She was sitting alone, reading and sipping a coffee, wearing a business suit, seeming to radiate a warning almost loud enough to hear: stay away. Eventually, some dude-brah would go over and try out his best line, hoping for a miracle, but no one ever survived her withering look of contempt.
One man watched her discreetly over a period of days and noticed she would glance at particular types of people. Certain well dressed men would be given a glance, but only when they were looking away. Some women got the look too, but it was more up and down, smile or frown, the kind of instant judgement and dismissal that one might give to a lesser, inferior breed. Children received a real smile, even the noisy ones, but they didn't come into the coffee shop very often.
The man continued to read his pad, glancing up occasionally when her movement caught his eye. He considered how to approach her, how to try and turn a quick conversation into something more. The decline of books had ruined his favorite tactic. Now that everyone read on pads, the hints given by the visible title and cover of the book were lost. She could be reading anything, from the classics, to fiction, or even erotica.
The coffee was gone, the time running out, so he cleaned his table and tossed his trash. When he turned back to approach her, she was gone. There was, however, a black umbrella folded neatly and hanging from the back of her chair by its strap.
"Excuse me, miss," he said, rushing after her on the busy street. "Miss, you left this on your chair."
She paused and looked back, her forehead wrinkling briefly in annoyance, then she saw her umbrella in his hand. "That was kind of you," she said, pausing for a moment.
"It was my pleasure to be of service," he said with a grin, pitching his voice to sound playfully formal. "Here is my card." He presented her with his calling card, not his business card. A business card seems to obligate reciprocation, establishing some kind of quid pro quo between the person giving and the person receiving it. His calling card had his personal information, elegantly engraved, as an offering of trust to her, nothing expected in return.
"Mr. Franklin, it is nice to meet you, but I am late for an appointment," she said and abruptly turned to go.
He smiled as she walked away. "The careful hunter stalks the game," he said to himself quietly.
The next day when she came into the coffee shop, Mr. Franklin greeted her with a brief smile, but did not intrude on her routine. In fact, he did his very best to avoid noticing her entirely. He followed her movements using his pad's glass as a mirror as she purchased her coffee, sat at her table, and started reading without a glance at anyone. The time seem to go very slowly, but eventually she stood to leave. Mr. Franklin stood as well, but he walked away to the men's room without a glance in her direction.
He arrived late the following day, waiting until she had already sat down before coming in and ordering his coffee. He watched out of the corner of his eye as he stood in line, and was rewarded with a glance and a slight smile. When he sat down she was looking at him, so he smiled again at her briefly, then began to read and drink his coffee without a second look.
As he had hoped, ignoring her seemed to work better than pursuit, and she said quietly, "Mr. Franklin."
"Please call me Jim," he said.
"I did not speak kindly when you returned my umbrella and I regret it. Would you allow me to make it up to you? My name is Dorothy White."
"I am pleased to meet you. I assure you I wasn't offended by your behavior or remarks; you have no cause to feel regret on my account."
"Well, I do anyway. May I sit?" she asked. He moved his items to give her room and nodded at the chair.
"I have to admit being curious, so I googled you," she said with a steady gaze, daring him to react, but his expression did not change. "I have to ask, how can an antique bookstore still make money in the digital age?"
"Quite easily, actually, if you focus on collectors with," he said, pausing for a moment, "particular interests. For example, one of my niches is, as you likely discovered, antique erotica. There are many people interested in what tickled the fancy of readers in the 18th and 19th century, and will pay for the privilege to own a piece of that history."
Her eyes sparkled as she asked, "So what tickles the fancy of readers in the 18th and 19th century."
He leaned forward and asked quietly, "Would you like to see for yourself?"
"Actually, yes," she said with a grin.
"Would you be free this evening?" he asked. "I am open until 8:00 PM. If you come near closing, I would even be willing to open my private collection."
She considered for a moment. "Yes, tonight," she said. "That would be lovely."
"Please let me buy you a drink as well. There is a lovely private club downstairs that you might enjoy."
"It's a date," she said. "I'll call if I'm running late."
The bookstore was called Little Death and Company. It was nestled just above a club called The Reading Room. Dorothy arrived just after the last customer had gone, so Jim turned off the light in the front window and locked the door.
"Are you ready to begin?" he asked. Dorothy nodded as she walked around touching the books and shelves. Old books always had a certain smell, almost like vanilla mixed with dust. He took advantage of her inattention to admire her curves, his eyes moving from low heels, to shapely legs, her skirt and jacket fitted snugly over a thin white blouse.
Jim opened the locked display case and put the large book on a black velvet cloth. "This one is an 1853 edition of Tableau de L'Amour Conjugal by Nicolas Venette. He was a physician who advocated balance between reason and passion. He was one of the first people to advocate sexual adventures in the marriage bed over the largely negative public view of sexuality at that time."
He wore white gloves and turned the pages carefully, showing illustrations and graphical plates of frank, sexual images. When she stood close to see, he quietly took a deep breath, enjoying the scents of perfume, soap and her own personal chemistry.
"These are beautiful," she said, "truly erotic art."
He turned the pages slowly, pointing out details of anatomy, humor, translating the french when she asked. She moved closer, leaned into him, sliding her back lightly against his chest. Book by book, print by print, Jim showed her his most prized items. Some were transcendent, like fine art, some were vulgar and crude, but each of them provided visual stimulation prompting a physical response.
By the time they locked up the shop to have their drink, he was uncomfortably aroused. Her demeanor had warmed and softened as he began to see subtle signs of arousal in her as well; eyes bright, pupils dilated, skin flushed slightly with a real blush under her cosmetic simulation. He noted that she began to touch him lightly, a hand on his arm, brushing against his side as the walked, all small hints of arousal in the unspoken language of the body.
The Reading Room was not so much a room as a snaking collection of walkways and hallways lined with full bookcases, interspersed with alcoves. Some alcoves held spindly tables and chairs, others featured pairs of tall wingback chairs sharing a low table. The furthest in, the most secluded, featured love seats with deep cushions and soft pillows. Classical music flowed from hidden speakers, filling the air with the sounds of strings and horns.
The hostess led them in deeply to a dark corner with a love seat covered in a muted pattern in gold, brown, and red. As they sat, a subtle conversation of body language occurred. Where shall we sit, each at an end? Will you sit closer to the middle to indicate interest? Will I move away to warn you off? Eventually they came together near the center, not quite touching, but with room behind each of them.
As they waited for the waitress, Jim asked, "What did you think?"
"It was more visceral than I expected. When I think of how many hands had touched those pages over the years. How many erections they caused, how many gasps of shock or pleasure spoken over them, it boggles the mind," she said with a dreamy, far away look in her eyes. "I loved the smell of that place, and this one too; the books." She took a deep breath and said, "It should be a made into cologne."
Jim nodded, all too familiar with the effect. The waitress arrived wearing a very short black dress, barefoot, with a thin gold chain around her ankle. Based upon how the thin fabric clung to her breasts and hips, she did not appear to be wearing any undergarments. She said, "My name is Stephanie. Would you care for something to drink?"
"I would like a gin and tonic," Dorothy said.
"Do you still have the Germain-Robin XO?" Jim asked. Stephanie nodded. "Please bring two snifters of that." He turned to Dorothy with a smile, "If you don't care for it, don't worry, it won't go to waste, but I think you may like it."
"Why did you name your book store Little Death and Company?" she asked.
"A small joke. There is a book publisher called Little, Brown and Company. The word for orgasm in french is la petite mort or the little death," he explained. "Selling antique books of erotic art, it seemed appropriate."
Her shocked laugh was genuine and increased her blush. "Oh my, that is good," she said, smiling in an open way for the first time.
.... There is more of this story ...