An excerpt from “Love at Crystal Lake” by Lisa Volz
The Either-Or-Bookstore was a twisty maze of bookshelves that went from floor to ceiling. It was only about twenty feet wide but about fifty feet deep. There were a few new books, mostly from independent authors, but it was comprised mostly of used books. There were books piled on the floor in front of the shelves and boxes of books that hadn’t been sorted yet. Audra wasn’t sure how Roy made any money being so disorganized. But somehow, he’d managed to keep the store open for about thirty years, from what she understood.
She walked past the fantasy section and grimaced. She didn’t see how anyone could read that drivel. She stopped in the self-help section and looked around to make sure she was alone. She sat down in the ‘relationship’ section. There were books about catching a man, saving a marriage, taming a woman, etc. One with a bright blue cover caught her eye: “When You Don’t Have Time for a Man.” She sat down against the shelves, pulled it out, and began to thumb through it.
It was as though she was reading her own life right there in black and white. All her excuses were there in the chapter titles: No Time No Way, Let Go of Your Past, Putting Your Career Ahead of Him, When He Doesn’t Show Up…
Someone appeared at the edge of the tiny aisle, and it startled her.
“Oh!” she said and dropped the book.
The tall stranger bent down to pick it up. She was mortified as he read the title.
“Do you recommend this one?” he asked and smiled.
She stood awkwardly and reached for the book. “Oh, uh…I’m not…I just…I haven’t read it.” She was sure she was bright red.
He laughed a little.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said.
The guy was handsome, and she tried desperately to cover the red smear of strawberry jam on her tank top. She also fumbled with her hair and tucked a strand behind her ear, hoping to look a little better. But she knew there was no hope.
“Ethan! Are you here?!” a woman called.
“Back here, mom!” he said, his tall, lean stature stepping back to wave to the woman.
Dotty ran up and hugged his waist tightly. She was only as tall as his shoulder.
Mom? Dotty’s your Mom? Audra thought to herself.
“Oh, Audra! I see you met my Ethan!” Dotty said. “Isn’t it wonderful? He’s home!” she squealed and hugged him tighter.
He pried himself away from her grip and reached for Audra’s hand.
“It’s nice to meet you…Audra, was it?” he asked.
Audra smiled and shook his hand. “Yes.”
Dotty pushed her way between them. “Audra, this is Ethan! Isn’t he handsome? Oh, I just can’t believe you’re home! And for good!”
“Now, Mom. I’m not sure for how long, okay?” Ethan corrected.
“Yes, well. Look at you! You’re so skinny! First thing you need is a home-cooked meal. Come on!” she said and dragged him out of the store by the hand.
He looked over his shoulder. “See you again?” he called to Audra.
She waved. “Maybe!” she said.
When they left the store, Audra said to herself, “He belongs to Roy? But how?”
She also realized how homely she looked and knew he was way out of her league. Why did she always meet the good ones when she was a mess?
She looked down at the self-help book in her hand suddenly realizing what he must think of her. She knew she had no chance after that.
Defeated, she put the book back on the shelf, picked up her coffee and moped out of the store, checking to see that he wasn’t still out there.
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