This story is one of the March Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
She walked up and down the aisles of books, letting her fingers graze each one as she passed. Pain anchored deep in her heart and tugged. Each familiar book she touched only added to the weights drowning her inside.
This used to be me, she thought. This all was a part of me.
Her hazel eyes roamed the aisles as she hoped to feel something, anything, that’d puncture her heart enough to release all the feelings flooding inside. But still… nothing.
Emilia’s memories pulled her back to a time in the bookstore when all she concerned herself with was smiling at customers and finding each book’s home before closing, either in the bags of excited customers or on the Shelves of Honor. Nothing brought Emilia more joy than surrounding herself with words woven into the most beautiful art anyone could fathom. Every day after school, this was the place Emilia went, no matter how much homework or family drama pulled at her fragile heart. The bookstore never represented work or studying or frustration. It was her freedom.
Sometimes when it wasn’t busy and the managers were out, Emilia hid in the back aisles with a book she was “re-shelving,” swallowing up all the words she could, storing them in the cracked parts of her heart and the open spaces of her mind. No one ever noticed.
Until one day, someone did.
It was just before summer, before Emilia would pick up more hours in the bookstore, when he stumbled in.
He wore baggy black jeans and a red t-shirt, curly black hair smashed beneath a white baseball cap. He had dark skin and light blue eyes, those of which fell on Emilia as she hunched over a copy of 1984.
He waited, unsure if she was a customer or worker.
Two chapters later, Emilia looked up. “Oh.” She snapped her book shut and replaced it on the shelf. “Did you need help?”
He shook his head. “Is it good?”
Emilia’s heart raced. She had no idea this beautiful boy with diamond eyes and a bright white smile would steal a piece of her heart and give her a summer of first kisses, late-night adventures, aimless mountain wandering, and lots of Sherbet ice cream.
This was the boy who taught Emilia she could be the characters in books who conquered their fears, slayed their demons, ignited passion in a broken heart.
As Emilia stopped near 1984, her fingertips on the spine Devon once touched, her heart throbbed once again. Where’d you go? she wondered. He gave her all those pieces of himself, left anonymous letters in the final pages of all the books he knew she’d read. All summer, they’d roam the aisles and she’d wait for his smile that appeared every time her fingers grazed his chosen book.
This time, there was no smile.
None of the words Devon left behind suggested where he went. All Emilia carried at the end of summer was a hole in her heart and eighty-four letters from someone who never told her his real name, who never shared his own story, who vanished the last day of summer without a single letter explaining why.
She walked up and down the aisles of books, letting her fingers graze each one. It was winter, and Emilia already opened and shook out each book. No letters. They were all empty, just like her tattered heart.
This store, these books — they weren’t a part of her anymore. They were a part of him. He existed in the pages of books left behind — books still on shelves, waiting to be found.