In a city called Stonetown, in a nondescript bookstore squeezed between a deli shop and a mechanic, a young woman named Rhonda Kazembe stood, carefully browsing the aisles for a bit of light reading. She was thin, not too tall, with skin a shade lighter than coal and black hair done in multiple intricate braids, that ran down her back, stopping midway.
Her nimble fingers gently ghosted over the spines of the books, some old, some new, yet all holding some token of knowledge within the bindings. Rhonda was so lost in her thoughts that she completely missed the woman beside her, precariously balancing a tall pile of books in her arms. She moved on to the next section of the shelves and found herself face to face with a falling pile of books.
"Careful!" The lady rushed to pick up her books.
"Oh my!" Rhonda lowered her hands, which were previously shielding her face and looked at the heap of books on the floor. "I'm so sorry! Here let me help you."
"No, no really it's fine!" The lady waved her off as she started to quickly and messily stack them.
"No, I insist," Rhonda replied firmly as she knelt down next to the crouched girl and collected the rest of the books into a neat stack before standing and holding out the books with a sheepish smile.
"Thanks," the lady said as they finally made eye contact. She had light brown hair with blond highlights and caramel eyes. Rhonda felt her breath hitch as the girl took the stack with an awkward smile, revealing a faint set of dimples.
"I am... extremely sorry for knocking your books over," Rhonda managed to squeak out and she felt her face flush with embarrassment.
"It's no problem. My fault for not using the cart anyway,” she replied as she started going through the stack before placing a book on the shelf, "Was there anything I could help you with?"
"No, not at the moment, I'm just browsing. Although, I should be asking you that, since I did cause you to drop those," Rhonda replied, nervously smoothing the wrinkles out of her skirt. The lady chuckled and extended her hand, shifting the (still tall) pile of books to the crook of her opposite elbow.
“Emilia Alejos, at your service,” she said with a secretive smile, putting a slight emphasis on the last half. Rhonda raised a brow and shook her hand. Emilia’s hand was slightly calloused, with long, slender fingers and smooth skin.
“Rhonda Kazembe, thank you for the offer.” she replied with a soft grin, “Do you happen to have any book suggestions?” Emilia’s face lit up and she beckoned Rhonda over to the opposite end of the shop, near the back. Rhonda followed, easily keeping step with her.
"Now I don't know which genre you prefer," Emila said as her eyes flicked over the numerous titles. She set the stack of books on the floor and planted her hands on her hips. Her black button-down shirt tightened slightly, accentuating her thin waist and the smooth slope of her back. Rhonda felt her eyes trace the bookkeeper’s slim figure before shaking herself out of her daze and forcing herself to answer.
"Any genre is fine, really, as long as the book is enjoyable." Emila paused her searching for a split second to shoot an appraising look at her. Rhonda felt a twist somewhere deep in her stomach and she gripped the strap of her bag tighter.
"Well, that's one thing we have in common. Ah-ha! This book is part of a trilogy and I highly recommend reading them all," Emila said, pulling out a blue-covered book and holding it out to Rhonda.
"Inkheart?" Rhonda said with a tinge of curiosity and Emila smiled brightly.
"I'd say it's a swell read- really gets you into the universe, if I do say so myself," she replied and Rhonda laughed.
"Well, I'm looking forward to reading it, Miss Alejos," Rhonda said and the bookkeeper's eyebrows shot up.
"Oh! Please, Emma is fine. ‘Miss Alejos’ just adds on fifty years!" She laughed awkwardly as Rhonda smiled and nodded.
“Alright, Emma, thank you for the book,” Rhonda said and Emilia’s eyes widened as if she just remembered something.
“Right! You need to buy that, of course. Follow me and I’ll ring it up so you can be on your way,” Emila said as she led the way to the counter.
Rhonda followed the slim brunette to the register, forcing her eyes to focus on anything but the lady in front of her who was, probably unintentionally, swaying her hips to an invisible beat. (At least, Rhonda hoped it was unintentional because she didn’t think her heart could handle beating any faster.) On the counter, a folded piece of paper with the words ‘help wanted’ scrawled in blue marker was haphazardly crammed between the register and the slightly wilted flowers. Maybe Reynie would like to work here. She distantly thought, coming to a stop at the counter. Emilia was smiling brightly, (she seemed to have a smile permanently etched onto her face) her dimples on full display as she fiddled around with the register, scanning the book and searching for a bag to place it in.
“So that’ll be $6.99, would you like a bag, Miss Kazembe?” Emilia asked, pausing her movements. Rhonda fumbled with her bag, fishing out her wallet hurriedly and handing over a ten-dollar bill.
“Um… no, no bag, I can hold it!” she replied, biting her lip right after and internally cringing at her unnecessary enthusiasm. Thankfully, Emilia just laughed and handed her the book with her change and receipt.
“Alrighty then… Come back once you’ve finished reading it and tell me what you think si?” the bookkeeper requested with a playful wink. Rhonda felt her face flush and she stammered out a quiet “ok” before nearly tripping over her feet on the way to the door. The normally graceful girl pursed her lips and gave a small wave before exiting the shop.