Words had the power to transport a small-town girl to worlds she’d never imagined. When I turned sixteen, it was that same bookshop where I received my first job, too. Sometimes, that place felt more like home than my actual home.
As I walked into the shop, I could smell them all—the adventures hidden behind the covers. The heartbreaking stories. The heart healing ones. The stories of love lost and found. The stories of self-discovery. The stories that made you feel less alone in a lonely world.
There was no better feeling than falling in love with people you’d never truly meet, yet still, they felt like family.
The bookshop was set up in such a unique way. When you entered, you walked into the front lobby where you could speak. A coffee area was set up with countertops and bar stools. On the countertops were crossword puzzles that changed each day, and as you drank your beverage, you’d fill in the puzzles and chat with the barista about the latest gossip in Chester.
To the left, you’d find a set of doors carved out of wood—made by Frank—that had handwritten famous first lines from classic novels. Over the doors, a sign read, Behind these doors, the story begins. Once you stepped foot inside that space, dozens and dozens of novels surrounded you. The bookcases touched the high ceilings, and ladders scattered throughout the area allowed you to climb high to find that one certain read you hadn’t even known you’d been searching for.
Tables were set up throughout the space where people could sit and read. The only rule was complete silence, like a still bear sleeping through the depths of winter. The only sound ever heard was people tiptoeing through the space as they searched for their next book.
I loved the solitude that The Silent Bookshop offered. It was a safe place where the only drama allowed was found within the stories.
“Well grand day, if it isn’t Gracelyn Mae returning home,” Josie remarked, using sign language to speak as I walked into the shop. She always signed her words as she spoke. It seemed like a first language to her, and every sign I knew was because she taught it to me. Her blond hair sat in a bun on top of her head, and she still had that deep dimple in her right cheek that always appeared whenever she smiled—and Josie Parker was always smiling.
We’d graduated high school together, and she was hands down the class clown. Yet outside of that, she was also a good person. Her comedy never came at the cost of others. She’d make fun of herself before another person, and I always adored her positive outlook on the world. Plus, in town, she was one of the only souls I trusted to keep my secrets. She was the girl who allowed me to step out of my perfect persona to be free for a bit of time. When we were kids, Josie would bring me Diet Coke with a few splashes of whiskey, and we’d sit in the park people watching while tipsy.
Mama would’ve killed me if she knew I was drinking whiskey in high school, but I never had to worry about that with Josie by my side.
With her, my secrets were always safe.
Maybe that was why I wandered her way. Maybe I was hoping she’d be able to shine some light on some of my dark days.
“It’s been too long,” she said before pulling me into a hug.
“I know. I’ve missed this place. Everything about it, I’ve missed.”
“Well, it misses you too, but we understand you getting out of this small town. Following Finn for his dream was a noble thing, but I’m glad to hear he’s working at the hospital now, which means you’re here, too, yeah?”
“Yeah, but only for the summer, though. I still have my teaching job back in Atlanta.”
“Oh? So you are doing the long-distance thing?”
My bottom lip quivered, and she noted it. “You know what? No need to answer my questions. I’ll shut up real quick.” Something about Josie just warmed up hearts. She was such a positive energy and such a genuine heart. “Now come on. Sit down. You still drinking coffee over tea?” she asked me.
“Yes, sure am.”
She shook her head in disappointment. “One day, I’m gonna make you a cup of tea, and you’ll be forever changed. But for now, I’ll make you a nice cup of joe.”
I snickered. “You studied abroad for a few months in England and came back a changed woman.”
“I also married a British boy from those studies and dragged him back to Chester. So, the least I can do is drink tea.” She grabbed the largest mug in the shop and poured the coffee to the brim, then she sat it in front of me. “So how does it feel to be back in Chester?”