I love the smell of old books. The musty kind. The ones hiding on dark shelves in the back of libraries. A guilty pleasure, like the smell of gasoline or glue. The best way to do it is to get your nose right between the pages of some old book and inhale the yellowing pages like your life depends on it.
That’s the best way.
The only way.
I hear footsteps behind me, followed by a sharp intake of breath. “What on earth are you doing?”
Miss Finn, the bookshop owner, stares at me in way that makes it seem like she’s caught me sniffing drugs. In a way she’s right. It is like drugs. In fact, it’s better.
“Smelling the book?” I put my nose back in between the pages and take another whiff. Something she looks further horrified by. “It smells amazing.”
She flashes a disgusted stare and I’m surprised she doesn’t agree. She takes the stern librarian to a different level. Stereotypical, in fact. She has dyed black hair pushed back in an excruciating knot and a pair of half-moon specs perched on her nose. I expect moth wings to burst out of the back of her brown blazer any minute to protect her beloved books, shrieking into the night.
She strides over to me and snatches the book out of my hand. “Don’t let me catch you doing this again. You’re putting germs on the pages, Josette.”
I roll my eyes and lean against the shelf, crossing my arms over my chest. “I’m sure the books in the adult section have more than just snot on the covers. A few sticky pages, perhaps?”
“Just get back to work,” she snarls, obviously lacking sense of humor to go with her wings. Her eyes narrow when I don’t move right away. “Don’t make me regret giving you this job.”
Already speaking of regret and it hasn’t been two days. The old bat has made sure I know she’s doing a favor to my Dad by supplying me work—reminding me that this is punishment and not a holiday.
After she storms away, I continue sorting through a box of books an elderly man brought in earlier, stressing how his dearest wife’s health is in jeopardy from her crazy book obsession. That will be me.
I continue labeling and shelving, the dust giving me a headache. I remind myself to thank Dad for this again later. He thinks me working in an old bookshop is a great idea. A more productive way of spending my summer rather than repeating last year’s activities.
Alcohol, paint, and a police car.
I still believe that getting into trouble wasn’t completely my fault like everyone made it out to be. It was Jenna’s fault. My best friend was the one with the big ideas that one boring, summer’s day.
We drank too much vodka. A bottle each, to be precise, which she stole from her parents’ stash. We then spent the day walking aimlessly through town, drowning our sorrows over bad boys and bad choices. Then, out of nowhere, we spotted a police car parked sloppily near a warehouse. It was empty and one of the doors were left open, like maybe an officer had gotten out to chase a criminal and left the car there.
I don’t know how Jenna even came up the idea. I’d never have thought of it. Right next to the police car and warehouse was a large tub of pink paint on the floor used to write graffiti on the walls. The light bulb went off in her head and she smiled a Jenna kind of smile. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the police car playing with the radio while she decided to get arty.
Days later, the picture we took posing next to her beautiful pink car ended up mysteriously on the Internet, and inevitably, we were caught pink-handed.
Dad blew his lid. Thanks to Jenna, my name was scrawled on a criminal record at just the sweet age of sixteen for vandalism. I’d never see him so angry before, and I bet he didn’t have a clue single-parenting would be this hard.
While Dad was losing his head and discussing with the police ways to stop me from going to a juvenile detention-center, Jenna was packed off to a boarding school for the summer because her upper-class parents were ashamed and wanted to keep her away from me.
I didn’t know boarding schools existed anymore. You only saw those in those freaky horror movies. But apparently, they’re very real, and in a blink of an eye, she was gone.
Then it happened. The punishment. I was sent to the bookshop to work under the strict eye of Miss Finn for community service before college started up again. While the shifts aren’t that bad, and I barely see or talk to anyone, I’m missing out on a real summer.
I’ll thank Jenna later again, too.
The rest of the shift is boring, but after doing everything I needed, I’m set free. I make my way to the bus stop to go home. After a short journey, I get off the bus and walk through the park—the only way to get to my house. The heavens decide in that moment to open. Cold rain splashes down on top of me, soaking my skin beneath my white work blouse, skinny jeans and flip flops.
Wonderful. Just peachy.
When I finally reach my street, cold and wet, the first thing I notice is a white movers van parked outside my house. The first thought that pops in my mind is that Dad has succumbed to the pressure of single-daddy-hood and has decided to escape. But I relax when a woman bursts out of the house next door, from a house that has been empty for five years.
“Don’t drop that box. My china is in there!” she cries, running toward a man who has hold of the box and gawking at her like she’s crazy.
My eyes squint. I know her. Or, well, I used to.
“Would you stop,” I hear a deep, male voice shout from the door. A guy is leaning against the frame of the door, his tattooed arms folded across his chest.
I blink once. Twice.
I’m dreaming. That can’t be who I think it is, can it?
I swallow down what feels like a tennis ball in my throat, my heart picking up pace the closer I get. No way. It can’t be. It can’t be him. When I’m close enough, I take in his appearance and my mouth drops.
It is him.
It’s Vince O’Neil.
My childhood suddenly flickers before my eyes. I think back to the last time I saw Vince O’Neil. I was thirteen, and he was fifteen. He was standing right where he is now, and I was in front of him, listening to him say goodbye. He was my childhood best friend and secret crush before he moved away to London after his Dad got a new job. He promised to keep in touch, but he never did.
Now he’s back in his old house. A house they must have kept because it never went up for sale after they left.
I breathe out slowly. He looks different. Almost unrecognizable if you hadn’t spent years memorizing everything about his face, which I did. If you look hard enough you can see him.
He suddenly turns his head in my direction and spots me. I stiffen, very aware of the rain beating down on me, drenching my hair and clothes. But as his eyes meet mine, I forget about the weather. He’s all grown up, his eyes a deep shade of bad. He’s looking right through me, the spark I used to love now gone.
My heart races. Does he recognize me?
“Would you stop sulking and help this poor man unload the van,” Diane shouts at him.
He looks away from me and goes back into the house. The fire burning inside of me extinguishes and I let out a short breath of disappointment.
I guess he doesn’t.
“I’m sorry about him,” Diane says to the man as I walk past them, keeping my head down to avoid her seeing me. “He didn’t want to move back here.”
Passing them quickly, I walk up the path to my house and unlock the door with my key. After I slam the door behind me, I find myself slumping against it and letting out a deep breath.