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Updated: Jul 11, 2023

After she parked her truck, Tamara walked slowly up the main street of town, stopping to look in the windows of storefronts. A used bookstore caught her eye and she ducked inside. Outside it was crisp and bright, but when the door closed behind her, she found herself in a warm, dark space; cozy and smelling like rest. “It’s good, right?” a man’s voice asked, startling her. She hadn’t noticed him standing in the front corner of the store, adjusting things in the window display. Now she turned and saw him, a lanky, elderly man, hunched slightly over a large stack of books, smiling with his full face, which was warm and dark, too. “That book smell is one of a kind. I think it’s why I can’t bring myself to sell this place,” he said, his bright eyes dancing around the edges of the store. “I’d just keep showing up every day anyway, to get my fix.” Tamara smiled. “Yes. When I was a kid, I used to spend as much time in bookstores and libraries as I could. I loved them.” “And now?” “I don’t get much time to read.” “Are you a doctor, too?” Tamara’s eyes snapped back from the shelf she’d been perusing. “Oh, God no. I own a horse farm in Kentucky. You must know my-“ “Rachel,” he said. “Yeah. Town’s not that big and we have just one lady doctor with family back East,” he explained. “She and Kiki are regulars here. Both big readers, and they’re like you. Every time they walk through the door, they take a big gulp of smell, like they’re trying to inhale the words off the pages.” His leathery face folded into another smile and Tamara smiled back, unconsciously stepping a little closer to him. Something about his smile or his smell, maybe a vanilla pipe? felt so peaceful, she found herself reaching for it. He nodded and went back to stacking the books in the window and she stepped away. God, she was embarrassing. “I can see why they like it here,” she called over her shoulder as she moved further into the store. She’d already taken too much of his time and should get on with her shopping. He didn’t say anything, and she found her way back to the children’s section in the back. There was a regular sized comfy chair and some bean bag chairs sitting on a blue rug with the alphabet printed on it, pictures under each letter: A for airplane, B for Bat, C for clock. Sinking into the big chair, Tamara scanned the shelves and found Charlotte’s Web and the whole Roald Dahl collection, her favorites when she was a kid. There were lots of comic books, or ‘graphic novels’ as they were called now, and a whole series about a superhero in his underwear. She grinned again. “Kiki has the whole Captain Underpants collection,” the book man said, startling her again. He had stealthily moved from the window to the solid wood desk off to the side in the middle of the store and was looking over his glasses, typing something into the cash register, but apparently also studying her. “But” he went on, “I noticed her noticing my Junie B. Jones books the other day, and I think somehow we haven’t gotten her into those Barbara Park books yet. She’d love them.” He winked and Tamara couldn’t help herself, she smiled again, and scooped up the first five books in the series. After she paid, she found herself lingering in front of the cash register, fingering the cloth bag with the store’s logo on it, a kid sitting cross-legged with a book in front of them, with “Charlie’s Readable Treasures” written in an arc overhead. “I’m Tamara, by the way. I’m assuming you’re Charlie?” she asked. “Nope. Ralph. Glad to meet you, Tamara,” he said, reaching out to shake her hand, eyes twinkling. Back on the sidewalk, she looked back at the sign over the door that read, “Charlie’s Readable Treasures, Est. 1983. Proprietor Mr. Charles Mink.” What the hell?


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