"So then what happened?" Beth asked, putting my mug of hot chocolate down. She'd still been awake when I arrived home, damp and cold, and was currently pressing me for information.
"She gave me her jacket, I talked to the police and told them what happened, and then I gave her back the jacket and left."
"What else would there be?"
"I don't know. She sounds like she was seriously flirting with you for a bit there."
"I think maybe that's just how we're going to be. Just banter and flirtation without any actual meaning."
"Are you sure about that? She seems like she cares about you. I mean, beyond the checking you out thing."
"Nah, I think she's just curious... I don't know. Maybe she is in to me. What does it matter?"
"I guess it doesn't." She shrugged, still watching me carefully.
"So, how come you're awake, anyway?"
"I had a breakthrough in my criminal research."
"Nice. What sort of breakthrough?"
I sat and listened to her explain the new ideas she had, but my mind kept flickering back to that moment that Alex had traced my scar with her fingertips. It was distracting, but I couldn't help but imagine what it would've been like if she'd have let her fingers continue down, to trace over my lips...
"Are you listening?" Beth was staring at me.
"Oh... sorry. I guess I'm more tired than I thought. I'm going to go to bed. Tell me tomorrow?"
"Sure. Do you want me to get some pizza in for when you get back from the shop."
"Yes. Please. We have to plan your party."
The bell tinkled and I looked up from the desk. It was a regular, Josef, come to look for any more valuable collectable books.
"Lena. Anything new?"
"I put everything on the trolley for you."
"Ah, thank you." He bowed his head and scuttled off to the trolley. Josef is an old German man who buys, restores and sells, or sometimes keeps, old and valuable books. He is a large part of the business' income, but he's also a sweet and slightly kooky man.
A couple more people came in, mainly browsers, so I continued to work on my notes. The bell tinkled again.
I glanced up and saw Alex, in her leather jacket, her thumbs hooked in to the pockets.
"Are you stalking me?" I smirked. Really, though? I mean, I've seen so much of her recently it's like she's doing it on purpose. Maybe she actually did like me. Bad. Bad bad bad idea.
"There are some similarities to stalking behaviour patterns, but no." She looked embarrassed. "I actually, just came to check you were okay, after... last night."
"You know I saw the guy being escorted out after you left. You really did a number on his face."
"Creep deserved it."
"I'm not going to argue with you," she shrugged. "So are you all ready for next weeks seminar?" I gave her a look. "What?"
"Seriously? Small talk. We're doing this?"
"What else would we be doing?"
I stared at her. Maybe this was all in my head.
"I don't know." I glanced down at my notes and the thesis.
"What're you doing?"
"Working, as per usual."
"I do wonder if you ever stop." She smiled. "I mean even I get to have fun occasionally."
"Like last night?"
"Last night was good, for the most part."
"The most part?"
"Well, you had me worried." She looked embarrassed again. "After you left."
"Why?" She frowned at me, and actually looked a little angry.
"Why? Because you ran out in to the rain, to rescue a girl, broke a guys nose, and then disappeared again, after the police had got a statement from you, with just a cardigan over a wet and revealing dress. I had no idea where you lived, how you were getting home, and you were all alone."
"I can handle myself."
"Everyone thinks that, until they can't."
"And you care this much about all your students, do you?" There was a pause, in which she stared at me, and then she slowly shook her head.
"No. I want them to be safe, but no. I haven't ever felt this... protective, of a student before."
"Maybe you ought to analyse that." I snapped at her.
She stared at me for a long time, and then gave one nod, before going for the door. When it closed behind her, I flopped back down on my seat and rubbed my temples. I shouldn't have been so abrupt with her, but I got the feeling that she was trying to tell me she cared, and that was insane. She'd known me for two weeks. She couldn't... Not that it would matter. I told myself years ago I would never fall for someone, and I wasn't going to break that for someone who I couldn't, probably shouldn't, have anyway.
"She likes you." I nearly jumped out of my skin.
"Oh Christ, Joe, I forgot you were here."
"You two should sit and talk, over a drink." He placed three heavy books on the counter.
"A date? Josef, it's not that kind of... we're not in to each other."
"That might be true for you, but that woman likes you. And while you deny it, I think you like her too."
"So three books?"
"You know, I've read about the art of deflection." I gave him a steady look, until he shrugged. "Yes, the three."
Before he left, he turned back and gave me a sympathetic look.
"You're a wonderful woman, Lena. You should be happy."
"I am happy."
"Love is a wonderful thing, when you let it in."
"See you next week Joe."
She basically ignored me for the next two weeks. Didn't glance at me in lectures, only spoke to me in seminars when necessary. To everyone else it was normal behaviour, but I was almost starting to miss the little smile that usually played on her lips when she spoke to me. Almost.
"Is it just me or is something different about Aussie Mac?" Beth asked me as we left one particular seminar, where there had only been a couple of us who showed up and she still spoke to me less than everyone else.
"Not a damn thing." I said, in a mood that I couldn't explain. Or didn't want to. "I've got to go get ready for work."
"Okay, don't forget that tomorrow is my party!"
"We've been planning it for weeks. I've got this."