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Dear Lovely Past

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1945, New York City

 

Like every Saturday morning, Diane McClintock comes into the little store filled with old books. Her guilty pleasure. She loves the scent of these, and she always likes to imagine how they ended up here, for sale at a low price.

And she takes the time to imagine their story: who owned them before? why did they sell them? how old are they? Little questions like these, innocent but also meaningful. Diane is curious, and even if she can't feed that curiosity, coming here and spending one hour or so among books certainly older than her gives her a pleasant feeling.

When she crosses the threshold, she looks around her to embrace this peaceful setting. Shelves packed with books everywhere, and also boxes on the floor, some of them just unpacked.

The salesman, as always, is nowhere to be found. He doesn't have as many customers as he would like to, but his shop stays open nonetheless. Diane wonders how, sometimes, he can manage to maintain his little business upright. The war has just ended, and it's sometimes difficult to make ends meet. Herself, being born in a wealthy family, doesn't have this kind of problem. Still, she works; being idle must be so boring.

Although the shop owner isn't here, she's not surprised to find another man standing in front of a shelf. Tall and thin, he looks quite good in a dark brown suit matching his slicked back hair. She can only see his back, but she knows who he is. Thus, when he turns around upon hearing the doorbell, she recognizes him right away. A young but not-too-young man, in his mid-thirties certainly, with European features and a thin mustache. Quite handsome in his own quiet way.

He would have tipped his hat at her to acknowledge her presence, but said hat is in his left hand, not on top of his head. So he only manages a small smile. Neither of them wants to break the silence of this quiet little shop in a small alley. Diane smiles back, in a lovely but not-too-charming way. And like always, she starts looking through the shelves to find new old books to read.

 

* * *

 

"Miss! Excuse me, miss?"

It takes Diane a moment to understand that the man's voice is directed at her. One second she thinks of just ignoring it and going straight home, but something in that voice makes her look at him. She's only half-surprised to recognize the man from the bookstore she just left. Is he following her? She frowns at this thought.

But then, he hands her a dollar bill and some coins. She blinks, not sure to understand what he's doing.

"Your money", he says in a soft voice, with a hint of an accent, very light but here nonetheless. "You forgot it at the store."

She remembers, of course. She gave a 50 dollars note to the salesman, and what she should have taken back lies in this man's hand. With the faintest of smiles, she takes it and puts it in her purse.

"Why thank you mister... I'm sorry I don't know your name."

The man smiles politely, well aware of that fact.

"Because I never told you. Mr. Ryan, Andrew Ryan."

Diane frowns lightly. That name rings a bell, that's for sure. But can he really be...?

"Do you mean the Andrew Ryan, or do you just have the same name? I don't think I saw you in the papers... Oh sorry excuse me, I'm being silly."

He adjusts his hat, his smile not fading in the slightest.

"But don't worry miss." He chuckles discreetly. "Yes, you can say that. I usually don't like to have my picture in the papers, that's all. I'm counting on you not to spread the word; I don't want this quiet bookstore to be flooded with people just because I'm used to going there. Old and valuable books deserve dedicated and hard-working owners, but also silence, I believe."

Intrigued, Diane smiles a little more. She almost forgets who she is talking to. Right now, he's not the wealthy industrialist who reaches the top of America's wealthy people. He's just a charming man who enjoys old books as much as her.

"Why did you give me the money back? That's not much, less than five dollars. You could have kept it to buy an extra book. Someone else may have done so."

Ryan doesn't stop smiling, but his expression becomes more serious.

"The question is: why would I keep it? I didn't earn this money with work, thus it's not mine. There's no point in keeping something which isn't mine, don't you agree?" His eyes start shining again, like those of a young boy seeing something incredible. "Besides, I'm a little too wealthy to worry about two dollars and a half."

The blonde woman opens her mouth, just to close it right after. She finds herself quite stupid after what he just said. In fact, he's oh-so-right. Surprising from one of the richest in the country.

"Well I must admit, you have a point Mr. Ryan." She takes a look at her shoes in an awkward moment of silence. "Thank you again, really. I was glad to see you."

She curses herself for her own attitude. Why can't she be comfortable with a man who is just being nice and helpful? Probably because she doesn't see that kind of men often. Sometimes she would just bury herself in the ground to never see the sun again. Or disappear under the sea, far away where nobody could see how silly she is.

When she hears his voice, she focuses again.

"The pleasure is all mine, miss..." He grins playfully. "Well I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

She smiles too, forgetting her discomfort almost instantly.

"McClintock sir, Diane McClintock. I don't expect you to remember it next time we meet in this bookstore of course..."

Ryan takes her arm as if he were a close friend or a lover, interrupting her rather bluntly.

"Well miss McClintock, I'm delighted to make your acquaintance. Now if you please, may we take a short walk together?"

That's not a question and she knows it. But she's fine with it anyway.