There was a delightful order to running a shop, even a ramshackle one such as ‘Page Turner’. I had been here five years, surrounded by books and papers and just a smattering of stationary to keep the regulars interested, and I was well attuned to the rhythms of the day.
The best shop at this end of the main shopping precinct, ‘Page Turner’ took up the full lower storey of the building with a very nice upstairs tenant occupying the upper floor - who made sure I got all the packages that showed up at irregular times. Mrs Wilson was a darling, even if she kept trying to set me up with her too young grandson. She also began most mornings by going to the coffee shop at the busier end of the town, after church, having a good gossip, then dropping me a coffee in on her way home around mid-morning.
I got the usual lunchtime crowd filtering in to grab unexpected, or forgotten, birthday cards and gifts – hence the stationery - and then the mid-afternoon escapees from collecting children from nursery, school, or taking a quick break from their office job. After five we got the stragglers, people who didn’t want to go home or were running late for parties, usually looking for gifts and cards. I even wrapped things for them, sometimes. I was good with ribbons.
Intermittently, I got new stock. There were a few rare treasures, usually scooped up by one of the overly aggressive college tutors, but mostly I got books people did not love anymore, be it through their obsession passing or a relative doing the same.
It was not exactly a bustling town, Avon-on-Lee, but it was careful and regular, and people made an effort to get on with each other. It had been a good place to seek community when I was left alone after my mother’s death, and while they still considered me unusual, I was certainly welcomed in as part of the place.
This meant I knew, when the door opened ten minutes to closing, it was not one of my regular customers walking into my shop. None of them would do that to me.
I looked up from counting the cash, bringing up my best customer service smile, only for it to die on my lips. Bastian Weir stood taking up all the space in my door, his broad shoulders blocking the view of anyone else who may accompany him. It was unlikely he came alone - he wasn't often allowed to be unattended – but as he closed the door and stepped closer I noticed he had the decency to come in solo. He was possibly as casual as I'd even seen him, in dark jeans and a leather jacket that hung open to show a claret red shirt.
"Good evening," he said. His hair was neater than when we'd last seen each other too, the dark blond now styled into some sense of order and trimmed into a business cut. It was all a little off, a little too unlike the usual formal presentation we had shared before, but there was clearly effort behind it. "It's good to see you again, Kat."
"Bastian." I nodded, going back to counting the cash. "We're only open until eight, so you're a bit late for browsing."
"My father died two weeks ago."
Shit. I stilled, glancing up at him. He was grim faced but reserved, no tears or anger, still lingering at the door. "I'm sorry to hear that. I know you were close. How is your mother doing?"
"The grief is hard. She's baring it well, but it's been a lot. She’s staying with Marie just now."
"I would have come to the funeral, if I knew."
"Thank you." He gave a brief smile. "His passing means I have to take over family matters."
"Yes, I imagine so." I glanced around my little shop, my heart sinking lower the longer the silence went on. “All of them?”
“Right.” I swallowed, my responses evaporating in the desert between my throat and teeth. I had managed eleven years. Eleven. It was stupid to think it would go on forever. But hope always died last, and I had not heard from Bastian at all in the interim. It seemed like there was a good chance.
“I know it’s been some time since we were promised.” He stepped closer, glancing around the shop as he approached the counter.
He nodded. “You’ve done well, setting up on your own. I know that’s not easy with everything that’s happened.”
“Thank you.” I tried to keep my tone level, with little success. My face heated, a flush to accompany the rush of words I was keeping in, and I blinked back the furious tears that flashed behind my lashes. I would not have this conversation with him.
“My family could have made it easier.”
“Not really.” I closed the till too hard, the money inside uncounted and unbalanced, and turned away from his approaching form.
I retreated into the backroom, leaving him the shop as I got my coat and bag to go home. He appeared at that door too, hovering just at it so not to crowd me into the space. “Kat—”
“Should I have told you to stay? Does that work?” I rounded on him, a hand on my hip and my coat tucked into the crook of my elbow.
He barked a laugh, sucking his lower lip in as he shook his head at me. “You weren’t this rude at fifteen.”
“My mother insisted on manners. I’ve had a while to unlearn them.”
He ducked his head. “I heard she had passed.”
“Yes. Five years ago.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a particular pain.”
I stopped short, nodding as my rebuke died in my throat. “Yeah, it is. Same for you, I imagine.”
“Different circumstances. Someone attacked my father.”
“He was killed?”
He winced at the question, but nodded. “Yes.”
“Shit. That’s incredibly stupid. Do you know who did it?”
“No, that’s why I’m here. We’re looking into matters, but until it is settled you need to come to live with us.”
“Pardon?” My bag slipped from my shoulder, landing on the floor with a loud thud. I didn’t bend down to collect it, staring at Bastian.
“We’ll have to be wed, and quickly, given the approaching moon. You knew that.”