Lilah used to believe there were only two things that attracted people to a bookshop—the aesthetic, and the books. As long as the place looked pretty and there were great books, people would come in to buy. 

The day Lilah’s mom opened Read Like a Girl when Lilah was twelve, it was a snowy, December day—although, in her town, the snow wasn’t strong enough to keep people inside. It certainly wasn’t strong enough to keep them out of the shop on opening day.

Lilah remembered standing behind the counter with her mom, watching all of these strangers wander around the shop, and picking out books from the shelves. Some of them walked out with one, others with three or five. The customers talked to her, but that was when she'd turn to the book on her lap, always too shy to respond.

At that point in her life, reading was Lilah’s lifeline. It’d been difficult for her to make friends in middle school where there were too many classes and students. She’d missed the safety and comfort of elementary school, so she’d turned to the safety and comfort of books. 

A part of Lilah didn’t like that she was surrounded by the thing she loved most—books—but that it was being ruined by swarms of people she didn’t know. It reminded her of middle school, and she wished she were at home, but her mom wouldn’t let her stay alone. 

Instead, Lilah stayed behind the counter, curled up in the corner with a book in her hands. All of the people and chatter in the room would fade until it was gone entirely and she was consumed by adventures in magic schools and games of death. 

Lilah didn’t know it that day, but about half of the people who visited the shop that day would become regular customers for years to come. 

As the year continued, the business thrived, and by the time she was thirteen, she’d grown to admire the people who visited the shop—and the bookstore itself. That December, she realized that winter would always be her favorite time of year for the shop. For the second time, Read Like a Girl was filled with people buying gifts for the readers in their lives. Lilah loved watching them pick their books, taking the ones they thought would interest someone in their life, or going straight to the authors they loved because maybe their best friends or partners would love them too.

She’d started answering back when people talked to her. It was still hard to make eye contact, but growth was growth. Soon enough, books weren’t Lilah’s only escape—the shop became one, too. 

Lilah stopped walking to the bookshop after school and started running toward it instead. She would find her mom organizing the books, unpacking new ones, or helping a customer behind the cash register. 

There was a warmth to the shop, a coziness you couldn’t find anywhere else. It was an average-sized store with a coffee station near one side where customers could get a cup of Joe for free. A couple of love seats were organized around it. Then, there were the books. Shelves among shelves gave the illusion that the shop was larger than it actually was. Each row was illuminated by a string of light bulbs on the ceiling, and it always smelled of leather, mahogany, and brewing Colombian coffee.

By the time Lilah had turned fourteen, her shyness had disappeared. She would go up to customers, most of whom she’d known for two years by then, and ask them what they were looking for. She even talked to the kids who went to school with her when they went in to find books, kids she wouldn’t have had the guts to talk to at school. 

The shop became her domain, the jungle she ruled—because if there was anything Lilah knew well, it was books. In the bookstore, no one would ever judge Lilah and she would never judge any of them because they were all like her. Readers. People who liked to dive into stories, forget they were turning pages as hours passed by, and fall in love with characters they always seemed to forget weren’t real. 

The bookshop was filled every December, but what Lilah loved was that it was always void of the stress people would feel when shopping in other stores. The biggest decision people had to make here was, “Which book should I get?” There were rarely customers who got angry because the readers waiting in line or browsing bookshelves were always talking. 

When two readers crossed paths, there was always conversation. Adventures. Heartbreaks. Plot twists. Murders. Love. A conversation with a reader could start in 1950’s Paris and end in dystopian America, where all the men in the world have died.

Lilah transformed from a shy girl to the one everyone fell in love with and talked to the most, but that quiet girl was still inside. As much as Lilah loved to talk to the readers, she still liked to sit behind the counter and listen to them suggest books for Christmas gifts to one another—all dressed in thick coats, beanies, and scarves.

Lilah started officially working at the store when she turned sixteen. Her mom paid her to keep the shop clean, organize the books, and convince the customers to buy. That last part was easy because all she had to do was rave over a book, and that was never hard—unless the book was a bad one. 

Lilah expected sales to go down, but as the years passed, they’d continued to rise. People loved her mom, the books, the atmosphere. Some people had even admitted to Lilah that sometimes they came in not to buy a book but to enjoy some coffee and have a good conversation with another reader. It should've affected their sales, but by the end, those customers would be convinced by another reader to buy a book that they’d walk out with one themselves.

Then, the day came when Lilah was talking to a reader, one who’d been there on opening day, when she got so dizzy, she almost fell to the floor if it hadn’t been for the books she leaned on. She’d ignored it twice, but when it happened the third time, the books weren’t there to save her, and right in the middle of the shop, she fainted. 

She woke up in a hospital and with news that changed her life. Cancer, the doctor told her. 

Her mom still kept the shop open. The customers brought flowers, cards to give to Lilah, and some even offered to help the shop without pay. It made Lilah cry as her chest filled with warmth that made her miss the bookshop. 

As she got worse, her mom had to hire an employee to run the shop, but her mom told her there was something off about the bookstore. 

The news of Lilah had broken everyone’s hearts. Every life she’d touched, every person she’d talked to, they couldn’t understand why Lilah had gotten sick. 

Eventually, sales started dropping. Lilah’s mom had to let go of their employee, and without someone to run the shop, they had to close it more often. The only thing that kept the Read Like a Girl afloat was the days Lilah’s mom did open it. Enough people came in, all to ask how Lilah was doing, to buy more books—some for Lilah as gifts.

During that time, the books became Lilah’s lifeline.

It was the hardest time in Lilah’s life—the pain, the possibility of death, seeing her mom deteriorate, and the shop too. She hadn’t realized until then how the shop had become her second home. Lilah’s mom said the shop still smelled of coffee, but it’d lost its warmth. Its heart.

There was so much time to spare that Lilah read more books than she’d had her entire life. She learned of death, and life, and joy, and sadness, and felt everything, and nothing. All while her home started to fall apart.

Until one day, it wasn't. 

December had always been Lilah’s favorite time of year, but the year she almost turned twenty was even more special. The doctor told her her cancer was gone. 

A week later, Lilah’s mom posted a picture of Lilah, smaller and frailer than she was years ago but with the light back in her eyes, and said, “She won.” They opened the bookstore the next day, and it was as if the people had never left.

Old customers came with more flowers, gifts, hugs, kisses, and congratulations, and the shop was filled with that warmth again. People gathered around, the shop more filled than it’d ever been before. They drank coffee and talked and laughed and chatted about stories.

Lilah’s mom sat beside the counter the entire time, a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. Lilah knew that these people, these readers—they weren’t friends anymore. They were family. Even if they’d never spoken, they had an instant connection, something that would bond them for as long as they lived.

Hours later, after more sales than Lilah could keep up with were made, someone came in with a Christmas tree and put it near the coffee, right by the loveseat. They threw lights and some ornaments on it while people cheered.

Outside, it started to snow harder and the weather became colder, but inside, with the readers and the books, it couldn't get any warmer. Lilah knew then that the heart of a bookshop wasn’t the way it looked or even the books, but the readers who spread their warmth with her. The readers and their passion for books, which had burned such a bright light, it’d healed her. 

December 13, 2019 20:25

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Dave Jackson
06:37 Dec 18, 2019

Beautifully and delicately written. Good luck!


Itxy Lopez
16:17 Dec 20, 2019

Thank you so much! I appreciate you taking the time to read my story.


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