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Romance Contemporary Adventure

This story contains sensitive content

TW: Contains mild bad language.


What’s so special about a damn book? That thought had been spinning around my head for the past two weeks. Whenever it seemed willing to leave, Emily’s tears flooded it right back into place. After a long day of dragging from pawnshop to pawnshop, it was dug in deeper than ever. Still, my quest would end here, one way or another.

I looked up at the sign. Cody’s Quick Cash. The last pawnshop in town, located right in the middle of the slimiest, most run-down neighbourhood.

Against my better judgement, I pushed open the door. Inside, the place was pretty much as I expected. A few shelving units took up most of the space; each filled to the brim with a collection of goods that could only charitably be described as merchandise. Old TVs, a couple of outdated games consoles, even a VHS player for some reason. Definitely no books. Muttering a curse, I walked to the back of the store, where Cody, a middle-aged, balding man with a beer belly and a love for chunky golden jewellery, sat behind a counter.

‘Hey pal, what can I do you for?’ he said.

‘I’m looking for a book.’

He frowned. ‘Books? We don’t got many of those. There might be a few in the bargain bins.’ He waved a hand towards a row of black trash cans, all overflowing with junk that made the store’s other products look like mink coats and Cuban cigars.

I shook my head. ‘The book I’m looking for is quite distinctive. You’d know if you had it. It’s an old copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Really old. Pages barely holding together, that sort of thing.’

Cody stroked his chin. ‘Oh yeah. I think I seen that.’

Thank God, I thought. ‘Where is it?’

‘Don’t have it no more. I sold it this morning.’

Just like that, my hopes were shattered. I should have come here first. I should’ve known this was precisely the sort of dump Derek would come to. Still, all was not lost. At least I had a trail now.

‘Who bought it?’ I asked. ‘Where can I find them?’

‘Can’t tell you that. Wouldn’t be professional,’ Cody said, picking a lump of wax from his ear and smearing it on the counter.

Fighting hard to suppress my disgust, I locked eyes with him. ‘Please. This is really important.’

Cody looked me up and down, licking his lips. ‘What’s it worth to you?’

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a rich man. My credit cards are dangerously close to being maxed out, and let’s just say that if debtors’ prisons were still a thing, I’d have been halfway to Mexico. Still, for this part of town, my annual income was the rough equivalent of a king’s ransom. A man in Cody’s line of work could tell as much from my clothes, shoes, and even the way I spoke. Hell, he probably already had a number in his head. I sighed. I wouldn’t get out of there without lightening my pockets.

Taking out my wallet, I slapped a twenty on the counter.

Cody laughed. ‘Buddy, he better get some friends real fast, else the only directions I’m giving you are to the front door.’

I put down another note. Then another, and another. After the fifth note, I’d had enough. ‘That’s my offer. Take it or leave it.’

‘Doesn’t seem like a lot, given how important you say this book is…’

I moved to sweep the notes back into my wallet, but Cody reached out with a clammy hand and grabbed my wrist. ‘Woah, slow down. Alright, alright, I’ll tell you.’

Tearing off a sheet of paper from a notepad, Cody scribbled an address. ‘This is the guy. Don’t reckon you’ll have much luck, though. He was real keen to buy that book.’

I took the note, and my heart sank. The name, Clive Becksdale, meant nothing to me. But the address… that would be a problem. It was in Havisham’s Heights. The wealthiest part of town. Dusty old mansions, shaded boulevards, that sort of thing. I’d been hoping some bum had bought the book, someone who wouldn’t know what they had. No such luck.

As I muttered my thanks to Cody and left the store, I walked straight into a skinny man on his way in. It was Derek, my wife’s brother, holding a plastic bag filled with little trinkets. I had a pretty good idea where those had come from.

The moment he recognised me, his face paled. ‘Eddie. Er, hi.’ He must have noticed the thunderous expression I wore, and my clenched fists; for the next second, he started stumbling backwards. ‘If you hit me, I’ll sue you. I’m warning you. I’ll do it.’

‘I’m not going to hit you, Derek,’ I said, though I dearly wanted to. ‘I will be taking that bag, though.’

Derek clutched the bag to his chest. ‘What? No. This is mine.’

‘It’s from your father’s house, right?’ I said.

‘No,’ he replied. For a scheming little sneak, he always was a terrible liar.

I took a step towards him. ‘Derek…’

‘I’ll challenge the will,’ he blurted out. ‘I’ll tie it all up in court. You won’t see the money for years.’

I laughed. ‘You won’t tie up shit. The estate is done. It’s finished. You aren’t a rival claimant. You’re a thief.’

‘Dad gave me this stuff before he died,’ he insisted.

‘We both know that’s not true.’

‘Well… well, you can’t prove otherwise.’

I gave him my broadest crocodile smile. ‘No. I can’t. But I can testify at your custody appeal next month. I could tell the judge exactly what a terrible influence you’ve been on my kids.’

Derek’s eyes widened. ‘You wouldn’t.’

‘Oh, I would. So, if you want to see your kids again before they turn 18, here’s what’s going to happen. Tomorrow, you’re going to come to my house, and you’re going to bring that bag and anything else you took with you. You’ll give them to Emily, you’ll apologise, and then you’ll get out of our sight.’

‘Okay,’ he said, his shoulders slumping.

‘Good.’ Still smiling, I shook my head. ‘You better pray I get this book back. Otherwise, your apology is not going to go down well. And Emily’s been learning karate.’

Leaving Derek trembling, I walked away and hopped into my car, Bonnie, a red 1961 Ford Thunderbird. She was a beauty. The only good thing about spending my Saturday cruising around town is that I got to do it in Bonnie. That car was the last link to my bachelor days, the last remnant of a well-spent youth. I loved it so much that Emily used to call it her rival, the second woman in my life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not gonna say Bonnie was perfect. She belched out smoke like a wildfire after a rainstorm, and there was about a 50:50 chance I’d have to give her a running start just to get her engine running. But I knew what I was doing. A little feathering on the clutch, just the right amount of gas, and soon she’d be purring like a pussycat. Sitting in Bonnie and feeling the gentle vibration of her engine beneath me was the only thing that kept me going that day. 

After twenty minutes or so, I arrived at Becksdale’s house, a big Tudor-style with a delicately manicured lawn and well-kept flowerbeds. Parking outside, I walked up the cobbled path and knocked on the front door. An older man, perhaps in his late fifties, opened it. He wore a tweed jacket and a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles.

‘Hi, are you Clive Becksdale,’ I said.

‘I am. And who might you be?’

‘My name’s Eddie.’ I ran my hand through my hair and gave him a sheepish grin. ‘I wanted to talk to you about a book you just bought. Matilda.’

He narrowed his eyes. ‘You the previous owner? I should warn you, legally, that book’s mine now.’

‘I know, I know. Actually, I wanted to buy it back.’

Becksdale’s mouth broadened into a smile. ‘Well, everything’s for sale at the right price. How much are you offering?’

‘How much did you pay for it at the pawnshop?’ I said.

‘Hah. About twenty bucks. That idiot had no idea how much this thing’s worth.’

I winced. That attitude was exactly what I’d been worried about. ‘How about I give you fifty? That’s more than double your money.’

Becksdale snorted. ‘You’ll have to do much better than that. This thing’s gonna be a great talking point at dinner parties.’

I sighed. ‘How much do you want.’

‘Ten thousand dollars.’

My jaw dropped. ‘Ten thousand!? Are you crazy? I don’t have that kind of money lying around.’

Becksdale made to close the door. ‘Then I guess we have nothing more to talk about.’

I jammed my foot into the doorway. ‘Please, sir. That book’s really important to me, to my wife, Emily. It was her favourite story growing up. Her late father used to read it to her every night. He said that Emily was just like Matilda. It gave her the confidence to become the woman she is today. I really, really want to get it back for her.’

Becksdale nodded thoughtfully. ‘Well, that’s a heartwarming story, son. But if it means so much to her, why’d she pawn it?’.

‘She didn’t. Her asshole brother swiped it before the estate was finalised, along with anything else he could carry, and sold it so he could invest in crypto.’

‘How’d that go for him?’ Becksdale asked.

‘He lost all his money, his wife left him, and now he only gets to see his kids on weekends.’

Becksdale laughed. ‘Alright, I’ll tell you what, since it means so much to you, I’ll give you a special price on the book.’

I felt like I could fly. ‘You will?’

‘Sure. How’s twenty thousand dollars sound?’

I frowned. ‘But that’s more than before.’

Becksdale grinned. ‘Right you are. Let me give you a little lesson on supply and demand. Right now, you’ve got a lot of demand, and I’m the only one with any supply. That means I can name whatever price I want.’

‘You son of a bitch. You don’t need the money. You live in a place like this, for Christ’s sake.’

Becksdale laughed. ‘How do you think I got the money to buy this place? It sure as hell wasn’t by being charitable. Any of my ex-wives could tell you that. Look, if the book means that much to you, you’ll find the money.’

I’m not a violent man, but at that moment, a big part of me wanted to punch that smug son of a right in his face. I didn’t, though. That would have made me worse than Derek. Instead, I turned away and trudged back to my car. What else could I do? I didn’t have ten grand. I certainly didn’t have twenty grand. No, Emily would just have to live without her book. After all, it was only ink, glue and paper.

As I opened Bonnie’s door, Becksdale called out to me. ‘Hold on a minute, that’s your car?’ He strolled over, pawing at the bodywork and letting out a low whistle. ‘A Thunderbird. Real nice model. Great condition, too. You’ve been taking care of it. That’s hard to find these days.’

He looked at me. ‘Tell you what. I’ll trade you. You give me the car, and I’ll give you the book.’

I baulked. I couldn’t sell Bonnie. She was more than just a car. She was-

And then I knew. I finally understood what was so special about that book. It wasn’t just ink, glue, and paper, in the same way Bonnie wasn’t just a collection of metal and leather. It was a portal made of memories. A gateway to a world where Emily was still just a little girl, safe in her daddy’s arms.

I had a choice to make.

 

***

 

A bit of me died when I gave Becksdale the keys to Bonnie. But that’s okay. I knew it would be worth it. On the cab ride home, I consoled myself by picturing old Becksdale trying to get Bonnie started. With a bit of luck, she’d backfire and give the old miser a heart attack.

As I walked up the drive, a scrap of paper fell out of the book. On it, in his scratchy handwriting, Emily’s father had written:

Emily. Always remember Miss Honey’s greatest words, “If you are good, life is good.” Until we meet again in that giant peach in the sky, all my love, Dad.

That note told me for certain that I’d made the right decision. 

Since the kids were at sleepovers, I knew exactly where Emily would be. Sure enough, I found her curled up in her favourite armchair, the one her dad bought her a few years back, nursing a mug of hot cocoa, her dad’s favourite drink.

When she saw me, she smiled, though her red-rimmed eyes told me that she’d been crying again. ‘Where have you been?’ she said. ‘I’ve been looking for you all day.’

‘Well, sweetheart, I have a surprise for you.’ I took the battered old book from behind my back and held it out towards her.

Her eyes widened. ‘Is that…?’

I grinned. ‘It sure is.’ The next thing I knew, her arms were wrapped around me, squeezing so hard I thought she might crack a rib. She pulled back, and I saw sweet tears of joy brimming in her big blue eyes. ‘I love you.’ She kissed me more deeply than she ever had before.

When she finally stopped to take a breath, she said, ‘I actually got you a present too.’

‘Me? Why?’

‘Because I know I haven’t been easy to be with lately. I wanted to get you something to show how much I appreciate you. So, I used my inheritance money to get you something.’

‘Sweetheart, you didn’t have to do that, I said.’

‘I know that. I wanted to. It’s in the garage.’

Smiling, I strolled outside, swung open the garage door and saw a shining cast iron contraption. A brand new engine. The perfect fit for Bonnie.

Part of me wanted to scream. Part of me wanted to cry. But the biggest part of me, the part I listened to, wanted to go back inside and kiss my wonderful wife.

 

 

 

 

 





November 22, 2022 08:32

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31 comments

R W Mack
16:59 Nov 27, 2022

The ending is usually where people flop; either too cliché and expected or top bizarre and disconnected. Then there's this delightful "happy" ending that's still just sour enough to be unexpected until the last sentence or two. Not bad at all.

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Daniel Allen
17:41 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! I spent a long time writing and rewriting this one trying to get it just right.

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Wendy Kaminski
16:46 Nov 27, 2022

Nooooo!! :( I loved it, though - really nice twist that I did not see coming! (Maybe he can sell it to the jerk for... I dunno... $20k? :)

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Daniel Allen
13:40 Nov 28, 2022

Haha, thanks Wendy! Yes, perhaps. Although it wasn't part of the story, I like to think that Becksdale gets his just desserts in the end.

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Tommy Goround
15:37 Nov 27, 2022

Dustcover: The creator of Blood and Cookies has done it again! Daniel Allen has gone into the vowels of humanity's core. Daring to ask the questions: what would you do for a good book? What is the method of sacrifice? And did Jesus die in vain? He is easier to read than most religious texts. He is like a gentle lover to the eyes. I dare you to read "Manual Love" and not feel changed. His words will change you. (Please read this story in the warm arms of someone who cares).

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Tommy Goround
12:00 Nov 29, 2022

Congratulations on this gorgeous story being recommended.

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Anne Marie Miles
06:33 Nov 29, 2022

Aw, it's like a modern take on the Gift of the Magi (the difference being Emily's gift is not useless to her); The premise never gets old and always feels right. I'd say poor Eddie, but at least he has the heart to love his wife more than his car and be grateful for her thoughtfulness. That kind of love just warms your heart. This is well-written, and smooth and easy read all the way through. I enjoyed it so much! Well done, Daniel!

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Daniel Allen
16:58 Dec 01, 2022

Thank you very much! Yeah, I still like to think of it as a happy ending, as Eddie and Emily still have each other, which is the most important thing to them.

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19:47 Nov 28, 2022

It's a great ending. Loved reading it. Sentimentality hits us like a ton of bricks.

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Daniel Allen
17:00 Dec 01, 2022

Thank you very much!

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Rebecca Miles
16:29 Nov 28, 2022

Any story that centres around any book by Roald Dahl is on to something, but one that focuses on Matilda, now that will pull at the heart strings. I have seen the musical version three times in London I am so smitten with the story (really recommended if it comes to America by the way, otherwise- excellent excuse to visit London's West End). This started off with lots of merriment; corker lines set up the poverty of the place like the junk bins making the other tot look like Cuban cigars and mink coats and the narrator's median wealth being ...

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Daniel Allen
17:04 Dec 01, 2022

Thanks, Rebecca! I'll let you in on a little secret, I'm actually British myself. I just decided to set this story in the US, so loaded it up with American language. Hmm, as far as a first edition goes, I'm not sure. But, if I could pick any piece of rare writing, I think that the historian in me would want to try to find one of those old medieval manuscripts that are still around (they sell for insane amounts of money, but hey, I can dream, right?)

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Rebecca Miles
20:41 Dec 01, 2022

That would be a thing of beauty if it were like some of the illustrated ones I've seen. The life of the monk back then: books and beer, doesn't sound half bad, eh! I think I could put up with a horsehair shirt from time to time for some of that. Nice to know you are a fellow Brit. I've given up twisting my stories into pseudo American contexts; it takes way too long to reach for or even research the right terms. I do wonder often though, if the submissions would be more successful if I did up the Americanisms!

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Olivia Ard
16:16 Nov 28, 2022

I love this! It hearkens back to O. Henry's Gift of the Magi, of course, but it's got a much nicer ending. Great job.

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Daniel Allen
17:05 Dec 01, 2022

Thanks Olivia! Glad that you liked it!

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13:40 Nov 28, 2022

Everyone is saying this, but that last line honestly hit hard. Great job!

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Daniel Allen
17:05 Dec 01, 2022

Thanks, Alyssa. I'm glad that you enjoyed it and especially glad that you liked the ending!

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08:21 Nov 26, 2022

Great writing. its funny when we realize hes slowly giving up his first love bonnie, nice happy ending with a twist of irony.

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Daniel Allen
14:59 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks Scott. Glad you enjoyed it!

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Tommy Goround
05:24 Nov 26, 2022

Yum

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Daniel Allen
14:59 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks Tommy! Glad you liked it!

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Tommy Goround
15:32 Nov 27, 2022

Oh... Do you want a dust cover quote? Be forewarned... It might come off as hero worshiping

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Aeris Walker
00:51 Nov 26, 2022

Such a sweet story! A smooth read, likable main character, and a realistic backstory with a family in dissent over a will. You did a great job with the description of the store—I feel like I could just smell that pawnshop scent of stale smoke and “attic”.

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Daniel Allen
14:59 Nov 27, 2022

Thank you, Aeris! I'm glad that you liked it. Yes, "attic" is very much the vibe I was going for there.

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Michał Przywara
21:40 Nov 25, 2022

Ha, love that ending :) It seems like they had the same realization about each other, about what the things they loved meant to them. Beautiful, infuriating timing. The story is sweet, since we have both partners sacrificing for each other. The secondary characters are gross, though they are unified by a love for money. Is there a lesson there? Two of the three men are divorced (we don't know about Cody), where the protagonist sacrifices his possessions for his wife, and she gives up her inheritance. Or maybe it's the difference in looking...

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Daniel Allen
14:57 Nov 27, 2022

Thank you Michał! I'm glad you picked up on the loneliness of the other characters, as opposed to the sacrifices that Ed and Emily make for each other and the love that they share, as that was something I really hoped to bring out.

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Jack Bell
02:27 Dec 01, 2022

No good deed goes unpunished? No, that's too harsh, but this well-written, very enjoyable story does have a curious bite in the final twist. I like it. It won't quite resolve itself one way or t'other. There's a certain lingering "wait...what?" quality. A bit like life.

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Daniel Allen
17:08 Dec 01, 2022

Thanks, Jack. Glad you enjoyed it!

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Wally Schmidt
05:50 Dec 02, 2022

This story reminds me of O'Henry's The gift of the Magi, but with a happier ending. It's very different from your other stories and I was trying to put my finger on why. Maybe it was your dip into American culture and how you nailed the dialogue? That always fills me with wonder how English actors can nail an American accent (I'm looking at you Michelle Dockery) but American actors can't imitate a British one. Anyway you did everything right here. Nice little uplifting story.

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Unknown User
20:38 Nov 29, 2022

<removed by user>

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Daniel Allen
17:07 Dec 01, 2022

Thanks, Hannah. I'm already part-way through writing a novel, so fingers crossed!

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