Wasted Words, p.1Staci Hart
Copyright © 2016 Staci Hart
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No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Cover design by Quirky Bird
Photography by Perrywinkle Photography
Editing by Rebecca Slemons
All the Books
How to Hope
Peter Freaking Parker
A Proper Match
Gatekeeper Meets Keymaster
Christ On a Bike
Clark Kent Never Wins
Big Bad Brains
Crazy He Calls Me
Begging For Thread
Hearts and Arrows
Deer in Headlights (Hearts and Arrows 1)
Snake in the Grass (Hearts and Arrows 2)
What the Heart Wants (Hearts and Arrows 2.5 Novella)
Doe Eyes (Hearts and Arrows 3)
Fool’s Gold (Hearts and Arrows 3.5 Novella)
Hearts and Arrows Box Set
Hardcore (Erotic Suspense Serials)
Bad Habits (Romantic Comedy)
With a Twist
Wasted Words - Coming May 19
Nighthawk - a Steampunk Adventure Romance - Coming Summer 2016
Short story on Amazon
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To Kandi for being the back wheel of the Tribecycle so we can go real fast.
And to Becca for being the steady front wheel who keeps us from crashing.
I’M PART PSYCHIC.
OKAY, MAYBE not full-blown, tell-the-future, Madame Esmeralda or anything, but with little more than a glance, I could tell you a number of things about a person, from the types of books they read to their favorite drink.
I’d always sorted people, just like books in the Dewey Decimal System, where everything had its place. Geeks with geeks. Chic with chic. For instance, when I first met my roommate, Tyler, I instantly knew several things to be true. He’d played sports — football I’d guessed — any man that tall and built would be crazy not to use his body for sports. He’d recently been dumped, determined by the fact that he’d come to live with me with little more than a suitcase full of clothes and a couple of boxes. And as for his favorite drink, I’d pegged him for a beer drinker. That one was just a hunch, but I’d put my money on it, and I was right.
I only used my powers for good, making matches between people I knew or strangers I encountered, planting little seeds, nudging them together. Not physically nudge them — as a five-foot-two dork in glasses, weighing in at a buck-oh-five soaking wet, I couldn’t even open some doors without grunting. But I could see patterns between people, and with a well-placed word or maybe a little bit of well-meaning manipulation, I could get people in each other’s line of sight long enough for them to actually see each other.
Although, at the end of the day, I really did it because I was in love with love.
There’s something terribly satisfying about imagining two people falling in love and then witnessing it. To know that you had a hand in them finding someone to love, especially when you hadn’t found love yourself. Not that I wasn’t looking, but my love life had been sort of nonexistent for a long time. It felt safer that way.
Besides, it’s easier to see everyone else’s business than your own, and I was perfectly happy with setting up everyone I could.
My job at Wasted Words was equal parts manager, comic book dealer, bartender, and matchmaker — the last being my favorite part of the job. Mixing up the comic boys and romance girls who came in had become my favorite hobby. I ran singles night, which was the easiest place to make magic, and bartending was another avenue to making love connections. I’d been doing it since college, making matches, but ever since I’d been hired to help open and run Wasted Words, I’d upped my stats exponentially.
It was almost too easy. Fish in a barrel, and all that. Meeting people in New York wasn’t easy, and the concept for our bar — which was also a coffee shop and bookstore, featuring an extensive comic collection — brought in an eclectic group of clientele. We had everything from corporate lawyers looking for hentai, more commonly known as tentacle porn, to teenage girls browsing our massive romance aisles. There were the college kids, especially from Columbia, as we were pretty close to campus, and then of course the standard stereotypical romance reading cat ladies and the super nerdy comic guys. Those were the easiest to match up.
For instance, there was a girl at the other end of the bar — let’s call her The Reader — with her nose in a book as she sipped on her chai. As I wiped off the bar top in front of me, I noticed she flipped the pages with the speed of a lifer, probably reading since she was a little kid. Her fingers were smudged with ink or graphite, and every time she pushed up her glasses, she rubbed a little off on her nose. Noting the black notebook under the one she was reading, it seemed a safe assumption that she was an artist of some sort. Something about her — her posture maybe, almost like she was trying to make herself smaller, or her clothes, loose fitting and a little out of style — told me that she wasn’t the ball-busting, go-getting type, but she was pretty, to be sure, with skin like cream and hair in a bun with heavy bangs.
A few seats over sat a guy who’d been watching The Reader around a pint of Guinness and a Japanese comic. His eyes would dart over to watch her, though she kept flipping pages, completely unaware, so absorbed in her book that she hadn’t sensed him, even with him throwing unspoken signals at her in waves. He had the look of the standard guys who frequented the comic shop where I worked before Wasted Words — awkward, tall, skinny by society’s standards at least. I thought he was adorable in his own right, with shaggy dark hair and a hoodie over a T-shirt of Batman eating ramen, framed like a comic cover and titled in Japanese characters that said Batman and Ramen. It’s delicious.
I imagined her looking up at him and smiling, then him moving down to talk to her. Then he’d ask her out, they’d exchange numbers, and she would blush sweetly. They’d go to dinner, talk about books and life, he’d kiss her in front of her door. And then marriage and babies and the whole lot.
I sighed dreamily.
Batman could have had a solid shot at The Reader with nothing more than a breath of self-confidence, but that was always the trick. He didn’t have any, and neither did she. Which was where I came in.
My roommate, Tyler, chuffed at me. “Leave them be, Cam.”
I narrowed my eyes at him playfully. “Don’t tell me what to do, Tyler.”
He laughed and shook his head, and all I could do was smile across the bar at him. Tyler sat in the seat he always took, near the back of the horseshoe bar
What a catch, right? Thing was, his fish and my fish didn’t even live in the same pond. No, his pond was full of cheerleaders and beauty queens, models and girls who also belong on Abercrombie ads and … I don’t know. Not me, that was for sure. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t butthurt about it or anything. It was just one of those facts of life. Nerdy girls wearing flannel and Death Star T-shirts brandishing the quote That’s no moon don’t date gorgeous ex-tight ends. They date video game testers and baristas who moonlight at Magic: The Gathering tournaments. Guys who blow their money on cosplay outfits and PC upgrades.
I smiled and jerked my chin toward the two, guiding my thoughts back to things I could change. “Look at them. They’d be so sweet together.”
“You don’t know that. Maybe he’s abusive.”
I snorted. “Yeah, right. I’m pretty sure she could take him.”
He smirked and picked up his beer. “I’m just saying. You don’t know anything about them.”
“Not true, I know at least a little bit. Look, she has ink on her fingers, so I’m betting she’s an artist of some sort.”
“Maybe she sells newspapers.”
I gave him a flat look. “No one buys newspapers anymore.”
Tyler eyed me, amused. “There’s no way you’re right.”
I hung my hand on my hip. “Really? Should I remind you of Jane and Charlie?”
“No, really, Cam. You shouldn’t.”
But I did anyway. “If it weren’t for me, they would never have gone on their first date, which means they never would have gotten married, which means they wouldn’t have their adorable babies who I’m the honorary aunt of. They hated each other, Tyler. Hated. And now they’re the happiest people I know, all thanks to me.”
He shook his head again and tipped his beer toward me. “And thus began your crusade to make matches for everyone you meet.”
“Yes, it did. Because if I can make two people as happy as Jane and Charlie are? That’s what it’s all about.”
“But I still believe in the old fashioned idea of letting people decide who they want to date.”
“But what if they do want to date, but they just don’t know it yet?” I asked emphatically.
“It’s a sick hobby, Cam,” he joked.
“It’s so satisfying. Like peeling a sunburn.”
He made a face, but he still laughed.
“Oh, or watching power washing porn.”
“What?” His lip curled.
“You’ve never seen it?” I pulled out my phone, chuckling. “Oh, man, are you in for a treat.”
He glanced around. “Are you sure I should be looking at porn?”
I rolled my eyes and handed my phone over. “It’s not actual porn, it’s just gifs of people power washing stuff. Like before and after.”
He watched it for a second before humphing. “How about that. It is really satisfying.”
“Told you. Just like I told you that girl’s an artist.”
He didn’t look convinced.
“Betcha five bucks.”
Tyler sighed, and internally, I crowed at his defeat. “I’m probably going to regret this, but you’re on. You’re due to be wrong, any minute now.”
I laughed, turning to the two of them again, smiling even wider when I realized what they were reading. “Bet you twenty I can get them together.”
He pursed his lips, considering it. “If you can get him to ask her out right now, I’ll throw in dinner on me.”
“You can’t rush art,” I said with a wink and a smile as I headed over to The Reader to work my magic.
She looked up from her book and pushed her glasses up her nose, widening the graphite smudge.
“Doing okay over here?”
“Yes, thanks. Could I get a glass of water?”
“Sure thing.” I grabbed a glass and filled it with ice. “Whatcha reading?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Oh,” she said as she slipped her finger between the pages to hold her place before glancing at the cover. “Outlander.”
I nodded my approval. “A classic. Jamie Fraser is the perfect guy, am I right?”
She blushed a little and sighed, smiling softly. “This is my fourth read-through of the series. He’s just everything, you know? Soft and hard, sensitive without being weak. He’s the ultimate man.” She sighed again. “Too bad he’s not real.”
“Well, if he was, he’d only be made for one woman. At least this way, we all get to have him.”
She smiled again, her glasses slipping down just a little. “I guess that’s true.”
I set the water in front of her, and she took a sip. “So, are you an artist?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Your fingertips are smudged. In fact, you’ve got a little something right here.” I motioned to the bridge of my nose.
“Ugh,” she groaned and looked at her hands before digging through her bag for a little pack of wipes. “You’d think I’d remember to wash my hands after drawing, but I only do if I’m in the studio. Hence carrying these around like I’m traveling with a toddler. I mean, unless I’m the toddler, in which case, that makes a lot of sense.”
I laughed. “What’s your medium?”
“I love charcoal, but it’s such a mess. Clearly.” She held up her hands in display.
“That’s what I’ve heard. My boss’ boyfriend is an artist and the same thing happens to him. He painted the piece just above you.” I pointed up, and she leaned back to look.
“Oh, I love that so much, and love that it’s the first thing I see every time I walk in.”
“He’s super talented, for sure.” I leaned on the bar. “Random question, but have you ever read any comics?”
She shook her head. “Never.”
“So, there’s this Japanese comic I love — it’s called InuYasha. It’s about a girl who falls in a well and is sent back in time, into feudal Japan.”
Her smile bloomed. “Wow, just like Claire in Outlander.”
“Totally. I mean, technically it’s classified as romantic comedy, so the tone isn’t at all like Outlander, but it’s fantastic. They’re on the hunt for these jewels, and InuYasha is her protector, even though she doesn’t usually need it, being a badass herself. You should check it out. I can hook you up with a copy of the first book for fifty percent off, if you’re interested.”
“Absolutely,” she said, blushing happily. “That’s so kind of you, you don’t have to do that.”
I shrugged. “Anything to convert people to comics. I’ll have Ruby grab a copy and I’ll add it to your tab.” I pushed off the bar and smiled at her. “I’ll let you get back to your book. Just let me know if you need anything else, okay?”
“Thanks,” she said with a smile, and I felt like a boss as I made my way over to Batman. The seed had been planted, and the added bonus of convincing her to go from Outlander to manga had me giddy.
“How’s it going over here?” I asked, glad he was in front of the dish well so I could linger.
He shook his head, raking a hair through his dark hair. “Pretty good, thanks.”
I dunked my hands in the soapy water of the dish well and felt around for a dirty glass to clean. “InuYasha, huh?” I nodded to the Japanese comic in his hand, my ace in the hole.
“It’s a classic. I’ve read the series at least a half-dozen times.”
“Me too. I got them all when I studied in Tokyo for a semester.”
He looked surprised. “You can read Japanese?”
I nodded and moved the glass to the rinse well. “And speak it. Do you know what your shirt says?”
“Actually, no. Let me guess — Stupid Americans will buy anything?”
He looked down at it, chuckling. “I wish I’d known that all along.”
I rinsed a glass. “Do you read fiction at all?”
He shrugged. “Sometimes. Song of Ice and Fire was the last series I read. You know, Game of Thrones?”
“Yup. I read all eight thousand pages.” I smiled. Got him. “So, one of my favorite fiction series is about a woman who gets kicked into the past through a stonehenge. It’s called Outlander, have you heard of it?”
He narrowed his eyes in thought. “Yeah, there’s a TV show about it, right?”
“Yup. So much skin. And the writer of the series is actually friends with George R.R. Martin.”
He looked impressed. “I had no idea”
“Right? Claire gets sent back two hundred years, into the Jacobite Rebellion. Scottish warriors. Epic fight scenes. Epic sex scenes.” I waggled my brows.
“Do you guys carry it here?”
“If we didn’t, I would have already quit. But you should watch the show first.” I dried off my hands and leaned on the bar, just like I had with The Reader. “It’s mostly a chick fandom, but you see my roommate over there?” I nodded to Tyler.
“The big guy?”
“Yeah. He used to play football and has got to be one of the manliest men I know, and he loves the show. Last time I watched it without him, I didn’t hear the end of it for a week. Don’t tell him I told you that, though.”
“And plus. That knowledge could help you out someday, know what I mean?” I glanced over at The Reader, and he followed my gaze.
“Oh,” he said with understanding when he saw what she was reading. “Looks like I’m upping my cable subscription tonight. Thanks for the tip,” he added gratefully.
“Any time, man. Hope you like it. Give me a shout if you need anything, okay?”
He nodded, smiling as he watched The Reader. “Sure thing.”
Wasted Words by Staci Hart / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes