Flash: Pickup Line

Books being created by computer
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Hey, come here often?”

Debb looked up from the book covers she was perusing at the remodeled book store. The guy was cute in a geeky way. Thin glasses propped on his hawkish nose. Trimmed sides with a flop on top reminiscent of childhood shaves in the Southern boys get each summer. An overlarge T-shirt proclaiming the supremacy of RetroBand, hung past his waist over black jeans. Hiking boots prepared him just in case a mountain suddenly sprouted in the shopping center. He only had one visible ink, on the back of his hand. She couldn’t make out the runes. She liked his smile.

“No, just had to see the new store. Don’t have them yet out in Shelby.”

The man looked around the modernized store. Amelie’s coffee, a favorite of the chain, remained up front, though the worn leather seats had been replaced. Nearly everything else had been changed a couple months ago. The book shelves where slimmer with all the covers facing out. Only one cashier station was up front to take care of people buying stuff. Thanks to the Replicator-Source model, less clutter filled the aisles. Even so, little keychains, games, and T-shirts seemed to outnumber the shelf space reserved for books in the bookstore. The main concession to the bookstores official purposes were the two B&N replicators which took credit and spat out actual books, plus an eBook browsing station.

“Is that a good or bad thing?” The guy wiped his hand on his jeans before offering it. “Cameron.”

“Debb.” She shook hands. “I don’t know yet. Book prices don’t seem different, but I like the fact I can still touch something. I end up doing most of my shopping on-line now and, for speed sake, I usually just download to my tablet. I miss being able to actually hold a book.”

Cameron’s straight teeth became visible as he gave her a huge grin. “Me too. Had to go with a tablet since I moved out of my parents and got my own place, but there is just something about ink and paper.”

“Absolutely.” She agreed. “I read differently when I got a real book. I flip ahead, and go back. I set it down for a quick run to the bathroom, lay it on my chest to contemplate a scene, put it on a shelf and then pick it up again later to open to a favorite section. My tablet, I just read it front to back and am done. I don’t know why I even bother to keep books on the tablet when I am through. I think I have gone back to only one book once I was done reading.”

“Aside from school work, which I am so glad I don’t have to lug around my electronic manuals, I avoid reading eBooks. Pleasure reading is one hundred percent a paper experience.” Cameron saw a slight frown on her face. “Not that eBooks are bad. They are great – manuals need constant updating and upgrading and I don’t have to worry about that at all. I just like my fun reading to feel like fun. – Huh, what do you like to read for fun?”

Debb nodded at the section they were in. “Science Fiction, obviously, then fantasy, poetry, mystery, romance, thriller. Pretty much if they have a section in the store, I will read it.”

Cameron picked up a cover-one. To save on money and space, books stores with replicators where printing covers and the first chapter of books and placing them on the shelves. Saved in shipping full books and still let people who wanted to touch books still have something to hold while they think about buying. The really popular books, printed as cover-threes, were near the coffee shop. Marketing figured if you got through three chapters with your coffee, you were hooked enough to meander over to the browsers or replicator and pick up a full copy. The rest of the store was for serious readers looking for suggestions.

“Do you like any of these?” Cameron asked as he put the cover-one back.

Turning back to the shelf, Debb looked at the covers again. “Thinking about a Weber, he is always good and I love Asimov returning to his proper prominence on the shelves. Have you heard of Kagan or Hartness?

“John Hartness is a South Carolina writer like David Weber, newer. Mostly fantasy fiction along the lines of Shawn of the Dead and World’s End – urban fantasy comedy – his Bubba the Monster Hunter books are classics – but since 2018 he has tried his hand at sci-fi a couple times.” Cameron picked up Janet Kagan’s Mirable. “While he is great if you want something silly, Kagan is an unacknowledged master. She only got out three books before her death, but each one is fantastic. I think her Uhura’s Song is the best of the Star Trek series. The other two are completely her own universe.”

“I haven’t read a good comedy in a while, but Kagan sounds interesting.” Debb plucked the Mirable cover-one out of Cameron’s hands.

“If you can afford the time, why don’t I go find the Bubba Omnibus and buy that for you, plus a coffee?”

No guy had ever bought a book for her before. A few had tried to buy her drinks while she was out with friends. They never got anywhere. Half-drunk people don’t have interesting conversations. The book version was much more appealing. Intrigued, Debb said yes.

Cameron made his way to the Fantasy section, while Debb headed to the front with the cover-one in hand. Inserting Mirable back down in the scanner, the B&N replicator lifted the details. Debb then placed her left hand on the sensor. The screen popped up asking which credit or debit provider was to be used. She ran through the options, pleased to see her credit card had a lower balance than she remembered when her account information was verified. She approved the transaction, choose the paperback with normal print option, and the replicator started slushing material out of the source module.

Waiting for the replicator to finish, she watched Cameron start the other replicator going. He swiped with an actual credit card. Some people were deep old school, while she debated getting the injected chip with her credit and medical links built in. The medical was the real selling point. If a bad accident broke off her medic alert bracelet, her aspirin allergy could be deadly.

A soft bell heralded the satisfying thump of a book landing in the completed area. Debb moved the cover-one to the filing cart for a clerk to return to the shelves. Then she joined Cameron as he waited for his book to be ejected.

“I prefer bubble tea.” Debb leaned against the machine. “Amelie’s coconut cream boba is to die for.”

Cameron gazed up at her. “Never tried it – sounds interesting.”

“Shall I go order two while you finish?”

“Sure, and pick out something to eat if you want.”

Debb sauntered over to the coffee stand, considering the pastry selection. She had a free afternoon, and if the guy was interested in food as well as drink, he had free time too. Could be a fun afternoon. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Cameron approach. Could be a fun evening as well, the guy was really cute, and, so far, not a single slurred joke. Maybe she should hang out in bookstores more.

(words 1,246 – first published 9/25/2013)