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When Crazy Met Me

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The first time I went to Mooney's, it'd been a bit of an impulse. I was just a touch homesick for something that was vaguely Irish but not New York's Irish-those guys were a touch terrifying.

Not that the people themselves were scary, of course. Rather that they all made me feel like I'd somehow faked the last 15 years I'd spent in Belfast or that my passport was just a bad copy. Like I'd somehow made all of that up? I know it sounds ridiculous.

Certain events can make you feel like your sense of self is...threatened, we'll say. Things like say your mum dying, or maybe getting groomed by a loon don't really do wonders for your image. In fact, kinda shakes up your whole wide world. This was basically why I'd come all the way to bloody New York City, but don't worry about that.

It took me a grand total of about 30 minutes to dawdle around in the dusty shelves before boredom quickly overtook me and I wandered out of the store. It was only on the second go around that I actually interacted with Joe Goldberg, and I suppose it was my own fault that I didn't notice the full extent of his oddities.

I'd just sat down in my very first class-History 548, in fact. I've never been particularly good at preparing myself for something beforehand but when my professor's eyes zeroed in on me with a question regarding reading I hadn't done and a book I hadn't read-I may have let out a small curse word out loud...and it may have echoed.

Panic makes my brain freeze up, okay? Don't judge me, it happens to the best of us.

Panic was essentially my issue right now. I knew I had history books in front of my very eyes but their titles-it was all a jumbled mess. I found my stare rapidly jumping from book to book, searching for a book about the history of Nazi Germany.

"Can I help you find something?" Ah, the voice of my saviour. Cool, crisp, and quiet.

"Well-" I spun from where I'd been about a second away from yanking books from shelves and stopped speaking at once, "um."

I pursed my lips, soaking up all the little details that made up this bloke. My mind rammed them all together in complete sentences for me as I attempted to figure out the best method of getting what I wanted from him. Though now that I'd seen him, I wasn't quite sure if I just wanted the book or if I wanted a date.

My saving grace was dressed in an employee's black apron with a shiny little name tag pinned at the top left of his chest. Clean but absolutely ordinary in every way-no. Theres something off.

He was too readily available, right? I mean I'd had to practically pull teeth to get what I wanted with everyone else in this city, New Yorkers were stubborn little shites.

Place to live? Let's negotiate over the phone while I try to sell you a tiny studio apartment that's over a bloody crack house. Restaurant? Ah you're from out of town! Here's the most expensive pizza joint you'll ever step foot in that somehow also sells the world's soggiest pizza you've ever had.

My head tilted to the side as I stared at him in silence. He didn't comment on my silence though, rather he just continued to stare at me. One brown brow raised just a pinch, curious and interested but he was young. I mean I know this is New York and all, but somehow I was expecting a...well.

"I was expecting an old geezer," I almost snorted while the corner of my lips curved up in what I hoped was a teasing smile.

He paused for a second, calculating before he gave me a small smile. "I don't think I've heard that one before."

"I imagine not with those cheekbones," I let out a short snort. Well, Anne. I guess you wanted a date then?

"Any chance you guys might sell books on Nazi Germany?" I twirled a brown girl, watching his eyes jump around my figure before his gaze tilted up again with the same smile. It was practised. Didn't look quite natural on him-which was fine with all of my assorted issues considered.

"We might." He kept the smile but turned towards the shelves I'd just been gawking at. "Lets see what we've got."

"Thank you." I nodded, watching him grab up three books from my eye-level. Idiot. Idiot, Anne. Now you look like an airhead! You've been staring at these stupid things for long enough, you should've noticed that you're in their history section.

His arm lowered as books came into my line of sight, "are you just an enthusiast?"

"Mm. I am known to be a bit enthusiastic now and again," I mumbled while I leaned up on the balls of my feet to peer at the titles he'd pulled down for me.

Nope, it wasn't any of those. I may not remember the title but I can recall the cover easily enough and none of these looked like the stupid book my professor had waved at me.

"Nope. It had, eh." I held up my hands, motioning to the air as to the size of the cover I'd seen across a lecture hall, "maybe this big for the front. Kinda grey, probably has a swastika on it."

"I meant more like-" he pursed his lips, possibly considering my description with a hint of exasperation.

My right brow raised ever so slightly when he didn't continue, "yes?"

"Well." He turned back to the bookcase, reshelving the dusty novels with a shrug, "I was just wondering if you were looking for a book for a high school class or ma-"

"You guys carry High school books?" My head tilted as I cut him off, wondering what he'd do now that I'd been outright rude.

Would he keep up the interesting little facade of a helpful employee or maybe he'd get a little tetchy. Oh, I hope he gets grumpy! That'd be fun to watch for a little while, right?

"Um." I stared at the side of his face as he nodded to my question, his hand lingered on the final book's spine. "In America, we have a lot of public schools that like to pick certain kinds of books to put on hold."

"Ah." I nodded with a small smile cropping up on the side of my face as he motioned to a random book. He was now going to explain the public education in America for me, how kind of him.

"Yeah, it's just so students can buy them without worrying about faceless companies like Amazon." Now he was smiling, turning his head slightly to glance at me before crouching and pulling out another round of books.

"Of course." I nodded again, feeling a bit like a bobble-headed doll now as I apparently couldn't stop nodding at this bloke. "And why would we worry about Amazon?"

Did people suddenly stop liking cheap prices and the convenience of shopping from your couch? If so, why the hell would they? Or maybe it was due to the fact that since Amazon has such cheaper prices that bookstores don't like them stealing their business. That would be logical.

I blinked as he stood up once again with his arms full of books once more. "I guess you're all for despotic companies ruining small businesses then?" He raised a brow, his tone taking on this odd combination of sarcasm and mockery.

Slowly, I shrugged, "well. Y'know, when you put it like that," I drawled with disinterest. I was actually biting back a smile when I recognised his hands gripping the books a hint tighter as I fingered the one of top of his pile "I suppose I am."

"Wow." His voice was tight, tense. I wasn't sure if it was because he felt uncomfortable with my proximity or if it was because he hated Amazon that much.

"I think I've lost all faith in your generation, no one wants to actually talk to people or j-just be human." He stuttered, oh my. He actually stuttered.

"Hm." I leaned away from him but picked up my head with a grin that I couldn't stop from appearing any longer. "I see."

My head tilted to the side while I watched confusion dance across his face for only a second before the small unsure smile returned. "You fancy yourself the last true romantic."

He didn't respond and his smile didn't change as I sighed and returned my attention back to the books. "It's none of these either."

"We might be in the wrong section. These are for the college students or the rare hermetic historian." He nodded, suddenly far more interested in discussing the books than anything to do with his whimsical fantasies where he was the last man standing between culture and the uneducated masses.

"What school do you go too?" I raised a brow at the air, figuring out that he'd crouched down once again and shifted my gaze downwards.

"NYU." I replied easily, watching the top of his head. I had to give it to him, man had a full head of hair. I mean, I'm sure that he was likely around my age but men these days seemed to have a thinning problem-even if they were only in their 20s.

"Oh. I thought you were just a high-schooler." His voice was softer this time around as he peered up at me. I went for an incredibly serious look, it verged on offended just for the fun of it, if I'm being honest.

"And you just assumed I was a truant 16 year old, because of this face?" I motioned haphazardly at the slightly chubby cheeks that made up a good part of my incredibly cherubic face.

"Wel-um. I-I'm sorry." He awkwardly smiled up at me with his shoulders rolling forwards in an incredibly bashful look. I found myself actually chuckling at how shy he suddenly seemed.

"Ach, don't worry about it. I'm used to it." I snorted, waving a hand at him to dispel any worries he might've still had that he'd insulted me so dearly.

"So," he stood suddenly and wiped his hands off on his apron front. "Let me try that again."

"Hi, I'm Joe. I like to make brazen assumptions about random women that enter my bookstore." I eyed the hand he stuck out towards me with a hint of mirth, suddenly he was so gentlemanly and upright about it now that I was of age.

"Hi Joe." I shrugged it off and took his hand, shaking it lightly before releasing it out of the need to not feel the moist texture of his skin. "I'm Anne. I'm woefully unprepared for life but I take it with a smile and some craic."

Chapter Text

It was a warm Monday morning when I saw you, I know because Mooney's has a tendency of smelling like mothballs when it gets hot outside. The bells above the door rang out when you opened the door just like they do for everyone that opens the front door. Not that you particularly cared, or noticed. You were caught in a haze, maybe you had a pressing deadline?

Maybe you were just bored. I'm betting you were bored, because you left 30 minutes without buying anything after sighing everytime you glanced at a shelf. I didn't see you again for a week or two-to be honest, I'd pretty much forgotten you existed. You made sure that didn't happen again, didn't you?

When you almost shattered the door the second time you come into Mooney's, I'm pretty sure the whole building noticed you existed. Not that you cared, this time you were sort of manic and I have to admit it, you've got my full attention now.

I watched from afar, just a few feet away and you didn't notice me. You were too busy running your hands through your hair and mumbling to yourself. I have to say, I didn't think you were all that remarkable at first.

Curly brown hair down to the middle of your back, looked natural considering the amount of frizz you kicked up with your constant fingering. So you don't worry too much about your looks, do you? No, you do a little at least. You took the time to paint your fingernails. Deep bloody red too, are you still in your emo phase?

Pretty sure everyone has one of those, right? When you hate the world, want to watch it burn because no one gets you? I take a step closer, just to see if you'll notice but you don't, your thoughts are flying by your eyes too fast for you to comprehend them.

Woah, okay-you're like only 15, shouldn't you be in school right now, missy? Hold on there Joe, you're a lot of things but a pedophile isn't one of them.

You're panicking right now and I'll play the white-knight for you, even if you're definitely too young for me.

I come around the bookcase that separates us and I put on my best employee smile, "can I help you find something?"

Your head picks up as your hand freezes in it's attempt to rip out all of the brown curls that hang around your face. You're a nervous little thing, aren't you? Someone really should tell you that pulling at your hair that much will make you go bald. I won't because I think you'd actually look just as adorable if you were bald, but you're just too young.

Your big brown eyes stare at my eyes for second before you seem to start searching my whole body with your gaze. You know, I don't think I've ever had that happen to me before? You're actually doing a visual check of me as if someone would genuinely pretend to work here.

But, okay-I figure I can play along since you started this and I do. You'll never know it but you just gave me the perfect excuse to check you out.

You're not very tall, maybe five foot three and you seem to notice that I tower above you when your back straightens out fully. I'm going to bet your mom took a decent amount of time warning you about the dangers of New York, all the monstrous men wandering around. Too bad she doesn't know you're skipping school right now.

"Well-" You spun away from me and stopped talking, "um."

Oh, you're not from around here. Where are you from? You dress like a New Yorker, skinny blue-jeans with some holes torn in them and a long-sleeved striped shirt. To be fair though, basically anyone with access to a urban outfitters can dress like the hipsters around here.

You're pretty pale too. I guess the paleness helps sell the whole emo thing you're going through right now. If you were tanner, you'd look like a tween Maureen O'Sullivan-not that you'd know who she is, way before your time.

You're so energetic when you talk, I love it. Do you know your whole body moves when you talk? I used to brush off those people that always talk about the 'vibes' of a person but I'm starting to get exactly what they mean-your 'vibes' are all over the place. I bet you're the kinda girl that would want to get on top and ride me as hard as you could-hold on, Joe. You're getting a little close to that line.

I raise a brow a little, just enough for you to know that you've been quiet a really long time. Insecure? Shy? I bet you're pretty shy, you probably get teased a lot for puberty hitting you earlier than your friends.

"I was expecting an old geezer," you sort of snort and I stare at the side of your face for a second out of pure confusion as all of my previous assumptions jumped out the window. Okay, you're not shy-just really socially awkward and it's kinda cute with cheeks that chubby, so I give you a small smile. Don't worry, being awkward is the new sexy from what I've read online.

"I don't think I've heard that one before." I'm waiting to see what you'll do now, and you actually just full-on snort this time-you don't even try to hide it. Wow. You really don't care about what people think of you, do you?

"I imagine not with those cheekbones." You twirl a brown curl as you stare up at me, are you flirting with me right now? You're definitely attracted to me, touching your hair and complimenting my looks. I don't mean to, but my stare drifts past your shoulders, just a little. It's only illegal if I try to have sex with you, right?

You're a curvy, which isn't all that bad on that hourglass figure you've got-little bottom heavy though. You might want to consider jogging when you're in your 20s, not that I'd actually tell you that.

"Any chance you guys might sell books on Nazi Germany?" You ask with that odd little accent, still staring up at me and somehow, I'm kind of questioning myself now. Are you actually under 16? You look like it, but you definitely don't act like it.

What was that trap I saw in some cheap spy movie? Honey trapping? Where the girl walks up to a guy and starts flirting right before the cops show up to haul him off to jail? I don't recall dateline ever happening in a bookstore, pretty sure Chris Hanson only walks out after I've been sexting you.

"We might," I turn to the bookshelves you were staring at helplessly before I walked up, "lets see what we've got." Well, you were in the right section for history, but these are a little above the high school level.

"Thank you." God, you sound like those girls you see in a fucking porno-the kind featuring cute teenage cheerleaders. I shake off that thought, even though you seem to be purposely tempting me right now, and grab three books. They were easy enough, ones that I could see a teenager reading without needing a dictionary.

My arm lowers down back to your height, full of books and I realise that you've been watching me this whole time. "Are you just an enthusiast?" You lean up, barely balanced with your eyes scanning the books. To be honest, I'd help you up if you tipped over but I'd definitely want to laugh.

"Mm. I am known to be a bit enthusiastic now and again," you mumble, focused entirely on the books now.

I take in a slow breath and I can smell your hair. It smells like peppermint. Who uses peppermint shampoo? Maybe your mom's just one of those naturalist freaks that replaces all of the deodorant with 'all natural baking soda and lavender essential oil'.

"Nope. It had, eh." You hold up your hands, even your hands have that child-like chubbiness to them. Where are you from? The accent was definitely there but it was so-so light.

"Maybe this big for the front. Kinda grey, probably has a swastika on it." Did you even hear what I said? I asked you a question and you're all over the place. Kids these days, am I right?

"I meant more like-" I close my mouth before I start going on a rant about you not paying attention to your elders.

You obviously notice where I was going and raise your eyebrow at me, sassy aren't we? "Yes?"

"Um." I turn back to the bookcase, trying to save the rift you'd just created by not paying attention to me. Maybe you're just new here, you're obviously not from around here-I'd notice if a girl like you kept coming in here.

"In America, we have a lot of public schools that like to pick certain kinds of books to put on hold." I point at a random book, hoping to explain my question better because at the end of the day, you're just a child. You don't know any better until someone teaches you.

"Ah." I can see you nod with a small smile from the corner of my eye, appreciative.

"Yeah, it's just so students can buy them without worrying about faceless companies like Amazon." I give you a smile back before I crouch down to pull out different ones for you, maybe you weren't like those other high schoolers. You actually pay attention in class, right? I bet you sit up at the front of the class, listening with all your might.

"Of course." You nod again, watching me below you. "And why would we worry about Amazon?"

You only blink at me, your face empty of any and all emotion as I stand up and stare at you, "I guess you're all for despotic companies ruining small businesses then?" I raise my brow, staring as you seem to process my words with intense concentration.

Slowly, you just shrug, "well. Y'know, when you put it like that," you drawl. You don't care at all do you? I thought you liked me, but I have been wrong before.

"I suppose I am."

I'm not sure as to what just happened here. One second you were full of energy and smiles and now you're just fingering a book while only half-listening to me. You're really frustrating, you know that?

"Wow." I'm trying to keep a tight control on my frustration. I'm hoping that I can just get your book and get you out of here before I say something I'll seriously regret when your mom comes in here to yell at me tomorrow.

"I think I've lost all faith in your generation, no one wants to actually talk to people or j-just be human." Oh God, I stuttered. She's just a kid, Joe. Why are you letting her affect you like this?

"Hm." You lean away from me and the books and when I stare at your face, it takes me a second to see that you're actually grinning right now. "I see."

I plaster a smile on my face, one of my best really but you don't say anything else. You're just watching me, waiting for a reaction with your head tilted to the side.

"You fancy yourself the last true romantic."

Oh man, I've underestimated you. You're not just some kid, killing time and skipping school in the bookstore-no. You're purposefully doing this to me right now, you're trying to wind me up just to watch me spin off.

Well, sorry honey. You're not getting me to snap on you today, and you know it too, so you just sigh and shake your head. "It's none of these either."

Of course it isn't, this is far beyond your vocabulary right now. "We might be in the wrong section. These are for the college students or the rare hermetic historian." I say, nodding to myself as I put them back in a slow fashion. You're still waiting for a reaction from me, just watching and waiting with your eyes on my face.

"What school do you go too?" I say, I'm just trying to make conversation with you right now-just to fill the silence where you're marking everything I do and say in your pretty little head.


Oh shit, you are legal. Well, this changes things, doesn't it? Here you are, demanding my attention and I've been treating you like a little girl-no wonder you were being a royal bitch a second ago. I'm sorry, I really am and I promise it won't happen again.

"Oh. I thought you were just a high-schooler." I look up at you, fully appreciating the flatness of your stomach all the way up to the roundness that fills up the front of your shirt.

"And you just assumed I was a truant 16 year old, because of this face?" You motion to your face with a hand, insulted. Crap, crap, crap. Fix this, Joe-you're losing her.

"Wel-um. I-I'm sorry." I played the part of a man that was one step away from groveling at your feet-literally. Nice choice of boots though, black is a classic and you even did the laces up right.

"Ach, don't worry about it. I'm used to it." You snort, waving your hand at me again but this time you're smiling and it's so warm. Good.

I did well then seeing as you ate it up this fast. Now I might actually have a chance, and trust me-you want me to have this chance. God knows that other guys won't be able to appreciate your handle on just absolutely fucking with people's emotions. No. I bet you eat men up like a white girl in the same room as a pumpkin spice latte.

"So," I stand up and wipe my hands off so you know I'm genuine. "Let me try that again."

"Hi, I'm Joe. I like to make brazen assumptions about random women that enter my bookstore." I stick my hand out for you to shake as an equal, because we're definitely equal now. You don't shame my hand immediately though, thats fair. I did make an ass of myself for the last five minutes.

"Hi Joe." You shake my hand lightly before quickly letting it go but not before I realise just how soft your hands are. "I'm Anne. I'm woefully unprepared for life but I take it with a smile and some crack." Woah, hold on a second there. Crack?

Chapter Text

Anne. An-ne. An-ne Walsh. What a mysterious little thing you are, so average looking-even your name is about as flavourful as a box of Raisin Bran. But you're obviously not average, right? If you were, I seriously doubt that I'd have spent this whole week just waiting for you to almost break that door again.

Of course not. But you're also not trying to be above average, are you? I've dealt with those sorts of people for most of my adult life and trust me, they're annoying. Not just a little annoying either-they make me hate myself and them in just five minutes of their non-stop talking. No. You're And who you are to me is yet to be seen. 

You don't do that-the nervous rambling, I mean. Beck did it all the goddamn time, and at first I'll admit I found it kinda cute. But then she just kept on fucking doing it and she got so nasty when she'd ramble on. Especially nasty if Peach was going to be there. 

Hey, Annie? I can call you Annie, right? I mean, you didn't say I couldn't. But then again, you never said I could either. It's okay-not like you'll ever hear me say it. Why? Because you've left me high and dry, Annie. 

Sometimes, it really is better to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

Like right now.

I'm drowning, Annie. Drowning in the sea of Anne Walshes with equally terrible smiles and pointy chins that were shaved to perfection. I need you, Annie. I need you to just walk  through that door, to give me a chance to charm you-to show you how good I could be for you. Almost had that chance when you were here last time but you just got your book, paid with cash and hauled ass back to your stupid professor's stupid lecture. 

I didn't mean to feel all of this so soon, Annie, I really didn't. I just got picked up and carried up in your storm-I swear. I guess that doesn't really change the fact that I've been scouring the web for any trace you actually exist, just anything but you're so fucking elusive! Theres about a thousand Anne Walshes in New York and none of them are the Anne Walsh that studies History at NYU.

Hell, I even tried looking for an Anne Walsh in Ireland-which is where I think you're from after a good amount of research. I passed out after page 24 of Anne Walsh (the Ireland ones). Turns out it's a lot bigger than I gave the Island credit for, too big for me to deal with all on my lonesome. Shit. I'd even take an old picture of you with an ex-boyfriend at this point, Annie. 

"Can I grab one of those?" Ethan asks and I nod without really considering what he was asking for. Yeah. You've made me that desperate, Annie.

"You okay, man?" I turn my head to the side, still holding it up with my elbow next to the register. He's just taken another bite out of a twizzler and I realise now that he was asking to eat one of my Twizzlers. Do you like Twizzlers, Annie?

"Yeah, I'm good." I say and I nod because I know he's just asking out of some need to fulfill the moral standard of what society expects of him. But, I'm not good. I can't be, you're not here, Annie. You'd said you'd come back but you're not back, you lied to me and I don't know why you would lie to me.

"Alright." Ethan shrugs off my stale disposition, I wish I could shrug it off. What's really awful, Annie, is that you probably don't even know what you've done to me. You're just out there, living your life on the streets of New York. I bet you haven't even thought to come see me again and here I am, molding.

A soft bell rings out, telling me that the front door was opened and the soft sound of a door closing told me that someone new had come into the store. I don't even glance up because every time you've come in here, you practically kicked the door open and this person didn't even want the sound of the door shutting. They don't want to draw attention to themselves.

I remember Beck doing that, but she was just embarrassed about it-embarrassed even though she craved the attention I gave her. You're nothing like her, Annie. You take all the attention you want and when you don't want it, I guess you just disappear into the cracks in my head.

I know theres someone new in the store, but I don't care. It's a bookstore for crying out loud, they can figure their way around all by themselves. If not, Ethan's probably in the back somewhere, he can help them. Sounds like a man anyways, or maybe a seriously obese lady-either way, I'm surprised they haven't dropped into the basement with how heavy their steps are.

I hear a package crinkling next to me as I stare at a page of numbers, methodically checking each paragraph off with a pencil. These were supposed to be purchase orders for a new set of Beck's books but I found it hard to care.

She'd been pushed out of my head as soon as you told me your name-can't this fucker eat his chips somewhere else? I'm stewing here because you played with me, Annie. And I'm dying for the chance to play with you. 

The crinkling stops, good. I was about a second away from snatching whatever that was out of this asshole's hands and smacking him over the head with them. Didn't he have some kind of work to go do? Maybe he needed an excuse to browse Dan Brown or Stephen King. 

What kind of work do you do, Annie? Do you work at all? I could see you making a great lawyer, no offense. You're just really good at twisting people around your pinkie, I mean look at me-I'm about as love-sick as I felt when Beck and I were on the rocks. But, I can't see a degree in History as anything good for getting accepted into Law School.

The crinkling starts again and I squeeze my pencil tighter in my hand, is he just doing this on purpose now? "Do you want a job?" I ask, gritting my teeth but not bothering to pick my head back up off my palm. If he did, he sure as hell wasn't getting one here with that fucking crinkling. 

"Not particularly. I suppose I could do with the extra cash, but I'm afraid that I'm not allowed to work whilst on a student visa." A soft yet high-pitched voice responds and I can practically hear her smirking and my head spins around to see if it's you. I haven't heard anyone else able to say a smirk. 

"You came back," That's all I can get out. It's not a great sentence to start off with, but you obviously like it all the same considering your smirk turned into an adorable little smile. An adorable little smile-just for me. I brand that smile-with those upturned corners-mine. 

"Good to know you can still see." You nod before you take another bite out of the twisted red vine in your hand with that little smirk. So, you do like Twizzlers. 

"Right?" I nod back, agreeing that it is good I can still see even though I can practically see the sarcasm rolling off of your entire frame. I'll play into your little game-half of romance is the chase, right? 

I've gotta say though, your bite is something to behold, Annie. The way your teeth tear into that poor thing almost makes me pity it, who knew eating candy could be so violent? But then the long slow tug away from your lips makes me wish I was that Twizzler-Christ. I'm jealous of a Twizzler, christ. Can you see what you're doing to me, Annie? 

"Back for another book?" I raise a brow, I'm trying to force my eyes away from that stupid little piece of shit candy. It wouldn't be normal to just rip it out of your hand and kick it, now would it? But I want too. I want to reach out and touch your mouth like that, Annie-with your permission, of course. 

"Nah." You shake your head, chewing through the bite you just took and I notice that the candy in your hands is half gone. My stare immediately goes down to the Twizzler's I keep by the register, I might hate that particular piece of candy right now but I'd still give you another if it meant I could watch you eat it.

Much to my surprise, there isn't another pack of Twizzlers there anymore and I look back up at you. You're smiling but this time it's mischievous-like you know something I don't and I want to know what you know but I think I already know. "Did you just steal my candy?"

"Might've." Now you're full on grinning and it's so powerful that I find myself grinning right back at you. It's those chubby little cheeks you've got Annie. I'm pretty sure that if you asked me to streak around the block with those cheeks, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

"Pretty sure stealing is a crime." I try to school my grin into a disapproving look but it's too hard to do that when you're standing just five feet away from me and I spent the past week dreaming of when you'd be here again.

"I could have you arrested, y'know." I say and I'm trying to play the cool quiet yet intelligent guy because I can see you going for that kinda guy. But you're making it difficult.

I want to be the cool kinda you're looking for. The kind that sits in the back of the party with you, sipping our drinks and making snarky comments about everyone else's stupidly drunk behaviour.

We'll chuckle to ourselves before you run your foot up my shin and give me another one of my smiles and I'll know what it means. We'll head to the bathroom-just for a little while-but you'll be dragging your nails down my bac-

"Hmmm." You hum, nodding and swallowing the bite of candy before furrowing your brows just a little. "Can I pay you back then? I'm too clumsy to go to prison, I drop the soap without any help from the audience." Your eyebrow quirks just a bit before you give me a wink. 

I laugh at that, not because you'd ever go to jail. I'd never let you go to jail, Annie. God, you're so fucking precious-you'd get destroyed in prison with that cute little round face. I'd never really liked round faces until I saw yours, probably because all I could think was diabetes or 'pie-face,' but you look like a dream.

Our laughter dies down in a hot second and I realise, now is my chance. "How about you pay me back by letting me take you out for some coffee?" I pose my question carefully, not too desperate but you know I'm serious enough and you do. You consider my words for a second before you take another bite, you're not in any hurry to talk.

You're just standing there, watching me while I watch you. "Really?" You raise a brow, completely unashamed by the licentious way 'coffee' rolls right off your tongue and I'm astounded. How do you actually seduce me while you're mumbling with a mouth full of Twizzler? 

I'm too surprised to talk, afraid that if I do open my mouth it'd be to step up to you and kiss you as hard as I possibly can. But, for a second, I think you've seen me while I stare with one brow raised and you swallow the Twizzler. Not the guy I'm trying to be just to catch your eye, but me. And that's terrifying so I look away. But you don't.

I know you don't because I can still see your jaw working at gnawing up that Twizzler like it besmirched your honour from the corner of my eye. I don't know why I looked away, I should just be staring right back at you. That's what you're looking for, right? Someone that can rival your 'sparkle' so to speak?

Or better yet, someone thats just as half as ballsy as you seem to be. Haven't met many women that can say half of what you say with a straight face, especially staring me right in the eye. But, thats because you're not like any girl I've met so far, Annie. Thats why you can't possibly be as average as your name and face appear to be. 

So I turn my head right back around just to look you in the eye, "just coffee." I nod, I'm waiting. This is the make or break moment and we both know it. You swallow, you'll agree because you know I can give you what you need. 

"I could go for some coffee." You smile and I hate to say it, but I think the stress you just put me through in the last minute took off a couple of years from my life.

"Phone number?" I raise a brow, waiting for you to pull out your phone but you don't. You just shrug with a smile, "haven't gotten around to getting a mobile just yet." You take another bite and for second, I'm actually disappointed in you.

"Seriously? How could you not have a phone, Annie?" I scoff and I realise my mistake on using your nickname outloud but I don't pay that much attention to it and neither do you. You don't even blink at my scoff. 

I'm upset with you, Annie. Thats dangerous. What if something happened to you? You look like a 15 year old girl, just out all on her lonesome in New York, for crying out loud. Someone could snatch you up and I'd never know. But at the same time, I'm almost impressed.

You're in your 20s and you care so little for technology that you don't even own a phone. It's a breath of fresh air. You don't have a phone in your face 24-7. Beck couldn't live without checking her phone every few seconds and here you are, in a foreign country and not a phone in sight.

"I dunno." You shrug off my disapproval without a care after you swallow, "just don't. I'll get around to it eventually. In the meantime, can I interest you in an email address?" You take another bite of Twizzler and when I really think about it, your email is actually far more valuable to me than your phone number.

I need to research you and I mean really research you-I want to know who broke your heart for the very first time or what your parents ate for breakfast-that kinda research. I have to make sure you're safe for me. Beck was a mistake, a huge one. She looked so safe on the outside, so transparent, until I cracked the surface and almost drowned in her depths and I won't do that again. I can't.

"I'll take an email." I nod with a smile and you grab a pen, uncapping it after you swallow your Twizzler down. I don't complain when you reach out and grab my hand, pulling me towards you.

"And," you hum as you start writing it down. I don't complain when you press down so hard that you almost cut your email address into my skin.

You take the pen cap out of your mouth, inspecting your work on my palm. "There we go, Joe." You tuck the pen behind your ear and I glance down to see your boxy scrawl of letters,

Even your email is average, no smiley faces, no hearts. Nothing. Why are you pretending to be so utterly average, Annie? "Cool." I say with a nod and you let my hand go.

There can't seriously be someone like you in the world: brown hair, brown eyes, average height, average name. There's got to be something different. Something that makes you unique, unless you're actually just a clone-like Agent Smith from the Matrix. But that'd make you incredibly unique, and it'd make me incredibly crazy.

Chapter Text

Oh, Annie. You're practically a ghost. I finally found your Facebook, but I might as well talk to a brick wall-I'd get further with it. Privacy settings to the max, a simple profile picture of green and brown ivy slowly overtaking a wall and Friends? Well, I know you have about 400 but it doesn't matter since I can't see a damn one of them.

But that's okay! It really is, you know why? Because you're finally here, with me-no, for me. Why else would you be standing outside of a subway entrance with those black skinny jeans whose holes show far too much skin on your knees and thighs? It's such a creamy pale too, just a hint of red and purple waiting under the skin.

I was hoping to surprise you, to see what you'd do when you thought no one was paying attention to you. But, you seem to just know when I'm around because by the time I've spoken, you already turned around and started skipping towards me. "Hiya, Stranger."

You've got me running on fumes here, Annie. I can't tell if you're safe for me-you won't let me. Your gigantic walls of Facebook privacy with no Instagram and 0 Tweets have left me out here the cold, just fumbling for answers.

"Hey." I say, coming up to where you've skipped to a stop in front of me.

"Been waitin' long?" I ask and I'm slow in my steps, so you know I didn't actually jog here after missing the 10:05 am bus. But, I do give your outfit a thorough look-over and it's just as revealing as it looks from afar.

A black and holey crocheted swear gives me a good look at the white low cut tank top you're wearing underneath it. Lacey red bra straps peek out from under your tank and somehow, they match the exact shade of lipstick you've painted on your lips.

"Nope, just arrived actually." You smile at me, flashing a dull white under the red and take another step closer to me. Your feet clack against the concrete and I glance down for only a second to notice that you actually traded the boots I've seen you in for the past two times.

I can tell you tried for me with the pair of black heeled boots you're wearing. You're still smooth as ever, but it only takes me one look into your eyes to tell me that you're uneasy in them. They look kinda fuzzy with big shiny zippers on the sides, subtle yet attention grabbing at the same time.

The sweater-if you can even call it that-may be loose but everything else is skin-tight on you. I can't tell if I like the fact you're practically screaming for me to just mount you right here, or if I hate your clothes for the number of looks that six other men gave your legs in the past minute.

"So, coffee?" I raise a brow and offer up my arm for you to take. I wouldn't normally try to touch you this early in the relationship, but I need all of these other fuckers to know that you're with me.

"Coffee!" You give me another sunny grin with a nod. And you take my arm and I know that we both agree you're mine for the day.

I'd been quite proud of myself for getting all the way over to the right subway station and everything from my apartment. Proud right up until it'd dawned on me that I now had to wait around for him. Great. Good job, Anne.

A bus went by, bringing a wave of smelly fumes and New York City's local flora; plastic bags and used paper wrappers. My nose crinkled out of disgust and I tried to stop breathing for a short while, which didn't quite work.


Now what, eh?

I pulled out my phone, opening up Instagram and scrolling mindlessly through all the updates of people I'd known back home. Emma's dog had a cute look on his face after he'd destroyed her mum's sofa.

Nice. I'd always hated that thing anyways. I'd had to look at it each and every bloody time I came over to their place after school. Emma's mum wouldn't let me out of her sight after the whole escapade with James, so we'd had to stick either in the kitchen or in the living room.

That sofa was like a relic of the past with the faded floral print and the metal springs that poked you in the arse when you sat down. Maybe I should get a dog? No. Flat's too small for that. Even if I got a yappy dog like a Chihuahua, it'd still need some amount of green to run around in and I doubted that I'd have the patience to potty-train it.

My thumb paused for a moment, feeling like I had eyes on my back. I glanced around at the people walking past, noting the men that eyed me for a short while before they quickly looked away. But, the feeling stayed.

I put away my phone, pulling up my sweater slightly to slide the silver mobile back into my pocket. To be fair, I'd actually been trying to see if the eyes on my back felt...familiar? James had always had such a strong stare, it could feel either quite warm and encompassing or like a few knives had been shoved into your back.

This one didn't feel like either, though.

So, I stood up from the railing I'd been leaning back against and turned around. Ah! It's you-um-bookstore guy! What was your name, Cheekbones? Shite, he's noticed that I'd noticed him.

I skipped over hoping that my overwhelming enthusiasm would possibly distract him from the fact that I'd genuinely forgotten his name.

"Hiya, stranger!" I came to a stop in front of him and took in his clothes. They looked to be freshly laundered, but unironed. Not many people actually ironed their clothes anymore. Bit lazy, but okay-it was just a touch off-putting considering how much he'd brightened up after seeing me again last week.

"Hey," he greeted me with an oddly lazy nod. Did he seriously not find me interesting enough to give a shite?

I could tell from the ridiculously long stare that he was taking in my outfit and oddly, I hoped he might have liked it. He was obviously rather observant, but I wasn't sure he was observant enough to notice that I'd consciously matched the shade of my lipstick to my knickers. To be fair though, it was difficult not to match them-I'd literally picked each set to match a shade that I owned already.

"Been waitin' long?"

His words were slightly accented, which was nice on the ears. He didn't have that stereotypical Godfather accent that I'd noticed the construction workers around my place had. He still sounded quite lackadaisical though, like he was only meeting me because he had nothing better to do.

"Nope! Just arrived, actually." I grinned through my lie, electing to continue on in pushing him just a touch. I figured that if I kept him continuously off-kilter, maybe he'd provide me with a little more entertainment.

Another bus went by us and I noted that he smelled a bit like sweat. So, he ran? He didn't take the train because I would've noticed him with a stare like that, and he obviously didn't work out. He'd had to have ran here. I was almost amused by the idea that he'd run, it'd mean that he genuinely cared whether or not he was late.

"So, coffee?" He stuck out his arm for me to take and I let an easy smile roll onto my face. He cared. He was just trying to play some sort of role that he wasn't well-suited for.

"Coffee," I practically chirped as I grinned and took his arm.

Bookstore guy had pulled a bit of a 180 on me when we'd actually gotten to the cafe that he claimed 'served the best coffee you'll ever get'. He'd dropped the laziness and too-cool-for-school attitude. Instead, it appeared that he'd become the ultimate gentleman.

He was by my side almost non-stop ever since I'd taken his arm about an hour ago. When we got to the cafe, he'd insisted on pulling out a chair for me to sit in and giving me a lengthy review of each and every drink he'd had on their menu.

"But, enough about me." I sipped my latte and raised a brow at the bloke across the table. "What about you? What's your story?" He responded to my eyebrow raise with a bit of insistence, enough that I actually put down my cup.

"Well..." I trailed off, suddenly conflicted. The paranoid part of me wanted to tell him absolutely nothing, while the other understood that humans responded to give and take. He'd given me quite a bit of information on his childhood and teenage years, so I'd need to respond if I wanted to continue this odd little fling.

"I was born to Martha and er-Jack Walsh?" I shrugged, holding up both of my hands to my shoulders as I hadn't a clue of what else to tell him. He just waved his hand at me to continue.

"Let's see," I nodded to myself, holding up a hand, but left the other on top of the table in case he got confident enough to grab it. "I had a dog named Sean from ages 5 to 10ish."

Alright, Anne. You've told him one thing compared to the dozens he literally just unloaded onto you for the last 30 minutes. You know it, and he obviously knows it with that single raised eyebrow and that ever familiar quiet judgement sinking in.

It's now gotten awkward...he's waiting on you to continue, and you've got absolutely nothing to give him, do you? Ah, Christ. Just...uh. Shite. What would work best? He'd taken off the cap of Mr-Bad-Boy and slipped on the one of a gentlemanly courtship.

Ah hah! He's been the ultimate man, and men always get so uncomfortable with emotional distress. God knows my da was the first to speed out of a room if my mum or I cried. So there it was, I just had to cry. Turn up those waterworks-it'll give you some time.

I sniffled, forcing my ever present grin to slowly diminish down to a melancholic smile as I looked away from him. We'd picked the table for two that'd been right near the window so I gazed out of it attempting to think of what random fact I felt comfortable sharing with him.

"Annie?" I saw him lean in closer to the table from the corner of my eye and sniffled again. Where'd Annie come from, anyway? I'd literally never been called Annie-ever. Had he just been sitting here pondering all the most infantile versions of possible nicknames?

"Sorry," I mumbled letting my hand fall away to wipe one eye that'd finally started producing the weakest tears I'd ever seen in my bloody life. I mean I wasn't about to call him out on it, I'd give him this.

"It's alright. Dogs can take up a big part of our heart," he comforted me, hesitantly wrapping a hand around the one I'd left for him.

Yeah, I'd give him Annie, just as he'd give me Sean the dog right now. Cripes, I'd underestimated the amount of tears I could produce on command. Shame on me wasting them all for this little stunt.

"I'm not usually like this," I dotted my eyes with my free hand. I paused my dotting, staring at the wetness on my hand to realise that I'd just been quite genuine for a short secon-

"Hey," he squeezed my hand lightly, both distracting me from my rambling of thoughts and forcing me to glance back at him.

"It's okay. Really," he smiled as I blinked away another round of tears.

Perhaps it was okay for him, but I genuinely felt like my tear ducts had overdone it on the waterworks over here.

My bloody mascara was going to start running soon.