Ana Lancaster shook her head in disgust, her long black hair flinging around. She hated seeing any form of PDA. It made her stomach turn, like a fist to the gut. She looked away so she didn’t have to see them kissing and she had to force her hands to stop quivering. She didn’t want to spill her expensive coffee all over herself, after all.
It took a moment for her to shake the witnessed act from her brain. She knew it shouldn’t make her feel this way after so long, but she just couldn’t help herself whenever it happened. It was a knee-jerk reaction and she had to breathe to make it go away. She remembered Mason’s insistence at PDA, as though his hands all over her proved that she would never get anyone better. She shook with rage, thinking about how he had abused her. The images of her bruised body stood out in her mind, black and blue and sometimes bloody. She had to force the thoughts away. She hadn’t thought of him in a long time and she was upset that he entered her mind now. She took a few deep breathes, but still, her stomach churned as she exited the coffee shop, stepping into the chilly Minnesota air. Leaves blew across the pavement and fell from the nearly naked trees, the bare branches seeming melancholy without their clothing, waving in the breeze.
She had worked long and hard to get her mind off of the monster she had wasted six years on. They had started dating in high school, and she had been amazed that he was interested in her, given her size. She wasn’t exactly huge, but she was a larger young woman with curves, which was frowned upon in today’s world. Everyone was supposed to be stick thin, yet have big boobs. She hated that such an image was projected on everyone. She loved herself and her body, but it was surprising that a guy felt the same way. After they graduated high school, they moved in together and everything changed. Mason had started beating her and telling her she would never deserve anything better. She believed it, since no one else had ever shown any interest in her. He broke her down and she was with him for far too long. It had taken a lot to leave him and it had been violent.
She quickly readjusted her bright red scarf as she walked down the sidewalk, seeking shelter in her favorite bookstore a few doors down. She stopped just inside the door, melting in the warm air and closed her eyes, breathing in the smell of old leather and books. When she opened her eyes again, she had to readjust her eyes to the brightly lit room. The shiny mahogany floors made the heels of her boots echo as she slowly clacked into the store, sipping her hazelnut coffee. This was bliss, she thought, the kissing couple and Mason forgotten.
Ana unwound her scarf and unbuttoned her black pea coat, slewing the coat across a chair at an empty table that resided in the middle of the room. Coffee in hand, she walked over to the register, where a tall, slim man had his glasses halfway down his nose, peering down at an old volume he had spread across the counter. She smiled at the sight of the old man, her favorite person in the entire world.
“Hey Gramps,” she said cheerfully, looking at the book upside down. “Watcha got there?”
“Oh! Anastasia! I didn’t hear you come in,” the old man’s papery thin voice exclaimed, glancing at her in surprise. “This is just an old copy of Romeo and Juliet,” he answered, looking back down at the text.
Ana loved her grandfather. He was the one she had all the adventures with as a child, and they had all happened in the pages of books. He would read to her every night growing up, changing the voices and dramatically acting out all the characters. They were the fondest memories she had. Her parents had always been too busy at their jobs, and too tired when they came home to spend much time with her. Gramps had lived with them ever since his wife, Ana’s grandmother Brenda, had passed away when Ana was a baby. Ana had grown up with books and her grandfather and their journeys.
Grandpa William had owned this used bookshop for over forty years. There was a special section in the back where the good volumes were kept; the ones that were worth a lot of money. Old volumes in good condition and even older volumes in not so good condition, but that was only inevitable given their age. First edition pages bound in leather lined the shelves in that section. The rest of the store was a meld of newer books that were traded in or sold by avid readers, and some new copies of books that had been recently released.
Ana leaned her hip against the counter, folding her arms under her full breasts, sighing. She knew that someday she would take over this store, and she already inherited the love for it and its contents. This place was her second home. Gramps mumbled something under his breath about people folding down the corners of the pages and she softly smiled. He always complained about that, but Ana bent the bindings of her paperbacks. He grumbled about that too, but only half-heartedly.
“Is there anything new in?” She asked.
“No, nothing interesting. Someone dropped off some romance novels,” he replied, still looking down at the Shakespeare volume.
“Hmm,” she murmured. “Trashy and scandalous.” Gramps snorted laughter at her judgment. “I’m going to write, let me know if anything interesting comes in.” Ana leaned across the counter and kissed his cheek.
“Write me somethin’ good,” he said.
“I will,” she smiled, walking away. She picked up her coat and scarf and slung her black laptop bag across her shoulder. Her slightly wide hips swayed as she walked to the back of the store. There was a single table that sat with the old books. She could smell the leather here as she took out her Macbook. As her computer booted up, she ran her fingers along the bindings of the books, taking them in. It could almost be considered a private collection, since no one in this small Midwestern town bought these old books. They were treasures that her grandfather had found, one by one. There were hundreds.
Ana thought about the times she had traveled with him, going to auctions where there were all kinds of books. He had been very selective with everything he bought, carefully looking over the bindings and pages, weighing the damage with the age. Now he was getting too old and frail to be traveling and she felt a twinge of sadness. She shoved the thought down into her mind and forced it away before it became something bigger, and before she thought about how Mason had tried to separate her from her relationship with her grandfather. She sat at the mahogany table in a black leather upholstered chair, clicking away at the keys. She checked her email and turned her phone on silent before opening up her manuscript.
She tapped the keys lightly before really typing. She got lost in her story about an elvin girl orphaned and lost in the woods. She didn’t even realize that her coffee was cold when she sipped at it. She didn’t hear the door to the store open and close, or her grandfather talking to a man with a soothing baritone voice. She was lost in her words, a marvelous place to be in her mind. Her fingers flew over the keyboard, barely able to keep up with the words tumbling from within her. She never knew where they came from or how they molded together, but it was magic when it happened.
Ana was startled when she looked up from her computer screen and was staring at the back of a man looking at the bookshelves. “May I help you?” She inquired, forgetting that this space was a public store.
The man looked back at her, and she found herself looking up into ice blue eyes. She was startled at the brightness of them, a shocking contrast to his black hair. “No, I don’t think so,” he said smoothly. “I’m just browsing.”
“Oh,” Ana flushed, a little embarrassed at sounding like she owned the place and no one else had the right to be there. “I’m sorry, please feel free. If you need any help with anything, just let me know.”
The stranger studied her for a moment before saying, “You seem very focused. May I ask what it is you’re writing?”
“I’m just writing a piece of fiction. A short story that became a novella, that might become a novel. I just kind of write, without really knowing where it’s going,” Ana blushed again and sipped her cold coffee, just needing something to do with her fidgety hands.
“Well that’s an interesting way to do things. Many writers I know need some kind of structure. Anyway, sorry to have interrupted your flow,” he said, leaving the back and walking towards the front of the store. She watched him leave. He tugged his coat around him before he walked out the door.
Ana went to the register to talk to her grandfather. “Gramps, who was that man?”
He looked at her over the rim of his glasses. “I’m not sure, Anastasia. But he brought this book in, I’m not at all sure what it is,” he gestured to the counter and she saw a slim, leather bound volume. The binding was a bit worn, looking like it had been opened and read many times. There wasn’t a title etched or stamped into the leather and she picked it up. It was surprisingly heavy in her hands. She squinted at it, opening the book. There was only a title on the first page, no author listed. It read, “BEASTS OF THE JUNGLE.” The year was 1800. The story started on the next page.
CHRISTOPHER climbed the tree using branches and vines. Swiftly before the beasts could find him and eat him. He was safe in the trees, so long as he moved quickly. He heard the growling of them below his feet. They wanted his blood spilled upon the ground at their claws. Fearsome beasts were they.
Ana snapped the book shut. She felt something strange when she read the text, a tingling sensation in her bones and blood. “Can I take this home and read it before you put it for sale, Gramps?”
“Oh, of course you can. I’m not worried about it,” he replied, waving it off.
“Thanks! Oh, and I wrote another chapter!” Ana sang, dancing off to the back of the store. She put on her pea coat and scarf, carefully putting the old book into her bag as she heard her grandfather praise her on a job well done. She smiled, excited to read this book. Anything new and different made her feel like a new person, as though anything were possible in a new world of a new book.
She walked out of the store after saying goodbye, and walked down the sidewalk, chilled. It was only a few blocks to her house, but she couldn’t get there fast enough. She walked fast, her breath coming out in puffs. She couldn’t wait to curl up in her favorite chair and get lost in a new world with a cup of hot cocoa.