Ash set her tea down on the table in front of the mystery man and plopped down in the chair across from him.
"Cool. Let's chat."
Ash smirked as the he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, slowly closed his book, and set it on the table between them.
"Okay... ," he said uncertainly, his voice muffled by his mask.
He waited expectantly for Ash to say something, but when she just looked at him as she blew on her steaming cup of tea, he realized she was waiting for him.
He swallowed, making his adam's apple bob up and down.
"Um...Do you like all of John Green's books? This is the first I have read."
Ash glanced down at the cover of his copy of Looking for Alaska and then back up at his eyes. She tried to imagine what his face looked like under his mask.
Despite her curiosity, she resisted the urge to ask him to take it off, instead taking a tentative sip of the piping liquid before responding.
She raised her eyebrows in surprise as the pleasant taste of the tea touched her tongue.
"Yeah, I read all of his novels pretty quickly. They aren't the happiest books ever, but I couldn't put them down. Even though they crushed my soul. Don't worry, I won't give you any spoilers.
As she grinned at him, he glanced down at the table where his hands rested, his long fingers intertwined, and his thumbs twiddled. He chuckled, and something deep in Ash's stomach tightened.
"Well I am ready for my soul to be...crushed," he said as his eyes smiled at her. "Do you like to read happier books? No, not happier.
I mean - I guess what I want to ask is if you like other book genres too."
Ash caught a glimpse of his blush's return as he struggled to piece his sentences together. It started at the tips of his ears, and then his neck became pink and splotchy.
"I do enjoy books that are happy and easy to read. You know...mindless romance novels. There are a lot of those out there. I like to read classics, too, though.
It took me a while to get through my Sherlock Holmes collection, but they're so good. Also, of course, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, etcetera."
His eyes widened as she spoke.
She paused to think about any other books she considered favorites, and then listed a couple sci-fi novels, some historical fiction, and a fun spiritual memoir she had read a few months prior.
As she excitedly listed books off, the boy narrowed his eyes in concentration. To Ash, it looked like he was trying to memorize everything she was saying.
Ash realized she was blabbering, and she snapped her mouth shut.
"Sorry, sometimes I talk too much."
She shot an apologetic grimace across the table at her new acquaintance, and he quickly shook his head.
"No, don't apologize. I don't get to talk about English books often. My friends...they don't read English. Well, they don't like to read much in Korean either. So, this is...nice."
He made eye contact with Ash again and this time his eyes were soft and shone with what she could tell was genuine interest in their conversation.
"You read a lot," he continued. "I wish I had more time for reading. There are so many books in so many languages, I wish I could read them all."
"I mean, when I was in college when I wasn't reading and writing for class, I was reading and writing for fun." She grimaced. "I don't get out much."
Ash's words suddenly reminded her of Drew. He always used to get annoyed with her when she wanted to stay at her apartment and read rather than go out to the bars on weekends.
"Why are you so laaaaaame, Ash?" He would whine.
She pushed the memory and frustration with her boyfriend to the back of her mind as the mystery man's eyes smiled again.
"I don't get out much either. We have that in common."
I wish I could see his face right now.
"We are both hermits and bookworms!" His eyes brightened at her exclamation. "I can only read English and Spanish, though, so I'm probably more limited than you," she quipped.
"How many languages do you know?"
"Oh, I only know Korean, English, and some Japanese. Then random phrases in a bunch of other languages...hola, bonsoir, guten tag, you know. So not much more than you.
That's great that you speak Spanish. How did you learn?"
Ash internally scoffed at his modesty. This guy's a smarty.
"My mom's side of the family only speaks Spanish, so I grew up bilingual."
Ash's thoughts drifted to her mom, Luz. She had come to the United States from Mexico in her early thirties.
Merely weeks after she moved into a one-bedroom apartment with Ash's aunt in Colorado, Luz met William, Ash's dad. A year and a half later, Ash was born.
Since then, Ash's mom had learned English, become the manager of a hotel she had started as housekeeping in, and left Ash's douche-bag father.
Her mom was her fiercest protector and greatest friend. I am going to miss her so much...
Ash hadn't realized that her face had fallen at his question, and he suddenly reached his hand out towards her.