Tim unlocked the door and stepped out into the fresh autumnal morning. Up and down The Street other shop keepers were doing the same, exchanging nods of greeting before ducking back into the warmth and flipping signs to announce to the world that they were open.
Tim drew in an icy breath and released a stream of vapour. They would be lucky to see many customers today. Quaint cobbles and oak beamed buildings could draw the tourists during the summer months, but on a day like this it was unlikely anyone would make the effort to stray so far from the bustling centre of town. He turned back to his shop door, gave his usual brief frown at the state of his paintwork and stepped back inside.
The familiar musty smell of dying books took over from the crisp outside air. It was a smell he had grown up with and learned to love. His father had instilled in him a deep love and reverence for the printed word and he had spent much of his childhood prowling between these shelves on the hunt for some new adventure. When the old man had died two years earlier, there had been no doubt in Tim’s mind that he would take over the shop, debts and all.
Those last few years, the shop had been more of a hobby than a business to Tim’s father. Customers had been few and far between and sales even rarer so that when Tim took his first look at the ledgers after the funeral he had almost had a heart attack of his own. He dug a bit deeper into the overdraft though and set up a website which had proven so effective that last month he had celebrated his first bank statement printed in black ink.
Tim headed back to the counter and his recent acquisitions from. He had been photographing, cataloguing and pricing the books since the early hours of the morning. There was one item in particular he wanted to get on the shelves just in case.
Stepping onto the old cobbles was like stepping back in time. The cold had almost dissuaded her from coming out this lunchtime, but towards the end of the morning the office walls had begun to close in on her.
Now she felt the familiar excitement as she headed for the faded green door and its peeling paint. She smiled as usual at the name of the shop – a very appropriate quote by Longfellow she thought – and stepped through the door. The bell jangled over her and the sudden warmth misted up her glasses She pulled them off and started to rummage about in her oversized handbag for a tissue.
“She looks so much prettier without the glasses,” Tim thought, but then again the drab dress and sensible shoes didn’t help too much on that front either. In any case it wasn’t her looks that appealed so much as the twinkle of excitement in her eyes and the flush of anticipation on her cheeks.
As she put the glasses back in place he offered her a gentle nod and the very slightest hint of a smile. He had made the mistake of asking if he could help on her first visit and she had almost run from the shop in panic. She nodded back and headed directly for the section on romantic fiction as she had every visit since her first arrival over a month ago. Tim went back to his cataloguing and held his breath.
There were a lot of reasons she loved this shop and here was one of them: each section had a shelf for new acquisitions where new arrivals would spend a week before being listed alphabetically by author with the rest. Her eye was drawn almost immediately to a title she’d not come across before.
As she opened the cover a small card fell out. She stooped to pick it up and read the neat cursive script:
“I think you’ll enjoy this”
She looked over at the shopkeeper who was perhaps a little too focused on his work. It took her a few minutes to work up the courage, but eventually she walked up to the counter and handed over the book with a shy smile which he returned.
Money changed hands and she walked back out the door with her purchase. Tim’s heart was racing. Perhaps next time he might risk saying something.
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