The loud rumble of thunder beckons me to move faster down the New York City streets. I look up at the soft blanket of grey above me, making me nervous at the thought it might rain soon if I did not hurry. Exams were in 3 weeks and I only decided to pick my English topic now. Wonderful Rose, organised as ever.
I roll my eyes and nestle further into my scarf, secretly hoping it would keep me safe from the outside world. The click, click, click of my black boots against the pavement keeps in time with my heartbeat. A pulse. A rhythm. Keeping me alive.
The path gently bends into a row of stores. ‘Gracie’s Wines’, ‘Sushi Suki’… jeez, where is this damn bookstore Maisy told me about? And just as I was about to give up, I see the sign.
It is nothing like I pictured and yet everything I expected. The old-fashioned aesthetic was exactly the type of thing Maisy was into. She was an old soul, never had many friends. Books were her friends, and that was how we clicked, I guess. But this bookstore just looked so out of place in the hustle and bustle of the city. Like a penny-farthing in a motorbike dealership.
My frostbitten hands push the green door, causing bells to chime sweetly as I enter, and I am greeted with a comforting silence. I stride down the aisles of books in the dimly lit store, lightly caressing their spines as if to say ‘hello’. These places always seem like home to me. They’ve always been more of a home than my real home anyways. And I relish every moment I get to be alone in such a place as this.
My carefree trance leads me down the next aisle. A looming figure comes into view and I am immediately back into reality. Soft, dark curls. Tall, awkward posture. Dark circles under brooding eyes that suddenly locked with mine and for once in my life, I wasn’t the only teenager in some lame bookstore. Never mind that, it looked like he worked here too. How…fascinating.
The tall stranger looked at me a little longer before awkwardly averting his eyes to the precious books. “Can I help you?”
The sudden breaking of silence by his voice caught me off guard and I felt sweat accumulate on my palms. “Ah, um yes, actually. I was wondering if you sell any Sylvia Plath?”
His eyes lit up slightly, which for some reason made my heart race just a little. “Of course. Follow me” the stranger said with a slight curve on his lips.
He shows me a shelf with a collection of Plath’s works. The Bell Jar, Three Women, and pretty much every poem published after her death.
“So, what exactly were you after?”
“U-uh, The Colossus and Other Poems? If you have it, that is.”
He closes his eyes and chuckles, almost as if to say ‘of course we have it’. And sure enough, he pulls out a copy.
He hands it to me, our hands briefly touching. Shivers ran down my back, perhaps due to an open window or our fleeting touch. “It surprised me” he began “that someone like you would be interested in something as mundane as literature.” The way he said mundane was thickly coated with sarcasm and I couldn’t tell if he was being condescending or teasing. Either way, I was willing to play along.
“What makes you say that? Do I not look like your typical bookworm?”
“Kinda. Girls like you don’t typically walk into Mooney’s. And as for your choice of book, well, I assumed at first you would ask for The Bell Jar. Not necessarily a bad choice, just cliché. I’m sure most white girls have picked it up in the hopes of seeming ‘deep and meaningful’.”
I stood there, taken aback by his sudden chattiness. Honestly, I’m pretty shocked at this guy’s burst of candour, a guy I barely know at that. But it is, in a way, endearing.
I guess he could sense my bewilderment and quickly changed demeanour, going back to the awkward, shy role he played before. “I, uh, I hope I didn’t offend you.”
“Not at all, I must say I value your honesty. I must ask, were you pleasantly surprised?”
His smile picked up again, his tall figure looming over my small frame. “Definitely.”
Time feels empty. So does my mind. Looking into his eyes, I feel almost hypnotised. Who is this guy?
But the sweet bliss was crushed by the loud thud beneath our feet. Curse my sweaty hands! I quickly bend down to pick up the fallen book and internally scold myself for being so dim-witted. The mysterious boy in front of me seems ready to say something when it is interrupted by a voice much harsher than his own.
“You stupid, clumsy boy! You can’t even hold onto one book without dropping the fucking thing. Pathetic.”
A man, old and grey, pushes his way past me to retrieve the book, anger plaguing his face. I can just see past the man to look at the boy’s eyes, consumed with a feeling I knew all too well.
I knew I had to do something, I could cost him his job! “Please, sir, please it’s not his fault! I’m so sorry to have been so careless but you have to understand he was just helping me. I hope you can forg-“
“So it was you, huh? We don’t tolerate teenage hooligans in this store.”
“I must kindly ask you to leave.”
After that outburst, I am probably too scared to object any longer, so, I take my leave, giving the boy with the sullen eyes one last glance. I am returned with a friendly smile and my heart picks up its pace.
I would’ve liked to have gotten his name. Or his number. But I guess I’ll never see him again.
I knew I was going back in the cage. I have been in trouble with Mr. Mooney enough times to know what would get me in there. But honestly? It doesn’t matter. Not when my mind is elsewhere. Searching my mind for those sweet moments with her. With Rose.
It didn’t take me long at all to find out her name (for Christ’s sake it was embroidered onto her handbag, how could I not find out?) But what a perfect name it is for her. Everything about her is…intoxicating, beautiful. Just like a rose.
The way she looked at me, emerald eyes searching my own. It was exciting. And I can’t forget her eagerness to defend me against Mr. Mooney’s false claims. She seemed to care about me. Did she care?
Something about her, I don’t know what it is, but it makes me want to be around her. I want to know her. I want to be close to her
The distant calls of Mr. Mooney, demanding me to get into my glass prison penetrate my thoughts of her and I realise that if I was going to stay sane here, I needed something…someone to give me purpose.
She was the key.