No Looking Back

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I sent Riley up to the loft to do the inventory of our lending library. Roger had never done an inventory, all the books were his. He lent them out with complete trust that whoever was reading them would handle them with care and return them. I’m sure some never made their way back to the shop. Now that it was mine I intended to take the best care I could of Roger’s books. I owed it to him. He changed my life.

I watched as she carefully thumbed through the books, gracefully turning the pages to find the information she needed for the inventory. She tucked a piece of her loose black hair behind her ear. I couldn’t help but notice her beauty every time I looked at her.

“Where are you living?” I asked up to her trying to break the silence.

“With Winnie… uh… Boyd I think she said her last name was?” she responded.

“Oh Winnie, she’s a sweet lady.” I smiled as I thought fondly of the senior.

“You know her?” Riley asked.

“Quite well,” I said.

I looked back at the computer and tried to focus on the orders in front of me but I couldn’t help sneaking peeks up into the loft at Riley.

The bell to the shop rang and I looked up and smiled.

“You made it back!” I stood up and walked over to the two men who had entered, “Riley come on down.”

“The snow storm up the highway was pretty bad. I’m sorry we are late on orders. Now that the storm has passed hopefully we can play catch up.” Gus said.

I waved a dismissive hand at them, “Don’t worry about it.”

Riley came up beside me and smiled at the two men.

“Riley this is Gus and Jeremy. They do the deliveries for the shop. Guys this is Riley – she’s the newest employee of Roger’s Reads.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Riley shook hands with both men.

I watched as Jeremy blushed under Riley’s gaze. He was the younger of the two, only twenty-six. His face showed his youth and muscled stature. Gus was a short and stout middle aged man with a thick beard and long hair that was always tied back into a bun.

“I’ve never seen you around,” Jeremy said to Riley. He had a look on his face that said he was attempting to charm Riley.

“I just moved here from Boston,” Riley replied.

“Well maybe I can show you around sometime?” Jeremy asked.

I had to cut off this conversation, “You have a lot of shipments to get out. Let’s get you loaded up so that you can get back on the road. Riley, if you could please continue with that inventory.”

Riley nodded, then looked at Gus and Jeremy, “It was nice to meet you both.” She turned and walked back up to the loft.

I followed Jeremy’s gaze up to her. I was unsure why but I wanted nothing more than to get him out of the shop and back on the road. She wasn’t mine, though the idea of her being mine brought a smile to my face and a warmth inside me.

I sorted out Gus and Jeremy and sent them back on the road. I walked back in to see Riley helping a customer. Maybe helping wasn’t the right word. She looked incredibly uncomfortable. She twitched as he reached for a book near her and I could see her breathing speed up. She was straining to smile. I could hear her stumbling over her words. I walked over.

“Are you finding everything okay sir?” I asked.

“You don’t seem to have the book I am looking for unfortunately,” he replied, “Am I able to order in books here?”

“Of course, come with me,” I led him to the front; I looked over my shoulder at Riley who had her arms crossed rubbing them and looking at the ground. I called at her, “Riley, back to inventory.”

She nodded and headed back up to the loft. Her behaviour was strange, nothing like the way she had been before. Dealing with customers was a big part of this job and if she couldn’t do it despite the fact that I wanted her here she may not be right for this position. I cleared my mind of the thought and went back to helping the customer order his book.

When I was done I slowly made my way up to the loft where she sat diligently doing her work. I leaned against one of the bookcases, “What was going on down there?”

She looked up at me and I could see her cheeks were tear stained. I wanted to grab her and hold her against me and make whatever pain she was feeling disappear but I stood still knowing that in this moment, and all moments, I had to play the role of boss.

“I’m sorry. I just didn’t know how to help him,” she replied, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this job.”

I rubbed my neck, “Let’s give it some time. You’ll learn.”

She nodded. I gave her a pat on the shoulder and she flinched the same way she did with the man downstairs. She looked up at me her eyes big, almost scared. I decided not to press the issue and walked back downstairs. I sat at the computer and looked for the book that the customer had requested. There was something Riley wasn’t telling me. I began to worry that what she wasn’t telling me could get in the way of her ability to work here. I knew she needed the job though so I decided that the best thing to do was to give it time and see what happened.

At the end of the day Riley came down from the loft and grabbed her jacket.

“I think I’m almost halfway through the collection. I can likely finish it tomorrow.” She told me.

I nodded, “That sounds good.”

She turned and started to leave but then turned back, “The organization up there… it leaves much to be desired. It’s not exactly easy to find books. Maybe after I’m done inventory I can organize it for you?”

Taking initiative – I liked it, “That sounds great Riley. Thank you. Nine tomorrow morning, we open later on Fridays.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow boss.” She walked out the door of the shop the bell ringing as she left. She shoved her hands in her pockets and began to walk down the street.

Gloves, I thought. I should get her some gloves.

I put on my jacket and turned out the lights. I looked around the shop as I did every night before I went home still in shock that this place was mine. I walked out the door, locked it and walked to my truck that was parked around the block. It wasn’t much to look at, just a 1970 Chevrolet truck. It was starting to rust and it was an ugly baby blue but it got me where I needed to go.

I pulled up to the garden suite I was renting. It was white with blue shutters and very small. It had two small bedrooms, a small bathroom, and a small open kitchen living area. Most days I was happy to go home and get away from dealing with people. Cracking open a beer and watching bad TV while I ate old Chinese food was a habit I getting too familiar with. But as I looked around my tiny home that had once been a place of solace from the outside world, for the first time I felt lonely.

I flipped aimlessly through the channels before deciding that there was nothing on that I wanted to watch. I walked into my small bedroom and looked on the shelf at my complete works of Charles Dickens. I pulled out “A Christmas Carol” and flipped through the pages wondering what Riley loved so much about it. I sat down on my bed and began to read.

“Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” I read aloud to myself. I smiled and lay back on my bed and continued.

The next morning after picking up two coffees I drove over to the shop to see Riley sitting on the step blowing into her hands. I looked at the seat beside me where I had put an extra pair of gloves I had at home for her. I parked my truck gathered everything and got out.

“Morning Riley,” I greeted her with a smile.

She looked beautiful with her long black hair covered in the big fat snowflakes that were falling peacefully from the gray sky. Even her eyelashes had flakes on them.

“Morning boss,” she replied.

There was a silence between us; I looked at every feature of her beautiful face.

“Gloves!” I said abruptly.

“What?” she asked.

I held out the gloves that I had brought for her, “They’re an old pair of mine. Nothing fancy. I just noticed you didn’t have any.”

Riley smiled, “Wow, thank you. This is really nice.”

I nodded and unlocked the door to the shop. We entered and put our coats behind the counter. I handed her one of the coffees.

“Thank you boss,” she smiled, “I’m going to head back up to the loft.”

She turned and headed towards the staircase; I called after her, “You can call me Wes, you know?”

“Okay,” she replied, “Wes.” She winked at me and then headed up the stairs. So different from the scared girl I saw yesterday. I shook my head – I didn’t have time to figure out the

An hour later Gus and Jeremy walked in.

“Hey Wes, can I speak to you in the office?” Gus asked.

“Yeah sure,” I stood up from the computer and headed into the back with him.

Gus sat down in the chair in front of the desk.

“What can I do you for?” I asked as I sat down in my chair.

“I know I used up my vacation time but Ruth has some surgery she is going in for and needs some help at home,” Gus said.

I nodded, “When do you need the time?”

“That’s the thing, the week before Christmas.”

“Ah, our busiest week,” I leaned back in my chair and put my hands behind my head, “Well your wife needs surgery. What are you going to do? Take the time you need.”

“Thank you,” Gus reached out and shook my hand.

We stood up and walked back out to the store. We both looked around for Jeremy but couldn’t see them. I walked to where I could look up into the loft and saw him talking to Riley. She was smiling and giggling.

“Jeremy, let’s go,” Gus called up to him.

Jeremy nodded in acknowledgment. He touched Riley on the arm, she flinched the same way she did when I touched her yesterday but she kept the smile on her face. Strange. He walked down the staircase and when he reached the bottom he turned back around and looked up.

“Check out that book Riley, and I’ll check out your suggestion. Maybe we could exchange notes.” Jeremy smiled up at Riley.

“That might be nice,” Riley replied, “Have a good day.”

I rolled my eyes, “Jer, there’s a lot of orders to get out today.”

Jeremy jogged over to us, “Sorry Wes.”

“Come on Romeo,” Gus playfully pushed on Jeremy’s arm; Jeremy let out a chuckle.

“See you guys later.” I waved with my right hand my other shoved into my pocket.

I watched as they walked out the back door and then let out a sigh. I looked up at Riley who was smiling over the pages of a novel. I felt my lips curve into a smile as well. She looked so happy and relaxed up there tucked away from the world in a sea of books. I began to wonder if she would do better in the background not dealing with customers.

Don’t be stupid Wes. You can’t accommodate her like that.

I shook my head and sat back down at the computer behind the front desk.

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