Molly rather likes bookstores still. The internet is all very well, granting her swift access to all sorts of objects and people, but she did not grow up with it in her early childhood. She learnt to read alongside cassette tapes that came with girls’ comics bought by her father, and grieved the loss of ‘Bunty’ and ‘Mandy’ when the world insisted girls needed to know which boy band members would most appreciate their taste in affordable lipstick and their quiz results on skin types and body types and whatever else was marketable. Molly Hooper found refuge in a few dog-eared, orphan girls’ manga in her local library (before its closure) and bravely sought out their kin in a cramped, male-dominated comic shop who ordered in instalment after instalment for her. Molly wasn’t great with boys, or peers her age, or people in general, but she felt safer in those days tracing her fingers down numbered spines than she ever did when curling her fingers in the cord of a phone trying to keep up with her girlfriends or around a cigarette trying to seem mature before one of those girls’ elder brother.
Molly Hooper is a grown woman now, not scared of boys or statement lipstick, but she always breathes a sigh of relief upon entering a space where her nostrils fill with the familiar, comforting scent of books.
So it is a surprise when a pair of hands clasp abruptly around her arms from behind and a familiar voice leans towards her ear to purr, “Hello, Nose!”
Molly predictably drops the two books she had come looking for, but the one her fingers had sought out on their own she holds firm, and she swings around to hit Jim with it.
He yelps with a little surprise and enough genuine pain that Molly feels less disgruntled and more gratified. “What have I told you about sneaking up on me?” she hisses. She grabs Jim by the arm and drags him further behind the cover of bookshelves lest their noise draws any unwanted attention their way.
“No need to get amorous, Mollikins,” Jim teases.
“No need to get yourself a hole in the skull when I bash it in with this book for sneaking up on me like that!” Molly growls.
Jim rolls his eyes. “You never quite understood foreplay, did you?”
Molly glares at him. “Really? Seb said something different to you, did he?”
Jim’s smirk shrinks and he presses his lips together. “He forgave me a long time ago.”
“Well good for him, but some of us have barely seen you since you made me-“ Molly’s snarl cuts off as Jim covers her mouth.
“Implicating yourself in a public place, Nose? This life getting boring for you?” Jim leans close to drawl. Anyone who stumbles across them in this moment might think them lovers and it tightens Molly’s stomach and her brow simultaneously.
“All these years and you still haven’t learned any concept of personal space?” Molly responds loftily.
Jim breathes in. “Oh, you have missed me, haven’t you?” he whispers. “Goody.”
“I haven’t missed you, or the trouble you cause, one bit,” insists Molly.
“Such big lies for such a good girl, Mollikins,” Jim smirks.
Molly pushes against him to raise the heavy book in her grasp aloft. She ignores the warmth of his familiar skin and mutters coolly, “I’m not too good to hit you again, Jim...”
His demeanour suggests he believes she will strike him and he takes a marginal step back from Molly. However, his lips take on that achingly familiar, wickedly playful curl and he whispers, “If you make it interesting, Nose, maybe I’ll let you...”
Molly scowls and hits him with the book, twice, hard, then drags him down another book-lined aisle lest the loud noise draws anyone. “What. Are. You. Doing. Here?” she whispers fiercely.
Jim rolls his freshly sore jaw. “Getting more bruises than papercuts it would seem.”
“Years, Jim. Barely more than a blog comment in years and now you show up?” says Molly.
“Just in time to interrupt you buying... honestly Moll, children’s books?” Jim’s nose wrinkles.
“Sulky because Mummy never read you any, Jim?” Molly asks dryly.
He grimaces. “You know that’s not funny.”
“Oh, so not everything is a joke to you then?” responds Molly.
Jim’s expression is cool. “And you have no sense of humour I suppose?” he says. “You, who faked my death and Sherlock’s?”
Molly blinks and turns away. She suddenly feels awkward. She feels awkard after all this time of not feeling awkward at all. Or at least, a normal amount. These past few years she has passed for normal. She’s been okay, she’s certain of it.
How dare Jim come back here and throw all her beliefs back up in the air. With him gone Molly Hooper has tried so terribly to keep everything deep down inside, in secret, quiet. She has tried so hard to seem normal.
“Why are you back, Jim?” Molly asks.
Jim looks away and tilts his chin the way he does when he is not entirely inclined to answer. “You know that we’ve been keeping an eye on you..?”
Molly rolls her eyes. “My creepy ex boyfriend keeping tabs on me? How is that surprising?”
“Nose. Molly.” Jim looks eerily serious and he licks dry lips warily. “Seb and I, we’ve been reading your stories...”
The remaining book drops from Molly’s slack grip.
Eventually she turns her chin to avoid whatever is in Jim’s gaze. All Molly says is, “Oh.”