The chime above the door rang and I shoved the book I was reading into my bookbag.
An inordinately handsome young man had walked in and was now leaning on my counter. He nodded to the backpack as I straightened up. “Whatcha reading?”
“Um… just something a friend leant me.” I didn’t want to admit what it was—one of the million YA paranormal books bracing the shelves these days, one of the very books that was driving up our clientele—it’s hard to find true love when everyone is obsessed with vampires and werewolves.
I cleared my throat. “Welcome to Other Dating. My name is Charity, how can I help you?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Charity? And are you an angel, Charity?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. I’d been hit on by an inordinate amount of Others in my time. It had long lost its ability to make me blush.
“Well, you had to ask, so that means you’re not a telepath or psychic. You can’t tell by smell so that rules out a whole slew of things…” I looked him his tall form up and down, long curly hair covering his ears. “I’m going to guess that you’re… an elf?”
He looked impressed. “And you’re a human.”
I gave him a tight smile. “Second try’s a charm.”
His name is Gabriel, and he doesn’t even try signing up for the dating service. Instead he spends every day that week coming in to chitchat with me as I work the front desk. He’s slender and elegant when he moves, and I pay him very little mind for the first three days.
But he’s actually kind of charming.
And he’s only – actually – twenty-three. For an other-worldly being that’s rare. Usually the ones that look young are unnaturals like vamps or something else that has halted their aging, or natural others who age so slowly that they look like they’re in their twenties but they’re really 312.
Elves, though… elves are a little different. They’re more human than most of the others. They’re just better than us at, well, basically everything. They’re graceful, they can play music and dance and make beautiful things. So talented you want to scream.
It’s why I stay away from Others in general. I just want a nice, normal guy who wants a nice, normal girl.
Except Gabriel starts bringing me tea. And not just any run of the mill tea. This has been sent to him by his grandmother and brewed in crystal clear river water and he brings it in a thermos and he brings two beautiful little ceramic cups to drink it from that look otherworldly indeed.
“And what would your grandmother think of you sharing your tea with a mortal girl.”
He laughed lightly. “She’s very fond of mortals, actually.” He looked like he might want to elaborate, but he held off, giving me an evaluating look that I sort of appreciate. His family was probably older than the Declaration of Independence, if not England, or the Greeks. Fair enough if he wanted to keep secrets for a later date.
“I’m not allowed to date any of the customers,” I tried.
“Ah but I’m not a customer,” he reminded me with a winning grin.
I opened my mouth to argue but I shut it again. The comeback came to me, too late. Who said it was a company policy. But I didn’t say it out loud.
Instead I said, “You did come in here to find someone to date, though, right?” There’s heat rising on the back of my neck and I can’t imagine what made me say it. I don’t think I’m even interested.
Gabriel bites back a smile and leans his head in assent.
“What’s stopping you, then?”
He raised his eyebrows at me, as if that’s obvious.
I took another sip of tea, feeling warmed through by the delicate mixture, and then a thought occurred to me, and I plunked my cup down harder than I mean to, spilling some of the precious elixir. “Wait. This tea isn’t enchanted or anything is it?”
Gabriel gave a full, warm laugh at that. “I’m not drugging you to fall for me,” he said, almost losing himself to chuckles again. “You know there’s a parliament act against that, right?”
Ah, the Parliament of Supernatural Species. My blush intensified as I realize I’d just implied I was enticing enough to break international law.
I recovered enough to say, “Who says I’m falling for you?”
He put his hand to his heart in a dramatic fashion, as if I’d wounded him. A (definitely human) girl filling out a questionnaire in the corner glared at me, probably because this is exactly the type of experience she was hoping to get out of signing up, and here I was scoffing at it.
Gabriel, to his credit, didn’t notice her at all.
“Well maybe if you let me get to know you outside of this fluorescent-lit foyer I might be able to sway you better.”
He had the tiniest bit of an accent. It was a lilting thing that was somewhere between Scottish high and British posh. I was still resenting the fact that my heart had started to ache in a funny way when I heard it.
And so, I let him.
He was charmingly excited the next day when he waited until the very end of my shift to pick me up—I hadn’t wanted to give an otherworldly creature my home address just yet.
He took me to a concert in the park, and then a bookstore, and I realized he’d been paying attention to my rambles at work because he silently picked up a new release from an author I’d mentioned maybe a week before and tucked it under his arm. It took the strength of ten women to not visibly flutter.
My favorite part, though, was when he fluttered through the magazine stands, gently mocking the covers. “Who stands like this?” He asked, holding up a bodybuilding magazine with a half-naked man on the front, chest thrust out and looking balefully down his face behind a thrust-up chin, his arms twisted disgracefully behind him. “Tell me, Charity, is this anything like appealing?” He waved the cover near my face and I couldn’t help it. I laughed.
He grinned like he’d won the sun.
We left the bookshop and wandered down the street to a Coldstone, where Gabriel’s lithe figure looked absolutely wrong under too-bright lights, but we bought a cone each and scattered back into the night.
“What I don’t understand,” I said, as we slowly made our way back to Other Dating HQ, “is why you picked me in the first place.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, as if he didn’t know very well. “I was looking for love, remember?” he said, and the word made my heart perform some sort of trick that felt strange. That was too big a word to talk about. We barely knew each other.
We reached the building, looking odd in the full dark of night, and I leaned against the expanse of the glass windows I was usually stuck on the other side of, looking at him expectantly. In the yellow streetlight he didn’t look quite so otherworldly as he did sometimes, and I was surprised at how I didn’t mind how close he was standing to me. Generally I preferred a bubble of protective space between me and people I didn’t know so well. Maybe he was bewitching me in some subtler, more intoxicating way. Some real way.
I pressed my eyes shut for a moment and focused. “But what stopped you from just signing up for the service? When you first got here,” I gestured vaguely towards the sign somewhere above my head.
The silence lasted a long moment, and when I turned back to him I was surprised to find a mischievous, somewhat abashed look crossed his face. “I… never really intended to sign up for the service.”
I raised a curious eyebrow at him to encourage him to go on.
And there was a blush. Or something like it. “I saw you on the street that morning before your shift started. Reading so intently. I was just passing along. I didn’t know there was such a thing as an Other Dating service. And you finished your pastry and your latte and even, if I remember, disentangled yourself from a dog who’d gotten away from its owner and wrapped itself around your leg. All without looking away from your vampire romance.”
At this, my face burned hot red, and there was that full laugh of his, so warm it almost made me forget how embarrassed I was. I thought I’d been so stealthy that first day, hiding my book. I’d stuck to mysteries and classics and biographies after that. And then my eyes widened. “Wait, so you saw me reading that book, and then you saw that I worked… here. And then…”
He nodded, chuckling lightly. “I thought I’ve got to meet this girl who’s so completely obsessed with Others. I probably shouldn’t admit it but I was expecting to have the tiniest bit of fun at your expense.” He raised up his hands, palms out. “But it was before I knew you! And the moment we spoke… well. You were not what I was expecting at all. You were clever and sarcastic and going to school for art history, of all the lovely, useless endeavors.”
I opened my mouth to say it wasn’t useless at all, but I could see the tease in his eyes. His expression sobered a little then, and there was even a little tightness in his eyes. “So is that enough?”
I narrowed my gaze at him. “Is what enough?”
“Is that enough to justify me wanting to get to know you… wanting to take you out?”
The hesitant look on his face was all new to me, and it was maybe the most charming thing I’d seen yet.
I chewed my lip, pretending to consider the offer but really just relishing the feeling of the moment. When he gave the tiniest, most attractive groan I’d ever heard, I laughed, lightly. “Yes. It’s enough. And I think you ought to try it again sometime. Soon.”