The Bookstore

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special — George Michael

Trees that sparkled with Christmas lights weaved throughout their bare-leafed branches and down their slender trunks lined both sides of the narrow two-way street of the downtown shopping area. Its wet pavement glistened in their light. The tune of "Jingle Bell Rock" filled the air, adding to the spirit of the holiday. Last minute shoppers crowded the sidewalk on both sides as they moved from store to store looking for that perfect Christmas gift.

Had their attention not been so focused, they would have certainly noticed the tall, attractive man in the long, heavy overcoat and perfectly-polished matching dress shoes. No, he wasn't the most handsome man among them. But he did stand out in a crowd, what with the above-average height, black wavy hair lightly dusted with gray, and dark, deep-set eyes. Added to his striking appearance was the manner in which he carried himself — posture straight, chin high, shoulders back — as if he was someone of importance, someone they should surely recognize, but wouldn't. He appeared to be alone. If he, like the others, was last-minute Christmas shopping, he was either unsuccessful or getting a late start. He carried no bags or packages. His hands tucked deep inside the pockets of his coat, he walked with a quick stride, his eyes focused straight ahead, past coffee shops, jewelry stores, clothing stores, and bistro cafes.

When he finally stopped, it was in front of Barney & Bates Bookstore, where he stood for several minutes looking in the shop's squared bay window, making no attempt to step inside out of the cold.

The green-painted wood trim of the multi-paned window was weathered, giving it an old, antique look. Inside, the perimeter of the window was lit by a string of red and green lights. A wreath hung in the center of the window. Many of the books on display in the large window had the same old worn look of the store's exterior, while others were new, recent releases, including the one in the center, titled The Lighthouse. Through the paneled glass of the window, the man could see the author of this new best-seller sitting at a small table, her agent sitting in a chair beside her.

While his hands remained in his pockets, his posture relaxed somewhat, with his shoulders slumping forward, as he watched her sign a copy of her book and hand it to the couple first in line on the opposite side of the table.

Her smile was warm, her blue eyes sparkling as bright as the outside lights as her lips moved, uttering words unable to be heard from where he remained standing.

After allowing another minute to pass, he sucked in a deep breath and then exhaled, straightening his posture as he did so.

At the same time, a dark SUV pulled up and parked along the street directly behind him. He turned around just as the front passenger door swung open. A man in a dark blue suit stepped out of the vehicle, assessed the area, then opened the back door of the SUV. A man of medium stature and noticeable receding hairline stepped out, and immediately lifted the collar of his heavy black coat as the crisp cold air hit the back of his neck.

"Looks like we'll be getting some snow before the night's over," he said as he glanced up at the dark sky, his Southern accent heavy.

"Yes, sir, light flurries expected throughout the night," the dark-suited man replied as he closed the door of the vehicle before approaching the entrance of the bookstore and holding the door open for his passenger.

"Hmm…" the passenger said as he entered the store. Before following him inside, the dark-suited man glanced over at the tall man, immediately making eye-contact with him. When the tall man nodded ever so slightly to him, he returned the gesture, then quickly stepped inside.

The tall man turned his attention back to the bay window, and the woman inside. He watched as she stood and greeted the balding man with the same bright smile he had witnessed moments earlier. His brow furrowed and his lips pursed when the two shared an embrace. He turned away, and headed back down the sidewalk in the same direction he had come.