You discreetly come into my bookstore every day just to play with my cat that i let wander. you think i don’t notice, but i totally do. don’t worry; it’s freaking adorable.
Old Trost was as picturesque as it was bustling with life. Lot of charming cafés were littered across the narrow alleys, flower shops emanating sweet, rich smells, street musicians performing at nearly every corner as well as artists selling their paintings or drawing tourists.
There were cute bakeries and shops selling antique decor and at the hearts of all that, right across the market place, there was Marco Bodt’s bookstore.
It was ancient and full of little nooks and crannies, old shelves lined at every wall, spanning the whole space from floor to ceiling and ready to burst with tightly packed books.
Those were lined up neatly in the shelves but also stacked on every available surface, spread out on rickety tables, shoved under the antique couch and cushy armchairs, even balanced on the register…
It had already been mostly like this when Marco had bought it from the owner almost three years ago. Messy, but so very cozy.
The scent of dust and yellowing pages, of fresh ink and worn leather permanently hanging in the air.
Marco hadn’t changed much since he took over. Switched a few tables that were falling apart and added another armchair, started collecting all kinds of potted flowers and other plants and, of course, installed the kitty door in the back.
That way, Duchess, his gray tabby, was free to roam the shop as well as the small adjacent garden whenever she liked.
When the weather was nice enough, Marco opened the tiny patio so the customers could go outside and sit on the wooden chairs to read. Most of them came frequently, not always to buy something but to simply retreat for a while and Marco didn’t mind that. He even enjoyed having people curled up with books all over his shop, they made it feel more like home, somehow.
Besides, that way Duchess received a lot more pettings than she usually would. Despite her name she was very trusting and cuddly, always sneaking up on patrons and curling up on their laps if they let her. They mostly did.
She was half the reason they always returned to Bodt’s, after all. She lured people in all the time.
They saw her dozing between the books in the display – her favorite place, since the sun was always shining through the big windows – and came in to ask why she lived in a book store, of all things.
Marco always told them the same, she wasn’t. She actually lived back at his apartment a few streets over but wouldn’t stop trailing after him when he left for work. He saw no reason to lock her up all on her own if taking her with him was as easy and bothered no one.
A few weeks ago, Duchess had made a particularly outstanding friend. Usually she needed some time to warm up to new people but this one was definitely an exception.
He seemed to be an exception in a lot of things. The way he looked was … well, not exactly dangerous but at least a little intimidating. His lower lip alone was pierced in three places, several other piercings glinting in his ears and god only knew what he hid underneath that black leather jacket he always wore. His hair was styled into a messy undercut which he seemed to dye blond at the top and Marco couldn’t decide if it looked ridiculous or hot. But somehow it suited him.
The very first time he stepped into the store Marco had honestly wondered if he’d gotten lost or something. But Duchess had leaped down from the empty armchair she had slept in and rubbed up against his legs, purring and meowing softly.
That had earned her a very thorough petting, the stranger smiling warmly all the while until he’d noticed Marco watching him with a smile of his own. That had made him stop and practically flee the store.
He had come back nearly every day though, always in the late afternoon when it was relatively empty, and when he did Duchess came running from wherever she had hidden to greet him. He never bought anything, didn’t read either, just played with the cat for a while. Smiling reverently and sometimes even … giggling when she looked especially cute rolling around.
Marco had gotten better at pretending not to notice after the man left the first times he’d gotten caught. Usually he busied himself with unpacking newly shipped books or sorting through old stacks while sneakily watching that intimidating stranger play with Duchess.
After about two months of this, he decided to take action.
“You know…”, he hummed, taking a step towards the corner the stranger was kneeling in. He’d been petting the purring cat for quite a while now. The store was empty but for the two of them. And Duchess, of course. “She’s crazy about you. Has been from the start.” The man froze, then shrugged without turning around or looking up.
“She’s … she’s cool”, he muttered and slowly pulled his hand back from her. The cat made an unhappy gurgling noise at that.
“I mean it, I’ve never seen her practically climb someone as she does with you”, Marco said, voice soft and carefully taking another step forward. The other man got to his feet at his slow approach and turned around. He was a little shorter than Marco and looked … distressed, his fingers curling into loose fists at his sides, shoulders drawn up a little.
“Yes I…” He looked everywhere but at Marco, eyes flitting from the window over to the register and down at the cat now striding around his legs. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
Marco interrupted him softly: “No, it’s okay! You can come here whenever you want to, even if it’s just to play with Duchess. Actually, I’m pretty sure she’d be offended if you stopped now.”
The stranger’s eyes finally flicked up to meet his, there was a trace of a grin in them that didn’t quite make it to his lips yet. From up close he was even more handsome. Oddly charming, too, with that almost bashful expression.
“Her name’s Duchess? I’ve wondered…”, he trailed of, leaning down slightly to scratch at her ear which she gave a delighted purr at.
“You could’ve just asked.” Marco was smiling by now, honest and bright when it looked like the other was loosening up a little. Those amber eyes flitted away for a second again before he looked back at Marco and shrugged again, this time almost a relaxed gesture and a small smile on his lips.
“I was just about to go back and make some coffee. Would you like a cup?” It was only half a lie. He actually wanted to close up the store before he found the stranger sitting in the corner. But he didn’t want to throw him out, now that they finally had exchanged more than a careful greeting.
“I…” Again with that nervous flutter of eyes, shoulders hunching up again a little as he took a deep breath. “Yes.”
Marco hadn’t counted on the man actually agreeing but it made his chest flutter with delight. He was itching to get to know what was behind that tough exterior. Because somehow, that intimidating man who walked into his bookstore every day just to play with a cat and being incredibly shy about it … it was the most interesting thing that had happened in here for a while.
“I’m Marco”, he offered over his shoulders while already turning around and heading for the small kitchen. He just so saw the man bending down to pick Duchess up with impressive tenderness, the cat instantly curling into his chest as he held her close and set off to follow Marco. A relaxed, almost dopey smile spreading across his face as he nuzzled her.