Follow Your Arrow Sneak Peek!
Sliding down the steep steps, I land on my bottom as the floor comes up from nowhere. I glance around to make sure there are no customers here to witness my clumsy act. Satisfied that I’m left to my own within the walls of Kingston Books & Things, I stand. It’s not the first time I’ve fallen down these stairs. Seems it happens about once a week lately. I blame my nerves. I blame the fact that I know Justin Albott is about to waltz back into my life at anytime. Smoothing down my shirt, I straighten my shoulders before taking off to the stack of boxes in the middle of the store.
With the white printed label addressed to me, Leslie Owens-Powell, I shift from side to side as I try to figure out another way of avoiding the contents buried within the cardboard. Twisting my long ginger hair up in a messy ponytail, I push out my arms, lacing my fingers together as if they need a good, long stretch. A chill runs down the length of my spine. It’s not from the air, nor the mysterious description placed on the back of the latest mystery novel by the famous Justin Albott. Nope, it’s his picture on the back of the cover. It’s the way he’s looking back at the camera. The way his dark hair is positioned just right. A cross between being messy and styled to perfection. The way his hazel eyes seem to be looking into the depths of your soul through the camera lens. He’s not changed in all the years. Maybe a little. Justin’s aged well, he’s now more man than the young boy who left with my heart. I’ve refused to read his books over the years, only opening them to read the dedication. It’s not that he’s dedicated them to me, but when you grow up with someone and shared secrets together, you get to know the person. In a way, each book is dedicated to the island. No matter how long it’s been, you know the meaning behind those black and white words screaming up at you from the page.
Justin Albott was my high school sweetheart until we both went in opposite directions after graduation. Justin to the West, as I stayed here on the East coast. We tried for a total of four months to do the long-distance thing, but in the end, it failed us both. Over the last few years, I’ve snuck peeks at him and his career. I’d sit alone at night and Google his name, scrolling through pictures, interviews, and wonder what life would’ve been like if we never split. That was as close as I would allow myself to get to him. I always avoid as much commination as possible. The longest we’ve spoken since we were kids was when he returned for my grandmother’s funeral; that was two years ago.
It’s not that I’m avoiding him. Well, okay, it is that indeed. When you spend your whole teenage life planning your wedding to someone you can’t see yourself without, it’s hard to fight the flutter in your chest. It’s hard to not want to run your fingers along the chiseled jaw that once used to knead the skin on your neck. It’s hard to remember to breathe when he approaches you. It’s unbearable to think about the what-ifs that could have been. All that slipped away when we split. No longer was I planning a wedding to Justin—I was healing a broken heart. Years later, that same broken heart is still trying to be mended back together. It’s not totally broken due to the loss of Justin. It’s divided up into three sections. Nope, make that five.
And lastly, Jack Powell, my ex-husband.
Let’s start from the beginning…
My parents disappeared when I was five-years-old. They left me with my grandmother for the evening as they had a benefit to attend, only to never return for their daughter. This left me in the care of my favorite person on this planet: my grandmother. I accepted this as my life before my tenth birthday. It seemed to be the easiest thing to do. It wasn’t spoken of within the walls of Nan’s house. But you knew those looks when you ventured out into town. I was the one who got lucky, they all said. But did I? When I stop to think about it, I did. I didn’t end up in foster care as Nan would’ve never let that happen. But in the end, I did lose my parents.
The only people in this town that never judged me or my situation was Justin and his family. My past was just that—the past. To me, my grandmother was not just my family, but my mother and father wrapped up in one bundle. I never got to know my grandfather as he passed away shortly after I was born. Leaving my grandmother everything, including the small cottage in town off Main Street. She converted the place into the local bookstore, Kingston Books & Things. Nan was a believer in literature. She believed that every person she encountered should know how to read or have a book in their hands. No wonder Justin decided to become an author. In many interviews over the years, he’s always made it known that his love for the written word started with Beatrice Owens.
I now live in the upstairs loft that I converted into an apartment after selling the house that I shared with Jack, my ex-husband. Jack always pushed me to give this place up, but that was never in the cards for me. There was no way I could part with a part of me like that. Growing up within the walls of this place, well, that’s like being home. I’ve been in a relationship with this cottage since I could read. Never allowing myself to form a true bond with a person outside of here. I let Justin slip away, only to do the same with Jack.
It was never going to work with Jack and me in the first place. Jack and I were two very different people. He blinded me with hope and a love that I thought was real. Only to realize that he wanted to convert me into someone else. He never liked the cottage and thought it was a money pit. That should’ve been my first clue to our make-believe marriage, but I thought that would change after we got married. Yes, it still belonged to Nan, but I worked here as she couldn’t keep up with the place anymore.
I knew the moment he wanted me to leave the bookstore. The moment when he told me to choose that or him. His words to me were “Leslie, this place is a dump and not worth your time. You need to be here taking care of our house.” That was also the day I knew we were over for good. Jack didn’t know that I’d found out about him and his other life on the mainland. It might have taken another year to make it happen, but it did. I left and moved in with the great reads of my life. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the only reason I left Jack. There’s a long list of names that helped the situation. At least when I said I was love with a book, that didn’t mean I spent my nights away in bed with another person. Unlike Jack, he found love in other areas that didn’t come from the only bookstore on the island or mainland for that matter. I thought he would change, but I was a fool too. After the hundredth time of pushing me to sell the store, I decided that it was time to make me happy.
I no longer craved romance from my husband. I wanted to fall in love with myself all over again. That’s what I’ve been doing since I started calling the store home. I might not have someone lying next to me at night keeping me warm, but the words that are bound in the confines of the books below give me something special. Hope…
Most small bookstores aren’t thriving, and it’s a monthly risk I take. The one thing that I do have in my corner is the famous Justin Albott. He’s not been on tour in over two years, which is surprising to say the least. His newest release has been out for about six months now, and there’s no news of a new release coming out soon. That doesn’t stop him from supplying a massive amount of his books to the store. They just keep arriving, even though I never order them. Which also means that all of these boxes are from him. I don’t have to open them nor read the letter that’s in the first box. Seems he and Nan had an underlying agreement. He would write the books, come give a speech from time to time, and his books would always be in the window on display. I call it his bigger than life personality. The one where he thinks he keeps this store, the town, and businesses around here afloat. Even Justin’s parents sold their house and moved to Ft. Lauderdale. Once his readers found out where he was from, they flocked to us like seagulls spotting a loaf of bread. We no longer have a tourist season, it’s now what we call the Justin Albott Show. It dies down a few months after a new release, but those first few months after his latest is released—it’s hell.
I’ve heard a rumor that he’s headed to town. Okay, it’s not a rumor since my best friend, Haddie, who owns Sea Cove Inn across the street from me, showed me his name on the reservation list. Haddie felt the need to remind me that he would be arriving today when we shared our morning coffee together. This also puts a damper on my morning ritual. Since I’m best friends with the owner of the Inn, I get to enjoy breakfast with her and the guests each day. We find that this is the best time of the day to see each other. It’s the time before we both get busy with our daily routines. Now, I’m going to have to settle for a granola bar and coffee—alone. I refuse to see him every morning, no matter why he’s here.
Okay, I might be a little on edge with this tiny bit of information. But who wouldn’t be? What do you say to the one person you might still have feelings for? The one person that when you run your fingers over the back of his books, your body tingles with the memories of your past? Jack used to say the reason we never worked together was that my heart still belonged to Justin. I don’t totally disagree, but I left that life behind me a long time ago.
Here in my store, I’m happy. Here staring at Justin’s picture on the back cover, I’m confused. I don’t know when I’ll see him, I just know that I will. I’ve given myself a pep talk and have been preparing for today since the moment I heard of his return. I just don’t know why he’s here. His agent hasn’t contacted me to set up anything, which means that’s not the reason behind this visit. His family no longer lives here, so it’s not to see them. So why? Why is the one person from my past showing up in my life today? Just as I’m about to place one of the books on the table in the center of the store, the bell above the door dings. Afraid to turn around and see who just waltzed in, I hold my breath until I hear Haddie.
“He’s thirty to forty minutes away, and I’m shocked you’ve not disappeared yet.”
Turning around to face my best friend, I retort. “I thought about it, but that would leave you to working the store and the Inn. Plus, I’m the last person on his mind. I’m sure we won’t even see each other.” I toss a hand up in the air like I’m shooing a fly away.
“Keep telling yourself that… Seriously, how ya holding up?”
“I’m great and yes I will keep telling myself that because it’s the truth. There is nothing between us, and the past is just that.”
“You do know that the past always comes back,” Haddie tells me, and I stop to think about it for just a moment. It’s true that the people’s past will come back to haunt them, but what about past lovers? Do they haunt you, or just show back up to cause havoc on your life? Either way, I have to be strong and not let him affect my senses. There’s still a huge part of me that could get lost in everything Justin Albott.
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