It's All Geek to Me
Jez is on a mission of mercy: to replace a tragically deceased comic book for his injured best mate, Tel. Venturing into the Hidden Asteroid bookstore in London—the temple of geekdom itself—Jez is bowled over by the guy behind the counter.
Rhys is the poster boy for hot geeks: tall, gorgeous, and totally cool. Jez is desperate to impress him, so he bluffs his way through comic book jargon . . . and then dashes back to the hospital to beg Tel to teach him how to speak Geek.
Tel’s happy to oblige, and Jez is over the moon when Rhys asks him out. He’s even more thrilled when they discover a shared love of rugby, something he won’t have to fake for Rhys. The question is, how long can Jez keep up the deception, and what will happen when Rhys realizes he’s going out with a Fake Geek Guy?
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Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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I was pretty sure I’d come to the right place. There weren’t many other shops in the West End with windows full of Daisies vs. Ghouls merchandise. Or a life-sized model of the Mothman crouching on a fake chimney top just inside the door. I squared my shoulders, smoothed down my sweater, and stepped into the Temple of the Geek. Otherwise known as the Hidden Asteroid bookstore in London.
I hadn’t been sure what to expect—lots of weird eternal virgins with glasses, if I’m totally honest—but there was a pretty fit bloke standing behind the counter. If you can judge from a back view, which, I’m going to go with you totally can. Even though I could only see his top half. There was something about the way those shoulders filled out his black T-shirt, and he had well nice arms. He was tall, too, unless he was standing on a box there. Course, he’d turn round and he’d have a face full of acne. Or goofy teeth, or something. Sod’s law.
I mean, it’d be nice to think I might get some kind of reward for this little errand of mercy, but Karma and me just aren’t that chummy, more’s the pity.
It was all my mate Tel’s fault I was here. Well, to be fair, not so much his fault as the fault of the idiot in the BMW who’d slammed into his bike on the A10. Not only had the resulting pile-up trashed Tel’s legs and smashed his vintage Norton Commando, it’d claimed the life of his newest, unread comic book. Its virgin pages were now scattered to the four winds, or maybe lining the nests of all those crows that hang around dual carriageways like vultures waiting for roadkill.
So Tel had asked me, his best mate, to replace it.
I’d frowned at him, languishing in his hospital bed with scaffolding all round his legs like a beardy cyborg. That was going to put a serious crimp in his sex life, poor bastard. The scaffolding, I mean. Not the beard. I’ve never really seen the attraction of snogging a Brillo pad myself, but it never seemed to put the ladies off Tel. Dunno how he does it. Maybe it’s that West Country accent of his—he lures ’em in with his long, drawn-out Rs and the promise of scrumpy.
“What if I get the wrong thing?” I’d protested. “I mean, I don’t know one comic book from the other. You’re going to be a bit pissed off if I come back with The Beano.”
“Come on, Jez. All you’ve got to do is walk in, say hello to the lad behind the counter—or the lady, as might be—and ask for issue number three of The Amazing Translucio, Uncanny Secrets variant. Easy, right? I’d do it myself, but well . . .” Tel had given an eloquent wave at the Meccano sets on his legs. “Not really up to the walking in bit right now.”
It’d given me an idea. “Hey, you know what we should do, right? We get a nine volt battery, and one of those little electric buzzers, and connect you up, and you can play that wiggly wire game on your leg frames.”
Tel had pursed his lips. It’d looked a bit weird in the middle of all that face fungus. Then: “Nah. Wire’s not wiggly enough. Wouldn’t be a challenge. But cheers for the thought, mate.”
Poor old Tel. Still, at least he hadn’t gone to feed the crows.
Back in the here-and-now, I opened my mouth to speak to the guy behind the counter—and then he turned round to face me, and I totally forgot what I’d been about to say. He was gorgeous. He had, like, cheekbones you could cut your teeth on, a strong jaw, and really cool hair. So dark it was almost black, flat on the sides of his head and gelled up on top into a sort of ridge. Mohawk? Fauxhawk? Pigeon hawk? Some kind of bird, anyway. The stubble on his chin wasn’t so much designer as I’m way too hip to shave, and his deep-set brown eyes pierced right through my scratchy wool sweater to the suddenly pounding heart beneath.
Maybe X-ray vision was one of the perks of working in the superheroes’ spiritual home? I wondered if Hot Hawk could fly, too. Or had super strength, or super stamina, or . . .
“You all right there?” he asked, in smooth, gently mocking tones.
I realized my mouth was still hanging open and shut it, quick. Then I remembered I was supposed to be asking him something and opened it again. “Translucio. I mean, Amazing. He is. Uncanny.” Okay, so maybe attempting to speak hadn’t been the best move I’d ever made.
Hot Hawk’s lips curved into a slow smile. Oh, God. That was it—that was his superpower, right there. Seducto Smile. Bloody hell, it was fiendishly effective. I smiled back helplessly.
Uh-oh. Something was wrong. The smile was down to Mach 3. No, wait, that was a speed. What did you measure brightness with? Right. Lumens. Down to three Alluremens, then. Had I missed something? Something he’d said? I blinked rapidly and tried to divert a small portion of the brainpower currently basking in his physical perfection into listening to what he was saying.
“Sorry—my sister’s always telling me I don’t speak clearly.” He was apologizing? What the hell for? He was perfect. “I said, it’s a great series, isn’t it? But we’re not going to get issue four in until next week. Sorry about that.”
“Three,” I told him sincerely, gazing into those dark, mysterious eyes. He had earrings in both ears, the sort with holes in that stretch your lobes out. God, that was impressive. If anyone tried to pierce any of my skin, let alone stretch it out to take rings you could fit a finger through, I’d probably keel over and faint. And then cry like a little baby.
“Oh, you’re after issue three? Not a subscriber, then?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean . . .” I wasn’t sure what I meant, so I shut up about it. “Um, it’s a replacement? The other one had an accident. A car accident. Not any other kind of accident.” I didn’t want him thinking I’d peed on it or something. Or, oh God, was one of those guys who were really into superheroes and had had a wank over it and stuck the pages together.
Then again, working in here, maybe he was that sort of bloke himself? “Not that I think there’s anything wrong with it,” I said quickly.
Seducto Smile’s eyebrows were edging towards his hairline. “With . . .?”
I swallowed. “Nothing. Comic books. Love ’em. So . . . Translucio?”
“It’ll be downstairs. Kelly, can you man the till for a mo?” he called out to a rack of T-shirts with a weird blob on the front calling itself a Blerch.
A Goth girl in a lacy miniskirt and ripped tights poked her heavily made-up face out from behind a Blerch. “You off on your break, then? Ooh, haven’t met this one before. In’t ’e sweet? Blond hair, blue eyes, and all. Where’d you find him?”
Seducto Smile shook his head, his evenly tanned cheeks turning a bit pink. It made me feel a bit better about the way my face was suddenly radiating heat like a three-bar electric fire. Yep, if I was a superhero, I’d be Blushman. Costume: a bright pink pair of saggy underpants. Socks with suspenders. And sandals.
“Kelly, he’s a customer. We’re going downstairs for a Translucio book, all right?” He came out from behind the counter, giving me my first look at his lower half. “I’m really sorry about that,” he said to me. “Bit of an overactive imagination, our Kelly. I’m Rhys, by the way.”
I tore my eyes away from his (firm, delicious, meaty) lower half, hoping he hadn’t noticed me staring. “Jez. I mean, that’s me. Jez.” God, he was wearing black jeans. To go with his black T-shirt and black hair. There was a belt, too.
Kill me. Kill me now.
“Why would I want to kill you?”
“Um, did I say that out loud?”
Seducto Smile—Rhys—nodded. Still smiling. “It’s either that or I’ve just developed telepathic powers.”
“God, if you’ve developed telepathic powers, definitely kill me. Trust me. It’ll be kinder to both of us.”
“Why—have you got some naughty thoughts going on?” He flashed me a smile that made his eyes twinkle. It also made my feet get sort of tangled up in each other, which wasn’t good as we were currently walking down the stairs. I flailed madly, making a desperate grab for the four-foot model of the Spaceship Endeavour (Original Series; even I’d seen that one) hanging overhead.
On balance, I reckoned it was just as well that I missed by a mile—I mean, you destroy a geek cultural icon like that, they probably stake you out in a field somewhere and set the Ghouls on you. And possibly the Daisies as well. Just as I was really starting to enjoy the time dilation effect of my impending doom, a strong hand grabbed me under the arm.
“Whoa! I know you’re keen to get to Translucio, but let’s try and make it in one piece, yeah?”
“Um. Yeah. Keen. For Translucio. Yeah.” I tried not to pant too loudly. That wouldn’t be attractive, would it? Not that he was likely to find me attractive, despite what the Goth girl had said. I mean, yeah, blond hair, blue eyes, all the other usual features in more-or-less the right places, but other than that I was just a lab technician in a scratchy sweater who’d had a few too many Mars Bars. Me, I mean. Not the sweater.
I checked myself quickly. Nope, no chocolate stains down the front of the sweater. I was good.
But Rhys—well, he was, like, the poster boy for Getting Geeks Laid. Did I mention he was tall? And dark, and cool, and . . . and looking at me a bit strangely.
Talking. That was good, too. “Yeah. Translucio. He’s, like, really subversive, you know?” I was sure I’d heard Tel say that sometime.
Rhys was nodding. “Absolutely. So, uh, what do you reckon his uncanny secret is? I mean, I know there’s loads of theories, obviously, but what do you reckon?”
That was good, right? Him being interested in what I thought. That was good, which meant that admitting I didn’t have a clue what he was on about would be bad. Very, very bad. “Er . . . I just like to wait and see. Keep an open mind. Trust the writers to know what they’re doing.” That was the right word, wasn’t it? Or were they artists, if they did comics? Oh, God. I tried to wipe my palms on my jeans without him noticing. “What about you?”
“Me? Oh, I’m like you. But the Clone Conspiracy theory’s kind of intriguing, don’t you think?”
“Er, well—I mean, yeah. Definitely intriguing.” I nodded.
“No, you’re right. It’s a daft idea. Too similar to what they did with Salieri in the Queen of the Night series.”
“Yep.” I nodded again.
“Although he deserved it, of course, after what he did to Papagena.”
“Definitely.” My neck was starting to ache from all this nodding. But at least we made it down to the bottom of the staircase without any further suicide attempts on my part. And wow. I mean, wow.
Bloody hell, it was just like the Tardis in here. It all sort of opened out, wider than a drugged-up hippie’s mind. There were vast acres of shelving and cabinets, spreading underground like the root system of a magic mushroom.
It was funny—I’d sort of expected this place to be all dark and furtive, full of blokes darting nervous glances over their shoulders in case anyone they knew wandered in by mistake and saw them. Instead, it was all bright, gleaming white, the merchandise proudly displayed like a prozzie in an Amsterdam window. Only a lot less likely to give you the clap. And bloody hell, there was a lot of it. The merchandise, I mean. Not just comic books, although there were, like, millions of those. There were T-shirts, posters, little action figures, even card games. I stared around the basement in amazement.
“First time you’ve been in here?” Rhys’s voice startled me out of my weird hypnotic trance. “Hits a lot of guys like that their first time.”
“Er . . .” Would he think I was pathetic if I said it was? Should I pretend I wasn’t a total Asteroid virgin? But maybe he had a photographic memory for faces and would know I was lying? Like, another superpower? Couldn’t risk it. “It’s, um, hard to get away from work,” I said lamely.
“Yeah? What do you do?”
“I’m a chemist. In a lab, I mean. Not behind the counter at Boots.”
“Working on the next super-serum?”
I tried to look like someone who spent his working day developing top secret formulae. Not trying to find non-carcinogenic ways of taking nasty niffs out of your carpets. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
He laughed. “Going to let me live long enough to get you to Translucio? It’s over this way.”
Rhys led me past rack after rack of books and comics. I’d never dreamed there were this many superheroes, villains, and just plain weirdos in the world. Well, in the world of fiction, anyway.
Speaking of racks, another life-size model, Arachno Girl, crouched on a plinth as if watching for shoplifters. Her lacy, weblike skirt barely covered her muscular yet shapely thighs. At least her breastplate-slash-bra-thingy was a bit more substantial—well, it’d have to be. No way would anything lacy keep those mammoth puppies in check. Even restrained, they threatened to take your eye out. I edged away nervously, little cogs chugging around in my brain. If comic-book women all had really big tits, did that mean the blokes all had really big . . . I glanced at Rhys, swallowed, and threatened the little cogs with a metaphorical spanner until they stopped trying to cause inappropriate hard-ons.
And tried really hard not to wonder if everything was in proportion to his height.
“Here you go,” Rhys was saying. “You’re in luck—it’s our last one.”
“Seriously?” I thought of poor old Tel, lying in hospital waiting for news of his hero, and clutched the comic to my chest. “Jesus, thank God I didn’t put this off until tomorrow.”
Rhys smiled at me. Up to ten Alluremens this time, easy. I did my best not to melt into a big wet blob on the floor tiles. “It’s great to see a true fan,” he said.
“Er, yeah,” I said, feeling a lot more congeal-y. “Cheers for this, mate.”
[A]n absolutely fantastic . . . [S]tory.
[F]unny, smart and quirky.
[A] cute, sweet story I really enjoyed and I'll be watching for more by JL Merrow!
I recommend this book if you need a quick pick-me-up and quite a few giggles.
Quick, fun, and just a little dirty.