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“If size really matters, I’m in trouble.”
Riley set in place the last of the new shipment of fairy figurines she’d been shelving and turned to the customer who had spoken behind her, a practiced smile of welcome readied for him.
The smile froze on lips gone stiff. And for one insane moment Riley thought sure the fairies at her back were not the dainty bits of ceramic they appeared to be but evil sprites come to life. How else could she account for whatever nasty spell had materialized the blast from the past standing three feet away and grinning at her like he figured she’d find him irresistible, and, really, why not?
Bren Reynolds, as she lived and breathed. Come back to mock her.
He dangled before him one of her better sellers — a T-shirt with a caricature of Bigfoot she’d drawn herself, a caption beneath it stating: Size Matters. “I don’t think I can compete,” he said, jiggling the shirt at her, that grin he’d once aimed at any female over the age of twelve lighting a face little changed from the near-man who’d come and gone out of her life a decade before. His face was maybe a little fuller. Paler too, the tone no longer a surf boy tan. His hair was different as well — a darker shade of blond than she remembered. Still though it was that wild of overlong locks she had once thought made him look like a cherub turned rogue — every high school girl’s image of the perfect Bad Boy.
Her own image of him not quite so perfect, she resisted with difficulty an urge to grab the nearest heavy object and throw it at him. Instead, she gave him a look up and down, playing it all Ms. Cool and Unimpressed as she shrugged and said, “You can always take up knitting.”
His grin stretched wider, reminding Riley of just how long it had been since a good-looking and unattached male had flirted with her — or even wandered into her store totally oblivious to her presence there. Unless she counted the one guy the week before who’d offered to show her where aliens had implanted a homing device in him.
“You must be Riley Dare,” he said.
Obviously he didn’t remember her. And really, why should he? She’d only sat in the desk ahead of him in World History for all four of the months they’d shared their senior year and had even trounced him soundly in the one debate in which they’d been pitted against each other.
She shot out a hand to a heavy resin statue of Gandalf. No sooner though did she tighten her hold on it than she relaxed it. Another customer could come in at any moment, and she didn’t think she’d be able to pass a bloody corpse off as just another oddity for sale.
She straightened Gandalf, as if she’d only been tidying a bit, and assumed a tone of boredom as she said, “Got it in one.”
He lowered the shirt, and that grin of his eased into a smile that invited her to share in some joke private between them. Making the joke plain, he said, “I have to say, you’re not what I expected when my aunt told me about this place.” He waved a hand that took in not only Gandalf surrounded by a cadre of fairies, but Imagine’s entire stock of the fanciful and decidedly odd.
“Oh?” Riley said, like she had better things to do but was too mindful of a potential sale to go do them. “What did you expect?”
“A tin foil hat for one thing.”
“It’s in the shop. The messages from Mars had gone a bit staticky.”
Ten years later, and nothing had changed. She was still a joke to him.