The bookstore had a neon sign in the window, illuminating a book with the word “open” flashing above it. The whole building was charming, with book displays bordered with string lights in the windows, the warm interior begging me to spend some time lost between the shelves. The door was heavy, a light metal bell tinkling as I entered the cozy space. The plush carpet absorbed the soles of my shoes as I took in the shop, all the bookshelves lined with hundreds of stories just begging to be explored. I was drawn to the staff recommendations shelf, labels giving quick summaries of each book on the shelf handwritten by each of the employees. I started reading the descriptions: a fantasy novel had a scribbled explanation from Chai; a contemporary romance had a lengthy explanation of the plot’s beauty from someone named Primrose; a poetry novel with a short explanation from-
“Ainsley! You made it!” Mercedes came around one of the bookshelves, Chai and Diantha in tow. She came up to me, grinning from ear to ear. “Are you on the market for a new book?”
I nodded, watching Diantha and Chai out of the corner of my eye. “I’m also on the market for some coffee before I head to work, if you all don’t mind.”
Diantha turned on her heels, only to be caught by Chai and dragged back. “What would you like Ainsley?” Chai asked, her customer service voice ringing in my ears. I shrugged in response and watched Diantha slip around the shelf and walk to the coffee shop hastily. “House special it is!” Chai smiled as she trailed after Diantha, calling out to her as they disappeared into the depths of the shop.
Mercedes and I wandered the various genres, landing in Young Adult to dig through the newest contemporaries. “I didn’t think you’d actually come by,” Mercedes said, handing me a hardcover with bright colors on the dust jacket.
“I mean, you invited me to, and I didn’t want to look like a jerk,” I shrugged, skimming the back cover of the book she handed me before returning it to its shelf. “Plus, I heard this place has some of the best coffee and ambiance for miles.”
Mercedes and I wandered around, eventually picking out a contemporary about reckless dark magic users in a city, which sounded like a perfect mix of cliche and entertaining for me. The smell of warm coffee drew me in as we walked to the coffee shop counter, where Chai was waiting with my drink. I looked around for Diantha, hearing her shelving books out of sight, the clunks of hardcovers hitting the wood of the bookcases echoing in the stillness of the store.
Chai gave me my coffee and went to attend to the bookshelves, her magic guiding swaths of books onto different shelves. She ran her finger along one row of spines, the books shuffling back into alphabetical order as her magic washed over them. “Hope you enjoy the coffee! Diantha will ring you up at the front once you’re ready.”
Mercedes wandered the store with me, showing me various poetry books and novels she read about online, holding them out so I could look at the cover art. She was particularly drawn to hardcovers, pulling the dust jacket off to reveal all sorts of decorations and designs. She ran her fingers over one foil design on a poetry collection, silver shooting stars creating the night sky on the hard cover.
“I think I’ll pick this one up today,” She said, smiling as she returned the jacket to the cover. We walked to the front of the store, where Diantha was sitting behind the counter, her attention laser focused on the book in front of her. I approached slowly, placing the book face up on the counter. She rang up my book and coffee, avoiding eye contact with me until she gave me my receipt, keeping her gaze tilted down or out the window behind me. Her brown eyes were vortexes of magic and analysis as she took in my face. For an instant, it seemed like she was looking at her reflection in my glasses, attempting to figure herself out while examining me. I took my receipt and Diantha broke her stare to look out the window.
Mercedes paid for her book and I said goodbye to Chai and Diantha. Mercedes walked me to my car. “I’m glad you stopped by, even if Diantha was kind of weird,” Mercedes said, her voice barely more than a whisper on the breeze.
“It’s okay, she’s got her reasons,” I replied. “Have a good day, Mercedes!”
She smiled as she walked back into the store, and I felt my cheeks go pink as I drove away from that little neon sign in the window.