leatherbound.


He bit his lip, shook his head, ran his hand through his hair, and sighed. A businessman brushed by him without an apology, but his eyes never left the door that stood just a few bare feet in front of him. He approached carefully.

Shawn Hunter was about to enter the bookstore.

It isn't exactly as if he'd never been in there. They sold comics, too, in the somewhat tucked away little shop, so he'd been a pretty frequent customer back in his middle school days, when his father would give him some spare change (that seemed so much to him at the time that he'd thought his dad had to be rich, to be able to afford giving him quarters every couple of months). The comics were in the front of the store, up near the register, though, not back where the serious readers and professors and smart people would gaze at the rows of paper like they were made of gold. The only time he'd been back there was with the Matthews, to pick up some book or another that would lie on Eric's desk for months in its dust jacket, and he'd halfway distracted himself out of really seeing anything by being as loud as possible with Cory.

None of these things could happen now. He was an adult (or close to being one, anyway), and he was on a mission. He couldn't linger up front with the comics, no matter how tempting that seemed, and neither could he avert his eyes from the hard truth of the shelves of novels and textbooks and God-only-knows what else.

The door made a ringing noise as he entered, and the girl at the counter looked up. "Hi, can I help you with anything?" she asked, and he shook his head dumbly. He wasn't looking at her; she might as well have been a statue. He was looking at the books.

Shawn stepped forward and looked to his side. The bright colors of the children's section greeted his eyes, along with the familiar racks of comics. The girl at the counter (from the sound of her voice) was not much older than him, if at all; she wouldn't have been there when middle-school Shawn had clutched those issues in his trailer-park-dirty hands and shoved a few humble quarters over. There had been a man, a kindly man who'd seemed at the time to be so old, although he'd probably been about his dad's age. This girl might even be his daughter.

The store wasn't carpeted, and he was intensely aware of the fact that he was alone (except for the girl at the counter) with the books. He almost felt out of himself, as if he was a spirit drifting over the floor. The loud scuffs and clacks could not be coming from his shoes, because he was definitely weightless. He passed science books and historical fiction, women's lit and how-tos. The poetry section made him pause. He'd never owned a book of poetry, and had mostly depended on school and his own opinions to form the style he used when he scribbled rhythmic thoughts down, but to own a book of someone else's poetry would be like owning a piece of their soul. How could so many people have bought these? He'd rather die than have some of those poems read even by one other person. He kept walking.

The sprawling romance section was ahead of him, so he took a sharp right and began scanning the shelves more carefully. There, tucked between self-help and Christian fiction, was the section marked "Religion".

It had been two days since his experience at the hospital. Turner was still there, but the doctors had said that morning that he was ahead of schedule as far as recovery was concerned. Shawn had been staying at the Matthews' house, but to say he was sleeping there wouldn't be entirely true, because he'd done scarcely more than close his eyes since he left The Center. Cory, respecting his distance like the very best friend he was, hadn't mentioned any of it to him since; all of this meant that Shawn had been left alone with his thoughts, which cycled between Turner, the Matthews, his father, Mr. Mack, and the prayer.

He'd always been unsure about what he believed, and now he was even more so. At the time, he'd felt a presence, true enough, and even now he had a strange assurance that something or someone was taking care of Turner. All of that was fine, and if that had been all that the prayer (if that had even been what it was; it was more like he was yelling at God, really) had done for him he would have gladly accepted the existence of some sort of god and left it at that. Maybe he wouldn't have been as fulfilled as he'd felt at The Center, but at the very least he would have something to tell the Matthews, when they asked (like he knew they would, because even if Cory could, Alan and Amy couldn't leave well enough alone) what he believed.

That wasn't all, however. It felt like something was waiting for him, like he'd started something back at the hospital that needed to be finished. He liked the assurance; he wasn't sure that he liked this feeling. It felt like more responsibility, and as far as he could see that's what had gotten him into this mess in the first place. He didn't deal well with it.

All of these mixed emotions had led him to the bookstore, where he stood in front of the religious section. He hadn't really planned what to do past this point, but he couldn't possibly turn around now. The girl at the counter would know, and he felt like there was more shame in that than in buying comics with grimy quarters. There was a small stool in front of the shelf, so he sat on it and, feeling very much like a little kid again, looked up at the books.

Most of them seemed to be about Christianity, although there were a few titles that dealt with Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, as well as some he couldn't quite figure out. He pulled one of those out and looked at it. The glossy paper seemed wrong to him, and the colorful promises that took up the front made him think of The Center all over again. He put the book back hurriedly. All he wanted, honestly, was a book about the thing that had spoken to him or helped him. God. All of these books seemed to promise him things that somehow didn't feel as real as the hospital room. If God was real, Shawn wasn't going to find Him here.

He stood up and straightened his jacket. The top shelf had a row of Bibles, in different shapes and colors. He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. He knew the Matthews had a Bible at their house, so if he wanted to read that there was no need to visit a bookstore, although he couldn't imagine asking Cory to let him borrow the family Bible. He wasn't sure he would want to read it anyway. It seemed like, from what he'd caught from his father, a rulebook for life, and if there's anything that Hunters hate more than the police, it's rules. Those things were probably connected somehow, he thought. Most of the Bibles were glossy and fake-looking, anyway. There were some small paperbacks that looked halfway honest, but when he brushed his fingers against them they didn't feel right.

Shawn was almost ready to leave, even to face the shame of walking past the girl at the counter empty-handed (and not, for once, because he couldn't afford anything), when he saw it. A black book, another Bible, but not flashy like the others. There was no gloss, just a simple leathery sort of binding. The only words on it read "Holy Bible". He picked it up, feeling how the weight and texture blended into his hands, and looked at the front cover. Again, nothing except for "Holy Bible". The honest truth, he guessed. He liked that.

He had made his way to the counter before he realized that he didn't know how much the book was. The girl had it in her hand now; it was too late. She was kind of cute, he thought absentmindedly. Cute enough that he would have flirted with her if it had been any other day. She wore glasses, but they didn't make her look like a grandmother, and she had her hair cropped short. She had freckles too, and blue eyes, just like (he realized suddenly) the man who had been at the counter when he was in middle school.

Her voice broke through his thoughts as she told him the price. He dug into his pockets, embarrassed that he hadn't already thought to get his money in order, and handed her the wadded up contents. She sorted the money patiently as he looked at the bookmarks and chocolates by the counter. There were notebooks too, and one in particular reminded him of Topanga. If he'd had more money and less embarrassment, he might have bought it for her, as a sort of "thank-you" gift. Shawn thought that she was the kind of person who could needed something like that, to feel like she'd done some good; Cory didn't, and thank God for that, or else Shawn would be forever buying him presents.

"You're a few cents short," she said quietly, and he checked his pockets again. Flushing, he held out his hand to take everything back, but she dropped the Bible into a bag and handed it to him.

"I thought you said I was a few cents short," he said, his voice rough from disuse. He took the bag anyway.

"Think of it as a tip for being so cute," she replied, eyes sparkling. He laughed (for the first time since Turner's accident) and carried his purchase out into the sunlight, where he could read uninterrupted.