Who works on Saturdays? Me apparently. I unlock the door to the store and am immediately assaulted by the smell of new books and cinnamon rolls baking in the oven.
Reads & Eats is a book store and café. Or a café that also sells books. Depends on how you look at it. My father opened the shop when he was in his late twenties. He had never planned on being a shop owner but when he was laid off his construction job he decided to go down another path. He took out a loan, bought an empty building downtown and spent the next year using his construction skills fixing it up, outside and in. When asked why he decided to turn it into a bookstore, he always said he hadn’t even realized that was what he planned to do until one day he started building shelves. And so Reads & Eats was born. Then one day a few months after he opened the shop, my mom wandered in looking for something new to read. She left with two new books, a free cup of coffee, and a date for that coming Friday.
It’s a tale my dad loves to tell to any customer who will listen. There are pictures of them up around the store – having coffee at a table in the café a few months after they got together, loading new books on to the shelves, standing outside the store on their wedding day, and a picture of the two of them holding me as a wee little baby, happy as could be.
My parents are my favorite love story. As a kid, instead asking to hear stories of princes falling in love with fair maidens and defeating evil queens, I asked for stories about my parents.
Why can’t I find a love like that?
The jingling of the bell above the door announces my presence and Sarah, our café manager, sticks her head out of the kitchen.
“Isabelle! What are you doing here on a Saturday? It’s your day off.”
“I know, I know,” I say as I put my purse and jacket down behind the check-out counter. “I have nothing to do today so I figured I’d go through the new shipment in back for a while. It’s a little unorganized.”
Sarah shook her head and made a clucking sound with her tongue. “It’s a weekend! You should be out having fun.”
“I had plenty of fun last weekend.”
“You take life much too seriously,” she makes another disapproving sound before disappearing back into the kitchen.
I sigh. “I know.”
I keep busy behind the registers until Joy, one of the assistant managers, arrives twenty minutes later to open the store. After some polite chitchat, I retreat to the backroom. I would much rather stay out on the sales floor, sit back in one of the arm chairs by the front window and enjoy one of Sarah’s cinnamon rolls, but the boxes really do have to be emptied and organized.
By the time I am done opening boxes and organizing the back stock it is well past noon. My stomach growls in agreement with the time and I realize I had skipped both breakfast and lunch.
I dust myself off and steer the book cart I’d filled with new books out to the sales floor. There are a few people milling around the stacks, and a table in the corner of the café is occupied. The sight of people in the store always makes me smile.
“Done organizing?” Sarah asks when she sees me.
“Yes and now I’m starving.”
Sarah waves a hand at a table. “Sit and I’ll bring you something for lunch.”
I do as she says and five minutes later I’m happily munching on a BLT and a bag of potato chips, and sipping a soda.
Thank god for Sarah, I think as I take another bite. It’s not hard to make a sandwich but somehow she always makes simple things taste gourmet.
“You make that sandwich look really good,” says a voice beside me.
I look over and there is a guy standing beside my table. A really hot guy. He looks to be about my age or maybe a little older, green-eyed, scruffy, and tall. And he’s carrying a bag of books from the store. There’s nothing sexier than a reader… Except a reader who buys his books from Reads & Eats.
“It is really good,” I say. “It’s the best thing I’ve eaten all day.” The only thing I’ve eat all day, but he doesn’t need to know that.
“Maybe I’ll have to get one,” he says. “I’m Dan, by the way.” He holds out a hand.
I return the gesture. “Isabelle.”
Dan pulls out the chair across from me and sits down, dropping his bag on the table. “What brings you to the bookstore today Isabelle?”
“I work here.”
“Here in the cafe?”
“Not exactly,” I casually take a sip of my soda. “I own this store.”
“You own Reads & Eats?” He’s visibly surprised.
“For how long?” he asks. “The last time I was here it was run by an older guy. He told me he built the place himself.” Dan says. “He was nice. Used to talk about how he met his wife here.”
Typical Dad. I laugh. “That’s my father. And I don’t think there are any customers who have ever managed to get in and out of this place without hearing a story.”
“Your dad? So that’s you? The baby in the pictures around the store?”
I feel my cheeks redden and I nod. “Me in all my glory. When I was younger he used to use me as a prop for his stories.” I push my plate to the side. “He still tells the tale even now that he no longer runs this place.”
Dan chuckles. “Well I didn’t mind. I was just killing time when I stopped in here for the first time. After that I stopped by every time I was in town. This place just feels so,” he searches for a word, “cozy. Comforting.”
The store is cozy, and has always had the feel of someone’s home and not a business. The walls, though they can barely be seen behind all the book shelves, are light green and the floor grey carpet. There are floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall, and more standing here and there in the middle of the shop, comfy arm chairs and low benches hidden among them for flipping through a book or magazine. The left side of the shop opens up into the café, with its brown walls, tiled floors and bistro styled tables. The whole shop is decoratively cluttered, framed pictures and paintings hang on every available space, and the wall behind the café cash register is a painted mural of the Reads & Eats storefront.
I beam at his words. “Thank you.” I want to leap over the table and kiss him. I’m proud of Reads the way a mother is proud of her child. Technically the store isn’t my child so much as an older sibling, but still. “So when was the last time you were here?”
“Oh, it’s been years,” Dan says. “I was 18 then and my girlfriend, now my ex, lives around here. I was waiting for her to get out of work and thought I would browse around. It kind of became a regular thing that year. I’d stop in and get a coffee, maybe buy a book or two. But I haven’t been back here since.”
“Why did you stop coming?” I ask. “Bad break up?”
My teasing tone brings a smirk to Dan’s face. “Not exactly. I went away to college. After my freshman year I leased an apartment and moved up there permanently. Ultimately, that’s what killed our relationship, though I don’t think we ever had a real chance.”
“So are you moving back here now that you’re done with school?” The more I talk with him the more I’m sure he’s a few years older. None of the guys I know are this mature.
“I am done, but I’m not here to stay. I’m,” he pauses, “I’m just here for a little while.”
“Doing some visiting?”
“Sort of.” He looks down at the table. “My mother died last month. So I’m here to keep my old man company.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry,” Impulsively I place my hand on top of his and then remember that we are still practically strangers and wrap it back around my cup. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
He smiles sadly at me, “Thank you.”
Our table is silent and I feel guilty about the frown on Dan’s face. “You know what you need?” I stand up. “You need one of Sarah’s cinnamon rolls. Wait right there.”
After a moment I come back out of the kitchen balancing a plate and two steaming cups of coffee.
When I set the plate down on the table in front of Dan he inhales blissfully. “Those,” he says, “smell awesome.”
“And they taste even better,” I say with a smile. I hand him a fork and dig into my roll. “When I was a kid there was nothing that made me happier than one of these cinnamon rolls.” I lick a glob of frosting off my thumb. “Nothing ever seems quite as bad once you’ve had one.”
Dan’s smile is back and we eat our rolls in a happy silence. I’m glad I haven’t ruined his mood. When I’m done I lean back and sip my coffee, watching Dan savor the last few bites of his cinnamon roll.
“That,” Dan says with a sigh, “was delicious.” He smiles brightly at me.
I smile back and try to ignore what the sight of his perfectly straight white teeth is doing to my tummy. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“I did. And I’m happy I stopped in here today.”
“Good. Good.” I get up from the table. “I’ll leave you to the rest of your coffee.”
I get a few steps away when he calls out my name. I turn around.
“It was really nice to meet you,” Dan says. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
I smile wide and turn to leave. Coming to work on a Saturday was the best idea I’ve had in a while.