I must have signed a million of these. My publicist shakes her head, says no, only a hundred and fifty-three, but the dull throbbing in my wrist has given way to numbness and my cheeks are smile-weary.
"Hi," he says, and my heart breaks into sprinting mode, responding before my brain has the chance to. I know this voice. Know it so well that I hardly dare look up and let the illusion be shattered.
He hands me the book; Anna clears her throat, reprimanding me, reminding me I am supposed to be making eye contact with these people who have queued for hours. (Publicists like to exaggerate. It's minutes, at most.)
"Hello," I say, swallowing hard as I allow my eyes to meet his: the moment I had been so sure would never come. Except, of course, in my dreams. Hundreds of them. "Has anyone ever told you that you look a little like Rahm Emanuel?"
There they are: the dimples. I'm being assailed by all those clichés about freeze-framing the moment.
He chuckles gently. "For someone with such a British accent, you know a bit about American politics."
"Well, you see, there was this TV programme..."
"24?" He prompts, teasing me with a furrowed brow, as though he too were having trouble remembering.
"Yes," I say. "That must be it."
I must remember to stock up on Strepsils for Anna. She seems to need them.
"You write beautifully," he says, in all seriousness this time, chocolate eyes finding mine.
"Thank you," I say. I've remembered just in time that in America, it is the done things to accept compliments gracefully, rather than mumbling Well, you know...
"You're not exactly my target market, though." He raises an eyebrow. "I mean, in that you're not a woman in your thirties..."
"I know. But it's dedicated to someone with the same name as me. And the main character sounds like he might look like me a little. So I was intrigued."
"Funny how life turns out, isn't it?"
"Yes." He catches my eye again. Why is the security guard not closing this Barnes and Noble to allow me to be alone with him, to bask in this moment? Seriously.
"You're busy," he says, nodding towards the queue, and I wish I could hear more regret in his voice. But then he hands me a card. "Call me when you're done. We can have dinner if you like."
"Really?" The word squeaks out before I have the chance to screen it through my professional-writer filter: suddenly I'm a teenager again.
"Well, I've never had a book dedicated to me before," he says, and slips away.
"Wow," says the wide-eyed next woman in the queue, stepping forward, forgetting for a moment that I am the one she is meant to be star-struck about right now. "Was that..."
I shake my head. Technically not a lie: more of a nervous twitch. "Just someone I used to be in love with."
"Oh," she says, disappointed, but nevertheless smiling when I hand her the book back. In which I've scribbled,
to Corrie, who may have just witnessed the moment my life changed.