Home > A Thousand Letters(15)

A Thousand Letters(15)
Author: Staci Hart

Instead, I took comfort in the routine of getting the kids ready for school. I'd spend most of my day at work, around books. For two years since I'd graduated, I'd been content not to decide what I wanted to do with my degree, to devote myself to the kids and writing, though I'd recently gotten a job at a book bar that opened near Columbia.

Wasted Words was its name, touting half romance, half comics, and a full bar. I'd convinced the owner, Rose, to add a small poetry section to the library, as well as adding some special edition Jane Austen hardbacks to the mix. Mostly, I kept to myself there, the big store full of big personalities. Being around the books all day, with no one to answer to, no one to be responsible for but myself — that was my happy place.

With everyone ready to go, I carted the kids downstairs and into the entryway where their backpacks hung. Charlie stepped into the foyer, looking a little sheepish.

He was tall and slender, with blond hair and an elegant nose that turned itself up to the world far less than Mary's.

He folded his arms across his chest and leaned on the banister. "Elliot, I wanted to talk to you before you leave."

Maven's hand blindly waved behind her for the backpack strap, and I chased the flailing limb with the loop. "Sure. What's up?"

"Mary told me about your talk last night. I'm really sorry she called you to come home. One hour alone, and she caved." He shook his head.

"Oh, it's all right." I smoothed Maven's hair and moved on to Sammy, who was turning around in a circle looking for his second strap. I touched his shoulders to stop him and slipped the other strap on.

"No, it's not. Listen, I know she told you to pay for the extra daycare, but it's not necessary. We'll take care of it."

I smiled gratefully. "Thank you."

He waved a hand and bent down to pick up Maven as she ran over to him. "Don't thank me. They're our kids, for God's sake. Also, I wanted you to know that we're here to help as much as possible, so if you need to be somewhere in the afternoon, just let me know. Mary or I will pick the kids up and hold down the fort."

I watched Maven squish his face around, and she giggled when he crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue.

"Are you sure? Mary didn't seem—"

His face hardened. "Don't worry about Mary. If she gives you trouble, just let me know."

"Thank you, Charlie. Really."

"You're welcome, Elliot," he said as he set Maven down. "I'm working from home today, so I'll get the kids from school."

I nodded and took the kids by the hand. "All right. Just let me know if you need me back and I'll be here."

"We'll manage. Have a great day, you three."

The kids waved, and I offered another smile of thanks before we headed out into the chilly winter morning. The school was only a few blocks away, on the way to the bookstore, and we made our way, jumping over cracks and waving at dogs as they walked by. I felt a little lighter, largely in part to Charlie, who had given me a solution, an out. I'd felt very much alone for a moment, and to know at least someone was there to back me up made a difference. Usually it would be Sophie, but now she needed me far more than I needed her.

A little while later, I walked into the bookshop, surrounded by that magical combination of scents that made my heart flutter — books and coffee. I waved at Cam behind the bar, my tiny, spunky little boss who never failed to make me smile. She trotted around from the back of the bar, smiling as she approached.

"Hey, Elliot."

"Hey," I answered.

"I just wanted to check on you after the other day. Is your friend's dad okay? He had a stroke, right?"

The clamp around my heart squeezed until I couldn't breathe. "He … no. He's not okay. They found out it was cancer."

Cam's hands flew to her lips, and we slowed to a stop just outside the office. "Oh, my God. I'm so sorry."

"Thank you," was all I could say.

"Well, what do you want to do?"

My brow quirked. "Pardon?"

"About work. Are you okay to work? Do you need some time off?"

I blinked, surprised. "I don't know. I hadn't thought about it."

She eyed me. "You were just going to come in and work every shift without asking for any time off?"

"Well … yes. It's my responsibility to be here. And I love being here."

"I get that, I just know he's important to you. He's the poetry professor, right?"

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

"Elliot, I'm serious. If you need time, we can cover for you. Three days a week is nothing."

I swallowed and reached for her arm. "Thank you, Cam." I paused, considering her offer. "I need this place. It's my escape from all the rest of it."

She smiled sadly and placed her hand over mine. "It's mine too."

"But Sophie's going to need a lot of help, and we … we don't have very much time left with him. So maybe, if it's all right, it wouldn't be a bad idea to cut back to just a day or maybe two rather than three?"

Cam nodded once, standing up a little straighter, seeming relieved to have contributed. "That'll be just fine — let's do one day, and you can pick up if you need to get away. Any preference on days?"

"No, whenever you need me most is fine."

"Deal. And if you need to take off, just let me know."

I smiled. "Deal."

We parted ways, and I headed into the back to put my stuff in my locker, then clocked in, picked up a box of books at the register, and began walking around the store to put them away. It was a quiet morning, as mornings there usually were — afternoons and evenings were the busy times. I'd heard, at least, since I was always at home with the kids. Cam threw themed singles nights to try to mix up the comic book boys and romance girls, and they were a smash. She'd been trying to get me to come to them since she'd hired me, her requests bordering on relentless. It made me smile — I thought she might actually die of happiness if I found a boyfriend at one of her events.

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