EXCERPT from Love's Twist of Fate
Lydia strolled along the sidewalk, oblivious to her surroundings. As she passed street cafes, boutiques and numerous other fashionable retailers, her mind was on a totally different plane to where she was at that moment. She continued her dreamlike stroll toward the intersection, her thoughts wandering back to the afternoon already past.
She had been sitting alone in the office lunch room enjoying a tossed green salad and five minutes to herself, when Sonia burst into the room. “There you are!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
“Why? What’s all the excitement about?” Lydia asked, taken aback by her colleague’s overexcited entrance.
“Jason and I got engaged last night. Look,” she replied, pushing the huge diamond under Lydia’s nose.
“Oh!” Lydia had been lost for words, but after the initial shock wore off she stood up and hugged her coworker. “Congratulations,” she offered, feeling a distinct pang of envy.
Now, while waiting for the traffic light to change, it suddenly occurred to her that eighty-five percent of the people she worked with were either dating, in a serious relationship, or married with a couple of kids. She gazed up at the cloudy sky and silently asked,“What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I meet a man that I can share my life with?” The green walk sign flashed on and she was jostled by pedestrians around her stepping off the curb. Her mind suddenly snapped back to the present and she gazed around her, realizing she was standing alone on the corner. Gathering her composure, she stepped off the curb and crossed the street. As she moved closer to the opposite sidewalk, she spotted the quaint new bookstore on the corner and wondered why she hadn’t noticed it before.
The sky had been threatening rain all afternoon and when she reached the opposite curb, the heavens opened up and heavy drops of rain tumbled from the sky. Thinking quickly, she lifted her purse over her head and made a dash for the bookstore’s covered entrance. “Oh no,” she moaned, when she looked down at her navy pants suit jacket. The heavy drops had saturated the lapels, spreading conspicuously into a solid wet V across her chest. She glanced at her reflection in the bookstore window; at least her hair was still dry. While she stood watching pedestrians rushing along the sidewalk, trying to get out of the rain, she glimpsed the collection of books on display.
Lydia turned around and scanned the covers, recognizing authors of whom she had once been an avid fan. Danielle Steel, Charlotte Lamb, Nora Roberts … each had considerable story-telling appeal. She recalled how she would curl up in bed on a winter’s night with one of their novels and be instantly transported into a medley of exotic settings, interesting characters and intrigue, finding it an exquisite escape from the mundane reality of her humdrum existence.
As she studied the tempting, attractive covers, she decided it couldn’t hurt to pop inside and browse the shelves for a while. After all, it was still raining and she didn’t have an umbrella. A good excuse to do something else she hadn’t done in a long time. She reached for the handle, pushed the door open and stepped inside. A tiny brass bell tinkled above her head, and it reminded her of something from a bygone era.
The interior of the store was hazy, with only a skylight and the street window offering any illumination. It took a few seconds for Lydia’s eyesight to adjust to the dim surroundings, and as she moved forward tentatively she wondered where the proprietor was. An icy chill ran up her spine and the hairs on the back of her neck bristled, causing her to stop for a moment to shrug off the feeling. Maybe I should call out, she thought, opening her mouth but closing it again. Lydia considered turning around and leaving before anyone realized she was there. She glanced through the window and noticed that the rain had eased to a shower. She turned and made a b-line for the door, but when she reached for the handle a voice echoed out of the haze.
“Leaving so soon, dear? I was certain you were looking for something in particular.” The voice was female.
Lydia spun around. “Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
“I’ve been here the whole time, dear,” the older woman assured.
“I – I didn’t think…” She took a couple of cautious steps toward her. “I didn’t think anyone was here.”
“And why would you think that, my dear? The store is open.” The woman stepped underneath the skylight, giving Lydia a clearer view. She appeared to be in her late sixties, or so Lydia thought, with long grey hair tied in a neat braid. She wore a floor-length, deep purple, crushed velvet dress, with a matching crocheted shawl draped around her shoulders and clasped at the center with an antique jewelled brooch. Her face was pleasant and her sparkling eyes very expressive. She held out her hand and smiled. “My name’s Faith. I’m the owner of this little book shop.”
Lydia shook the woman’s hand. “I’m – I’m Lydia, pleased to meet you.”
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Not really. I just came in to get out of the rain.” That wasn’t quite true. “And to browse the shelves,” she added quickly. “You have a wonderful selection of books in your window.”
“Thank you. Well take your time, dear, there are a lot of books to choose from. If you need any help just give me a shout, I’ll be out back.” The woman turned around, shuffled to the rear of the store and disappeared through a curtained doorway that Lydia hadn’t noticed before.
Lydia took another uncertain step. “Um, thanks,” she called out.
There was no answer.
The uneasy feeling she had experienced before the old woman appeared clung to her. She attempted to shrug it off once again, telling herself not to be silly. After a minute or two she hurried to the back shelves and began studying the different genres stacked from floor to ceiling. None of the books stood upright, but lay horizontal, and Lydia assumed it was to fit more onto the shelves. After several minutes of pulling out books and reading blurbs, she finally came to the ‘Romantic Fiction’ section. Skimming over a number of authors she didn’t recognize or hadn’t previously enjoyed, she found the section she’d been looking for. Her eyes moved meticulously along the spines of each book in the hope that something would jump out at her, but nothing did.
She sighed with disappointment. I could really use a good book to read right now, she thought, there’s really nothing to go home to. At that moment, the old woman appeared behind her with a stack of books in her arms. Startled, Lydia stepped back and almost tripped over the ladder tilted against the shelves behind her.
“I didn’t mean to startle you, dear. Are you all right?”
“Yes – yes, I’m fine.” Lydia gave a nervous laugh. “I was so engrossed in looking for a book that I didn’t hear you come over.”
Faith stacked the books she had in her arms onto the shelf in front of her. “Has anything caught your imagination yet?”
Lydia thought that was an odd thing to say; her interest, certainly, but her imagination? “Unfortunately, no, nothing has really jumped out at me.”
“What about this one then?” Faith squeezed a book out of the selection she had just placed on the shelf and tapped the cover. “It’s a classic, you know,” she added, passing it Lydia.
“Really?” Lydia studied the book for a moment. The cover was bound in worn maroon leather with the page edges embossed in faded gold leaf. It certainly looked well-read. Antique most likely. Lydia glanced at the shelves and found there were no other books that resembled the one in her hand. She turned to the woman. “Shouldn’t this be in the rare and antique books section?”
“You’re probably right.” Faith frowned. “I don’t know what possessed me to put it there.” Shrugging, she said, “Oh well, not to worry, I’m sure you’ll make good use of it.”
Lydia attempted to pass the book back, contemplating how expensive it must be. “Thanks all the same, but I couldn’t afford a book like this.”
The older woman waved it away. “Nonsense, it needs someone to take it home and read it. It’s been here far too long. Tell you what, why don’t you take it home and next time you’re in the neighborhood you can bring me a book in exchange. How’s that?”
Lydia was speechless. She frowned at the book in her hand; there was something tempting about taking it. A voice inside her head whispered ‘take the book’. She glanced at Faith and said, “Well, if you’re sure?”
“You go on now, before the rain starts up again.” She smiled at her.
“I’ll drop the book back to you in a couple of days … if that’s all right?”
“If you still feel the same by then, by all means bring it back,” Faith offered, shooing her out of the store. “Now off you go. I’m about to close up for the evening.”
Lydia hugged the book to her chest, smiled unsurely, and made her way to the door. As she opened it she turned around to thank Faith, but found she was once again alone in the store. She glanced around the room, gave a disconcerted shrug, and stepped outside.
She stood in the alcove studying the maroon, leather-bound tome in her hand, feeling hesitant about taking such an expensive book home. Thinking she should return it, Lydia turned around and was surprised to see the blind drawn and the closed sign peering back at her. She frowned. The whole experience had been unusual, to say the least, but Faith had been extremely helpful and kind, and now she had a book to read. She placed it carefully inside her purse, stepped out of the doorway and continued her walk home.
Want to continue reading? Pick up your copy here
© 2013 Maggie Anderson
Bella Luna Books, Australia
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission of the Author.