Natalie studied the shelf in front of her intently, brow furrowing, tongue rubbing the inside of her teeth. Decisions, decisions. Always decisions. She sighed in frustration, almost put her hands on her hips but stopping when she nearly elbowed the kid streaking past her, then finally crouched down – as if getting closer would help her make up her mind.
“Mozart? Mendelssohn? Hrm…” She glanced to her right. “Ragtime.” She looked left. “Liszt.” She rubbed her nose, then finally sat flatly on the floor and glared at the books. “Must you all cost so much? Let’s see…” She picked up the Mendelssohn collection, fingering it slowly. It was spiral bound, which was nice. But was she really going to give up her month’s spending money on the Romantic? She frowned. Maybe it was time to consider adding more money to her spending allowance. Her students probably didn’t really need to always have the option of a new folder for class.
Natalie paused again, this time rubbing an irritated hand across her face. Maybe she should skip the piano music entirely and get some choral samples. No, no. This was supposed to be her spending money. That was exactly why she’d come to a regular book store instead of going to a music place, where she’d be inundated with stuff she could buy for her kids. With a sigh and shoving her hands in her back jeans pockets, Natalie stood.
There was always regular old fiction. Maybe she’d read a book this weekend instead of pounding her fingers off. She stared over the short shelf in front of her, trying to get a read on the titles of the best sellers stacked a few aisles away. It didn’t work. Eh, whatever. Pounding fingers off sounded more fun anyway.
She stared back down at the music books, debated a moment longer, then reminded herself that her options weren’t going to change just because she stared at them. “Well, M boys, I dunno that I want classical or early romantic. Sorry.” She tilted her head to the side, rocking back and forth on her tennis-shoed feet as she considered. “Liszt,” she finally muttered decisively, turning that direction. “We’ll party.”
And so left she went, grabbing the book and flipping through it as she walked through the automotive aisle toward the cash register, wavy hair flying a flag behind her and her nose buried in the music.
She’d almost made it out of the aisle when she tripped. With a little shriek, she fell toward the floor, her new book flying out of her fingers as her arms automatically shot downward to catch her. A tug on the back of her shirt stopped her mid-fall, fabric tightening across her chest as a male voice commented, “Gotcha.” Protesting the sudden abuse, the dozen buttons on Natalie’s second-hand blouse all popped at once, and Natalie fell face-first on the floor with a thud, her arms pinioned and made useless by her shirt’s betrayal.
There was a moment of stunned silence, then Natalie felt her shirt released and herself grabbed by the arm as the man crouched beside her and hauled her to a sitting position. “Oh…” she moaned involuntarily as the ache pulsed through her nose. She didn’t even think to be grateful that layers were so in right now. She reached up to touch her face, but was beaten to it by a large hand holding a wad of tissues.
“I’m so sorry.” Natalie blinked a few times and finally focused on her would-be rescuer. He looked concerned, extremely sorry, and very, very cute. Shoot.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, applying pressure to her nose. She winced. “Your nose is bleeding. Do you think it’s broken?”
Natalie couldn’t reply for the moment, her eyes watering. “Jeeze, that was a dumb thing to do. I think you tripped over my books, too.”
Natalie’s gray-eyed gaze flitted back in the direction of her clumsy feet, saw the pile of books. “I’m sorry, I really am. I’ll replace your shirt, but your nose–”
“No, it’s fine,” Natalie finally managed to break in on him. She carefully took the wad of tissues from him, tilting her head down so she didn’t have to meet his bright blue-eyed stare any longer. “It’s just a nose bleed. I don’t think it’s broken, thanks.”
Natalie laughed, the gesture making her nose throb. “Old junk. I can replace it at Goodwill for a buck.”
The man laughed as well, sounding relieved, and he shifted momentarily out of sight, then reappeared holding out the Liszt book to her. “This yours?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Natalie reached for it with her free hand, but he ignored it, putting a hand under her elbow and helping her to her feet. She gave up on the book immediately and focused on staying upright while the room spun, her head pounding again.
Once he was certain she that was on her feet he let her go, this time waving away her out-stretched hand. “At least let me hold your book for you while you clean up.” Despite her best efforts, she met his gaze. He offered her a smile that, if her nose had stopped bleeding by then, would have set it going again, and she nodded dumbly. He put a hand on her shoulder, sending a shiver of awareness down her spine, and turned her gently in the direction of the ladies’ bathroom. “Come find me when you’re done.”
“Thank you,” Natalie managed, stumbling toward the bathroom without looking back. Of all the stupid things – she stopped once she’d made it through the door and saw herself in the mirror. Oh, worse yet. Her hair was everywhere, her shirt hung in tatters. The tank she had on underneath was covered in green splatters from repainting the choir room. There was blood on her chin, her eyes were bloodshot, and her forehead had an angry red splotch from where it had struck the ground. And, now that she was looking more closely, there was a zit forming on her right cheekbone.
With a grimace at her face, Natalie bent over the sink and proceeded to take care of the bloody nose. That dealt with, she straightened her shirt, combed her fingers through her hair, pushed hard on the zit in an attempt to make it disappear, and rubbed at the bruise quickly darkening on her forehead. “Alas,” she told her reflection. “He’s so handsome it’s a sin, and you’re a fright.”
Not that she expected attention from that kind of guy anyway. With a forced-nonchalant shrug to the mirror, she headed back to reclaim her book. Only he wasn’t there. Natalie paused, feeling stupid, then checked the aisles on either side. Not finding him there either, she looked blankly from one side of the store to the other, trying to decide whether to hunt him down or just grab another copy of the book. The latter sounded easier, and less embarrassing, so she meandered as casually as she could back to the music shelf, grabbed another copy of the Liszt, and went to the checkout, this time making sure not to trip over any unfortunately placed books. He had probably, she decided as she distractedly set her book in front of the cashier, thought better of waiting for her, lest she change her mind about him replacing her shirt. Too bad.
“Oh, you’re that girl who tripped.”
The cashier’s sudden declaration brought Natalie out of her reverie. “I’m sorry?” Heavens. Had everyone seen?
“The girl who tripped, right? The one with the Liszt book?” Now thoroughly confused, Natalie could do nothing but nod. The cashier took the book she had brought up and plopped it underneath the counter, pulling another copy of the same book up at the same time. “Here. Guy brought this up and paid for it; said to give it to the prettiest girl who came to the check out.” The young man smiled and Natalie blushed. He hadn’t really, had he? No. No, of course not. “Said to tell you sorry he couldn’t wait, but something came up.” The cashier held the book out to her. “Here you go.”
Natalie took the book slowly, “Are you… sure it’s for me?”
The boy nodded. “Yup. Pretty girl with long, wavy hair.” He left out the part about the nose; she couldn’t help that, if she’d fallen on it. “Tall guy. Blond hair. Said he’d tripped you.”
Natalie pulled the book to her chest and looked around self-consciously. “Well… uh… Thanks. I… I appreciate it.”
The cashier nodded, then watched her as she walked away in a daze. Pretty enough, and a nice smile. Hopefully the guy wasn’t a creeper.
Natalie climbed into her beater of a car and slid the book onto the passenger’s seat. She shoved the key into the ignition, still puzzling over what had just happened, then stopped before putting the car in gear. That had been such a random thing for the guy to do.
She stared at the book for a long moment before finally picking it up, fanning the pages so their gentle breeze blew across her face. Odd, but nice of him. And Liszt really would be–
Natalie paused, then flipped the book back to the cover page, cracking the spine as she held the book out in front of her. It hadn’t been a trick of her eyes – there was a note, written with red ink in a bold, masculine hand:
Sorry again about the shirt, and the nose. And the books on the ground. And ditching out. I hope this’ll make up for it a bit.
Then a postscript, written in an almost scrawl:
Here, call or email me. Please?
Followed by a phone number and an email address.
Natalie reread the note, and the contact information. Placed the book on the steering wheel to get a better look, then jumped about a foot when the horn honked. Moved the book to her lap, her wavy hair falling in a curtain around her, and rubbed at the note with a finger as if expecting it to magically rub away. When it didn’t, she flipped the book closed and stared at the windshield. Seriously? A note? Was he trying to pick up on her, or did he just think the book wasn’t enough of an apology? Or was he just a weirdo?
She flipped the book open, re-read the words, shut it again. Not much to go on.
With deliberation, she placed the book on the seat next to her, refusing to look at it again as she put the car in gear and pulled out of the bookstore’s parking lot. She’d think about it some more. Later that evening, when she emailed him – because she knew she was going to email him.
She glanced at the book on the seat next to her for a moment as she waited to turn right, putting her eyes back to the street with a small smile on her lips. It was a good day for Liszt.