for reading and perfectly inappropriate for trudging across campus in impractical heels that she was certain a fruity designer had created simply to torture women, Charlie was late to an interview for a position as a TA for Dr. Heyer, the Dean of the literature department. Such a position would make her doctorate presentation so much easier, as no one would dare turn down one of Dr. Heyer’s assistant. Of course, Charlie was unaware she was late. There was a scandalous new historical humming in her backpack that refused to quiet down until she pulled it out and skimmed a few pages. Of course, by the time she’d read chapter two, she simply had to know what the rakish Mr. Tyler was doing in Miss Venetia’s coach. It wasn’t until the dull ache of her frozen toes made her glance up that she realized she’d completely passed the humanities buildings. The business building with its slick glass and steel exterior lay on the right and the science building’s steel metal doors waited on the left. Neither looked appealing nor possibly helpful.
She was lost.
Tapping the book against her lips, she cursed herself for rejecting her mother’s request to get her a smart phone. As she squinted up at the sun, trying to remember something she’d read in a novel about tracking with the sun and mold on rocks, a deep voice asked, “Are you ok?”
The book tumbled from her fingers and dropped onto her numb toes. But even if she hadn’t had been foolish enough to wear hose in 30 degrees, she wouldn’t have felt a thing. No book she had ever read had prepared her for him.
He bent down and picked up her book. ”The Sunset Mansion?”
Flushing, she snatched for the book and grasped only air. ”It’s an assignment.”
“In what?” He regarded the bosomy heroine mooning on the cover. ”Smut?”
“No!” This time, she managed to rip it from his fingers. ”I’m a literature major. We don’t read smut.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t turn you in.” His chestnut eyes twinkled with a mirth she had only seen in her three year old niece. ”Let me guess, you’re lost?”
She slid the troublesome book into the folds of her coat. ”I knew I should have ignored you,” she scolded it.
“I said, ‘Yes.’” She coughed. ”I got a bit distracted.”
“You shouldn’t read and walk, you know. It’s dangerous.”
“Tell me about it,” she said woefully, startled as he laughed. Boys never laughed when she spoke. ”Can you tell me how to get back?”
“I can do better than that. I can show you.” Sweeping out his arm, he bowed. ”This way, milady.”
“Thank you.” Taking his elbow, she forced her frozen bricks of feet to stride after him. ”And what do I owe this great pleasure, Sir”–
“Bennet. And you are?”
“Charlie. Charlie Reader. Don’t you–” she started to warn, but it was too late. Giggling with the impish glee only an overgrown eight year old could possess, Bennett rubbed his gloveless hands together. ”You’re a walking pun, you know that?”
If only he knew what it was like striding in frozen hooves with four inch heels. ”It’s the book’s fault I’m lost,” she blurted out.
“Pesky books. So distracting.”
She should have smiled. She should have laughed quietly and politely or rolled her eyes like her roommate, who had a different date every night, would have done.
Instead, she swallowed her giggles with a snort– not a cute snort, but a snort once removed from a javelina. Mortified, she shrank into her coat. The second she got back to her dorm, she was going to burn that book. This is what reading did– made bookworms think they could possibly flirt like a normal girl. Hiding behind a curtain of smooth dark hair, she muttered, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean”–
Bennett interrupted her with a heaving “Hee-ya! Hee-ya!” At her startled expression, he mildly replied, “Sorry. I thought we were seeing who could do the best barn yard noise. I win.”
“You win?” She tossed her hair back and whinnied. He clucked like a chicken. She bleated. When he snorted in return, she should have known she was doomed.
Instead, it was she that would doom him.
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