She gazed up at the ceiling, eyes sweeping from cobweb to cobweb. In her mind she could picture what it would look like. Books lining every wall, a lamp over by that window seat, maybe an antique cash register on the counter. Was that too much? Excitement mixed with a deep fear of failure. What would it cost? Could they afford rent, plus all the renovations? Her sights fell on her partner, her teammate, her husband. Even from over here she could see the joy in his eyes. He was always the visionary, and she, the planner.
“I want to open a book shop!” Bursting at the seams, and through the door, eyes wide, and cheeks red. The cold air blew in with him.
“I want to leave a legacy. I want our new family to be remembered for something.” That had been two weeks ago. One exciting announcement had led to another. The cold clung in the still air, and they had trudged through a foot of snow to make these appointments. She rubbed her face and exhaled. Her hands landed in a prayer position on her lips. She had forced him to look at multiple places. He would have sold his soul, and every possession they had for the first place, and more for the second. He could picture himself in each and every one, with no regard for anything practical. The first one had a roof leak, the second was entirely too small. This one didn’t have anything glaring, but they hadn’t finished with the tour yet. She had been the voice of reason every time, but her patience was wearing thin. “What do you think of this one?”
“I love it!”
“Of course, you do.” She chuckled, shaking her head. “What about the floors? Concrete isn’t exactly what I was picturing.”
“We can get carpets. Or put flooring over them… can you do that?”
“I don’t know. We will see what the contractor says. So… is this the one?”
“I think it is.” He said it with quiet confidence. The overeager, childlike anxiety was gone. Solid, assured passion was in its place. They spoke with the realtor, making plans to sign the final papers. All their hopes and dreams were placed on that one signature, those few papers. Their child, born in a shrinking number of months, would grow up here. They would learn to read on these floors and look longingly out those windows on snow days. The realtor held the door for them as they left the building. They exited, making plans all along the way. The door fell shut with a solid click.
The door swung open, banging against the wall, the bell jingling loudly. That was such a jarring noise for such a quiet place. She stopped on the mat, wiping her feet. She didn’t want to track mud onto the carpets. Her list of things to do today was a thousand items long, and would continue to grow today, no matter what she achieved. She hung her jacket on the coat rack. It was almost too warm for the muggy spring that was upon them. Patrons would be coming in soon, eager for new learning, new adventures. Matthew wouldn’t show up for a couple of hours. This was the anniversary. One year ago, their lives had changed forever. One year to the day, the name that was plastered all over the windows and doors had been erected in its final resting place, to watch over them forever. The ringing bell shook her from her thoughts. Matthew walked in, hanging his hat on the hook next to her jacket. “What are you doing here? I thought you were coming in later.”
“I didn’t want you to have to be here by yourself today.”
He kept his gaze down, surveying the carpets like they held the map to an unknown treasure.
“We opened a year ago today.” She said it slowly, forming the words with the utmost care.
They had gone through the trouble of doing the overly cheesy ribbon cutting, oversized scissors and all. On the day of their grand opening her belly was so big, she almost got it caught in the scissors as they closed. A twinge of pain had made her catch her breath as they opened the doors for the public. Excited children rushed in, swarming the picture books, parents spreading over to the fiction and nonfiction sections alike. The twinge came again a second time. Nothing to worry about, it was probably all the stress of opening day. That’s what she kept telling herself. Stress. Ignore it and it will go away. But it hadn’t gone away. It kept getting worse, and worse until she was having trouble breathing. The baby wasn’t due for a month or so, but Matthew had been so excited about the opening she hadn’t wanted to worry him. Once she had finally admitted to Matthew that the pain was that bad, he had thrown all of his excited costumers out, many of them with books still in hand. The silent sonogram haunted her to this day. Especially, on this day. There was nothing they could have done. The doctor told her she could have shown up before the pain even started, but most likely the baby wouldn’t have survived anyway. They had named the baby and the store the day the pink plus sign appeared. Jasper’s.
“We shouldn’t be open today. We should have stayed home.” Matthew’s voice was thick with emotion.
“I don’t want to sit home and wallow. What ifs won’t do us any good. This store will and has, done us good. I want to be here. In the memories I have, and around the lives I can change.” As the words left her lips, she saw a smooshed face and two sticky hands pressed against the glass door. A little boy was staring eagerly into the store. “Mommy, can we go in?” As the bell tinkled, Matthew headed toward the windows along the front of the store. He slid them open, letting the fresh spring air clear the stuffy store. “Welcome to Jasper’s. What can I help you find today?”
Rain hit the window in a steady melody. “Close those before we end up with a puddle on the floor!”
Reya, who had been helping out behind the counter for a couple of weeks now, jumped up to close the windows. “Sorry ma’am, I get always get caught up when I hear the rain. It’s so relaxing.”
“Quit calling me ma’am.” She watched Reya lock each window in turn, and then stop and stare out the speckled window. The glass fogged beneath her face, and in her reflection, she saw a sweet smile sit on Reya’s face.
She turned back to the display she was setting up. A new best seller, a new author, a new classic in the making. The rain had come at a good time. It would take the humidity out of the air and cool down the summer evening. Rain during the day slowed down foot traffic, but it was nearing closing time and all they had to do was clean up before they could lock up and go home. She heard the keys rattle as Reya pulled them from the drawer. “Don’t lock up just yet. Matthew should be coming back soon, and he always forgets to take his key when he leaves in the middle of the day.”
“Yes ma’am.” Reya smirked at her over her shoulder. She put the key on the counter and grabbed a broom as she headed into the back room.
She stepped back from her display, admiring her work. A simple set up, artfully crafted to catch people’s eye. The new book everyone was talking about would draw them in, and then they would peruse the rest of the store to find the thing they actually wanted to read. She grazed the raised cover of the book with two fingertips. Books had always held a special place in her heart, more so in her husbands. He cherished them, worshiped them, and would always refer to them in everyday conversation. So much so that he had wanted to share his passion with everyone else. Every person that walked into that store was subjected to Matthew’s brilliant mind, whether they had asked for help or not. After their loss, Matthew’s flame had almost been extinguished. That burning passion was doused to the point that she could almost see the charcoal behind his eyes. It had taken a long time for things to return to anything near normal. The store had kept them stable, had given them something else to focus on. Even though the fated name was a reminder of pain and loss, and a symbol of hope all rolled into one.
The jingling bell made her turn as two women came in, chatting excitedly about their days, shaking the rain from their hair. “Welcome to Jasper’s, can I help you find anything?”
“Do you sell coffee?”
“Sorry, no. Just books. Books about coffee are in aisle 5, and coffee table books are over by the window.” She smiled and the women laughed. “The place on the corner is pretty good, and their pastries are heavenly. Tell them Jasper’s sent you.”
“Thank you! Have a nice day!”
As they left the door was held open by another hopeful potential patron, and she heard them cooing as they left, “Oh, look at the baby! Isn’t she adorable! Bye-bye baby!”
The door closed, but no one entered. She could see the wheel of the stroller by the basket of flowers sitting outside. Sunflowers in full bloom. She turned back to her display, hand on her hips. Suddenly the bell clattered around on its string. “MOOMMMMMYYYYYYYY!” Small arms wrapped around her legs; a grinning face pressed into her pants. “I got a lollipop at the doctors and I saw a pigeon on the train.” Matthew grabbed the child and spun her around, the giggles erupting from her tiny form. “Just don’t tell mommy about the ice cream.” He whispered loudly into her ear. Peals of laughter doubled her daughter over in her father’s arms, and tiny coos came from the stroller. “They are both happy and healthy. No complaints. How was the store?”
“Quiet. You know what happens when it rains.”