Here is Chapter 1 in its entirety along with a picture of the antagonist, Cassandra, who makes her presence known. As always, all feedback is welcomed, encouraged, and appreciated.
Books whispered their secrets to Emerson Page. She ran her hands over their covers and felt them breathe. When she stepped inside the rare book section of Stargrass Paper & Books, long-dead authors rolled out the red carpet for her—a new exuberant audience of one.
She descended the gleaming staircase and felt the glow of the warm lights enter her heart. The bookcases cradled books of all shapes, sizes, and colors as they wound their way up toward the sky. Emerson was certain they would take her toward heaven if not for enormous Tiffany glass skylight that capped the room. Stargrass was Oz for book lovers like her. Here, she was home.
One small volume with an intricately carved cover caught her eye. Emerson adjusted the thick frame of her glasses and concentrated on it. She couldn’t remember ever seeing it before. It was just below a sign that had one of her favorite quotes scrawled across it: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. ~Albert Einstein” She strummed its gold tipped pages and caught a startling flutter of her mother’s scent—the rich smell of vanilla and cinnamon.
“Hello, new friend,” she said. Her smile beamed, her eyes widened, and her mind opened to its possibilities.
“Your mother loved that one, too, when she was your age,” said Jasper Peacock as he re-shelved an oversized book. Friday, Emerson’s dog who was dozing in the corner, immediately stood at attention with his ‘service dog’ bandana slightly askew.
“So you’re Nora and Oliver’s daughter,” said the woman standing next to Jasper. Emerson recognized her from the neighborhood and in her mind nicknamed her ‘the old lady who dances everywhere’.
“Emerson, this is an old friend of mine,” said Jasper. “Emerson Page please meet Irene Dorchester.” Irene extended her hand to Emerson.
“You knew my mother?” she asked Irene. Emerson noticed Irene’s eyeglasses had a handle on them that she used to hold them to her eyes. There was a small red light located in the upper right corner of the right lens.
“From the time she was born. Your mother was a remarkable young woman. Still is.” The small red light of Irene’s glasses pulsed like a laser.
“Where did you get those glasses?”
“So intriguing,” Irene said peering more intently at Emerson through her glasses. “What a lucky combination to have your mother’s heart and your father’s mind.”
“Truman made these for Irene,” said Jasper. “One of his many inventions that take something very old and make it better than anything new.”
“And that includes old ladies like me!” Irene and Jasper laughed. Emerson admired people who could laugh at themselves.
“Irene,” said Jasper. “I’ll let you know what my contacts find. That book is going to be tough to find, but we’ll get it. It will take us a bit of time.”
“Doesn’t everything?” she said. “Emerson, it was a pleasure to finally meet you. If I were you, I’d commit that book in your hand to memory. It will serve you well.” Irene glided up the stairs and out through the front door.
“Jasper, how do you know her?” asked Emerson.
“Irene and I went to school together so you can imagine how long we’ve been friends,” he said as he took hold of the mala beads he always wore around his neck. “She’s a gifted doctor and a voracious reader of ancient medical texts. I’ve never heard of ailment she can’t fix. Once when I was very ill, she gave these mala beads to me along with a daily meditation. And would you believe I’ve never been sick since?”
“How’s that possible?”
“Everything’s possible, Emerson. But not everything is probable. We all need a touch of luck from time to time.”
“Even you?” asked Emerson.
“Especially me,” he said.
“How did she know my mother?”
“Your mother was known and loved by so many people, Emerson. Irene’s right—you do have her heart. And her curiosity.”
“What did she mean about this book’s…”
The church bells next door chimed their familiar and unusual chorus. Friday made his way to Emerson’s side and pushed the top of his head into her hand.
“Well Friday, we know what those bells mean, don’t we?” said Jasper. “4:25 on the dot. My five-minute warning. Better get to my perch before Skylar arrives. I wouldn’t want her to think something was amiss. Irene was also right about that book. It will serve you well. Take it with you.”
Jasper smiled and winked. Emerson smiled knowingly. He made his way up one of the ladders that lined the Stargrass walls to be among his books. The ladders led to extensive walkways that meandered through the highest shelves and allowed customers to get close to the mountains of books out of their normal reach. Emerson found them especially useful because at five feet tall, most everything was out of her reach.
Emerson and her dog, Friday, relaxed at Stargrass every day after school. Jasper would be at his mammoth desk surrounded by open books and often deep in negotiations with someone who wanted to buy one of his valuable finds or sell Jasper one of theirs. At 4:30pm sharp Skylar, Jasper’s granddaughter, waltzed through the door of Stargrass. Usually she hummed with her eyes glued to her phone. Jasper always greeted her with a booming voice as his head grazed the skylight. “Grandpa, you’re going to give someone a heartache if you keep that up!” she’d yell. Jasper would clap his hands together, float down the ladder, and give Skylar a hug.
Once they left Stargrass, Emerson and Skylar would grab a snack to-go at the Crooked Willow Cafe and head to Emerson’s home. Skylar would stay until Emerson’s dad, Oliver, got home from work. Emerson smiled at the comfort of the routine. This had been her routine as far back as she could remember.
At 4:27, Skylar stormed through the door. She seized Emerson’s arm and Emerson clutched the small book in her hands. Friday jumped to his feet and led the way as Skylar rushed Emerson toward the back office.
“Where are we going?” Emerson screamed.
Skylar ignored her. Jasper scrambled down the ladder and made his way to his desk. Halfway through the store, a gust of wind shoved Friday, Emerson, and Skylar to the floor. Emerson gasped. The fine hairs on her arms stood at attention.
“Shh,” Skylar said as she covered Emerson’s mouth.
Emerson’s heart pounded so hard she could see it move under her shirt. Skylar took her hand and they snuck into one of the dark corners to hide behind an immense stack of books. They cowered as if they were kids playing a game of high-stakes hide-and-seek. Even Friday seemed to hold his breath. Emerson could see Jasper through a gap between books.
The door slammed shut and a slow, deliberate set of footsteps made its way toward Jasper’s desk. The shadow of a willowy figure grew taller on the opposite wall. As it rounded the corner, they could see the person come into view in front of Jasper.
“On the trail of something, Jasper?” a throaty feminine voice rumbled.
“Always,” he replied with his signature warmth and good humor. “I didn’t hear you come in, Cassandra.”
“Don’t mock me.”
Cassandra snorted and paced like a caged lion. Emerson caught a glimpse of her between the books. She had an ironically stunning and porcelain face that didn’t match her voice. Over one eye she wore a steel patch with a large multifaceted jewel in the center that captured the light of the room. Her other eye hungrily roved the bookshelves and she sniffed the air as if on the hunt.
“A man is what he hides. Buddha said that three things can’t be long hidden—the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
“The truth only presents itself to those with the purest of intentions to use it to help others, not himself.”
“Rumi?” Cassandra asked.
“You’re a fine one to talk about truth.”
“Is there something I can help you with, Cassandra?” She snorted again.
“I’ll never understand why she trusted you. You are so…transparent. Or at least you are to me. That book doesn’t belong to you, Jasper. It belongs to us. And now it belongs to me. Give me that and the rest is yours.”
“It’s not mine to give.”
Jasper fixed his eyes on Cassandra. She unbuttoned the top buttons of her shirt. Cassandra went nose-to-nose with Jasper and sneered. He didn’t flinch.
“You stole that book and the only family I had. You wrote me off as damaged and unworthy, even before my injuries. Keep what’s mine and you’re going to find out how wrong you were. While you’ve been getting older, I’ve been getting stronger. Wiser. I have no more peers.”
“You have one,” Jasper said. Cassandra grimaced.
“Jasper, you know I’m not above destroying all of it. And this time there isn’t anyone to stop me. Don’t make this uglier than it already is. I won’t be a victim of your greed anymore. I won’t allow it. You’ll give me that book or you’ll have nothing left to give anyone. Your choice.”
Cassandra re-buttoned her shirt and backed away from Jasper. The door opened again and this time closed with a simple click of the latch. Skylar let out a deep sigh and fell to the ground. Emerson and Friday remained motionless. Skylar peeked around the corner. The trio walked toward Jasper. He stared at the door, expressionless. Skylar put her hand on his shoulder.
“Grandpa?” Skylar whispered. Emerson could never remember a time when he was speechless.
“Who was that?” Emerson asked. Jasper stared past them.
“A very difficult customer.”
Skylar put her arm around Emerson’s shoulder, and guided her to the door.
“Time for us to go,” said Skylar. Emerson picked up her backpack and clipped Friday’s leash to his collar.
Emerson, Skylar, and Friday paused just outside the door. Clouds hung low and heavy in the sky and wind slapped their faces. Friday pulled Emerson in the opposite direction that they usually took home. Skylar narrowed her eyes and scanned the street in all directions.
“Friday’s right. Let’s take the shortcut home,” said Skylar.
A strong gust of wind made the wooden sign above the Stargrass door smack into the side building’s wall. It made Skylar jump. As the sign continued to swing on its creaky hinges, Emerson silently read its familiar words: “Books are always a light in every darkness. Sometimes, they’re the only light.” Today that quote felt like a prayer. Emerson held tight to the book Jasper gave her. Light needs protection.