The Sugar Quill
Author: Eudora Hawkins  Story: Just Looking  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Cheryl Spanos

Just Looking

A/N: Remus Lupin appears courtesy of J.K. Rowling. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended. Thanks to J.K.R. for letting me linger in her world. Miss Smyth and her bookshop are creations all my own. This piece was written as an exercise in observation.

 

A wintry afternoon sun casts its fading light through my front window.  Golden letters on the “Hawkins and Smyth Booksellers” marquee reflect its saffron hues.  Colorful dust jackets of the more popular bestsellers fill the front display, arranged to entice a passing customer into my little shop.  The dust motes waltzing with Brownian motion in the shafts of light are my only company today.

My bookshop located on Bythe Way, an obscure side-street off of Diagon Alley, is uncommonly quiet, even for a holiday.  Valentine’s Day.  Everyone must be out with their lover.  Perhaps enjoying an intimate tea for two over at Madam Toddy’s or sharing an ice cream soda at Fortescue’s.  Must be nice.  I wouldn’t know.

Me?  I’m alone today.  Just like every other Valentine’s Day.  Ever since that louse ran off with... Well, that’s ancient history.  No use crying over spilled love potion, now is there?

So what is a plump, single, middle-aged witch to do?   Indulge my fantasy, of course.  Today’s trashy novel?  Moon over the Moors by Wanda Witherspoon, her latest romance.

A comfy overstuffed chair and tea trolley fill a cozy alcove behind the register.  A steaming cup of hot cocoa rests near my fingertips.  From this vantage point, I can read my novel and still keep an eye on the door, should a patron enter the premises.  My eyes are not on the door.  They are glued on the crisp, virgin pages of my book, devouring every word.

For you see, romantic moonlight is about to break over the moors, and Catherine is meeting Heath for a clandestine tryst.  She has just realized her undying love for him; although I’ve known of it since page one.  Heath, our intrepid manly hero, has a deep dark secret—one which will alter their destiny forever.

“Cat,” Heath whispered.  His intense blue eyes bored into her soul.  “There is something you must know—”

“Whatever it is, Heath,” Catherine sobbed, “It can wait, but our love cannot.  That’s what I’ve come to tell you.”

“No, Cat.”  Heath clasped Catherine in his embrace, stilling her trembling limbs against his sinewy chest.  “There is something I must tell you first.  Something which will alter our destiny forever...”

The doorknob to the shop clicks.  Tinkling bells signal the arrival of a shopper.  Great stinking piles of dragon dung.  Not a soul shows up all afternoon, so why now?

I close the novel with a snap and stuff it out of sight under the counter.  My fingers work to smooth my dress.  I bury all traces of my disappointment under a pleasant smile and turn to see who has interrupted my indulgence.

A middle-aged man in a worn cloak enters my shop.  He is tall and thin.  His clothing is neat, although darned in places.  A polite smile accompanies his “Good afternoon.”

“May I help you find something in particular?” I say.   My plan is simple.  The quicker I can help him find what he needs, the faster I can return to my novel.

“Mind if I browse?” he replies.  He smiles again and gestures toward the stacks with a wave of his hand.

Oh, Merlin.  One of those.  He could be here for hours.  I resist the urge to roll my eyes.  I will my lips, which have drooped a bit at the corners, back into the shopkeeper’s smile.

“Of course not,” I say.  “Browse all you like.”  I give my hand a flippant wave, as if I haven’t a care in the world.  “I’ll be right here, should you need anything.”

My novel beckons to me from its hiding place under the counter.  I dare not pull it out under a customer’s watchful gaze.  What would they think of a bookstore proprietress who fills her mind with such drivel, when surrounded by so many worthier literary works?

A sigh escapes my lips.  I cast about for something to occupy myself while I wait.  Ah, dusting.  Without magic. It takes longer the old-fashioned way, but I’m killing time.

The man walks to the section on Defensive Magic and scans the titles, searching the bindings like a Niffler sniffing out shiny treasures.  One of the volumes catches his attention.  His eyebrows shoot up for just a moment, before falling back into place.  I catch the hint of a smile crossing his lips.  No one has looked at those books for ages.  What has he found?

I edge a bit closer and rearrange the books on a nearby shelf.  All the while, my eyes stray to him.  Inquisitive glances.

He runs his hand over the leather-bound tome, brushing the dust from the spine with a lover’s caress.  He pulls the book from the shelf.  His eyes sparkle with a look that I recognize as longing.  He opens the book to the middle and reads.  His fingers stroke over the inky words on the yellowed parchment.

No ring on his finger.  Hope rises in my breast and catches in my throat.  I squelch the feeling.  After so many disappointments, you’d think I’d learn.

I move around to the opposite side of the stacks and shuffle the books on the shelf.  Here I stand, among a collection of old rare books that no one wants.  A wan smile crosses my lips at the irony.

Moving just one or two volumes creates a small space.  His hands are visible through the aperture.  I remain hidden. 

His hands draw my gaze.  Thin, nimble fingers slide down the page.  Ink stains cover them.  They are not the coarse hands of a laborer.  He must be a writer, I surmise.  That would explain the mending on his cloak and his obvious interest in literature.  A poor, starving writer.  Researching his next masterpiece, no doubt.

I continue dusting, but I have stopped paying attention to what my hand is doing.  My eyes draw closer to the shelf for a better look at his hands.  Most astounding are the scars.  Shimmering, silvery trails crisscross the backs of his hands.  What could have caused them?

My feather duster sends little clouds flying from the shelves.  The dust catches in my throat.  I stifle a little cough.  The man glances up, catching my stare.  His eyes are blue-grey, the color of the skies over London.  They are kind, but sadness lurks in them too.  Cloudy with a chance of showers, I think.  A blush of embarrassment flushes my face.

“Did you find something you fancy?” I say, hoping that he will mistake my curiosity for attentive service.

“I...er...I’m just looking.”  He replaces the book on the shelf and looks away.  He strolls to another shelf and continues browsing.  I can see the color rise in his cheeks.

My own words echo in my ears.  I realize my error too late.  He must have mistaken my comment for flirting.  A pick-up line.  Oh, Doxie droppings.

I resume dusting the shelves to hide my own chagrin.  My attention stays focused on the books this time.  I make my way around the shelf and note the volume that he had admired.  A rare and expensive, leather-bound, first edition of Hairy Snout, Human Heart.

The realization hits me like a Stunning Hex.  Of course, the truth could not be more obvious.  A poor struggling writer could not possibly afford a fine edition like this.  Why hadn’t I seen it before?

My eyes wander to the poor dear.  The look of mortification on his face serves to confirm my suspicion.  I flash my most sympathetic smile.

“You know,” I say.  “All books are half price today.  A Valentine’s special.”

A momentary look of confusion appears on his features.  A crease appears on his forehead, then vanishes.  The kind eyes glow with sudden understanding like the sun peeking from behind those blue storm clouds.

I laugh to myself, pleased at my own good dead.  My business partner will be angry with me for giving away half the store.  But what else could I do?  I’ve always had a soft spot for aspiring writers.

I stroll to the counter now and replace the feather duster in its nook.  My novel entices me once more.  Do I dare sneak a quick peek?

The gentleman meanders to another bookshelf and reaches for a book.  I know that I have a few minutes.  My hand grabs for my novel.  I crack it open, flip to my place, and indulge in a few precious moments of reading.

Erm...”

I look up to see the gentleman staring at me over the counter.  A grin of amusement overcomes his countenance.  Merlin’s Beard.  Caught red-handed.

I toss my trashy romance novel on the chair behind me, hoping that he has not noticed the title.  The hardback lands on the cushion with a soft thud.  I wince.

“Have you decided?” I say, feigning nonchalance.

“Yes,” he replies with a charming smile.  “I’ll take this one, please.”  He hands me a used copy of Tainted Trinkets and Talismans.

I inspect his choice, a field guide to Dark objects.  A modest purchase.  Not at all what I expected.  He must be one of those mystery writers.  A man of intrigue?   Yes, that could be interesting.

“That will be fifteen sickles and five,” I say.

He fumbles for the coins in his pocket.  I take the opportunity to look at his face.  Grey strands streak the light brown hair and highlight his temples, but his face is young.  A faint scar jags across his cheek, but no wrinkles.  Handsome, I think.  And about my age.

He hands me the fifteen sickles and five knuts.  Our fingers touch.  I linger, enjoying the sudden thrill.

“Would you like this wrapped?” I ask with an eager stare.  “It won’t take but a moment.”

He smiles and nods.  I dump the money in the till and wrap the parcel in brown paper and string.  I’m stalling for time now.  What else can I do to make him stay longer?  Wouldn’t you know it, my mind has gone blank.

I hand him the parcel wrapped in my best smile.  His hand brushes against mine again, as he takes his book.  Then he leans over the counter.  He gestures toward my chair.  Oh, Merlin.  My romance novel is lying in plain view, the title blinking in letters as red as my face.

“The ending is riveting,” he whispers and gives me a conspiratorial wink.

My mouth falls open.  Gobsmacked.  He turns and walks toward the door.  My voice returns with the tinkling of the bell.

“Please come again,” I call out.

He turns, smiles, and nods.  I’m left staring at the tall, thin man retreating down the street.  Story of my life.

I close up shop, return to my cozy chair, and pick up my romance novel.  My eyes devour the last few pages to reveal Heath’s secret.  He’s a werewolf.  You could have knocked me flat with a feather.  Who knew a werewolf could be so sexy?

//
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