There was a present in my work locker. It was the size of a paperback book and wrapped in tasteful striped paper. “Leigh, I thought you might like this. Merry Christmas!” was printed in permanent marker across the front. There was no signature.
I spent a few minutes trying to figure out if the handwriting was familiar, then gave up and ripped off the paper. It was a copy of Storm Front.
“Oi!” I shouted from the breakroom. “Who gave me a book?”
Douglas, the inventory manager, leaned out of an aisle. “I did. It’s from that urban fantasy series I was telling you about. If you like it, I can lend you the rest.”
“Oh, cool. Thank you!” I went back to eat much lunch, amused and oddly touched.
The next day I slipped a fantasy novel – The Dark Glory War – into Doug’s locker. Written across the cavorting penguins was “The correct response to Harry Dresden is Rachel Morgan, but Dead Witch Walking was sold out. Hope you enjoy this instead!”
By mid-January, we had combined an inter-library loan system with a two-person book club. Finished books went into the owner’s locker, and new books would appear in the borrower’s locker the next day. It turned out that we had very similar taste in books, and when we had time we chatted about what we were reading.
On Saint Patrick’s Day, my phone rang. I peered at the tiny screen of my ancient blue slider. It was Doug. Thinking there was a problem with closing up the store, I picked up and wandered towards a quiet corner.
“Hey, what’s up?"
“Sometimes, you just have to ask: Do you want to go to dinner or a movie?”
“Yeah, sure!” I blinked at my drunken enthusiasm, but the words didn’t feel wrong. “But not tonight. I’m staying at my friend’s place.”
“Oh, yeah, no, not tonight. Sometime next week?”
“Sure. I’ll call you when I’m more coherent.”
“Sounds good. Talk to you later.”
I stared at my phone for a minute, baffled at what had happened. Doug liked me? Was all the book talk his way of flirting? How had I missed this?!
A sense of unease crept in as I realized that I’d just agreed to a date with a coworker, something I swore I’d never do. But Doug was a mature guy in his late thirties, so if it anyone could keep this professional, I felt like he could.
Our first date was fantastic. Doug had excellent taste in food, and underneath the practical man of few words was a sparkling conversationalist with a wicked wit. It turned out that we had even more in common than our taste in books, like art degrees and time spent in marching band. In the geek corner, he played D&D and I was a cosplayer.
We decided that the restaurant would probably like their table back, but we weren’t ready for the date to be over, so we retreated to my place. I reluctantly agreed to Tucker and Dale vs Evil after he assured me that it was a funny twist on the slasher genre. (It was hilarious.) When the movie was over we chatted for several more hours. It was the longest and most enjoyable first date I’d ever had.
The next date was just as good. And the next one. And the next one. Sprinkled in between the standard date-night fare were geekier excursions. We went to Dragon*Con together. We saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies while sober and somehow didn’t kill anyone. The Tellus Science Museum, Shakespeare Tavern, Harry Potter trivia nights; the list goes on.
Through it all, there were books. We spent entire afternoons roaming Barnes & Noble, critiquing cover art and amassing armloads of new books. He introduced me to Brandon Sanderson’s work; I introduced him to Jacqueline Carey. We both got excited when Tad Williams announced more Osten Ard novels. I read his copy of The Night Circus three times in a row before returning it, so he got me a signed first edition. And after every new Dresden Files or Hallows book, we had friendly arguments about whether Harry Dresden would wipe the floor with Rachel Morgan or vice versa.
When we moved in together, the first thing we had to figure out was where all the bookshelves should go, because our 41 boxes of books made an impassable wall in the living room. Once that was done, we started hanging art. As I handed up a print of the Michael Whelan cover art for To Green Angel Tower, Doug said “You know, I think this is when you got on my radar.”
“What?” I said, taking the hammer from him.
“When you brought this in to the store to be framed. You clearly liked both Michael Whelan and Tad Williams enough to buy it in the first place, and that’s not common.”
“Did you have a crush on me all that time?!”
“No, I didn’t realize it was a crush until later.” He looked down and smiled. “But this got my attention.”
We were sappy for a while before we hung up more art. The other wall included illustrations of a scene from The Highwayman and Eowyn facing down the Witch King of Angmar.
Two weeks later, we were engaged.
After an enormous argument with my mother – apparently, suggesting a science museum as a wedding venue meant we were turning the whole thing into Dragon*Con – we settled on a book theme. That seemed like sufficient nerd flair for us within the arbitrary bounds of good taste for a muggle wedding.
Our Save-the-Dates were bookmarks. The invitations featured first lines from our favorite books, and the outside folder looked like an old cloth book cover. My bridesminions and I all had flowers made from book pages in our hair. I even convinced everyone to let me walk down the aisle to the main theme from Star Wars. At the reception, stacks of books decorated the tables, and the DJ played scores from Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park. The favors were small handmade notebooks thanking our guests for sharing this chapter with us.
The inside of his ring reads “my precious, my love.”
We have even more books now. He still works at the art store, while I moved to an art museum. Arya, our tabby cat, likes to wedge herself behind rows of books, while her roommate Dany surveys the resulting jumble of fallen volumes from the back of the couch. One whole shelf is crammed full of board games, while two more are nothing but tabletop game manuals. On Wednesdays, we watch our favorite D&D livestream.
If this was a novel, I’d describe our relationship as an adorable fantasy nerd romance, high on feels but ultimately unrealistic.
Clearly, life really is stranger than fiction.