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ONE 

I tucked the roll of tape into my pocket and stepped away from the wall, looking up at the words I had cut from construction paper the night before. The blue letters that spelled "Staff Picks" stood out against the library wall's cream paint, making an eye-catching header for our display. My choice of I Capture the Castle was prominently placed between Hillary's The Poisonwood Bible and Melanie's The Hunger Games. The other employees hadn't turned in their picks yet, and I had no doubt I'd have to hunt them down before the day was over. 

I took a moment to run through my favorite scenes in my mind. 

I am Cassandra Mortmain. I don't mean that literally-my name is Addie Preston, but every time I pick up my own dog-eared copy of I Capture the Castle, I'm sitting in the kitchen sink with the main character, feeling everything she feels. We're the same person, only in two different dimensions. I swoon over Simon, I get irritated with Neil, I envy Rose's beauty and charm. I have to pull myself back to my own reality with force at the end of the story because I've lived it so fully, so completely, as I read. 

I reached up and pressed the lower part of the "S" more firmly against the wall, hoping the tape was strong enough to keep the letters in place. 

"Let me guess. You are Cassandra Mortmain." 

I didn't recognize the voice. I grasped the hem of my shirt and tugged it down a little, then turned to face the speaker. A tall young man leaned up against one of the bookcases, his arms crossed over his chest, looking a little Abercrombie and Fitch with the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled to his elbows. He looked about twenty-six or twenty-seven. He was really cute, too, and I wondered if my hair was still good. It had turned out exceptionally well that morning, but you never know what might have happened to it between home and school and work, with all the wind and stuff. Then I registered what he'd said. "What do you mean?" 

"I know your type. You probably put yourself in the shoes of the heroine in every book you read." He quirked an eyebrow. "You imagine you're right there with her, feeling everything she feels, going through everything she goes through. I bet you're even in love with Simon." 

Heat rose in my face. "Who are you?" Had I thought he was good-looking? It was probably time to get my eyes checked. I took a step closer, unable to hide my irritation. "And do you always go into your public library and insult the workers?" 

"My name's Blake Hansen. I'm the new guy." 

The new guy? As in, the new guy who was hired to work here, in the library, with me? The one we were told was coming, but weren't told he was going to be an arrogant snob? "I see." I took a moment to compose myself. "So, as the 'new guy,' what book would you like to place on the Staff Picks shelf?" 

He turned and disappeared among the stacks. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, then opened them when I heard him return. He held up a copy of Dune. 

"Frank Herbert?" He hadn't really struck me as a sci-fi nerd, but then I suppose you can't really pick them out in a crowd, unless you're at a sci-fi convention and they're dressed like Klingons or something. 

"You are guilty of underestimation." He stepped forward and added his book to the wall. "This is the greatest science-fiction novel of all time. It won the 1966 Hugo, and it received the very first ever Nebula Award. Haven't you read it?"  

"No," I hedged, not wanting to say I'd rather stick my pinkie finger into a pencil sharpener. "There are so many books to read-" 

"And so little time," he finished for me. "You should give it a try. You might like it." He glanced at the wall, then at me. He raised an eyebrow, the same one he'd quirked. "I bet you have a real-life Simon tucked away somewhere. An older man, someone you're secretly in love with, but who thinks of you as a cute little sister . . ." He trailed off.  

My face felt like it was on fire. I moved to duck around him, but he stretched out his arm and rested his hand on the opposite bookshelf, effectively blocking my path. "I should get to know all the employees here, don't you think? What makes them tick, and so forth?" 

"We're not having this conversation." I pushed against his arm with my shoulder. 

Blake dropped his arm but said, "You should read Dune. It won't fill your head with silly romantic ideas." He turned and walked away, threading a path toward nonfiction and large print. 

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Paul Ruddas Blake

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