Pages of Nostalgia
Katerina Florence visited the sight of her mother's gravestone once every five years. On this day, it was her fifth.
The graveyard was small and provincial, much like Katerina's own childhood, and located on a plot of land wedged in between a rotting house built in the 1800s and a rocky cliff overlooking Lake Georgina. Katerina considered the grave sight from the opposite side of the road, considered the lake she could see through the trees, and then proceeded, as usual, into town. She would visit her mother tonight, when everyone else was in bed and the world would be silent except for the lapping waves. When she would be undisturbed.
Pepper's Town consisted of five buildings, a scattering of trees, and a central bungalow used for meetings, festivals, and (most commonly) late night rendezvous. Katerina knew each building intimately, as she had lived in one of them for the first eighteen years of her life.
There was the bank, first and foremost, which was the largest of the five and the only building which had gone through any significant renovations. A second story was added when the Toffee family converted it into a church ten years ago, deciding the town was in more need of salvation than financial aid.
Next to that sat Randall’s Car Garage, which had always been more of an excuse for Randall to show off his cars and vehicular skills than anything else. He’d always been a kind old man, though not quite right in the head. Randall was always telling ghost stories about the Emerson Estate, but as a kid Katerina had known it was just to keep the kids out of the graveyard. Nowadays, though, she wasn’t so sure.
Across the street was the Power Griddle, a diner that played exclusively 80s Rock ‘n’ roll, the Laundry family’s veterinarian’s office, which was often mistaken for a laundromat, and the Florence family bookshop, which constantly smelled like must and ancient ink. It was Katerina’s favorite smell.
And this place… This place was Katerina’s favorite place.
–Masie Clements, The Lakeside Haunt
I wander down the block, soaking in the sun like a flower. The town is prettier now that I have a plane ticket scheduled back to California.
I hadn’t been looking around properly before, but now, cradling my coffee, I start to feel a strange kind of déjà vu. I pass by a little tiny box of a building labeled ‘BANK’, then a thrift store advertising candy, of all things, then pause at a two-story brick bookshop. It’s got ivy crawling up the sides and those old-style multi-pane windows on both floors. The small square panes on the second floor are frosted, but I can still see the shadows of the books pressing against the glass, like they might tumble out at any second. There’s a stone slab being used as a step up to the shop’s door, which is propped open with an eight-inch bust of Shakespeare. A waft of air hits me, and it smells like musty old books.
And that’s when I realize why Windthrow Point feels strange to me. It’s kind of similar to how I envisioned Pepper’s Town in my novel The Lakeside Haunt. But what’s really strange is that this bookshop… it’s exactly how I pictured the Florence family bookshop, The Bookshade. Down to the smell, for Chrissake.
I’m standing in the doorway for a millisecond when my eyes land on a familiar figure. The box of books. Darian. Of course.
“Hey,” I say, raising a hand in a stunted wave. I’d like to say I did it because I’m friendly, but really it’s just because running off to avoid someone twice in one day is a little much, even for me. Not seeing much of a choice, I step inside the bookshop, pleased at how warm the air inside feels.
It’s exactly how you would picture an indie bookshop to be. Piles of books, possibly organized but who knows for sure, coat every surface. None of the tables or shelves match; they’re all varying shades of wood and metal. A tiny chandelier and a bunch of mini pride flags I can’t identify hang above the cash register. Fairy lights lead the way through the stacks to a barely-visible staircase.
And Darian. He’s on his tiptoes on a stool, shelving a thick red-covered book on the second-to-top shelf across from the register. He’s also ditched his jacket from earlier, presumably to show off his amazing biceps. Distantly, I try and decide whether they’re better than Walker’s, but it’s too close to call.
“Welcome!” There’s someone else here, apparently.
I turn and it takes me a moment to locate the man behind the counter, what with all the clutter. He’s got long blonde hair--not as nice as Bram’s--tied up into a knot, and a piercing through his upper lip. The tattoos on his arms disappear underneath his crochet vest, and he’s sitting with his nose, almost literally, in a book. Why is everyone here attractive? Also, Bram would really like this place.
“I’m Keigan. You new around here?”
So one person in this town is friendly. Well, Mariana from the inn was too. “Yeah…” I start, glancing at Darian, who has dismounted from his stool and is now staring intently at a stack of books.
Keigan notices, and looks between the two of us. He picks up his book and stands. “I’ve got to…” He makes no attempt to finish his sentence before disappearing.
Darian’s got his hands in his pockets now, his gaze on the ground. I try not to remember the feeling of my hands raking through his short curls. “What, um.” He clears his throat and then looks up. “What have you been up to?”
I cough a little, no sentence forming in my mind. Up to? Waiting for your call? Flying across the country on a whim? Ruining a cat’s funeral? Getting wasted? “Um.”
He gestures to his head. “I just mean--swimming? Your hair is wet.”
Right. I touch my hair briefly. I’ve somehow completely forgotten that not only am I wearing Walker’s t-shirt, something different than what he’d last seem me in, but my hair is also stuck in limp, wet, wavy, unattractive tendrils. “Oh, no. I had a run-in. At the café. I met Walker?” I’m going to stop talking now.
He nods stiffly. “Hey, I’m sorry for… Well, the deal fell through, you know, and it wasn’t just my decision. I would have gone through with it, if it were up to me.”
I can’t decide whether I’m mad at him or not. I was before, wasn’t I? I’ve been mad all day. But what I say is, “It happens. I get it.” I cross my arms, and I can’t stop thinking how much I wish I wasn’t in this dumb oversize t-shirt.
Darian puts out his hands, grasping at nothing. “I just want you to know that… it’s not because of anything you--we--did.” His brown eyes find mine, then drift across the room in the direction Keigan had gone. “You know, we were drunk. It was nothing.”
I laugh, like I knew that all along. I mean, I knew we were drunk, and it was great but also probably nothing, but the deal… If the deal fell through not because we had sex, then it fell through because my book wasn’t good enough. That’s worse.
“So.” He gives me a half-smile. “What brings you to Windthrow Point? We don’t get a lot of visitors.”
I run a finger over the spine of the nearest book. Heart of Darkness. “Aren’t you visiting?”
My head snaps up when he laughs. His whole face lights up, and how I see him now is the same way I saw him at that first dinner we had. He’d been very charming. “I grew up here. I come back to visit whenever I can, mostly to help Mom out.”
I breathe out a single laugh, surprised, and cock my head. This man in front of me, dressed in tailored pants and still sporting that shiny watch around his wrist, grew up here? A town with population of, so far, about ten? “No way,” I scoff.
Darian turns his smile to the shop as a whole, and I do think he could seduce it if he tried. That’s just the kind of smile he has. Objectively. “That’s right. We’ve always run the inn, and met all kinds of people through it. My mom’s the one who always encouraged me to get out into the world. ‘So long as you come and visit,’ she always told me.” Now that I know what it is, I can hear the nostalgia in his voice.
I should’ve pieced that together, that Mariana must be related to Darian. They’d seemed close. “That’s nice,” I reply dispassionately. Not because I don’t care, but because I can’t really imagine what that’s like.
“And?” he presses. “What are you doing here, Masie Clements?”
Clearly Bram didn’t tell him anything either. Goddamn Bram. Squaring my shoulders, I give Darian a confident smile. “Writing, of course. Just thought I’d get out of the city for a while.”
He chuckles. “Yes, it’s nice. Funny coincidence you’re here, of all place, though? Still, I hope you like it. Windthrow is a great town once you get to know it.” His smile fades, and he puts out a hand. “I hope we can get on as friends?”
Friends? After all that? Hell no. “Absolutely,” I tell him breezily, shaking his hand.
Darian nods. “Ok. Great. I guess I’ll see you around?”
Already backing out the door, despite the fact I’d love to peak around the shop, I reply, “Of course!” Then I’m on the sidewalk, silently counting down the hours until my flight takes off.