Beach Read

Page 7

For the old January. The one who loved throwing themed parties and coordinating group costumes, who couldn’t go to the gas station or stand in line at the post office without winding up making plans to grab coffee or hit up a gallery opening with someone I just met. My phone was riddled with contacts like Sarah, the anchor bar, cute dog and Mike, runs that new vintage store. I’d even met Shadi in a pizza shop bathroom when she came out of the stall wearing the best Frye boots I’d ever seen. I missed feeling that deep curiosity about people, that spark of excitement when you realized you had something in common or admiration when you uncovered a hidden talent or quality.

Sometimes, I just missed liking people.

But this barista, she was thoroughly likable. Even if the coffee sucked, I knew I’d be back. She tucked the plastic lid on the cup and plopped it down in front of me. “No charge for first-timers,” she said. “I just ask that you return.”

I smiled, promised I would, and stuffed my last dollar bill into the tip jar as she went back to mopping up the counters. On my way back to the door, I froze, Anya’s voice running through my head: Heeeeeeey, sugar cube! SERIOUSLY not trying to overstep, but you know, book clubs are your DREAM market. If you’re literally IN a small-town bookstore, you should pop over and say hey!

I knew Imaginary Anya was right. Right now, every sale mattered to me.

Plastering a smile on my face, I passed through the doorway into the bookstore. If only I could travel back in time and choose to put on any outfit besides the 2002 Jessica Simpson music video extra costume I was sporting.

The store was small oak shelves along the outside walls and a hodgepodge labyrinth of shorter bookshelves tunneling back and forth between them. The register was unattended, and as I waited, I glanced toward the trio of braces-wearing preteens in the romance section to make sure it wasn’t one of my books they were giggling over. All four of us would be irrevocably traumatized if the bookseller led me over to sign stock only to discover a copy of Southern Comfort in the redhead’s hands. The girls gasped and tittered as the redhead clutched the book to her chest, revealing the cover: a topless man and woman embracing as flames leapt around them. Definitely not one of mine.

I took a sip of the latte and promptly spit it back into the cup. It tasted like mud.

“Sorry about the wait, hon.” The scratchy voice came from over my shoulder, and I spun to face the woman zigzagging toward me through the crooked rows of shelves. “These knees don’t move like they used to.”

At first, I thought she must be the barista’s identical twin, sisters who’d opened the business together, but then I realized the woman was untying her gray PETE’s apron from her waist as she made her way to the register.

“Do you believe I used to be a roller derby champion?” she said as she dropped the wadded apron on the counter. “Well, believe it or not, I did.”

“At this point I’d hardly be surprised to find out you’re the mayor of North Bear Shores.”

She gave a rattling laugh. “Oh, no, can’t say that I am! Though maybe I could get some shit done around here, if they’d have me! This town is a nice little pocket of progressivism here in the Mitten, but the people with the purse strings are still a bunch of pearl-clutching golf bags.”

I fought a smile. It sounded so much like something Dad would’ve said. The ache seared through me, fire-poker sharp and hot.

“Anyway, don’t mind me and my O-PIN-YUNS,” she enunciated, lifting her thick ash-blonde brows. “I’m just a lowly entrepreneur. What can I do you for, sugar?”

“I just wanted to introduce myself,” I admitted. “I’m a writer, actually, with Sandy Lowe Books, and I’m here for the summer, so I figured I’d say hi, sign stock if you have any.”

“Ohhh, another writer in town!” she cried. “How exciting! You know, North Bear brings in a lot of artist types. It’s our way of life, I think. And the college. All sorts of freethinkers over there. A beautiful little community. You’re going to love it here …” The way her words dropped off suggested she was waiting for me to insert my own name at the end of her sentence.

“January,” I chimed in. “Andrews.”

“Pete,” she said, shaking my hand with the vigor of a green beret who’s just said, Put ’er there, son!

“Pete?” I said. “Of Pete’s Coffee fame?”

“The very same. Legal name’s Posy. What kind of a name is that?” She pantomimed gagging. “Seriously, do I look like a Posy to you? Does anyone look like a Posy?”

I shook my head. “Maybe, like, a baby wearing a polyester flower costume?”

“Soon as I could talk, I set that one straight. Anyway, January Andrews.” Pete stepped up to the computer and plugged my name into the keyboard. “Let’s see if we’ve got your book.”

I never corrected people when they said singular “book” rather than plural “books,” but sometimes the assumption dug under my skin. It made me feel like people thought my career was a fluke. Like I’d sneezed and a romance novel came out.

And then there were the people who acted like we were in on some secret joke together when, after a conversation about Art or Politics, they found out I wrote upbeat women’s fiction: Whatever pays the bills, right? they’d say, practically begging me to confirm I didn’t want to write books about women or love.

“Looks like we don’t have any in stock,” Pete said, looking up from the screen. “But I tell ya what, you’d better believe I’m ordering them in.”

“That’d be great!” I said. “Maybe we could host a workshop later this summer.”

Pete gasped and clutched my arm. “Idea, January Andrews! You should come to our book club. We’d love to have ya. Great way to get involved in the community. It’s Mondays. Can you do Monday? Tomorrow?”

In my head, Anya said, You know what made The Girl on the Train happen? Book clubs.

That was a stretch. But I liked Pete. “Mondays work.”

“Fantastic. I’ll send you my address. Seven PM, lots of booze, always a hoot.” She pulled a business card from the desk and passed it across the counter. “You do email, don’t you?”

“Almost constantly.”

Pete’s smile widened. “Well, you just shoot me a message and we’ll make sure you’re all set for tomorrow.”

I promised her I would and turned to go, nearly colliding with the display table. I watched the pyramid of books tremble, and as I stood there, waiting to see if they’d fall, I realized the entire thing was made out of the same book, each marked with an AUTOGRAPHED sticker.

An uncanny tingle climbed my spine.

There, on the abstract black-and-white cover, in square red letters, beneath The Revelatories, was his name. It was all coming together in my mind, a domino trail of realizations. I didn’t mean to say it aloud, but I might have.

Because the bells over the bookshop door tinkled, and when I looked up, there he was. Olive skin. Cheekbones that could cut you. Crooked mouth and a husky voice I’d never forget. Messy, dark hair I could immediately picture haloed in fluorescent light.

Augustus Everett. Gus, as I’d known him back in college.

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