The boy who’d hit her backed up from the curb and stared resolutely across the street at something. His mother hissed a warning and he stepped backwards without even looking. His backpack collided with the shoulders of a man heading toward the shelves.
“Watch it goddammit.”
The words came out on a rich baritone growl. “I don’t what the hell you’re toting in there, bricks or something maybe, but if you hit me with it again…”
“Roger!” the clearly alarmed mother grabbed the perpetrator with one hand, her youngest with the other and began marching down the street. The father and other kids followed her outraged figure. Lillian stifled a laugh.
Blue eyes met her brown ones. He gave her an affable little nod. “I know it was rude but I’m tired of being run over by those tourists.”
She nodded, “I was just thinking the same thing and I don’t blame you. He hit me with it too and it really did feel like he’d packed bricks in there.”
His smile got wider. “What are you looking for?”
She looked back at the shelves and pressed her lips closed over the words, “A date,” that wanted to come barreling out of his mouth. “Oh I don’t know. I have my favorites. Joyce, Chaucer. Stephen King and Nora Roberts.”
“That’s pretty eclectic.” There was an undercurrent of amusement in his tone.
She grinned. “I was going to throw a few more in there but, you know.”
His chuckle was warm and rich like hot fudge. His hair was a dark brown shot through with silver and, best of all, he didn’t have a phone or anything else stuck to his ears.
They began to peruse the shelves. The warm sunshine drifted down from the sky and the tops of the buildings. He spoke again, very softly. “I’ve seen you here before I think.”
Her smile was genuine. “I come a lot. I may have seen you as well.” She wasn’t sure but it was possible after all.
He gave her another of those warm smiles. The little nets of wrinkles around his eyes deepened when he smiled and a throb hit her heart. “I’m Charlie.”
He held out a hand and she took it. “Lillian. It’s nice to meet you.”
Back to browsing. Lillian hadn’t missed his empty fingers or the way his hand made a little thrill shoot through her. She cleared her throat. “You live in the city I take it?”
“I do. In Yorkville.”
“Oh! That’s my neighborhood. I will admit I considered moving when they started construction on the subway.”
He nodded. “I did too but I have a rent control apartment and a landlord who’s been trying to get me out for twenty years. I stay on for sheer spite at this point.”
Her laughter was deep, from the belly. “I have to admit it, if my husband and I hadn’t bought back in the eighties when they were first converting our place into a co-op I’d be struggling to find a rent control place as we speak. I can’t believe how much rent’s gone up!”
“You’re married?” The disappointment in his voice made her heart skip a beat. “I’m a widow. As of three years ago.”
Three very long years. Most of her friends had drifted away to Florida over the last few years, there or some other warm weather haven for retires that she was sure she would be bored utterly senseless in.
“I understand.” His voice was slightly gruff. “I lost my wife eighteen months ago.”
The shared experience hung between them. She asked, softly, “So you’re alone now?”
He scratched his head. “Yes. Well, except for that goddamn cat.”
Lillian blinked. “You have a cat?”
He laughed again. “No, I have a courtyard at my place, a tiny little thing, and there’s this cat that lives back there. I gave up trying to run it off years ago because it, like me, stays on just to be spiteful.”
“I like cats.” She did, she just hadn’t gotten around to getting one after the last one had passed away a few years before her husband had. She decided to change the subject. “Are you still working?”
He nodded. “I am. I’m a professor up at Columbia. How about you?”
“I’m a nurse.”
“So still working.”
“Absolutely. I love my job. They’ll have to wheel me from the floor to the morgue I guess. Sorry, that was gruesome. Nurse’s joke.”
He chuckled again. “Not so very gruesome. I teach microbiology and virology. I have seen things that would blind the average person.”
They stood there. Lillian didn’t quite know what else to say, or what to do. She was interested and hoping he could see that but she had long since forgotten how to go on a date, or read the signals from a man.