Chapter One of Between the Stacks by Amy O'Brien-Gulka

Chapter One of Between the Stacks by Amy O'Brien-Gulka

     The blinking cursor on the screen taunted her. Fiona had her head resting in the crook of her elbow as she splayed her arm out on the massive oak table. It had been 45 minutes since she had written a word. The small column of pixels was flashing rhythmically on her blank screen, and it was the only thing she could seem to focus on. It was even appearing behind her eyelids as she closed them in an attempt to ignore it.
     Creative blocks were standard in her line of work. Thankfully, in her seven years of experience as an author, she had been blessed with an overrun cup of inspiration. There was rarely a moment that she didn't want to fill a page with words. That was until she had promised her editor a romance novel.
     The creaking of floorboards sounded from somewhere in the old library, and it didn't take much for the echo to reach her ears in the almost silent room. The noise startled her, and she sat upright, glancing behind her through the row of book stacks leading out toward the entrance. She stilled, anticipating more movement, but when the silence stretched through the old building once more, she slumped in her chair.
     Maybe she needed some inspiration. Grabbing her bag from the floor, she fumbled through its contents before realizing she had left her e-reader at home. As a writer, she knew that reading all of her books on a device was controversial. However, she also knew that physical books cost a lot of money and took up a lot of space. Not to mention the weight and bulk you needed to cram into your bag. Her e-reader allowed her to carry and read multiple books at once and cost a fraction of the price. You couldn't beat that in a world where housing prices had skyrocketed and square footage was cut in half.
     She guessed that she was in the perfect place if one had forgotten their digital prose. Looking back to the stacks, she briefly scanned the spines for any lusty titles. She stood and weaved her way through the aisles, stacked high with classic hardcovers and paperback tomes. She stopped momentarily in a small section labelled True Crime and ran her fingers across the six alphabetized titles tagged with her name before continuing her search.
     The library wasn't huge, but she was shocked when she couldn't find a single book cover adorned with a shirtless man. What kind of library didn't have a romance section? Sighing with frustration, she made her way towards the entrance. There was a small room just off the main hallway by the door. In it sat a U-shaped counter and a few mismatched wooden chairs along the wall near the arched doorway.
     "Hello? Excuse me?" Fiona repeatedly tapped the call bell in front of her, attempting to grab the attention of anyone who might be nearby. Beyond the counter in front of her was an empty desk with a worn leather chair tucked under it. She noticed a wool cardigan slung over the chair's back and was almost sure it had not been there the previous day. Craning her neck, she tried to see through the door at the back of the room. There was no sign of movement, and after the bell stopped reverberating, the library fell back into silence.
     She had been visiting the library every day for the last two weeks, and in that time, she had seen exactly one other person, a woman who had come in to use the washroom. Obviously, the place didn't get much traffic, so she wasn't surprised that no one needed to mind the front desk constantly. And up until that moment, she had been entirely self-sufficient, taking up residence at the same table, connecting to the spotty unguarded wifi and toiling over her most recent manuscript, or lack thereof. She wasn't expecting to actually need a book.
     Unfortunately, she couldn't seem to find any way to search for what she was looking for. There didn't appear to be any computers in the library's main room, the only one in the whole building seeming to be behind the counter. The massive, beige monitor sat on the furthest corner of the desk. She could see the blinking orange cursor from where she was standing and knew the ancient unit must still be running on DOS. She wouldn't know how to use it even if she was allowed.
     Turning her back and resting her elbows on the counter, she gazed out the large window that looked into the cafe next door. She remembered the delicious smell of cinnamon and dark roast coffee that permeated its main dining area. The vivid memory brought her back to the afternoon two weeks prior when she stumbled into it in a desperate search for coffee and just happened upon her new literary haven.
     She had discovered the old building by fluke. An accident had shut down the highway while she was en route to her mother's house a few cities over. When her GPS recalculated the directions, it took her down back roads that led her through some small towns. Knowing this new way would take twice as long, she was desperate to fill her almost empty coffee cup. As she drove down what appeared to be the main road through a picture-perfect Pleasantville, she kept her eyes peeled for any place that looked like it might sell coffee.
     Then there it was; she stared up in awe as she pulled the car over to the side of the road. The tiny restaurant was housed in a converted church, painted all white with black shutters and a bright red door right in the center. A small awning outstretched over a patio dotted with a handful of wicker tables and chairs. She stood across the street, taking in every detail of the beautiful cafe, and as she looked up to the steeple, she noticed that in place of a crucifix, there now stood a wrought iron coffee bean.
     Almost forgetting to look both ways as she dashed into the street, she was startled as a car sped past her. As she opened the door and heard the delicate jingle of bells above her head, her senses ignited instantly. The lighting was soft and defused. The same wicker tables that had been outside also lined the walls inside. Plants were placed in every available space that wasn't meant for dining. Multiple macramé hangers hung from the ceiling, and the leaves glowed with the sunshine that streamed in through the large stained glass windows. Then there was the smell. The scent of coffee, cinnamon, and pastry filled the air, and Fiona immediately thought of the cartoon characters that would catch a whiff of delicious pie on a window sill and let the scent carry them all the way to the source.
     Above the mint green tiled counter hung a hand-drawn chalk menu complete with illustrated pies and cartoonish mugs of coffee. A petite blond woman behind the counter had been spreading a red jam onto a pile of dough and turned to greet Fiona as she approached the counter.
     "Well, hello there," the woman practically bounced toward her. "How are you today?" Fiona noted the slight southern twang in the woman's voice but was caught off guard by the question. She was from a city where baristas crowded behind a counter and barely had time to take your order, let alone ask about your day.
     She stuttered, "I-I'm well, thank you." When the barista continued to stare at her, her blue eyes bright, Fiona followed it up with, "yourself?" That seemed to satisfy the bubbly server, and with a chipper tone, she twittered. "I'm just peachy." It was the first time Fiona had heard the term "peachy" used without being coated in sarcasm.
     "What are we in the mood for today?" The woman asked, flashing a wide grin of straight white teeth.
     Fiona looked up at the menu again, despite already knowing what she wanted.
     "Large black coffee, please." It was always a large black coffee.
     The woman's delighted expression faltered slightly.
     "Would you like anything else with that? I just made the most delicious batch       of cinnamon buns."
     "Is that what I am smelling?" Fiona asked, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. The woman behind the counter nodded so vigorously Fiona was concerned her head might fall off. Seeing the waitress so disappointed with her order and looking around at all the empty tables, she knew she couldn't say no to the little ray of sunshine in front of her.
     "I will take two."
     The woman's eyes lit up as she turned on her heel to fulfill Fiona's order. As she waited for her coffee and unwanted cinnamon buns, she strolled around the adorable cafe taking in every inch of its unique interior. Her eyes swept from the black and white checkered floors to the garish paintings on the walls. She stopped on the right side of the room and gazed out of the giant window lined with hanging spider plants. The view outside overlooked the neighbouring house and the large front lawn. The house next door towered over the small church, and she could only describe the large residence as a manor. It looked Victorian and stood so tall that it blocked out all of the light on that side of the cafe.
     The effervescent barista called out to her as she gazed upward, trying to take in the whole estate.
     Fiona paid for her delicious smelling pastries and black coffee and could not help but smile and wave on the way out as the woman called after her, "have a wonderful day and don't hesitate to come back and say hello."
     Fiona balanced her order in her hands and wondered if she would ever be back as she exited the coffee house. Her thought was cut off abruptly, though, as she was struck by the shadow of the old house. It stood four stories high and was so ornately designed it was as though the house had been trimmed in lace. The wooden panelling was a dark mauve, and the many windows that peppered the exterior were outlined in dark grey.
     Staked on the front lawn was a large wooden sign. It had been painted to match the colour of the building, except for the large white letters that stood about a foot high in the very center that read Cottingham Library. She raised her eyes to the manor once more, and at that moment, she knew that she would be late to her mother's.

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Thank you so much for reading Chapter One of Between the Stacks. Chapter 2 will be posted April 25th, 2022.

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