Sunset Books

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: June 12, 2019

Reads: 56

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Submitted: June 12, 2019

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The moment I set foot in Sunset Books I was enchanted.  I felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast dancing between shelves of books, mostly antiquated and out of print, wanting to touch each soft cover, imbibe each story, and fall in love with each character.  I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, getting my first taste of the rich scents around me. Somehow I knew I was where I was meant to be, and I didn’t know how I would insinuate myself in the texture of the space, but somehow I knew I had to.

I sighed and let a cheshire grin spread across my face as the thick musk of leather and aging words filled my head, creating the sort of drunken buzz only someone with a reading nook in her heart can appreciate.  For a moment I was too stunned to step any further into the store. My gaze scaled the walls which boasted built-in shelves that ran from the floor to the ceiling, each housing a bold array of wayworn covers and spines, some encased in glass to protect the precious items inside.  To the left of the room a dark wooden staircase rose to a second level that framed the back and right walls, where even more shelves held treasures for those who felt adventurous enough to climb them, and in the center of the room a wrought iron lamp, reminiscent of something found in an old victorian mansion, cascaded from the vaulted ceiling, which was elaborately molded with medallions and woven knotwork.

Through the haze of my newfound high a throat cleared, startling me back to reality enough to realize I wasn’t alone.  I blushed guiltily and whipped my head to the source of the sound. He sat behind a solid mahogany desk elaborately carved with flourishes and fleur-de-lys.  Anywhere else and it would have seemed ostentatious, but here it seemed to fit. The “he” behind the desk could have been tall, but it was hard to tell with the largesse of his surroundings.  He could have been twenty-five, or he could have been forty, it was hard to tell. His eyes, however, were much older, as if imbued with knowledge far beyond their time. They seemed to glow and deepen behind his black metal framed glasses in a wise but playful way.  Something about the way his deliberately messy chestnut hair fell around his face gave him a look of freedom and unpredictability. I was fascinated.

“Apologies,” he chuckled as he quickly rose from his seat.  Oh my, he was tall.  “I didn’t mean to startle you.  I’m just not accustomed to anyone strolling in this time of day and thought maybe you needed some help, or maybe some directions to a much more interesting location..”  He grinned as if I’d caught him in some mischievous act and pushed away an ancient looking typewriter on the desk. It glistened emerald green and gave out a little ding  when nudged, as if inviting me to sit and listen to its secret.

“Oh, no,” I responded quickly, pulling my eyes from the typewriter against their will.  “I’m just new to the area, and your store caught my attention the other day when I walked by, so I decided to pop in.  I’m sorry if I needed to make an appointment... or something.” I blushed, suddenly embarrassed without knowing why. I don’t blush.  

“Not at all!  We just have a very specific clientele with very specific hours.  Pardon my words, but I don’t usually see people so, um, young in my store.  Antique books aren’t especially hip these days.”

I laughed.  “Well,” I admitted, “I’ve never been accused of being particularly hip.”  

“Oh, come now.”  He winked at me, and I suddenly realized he was moving closer and possibly had been for the entirety of our conversation. “You’re at least the ‘hippest’ person I’ve met all day, and I am honoured to have you grace us with your presence.”  At the word “us” he spread his arms and motioned to the books around him, never taking his eyes off me.

I blushed for the second time in thirty seconds and glanced around, unsure whether I was more interested in looking at this mysteriously captivating man or his fascinating store.  As if reading my mind he held out his hand in polite greeting. “My name is Xavier,” he offered warmly. “I’ll keep you from your curiosity no longer, but I do hope you’ll stop in again.  We’re always glad to have such a friendly face.”

“I’m Amelia,” I offered in return, “and I look forward to it.”  I felt everything within me wince as my brain admonished me for being dull. That was the best you could come up with?  “I look forward to it”?

I reached forward and took his hand in mine.  It was warm and soft with a firm, confident grip.  A curious rush of electricity travelled up my arm to the top of my head.  I smiled in surprise, wondering if he had noticed. We shook hands for just a second too long, and I sensed a hint of hesitation as I released my grip and his hand slipped from mine.  Then he returned to his desk and I turned to face a towering shelf of beautifully nonjudgmental books before my slight smile became an outright silly grin, and I realized just how much trouble I could get myself into with this man if he’d let me.

That, of course, was what had brought me to San Francisco in the first place, Trouble.  I had left Vegas with the intention of turning my life around not following the same bad habits and dead-end roads I had left behind, but here I was practically licking my chops at the presence of a complete stranger.

Steady Amelia, I told myself.  Focus all this energy on the books.  And that is exactly what I did. I ran my hands over elaborately coloured and carved leather covers, sampling passages as I flipped through unfamiliar pages like a fortune teller.  I pondered long forgotten, far out of print titles, marveling at the artistry and craftsmanship in each one. I absorbed enticing titles and poured over Tables of Contents until I felt a gentle hand resting on my shoulder.

“I hate to tear you from your exploration here,” he said softly, obviously trying not to startle me, “but it’s getting dark outside, and I have an early appointment in the morning.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to lock up here soon.” He seemed apologetic, and I was instantly ashamed that this man felt guilty for interrupting the hours I had spent treating his business like a library.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” I sputtered immediately.  “I didn’t realize I’d been here so long, and you probably have important things to do, and here I am taking up valuable time in your-“

His beaming smile immediately brought my rambling to a stop, rendering me speechless as he held out a hand and helped me off the floor where I had nearly taken root.  I said a silent prayer of thanks for the assistance as I realized my feet had fallen asleep tucked beneath me.”Really, it’s alright,” he assured me patiently. “I enjoyed having someone else in the store, and it’s good to know we’re still appreciated.”  Again, he motioned to the shelves around him as if speaking on behalf of a community.

We chatted lightly as I gathered my belongings and he began the process of putting the store to rest for the night.  Each lamp and light had its own switch or cord, and making the rounds to turn them all off seemed both methodical and intimate as he seemed to approach each one as one would bid goodnight to a group of friends, one at a time.  I was touched by his apparent appreciation for everything around him, and as he locked up the store and we parted ways I found myself feeling far less alone than I had in a long time.


 


© Copyright 2019 Jennifer Clifford. All rights reserved.

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