Who am I? Who am I when no one is watching? Who am I, really?
The question was always there, but this was the only place she would let herself think it. She was deep between a set of bookshelves filled with unread knowledge, under a high ceiling that allowed the imagination to soar, lit by impossibly tall windows and huge chandeliers. She loved it here. Books could make it feel like someone understood.
She picked out an unabridged version of the classic Little Women and settled down in a corner nook, arranging the plush cushions and nestling herself into them. Opening the crisp new pages felt like getting re-acquainted with old friends. The smell of ink and paper alone was enough to send her to far-off regions in a moment. Responsibilities and worries were lost in this world where they could be solved so easily. Friends, food, experiences… they could all be found here.
A buzzing noise came from her purse. She sighed and closed the book slowly, her eyes gobbling up the words until they were completely lost inside the closed covers. Was it really that time already?
Of course, it was her agent. “You’re playing modern grunge this week.” The text was stacked underneath a host of past messages that she never replied to. Only one phrase was different in each. Last week it had been Blue Jays fanatic; before that, NASA spy; before that, Tolkien nerd, and it went on. The phone was shoved back out of sight.
She was a shapeshifter, and a good one. Every week she took on a new personality. The directors loved her. Daddy loved her.
She pulled herself to her feet and slid the book back onto the shelf. Sisters and romance were for dreams.
She grabbed her purse and started off through the maze she knew so well. In the history aisles, she found the Populars, 1980 edition. She went hunting, carrying it open to the list of resources.
The nearest section to history was the old books. There were rare copies of stories published up to hundreds of years ago, with price tags to match. She smiled. Daddy didn’t mind, and she liked how the books looked on her shelf, so it didn’t matter. She snatched a few promising novels and started her stack.
Then came the music racks. She took down a few records from the 1980’s, admiring the covers. She’d have to stop by a thrift store to get accoutred like that. Her outfits on set were provided, but it helped to practice-wear clothing styles. It helped give her a sense of confidence, or demureness, or whatever she was supposed to portray.
There were two reasons why she loved the bookstore. The first one, the one she told Daddy and her agent, was that it helped her with what she needed to be. The second reason was one only she knew, and kept well hidden: here was a place where she could just... exist. She didn’t have to be anybody or prove anything.
Upon realizing that she had stopped walking, she realized she was in the self-help section. She smiled ruefully as she looked around. There were driving manuals filled with diagrams of road safety and common sense. There were knitting patterns, with pictures of pretty women wrapped in cozy scarves and shawls. Further on were books filled with relationship columns. Then there were hordes of recipe books, the covers showing such mouth-watering pictures of burgers and cakes and casseroles and she really needed to stop thinking about food, and all of this. She knew that she would never have the time to read or use any of that information. Then a few titles caught her eye— titles like Discover Yourself and Finding Your Personality. She stalled.
Eileen arranged the stack of receipts in her drawer, then glanced at the clock. She looked down the aisle in front of her. Right on time: the girl was coming. She was of average height, always wearing a generic grey hoodie and blue jeans. Usually she was speed-walking to the till with her head down, hood on, but this time she had stopped and was looking at some books under the self-help sign. Eileen stepped around the counter and walked towards her, noticing for the first time that her face, though pretty, was slightly red and blotched, and that her hair was messily sicking out of a scrunchie.
“Can I help you?”
The girl jumped and drew back her hand from The Road Back to You as if it had burned her. She pulled up her hood and shook her head, giving a little smile but not making eye contact.
“Are you sure? You’re not dealing with an identity crisis after all you read?” Eileen said it like a joke, but the girl received it differently.
“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, adjusting the stack of books she held. She scooted past Eileen and walked up to the counter, put the books down and rifled through her purse for her wallet.
Eileen skipped down a few rows and picked out a thick book, then returned to the till, put it down, and began to ring the girl’s items through. “Can I make a suggestion to add to your collection?”
The girl shrugged. Eileen showed her the book; it earned an answer.
“Daddy wouldn’t like it.”
The last book was scanned through. “Wouldn’t you think it’s high time you learned who you were created to be?”
The girl glanced up before looking down at her runners, biting her lip, then nodded. “Alright.”
She hooked her bags onto her bike’s handlebars. The book bag was heavier than her purse, so they didn’t balance, but she was used to leaning to one side while pedalling. She wasn’t really that worried about Daddy seeing the extra book, but it made her a little nervous to have it in the house.
The light that was in the woman’s eyes, though… the warmth that was in her voice… the words “who you were created to be”… they all echoed in her mind. The thought of being specifically created for a purpose, by someone who loved her, was empowering.
She was going to read that Bible.