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Keep Calm and Carry On

By Hannah Anderson All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Romance

Blurb

I asked for your help getting a book off the top shelf and you laughed at my taste and called me a nerd so I shoved you into a table of nonfiction best-sellers and that’s how we both got banned from the quirky community bookstore.

IRL Bookstore AU

Let me start off by saying nothing about the whole scenario was my fault.

I had no control over the situation – scratch that. I had some control over the situation. I kept calm for an impressive amount of time, all things considered, but eventually enough is enough. I was totally provoked.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I woke up that morning with a sleepy pulse of excitement. Saturday morning. I rolled out of bed with the same amount of enthusiasm that I lacked during the rest of the week. Slipping a sweatshirt over my pyjama top and yanking on a pair of sweats, I grabbed my keys and headed out the apartment door.

Twenty minutes later, I was strolling contentedly out of the Tamara’s Café and Chill, a London Fog in my mittened hand and a croissant stuck in my mouth. Three doors down, a bell sang softly as I walked into my favourite place in the world. It seemed even messier than usual; a new order must have come in. Business would be brisk later on in the day, but for now, it was deserted. Except, of course, for a bespectacled face peering out from behind the stacks. “Maura! You’re early!”

I took the croissant out of my mouth. “Hi Paula. Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Paula’s button nose twitched. “It’s going to snow later,” she said peevishly, her wide brown eyes narrowing. She was wearing a red plaid bathrobe over her jeans and flannel top, and her pale hands were buried in the pockets.

“The trees have hoarfrost on them. It’s quite gorgeous.”

Paula sighed, staring fondly at me over her wide, black framed glasses. “Your propensity for optimism is astounding. Your precious hoarfrost is taking away all of my pretty fall colours.”

I took a sip of my drink. “But just think, the café is going to get in all of their holiday drinks soon… eggnog lattes, peppermint hot chocolate…”

Paula snorted derisively.

“Just imagine it, being able to just whip out, walk less than a block, and come back with an eggnog latte…”

“Go read a book, Maura.”

I laughed. “If you insist,” I teased, biting my pastry once more as the black braid whipped out of sight, in the direction of the register desk. Chuckling, I dove into the maze of books. It really was a maze; The Hideaway was rarely organized by anything except stackability and occasionally by series or genre. Books were piled in haphazard heaps around the crowded bookshelves, forming nice reading nooks if you were lucky and excellent death traps if not.

An hour later I was halfway through a book randomly selected from the stacks, the ivory pages illuminated by soft beams of sunlight weaving around the books from the front windows. I stared at my empty cup mournfully, though determined not to move from where I was seated under a stack of Tolkien and leaning against a bookcase full of detective paperbacks. A low murmur of chatter flowed through the store like gentle wind, the bell tinkled as visitors wandered in and out, and shoes scuffled as travellers passed through the labyrinth. So twisted were the corridors of novels however that adventurers rarely stumbled across me.

Until a ridiculously tall guy swanned by and almost tripped over my shoes. “Watch it! People are walking!” he snarled. His green eyes glowed furiously, his sharp cheekbones making him look like some sort of dangerous jungle cat.

I recoiled, snapping my book shut and setting it aside. “Excuse me?”

He snorted and disappeared behind a pile of Tolstoy.

I shook my head, determined to ignore the slight, and picked up my book again. I’d lost the page. God damn it.

After another couple of hours had passed, I determined that I might as well go and grab another beverage. Abandoning my nook, I wandered over to the register. Paula was ringing up a purchase, smiling and laughing with a bearded and beanie wearing hipster who was inexplicably buying four copies of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. “Hey, I’m going back to get another drink from Tamara’s,” I offered, leaning over the counter. “Want anything?”

“A coffee, black, like my soul?”

“Okay…”

Paula grabbed my wrist as I pretended to turn away. “No, no, no, Maura, I was kidding, I want a chocolate muffin and a pumpkin spice latte.” The hipster, taking his receipt from Paula, made a choking noise. Paula swiveled back around and glared at him. “I own this joint, I can go mainstream if I want.” He nodded, lips twitching uncontrollably, before he grabbed his purchase and practically raced out the door. I bit my lip as the ring of the bell was immediately followed by an explosion of laughter.

“I guess he didn’t expect that from you?”

Paula smirked and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “He kept asking me for book recommendations and my number. Who cares if the hipster girl likes pumpkin spice, he’ll be back.”

That was Paula in a nutshell, I reflected as I stood in line at Tamara’s Café. Confident, sassy, and unafraid to mix and match her hipster sense of style and mainstream sense of taste to suit her own purposes. It was why we had been friends this long; we were so alike that people often thought we were sisters. Ruffling my turquoise hair with one hand, I moved further up the line. Something rammed into my shoulder, and a familiar voice snarled, “Watch it!” Looking up, I saw the guy from earlier, the one who had tripped over my feet, towering over me. He was not as tall as I had thought… six feet, maybe? Still much taller than me, though. A copy of Anna Karenina was tucked under his arm.

“You ran into me, dude, no need to be nasty,” I snapped, rolling my eyes and moving forward again as he snorted and stalked away.

I ordered a pumpkin spice latte, another London fog, and the chocolate muffin before deciding that I deserved a cake pop for having to deal with such a pretentious prick twice within a couple of hours.

When I returned to The Hideaway, I made a beeline for Paula’s desk. “Here’s your latte.”

Paula was smirking again. “That hipster guy came back in again. Gave me his number. I freaking knew that was going to happen. Where’s my chocolate?” I placed the muffin on the edge of the counter, and Paula snatched it, immediately stuffing pieces of it into her mouth like the six-year-old-trapped-in-a-twenty-three-year-old’s-body she was. “There’s a really cute guy hanging around,” she said thickly, still chewing on her pastry. “He bought a Tolstoy book, left, and came back in with three espressos. I think he’s writing a paper or something.”

I thought back to the previous interactions of the day. “Anna Karenina?”

“Yep.”

I suppose he had been a little cute – wavy brown hair, clean shaven, great cheekbones, tanned – but his physical appeal had not helped his personality. “It better be a freaking important paper, he was super rude to me, like, he almost tripped over me in the stacks and then he ran smack into me at Tamara’s. And he had the nerve to tell me to watch where I was going!”

“Maybe he’s under a great deal of stress?”

“Maybe, or perhaps he’s just got a stick up his –“

Paula shushed me as a woman walked by, hand in hand with a chubby toddler. “Don’t bash the other customers, you may have been my friend since junior high but I can still kick you out if necessary.”

I nodded. “Point taken.”

I returned to my browsing, floating through the bookshelves like a woodland sprite among trees. I flitted from one shelf to the other, gathering up a pile of volumes in my arms. Eventually, as I passed a table stacked with nonfiction bestsellers, I spotted the nemesis. He lounged in an arm chair, a MacBook on his lap and a pile of discarded books about philosophers and Russia at his feet. I resisted the urge to growl at him, and turned my attention instead to the literary high rises around me.

In a miraculous turn of events, I had stumbled upon a pocket which contained almost nothing but my favourite books and new volumes that I had not seen before, but which looked highly intriguing. I set down my previously foraged stack and began to explore, pulling out volumes to more closely examine before returning them to their homes.

“Nice to see you’re not in anyone’s way for once.”

I silently prayed to any deity listening to give me patience and turned. The boy was watching me, green eyes glinting. “It’s quite the rarity, I’m sure,” he continued.

“You’re sitting still and not tripping over anyone,” I quipped. “Is that rare too?”

He didn’t answer, just shook his head and looked back down at his computer.

As such, it was hard to tell if I had won that sass-off or not.

“What’s with the Tolstoy?” The boy looked furious at the interruption, but I had already decided that I was going to exact my revenge in the friendliest, most extroverted, and therefore most passively-aggressively way possible.

“What’s with the Tolkien?” he snapped back.

That should not have taken me aback, I will admit, but despite that I had thought that maybe he would have just rudely answered the question. It was naïve of me, really, to be at all surprised by that response.

“Just asking!” I raised my hands in a universal gesture of surrender and backed off, pulling a hardcover copy of Wuthering Heights off the shelf. A crazy boy and a crazy girl resulting in what was possibly the unhealthiest relationship in literature. Yay. I put the book back and picked up the next. “A bookstore is a rather strange place to write a paper, isn’t it?”

Letting out a heavy sigh of exasperation, he began to type again, apparently putting quite a bit more effort into making as loud of a noise as humanly possible instead of focusing on what he was actually typing. I resisted the urge to claw every single blue hair out of my skull. I scanned the bookshelves, passing a leather bound copy of The Iliad before I spotted a white dust jacket striped with silhouettes of yellow and blue. Carry On. Rainbow Rowell’s faux-fanfiction. I had forgotten the publishing date; I thought it wouldn’t be in stores for another month at least. But here it was. On the top shelf. Beyond my shrimp-like reach. I glanced over at Tolstoy-boy. He was a giant. He could reach it.

“Hey, really sorry to bother you again… actually, I’m not sorry at all, but would you mind helping me grab that?”

Looking up slowly, his green gaze slid up my arm and onto the book I was pointing at. A smirk blossomed on his face. He stood and practically swaggered over to me, raising his arm and catching the edges of the volume with the tips of his fingers. As it tipped and began to fall from the shelf, he caught it and began to flip through the pages. A condescending look crossed his features, and he shut the book and held it out to me. “My god, clumsy, horrible taste, and a nerd. How could it possibly get any worse?”

Nope. Fuck passive-aggressive revenge. I dropped Carry On on the floor next to the rest of my hopeful purchases.

And then I shoved him into the table of nonfiction bestsellers.

At least it took him by surprise.

Unfortunately for him, he knocked over not only the table, but also sent a mountain of World War II battle compendiums tumbling down on top of him.

The background acoustics of the rest of the bookstore went abruptly silent. Then came the sound of running feet. “Oh my god, Maura!” Paula skidded around a column of Suzanne Collins novels. “What did you do?!”

“He started it!”

The rest of the people in the bookstore began to gather around, drawn to Paula’s angry shrieks like moths to flame. My victim groaned and began to struggle to his feet, his hand closing around a biography of Winston Churchill. Which he then threw at me.

He had excellent aim.

“That’s it! Both of you! Out!” Paula grabbed the back of my shirt and the back of the guy’s jacket and dragged us to the door. I noticed Carry On lying forgotten on the floor next to other books I wanted to buy. My opponent, infuriatingly, had managed to grab his laptop. I made a disappointed squeaking noise.

“Nope, no Rainbow Rowell for you. You can come back for it next week, if you can manage to actually act like an adult!”

And then, for the first time in my life, I got kicked out of a bookstore. And not just any bookstore, my best friend’s quirky community bookstore. No one ever got kicked out. Ever. Standing on the pavement next to a seemingly shell-shocked young man, I looked up at him furiously. “Do you even understand how pissed off I am right not? You just ruined my entire Saturday!”

“Ruined your Saturday?! You pushed me into a table!”

“I have been waiting to read that book for months, and now I’m going to have to wait a full week!”

“I needed those books for my research, and now I’ll have to go to all the trouble of finding them somewhere else because you can’t take a joke!”

“Can’t take a joke?! Ha! If that was your idea of a joke, you’ve got the worst sense of humour I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter!”

“At least I don’t have psychopathic tendencies!”

“Sociopathic, thank you very much.”

“Oh my god, can you be a normal person for literally one second?”

“What kind of normal person spends a Saturday in a bookstore writing a paper and reading Tolstoy?”

“One that’s more normal than you are!”

“I believe your comebacks are losing their touch.” I rooted around in my jacket pocket, pulling out a pen. “Well then, fricking text me if you’re going to the bookstore next week -” I scrawled my cell number across his palm. “– cause there’s no way in hell I want to be in The Hideaway with you ever again.”

“Same!” He snatched the pen for me and scribbled nine digits across my wrist.

We went our separate ways.

It was a couple weeks later that I received a text from “Asshole from Hideaway”. Apparently being drunk was a good time for apologies? We texted a number of times after that. He seemed to think that the whole situation was hilarious. I suppose that in retrospect, it was rather ridiculous.

We’re going to discuss it over coffee. Wish me luck.

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