Open Mired in Abandoned Books
Word was spreading like a fire through the graveyard. So far, Mr. Knot seemed to have successfully kept it from reaching town … but Zechariah would always wonder when he saw smoke bearing from the north.

Or ‘smoke’ from the south, in his latest miscalculation.

His eyes flicked up as he took hold of a glittering book spine. Either this bookshop keeper was not aware of whom Oscar Wilde was, or... Zechariah carefully slid the book out and settled against a window between shelves. Blocking the view in, he peeled off a glove and flipped open The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The place was crowded, there were too many books to pile in that it would have been a mess had she not put in the money to get extra shelves. Each aisle was one person wide, and heaven forbid a large man decide to come in. Because it was so crowded and quiet, whenever a person arrived, Lydia knew. Whether it was the tinkle of the bell or the mew of her black and white cat when it noticed the guest.

She had been sitting behind the counter, with her back to the room as she relaxed her feet on a table and was almost napping but not unconscious. Giving the person time to settle in, and noticing they didn't seem to be moving, she got to her feet.

Lydia slipped down each row, careful of any creaking step and then snuck up on him with a smile. "Enjoying?"
The bell hanging above the door jingled as it swung open, and an unfamiliar face entered. It belonged to a slim man of average height, with a well-groomed mustache and pince-nez spectacles, dressed in a clerical vest and frock coat. He glanced about for some sign of the owner and, finding none, began his trip down the narrow aisles.

Reverend Grain has always felt at home in amongst the stacks, whether at Oxford or at his parents' home in Staffordshire, so it only made sense to accustom himself to his new home's nearest bookseller. "Not a soul in sight," he said to himself. Frederick cleared his throat, to make his presence better known. Of course, after peering down a row he found company quickly.

"Pardon me, Miss, but would you know where the owner might be?" He didn't move to touch her, keeping his hands folded in front of himself respectfully. His smile brought out dimples in his cheeks.
Zechariah took a moment to finish his page and flip before looking up to the woman in front of him. By then, the door had cheerily jangled the announcement of a newcomer. He did not initially get a good look at him past the woman, or past the book even.

He took the interruption to take a calling card from his pocket and use it as a bookmark.
Lydia eyed the man, he was a very fancy figure. She tilted her head to the side and smiled stepping close to get in the man's personal space. She certainly had no interest, but she was annoyed by his words.

"What if I were to tell you this is my shop? What do you wish to speak to me about?"

Her arms folded though she didn't attempt intimidation with her smaller figure. She simply blocked the one way from the aisle as her head tilted up to look at him.
Reverend Grain's smile wasn't dampened by his misstep. Instead, he dipped his head and chuckled quietly. "My sincerest apologies, Miss. I've only just arrived in Madsmoor quite recently, so please, forgive me my presumptions." He stood up to his full height, smoothing out his vest. He didn't stand too much taller than Lydia. "I'm Reverend Grain, the parish's new assistant curate. I understand Reverend Cotswell is enjoying his new position very much." From what the parish priest told him, the former deacon of Madsmoor moved on to greener pastures when he realized the rector didn't intend to retire any time soon.

Frederick took a step back, hoping to put some distance between the two of them. Women are much less familiar to him than books. The sparse few inches of height he did have over her afforded him a view of the other customer's hair. His smile grew. "As assistant curate, I'm responsible for pastoral care in the village, so I thought I ought to meet the village, as it were. Besides that, I'm rather fond of books, and you have quite the selection!" He tried to get a better look at whoever it was behind her, inclining his head to the right.
Zechariah smirked and looked back down to his book. Reverend. Lovely. He was not well acquainted with the rate of reverends being moved about, but some fellow was sent out here of all places.

He glanced up again when he heard a step back, bowler cap concealing some, but not all of his rather telltale curls.

“Excellent selection,” Zechariah said, gaze flitting up to the woman as though to meet her earlier challenge. “Books you would hardly find elsewhere.”

His English was crisp and practiced, but still had telltale emphases that suggested it had been a boat rather than train to get this far.
Eager to meet yet another potential parishoner, Frederick leaned around the proprietor and caught sight of the title in the other gentleman's hand. His eyebrows rose, but otherwise, his expression remained the same. "Why, I should say! I would hardly expect to find Wilde in Madsmoor!" He held out his hand to receive the book in question, opening its front cover and drawing his hand along the edge of the first page. "A fascinating tale, really. I've only ever read it in Lippincott's. How does this version compare?"
Lydia held up a hand as she glanced towards the books casually. "You are forgiven Reverend I should be nice since I shall be seeing more of you I'm certain. Hope you find your place to fit in this town." She saw the two look at each other and her lips curled up slightly, so she stepped back for them to speak and leaned against a towering book case.

"Yes, this collection was built over an entire life time. Some are quite rare, I believe. Enjoy looking, and I do take offers."

She bowed to them slightly before moving to slip behind the Reverend, taking enjoyment in his obvious discomfort by her closeness.
Content Warning: Derogatory gay term.

Zechariah’s lips pushed to the side when the rather blatantly irreverent young woman passed too close to the reverend. His eyes trailed when he finally caught a full glimpse of him, which might have just looked like sizing up were he not also clutching an infamous sodomite’s most controversial book.

“It is difficult to say,” he shrugged, passing the book to him with his calling card still inside. “Mr. Wilde had yet to serve prison then, and I cannot say it was especially memorable absent of that.”

Apparently it was still memorable enough to remember something published in 1890.

“What did you make of it, Mr. Grain?”
"It's a wonderfully intriguing take on the duality of man," he said, leafing through it casually. When he reached the ersatz bookmark, he slipped it out with care. "Of course, I was only a boy when it was first published. Much more thrilling then than it might be now, I suppose."

Frederick's posture didn't weaken under the other man's gaze. In fact, it only seemed to prompt him to stand taller. Slight of build but strong of features, he adjusted his spectacles to best read the calling card he had been presented. "Zechariah Meijer!" His mustache twitched as he let out a short, soft laugh. "Not one of my charges, then." Pausing, he looked up from the card to its former owner, and tittered. His fingers twitched nervously on its surface. "Are you a recent arrival as well, sir?" Frederick had heard such awful things out of Russia that he would not be surprised if Meijer had come here intending to escape a much worse situation.
“Some interests wane with time.”

Zechariah smirked when Grain stood taller. He folded his hands before himself, watching closely as he read the card.

ZeCHar-iah Mire,” he corrected offhandedly with a Hebrew emphasis, though his gaze was unmoving from Grain.

There was something satisfying about watching him suddenly squirm.

“Not particularly,” he drawled. “Where are you from?”
"From Oxford most recently," he said, slipping the card into the book once more, "but Staffordshire, originally. And yourself?"

Frederick drew closer, closing Dorian Grey's adventures so he could focus on one of his own. "I do hope you don't mind my asking. As I said before, I consider it my duty to get to know the inhabitants of the village. In the same vein-- what is your business, Mr. Meijer?" His pronunciation was better the second time around. "Unless I've missed it, your card doesn't happen to say."
He could give a vague answer – brush it off and leave the Reverend guessing. He considered doing so and being on his way, with this Wilde-eyed fellow left in his dust. But then his eyes found the curvature of Grain’s nose upon an otherwise unblemished face, and latched onto the ponderance of whether it were a vestige of Oxford or Staffordshire.

“Greater London, mostly,” he answered, and there was the slightest of pauses. “Prague, originally.”

When Grain grew closer in already cramped quarters, a faint red rose to Zechariah’s cheeks. Though wittier responses would haunt him on the morrow, his mind instead chose to preoccupy itself with the color of Grain’s eyes.

“Astute,” he murmured with a smirk, in part to buy himself a moment. “Those who need know already do. The rest are merely fortunate.”

Broader of form than the bookshop’s owner, Zechariah would be unable to pass Grain without squeezing by. Instead, he put his hands on Grain’s shoulders and pushed – more suggestion than force – his back toward the books to make room. He was up against the Reverend, now – polished shoes between his feet. The heady smell of orange cologne filled the air.

“I find it rather queer, Mr. Grain, how quickly a curiosity can grow into a hard-to-break habit.”

And then he was stepping past him, still windblown-red in the face and yet as cocky as a cat with a canary in the mouth.

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