Books and Roses

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Jeff absently straightens his tie as he climbs the wide, glass-sided staircase to the second floor of Borders Books. It is a weekday and near closing time. Few customers remain. Finally he is going to meet his mystery lover.

After weeks of exchanging steaming correspondence, fantasies, and near-pornographic propositions over the Internet, they have arranged to meet for late drinks at a nearby restaurant, a 'blind date. ' He checks his watch again - still too early. With time to kill he has decided to browse the bookstore, one of 'her' favorite places.

He checks his watch again. He feels that flutter in his stomach, that tingling anticipation of meeting someone for the first time, a conflict between nervousness, excitement, and curiosity. What would she be like? Over the net she has been alternately passionate and tentative, bold and reserved, a complex and smart woman with a sometimes offbeat and depreciating sense of humor.

She is a writer, someone who likes to be inventive and play with words. He wonders - how inventive and playful is she in other areas of her life? The photos she has e-mailed are slightly out of focus, products of a bad digital camera. He knows that she is tall with long auburn hair, a generous full figure, pale skin, and a nice smile.

A couple of poses hint to a daring streak in her personality. She seems willing to be adventurous, he speculates, though with a degree of uncertainty. He worries - will the attraction they felt over the net translate into reality? Brighten and flare like a fire beginning to catch, or, like so many other dates he has had, fizzle like a sputtering candle? Impatiently he snaps shut the book he has been holding and re-shelves it, again checking his watch.

Then he feels the slightest of touches on his shoulder, like a leaf brought down by the summer breeze. He turns, and there she is. It has to be her - who else could it be? She is impossibly tall for a woman, right at 6 feet, but holds herself with none of the self-consciousness and embarrassed stoop that many larger women display, but proudly and with confidence.

He can definitely see reflections of the Irish ancestry she claimed. Is that a red lace bra peeking out from the plunging neckline? She holds a single red rose. Jeff has never really felt his pulse 'skip a beat' before, but finally understands the phrase as he sees her smile. .

. . . A lively smile of straight white teeth, an easy smile, a ready smile, a smile that promises secret mischief and a hint of things to come.

In a low voice she says, 'Hello. I'm Nicole, and you must be Jeff. I recognize you from your photos. I thought we were meeting at the restaurant?' 'I was early,' Jeff replies, surprised, his gut tight and anxious.

'You told me about this place, so I thought I'd come over and take a look around. ' That smile again. 'Ah, and I see you found my favorite section. ' She pauses.

'I was early too, and nervous. The books, well, they have a calming effect, I think. ' Another smile, smaller, more self-conscious. 'She's the type who analyzes the situation before letting her full guard down,' Jeff realizes, his own apprehension melting.

Diffidently, she proffers the rose in one manicured hand and holds out the other. Sunset red nails, matching her lipstick, the rose, the peeping bra. 'This is for you. I'm delighted to finally meet you face-to-face.

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