The wooden door that lead into Beck’s Bookstore was maple, carved simply with a window on the top half, the store name printed on the glass in black letters. When Sam pushed it open, a string of bells hanging from the inside handle gave off a mellow jingle, echoing through the mostly empty and quiet store as Sam stepped inside. He let the door shut before any of the heat could escape and pulled off his coat as he turned around, his eyes panning around the store.
It was a lot different from the big coorporations like Barnes & Nobles or Borders, and looked more like a library than anything else with the carpeted floors, the shelves set up like dominoes, covered in hundred and hundred of new and used books. The store itself smelt like paper and incense, and gave off an intensely relaxing and homey aura.
That was one reason Sam loved it there so much. It was a family business, there were no unexplained or frustrating rules that made no sense, the workers there were few and all of them were incredibly kind. Sure he may get in little quirrels with them once in a while, but that was to be expected, especially considering what he was going through. His coworkers understood, and they supported him as much as they could.
The owner was Isabella “Izzy” Beck, a young woman who had dedicated her life to the store her grandfather had managed, and throught all of its years, it hadn’t really changed much. It still looked like a fantasy castle. Some of the books sat neatly on shelves, while others were stacked around on the floor, so high that they arched over the shelves like a gate leading down a walkway. There were no set prices, buyers paid what they had. Izzy had buckets of money after all, she didn’t care about profit. She just wanted to see smiles, and she got them.
There weren’t all that many employees, either. Just a small staff to help out when it was needed. To organize the books, pay attention to the financial aspects of a business, socialize with clients who came for books, clean up the shop, just little things. For a while Sam found himself surprised Izzy hired at all. Sure the store was rather large, but the business itself was a bit slow, and Sam was pretty certain Izzy could handle the customers herself.
Maybe she was lonely, she wanted to help someone out, or she wanted the help. Either way, Sam was sure the other employees were as grateful for the job as he was. They were like a little family, but Sam was still withdrawn and cautious. He was too afraid of losing someone else to get very close to anyone there, but they could all be... persistent.
They were all young, ranging from eighteen to twenty-five, so the close age gave them all a kind of common ground, as did the love of books they all shared. There weren’t all that many either. Besides Sam, there were three other female employees, all of them pretty young, but they were productive...
Most of the time.
“Looks like someone finally showed up,” a chiding voice said, and Sam turned a bit to look over at where the counter was located near the back.
Although it was more like a desk than a counter. Made of old oak, there was a newage dual cash register and computer, as well as a few books and other items you’d see being sold at a book store, like cheap reading glasses, book marks, and book lights. Standing behind the register, leaning against it, was Izzy Beck. She was a pretty woman, the oldest there at twenty-five years old, but her heart was young, which explained why she got along so well with the children clientel.
She was of average height for a woman of her age, around 5′2", and her hair was dark brown and naturally curly, framing her face perfectly and heaping on her shoulders before falling just a few inches across her upper back and shoulder blades. Her eyes were just as brown and lively, with glasses perched on her nose and magnifying her intelligent iris’.
Her face made her look rather young, but dropping your gaze just a bit lower to her chest provides enough information to tell anyone she was a mature young woman who was very blessed by god almighty, or whatever deity you prayed to. Not that Sam cared much about boobs, even if he teased Izzy relentlessly for them.
“Woke up a bit late,” he apologized, handing over his coat so Izzy could hang it up on the wall behind the register, “Did I miss anything?”
“Nah, slow day as usual,” Izzy reassured before leaning back against the oak counter, “Any particular reason you woke up late? Something bad, or did your daddy keep you up again,” she wiggled her eyebrows, and Sam growled.
“No, he didn’t,” he replied stiffly, folding his arms, “Marin had the night shift so he wasn’t even there.”
Izzy giggled at the response, pushing herself back and setting her hands on her hips, “So... something bad?”
“I’m fine,” Sam didn’t want to discuss his nightmares, especially with his boss.
She knew about Chris, hell all of the employees knew, but that didn’t give them a right to keep asking about him! Even if she didn’t directly ask or bring him up, Sam knew Izzy was silently wondering about Sam’s comatose lover. Either that or he was losing his mind and becoming paranoid.
He shook his head and turned to look around the store, “Am I the first one here?”
“Course not,” Izzy chuckled, “I wasn’t even the first one here, and I live one floor up. Who, pray tell, is always the first one here?”
“Cleo I’m guessing?”
“Ding, ding!” Izzy turned her head back and forth, frowning, “Where is she, though?”
“Hiding in her fantasy world,” another voice answered, and Sam turned his body while Izzy simply quirked her head to the side to see one of the three other employees.
Amy was the shortest of the five, standing just a little over four feet, but she made up with her stature by being feisty with a sharp tongue, and was known well to be the one to not piss off if you wanted to keep your head. Her hair was curly and brown, like Izzy’s, but a bit longer, and was held back with a cute little headband that sported a pretty crimson rose on the right side. Her eyes, too, were a striking brown color, peering up behind glasses to see Sam’s face as she stopped beside him, setting a few books on the counter before dusting her hands on her shirt.
“You know how she is. The minute she walks in here, she’s off exploring the books.”
Izzy shook her head with a little huff, “Is she even doing her work?”
Amy shrugged, staring at her shoes like they were the most fascinating thing in the world, “Probably,” she answered, bending down to rub off a scuff at the toe of her left shoe, “She’s supposed to organize the books by the authors last name, right? That’s a lot of work for one crazy girl. She likely messed up a bunch, but she’s working like she needs to.”
“She has her own methods,” Sam smiled softly, and Amy nodded her agreement, looking up.
“Sabine is trying to get her to focus, but it isn’t really going well.”
“Not surprised,” Izzy admitted, giving Sam a pleading look, “Would you mind?”
“Nah,” Sam shrugged and started for the shelves, setting a hand on Amy’s head as he passed and messing her hair up a bit, “I’ll be on Cleo Control today.”
“Appreciate it,” Izzy nodded, and Amy pouted as she tried to put her hair back in order, giving Sam a halfhearted glare as he walked off.
He found his other two coworkers in the mystery section, unsurprising really. Cleo was down on her knees, going through a pile of books that have probably been sitting there for weeks, while Sabine leaned up against the shelf opposite her, a frustrated tic beneath her left eye.
Sabine was unique, that’s what Sam decided. Her hair was thick and messy, probably due to rolling out of bed and rushing, but it looked good on her, almost like she’d styled it that way, dyed a brilliant mint green color with a darker shade of maybe brown just at the roots, and she had stunning gray eyes that seemed to take in everything around her. Standing at 5′1", she was almost unnoticably shorter than Cleo, who was 5′2".
Cleo had scene styled black hair that fell down her back to below her shoulder blades, pairing perfectly with her glittering brown eyes. She was stacking up books as Sabine tried to talk to her, explaining the days schedule. Key word being try. Cleo had her own schedule and worked at her own pace, and it had never been a problem, so Sam wasn’t sure why Sabine insisted on trying to balance her with a schedule. Being organized like that, having a plan that followed through the entire day, was something Sabine relied on, but Cleo wasn’t interested in following someone elses rules.
“Morning,” Sam greeted, and Sabine stopped her scolding to look over at him, smiling.
“Hey Sam, how you feeling today?” her eyebrows drew together, “You look kind of pale.”
Sam stopped walking closer and narrowed his eyes, but Sabine just arched up an eyebrow, as if daring him to deny it. He knew better though, and sighed heavily, “I’m fine, okay? Jeeze, all of you are annoying.”
“Rude,” Cleo chastised, hugging a book and hopping to her feet to smile at Sam, leaning close to his face and tapping him on the nose, “You, sir, just can’t accept your big sister’s concerns!”
“I’m fucking older than you.”
“Shut up,” Cleo pouted, and Sabine rolled her eyes, stuffing her hands into her pockets and tilting her head to the side.
“You here for Cleo Control? I have some paperwork in the back I need to get to.”
Cleo whined, “Why do you always call it that? I don’t need to be controlled! I’m happy here with my books!”
“If one of us doesn’t check in on you then you’ll start reading those books,” Sam said, and Cleo gave him a wide eyed stare.
“So you’re supposed to be putting them up, not taking them down,” Sam answered, arching an eyebrow as Cleo dug the toe of her shoe into the carpet.
“Izzy doesn’t mind.”
“Oh for the love of-!” Sabine stopped herself, throwing her hands up in exasperation, “If that woman ran this place herself, nothing would get done, and the store would be bankrupt! She’d just run off giving books away willy nilly!”
“She’s generous, but she’s not careless,” Sam shrugged, and Sabine nodded.
“She’s too nice.”
“But she can be scary,” Cleo pointed out, opening a book.
“I can hear you!” Izzy’s voice echoed through the rows of shelves, and Cleo jumped, giggling.
Sabine just waved a hand and turned away, “Right, so I have work to do.”
“See you Miss Schedules!” Cleo called after her, then turned to Sam, snapping the book closed, “Now that the naggy one is gone, I need your help!”
“Please bring this to the classics! It’s Mark Twain!”
Sam gave a short chuckle and took the book from Cleo, looking down at it and drawing his hand down the worn cover, a soft smile on his lips as he watched his enrgetic coworker flit around the mysteries, humming rather loudly as she worked. Her methods were scattered, but effective. She knew what she was doing, and although there were places in the store that seemed clustered and unorganized, Cleo knew exactly where everything was.
She was brilliant, and Sam really respected her, envied her. She seemed to always have a smile on her face, she was so kind, but knowing the people he did, it was fairly easy to tell when she was upset. Most times she hid her negative emotions, usually no one noticed, but Sam could tell, her eyes got darker, there wasn’t as much shine, she hummed different music.
To most people, Cleo was gullible, naive, but in reality, she was one of the smartest and most intuitive people Sam had met since Lex. She was honest, brutally honest, but she would always speak with a kind of melodic voice that made people think she didn’t know what she was saying, but Sam knew better. Being so honest in such a melodic voice didn’t prove that she was ignorant, it proved she was a fucking asshole and a sarcastic twit.
But Sam loved and respected her for it, and thought of her as a sister.
He gave another quiet laugh before turning, walking around the shelves until he’d reached the classic literature, slipping the Twain novel between Dostoyevsky and Dumas. Cleo would be furious at him for it, but he didn’t have the energy to alphabetize right then. As usual, his mind was wandering, but for once he didn’t lose himself to his sorrow.
Instead he was thinking of the bookstore, the friend’s he’d made, and though it made him feel sad, like he was forgetting Chris, he knew better. The girls at the book store were his family, they weren’t replacements. They all helped him in their own ways.
Cleo for one was a sweet heart, always nice, but when Sam was being an idiot, she told him so, and her honesty was something Sam needed and relied on.
Sabine was steady, quiet a lot of the time, and was often times very serious, but when she was with her small group of friends, she was sarcastic, good humoured, and Sam really appreciated how loyal and unwavering she was. She liked things being permanent, she hated change, and she did everything she possibly could to look after her friends.
Amy was a mystery to even Sam. She was very quiet a lot of the time, and when speaking to her, Sam had to be careful, choosing his words delicately, because if he said the wrong thing, Amy would shut him out completely, become cold and withdrawn, and the betrayed looks she would give Sam made him shatter, like he’d kicked about eighteen different puppies; and a viper. Amy wasn’t just silent and thoughtful, she could be terrifying, in a completely different way from Sabine or Cleo.
Sam jumped when a steady meowing came from just above him, and he looked up, relaxing considerably when he saw Izzy’s orange and white tabby cat, Mia. She was known as the store’s mascot, and everyone loved her, but she could be a bitch, slinking around the shelves and knocking down books. Sam swore she did it on purpose, and he was absolutely certain the twinkle in her brilliant blue eyes was pure evil!
She slept most of the time, in the most inconvenient places, and while Sam thought it was annoying, Izzy thought it was cutest thing. Meaning Sam had no choice but to deal with the frustrating feline.
It wasn’t exactly a fullfilling job, but it was enough. Enough to distract him from his thoughts for a few hours. It was his life, but it was empty, so empty. He tried so hard to fill the gaping void that seemed to get deeper and deeper each day, but nothing he did seemed to work. All of the friends he made, all of the jobs he’d tried to keep, everything, none of it compared to how painful it was not to have Chris safe and awake in his arms.
A heavy sigh left his lips, and he reached out a hand to prop himself up, leaning against the shelf, using his other to rake his hair back from his face as he stared down at the ground, a heavy frown on his lips. He heard muffled thuds and lifted his eyes to see Mia was making her way down the shelf, climbing down like each section was a ladder rung, until she was at the shelf Sam was leaning against.
Having the little cat close made him scowl, but Mia didn’t seem to mind or care as she padded closer, arching her back and rubbing up against Sam’s face, purring. It had Sam relaxing even more with a softer sigh, and he shook his head as he scratched under Mia’s chin.
“You’re a pain, you know that?”
A meow was the response, and Sam rolled his eyes, picking her up and cuddling her against his chest as he turned and began making his way back to the register, where Izzy and Amy still stood, seemingly in a deep conversation that involved a new employee. Odd, Sam didn’t think Izzy would hire anyone else, the four she had now worked rather well on their own.
“She seems nice,” Izzy was saying, her eyes raised as if in thought, “She’s pretty, brown hair and eyes. Her name is April, she should be coming in tomorrow. Which means,” she offered Sam a smile, “You can have the day off to do... you know, whatever it is you do.”
The knowing glow in her eyes had Sam’s heart twisting, and he nodded his head furiously, alreading planning on what he would do. It had been quite a while since he’d sat with Chris all day, so getting a chance to do just that was like a birthday present, “Yea, thanks so much,” he said, setting Mia on top of the counter.
The tiny cat padded over to Izzy, who scooped her up and cooed as she held her up against her face, where Mia licked at her hair, purring, he tip of her striped tail twitching. She climbed up on Izzy’s shoulder and curled up, her small stature making it plenty easy, with no danger of slipping off.
“Sure,” Izzy smiled, stroking the top of Mia’s head, “Just keep in touch, no running off to do stupid stuff, or I’ll have to call your father again.”
Sam snorted and folded his arms, staring down at his feet, “Whatever.”
The rest of the day moved slowly, like the ticking of a broken clock, but by the time they closed the store, Sam was in higher spirits. He was getting the day off tomorrow, which meant he could stay with Chris all night and all day. He was getting some extra time with his lover, and he was looking so forward to it that he rushed out the door without pulling on his coat.
Hell, he didn’t need it. He just kept it clutched in his hand, ignoring the aching feeling in his chest that whispered horrible things to him as he ran down the sidewalk, intent on reaching Chris within the next few minutes. Depending on how fast he ran.