Just under 600 words. For my writing group. I promised not to write about aliens.
Shelving books in a corset only worked when it was extra loose. Bitta stood on her tiptoes, breath held, to slide a heavy volume on to the top shelf. There. Dropping back to the floor, she turned and slammed into the young man walking past. Her former armload of books narrowly missed her toes, and he caught her by the elbows before she followed them down.
He released her. “Are you alright?” He wore a threadbare t-shirt that proclaimed ‘It’s dangerous to go alone’ and depicted a kitten in an open palm. “I didn’t mean to run into you.” After an awkward beat, he amended, “Well, I did, but not so literally. I didn’t hurt you did I?”
“No, no I’m fine.” Bitta knelt, unable to bend at the waist, to collect her books. Crouching with considerably less grace, he helped her gather and stack them.
For an awkward minute, they did a bit of silent, coordinated reorganization, retrieving books from the ugly burgundy shag of Madam Lorella’s Bookshop and Burlesque Cafe.
When they finished, Bitta asked, “You were looking for me?” She offered him a wary smile, feeling suddenly vulnerable.
“I-” He took a breath and introduced himself in a rush. “I’m Leo and I saw you at the screening of Blade Runner at the scifi club at the college.” He gasped and finished, “So- um- hello!”
“You followed me to work?”
“I asked your friend where would be best to talk to you?” He made it a question.
“Oh.” Bitta fled behind the register, putting the espresso machine between him and her, and occupied herself tidying. Leo came over to claim a stool and lean, arms crossed, on the countertop.
As he settled, she paused mid-wipe, the counter half covered with crumbs. “She thought here was best?”
“I have no idea. She just said that you work here and if I wandered over on a Thursday, I’d probably get to see you dance.”
“I didn’t want to be a creeper.”
Bitta laughed. “Hands up.” She instructed, gesturing with her cleaning rag.
“I surrender.” He told her, wiggling his fingers in the air and lifting his elbows clear as she scrubbed up a splotch of half-dried jam. His scraggly moustache quirked at her as he smiled hopefully. “Do you want me to order something so I have an excuse to stay and talk with you?”
She tapped her chin in an over-exaggerated ‘thinking’ pose. “Sure. But only because you helped me pick up the books.”
“Then- a cup of coffee.” He passed her change. “I hope none of them - the books - were damaged.”
“Are you actually worried?”
He look surprised that she had to ask. “Of course?” Another question, as if he were uncertain his response was acceptable.
Bitta reassured him. “Bonus points, then. I don’t just work here for the tips.”
He smiled at her. She smiled back.
Sipping his coffee black, he said, “I was too busy looking for you not to run into you. How’s that for mad skills?” He looked like he wanted to ask for milk and sugar but didn’t want to push his luck.
Bitta leaned on the counter and nudged creamer his direction. “I am wearing a corset. Were you expecting me in a corset?”
Grateful, he flashed her another smile. “Well - no. She said you danced on Thursdays.”
“Also Wednesdays. You could stick around and watch?”
“Can I take you for dinner after?”
“We’ll never know unless you try.” Bitta agreed just before she was called away to make a double mocha frappuccino.