Dust mites play on waves of sunlight. The few sharp rays that cut through the dirty window are a spotlight on weathered bindings of ancient books. The used bookstore is a hole in the wall, set in the most remote part of downtown, off the most remote back alley I can find. Books explode off each shelf, tower in stacks against each wall. It’s a wonder anyone can find this place.
But somehow I did.
I mill around the musty section in the back, “Gardening” and “Self-Help.” Gardening can be considered therapeutic, I guess. A tickle in my nose demands that I leave this place at once, but the treasure of an undiscovered bookstore won’t allow it. Another tickle and I stifle a sneeze.
“Bless you,” comes a male voice from the next aisle over.
A gasp catches in my throat and my heart speeds. I’m not alone down here?
“Thank you,” I mumble, then shove my nose back into the offending pages.
“Looking for Romance?” he says again.
I blink. “Excuse me?”
He laughs. “I mean, are you looking for a romance novel?”
My cheeks burn and suddenly I’m happy he’s a whole aisle over. “Oh.” I tilt the book in my hand. Construction of Castles and Cathedrals. Nope, definitely not romance. “Erm…art.” Architecture is considered art, right?
“If you like medieval stuff, there’s a good one over here. About a knight and a maiden. Castles, too, of course.” The humor in his voice makes my belly twist and warm. This guy sounds cute.
I shove the book I hold back on the shelf and take a step.
“That is, if you enjoy romance.” The man’s voice is forceful.
I wince and stop in my tracks. Did he not want to meet me? Why invite me over, only to scare the heebie-jeebies out of me? “Uh, yeah. I’m down for a good romance, once in a while.” I clear my throat.
“Mind if I come over?”
Okay, this is weird now.
I walk around the corner. The aisle is empty. Other than the million books that line each side of it. My brow pushes together and stomach sinks. Well, Mr. Cute Guy certainly isn’t interested in anything long term.
A book sits on top of all the rest, slipped neatly against the top of the shelf, but stuck out just enough to catch my eye. I pick it up. The Knight and His Maiden. Well, that guy was literal in his description.
I crinkle my nose and put it back, turn to leave–
“You sure you don’t want the book?” His voice again.
My feet spin in place. Nothing. No one. Not a single soul here. My heart pounds in confusion.
“Take the book. I think you’ll find you need it.”
I reach out, take it in my hand. Flip open the cover.
My jaw drops.
The book holds the voice of my companion.
©Laura L. Zimmerman 2016