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Tales from the Bookstore

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"Are you sure you have everything?" Jacob Stone asked his girlfriend, well soon to be ex-girlfriend.  Despite everything they'd tried to say to each other in the last few weeks, he knew he'd never see her again.  They were standing outside of the international terminal at the airport, where Mabel was soon to be departing for her dream job in Paris.

She nodded, a gentle smile on her face, "yes, Jacob, I have everything.  Just please kiss me goodbye, okay? I really need to get in."

"Yeah, I know, darlin'.  I . . .Mabel . . .I . . ."Mabel's finger went on his lips.

"Don't, Jacob, don't. Okay? Just kiss me."

He nodded and obliged.  This kiss, unlike the ones last night, had an air of finality about it. The kisses last night, even as they made love for the last time, had had an air of hope about them. But Mabel was always the more sensible of the two of them. The one with adventure in her veins, where she was going, he couldn't follow.  And eventually he'd be okay with that.

"I've gotta go.  Take care of yourself, won't you Jake?" He nodded, trying to keep the lump in his throat down. "Tell everyone at the Draft that I'll miss them!  I've gotta go."  She kissed him one last time then stepped away.

"Goodbye, Jake. I'll text you when I get there."

"Yeah," he nodded and as she turned to the door, he called her name one last time. She turned to look at him and he raised his hand to wave. "Have a great life, Mabel."

She nodded, accepting that it was now in fact over, despite the comforting fictions they'd tried to feed each other of trying to have a long distance relationship. It would never work.  Then she disappeared inside without another word.


 

He took the rest of the day off of work.  He'd intended to lose himself in a bottle of whiskey but instead he lost himself in a book.  All things considered it probably was a better option, he really didn't want to come in hung over.  Especially since work was something he desperately needed right now to get his mind off of Mabel.

Jacob had come to New York with a dream, a dream that had been 20 years in the making. College had been out of the question after high school and he watched his peers go off to Oklahoma or Oklahoma State or Texas A&M while he stayed behind, stuck in his dead end job in his family's constantly just below failing business.  Year, after year, he stayed, trying to keep his father from drinking away the business completely.  Meanwhile, all of his free time was spent studying and writing.  Jacob Stone had the iq of a genius, though no one in his family knew.  No one really knew, as he did his writing under a nom de plume.  Only one online friend knew the truth, Flynn Carsen, who was now Jacob's boss. 

Three years ago, his father finally succeeded in drinking himself to death.  Jacob sold everything and gave most of the money to his sisters. Flynn had made an offer, come to New York and work for him and he'd help pay for a college education.

It had been daunting to be taking undergraduate classes when he was as old as some of the instructors, but Flynn had found him a school with a high amount of non-traditional students and he'd somehow managed to fit in. 

Work too was a place where he fit in. Flynn's band of misfits, the store manager Mr. Jenkins (no one knew his first name), always scoffed. Though, Jacob knew, that Jenkins was all bluster and snark and had a very real affection for everyone there.

Flynn had inherited quite a bit of money from his parents and so ran an independent bookshop catering to his own weird and wonderful tastes.  He could afford to take in his strays and despite it all, the place actually did a good deal of business.   Jenkins had an amazing knack for managing the place.  And Jacob had become head of the art and history section, free reign to order whatever books he saw fit.  They also bought used books and he really enjoyed going through those, since Flynn had a way of sweet talking elderly collectors into unloading their treasures.

Work was Jacob's salvation and his refuge, but it also was where he'd met Mabel Collins.  She had a similar background, stuck in a small town for most of her life, taking care of her own family business. Similarly to Jacob, her family had finally decided to sell and Mabel had come to the big city. She'd fallen into work at The Final Draft where she'd headed up the math and science department. 

But eventually she'd gone stir crazy and had gotten a job overseas.  He knew that Mabel had always been a caged bird and in the back of his mind, he'd known the relationship was doomed.  But he was a romantic and he'd fallen in love with the girl, even though he also knew she hadn't fallen for him. She liked him a lot and maybe had things been different . . .but at least she'd never said words she hadn't meant.  It was probably easier on her this way, he knew she'd miss him, at least for a time. But she had a different life ahead of her.

He walked into work that morning and Eve Baird had his favorite latte waiting for him with a smile.  Baird (only Flynn called her Eve), was former military.  She was the bookstore's security guard and she also had a knack as a barista.  She said working the espresso machine was relaxing so even though they all took turns on the coffee bar, she was there the most.

"She get off alright?" she asked gently as she handed him the mug.

He nodded. "Yeah, she texted me when she was settled in.  I'm sure she's gonna be happy there."

"Well, we'll sure miss her around here," Baird said as she filled a teapot with boiling water. 

Jenkins nodded at her. "More work for me.  Applicants coming in this morning, though as usual Mr. Carsen has his eye on a couple of strays."

"Applicants?" Jacob asked with a raised eyebrow.

Jenkins rolled his eyes. "Ms. Collins is no longer heading up math and science, we will need to hire someone to fill the vacancy."

"Right, yes, of course,"  Jacob sighed. "I'm gonna be upstairs if anyone needs me."

"Did you have to mention her?" he heard Baird scolding Jenkins as he left.


 

A few days later, Jacob came in early to work.  Standing near the side entrance was a pretty redhead wearing a short red skirt and a black turtleneck under a pink sweater that was covered with a pattern of bees. At first glance, Jacob was pretty sure those colors didn't really go together but somehow on her they worked.

She turned, a big smile on her face and first he noticed how big and blue her eyes were.  "Good morning!"

"Uh, good morning, we don't open for another hour and the entrance is up front," he said kindly.

"Oh, I know," she said and the morning sun caught a sparkle and his eye was momentarily drawn to the variety of insect pins she had adorned her sweater with. "I'm the new girl and I haven't gotten a key yet. I know I was supposed to be here when Mr. Jenkins got here in about a half hour, but I was so excited I got here early."

"Ah math and science?" he asked, as he opened the door.

"Yep. Cassandra Cillian, math girl!"

He had to smile at her excitement in spite of himself and the fact that she was replacing his girl. "Jacob Stone, art and history."

"Oh, that's exciting. I don't know much about those subjects myself but I love beautiful things.  Why are you here so early?  Or is that normal for you? Early bird gets the worm and all?"

Wow, she did talk really fast. He wondered if that was normal or just a side effect of first day jitters. "I come in an hour early on Wednesdays because I have to leave for class in the afternoon."

"Class?  Do you teach?" she asked, looking interested and following him up to the coffee bar.  She remained leaning against the bar while he went behind it, busy with getting it ready for both his morning coffee and the day.

He blushed slightly, it was a bit embarrassing. "No, I'm an undergrad, junior. I uh, didn't quite get to college at the usual age."

Instead of the look of pity or confusion he was used to getting from strangers, Cassandra looked delighted. "Oh that's wonderful!  I didn't get to college at the usual age either.  I've been thinking about going and Flynn offered to help when I took the job.  Maybe we'll be classmates?  Though I suppose you're taking art?"

"Art history, yeah.  But I didn't quite 'life experience' out of all the core classes. Though, I have taken all but one of my science requirements already."

The machine let out it's morning gurgle and Cassandra looked delighted at the sound.  As beautiful as he found the world, he wondered how someone could just be so excited about every little thing like she was.

"I'd offer you some, but you seem like the type that don't need no morning jolt to get goin'."

She giggled, "no, I've been told that I need to steer clear of coffee. But I would love some tea if we have any."

He smiled and motioned behind the bar.  "We have a tea setup over there. Help yourself . . .well, don't take any of the tea in the red box. That's Jenkins' stash and he gets sore if anyone touches it.  The blue and green assortments are for staff and customers."

Jacob knew he really should get some work done, but he also didn't quite know if he should leave Cassandra to her own devices until Jenkins arrived.  But Jenkins arrived at his usual time and Cassandra was whisked off into the manager's office, most likely to take care of paperwork and get her keys.

Jacob went back to work getting the coffee bar ready for opening. The coffee bar didn't really do that much morning business since it opened with the store at 9am.  Depending on the day they had a mid morning rush with people from the neighboring businesses dropping by on their coffee breaks.  Afternoons were when it picked up, at least during the school year, with the students, both high school and college who dropped by for a post class pick me up.  Study groups regularly met there and it was a popular place for a first date among the younger crowd.

Ezekiel would have first shift at the bar, but he never arrived more than two minutes before opening. So Jacob had volunteered to get things ready in the morning.  Usually he'd have time to get things done in his department but talking to Cassandra had slowed him down. That and for some reason, Baird hadn't cleaned to her usual standards the night before.  He rolled his eyes, Flynn had probably distracted her.

"Morning mate," came Ezekiel's chipper Australian accent as he bounced in.  Jacob noticed with a smirk that he'd come in with Cindy, who handled the young adult section.  She had the grace to blush a little and back up a couple of inches from Jones.

"On time as usual, Mr. Jones," Jenkins said, heading for the front doors.  "Ah, Mr. Stone?  I have some phone calls to make this morning.  Can you show Ms. Cillian around?  And Ms. Kroger can you handle the register for the morning?"

"On it, Mr. Jenkins," Cindy said, heading for the register. Jones winked at her and settled in behind the coffee bar, pulling a comic book out of a hiding place.

Two customers came in with Jenkins, one of whom went up to the coffee bar and the other wandered off toward fiction.  Jenkins disappeared into his office, leaving Cassandra nervously twisting her hands.

"No one bites," Jacob said to her gently.

"Right, yes. Grand tour then?"

"Of course," Jacob said. "Well, the Australian is Ezekiel Jones, he runs the media department. As you can see, we rotate around the coffee bar and register as needed along with taking care of our sections."

Cassandra nodded.  He lead her over to the register to introduce her to Cindy. "This here is Cindy Kroger, she runs young adult.  This is Cassandra Cillian, she's math and science."

"Oh!" Cindy exclaimed, "you're the new Mabel."  Then she winced and mouthed sorry to Jacob.

Jacob only sighed and continued the tour.  Cassandra wanted to ask about who this Mabel was, but something told her that was a bad idea.  Finally they got upstairs to her department which was right next to his.

"Well, you might wanna look around your area for a while,  you remember where your desk is?"

She nodded. "I should let you get back to work, thanks for the tour, Mr. Stone."

"Jacob," he smiled at her.

"Right, Jacob."  They shared a warm look and then Jacob shook his head as if to clear it and cleared this throat.

"Right, I'll be around if you need any help. Enjoy."

Cassandra watched him leave and then gave a delighted twirl around her department. She'd had some great ideas about things she wanted to see when she gave her interview and Flynn had seemed excited about them. Seeing the area laid out in front of her gave her ideas life.  She was going to love it here.

Later, when Jacob was making his way downstairs to head off to class, he caught sight of Cassandra in her department, moving some displays around.  She looked so excited to be there.  Mabel had always been just passing through.  He loved her, but she never loved the store like Jacob did.  Cassandra, on the other hand, well he wasn't over Mabel by a long shot.  But coming into work was gonna be very interesting with the new math girl, that much he knew.