The evening sun was setting and soft music played in the background as Fran immersed herself into the world of a new book. Tucked away in the small nook of her favorite bookstore, she never noticed the last motion sensor light going off and the front doors locking. She was too busy fighting new beastly creatures with her heroine. Her fingers were wrapped around pages like her favorite sweater.
Who knew a place with rules of quiet in the reading sections could descend into a place where an echo couldn’t be heard as the evening turned late. Too late. That slight shift in the air finally lifted her head out of the pages to look around and those earbuds came out. It was quiet. Too quiet. The hairs raised on the back of her neck, like someone was watching her from the shadows. Her head lifted and looked around. Nothing.
Her eyes went to her phone and you see that it’s an hour past 9:00 pm. Closing time was an hour ago. Friends and family always said she was quieter than a mouse. Her eyes looked down to the finger holding her place. Did she stop or keep reading? The voice inside immediately wanted to settle back into the cushion of window seat but a small panic rose. Surely, someone would have come over and let her that it’s time to close the doors. Right?
She got up slowly and the familiar flicker of the lights turned on one by one as she mad her way to the door. Her head turned to the register. No one was behind the counter. The espresso machine wasn’t whistling with frothy milk. She made a slow turn near the new arrivals and the quiet felt like it was screaming at her but no one was here. But something felt different. She wasn’t one to be afraid of the dark even as a child and getting locked in a bookstore that recently expanded was a fantasy of hers.
Yes, she was never the normal kind of kid. Books were like breathing to her. So much, that her newest novel about a small town romance between the high school star athlete and the town nerd was sitting on the end cap of one of the rows. She did her secret nerd dance when she saw that she made the end cap in her local book store. Her blood started to rush again when she thought she heard something in back of the store. Her heard turned and her eyes tried to see through the dark but she was standing in the spotlight now. The new motion sensor lights had her surrounded.
She shook her head. Maybe she was too into the world of a fellow competing author. Bacon Brown never missed a beat with his number ones in the fantasy fiction section. She didn’t understand what all the hype was. A small sigh came out of her mouth as she looked down at the cover. The female heroine wore the same pattern pleated skirt and color of her favorite knit knee highs. How odd was that? She couldn’t explain it but something about his books intrigued her. His heroes were always women.
Still there was always some kind of arrogant tone in his interviews and his cult following of female fans made her feel sick. Did he refuse to have his picture taken to keep his anonymity like he claimed or did he do it for the female attention? A publicity stunt? She heard of agents having their writers do some crazy things for marketing attention. She turned down a lot of suggestions. Maybe if she listened to her agent, they wouldn’t have switched her big “homecoming” celebration, another publicity stunt, because Bacon Brown was coming to town for a reading.
Her eyes rolled. If only his book wasn’t so damned good. So goo that it irritated her even more. Her fingers started to wrinkle the pages when she forced them to relaxed. She hadn’t bought the book yet, and she couldn’t because the store was closed. Closed.
That’s right. All of her thoughts of telling Mr. Bacon Brown off if they ever met drifted away again. Her eyes blinked at the closed gate. She couldn’t even escape if she wanted because the gate requires a key. She knew because she closed that gate all senior year. There was no need to panic because she knew she could use the emergency doors in the back. Of course, that would set off the alarms and then she would have to explain to the Sheriff Hart why she was here so late.
She only met him once because he stopped in to see why the lights were on after closing time. The smirk on his face when he saw her disheveled clothes and that of his nephew’s was still burned into her memory. Her cheeks must have blushed deeper than a beet. Of course, Charles, smoothed everything over and his uncle praised him for beating the local rivals football team last week. He wasn’t nicknamed Charlie Brown as a child. He was St. Charles because it was like he walked on water in this small town.
Everything was perfect and she had no idea why he even needed a tutor. He said the coach signed him to help make sure he graduated to get that full ride to Harvard. Looking at his grades, she didn’t understand. She just happened to see his grades when they slipped out of his backpack. He took them away quietly and she asked him why he was there when his lowest grade was an A-.
Part of her had to admit that she was little hurt when he told her what the coach said. Then, he talked about how hard it was to maintain his image. His family helped found the town. His father was the mayor. She looked him over and started to play a fake violin when he started to go one about the pressure to keep up his image. He started to laugh. Another thing that annoyed her, he wasn’t as arrogant as she thought.
“That’s what I like about you Fran. You understand. I’m sorry I wasn’t there at your mom’s funeral. I tried to let you know, did you get my card and flowers?”
She was cautious in letting him know the details. The small card signed with a C. Brown was a vague memory during that time. Why wouldn’t the mayor’s wife send a card? It was the one time when he town seemed to remember that she existed. She never spoke to anyone about her mother’s illness. Her best friend Brit tried but the subject was off limits. She didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her. No one every knew that not only had she taken care of her mother when she was sick but she had to pick up the pieces of her father so that he could get out of bed to go to work. She spent the last year taking care of him.
But that was the story of her life. She wasn’t born a child. She was born to deal with all the things the adults in her life couldn’t do, including take care of her. High school was supposed to be filled with teenage drama but she was busy paying the mortgage and other bills on time because her father couldn’t cope with losing her mom.
“Thank you. I could lie and tell you that I remember but -“. Her lip turned down as she sat across from him. “It was kind of a crazy time.”
His eyes flinched, like he was hurt but he gave her that famous smile. “I get it. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I was visiting my grandfather. He was sick took and in his last days.”
Another funeral announcement flashed through her eyes and her eyes closed. “I’m sorry. I was little self absorbed at the time. He passed away two weeks later? I’m sorry too.”
A small smile filled those perfect lips of his and she looked down at her book.
He laughed and had to say something else more perfect. “Like I said. I understand. I just wish I knew where you got your strength. It’s something I always admired about you. You never felt sorry for yourself. You were always – you.”
She didn’t want to admit that the wink he gave her at the end of his words made her heart flutter back then. “My strength?” When did he think about her?
He laughed again. “Yes, you don’t give into the peer pressure. You always say what you mean. I admire that.”
“Thank you.” She let out a breath. “I guess I’m always the reliable one. Aren’t I?”
“What does that mean?” His eyes were sincere.
Her reply lead her to talk about her family and how she had to take care of them. One confession lead to another on both sides of the table that night. She didn’t let down all of her walls but a few were more than she let down to anyone, and she couldn’t believe with whom. In the back of her mind, she was worried that it was some bet with his buddies that made him nice.
But that wall started to falter after the night she slipped on the ladder and he caught her. The crackle between them could have set off all the books in the store that night. She doesn’t remember who leaned into who first but she turned into one of those girls who giggled whenever he passed by in the hall. When he broke up with his girlfriend the next day, and right before prom she told him he was fool.
Those flaws they talk about in books, well trust is one of hers. She just couldn’t let go of the idea the idea of him was a joke by someone. He still didn’t give up. He kept showing up for his tutoring sessions despite her coldness. When he cornered her near that register after she thought he left, that giggling girl reappeared.
It was her idea to keep whatever they had going a secret from everyone. He argued with her but he kept his word the whole. There were moments when she felt him staring at her in the hallway, or turning his head slightly to get a glimpse of her in English class when she sat behind him. She had to admit that dating him secret was kind of thrilling. It was their secret. She found herself wanting to spend time with the town jock. They made plans to be in the same locations so they could brush past each other. He must have felt just as thrilled because he told her loved one night as they sat at the edge of rock lake in the dark.
“My dad wants me to work in his office this summer. I told him yes. I’ll be around before college. I thought we could still hang out together. I mean, I want to stay together Fran. Why don’t you come over for dinner to meet my family?“
Her head shook in stubbornness. “And what would they say when they meet me?”
“Well, don’t get mad but I’ve already told them.”
“What!” She reached out to hit him, well pat him on the shoulder but he caught her hand. Her breath pulled in by the look in his eyes.
“I mean it. I love you Fran. I’m tired of sneaking around. We shouldn’t have to hide. There’s nothing to hide.”
Her lips frowned. “You say that because you’re the star of this town Charles. I mean you’re the honorary bacon tossed of the town.”
He let out a long laugh. A real laugh. The same warm and fuzzy feeling settled in her stomach. It felt good to make someone happy, especially him.
“Why dont’ we just stick our roles here. I’m the town nerd and you’re the star jock who takes girls like Heather to prom. I’m just – me.” A reminder of his girlfriend should have sobered him up.
“Exactly. You don’t have anything to worry about. Besides, you’re the girl I dumped Heather for, remember?” The puppy dog look in his eyes made her melt inside. Not to mention the small triumph she still danced over when no one was looking. He did choose her.
“You do realize that we live in a small town with all the cliches, right? I’m the town nerd and you’re the star football player.”
“So, if it makes you feel any better I’ll be the bottom of the pack in the fall. Just another number.” He always had a way to make things sound better.
Her eyes rolled. She wanted to believe him.
“Please.” He gave her that pouty face that her fall in him love with him too.
The words spilled out and luckily they were silent. At least, that’s what she thought at the time. She never understood why she refused to say them back because she felt the same way. He was the one that got away. Her first love and she never told him. It was the one regret that she had as they drifted apart. Just like it was her idea to break up before they went to college. He begged her stay together but he couldn’t change her stubborn mind. She thought she needed time to figure out what it was like to be an adult. But being what did that really mean? Did it mean having to pay your own bills and getting responsibility you didn’t want only to crave the comfort of what made you happy when you were younger? What if happiness was being with him?
“Get a grip Fran. You’ve read too many books.”
“There’s nothing to wrong with reading books. Especially ones like the one your holding.”
She whirled at that voice. She knew the deep sound that made her stomach curl inward. Warm and fuzzy.
“Of course, I’m just a bacon tossed. What would I know.”
Her body froze as he stepped forward. Was it possible to get that good looking over time? Her eyes couldn’t blink if they wanted.
“Ch – Charles?”
Those perfect white teeth flashed. The lines around the corners of his mouth deepened.
“What are you doing here?”
Her heart was racing. His eyes went down to her book and then slowly up to her face. “Do you like the book?”
“The book?” It was like she was stuck dump.
“Yes.” He gave her that soft laugh and looked down at her hand.
Her eyes followed as she tried to get a grip on her heart rate. “Oh, this. I – yes?”
His eyes smiled and searched hers. “Is that a real yes?”
“I – I guess. I mean, I got a little too into it as annoying as that sounds.”
His eyes lifted. “Annoying?”
“I – I’m sorry but what are you doing here?”
“Well, I would like to ask you the same. I mean closing time was an hour ago but you looked so into your book that I couldn’t kick you out.”
“I’m sorry.” Her hand went to her head. “Am I in an alternate dimension or something? What do you mean kick me out? Did Diana put you up to this?”
He moved closer until they were a few feet apart. His eyes were just as green as she remembered. He was better looking than the last time they met.
“No, she retired and sold the store.”
“But who? How?”
His eyes smiled again. “I bought it from her.”
“But you’re at Harvard. You’re coaching now.”
“So you did keep tabs on me?” His thick, brown eyebrows raised again.
Her eyes went down and she swallowed. “I mean this is a small town and my dad still lives here.”
“I know. We had coffee last Thursday.”
Her head jerked up to find him grinning down at her. “What!”
“I know but I’ve kept tabs on you too. You know small towns can be, and me being a former star bacon tossed and all.” He lifted up the book in her hand. “You going to pay for this or am I going to have to call my uncle again.”
“I – you remember that?”
“That’s something an impressionable teen male isn’t likely to forget.”
“I -“ For once in her life she was at a loss for words. She just started at the cover. “Bacon. Bacon Brown.” Something clicked in her mind as she looked at the name and then at him again.
“I know. But you inspired me Fran. All those attempted hours of studying and your love of books inspired me.”
“I – what? You’re Bacon Brown!” The words just fell out even though her brain still didn’t comprehend what she was saying.
“I know but you always did tease me for being a Bacon tossed. My agent loved the name.”
Her eyes rolled and wave of annoyance washed over her. “You’re the one whose changed pushed me out of my homecoming launch!”
He laughed and his eyes twinkled down at her. “I guess I should have called and explained but I was a bit of a chicken. I didn’t know how to go about talking to you again. Would you like your late night Americano?”
“Americano?” Her head nodded yes and she sat down in the chair he pulled out at their old table. Her mind was still in shock and not able to catch up.
“I’m sorry to change your plans but I thought we could hold a homecoming together. We’ll both be speaking at the event next week. I thought my agent spoke with you, or yours? You are hard to reach these days. I just missed your signing in New York. They wouldn’t let me in. When I told them who I was they didn’t believe me. I guess other fans have tried to assume other people’s identities to meet you. You have quiet the following Fran. I always knew you would make it. I’m a fan of you’r work too. Your books are good. Especially the last one.”
He laughed as the espresso machine sputtered between them. “You know what I mean.” He shouted before he walked over with two cups of coffee.” She felt the warmth of his knees when they brushed hers. The tingle went up to her chest. “What inspired you’re last book?”
The sparkle in his eyes made her laugh and she had to set her coffee cup down. “You know what it’s about Charles!”
He nodded and he looked relieved. “Good. You know you influenced my books too.” He lifted up the book she was reading. “If you actually read some of my emails, then you would know that part of my heroine shares some of your character.”
“I don’t really read my emails these days. My assistant goes through them first. You know to filter out the crazy fans that might use names like Bacon Brown.”
He showed those white teeth again before his eyes went over her again. “It’s my own fault. But in all honesty I was a bit embarrassed. I mean, how would I explain that I’m the author behind a series meant for young adult females?”
“Worried about what a small town would think? Your football buddies? You never used to care. Not really.” She gave him one of his winks and he laughed.
“I miss this. You always made me feel like I could talk about anything. And you’re right. I guess that’s why I finally decided it was time. I mean, if you were going to return for your release then so was I.”
“You aren’t the only one worried. I thought about questions that might get asked but I’ll just tell them the truth. That this latest book was inspired by my small town first love.”
His eyes held hers steady. “Do you mean that Fran?”
Those thin lines formed again and his eyes shined.
“And I’ll tell them who my hero is. A brave and beautiful woman I met during senior year.”
This time she didn’t put up a wall. She just smiled back at him. She didn’t know when her hand had reached out to his but she felt the warmth of his fingers wrap around hers.
She leaned forward and whispered. “So, is a tour of each section available?”
The grin in his eyes looked like the time she slipped off the ladder. “Yes. But there’s a reason I kept them in the same place when I expanded.”
Readers, I’ve been overdue for sharing one of my own writing prompts. I hope this inspires you to share one of your own today! Keep writing this summer! Be kind and don’t edit me in your comments. You know I always share the raw prompt first.
My posts are Monday through Friday.
Imagine Inspire Create: 52 Weeks of action and gratitude is available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09S6XCLFY/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_Q7MHM9CFBSASDG56YMJQ
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