Eleven

Grey hadn’t been sure she was going to make the date she’d agreed to. After Julian came out of his room, looking pale and worried, asking Teddy if he could give him a lift to the doctor’s this time, she’d wanted to go with them. But Julian promised that it was okay for her to go, that he didn’t want to be the reason she missed out on something that could prove to be a wonderful beginning for her.

Of course, he didn’t know about Shepherd but the fact that he was thinking about her kindly even though he was freaking out about his own situation meant more than she could even say. For that reason, she wanted this date to go well; she wanted to be able to give him some good news when he came out of the doctor, to distract him from whatever he was feeling.

Still, worry pervaded her every movement even as she made her way into the student center. Was Julian okay? What was the doctor saying? Could she even really have a good time when all she could think about was her best friend?

So distracted was she that she almost missed Alex when he started waving at her from the table she’d been sitting at when he’d spilled the soda in her lap. “Hey!” he called when it became clear she hadn’t immediately noticed him.

She turned towards him, plastering her smile on her face. “Hey,” she said.

“You okay?” Alex asked, frowning. “If you changed your mind, I totally get it. I was kind of an idiot.”

Grey made her smile a little more authentic. “No, no. It’s not that. I’m just…distracted. Tell me you have something fun planned?”

“I sure do,” Alex said. “At least, I hope it’ll be fun. I’ve uh…never had a date with such a pretty girl before.”

“Oh my god, is that the line you lead with?” Grey asked, laughing despite herself.

Alex shrugged, smiling bashfully at her. “It got you to smile, at least?”

“A pity smile, I tell you,” Grey declared. “Nothing more.”

“I’ll take it,” Alexian replied, then offered her his arm, “Shall we?”

“We shall. Where to first?”

“Well, since spilling a bunch of crap on your books is how we met, I thought maybe we could go to a used bookstore, see if we can find books you’ll actually like to replace them with,” he said. “Then, I’ve got us booked at a karaoke bar where we can grab a bite to eat—only the finest of junk foods—and then sing our hearts out. Fair warning though, I’ve got no singing abilities.”

Grey felt herself getting more and more excited as he described their night. It was her favorite things in a row: books, food, and music. She wondered how Alexian knew or if it was just a coincidence that he managed to think of all the best things.

His car was a beat-up old Cadillac with fuzzy dice in the mirror. “The early 90s called,” she teased, “The taxi driver from Fresh Prince of Belair wants his car back.”

“Hey, don’t judge me. I’m just a poor college student—the fuzzy dice were a splurge. Plus, the car’s haunted and the ghost is particular about his mirror accessories. He’ll throw a fuss if we try to move them now.”

“Ha ha,” Grey joked, but after living in Savannah her whole life and being intimately familiar with the paranormal, she wondered if that was true. As she climbed into the passenger side of the beat up old car, her nose detected even stronger hints of that strange frankincense smell she’d picked up on when she’d first met Alexian. “You must be really fond of frankincense. Did you try to exorcise your car?”

“You can smell that?” Alex asked, inserting his key into the ignition. It took a few tries before it finally started up with a loud grunt and a pop that Grey was fairly certain couldn’t be safe, but who was she to judge.

“I have a sensitive nose,” Grey said, used to talking about it by now. She found that nobody was likely to connect her to the supernatural if she was forthcoming about things and didn’t go to great lengths to hide it. They would just assume it was a part of her eccentric nature and thus completely normal. “My dad used to call it the ‘super sniffer.’”

Alex chuckled, pulling out of the parking lot. “That is too cute.”

“Shut up,” Grey said, smiling at him as well. “So, do you like to read?”

“I love to read,” Alex said. “I’m more into math, since I want to be an architect one day, but reading has always been a fun hobby of mine. I like the old myths and legends. And I’m also a big fan of non-fiction—biographies and stuff. I read a lot of them. Musicians are a particular interest of mine; I can’t sing, but I used to play guitar in a jazz band. What about you? What do you like to read?”

“Fantasy for sure,” Grey said. “I used to read a lot of manga when I was in high school. Never did see the appeal in non-fiction, though, unless it as a self-help or motivational book.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Alex joked. “Everyone is always ‘non-fiction is boring,’ but if you’re reading about exceptional people, I think it’s anything but boring.”

“Hm. Maybe I’ll give it a try some time,” Grey admitted. “Never let it be said I don’t try new things. Maybe you can even give me some recommendations.”

“I’d be happy to. I can even swing us by my place later and you can pick through my personal library—and don’t worry, I won’t try anything.” Alex grinned at her.

Grey scoffed. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Sounds like a challenge,” Alex replied, “But even if I wanted to, my roommate will be there and he’d definitely complain about me bringing a girl home for that. It’s in our ‘roommate agreement’ that we can only bring someone home with a week’s notice so plans can be made for the other to be out. You’re safe for the night.”

“Rats,” Grey joked. “I was looking forward to fending off your rakish attempts on my virtue.”

“Always next week,” Alex returned and Grey couldn’t help but laugh. “And we’re here.”

They pulled up to a small shop on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t a whole lot to look at, but Grey was immediately intrigued. The brick façade was framed by massive oak trees draped in Spanish moss, only one car parked out front. The parking lot was marked with pot holes, and the sign was so weathered that it was difficult to read. But she could see the cheery curtains through the one window on the front and could see a funky looking lamp inside.

“This is cute,” Grey said.

“And it has a surprisingly big collection too—everything from the occult to the latest in teen romance; you’ll love it. I…uh…kinda spend all my free time here.”

When they crossed the threshold into the store, a bell dinged announcing their presence. The smell in it was exactly the one she had identified when she first met Alex: frankincense and licorice.

“Yeah, no kidding. You smell just like this place,” she said, taking in the stacks of books all around. It had funny little genres marked on signs like ‘Strong Female™’ ‘Such Adventure,’ and ‘Hella Gay,’ which made Grey smile and think of her best friends.

“And that definitely goes in the book of weirdest things a date has ever said to me,” Alex teased about her comment on his smell. “What shall we look at first?”

The two of them spent hours in the bookstore, just flipping through the different books. They ultimately found their way to the ‘Shameless Smut’ section and read the ridiculous sex scenes out loud to one another in their most dramatic voices, which went in Grey’s list of ‘Top Ten Best Date Activities.’ Only their growling stomachs was enough to finally rouse them from their fun and they left without buying anything—somehow, she didn’t think the books would be as much fun when she read them in her own little room in her house, far from the quirky bookstore and the guy who had introduced her to it.

They made their way to the karaoke bar after that and Grey ate her weight in nachos and stole more than a few of Alex’s loaded French fries. They sang everything from Bohemian Rhapsody to Defying Gravity and then finished off with a cheerful rendition of Love Shack.

It was the most fun Grey could ever remember having on a date. So when their time in the karaoke bar came to a close, she didn’t want the night to end. “Do you still want to check out my personal library?” Alex asked, and Grey enjoyed the way he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and brought her closer to him without it feeling overbearing or uncomfortable at all.

“Of course,” she said. “How far is it to your place?”

“Not too far. We rent an old house by Kroger. It’s not the nicest place, or even a good neighborhood, but it’s home. And there’s plenty of room for my books.”

They clambered back into his car and drove the short distance to his place.

The house certainly was old, and Kroger was close enough that you could walk to it in a pinch. “Must come in handy, being so close to a store.”

“It is, especially when my old car won’t turn on, but it’s still a pain carrying all the bags from there to here.” Alex unlocked the door and Grey was immediately faced with a steep staircase. “Just right up through there and hang a right. Please ignore all the houseplants—he’s got a thing for succulents.”

Grey chuckled and took the lead up the stairs, feeling the oppressive weight of the old house. If Alex’s car wasn’t haunted, Grey was willing to bet the house was. Call it a woman, or a wolf’s, intuition.

There was also an oddly familiar smell, but it was drowned out by the smell of those succulents Alex had mentioned.

When she opened the door, however, she nearly toppled back down the stairs.

Standing there, watering one of his plants, was none other than Kol—their resident shapeshifting witch. “Kol?” Grey asked.

“Grey?” Kol asked.

“You two know each other?” Alex asked, and Grey sighed.

“I should have known this was too good to be true,” Grey said, glancing at Alex behind her. “You’re a bloody witch, aren’t you?”

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