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GRNW Secret Story Event > The Gift of a Book by Sasha L. Miller

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message 1: by ttg (last edited Sep 01, 2013 06:48PM) (new)

ttg | 571 comments Mod
This is part of GRNW’s Secret Story Event. Between August 1 through 31, stories by authors attending GRNW in Seattle on September 14 will be posted to our GoodReads group...but posted anonymously.

On September 1, 2013, all authors will be revealed!

Important Note: The content for these stories belong solely to the authors that wrote them.


The Gift of a Book

by Sasha L. Miller


Word Count: 3,673


The lights in the shop flickered in time with the crash of thunder overhead. Edric paused in his dusting, weighing the benefits of closing early. It had been raining heavily for the past two hours, and the thunder had only gotten louder as the storm came closer. There had been no customers for just as long, the rain keeping them away, and the shop was supposed to close in another hour.

Edric stepped away from the bookshelf, glancing at the neatly wrapped parcel on the front desk. Clifton wouldn't bother braving the weather for his order; he was far more practical than that. Still, what if he did come by and Edric had already closed?

Clifton could come back another day, Edric thought firmly. Edric didn't need to be giving him special treatment—or any more special treatment. He'd close up, and Clifton could come another night, like he was probably planning to do anyway.

He'd just finish his tidying first, Edric decided, moving back over to the bookshelf. He'd have to do it after the shop closed anyway, and leaving the shop open while he cleaned wouldn't cause him any harm. If it gave Clifton a little longer to show, well, that was only an unintended side effect. Edric rolled his eyes at himself, shoving his glasses up his nose as he returned to dusting off the bookshelves. He really wasn't fooling himself, but luckily there was no one else around to witness him being stupid about Clifton.

The shop wasn't very large, but it was stuffed to the gills with crowded bookshelves. He'd started working at the shop when he'd been a teenager, nearly fifteen years back, and Arvel had sold it to him at a ridiculous rate when he'd decided to retire a few years back. It wasn't the only bookshop in town, but Edric was damn certain it was the best, particularly for the academics that worked at the nearby university. Arvel had had contacts throughout the continent, and he'd passed those all along to Edric. He could get almost any book in the kingdom, something the professors greatly appreciated.

Well, most of the professors. Edric scowled, dusting down the pristine fronts of a row of botany books. Edric could deal with the older, gruff professors, the ones who still asked where Arvel was three years after he'd turned the shop over to Edric. He could deal with the absentminded ones who, he was sure, could barely dress themselves, let alone remember to write down the title of the books they were looking for. He couldn't deal with the younger ones who thought they were the stars of the university, with huge egos and exorbitant requests to match.

The bell above the shop door rang, almost drowned out by a clap of thunder.

And then there was Clifton. He was a younger professor, but unlike many of his compatriots, he was nothing but sweet and polite when he came in. He was a bit absentminded at times, but he liked to discuss his books with Edric and never assumed Edric was an idiot when he asked questions. He was absolutely drenched, his tan jacket soaked a dark brown, and he was dripping on Edric's welcome mat.

"Evening, professor," Edric said. "If you'll wait there, I'll grab you a towel to dry off."

"Thank you," Clifton said, smiling his sheepish, lopsided smile. "I forgot my umbrella, and it seemed to be tapering off when I left the campus."

Edric flashed a quick smile in return as he headed to the back of the shop. The little storage room had a few towels stacked up on the left side of the restoration desk, and Edric fished out the largest one. He returned to the shop quickly, crossing the creaky hardwood floors to the front door. Clifton's dark brown curls were flattened against his head and his skin glistened from the rain that still clung to it. Clifton had removed his overcoat, revealing his suit had suffered from the rain as well; his jacket was wet through the shoulders and top of his chest.

"If you'll hand me your jacket and overcoat, I'll lay them out in front of the fire for you," Edric offered. Clifton probably wasn't staying long, since he only had an order to pick up, but perhaps his clothing drying out would be a suitable excuse to keep him longer.

"That would be wonderful," Clifton said, wrinkling his nose as he peeled off his overcoat. "Thank you again, and I am sorry to be such a bother."

"No bother," Edric said lightly, taking the overcoat carefully. Clifton unbuttoned his jacket, tugging it off. That left him in just his shirtsleeves and vest, and Edric bit his lip, wondering if he'd ever get the chance to see Clifton in less. Unlikely, considering Clifton was a professor and Edric a shop clerk—well, shop owner, but he was pretty sure that was the same thing in the eyes of the professors.

He passed Clifton the towel, wandering over to the roaring fireplace. It was near the front desk, with two large armchairs in front of it for easy reading. The chairs were more of an excuse to keep him from adding in bookshelves near the fire, where he'd risk setting the whole place on fire. Edric hung Clifton's wet things up on the hooks by the fire, calling over his shoulder, "would you like some tea, professor?"

"How many times do I need to ask you to call me Clifton before you will?" Clifton asked. The creak of the floor heralded his approach, and Edric smiled at the reminder, straightening the folds of Clifton's jacket so it would dry properly. "Tea would be wonderful, thank you."

"Force of habit." Edric finished fussing with Clifton's jacket and set the kettle in its spot next to the fire before crossing over to the front desk. He pulled out the wrapped parcel he'd put together for Clifton earlier, his heart beating faster. Clifton's very first request for him, four years ago, had been for a rare edition of a study of poisonous plants that Edric had been unable to source. He'd finally managed it two months back, and it had coincidentally arrived at the same time as Clifton's latest request, a more generic book studying dandelions and similar plants.

Anyone else, Edric would have given up six months after the initial inquiry had failed, but for Clifton, Edric had kept looking. Picking up the package, Edric handed it to Clifton, and then gestured to the armchairs. "I'll get that tea, if you want to try drying off yourself."

Clifton nodded, his attention already on the package, and Edric couldn't help but smile, taking the slightly damp towel from Clifton. There was a small kitchenette in the back, barely more than a closet, and Edric quickly put the tea leaves, pot, and cups on a tray, adding a small sugar bowl for Clifton. He headed back out, anticipation thrumming through his veins.

Clifton was opening the package, his fingers tugging at the knots Edric had tied to hold the paper wrapping the books in place. Edric set the tray down on the little table, focusing on measuring the tea leaves into the pot so as to not stare at Clifton as he opened the package. He was listening closely, however, and heard it when Clifton's breath caught.

Edric risked a glance. Clifton was staring down at the small, leather-bound book, his expression rapt as he touched the cover. Edric watched, tea forgotten, as Clifton carefully opened the little book.

"I thought you couldn't find it," Clifton said, running his fingers rapturously down the title page. He looked up then, and Edric couldn't help but grin, pleased his surprise had gone over so well.

"I couldn't," Edric said. He set down the container of tea, the scent of the blackberry-infused leaves reminding him of his task. He turned to the fireplace to collect the kettle. "I kept asking every so often though. You said it was one of the most important books in your field?"

"It is," Clifton said, still sounding somewhat shocked. "I can't believe you found it. I was sure I'd never get to see it, let alone own it. How much are you asking for it? I don't have much left in my budget for the year—"

"No charge," Edric said firmly. It had been a pain to find the book, but the book itself hadn't been that expensive. For all its rarity, there hadn't been many people requesting the book, so it hadn't cost Edric much at all to obtain it once his source located it. He could afford to give it away. "It took me entirely too long to find it, and my reputation is better than that."

Clifton hesitated, obviously wanting to argue that. Edric poured the hot kettle water into the tea pot, waiting for the inevitable protest. He returned the kettle to the fireside, but when he turned around, Clifton was staring at the book as though it were made of gold instead of paper and leather.

"I can't accept it," Clifton said, his voice lacking conviction. He was paging through the book gingerly, as though it were a few centuries old and would crumble in his hands if he was too forceful with it.

"Of course you can," Edric said, waving off Clifton's words. "It's a gift, and I insist." Clifton made a half-hearted noise of protest, his attention obviously caught by something on the pages in front of him. Edric smiled, ridiculously pleased at Clifton's reaction. He couldn't stop watching Clifton, completely drawn in by the rapt expression on Clifton's face as he continued to page through the book.

Edric made himself look away before he said something to ruin the moment. He added three teaspoons of sugar to Clifton's tea cup, then poured them both tea, busying himself with that as a means of distraction.

"Tea?" Edric asked, stepping closer to Clifton's chair to offer him the cup of tea. "It's a fruit blend from the new shop down the road that opened next to the curiosity shop."

"I have to give you something for this," Clifton said, as though Edric hadn't said a word about tea. He shut the book, setting it and the book he'd actually ordered on the table.

"No charge," Edric said firmly. "Consider it a favor from a friend."

Clifton hesitated, and for a moment, Edric was afraid he was going to argue the point about them being friends. His stomach sank, but Clifton only said, "Surely there's something …"

Edric glanced away, flushing. Clifton certainly didn't mean that the way it sounded, but Edric's mind jumped to a dozen possibilities that were entirely inappropriate for their situation.

"Edric?" Clifton asked, standing up. He looked concerned, his brow furrowed and his mouth tipping down at the corners. Edric opened his mouth, but nothing came out—his mind had completely gone blank, and at the absolute worst time. Clifton's expression abruptly shifted, and Edric barely had the time to process the determined look before Clifton kissed him.


message 2: by ttg (last edited Sep 01, 2013 06:47PM) (new)

ttg | 571 comments Mod
Edric dropped the tea cup he was holding.

The cup shattered, and Edric jumped back, startled and completely thrown. Clifton had kissed him. There was tea soaking through the tops of his shoes, and there were shards of porcelain everywhere.

"Oh, no," Edric said faintly, staring down at the mess. "I-I'll get the broom." Clifton nodded, staring with wide eyes down at the mess. He didn't look at Edric, and Edric tried to settle the butterflies in his stomach as he strode to the back room to fetch the broom to sweep up the mess and a cloth to clean up the spilled tea.

The shop bell ran as he headed back out, and Edric debated the merits of kicking the customer out so he could discuss the kiss with Clifton in peace. Edric stumbled to a stop when he left the back, his heart sinking as he took in the empty shop. Clifton's overcoat was gone, but he'd left his jacket—and the books. Edric dropped the broom and cloth and sprinted across the shop to the front door. Flinging the door open, Edric ducked out into the rain, but Clifton was nowhere in sight.

Scowling at the dark, empty street, Edric ducked back into the shop, wondering what Clifton had been thinking. Why had he left? Why had he kissed Edric? Obviously, Edric's secret affections for Clifton hadn't been so secret, but why had Clifton kissed him? Unless Clifton had thought that was the best way to 'pay' Edric back for the book… Edric scowled, vehemently flipping the lock on the door. He flipped the heavy switch to the main bookshop lights, and then tugged the curtains into place over the windows in the door.

He'd thought Clifton better than that. Perhaps he was, and Edric was missing something. Still, Edric deserved better than Clifton running out on him without an explanation. Storming back across the room, Edric retrieved the broom and cloth, because add insult to injury, he still had to clean up the mess he'd made dropping Clifton's tea cup.

*~*~*

Edric opened the shop on time the following morning. He'd stacked Clifton's books and his dry, folded jacket on the front desk. He was hopeful Clifton would show up and explain himself, while at the same time resigned to the fact that Clifton would probably avoid him for as long as he possibly could.

Still, he couldn't help but look to the door hopefully every time the bell rang. It was never Clifton, however, and Edric was rapidly losing patience. There was no reason they couldn't discuss it like reasonable people, but they couldn't do that if Clifton avoided him. That was, Edric thought morosely, if there was even anything to discuss.

Clifton was a professor, young, but with a promising career from all Edric had been able to glean from the other customers he got from the university. He was far too important to dally with a shop clerk. Edric scowled out the front windows. There was no sign of last night's storm outside; the day was bright and filled with sunshine and cheer, the exact opposite of Edric's mood. He almost wished he'd kept the book hidden away until Clifton's birthday in a few months, as he'd originally intended.

No, he'd been hasty, and then Clifton had kissed him and then run off like he'd done something stupid, like kissing Edric had been a mistake. There was no other way to take that, and Edric shouldn't be trying to come up with some excuse to visit campus and confront Clifton.

Did he need an excuse? He didn't want to shrink away from it or try to pretend it never happened. Clifton had kissed him, not the other way around. Clifton had to explain himself, particularly the part about his running off. Edric glanced around the shop, and decided that an afternoon off wouldn't hurt anything. His customers could wait a few hours for their books.

Decided, Edric wrote out a quick note to post on the door. He closed up the shop quickly, and then collected the bundle of Clifton's book and jacket. He tucked it into one of the shop bags, then slipped out the back.

The walk to campus was lovely, but Edric wasn't in the mood to enjoy it. He was nervous, his stomach filled with unceasing butterflies as he got closer. It was as short walk, which was one of the other reasons Edric's shop did so well with the university crowd. The campus was a huge, sprawling affair, with dozens of ornate buildings and a few extravagant gardens, maintained by the botany staff.

Edric had been on campus for deliveries often enough that it didn't take him long to find Clifton's office. He wasn't there, but a helpful secretary pointed him to one of the university's greenhouses. She added a cautionary note that Clifton was in a terrible mood, and Edric felt some satisfaction at finding out he wasn't the only one affected by the previous night's events.

The greenhouses were directly behind the building that held Clifton's office, and Edric's steps slowed as he approached them, somewhat confused. The secretary had said greenhouse three, but the buildings didn't appear to be numbered. They were arranged in two rows, flanking a wide walkway. The windows of each greenhouse were all steamed up, preventing him from seeing inside.

He'd have to stick his head in each one, then, because Edric was damned if he'd slink back to the shop after coming this far. He headed for the third greenhouse on the right side, figuring that was as likely as any of the others to be greenhouse three. He'd gotten only a few steps before the door to closest greenhouse opened, and a young, fresh-faced student walked out.

"Excuse me," Edric said, smiling politely. "Can you tell me which of these greenhouses is number three?"

"The end of the row," she said, pointing to the last greenhouse on the left side. "I'm pretty sure they misnumbered them to confuse us new students."

"Probably. Thanks," Edric said, rolling his eyes at that. He headed that way, the butterflies in his stomach redoubling their efforts to make him turn back as he approached the door. He paid them no heed, opening the door to the greenhouse and letting himself in.

A wave of humid heat smacked him in the face, and Edric quickly stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. His glasses immediately fogged over, and Edric pulled them off, squinting blurrily around the greenhouse. It was filled to bursting with plants, unsurprisingly. There appeared to be tables lining the glass walls, with a long table down the center of the room. There were racks above his head, from which vines dangled down, tangling with the plants set up on the tables.

He couldn't see a few feet past his face with any clarity, but there appeared to be only one other person in the greenhouse, near the far end. Edric juggled his glasses and the bag, taking a moment to wipe the lenses free of the fog. He settled them back on his face, bringing Clifton's guilty face into focus. He was staring at Edric from across the greenhouse, making no move towards or away from Edric.

Clifton was also incredibly disheveled. He was covered in dirt, streaks and smears on his clothes and face. He'd discarded his jacket, and his sleeves were rolled up. He wore thick, dirt-crusted gloves, and was holding a pair of pruning shears.

"Professor," Edric said, lifting the bag as he walked slowly across the greenhouse, careful of trailing vines. "I brought the things you left last night."

Clifton winced, setting down the shears. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry," Edric repeated flatly, suddenly angry again. Was that all Clifton had to say? "Why did you leave?"

"I thought you didn't want me there," Clifton said, shrugging. He turned back to the plants he was apparently repotting. "You seemed to want me gone."

"I wanted you gone? Where did you get that?" Edric repeated, scowling. He gave Clifton a wide berth, hanging back on the walkway. Clifton had kissed him, Edric had dropped the tea cup, and then gone to clean up the mess. Where in there had he given Clifton the impression he wanted Clifton to leave?

Clifton sighed, pulling off his gloves carefully. He set them on an open space on the table, then slowly turned back around to face Edric. "You dashed off to the back. I thought you made it pretty clear I overstepped."

"Did you kiss me to pay me back for the book?" Edric blurted out, unable to keep from asking the question that had been pestering him for the last day.

"What?" Clifton asked, his face losing its color. "Is that what you think?"

"You said there had to be something you could do to repay me," Edric said, gripping the handles of the bag tighter. "What was I supposed to think, when you ran out immediately after?"

Clifton rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand, shaking his head. "I didn't… I kissed you because of the book, not to repay you for the book. I thought…" Clifton dropped his hand, finally looking at Edric, and the solemn, intent look on his face made the butterflies in Edric's stomach kick up a fuss once more. "I've wanted to kiss you for a while, but I didn't think you felt the same until last night. Obviously, I misjudged, and I am sorry for that. And sorry for leaving, because that was a cowardly move."

"You didn't misjudge," Edric said. He shifted from foot to foot nervously and adjusted his grip on the bag. "I didn't think… you're a professor, and I'm just—"

"You're not just anything," Clifton said fiercely. "I don't want to hear that bull from you, too."

"Too?" Edric said, and why wasn't Clifton saying anything about Edric's confession?

"My colleagues are idiots," Clifton said dismissively. He hesitated, biting his lip briefly. "I'm paying you for the book—"

"Absolutely not," Edric said, shaking his head. "It's a gift, no matter what lays between us."

"Even if it's only a silver piece, I'm paying you for it," Clifton said, as though Edric had never spoken. "Then you can't think I'm kissing you to pay for it."

"Fine, one silver piece," Edric said, rolling his eyes. "I'll add it to the tab for your next book order."

"All right," Clifton said, smiling. He closed the space between them, and Edric tilted his head up, his heart beating extra fast in his chest as Clifton kissed him. It was the complete opposite of the quick, awkward kiss of the night before; Clifton kissed him long and slow, drawing him closer, and Edric had no intention of letting Clifton go this time.


****

About the Author

Sasha L. Miller spends most of her time writing, reading, or playing with all things website design. She loves telling stories, especially romance, because there’s nothing better than giving people their happily ever afters. When not writing, she spends time cooking, harassing her roommates, and playing with her cats.

Visit Sasha at sashalmiller.com, nikerymis.tumblr.com, sashalmiller.livejournal.com, and on Twitter: @nikerymis


message 3: by ttg (last edited Sep 01, 2013 06:47PM) (new)

ttg | 571 comments Mod
Thank you to Sasha L. Miller for submitting a Secret Story for the GRNW group! Please feel free to leave comments below. :)


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