This was my submission for the Australian fundraiser. It's a complete one-shot. Thanks to my beta, Sally, for her mighty red pen, to Ipsita for the more-than-amazing banner, and to Donna and Denise for their suggestions and pre-reading. Thanks to the organizers for their hard-work, and thanks to all who donated to this worthy cause. And Thank You for reading. See the AN at the bottom for a little story behind this story!
It was the creaking that caught her attention. A metal-rubbing-metal sound, easily ignored in the ordinary bustle of city life around her, yet so demanding in its insistence to be heard. It brought her to a complete halt right in the middle of the busy Boston sidewalk.
A businessman, cashmere scarf wrapped tightly around his neck and long overcoat flapping in the wind, stepped hurriedly around her, muttering something about "paying attention." Two schoolgirls in their plaid uniforms with hoodies pulled over their heads passed her, giggling as they shared something on their phones. A mother pushing a child's stroller jogged by, her footsteps beating a rhythm on the concrete pathway.
The street to her left was full of traffic. Buses, cars, and delivery trucks, taxis and bicycles sped by. Their motors and brakes, horns and warning bells adding to the cacophony of city noise surrounding her. Boston's late afternoon traffic hurried on, life moving forward as she stood frozen in the middle of the sidewalk frantically trying to locate the source of that creaking sound.
It was late October. A cold northern wind had invaded the city. It swirled around the corners and bellowed down the streets, blowing trash, dried leaves, and unlucky pedestrians before it. It tore at the fall decorations festooning the storefronts and rattled the street signs and traffic lights. A hard gust caught her coat, causing her to clutch at it tightly … and then she heard it again. That creak, creak, creak of metal rubbing against metal, of something swaying in the wind. It brought images of screen doors, of garden gates, of old wooden barn doors slowly swinging on rusty hinges.
She turned to her right and gasped at the strange sight in front of her. It was an … alley? A gap between buildings? The words to describe it stuck in her head, refusing to let her name or understand what she was seeing. For a brief moment, she wondered if she had lost her way. Perhaps she had been so caught up in her thoughts she had somehow wandered off her normal route home. Glancing around, she double-checked her location. No, she was still on Spring Lane. The intersection with Washington Street was just ahead of her.
For over five years, she had walked this exact route to work every morning and every evening had walked this exact route home again. Yet, in all those years, she had never noticed this opening that beckoned to her. How could she have never seen it? It was a question that had no answer and was forgotten as soon as she began walking toward the path waiting for her.
Beneath her feet was a cobblestoned passage approximately ten feet wide and thirty feet long. Tall buildings hemmed in both sides, cutting off the sunlight and cloaking the path in shifting shadows. It ended in a heavily paneled, dark green door with a brightly polished brass handle. Above it was an old fashioned hanging sign that swayed gently in the slight breeze and was the source of the creaking sound that had captured her attention. Lettered in an elaborately scrolling gold script were the words "The Bookstore".
The busy street sounds were left behind, and her footsteps echoed in the hushed silence as she made her way to the door. Only later, much later, she would wonder how she could have possibly heard the soft creaking of the sign over the noise of the traffic and the howling wind, but by then, it wouldn't matter, and she'd no longer question the day's events.
To the right of the door was a large display window. Decorated with colorful fall foliage and round orange pumpkins, it showcased current best sellers, some of which she had read and enjoyed, next to classics and lesser known carved jack-o'-lanterns sat on either side of the entrance, their wide grinning candle-lit smiles flickering as she walked by. For a brief moment, she could have sworn one winked at her when she passed.
The heavy door swung open when she grasped the gleaming handle and pushed. An overhead bell jingled her arrival.
It was warm inside … and cozy. The faint smell of old books, wood polish, and cinnamon greeted her. To her left sat a large scarred wooden desk topped by an old-fashioned cash register and a sleek modern laptop. She recognized a small lit candle as the source of the cinnamon scent.
In front of her, a rectangular display table anchored an open area. It was covered by an old, lovingly preserved, hand-stitched quilt. Books about quilts and quilting, crocheting, knitting, and other handcrafts covered its surface. She circled it slowly, admiring the mix of old and new titles.
Bookshelves marched off on either side of her, and she began wandering down each aisle. There were no modern, metal, adjustable shelves here. Instead, each was heavy wood, carefully crafted, polished, and cared for. Reminiscent of the old municipal libraries she had loved as a child.
The books were all hardbacks. Both the newer ones with their colorful paper jackets and the older ones were all wrapped in clear protective sleeves. She ran her finger along the spines, admiring the colors, the typesetting, the creative titles. From time to time, she pulled one from the shelf, carefully replacing it after she perused it. Everything was spotlessly clean.
She lost herself in wandering, sinking into the peace and tranquility of her surroundings. Eventually, she found herself in the far back corner of the store. The shelves ended in a small sitting area. Four overstuffed chairs and a small settee were grouped around an ornately carved marble fireplace where a cheery fire crackled on the grate.
Of course, she thought as she surveyed the scene. Of course, there would be a sitting area and a fireplace with a real fire. Of course there would be a lovely tea service with an array of hot scones, clotted cream, and jams just waiting. And of course—she smiled at her acceptance of the strange afternoon—there would be cat curled up on one of the chairs, an open book lying on the seat of another.
Said cat opened one eye at her approach. Yawning, it stretched itself into the classic hump-backed shape of Halloween cats loved by children everywhere and then slipped gracefully to the floor. It welcomed her by winding itself around and between her ankles, tail flicking her knees in furry greeting.
When it considered her sufficiently welcomed, it turned and led the way to one of the chairs, cocking its head at her when she didn't immediately follow. She chuckled softly, then lowered herself into the comfortable chair. Seconds later, the cat was in her lap.
Her tentative hand reached out to pet, and she was rewarded with an encouraging head butt. A satisfied purr followed her scratching underneath its ear and neck.
"She likes you," said a voice beside her.
She turned to find a smiling young man watching her and the cat. She returned his smile before turning her attention back to the cat, which was staring at her intently. "She's a beautiful animal," she replied, admiring the shiny black fur. "I don't believe I've ever seen eyes so blue on a cat before."
"They are unusual," he agreed. "But then Alice is a bit unusual herself."
"That's her name." He grinned at the cat, who was now curled up on her lap, purring contentedly. "I'm Edward Cullen, by the way," he added, extending his hand toward her.
"Bella Swan," she answered before reaching to shake his hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Would you mind if I joined you?" he asked, indicating the chair next to her.
He picked up the open book lying on the seat, carefully inserted a bookmark, then set it on the small table between them. With a pleased sigh, he settled into the chair. "This is my favorite place in the whole bookstore, maybe even the whole world. There's just something about a warm fire, a comfortable chair, and a good book on a cold, windy afternoon." He grinned at her, soft lines crinkling around his green eyes, the firelight making his hair shine bronze in its glow. Her breath caught at how handsome he was.
Uncomfortable with her response, she looked away quickly, trying to think of something to say. "Do you … ah, do you come here often?" she finally managed to ask.
"Yes, almost everyday." He grinned at her again. "Actually, I live here, Bella. This is my shop."
"Oh!" She glanced around in surprise. "So you own this bookstore?"
"Well, my sister and I own it together, but yes, this is my place."
"And you live here?"
"We have a small apartment on the third floor, very convenient. Means I don't have to travel too far to get to work."
"I didn't realize there were more floors than this one." Her eyes traveled to the ceiling above them. "The building must be much bigger than it seems. Do you … ah, do you have books on the second floor, too?" Her words caught in her throat when she looked at him again.
"Of a sort," he answered vaguely. "It's more of a storage area actually." He glanced at the sleeping cat in her lap. "Are you a cat person, Bella?"
"I …" She glanced down at Alice, surprised to find herself still stroking the soft black fur. "I don't really know. I've never had a cat before."
"Dog?" When she shook her head no, he continued. "Birds maybe, or gerbils?" She couldn't help her small smile at his questioning. "Rats, lizards, maybe a snake or two?" he teased.
Now she laughed out loud at his suggestions. "No, no, nothing like that. It's just … Well, we weren't allowed to have pets where I was raised."
Eager to change the subject, she glanced at the book he had been reading. "Stephen King?"
"He seems appropriate for the season." Edward smiled. "How about you? Do you enjoy his work?"
"Some. He can get a little wordy at times."
Edward's laughter filled the space around them. "I have to agree, but you might like this one." He indicated the book on the table. "It's much shorter than most of his books."
Bella picked up the book, running her finger over the title. "Carrie?"
"Yes," Edward answered. "Have you ever read it?"
"No. It was his first published book, wasn't it?"
Edward nodded. "He'd written numerous articles for magazines, but Carrie was his first book—the one that finally made him some money and let him start writing full time. It almost didn't get finished though."
"He started it, then threw it away. His wife, Tabitha, found it in the trash and convinced him that it was worth working on. He did, and I guess you could say the rest is history." Edward chuckled. "King once said that all writers have a period when they are most vulnerable. It's that time, usually at the beginning of their career, when things could go either way. That's when encouragement and support are so important.
"His stories have become such a part of our pop culture that I sometimes wonder how different things would be if he had stopped writing. How many of today's authors decided to continue because of something King wrote or said? How many filmmakers followed their dreams because of King and his stories?"
He smiled at her, blushing a bit at her rapt attention. "Sorry, I think I must be rambling a bit."
"No, no. I've never thought of that before. I guess that's probably true of all the stories and authors we love. Their words help form and create the world as we know it."
He stared at her. A lovely but too thin heart-shaped face, thick brown hair pulled severely into a knot at the back of her head, pale, devoid-of-makeup complexion, and those eyes—those sad, sad eyes. They reminded him of a doe's eyes—large, luminous, framed by dark lashes, and so very timid.
Her clothing was loose, dowdy, and hid what little form she had. To him, she looked hungry but for more than just food. Starved for acceptance, for joy, for the love he longed to give her.
"Careful, careful," said a voice in his head. He glanced down at Alice, who was watching him. "Be careful, Edward."
Acknowledging her warning with a slight dip of his head, he smiled warmly at Bella. "I'd have to agree with you, Miss Swan. A writer's words are important, both for the present and the future. Have you ever wondered how many of those words have been lost? I sometimes think about all the stories that are never finished. The ones that were never rescued from the trash."
He leaned a bit closer to her, holding her attention with his friendly gaze. "I confess to writing a bit from time to time. How about you, Bella? Do you also write?"
Her lip quivered, and her startled eyes slid away from his. "I, uh … I—" Her words were interrupted by Alice, who chose that moment to stretch and settle herself into a more comfortable position. A head butt to Bella's hand reminded her to resume her scratching.
Edward rose to place another log on the dwindling fire and pour them a cup of steaming tea. He placed a warm scone on a small plate and lavishly topped it with clotted cream and her favorite raspberry jam. Setting it on the small table beside her, he settled back into his chair and turned to her with another comforting smile.
"You were saying that your main character is a young girl raised in the foster care system and how she overcomes the obstacles in her life. Please, go on. It sounds like an intriguing story."
Bella frowned. She didn't remember telling him about her story, but she must have done so if he knew what it was about. Shaking her head slightly, she began to talk.
The more she talked, the more she opened up to him. She told him of her doubts, of the places in the story where she couldn't find a way forward, of her worries that it was boring and without merit. He asked pointed questions, helping her navigate the story arc, find her voice and purpose. The story unfolded in her mind, the ups and downs, the sadness and humor. The characters fleshed out, took on life, became real. Scenes and dialogue, settings and plot twists, words both mundane and poetic filled her mind. Behind it all was Edward, guiding and encouraging.
Another log was added to the fire. There was more tea and tiny egg sandwiches. Finally, they sat in silence, her hand still absently stroking the cat in her lap as she stared at the fire. He watched her face, loving the happiness glowing there, a new sense of determination and excitement for her writing reflected in the firelight. He knew it was time to let her go for now.
Rising, he began to gather up their cups and plates. Alice hopped to the floor, disappearing into the book shelves. Bella stood, too. "It must be getting very late, and I've kept you from your work," she apologized.
"Not so late, I think," he reassured her. "Time doesn't seem to matter when there's something important to be done." With another comforting smile, he took her hand, leading her toward the front door. She was surprised to find it still light outside.
"Bella." His hand held hers, preventing her from leaving. "You will come back. Please? We'll drink more tea and talk about your story."
She studied his face, could see how sincere and perhaps a bit worried he was. "Of course," she reassured him. "I'll see you in a few days."
Just before she exited the door, she turned back to him. "Thank you, Edward. Thank you for everything."
He nodded and waved as she turned and walked away.
There was a slight shimmer in the air next to him. He glanced to his right to find his sister standing there.
"Oh, Edward, what have you done? You know this can only end badly."
"I know." He watched Bella walk away from him. "I had to, Alice. Her story is important. It will affect so many people. The future will be a better place because of her words. She deserved more time to finish it. That's my gift to her—more time."
"You can't change her ultimate fate, Edward. I learned that a long time ago."
He put his arm around her shoulders, hugging her into his side. "I'm sorry, Alice. I know you still miss Jasper. His story was important though. It would never have been finished without your help."
"I know," she whispered back to him. "But it still hurts, and it's going to hurt you, too." She leaned away from him, tilting her head to face him. A tear escaped one of her blue eyes. He wiped it away with his thumb before smoothing her short, black hair.
"Time, Alice. It's supposed to heal all wounds. Maybe, maybe, if we wait long enough, it will heal ours."
Writing consumed her life. She woke early, hurried through her morning preparations, and wrote. Sometimes for thirty minutes, other times an hour or more, anything to get more words added before she left for work. Lunch was a hurried affair at her desk, scribbling words and notes while she absentmindedly ate her sandwich.
She wrote at night, staying up too late and falling exhausted into bed. Only to start the next day at her laptop, words and scenes taking form on the screen. Edward was always in the back of her mind. As she wrote, she asked herself how he would react to this word, or this scene, or this dialogue. She was eager to share with him, somehow knowing he would be kind but constructive with his feedback.
She made plans to stop on her way home but something always seemed to interfere. Work was busy. For weeks, she stayed late, then took an Uber home. The days became shorter, darker. She hesitated to walk home alone. Gradually, her memories of Edward and the bookstore began to fade. Sometimes, she wondered if it were all a dream, a fantasy she had somehow concocted. How else to explain a place she walked by for years and never noticed? How else could they have talked for hours but it was still daylight when she left?
There were too many strange circumstances for her logical mind to explain. She began to put them away, concentrating instead on the story she had neglected for so long.
Halloween came and went, then Thanksgiving arrived. She spent the day at a neighborhood free kitchen, helping prepare and serve meals to the homeless and others in need. It was something she always did for the holidays. Her friends there were the closest thing she had to a family. That night she dreamed of Edward.
She awoke in a frenzy. She had to see him, knew it was very important to see him. Throwing on some clothes, running a brush through her hair, and gathering her manuscript and notes, she rushed from her apartment, only to realize it was still too early for a bookstore to be open, even if it were Black Friday. She knew she should wait but somehow could not return home. Instead, she hurried along the sidewalk and crossed the intersection at Washington.
"Please be real. Please be there. Please be open," she muttered to herself as she approached the place where she thought the bookstore had been. A hard gust of cold wind whipped her loose hair around her face, and then she heard it—the creak, creak, creak of the metal sign swinging in the wind. It brought tears to her eyes. "Yes, yes, yes," she cried and began running.
The bookstore was there, still tucked away in its secluded alcove. Light shone from the window and an open sign she hadn't noticed before hung from the brass handle. Colorful ears of calico corn and brightly feathered stuffed turkeys joined the pumpkins and fall foliage in the display window. The books had also been changed. Gone were the jack-o'-lanterns beside the door, replaced with pots of blooming mums. She smiled at the welcoming decorations, then grasped the door handle and pushed. It opened easily, and the overhead, old fashioned bell rang her entrance.
Once again, she was greeted with the cozy smells of old books and polished wood. Pumpkin spice replaced the scent of cinnamon. The scarred old desk with its antique cash register and sleek laptop were still to her left. Another tiny candle spread its perfume through the area. She sighed deeply. Home. The word came unbidden to her mind, and she nodded. It did feel like home.
The display table was also changed. This time it was covered in a crisp linen tablecloth and set with china and silver. A fresh arrangement of yellow roses occupied the center of the table, and grouped around it was a varied collection of recipe and cook books. It brought a smile to her face, and she wondered if Edward, or the sister he had mentioned, was the talented decorator.
Instead of turning to her right where she knew the fireplace and the sitting area were located, she decided to explore the left side of the shop. She wandered down the aisles. Once again, every book was carefully protected and spotlessly clean. Several more turns brought her to the history section.
Against the back wall was a large display case. Books about the Civil War, both old and new, were artfully arranged on glass shelves. What caught and held her eye was the Confederate uniform highlighted in the middle of the case. She moved closer, studying it intently. It appeared to be authentic. Pale gray wool, a double row of gold buttons down the chest. There was gold trim on the sleeves and around the collar of the jacket. A sword hung from a belted sash at the waist. She wondered if it had belonged to an officer.
Although it appeared to be well preserved, there were obvious signs of wear. The hem of the pants was ragged and frayed, the trim on the coat sleeves worn away. Someone had carefully patched and repaired tears and holes. A few dark stains had survived the cleaning. She gasped when she realized they were probably from blood.
There were other objects displayed on shelves next to it—a mess kit, pieces of a broken rifle, a few bullets, a handful of Confederate bills. A large book lay on the bottom shelf just below the uniform. It was opened to the title page. She bent to read it.
Loss of Innocence, a Confederate War Memoir by Major Jasper Whitlock. She read the words silently to herself, then noticed the publication date was 1885. "Oh my," she whispered. "It's over 130 years old."
On the facing page was an elegantly handwritten message. She had to lean over more closely to read the faded ink.
To my darling Alice,
Without your loving support and encouragement, this story would never have been completed.
My gratitude and love forever.
Tears pricked her eyes as she thought about these two people who shared a loving bond so long ago. She hoped they had enjoyed a long and fulfilling life together. It made her sad life seem that much lonelier. She moved away, turning down another aisle and then another.
Eventually, she found herself at the bottom of a narrow, old-fashioned iron stairway. It wound upward toward another floor. The black cat she remembered from her last visit sat on a step in front of her. "Hello, Alice," she said, reaching down to pet her. Alice jumped away, hopping up several steps before stopping to face her again. Bella frowned at the cat, then climbed the stairs before reaching toward Alice again. But Alice jumped away before stopping midway on the stairs.
"Do you want me to follow you, Alice?" Bella asked, laughing to herself even as she spoke. Alice cocked her head and answered with a short meow, which sounded suspiciously like a yes. Shaking her head at the thought of a talking cat, she climbed the remaining stairs to the second floor.
The room she entered was long, wide, and dimly lit. Shelf after tall shelf rose up around her, reaching toward a ceiling barely visible in the darkness above. Her voice echoed in the emptiness when she called to Alice, but there was no answering meow or welcoming purr. She glanced around but didn't see the cat anywhere.
Oppressive silence filled the room. It reminded her of both a cathedral and a tomb. She remembered Edward calling it a storage room. She wondered what could possibly be stored in a room this large. Quietly, she began to explore.
The end of each shelving unit was labeled with a number. After glancing around, she realized they were years. The one closest to her bore the current year. She stepped around the end to find notebooks, folders, and three-ring binders filling every available space. Grabbing one, she opened it to find a sheaf of papers. It appeared to be a story, one that had been printed from a computer. Flipping to the back page, she realized it ended abruptly in the middle of a sentence. She slipped it back on the shelf, frowning as she moved on to another unit.
Down the middle aisle she wandered, stopping from time-to-time to glance through another notebook or binder. They were all the same. Stories, books—some long, some short—all stopping suddenly, as though they had been left unfinished.
The computer printouts gradually changed to typed papers, and then handwritten pages replaced them. Binders gave way to folders, and those changed to stapled copies. Shelf after shelf, year after year, she moved through the room, never getting closer to the end.
Finally, she stopped. There was no reason to keep going. She wondered if eventually she would find papyrus scrolls or clay tablets with cuneiform on their baked surface. Edward had told her the truth—this was a storage room. A store room devoted to preserving all the books and stories that had never been finished. She was right in thinking it a cathedral. It was an edifice built to honor the written word. Yet, it was also a tomb—a place for all the words and stories that had been forgotten, lost to the world and never shared.
She didn't try to understand it, just accepted that it was. Like this bookstore that had suddenly appeared where it had never been before. Perhaps the words, wishes, hopes, and dreams of the writers had created this magical place. She didn't know; she was just glad it existed.
Somewhere in this room was her book. If she looked hard enough, she knew she could probably find it. There was no need. She was determined to finish it, publish it, and give it to the world to read. It would not languish on a shelf, stored in a tomb of forgotten stories. Downstairs, a handsome man with green eyes and fire-kissed hair waited to help her finish her story. He had assured her it was important.
Bella gathered her things and descended the stairs.
They settled into a routine of Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Edward would be waiting for her beside the fire in their two favorite chairs. While she drank hot tea and ate the food he insisted upon serving her, he would read what she had written since their last meeting. Then the real work began.
Sometimes, it was just a general discussion, a review of the story and its direction. Other times, it was a very detailed, word-by-word editing of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Inspiration would sometimes reveal a twist she had never considered, and they would return to the very beginning, weaving in hints and building the new plot thread to its conclusion. The book took shape. It grew, blossoming into a beautiful story of loss and love and final triumph.
As the story changed and developed, so did Bella. Nourished by the food he always had waiting for her, her face and form began to fill out. She was stronger, happier. She would burst into the shop, cheeks pink from the cold, hair a riot of windblown tangles, eyes full of excitement.
She rushed to find him, sharing stories about her newfound friends at work or describing things she had seen or done that week. He loved listening to her, loved the changes he saw taking place, loved the woman blossoming in front of him.
Their relationship changed too. Over the course of the next few months, as first Christmas, then New Year's came and went, it changed from advisor and editor, to good friend, and then more.
At first, it was just small touches—a hand placed on an arm, or shoulder, or back. Fingers lingering when exchanging tea cups or notebooks. One day, she hugged him in her excitement to see him. Then it was hugs when she left, chaste kisses to her cheek or forehead.
One day, it changed. As he leaned forward to kiss the top of her head, she tilted her face upward and met his lips with hers. For a moment, he stood in frozen shock, then his arms were around her, pulling her against him even as he deepened the kiss. His mouth moved to her neck, to her ear. It murmured words of affection and adoration even as she melted into him. Then his lips were tracing each cheekbone, each eyelid, before finally returned to her lips.
"Edward, Edward." She sighed in contentment when she rested her head against his chest.
"Bella, my Bella," was his whispered reply.
The twice-weekly meetings continued, the work continued, and so did the kisses, the hugs, and the words of affection.
One day in early spring, he greeted her with a piece of paper. On it was a name, an address, and detailed instructions for submitting a query and a cover letter. Her hands shook when she read it. "I don't think I can, Edward," she began. "I don't think it's ready."
"Shh." He stopped her argument. "It's ready, and it's time. This is a new agent looking for manuscripts for a new imprint. Your book is exactly what they want. We'll write the query and letter together. You can finish it at home and send it in."
The acceptance letter came two weeks later. The contract and the first advance followed soon after. She was busy with meetings, with rewrites, with plans for a book tour. Her book would be one of five to launch a new imprint, and the publisher planned an extensive marketing campaign. She gave readings, appeared on talk shows, started an author's website. The reading public waited in anticipation for the hardback and ebook release.
She saw Edward when she could.
Release day was a series of signing events scattered around the Boston area. Her hand was cramping and her back aching by the end of the day, but she had one more stop to make before going home.
Warm light poured from the store window and brightened the dark pathway to the green wooden door. She stopped and stared at the new display. In the middle of the area, highlighted on a draped stand, was her book. Floral arrangements of roses, lilacs, and trailing greenery flanked it. More copies were stacked below and next to them a beautifully lettered sign read:
best selling author of
"Searching for Home"
Tears pricked her eyes, and she rushed through the door, finding Edward just inside smiling at her. "Oh, Edward, it's beautiful! Did you do this?"
"Well, my sister helped," he admitted.
Any further statement was cut off by her lips on his. All the feelings she held for him were in that kiss. The esteem, the thankfulness, the respect, and especially the love, she poured them all into the kiss he would always cherish.
He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close, wanting to never let her go, to hold her forever. Finally, they drew apart. She yawned, fatigue written across her tired face.
"Sorry," she murmured.
"Don't be, love. It's been a big day for you, and you have another longer day tomorrow. You should go home, get some rest."
"I will," she promised. "But I needed to see you. To thank you for everything you've done for me and to give you this." She handed him a copy of her book. "I've written a little note inside," she admitted shyly. "You can read it after I leave."
He nodded. They stood staring at each other, neither wanting to be the first to say goodbye. She placed her hand on his cheek, then kissed him quickly. "I love you, Edward. Until tomorrow." With a last quick smile, she turned and exited the shop.
He stared after her as she walked away. Her book weighed heavily in his hands, and he opened it to find her handwritten note.
Without whose support and encouragement my story would have been lost in the trash forever.
You are my home,
He glanced up—she was almost to the sidewalk.
"Don't look, Edward." Alice was standing in front of him. "Look away now!"
He shook his head, eyes filling with tears, throat too tight to answer her. She grabbed his shoulders turning his whole body until he was facing the inside of the shop so he could no longer see the woman who walked away.
But Alice could. She saw the bicycle messenger dart out in front of the delivery truck, which braked suddenly to avoid a collision only to cause the car behind it to swerve onto the sidewalk. The car's fender hit the soft flesh of the woman walking there, throwing her against the unyielding brick of the nearby building.
Although Edward couldn't see, he could hear: the warning horn, the squealing brakes, the crunch of metal, the soft thud of flesh meeting hard brick. He heard the bystanders' screams, the police sirens, the frantic efforts of the ambulance staff, and then the hushed silence when everyone realized it was too late.
When it was all over, when there was nothing outside to see or hear, his sister wrapped her arms around him. He sagged against her, rested his head on her shoulder, and cried. His wracking sobs the only sound in the now quiet night.
The creaking caught her attention. A metal-rubbing-metal sound, easily ignored in the ordinary bustle of city life around her, yet so demanding in its insistence to be heard. It brought her to a complete halt right in the middle of the ground-way.
A robo-scooter stopped beside her. "Pardon me, miss, are you in need of assistance?" it questioned in its pleasant mechanical male voice. "Do you require transport to your destination?"
"No," she dismissed it absentmindedly, still trying to locate the source of that sound. "I'm fine, thank you." It hurried on its way.
People passed her, some strolling leisurely as they enjoyed the beautiful day, others on robo-scooters, letting the mechanized hoverboards ferry them along.
Twenty feet above her, the plasticine walls of the moving sidewalks glittered in the sunshine. She watched pedestrians step on and off the motorized walkways, thinking the source of the sound must be up there, but found nothing.
She let her gaze rise to the city's protective dome a mile or more above her. It sparkled briefly in the sunshine. Delivery drones darted back and forth against its backdrop, bringing supplies and materials to the bustling city.
The weather controllers had scheduled an hour long rain the night before. It had cleaned the city and refreshed the air. She breathed deeply, enjoying the scent of flowers and grass that edged the path. An errant breeze caught her hair, shifting it gently around her shoulders. Briefly, she wondered if the air duct systems had malfunctioned, but then she heard the sound again. That creak, creak, creak of metal rubbing against metal, of something swaying in the wind. It brought images of screen doors, of garden gates, of old wooden barn doors slowly swinging on rusty hinges.
She shook her head, wondering why she would think of something so strange. She had read of those but had never seen them. She turned to her right and frowned at the strange sight in front of her. It was an … alley? A gap between buildings? The words to describe it stuck in her head, refusing to let her name or understand what she was seeing.
She'd walked this way many times before. The ground-way was close to her apartment and led to a neighborhood park where she liked to spend her leisure time. Yet, in all those years, she had never noticed this opening that beckoned to her. How could she have never seen it? It was a question that had no answer and was forgotten as soon as she began walking toward it.
Beneath her feet was a cobblestoned passage approximately ten feet wide and thirty feet long. Buildings hemmed in both sides, cutting off most of the light and cloaking the path in shifting shadows. It ended in a heavily paneled, dark green door with a brightly polished brass handle. Above it was an old-fashioned hanging sign that swayed gently in the slight breeze and was the source of the creaking sound that captured her attention. Lettered in an elaborately scrolling gold script were the words "The Bookstore".
Her footsteps echoed in the hushed silence as she made her way to the door. To its right was a large display window. An assortment of vid-screens and holographic storage cubes took up part of the space, but most of it was filled with books—the real kind printed on real paper. The sight brought a smile to her face.
The heavy door swung open when she grasped the gleaming handle and pushed. An overhead bell announced her arrival.
It was warm inside and … familiar. She wasn't surprised to see the scarred wooden desk to her left, the antique cash register sitting on its top, or the cinnamon candle scenting the room.
Somehow, she knew there would be a rectangular display table in front of her, and it would be decorated with quilts and books about quilting, handcrafts, and hobbies. She knew she would find a centuries old Confederate uniform hanging in a large glass-enclosed case along the back wall to her left.
She knew the books on the beautiful, old wooden shelves would all be protected in clear sleeves and spotlessly clean.
She knew that wandering through the bookshelves marching off to the right would eventually lead her to four overstuffed chairs and a settee grouped around a beautiful marble fireplace where real logs would be burning in an actual fire. There would be a cat curled in one chair and an open book on the seat of another. A tea service with warm scones, clotted cream, and her favorite raspberry jam would be waiting.
It made no sense, this knowing, this familiarity. It didn't matter. Something important was waiting for her. She hurried down the aisle.
"Oh," she reacted when she found the sitting area. It looked exactly as she had imagined, except it wasn't empty. A woman and man sat there.
The young woman glanced up. "Hello." She smiled, stood. "Welcome to The Bookstore. I'm Alice Cullen," she continued, extending her hand.
"Isabella Swan," she replied, smiling in return when she shook Alice's hand.
Alice's unusual blue eyes lit up, and her smile widened. "So very happy to see you. This is my life partner," she continued, turning to the man who now stood next to her. "Jasper Whitlock."
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he answered in an unfamiliar thick drawl. She wondered where he was from. He was tall, unusually tan, and had thick, unruly blond curls, but his eyes were friendly and surrounded by laugh lines when he smiled.
They both seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn't remember when or where she would have met them.
Movement to her left caught her eye, and she turned to see the sleeping cat stretch and yawn before sitting up to stare at her. It had beautiful green eyes, and its fur shone bronze in the fire glow.
Her breathing quickened, and her heart raced. Without thinking, she stepped forward, hand outreached to touch. Like the errant breeze outside, a faint memory shifted through her mind. A name came unbidden to her lips.
"Edward," she whispered. And then, louder now. "Oh, Edward!"
A shimmer filled the air and he was there, standing in front of her, arms open wide. She rushed into them, and they closed around her, wrapping her in his timeless love.
"Oh, Edward," she managed before his lips captured hers. "I'm finally home!"
AN: Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed my little story. I promised you another story. Here it is.
Last October hubby and I were on a bus tour of Boston. It was a cold, windy day and I was happy just to stay on the bus. We passed down Spring Street and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bookstore tucked into an alcove and set back a little from the sidewalk. It was a brief glance, but I managed to see a sign that read "Books and Old Prints." We passed it before I could get my phone out to take a picture. It stuck in my head, though, and I kept thinking about that bookstore. I wondered what it would be like inside. I imagined books and displays piled high with an interesting mix of old and new books. Of course there would be glass display cases, a bookstore cat, and maybe even a fireplace and a sitting area. Everything and more that I would want in my perfect bookstore.
Some research and digging around on Google and I found it! Commonwealth Books, located in Boston on Spring Street near the intersection with Washington Street. There were pictures of display tables covered in quilts and old tablecloths. There were glass cases full of memorabilia. There was a cat, of course, and even a fireplace and sitting area. It was as if I had "remembered" the shop.
I knew I wanted to write a story about it. Perhaps something with magic or Halloween themed. It was, after all, October. I played around with it but couldn't come up with a plot or hook, something to build the story around. Then, one day I saw an article about Stephen King and that one turning point in his life when Tabitha saved his draft of Carrie. It stuck me how many of us have stories that are started but never finished. (My computer is full of them!) How those stories are lost to time, never to be read or enjoyed. Is it possible that they exist somewhere? Could there be a "book STORE" where all the unfinished stories are STORED?
Well, that did it. That was the plot twist I needed. After that, this story practically wrote itself.
Once again, thank you for reading. I have the best readers and the best support team!
Stay safe, stay sane, love to all,