A/N: Somebody help, cuz I can't seem to stop. I have 0 self-control, it looks like.
1. The Balding Man with a Rotund Belly
Jessica Day was in a hurry of sorts, so it wasn't until she hurtled out of her cab and straight into the glass door of the bookstore that she realized that she'd forgotten her glasses. Feeling slightly hazy, she stumbled backwards, only to be steadied by a firm grip on her elbow. Muttering her thanks, she pulled at the door, grunting in annoyance when it didn't comply.
"You need to push it," said an amused voice behind her.
"I figured as much, thanks, Sherlock," she huffed, pushing the door open.
"It's Nick," came the voice again from behind her, and Jess just hurried into the store, calling out sarcastically, "Okay, then, thanks, Nick."
Ignoring the chuckle, she briskly walked towards where she knew the signing would be happening, opening her bag and praying that the spare pair of glasses that Cece insisted she carried around was in it. Her fingers found the plush glass case and she let out a sigh of relief as she pulled it out. Having slipped on her glasses in a few seconds, she blinked once and looked around.
The bookstore was not very crowded, but that wasn't very surprising. Not many people visited nowadays, and the few that did hardly stuck around for very long. Even today, despite the book signing event that was being held, there were hardly any people. The few that had come were all waiting in the queue that Jess had been hoping would be quite short, given she'd made it a point to get there early.
Jess joined the painfully long queue, wondering if she'd started five minutes earlier, she'd be a few places ahead. She pulled the book out of her bag, suddenly aware that the room was largely filled with teenagers and the only adults were the parents accompanying their children.
Listening to the few murmurs, she gathered that the writer had just arrived. She tapped her foot impatiently and craned her neck to see if she could spot the author, but she was far too behind in the line. She could see from afar that some people had already crowded around the table, once again ruing not having started earlier.
"What's the point of a queue if they can just do that," muttered Jess, raising herself on her toes.
She wondered what had made him agree to attend sign books out of the blue. If the rumours were to be believed, he had even agreed to interact with students across schools, and possibly even hold readings. It seemed like a rather odd development, given how he'd hardly given any interviews after his first book had been out, and the few which he did give were extremely vague and always in print. As she stood idly in the queue, she let her overactive imagination wonder for a bit.
Maybe he had something to hide. But what? Maybe he was a balding middle-aged man who didn't want to be photographed. Probably with a rotund belly. And insanely thick glasses and a cap, with a silver beard.
Oh, wait, that's George R. R. Martin.
Or maybe he was a family man who doesn't want anyone to know that he'd written a young adult novel. Maybe he was just a private person who wanted to keep his family safe, away from the public eye.
"Nicholas Miller is probably not even his real name," she mused.
As the group started to clear away from the table, the queue seemed to come to life as she moved five places ahead. Just as she was raising herself on her toes again, her phone rang quite loudly and she flinched at the shrill mooing that cut through the dim chatter at the bookstore. Wondering why she thought mooing cows would be a funny idea, she pulled the cellphone out of her bag hastily.
"Jess!" said Cece loudly. "Where are you! I thought we were leaving together?!"
Ah fudge, the brunch!
"I'm so sorry, Cece! I-I got held up unexpectedly!"
There. That isn't a lie. The queue was too darned long!
"Got held up?! Where?"
Oh, just at the signing event of a young adult book I've been obsessing over for only a year or so. No big deal.
"Uhh, at a workshop that I'd signed up for," she blurted, keeping her voice low.
Definitely a lie.
"Workshop? What workshop? You never mentioned-"
"It's a, er, baking workshop for kids. Very, very, last minute, Cece. I'm just subbing for…uh, Tammy and-"
"Who the hell is Tammy!"
Jess shook her head, regretting the decision to lie to Cece. The woman knew everything there was to know about her and she should've known better than to try that. But there was no backing down now.
As she moved two places ahead, she took a deep breath and said, "Oh god, Bryan! What did I tell you about too much butter! Your cake is on fire, now!"
That doesn't even make sense!
"Sorry, Ceec, I'll meet you directly at the cafe, okay? Fires and things to put out. Kids, am I right? Haha, bye Cece!
She hurriedly stuffed the phone back into her bag after putting it on silent and was met with the stares of some of the people in her immediate vicinity. She swallowed, realising that the lie had been completely unnecessary.
I should've just pretended like normal people that I couldn't hear her.
Feeling her cheeks warm a little, she clutched her bag to her side tightly as she saw the person in front of her walk away and she moved ahead, suddenly finding herself in front of the table. Startled, she looked up and saw that the author was no middle-aged, balding man with a rotund beer belly and thick glasses.
He was wearing a plain navy blue blazer, one size too big for him. It was unbuttoned and she could tell that he was wearing blue and white flannel underneath. He had unkempt brown hair, which was sticking out at odd angles in some places and there was a shadow of stubble on his cheeks, accentuating his jawline. His eyes were a dark brown, full of mirth, and presently, he was smirking up at her with amusement.
She gaped at him for a few seconds, before attempting to blink away her surprise. She cleared her throat and managed to say, "Hi!"
"I see you've found your glasses," he said, gesturing towards her with his pen.
Jess frowned in confusion for a moment before realization crossed her face. "Sherlock!"
"Nick," he corrected her again, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.
"Right," she said, wide-eyed obviously a little embarrassed at the memory of their previous encounter, as she gave him the book.
He took the book from her with a chuckle, tilting his head at her. "Aren't you a little too old to be reading this?"
She felt her embarrassment fly out the window, as annoyance at his question quickly replaced it. Not that he was wrong, of course, she really was too old to be reading this, but that look of superiority on his face made her want to hit him. "It's for my students. They're huge fans," she said indignantly.
Nick quirked a brow at her. "Just one copy?"
Narrowing her eyes at him, Jess spluttered. "I-It's for the library. A library copy. So that all of my students, who are huge, huge fans, will have access to it."
"Right," he chuckled, bowing his head to sign the book.
He signed the book and slid it across the table towards her, with a small smile. She grabbed the book and started to tuck into her bag as she was walking away, when Nick called out, "Convey my condolences to Bryan for setting his cake on fire!"
Flushing red, she threw a last annoyed glance at him before hastily stepping out of the store. Truth be told, that had not at all gone the way she had expected. Not even remotely.
As she hailed a cab to the cafe she was supposed to meet Cece at, she wondered if she had been rude to him. She'd only glared a little at him and huffed just a bit, so that wouldn't qualify as rude, would it? She worried her lip nervously, hoping that was not the case. She didn't even know what had driven her to lie to him because her initial plan had been to discuss the intricacies of the book with him.
In her mind, she had envisioned approaching a George R. R. Martin lookalike and discuss with him the complexity of his character, Julius Pepperwood; she'd even made a mental note to let him know that Pepperwood deserved some happiness after what Coraline had done to him.
Instead, she was hit by the unexpectedness of the sight Nick Miller had been. She could reluctantly admit in the safe confines of her mind, that he was quite attractive. She knew that had thrown her off her game a little. It's bound to happen to anyone who was expecting a pudgy, balding man but had instead been blindsided by a suit-wearing (handsome) "monstrosity", she reasoned.
It still didn't entirely answer why she'd chosen to lie to him, and ultimately decided that it was because of the smug tone he'd questioned her with.
A/N: This fic will largely have romcom vibes.