Derrick was a mild-mannered and somewhat timid young man. He wasn’t shy around women as much as we was reserved—not having the ability or desire to open himself up to others. On the inside, he was a wild cyclone of constant thoughts whirling around uncontrollably, but on the outside he appeared so calm that one would think his skull was empty. His head overflowed with ideas but his mouth was unable to act as a spillway. This made him unusually quiet and often lost swimming in an ocean of his own thoughts. When it came to dating, this was his biggest asset and worst attribute. He came across as a great listener who held an air of mystery in his minimalist approach to discussion. The curiosity his quiet nature brought about never lasted long, though, as women always grew tired of leading the direction of the conversation. For Derrick, his ideal match was a woman who had no issue with doing all the talking. In fact, he’d prefer it if all he had to do was listen and interject a one word reply here and there. This pushed women away. They wanted him to open up like a locked door, but he lost the key a long time ago and never cared to look for it. Every girl he ever dated gave up on him over time. Katie wasn’t like every girl, though.
Katie was the opposite of Derrick. She was extremely shy but overcame it through an unrelenting assault of words. For her, silence was almost physically painful. Whenever a moment of silence would creep up she would immediately hammer it back down by pointing out how awkward the moment had become. Most found this to be an annoying character trait. Equally so with her inability to slow down her words as she spoke. She couldn’t help it, though. The more she spoke, the more pressure she felt to impress others and distract them from what she felt were her negative qualities. This pressure caused her to speak even faster; she would often stumble over words and repeat things in an attempt to recover. Every guy she ever went out with grew tired of her. Derrick wasn’t like every guy, though.
They first met at a small bookstore in town. Katie was struggling to pull down a book from the top shelf of the fiction section. Derrick, who was an aisle down perusing through a sale display of literary classics, noticed Katie out of the corner of his eye. She had stepped onto the bottom shelf of the book-case and was teetering precariously as her grip on the side of the shelf was beginning to slip.
“Need help?” Derrick asked with a stern yet almost too quiet voice.
“Oh? Yes, if you don’t mind.” Katie hopped down from the book shelf with a light thump. “Being short sucks.”
As she stepped aside for Derrick, she was taken back by his looks. He wasn’t traditionally handsome, but he was tall with a solid build. His sleepy hazel eyes put her at a state of ease, while the slight upward curl of his smile did just the opposite; causing her heart to flutter. Derrick always had a relaxed air about him, like he didn’t have a care in the world, but there was also an undertone of something much more serious that lurked underneath his cool and calm exterior. This had a strange effect on women—it pulled them in while simultaneously holding them at a distance—and this was exactly what Katie felt. She was immediately interested in the stranger before her, yet at the same time felt the need to escape before getting involved. This all occurred in an instant.
“Excuse me?” Katie replied with a hint of nervousness.
“The book you want. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami?” Derrick was pointing to the book Katie had been trying to pull down from the top shelf.
Katie froze for a moment. For the first time in her life she reached down but couldn’t bring up any words. She could only stare helplessly into Derrick’s welcoming eyes and nod her head yes. She had never felt such a way before.
Derrick pulled the paperback from the shelf and handed it to her. His warm smile caused a flapping of butterflies in her stomach. She couldn’t speak or think. And making things worse, he just stood there looking at her without saying a word.
A moment of painful silence hit Katie like a truck, and suddenly all the words she couldn’t find a minute before erupted out of her mouth like a volcano.
“Yes thank you yes. I love Murakami but I hate how high they put these books up, like especially popular authors like Murakami who is popular with short girls like me and there’s like, never anyone, like working on the floor who can help so you just,” she sucked in a whistling breath and continued without stopping, “jump up and down like an idiot until somebody sees you or the whole stupid shelf crashes down on you and like, cripples you and they’ll like, see it on the security tapes and blame you,” she sucked in another gulp of air, “like it was your fault they put the books up so high and then you just like, have to, like, look like an idiot until someone sees you or, like, the shelf, umm—”
“You’re welcome,” Derrick interjected, giving Katie an instant sense of relief. “I really like Murakami’s work, too.”
Derrick’s slow and steady way of speaking calmed Katie’s nerves. She felt the bubbling of words in her throat come to a relaxed simmer.
“Have you read Norwegian Wood before?” she asked in a less manic, lower pitch. “I’ve read most of Murakami’s books but somehow never got around to this one.”
“It’s one of my favorite books by Murakami.” His smile never faded as he looked at her. She didn’t have the slightest clue as to what he was thinking. “It’s a beautiful story of love with just a hint of the supernatural elements he is known for in his writing.”
“I can’t wait to read it. I’m Katie, by the way,” she said without thinking.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Katie. I’m Derrick.” His eyes twinkled with a genuine friendliness and the warmth of his smile never left as he spoke. “I come in here every Saturday to pick up a new book. I’ve never seen you here before.”
Katie wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Was he asking a question or making a statement? As was usual for her, she was over thinking the situation which created a nervous energy inside her. This self-made pressure caused the jumble of words to bubble up once more.
“Well, yeah I come in here sometimes but I don’t, like, buy all my books here because I read a lot of stuff on my, uhh, Kindle, so like, I don’t have to buy books here all the time,” she inhaled with a quick suck of wind, “because I buy so many for my Kindle, like, instead of getting them here, like, don’t get me wrong I love coming here though it’s just, like, I buy so many books on Kindle so I don’t, like—”
I like reading books on my Kindle, too. The vocabulary feature is very helpful.” Once again Katie felt a sense of relief as Derrick interjected at just the right time to stop her from repeating herself. “But for me, nothing compares to holding a physical copy of a book in your hand. You know what I mean?”
“I love that new book smell!” she blurted out.
“Me too,” he said with a chuckle. She smiled ear-to-ear at the sound of his laugh.
“His smile never faded as he looked at her.”
“Would you want to, like, go get coffee or something sometime and talk about books, or whatever?” Katie was shocked at her own boldness. She had never asked a guy out before, let alone someone she just met. She didn’t know what came over her. It was like someone else was speaking her thoughts out loud for her.
“I would love to.”
His reply was so simple yet it hit her deep in her core. She wasn’t used to guys being so calm and nice when talking to her. Sure, on the outside they would seem like they were interested in her, but she could always see the irritation on their faces, or at the very least in their eyes. But Derrick was different. He seemed genuinely interested in her thoughts and wasn’t put off by her nervous talking.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I think you have really pretty eyes.”
It was Derrick’s turn to feel the shock from his own words. He’d never been bold enough to give compliments like that before; especially to strangers. There was something about Katie that drew him in, though. She was petite and wasn’t at all intimidating, yet she had a unique quality of beauty that made him nervous. Her face was heart-shaped and she had a small mouth with plump lips. Her eyes were big saucers that sparkled with a gorgeous shade of electric blue. She had heavy curls of auburn hair that sat delicately on her shoulders. Derrick didn’t know why, but this young woman made him want to talk; a feeling he’d never experienced before.
“Really? Thank you.” She almost responded with “you to” but managed to collect herself enough before speaking. This was something she wasn’t used to, but she relished the feeling of control.
“Where would you like to go? I mean when? Well, when and where? There’s a coffee shop next door but they don’t open until noon on Saturdays and it’s not like, well, like we have to go today or anything but—” Without realizing it, Derrick had succumbed to nervous rambling. This had never happened to him before.
“We can go today when they open, if you like,” Katie politely cut him off just as he’d done to her earlier. He was relieved.
“Sure. It’s a date.”
After that they were without words. They stared at each other in silence for a moment—studying each other’s facial features. Derrick welcomed the silence like always. Katie, on the other hand, felt surprisingly relaxed by it. This was a first for her.
She looked in his sleepy eyes and let out a little giggle of joy. He returned with a hardy chuckle of his own.
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