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Megan Vasquez is no stranger to heartbreak. She moved to Austin to follow her boyfriend, only to learn he was cheating on her. Can she learn to open her heart again and trust someone new?
Levi Whittaker never expected love would walk in the door at the library where he works. But the moment he meets Megan, he can tell she's something special.
Levi and Megan's shared love of books brings them closer, but is it enough to keep them together? When Levi's old flame shows up, will Megan be able to trust that Levi's heart is true to her?
The sun had just disappeared below the horizon when Megan Vasquez finished her shift at the coffee shop where she worked. The twenty-four-year-old traded her apron for her favorite purple hoodie and clocked out on the timesheet hanging in the back room. “Bye, Duke!” she called to her manager, a cheerful, pot-bellied man with dark skin and graying hair who Megan guessed to be in his early fifties.
“Take care of yourself, Megan! See you tomorrow!” Duke waved to her as she headed out the door. Duke would keep the Enchanted Moon coffee shop going for the late evening shift, finally closing up shop around ten. Until then, the hipsters and college students that frequented the Rosedale neighborhood’s most popular hangout would continue to sip artisanal caffeinated beverages, endlessly clacking away on their laptops.
Megan shivered in the windy autumn air and pulled her hoodie over her brown wavy hair to keep warm. It was a long walk back to her apartment, about 20 blocks away. She wished that she could afford a car, or even a bicycle, to make the trip quicker. Sometimes she took public transportation, but the busses on her route between work and home ran infrequently, and they were often late. She had just missed the last bus, and it would be another hour before the next one came-- too long to wait around in the cold. She wished the City of Austin would improve their public transportation system.
Overhead, thunder rumbled, and the wind began to whip. Megan tried to take a shortcut through the neighborhood streets to get home faster. She hoped she could make it back before the rain came down. No such luck. She only made it one more block before the heavens opened and great drops came tumbling down onto her, soaking through her favorite purple hoodie. She needed to get her dad to send over her winter coat before she froze to death. Wasn’t Texas supposed to be hot all the time?
She ducked under the nearest building that had an awning to try to escape, but the driving wind sent the torrents of rain at her in an almost-horizontal fashion. Megan began scanning the area for a better place of refuge. A few little retail stores, and some restaurants, lined Burnet Road. But with no money to spare, Megan knew she would just be loitering to kill time. Besides, she had just bought groceries to stock up her fridge and pantry. It would be a waste of money dining out, even just for a snack, when she knew there would be food waiting for her at home. Then she spotted a circular driveway leading off towards an old concrete building, set some distance from the main road on a side avenue. In the growing darkness she could just make out the sign: “Yarborough Library.” What luck! Her pace quickened as she made her way across the driveway. She hurried up the slippery steps and inside, trying to shake the wetness off her shoes and clothes.
A buxom woman with skin like ebony sat at the front desk. “We close in thirty minutes,” the woman informed Megan as she passed by.
“That’s OK,” Megan told her, ”I just needed to get out of the rain for a bit.”
In truth, she couldn’t have picked a better place to wait out the storm. Libraries had been her place of refuge for as long as she could remember-- though not necessarily from an actual storm! Megan loved books. Her favorite childhood memories were of her mom reading Curious George and Madeline stories to her before she drifted off to sleep. As soon as Megan learned to read for herself, she would read any book she could get her hands on. Her mom and dad didn’t have much money for books, so her mom would take her to the local library, where every week she could fill up a big canvas bag--or two-- of new stories to devour. But the library itself became a place of solace. As financial troubles piled higher, the fights and arguments between her parents grew louder and more frequent. Megan didn’t want to go home after school, where the tension was high and the shouting made it impossible to enjoy her books or do her homework. So, Megan began stopping by the library on her way home from school every day. She would get her homework done first, then curl up with a book or two for the next few hours. Sometimes, if the book was really good, she would even skip dinner to finish it. There was a big old armchair in the corner of the library by the art history books, made of the ugliest green upholstery you ever saw, and which bore some permanent brown stains on it. But Megan loved that chair. She sat in it so much that the librarians began calling it “Megan’s chair” and kindly asking patrons to move from it if they knew it was almost time for school to let out. Megan missed that library. She hadn’t been back since before college.
This library was old too, maybe built around the same decade as the one in her hometown of Santa Fe. Photographs on the walls showed that at one time, the building had been home to a movie theatre back in the 1960’s, then later converted to a library. It gave her a sense of comfort to be there, surrounded by shelves of books. Plus, it was a place she knew she could go that was free; nobody would expect her to buy something or glare at her for gasping at any price tags. She wandered over to the fiction section, looking for one of her favorite authors. She thumbed through all the “A”’s, but didn’t find what she was seeking. She checked some of the other shelves, thinking perhaps they organized things a little differently than other libraries, but still no luck. A search on the library’s computer showed they had several copies of titles by this author, so she jotted down the call number of her favorite one, then returned to the section where it ought to be. Nope, not there.
Puzzled, she left the aisle. A young man with fair skin and glasses came around the corner pushing a cart full of books. He noticed the confused expression on Megan’s face and stopped his cart. “Can I help you find something, ma’am?” he asked.
“Yes, actually. I’m looking for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but I can’t seem to find any of her books.”
A smile creased the corners of his mouth. “Ah, there’s a reason for that. We’ve moved all of the Jane Austen books to a special display this month, in honor of the author’s birthday.” He shoved the cart off to the side and led Megan to a circular display in the middle of the room with a big sign. All of Jane’s books were arranged on the feature, as well as some by similar authors from that time period.
“Here you go,” the man handed her a volume of Pride and Prejudice. “I think this is what you were looking for, right?”
“Yes,” Megan blushed. “I must be blind. I walked right past this display on my way to the fiction section and didn’t even see it.”
“That’s OK.” He absently raked his hand through his chestnut hair, making pieces of it stick up in the back. “So, uh, you’re an Austen fan, huh?”
“Yeah,” Megan nodded. “I’ve read all her books. I even read the unfinished ones, and the juvenilia.”
“Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of hers.”
“You’re kidding! Not even in school?”
“Nope.” He shook his head. “Our English lit teacher in High School must not have been a fan of hers; it wasn’t required reading. He had us reading Tolstoy, Hugo, Wilde, Dickens, and plenty of others. Austen was on a list of optional reading, along with Trollope and the Bronte sisters, among others. I recall I ended up picking Shelley’s Frankenstein off of that list. I think my fourteen-year old self thought that reading about a monster that comes to life sounded a lot more interesting than a romance book.”
“I can’t say I blame you,” Megan shrugged.
“I’m Levi, by the way,” he stuck out a hand.
“Megan,” she returned the handshake.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Well, uh, I’ll let you enjoy your book, Megan,” Levi said, “but let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with.”
She beamed back at him. “Thanks!”
As Megan wandered towards an upholstered sofa in the corner, she watched Levi return to his cart and begin reshelving the books. He’s kinda cute, she thought, and nice. She shook her head to dismiss this train of thought. You just got a new job, Megan, she told herself, you don’t have time or money to be thinking about anything else right now. Besides, it’s too soon…
Megan had been lost in the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy for about twenty minutes when the grumbling of her stomach brought her back to reality. She checked the window outside. The rain had let up, it seemed. Time to head home, she decided. She went to return the volume to its display and noticed Levi watching her.
“You can check that out, if you want to,” he offered.
Megan fumbled with the book, trying to get it back onto the little metal book stand where it had been. “Oh, um, I don’t have a library card.”
“I can help you get one.”
She shook her head. “I don’t have a state driver’s license or proof of residence with me.”
“Not even an ID card?”
“I mean, I have my old driver’s license from New Mexico. It works to get me into a club or buy a beer, if I want, but I can’t drive or get registered for anything.”
“You’re not from around here, then, huh?” Levi’s eyebrow shot up.
Megan bit her lip. ”I moved to Austin a few months ago, but I only just got my own apartment last week. I don’t have any utility bills to prove my address yet, and I don’t have a car, so I haven’t bothered to go to the DMV to update my license.”
Levi nodded. “Understandable.” He motioned for Megan to follow him to the front desk.
Leaning over towards the woman at the desk, he asked, “Hey, Loretta, do we have any of those little postcard thingies?”
“You mean the blank ones that patrons can use for change of address?” She reached under the counter and pulled out a card.
“That’s the one.” Turning to Megan he handed her the card and pen. “Fill this out, please.”
Megan did as she was asked, then returned it to Levi.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” With the card still in hand, he walked out the front door, leaving Megan bewildered.
“Mail’s here,” Levi announced as he waltzed back in. He went to the incoming mail slot and retrieved the postcard from the box attached to the wall.
“Is he always like this?” Megan whispered to Loretta.
“Honey, I’ve learned it’s best not to ask,” Loretta nodded in a hushed voice.
“Well, Ms. Megan,” Levi grinned as he returned to the two ladies at the counter. “We have received mail from you with your address on it. We can now offer you a library card so that you can check out up to fifty books, four CDs, and two videos at a time.”
Megan chuckled as a flush stole across her cheeks. “Just this one, for today, I think.”
“Absolutely. Loretta, can you help Megan to check out her book?”
“Sure thing, Honey,” the robust woman answered in her typical Southern fashion.
It was one thing that Megan still hadn’t gotten used to. In New Mexico, most people reserved nicknames of that sort for their significant other. Since coming to Texas, she had been called “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Darlin’,” and a host of other sugary terms by perfect strangers, usually women. She found it very odd, until she realized they applied the terms to practically everybody they saw.
Loretta scanned Pride and Prejudice for her. “You’re all checked out, Honey!”
“Thanks!” Megan beamed.
Megan looked forward to re-reading her favorite book, much like she would enjoy a visit with an old friend. She tucked the book carefully inside her hoodie in case the rain started to pour again, thanked Levi and Loretta again for all their help, and headed for home. Luckily, the weather held out and she made it back to her tiny third-floor apartment without incident.
Megan’s stomach was threatening to eat her from the inside out if she didn’t feed it, so the first thing she did was throw a pot of water on the stove and crack open a packet of ramen noodles into a bowl. A few carefully portioned squares of tofu were cut from the container in the fridge, for added protein, then she stirred the boiling water in and waited for the noodles to soften. She fingered the lettering on the cover of Pride and Prejudice, which sat on the table where she had deposited it after shedding her hoodie. It made her think about Levi. The way his short hair had stood on end when he ran his hand through it. The endearing smile that lit up his face. The horn-rimmed glasses that made him appear bookish, but not too nerdy. The brilliant blue eyes behind those glasses. Stop it, Megan! She chided herself. She shoved a big bite of ramen in her mouth, burning her tongue in the process. “Ow!” she said out loud.
Just then, her cell phone rang.
“Hey, Chica, whassup?” It was her best friend, Sierra.
“Nothin’ much. Just eating some ramen.”
“Ramen? I can feed you better than that. Listen, me and Patrice are about to get some grub over at Kerbey Lane. You wanna join us?”
“That’s OK, I’m fine. I just got back home from work.” Megan knew if she went out her friends would want to treat her. She hated always being the “broke girl” who was never able to treat them in return.
“This late?” The cresting intonation in Sierra’s voice showed her surprise. “Duke didn’t make you work overtime did he?”
“Naw, I got stuck in the rain, but don’t worry, I took shelter at this cool library I found.”
“Ha, leave it to you to get stranded in your favorite place in the world-- somewhere loaded with books.”
Megan laughed at Sierra’s remark. “Yeah.”
Sierra knew Megan well-- since High School. Sierra had been popular and on the cheerleading team, and Megan was the quiet one who always had a book at hand. Yet somehow, the two had hit it off and their friendship had stuck. Sierra had moved to Austin a year before Megan did, to go to grad school, and Megan was glad to be living in the same city with her again. Especially after Brad…
She didn’t tell her friend about meeting Levi. Sierra would jump all over her if she heard she’d met somebody. Sierra had been trying for weeks to set her up with somebody new, but Megan was resistant. The person who’s the rebound always gets hurt.
“You sure you don’t wanna come out?” Sierra asked again. “I’m gonna order the Kerbey Queso. You know I can never finish that by myself, and Patrice is lactose intolerant.”
“Naw, I’m good. I’m sure you can take home the leftovers.”
“Okaay…well, if you’re not gonna meet up with us, then we should definitely hang out this weekend.”
“Yeah, for sure!” Megan answered.
“Oops, our table’s ready, gotta go! Talk to you soon. Besitos!” Sierra made affectionate kissing sounds.
“Muah, muah! You too! Bye!” Megan returned the kisses before hanging up.
Megan turned back to her now-cold ramen. The noodles tasted soggy and mushy. She took the bowl to the microwave to reheat it and see if it could be salvaged. She would eat it anyways, even if it couldn’t. Luckily the modern technology put enough life back into her soup to make it palatable.
Too bad she couldn’t reheat her life as easily as she could reheat her dinner, she thought.
The next few days were so busy, Megan didn’t have time to return to the library. One of the other employees at Enchanted Moon was out with the flu, so when Duke offered Megan some extra shifts to cover for him, she didn’t hesitate to accept. The additional hours left her exhausted, but she knew she needed the money. When she wasn’t on duty Megan spent her time submitting her resume online to various postings in data analysis-- which is the field her degree and former job were in. The job at Enchanted Moon was supposed to be temporary, just until she could get hired someplace else. It wasn’t ideal, but it was all she could get right off the bat, and it paid the bills-- even if just barely.
Sierra called again on Saturday and invited Megan to go with her the next day to the Blanton Art Museum. She wanted to see the Andy Warhol exhibit they were showing. Sierra was studying art history at the University of Texas, so she liked to go whenever they had anything new on display. Sierra had an annual pass to the Blanton that let her bring a guest whenever she wanted, otherwise Megan probably would have declined on the basis of the cost. She tried to only do free outings whenever possible.
Sunday afternoon, Megan dressed comfortably in a pair of jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and a sweatshirt that hid her curves and provided extra warmth. It wasn’t that she thought of herself as fat, but she hated her love handles and the little muffin top that hung over her jeans and made her feel pudgy, especially since she was shorter than the average girl. She twisted her wavy hair into a messy bun and secured it with a hairband and a few bobby pins, letting a few brown strands dangle down. She smoothed out her beige skin with a layer of foundation, and put on clear lip gloss to soften her dry lips. The weather forecast said it might be chilly later, so she grabbed her purple hoodie to layer on top of the sweatshirt and tee, in case she needed it. Megan made a mental note to call her dad that night and ask him to mail her winter coat from Santa Fe. She would need it if they had a big cold front. For now, these fall layers would have to do.
Megan took the bus to get downtown where the museum was. Sierra lived in West Campus just a few blocks from the Blanton, so for her it was easier to simply walk there. Megan sat on the front steps of the large modern edifice to wait. It wasn’t long before she spotted her gorgeous friend. Sierra Ramón stood out in any crowd. Tall and willowy, with wavy brunette hair, a pointed nose, and flawless skin that sometimes made Megan envious. Sierra and Megan both had mixed parentage, but Sierra’s features were more white, while Megan’s darker complexion made her look more Mexican. As a result, Sierra had an easier time fitting in with the popular crowd, whereas Megan often felt like she was never truly accepted by them.
“Chica!” Sierra bent down to give Megan a big squeeze. “How’s it hanging, girl?”
“Whew, it’s been a long week, I can tell you that much! Keenan went home with the flu on Tuesday, so I’ve been picking up some of his shifts.”
“You’re kidding! Wasn’t he just sick with a cold or something the week before last? And out with something else a few days before that? I’ll bet you anything he’s just faking to get time off to be with that stupid girlfriend of his-- what’s-her-face.”
“Yep. Veronica,” Megan filled in the name of Keenan’s girlfriend. Megan had only met her twice in the few weeks since she’d started her job, but it seemed like she wasn’t the best influence on Keenan.
“But, he’s the boss’ nephew, so he’s not likely to get sacked,” she said. “In the meantime, I get to roll in the extra moola during his absence.” Megan gestured by rubbing her thumb against her other fingers.
Sierra gasped. “Does that mean we can go out for Amy’s Ice Cream after the museum later?”
Megan bit her lip. Sierra just rolled her eyes. “C’mon, let’s go see the Warhol exhibit. I gotta take notes for Professor Yoshida’s class and make some sketches. I’m doing a paper on pop art for my finals this semester.”
The Warhol display was interesting. Megan had never been a big fan of pop art, but Sierra had been studying the movement in her classes lately, and she had plenty to say about the pieces being exhibited, which made it a lot more fun for Megan. Personally, Megan preferred older painting styles such as Rococo and Neoclassicism. After they finished in the Warhol exhibit, Megan wandered around to some of the other galleries, looking for paintings that suited her tastes more. As she turned the corner into the Impressionist wing, to her surprise, there was Levi! They made eye contact and he approached her.
He seemed equally amazed and pleased to see her again. “Fancy meeting you here!” his warm smile lit up the whole gallery and sent a flurry of butterflies into Megan’s stomach. She tried not to stare at him. He must have been wearing contacts instead of his glasses, and his blue eyes looked even more dazzling in the light streaming at an angle through the gallery skylights.
A giggle escaped her lips, though she tried to bite them to contain it. “Same to you, I suppose. I took you for a book guy, not an art guy.”
“A guy can have multiple interests, can’t he? It’s what I’d assume about you. You can’t be all Pride and Prejudice, and look down on every other pursuit in life.”
Another laugh left her mouth before she could stop it. This one louder and unmistakable.
“What’s so funny?” Levi asked.
“Sorry! It’s just that you said ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’ like it was my character traits.”
Levi laughed with her. “I guess I see what you mean. I didn’t mean to put it that way, I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s fine!” Megan waved him off.
Sierra caught up with them. “Um, hi…” she stood awkwardly beside Megan.
“Oh, Sierra, I’m sorry. This is Levi. Levi, this is my best friend, Sierra Ramón. Levi and I met the other day at the library when I got caught in the rain there.”
A sudden grin of realization spread across Sierra’s face. She grabbed Levi’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Levi, so nice to meet you!”
“Are you here by yourself?”
“Yes, actually. I like to come here sometimes on my days off. I’m surrounded by books all day, so for a change of scenery, I like to be surrounded by art.”
“A very good philosophy! Don’t you agree, Megan?” Sierra prodded.
“Um, yeah, it’s great,” Megan stammered.
“Since you’re all alone, why don’t you join us for the rest of our tour?” Sierra invited.
“Sure!” Levi accepted. “I can show you my favorite exhibit. It’s just down this hall.” Levi gestured the way.
“What about the impressionists?” Megan whispered to Sierra, who quickly waved her off.
“I can bring you back another day for them.”
“What’s that?” Levi asked, turning back around. “Have we missed an important part of the museum you wanted to see?”
Megan’s cheeks turned pink. “It’s nothing, really.”
Levi smacked his forehead. “Of course! You were just entering this wing when I came out. We have to go back. You need to see the Bartholomé that’s on loan here right now.” Without a second thought, Levi grabbed Megan’s hand and led her into the impressionist wing. Sierra followed at a distance, a sly grin all over her face.
Levi stopped in front of a painting by Albert Bartholomé labeled “The Artist’s Wife.” The pastels and charcoal depicted a lovely Victorian woman reclining while she read.
“She reminds me of you,” Levi pointed.
“What?” Megan smiled.
“Reading your Pride and Prejudice book.”
Megan laughed. “I do read other books, you know.”
“Oh, I know. Emma, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion,” Levi began rattling off the names he remembered from setting up the display in the library.
More peals of laughter rung from Megan’s lips.“I mean, I read other authors too!”
“Who else do you enjoy?” Levi asked as they began strolling to look at other paintings.
“Charlotte Bronte, L.M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Francis Hodgson Burnett, to name a few.”
“So just dead women,” Levi quipped.
Megan was a little taken aback. “No...I like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien too.”
“Getting better. We’ve added some dead men to the list.”
Megan didn’t know what to say in response.
Levi grinned back at her. “Don’t worry, I like Lewis and Tolkien too! When it comes to fantasy, they’re the gold standard in my book.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Megan agreed.
“Do you read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi?”
“A little. I tend to hover on the classics.”
“Who do you like to read?” Megan asked him.
“Neil Gaiman. Terry Pratchett. A lot of indie authors, actually. Andy Weir, Lindsay Buroker, Jeff VanderMeer, China Mieville.”
“Neat!” Megan had heard of Gaiman and Pratchett, but the indie ones were unknown to her.
They finished looking through all the artwork in the impressionist gallery, talking the whole while about books they had read recently. Megan got so caught up in their conversation, it wasn’t until they reached the end of the hallway and she glanced behind her that she realized Sierra was no longer keeping up with them.
“Over here is the exhibition I wanted to show you,” Levi began heading towards the next area.
Megan grabbed his arm gently. “Hang on, we need to wait for Sierra to catch up with us.”
Sierra was on her cell phone, but seeing that the others were waiting ahead of her, she trotted to catch up to them. She got off the call just as she reached them.
“Did you get to finish looking at everything in the impressionist wing?” Megan asked.
Sierra waved her hand. “Oh, I saw everything that I needed to see. I can come back anytime with my membership, remember? Anyways, I forgot that I promised Patrice I would help her study for our final with Professor Yoshida next week, so I gotta run. You don’t mind showing her the rest of the museum, do you, Levi?”
“Not at all!” he grinned.
“But, you said you wanted to go for Amy’s after this,” Megan protested.
“Maybe next time we can grab an ice cream together,” Sierra apologized. “It’ll be my treat then,” she said to make up for it. “Bye, Chica! Enjoy the rest of the exhibits.” Sierra gave Megan a quick squeeze, then she was off.
“Shall we?” Levi gestured to the next gallery. Megan nodded, chewing her lip to hide her embarrassment. She had a feeling that Sierra had never promised anything to Patrice and was just using the phone call as an excuse to push her into a blind date with Levi.
They entered a spacious modern room with a high ceiling and skylight windows. It looked very similar to the last gallery they were in. But what struck Megan were the long scrolls painted with what appeared to be Chinese writing suspended from the rafters . More scrolls were hung in panels lining the two longest sides of the room. In the center of the room covering most of the floor, row upon row of hand-printed books were laid open upon a low platform, as if begging to be read, and at one end of the room, highly decorated books that looked like valuable ancient texts were displayed on another platform, like a holy altar that only a priest ought to touch. For a bibliophile like Megan, such an artistic display of books and writing moved her to the point she could not even speak at first. She just wandered the room apart from Levi, admiring all the texts.
Finally, she asked, “are all of these real books?”
Levi shook his head. “The artist, Xu Bing, created all of these himself. He even made up the characters that are printed; it’s not real Chinese, just pseudo-Chinese. Nobody can read them, not even him.”
Megan frowned. “Why make books that nobody can read?”
“That’s part of the art, I guess. Part of the mystery. It’s called ‘Book from the Sky’, but it’s written in a language that doesn’t exist on Earth.”
“Like a message sent down from Heaven,” Megan gasped. “Written in a language no man can speak.”
Levi smiled. “That’s beautiful.” He scratched his hair, making it stick up again. “It’s better than what I thought about it.”
“Yeah? What did you think?”
“I kept thinking about how irritating it would be to find a book and try to read it, only to discover it’s not in any language I can understand.”
Megan laughed. “Yeah, I can see how that would be very frustrating.”
They looked at some of the other museum exhibits for another half hour, until Megan’s stomach rumbled loudly.
“Are you hungry?” Levi asked.
Put on the spot, Megan tried to deny it. “I’m fine, really.” She began chewing her lip again.
“You mentioned wanting ice cream earlier. Wanna go with me to get some Amy’s?”
“I...don’t have a car. I’d have to take the bus and meet you there.” She didn’t know why her lack of transportation made her feel embarrassed.
“I have a car,” Levi offered. “You can ride with me, if you’d like.”
Megan thought about it for a moment. Levi was still basically a stranger to her. What if he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing? She’d heard horrible stories about women who accepted rides from strangers, only to disappear without a trace-- or worse. She was unconsciously gnawing her lip so hard that it began to bleed. The metallic taste awakened her senses. If Sierra were here, she would tell Megan to just ‘go with him’, not to worry about whether Levi was a good person or not. To trust her instincts.
“Well? Shall we?” Levi repeated his invitation.
“Uh, yeah,” Megan weakly replied. “I guess some ice cream wouldn’t hurt.”
“I’ll make sure we don’t go overboard and spoil our dinner,” Levi winked. Was that a dinner invitation as well? Megan didn’t know.
They got to Amy’s Ice Cream, and Megan ordered her usual-- Mexican Vanilla. She didn’t know why she liked something so simple, but for whatever reason, the creamy taste of the vanilla just suited her taste buds. Levi, however, was interested in trying the flavor of the month, “Booger Monster.” Any ice cream with a name like that sounded absolutely disgusting to Megan. She watched the employee make it for him to see what exactly was in it. It turned out the base was their butter ice cream, flavored with creme de menthe and peppermint, and chocolate chips and marshmallows crushed in.
They paid for their ice cream and sat down to eat their treats.
“So, tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?” Levi inquired.
Megan felt her cheeks grow warm again. She really hated being put on the spot.
“Well, I grew up in Santa Fe. My dad still lives there, actually. I got my degree in data analytics from the University of New Mexico--”
“That’s in Albuquerque, right?” Levi interrupted.
“--right. Then I got hired by a big tech company in Santa Fe after I graduated so I moved back there.”
“What brought you to Austin, then?”
Megan hesitated. She wasn’t sure she was ready to tell her whole story, just yet. So she told just part of it. “I got an offer for a startup company that was here, so I took it.”
“Is that where you work now?”
“No. I moved all the way out here, but then it turned out that the company wasn’t doing well. They lost some of their investors. So then they couldn’t afford to keep me. I had been there less than a month. Last one in, first one out.”
“Couldn’t your old company take you back?”
“I tried asking, but unfortunately, they had already filled my position. Plus, I used up all my savings to get out here. I can’t afford to move back right away.”
“So what are you doing right now?”
“I took the first job I could find, as a barista for the Enchanted Moon coffee shop. It’s not great, but it will keep me afloat until I can get something better. But enough about me,” Megan shook her head. “What about you? I know nothing about you, except that you work at the library.”
A laugh erupted from Levi’s mouth. “Well, let’s see. I grew up in a little town outside of Houston where my parents own a coffee shop. Went to UT Austin, art major.”
“That explains why you liked the Blanton so much.”
Levi nodded. “But, as it turns out, I don’t have very much talent for art. I dropped out in my junior year. Didn’t know what I would do with myself. I’ve always loved books, always found the library to be something like my second home,” Levi explained. Megan could relate to that. “So when I saw that they had an opening for a library assistant, I took it. That was almost a year ago.”
“Have you thought about going back to school? Finishing your degree and getting a master’s in library science?”
“Yep. Thought about it. Trouble is, I would have to figure out what to get my basic degree in. Art didn’t pan out.”
“Maybe English Lit?” Megan suggested.
Levi shrugged. “Maybe. But like I said, I’ve never been real big on the classics. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, even comics. That’s my stride.”
Megan had finished her tiny cup of ice cream by now, and her stomach was still growling.
“Want some of mine?” Levi offered the big cup of Booger Monster to her. She looked at it dubiously.
“I promise, there are no actual boogers in here!”
His comment made Megan snort. She took another look at the mashup of mint and marshmallows. It did look pretty good. “OK, I’ll try it. Using her spoon, she took a heaping bite from his cup. The minty flavor made her tongue tingle and the marshmallows warmed up the ice cream just enough to keep the huge bite from giving her a brain-freeze.
“Mmm, that’s good!” she exclaimed.
“I’m full already. You can have the rest, if you want,” he offered.
Megan devoured the remainder of Levi’s ice cream.
“Where do you live? I’ll take you home,” he said as they got back into his car. Once again, Megan’s trust issues sent her emotions into warning mode.
“Oh, um, I’m close enough to walk from the library. You can just take me there.”
“Okay,” Levi agreed. “My shift is going to start soon anyways.”
They pulled into the parking lot at Yarborough library. Megan fumbled to find her purse, which had slid to the floor of the car. In the meantime, Levi raced around the car to open the door for her and held his hand out to help her out. His brash chivalry made Megan laugh. “I’m capable of opening my own car door,” she said.
“I know. I just wanted to, that’s all.”
“Thank you,” she said as she took his hand to exit the vehicle. “Here, I thought chivalry had died along with men like Mr. Darcy.”
“Mr. Darcy? Who’s he?”
“The hero of Pride and Prejudice. Trust me, he’s the one that all women model their ideal man after. Unfortunately, men like him don’t seem to exist anymore. Although, you seem to be doing a good job of giving him a run for his 10,000 pounds a year,” Megan told him.
“Is that all he makes?” Levi’s eyebrows went up.
“In those days, it was like being a billionaire.”
“Wow, so he’s super rich, and super chivalrous. Is he handsome too?”
“Oh, without a doubt!”
Levi grinned. “Gee, how can a guy like me even hope to compete with a fictional character like that?”
Megan laughed again. She followed Levi into the library. As they passed through the security tag detectors at the entrance, an idea sparked in her mind.
“Did you know there’s a zombie apocalypse version of Pride and Prejudice?”
“Not at all! In this variation, sometime before the novel, there was a plague brought to Europe from the West Indies that turned a bunch of people into zombies. Everyone has to learn how to fight them, so they study Chinese and Japanese martial arts. The story is basically the original text of Pride and Prejudice, but there are extra scenes thrown in where they have to fight the zombies that are attacking everywhere. Like, they’re in the middle of a ball, then all of a sudden, there’s a zombie that shows up and the heroes and heroines whip out their swords and daggers to fight back.”
“Cool!” Levi was intrigued. “Let’s see if the library has it.”
Sure enough, there was a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on the shelf in the fiction section.
“I didn’t even know anyone wrote any spin-offs of Jane Austen’s novels.”
“Oh, sure!” Megan nodded. “There are actually a lot of authors who write stories based on her books. Quite a few of them have even been published.”
“Really? I thought fanfiction was stuck in the realm of internet-based freebie stories, usually with bad writing.”
“Some are, for sure. There have been some pretty bad ones, I’ll admit. But there are also a lot of great Jane Austen fanfiction stories out there.” She named several of her favorite authors who wrote Jane Austen variations and told about some of the plot twists. Some wrote sequels to the books, she said. Others wrote versions of the story where something different happens, like what if Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth had met earlier, or in a different setting. Some gave Pride and Prejudice a whole different spin, like making Mr. Darcy a vampire, or a pirate, or a prince.
“Well, I guess I’d have to read the original first, to really appreciate it. But, if you say this one is good, I’ll start here,” he held up the Zombies version.
“I hope you enjoy it!” Megan smiled.
A middle-aged man with a receding hairline was working the checkout counter.
“Nice to see you have a new friend, Levi!” he remarked.
“Oh, hey, this is my friend, Megan,” Levi introduced. “Megan, this is our head librarian, Bartholomew.”
“Please, call me ‘Bart’,” the man smiled, extending his hand to Megan. He helped Levi check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
“Hey, I almost forgot,” Levi called as Megan turned to go home. “I never got your phone number.”
“Oh, uh, sure,” Megan mumbled. She rattled off the number to him, while he punched the digits into his phone’s address book. “Well, I’ve gotta get going now,” she said, chewing her lip again. Levi was still typing on the phone. Suddenly, her own phone dinged.
“I sent you a text message,” Levi explained. “Now you’ll have my number too.”
“Thanks!” Megan smiled.
“Have a good night, Megan,” Levi waved.
While Megan was walking home, she pulled her phone out to read the text from Levi.
Thanks for inviting me to accompany you at the museum and going to get ice cream with me. I had a really great time. Here’s my number.
Hope to see you again sometime soon.
Megan smiled. She hoped to see Levi again soon too.