The Story Of Us by Teri Wilson

Chapter One


            Looking back, Jamie Vaughn should have realized something was amiss on that cool February morning as she navigated the cobblestone streets of Waterford, Oregon’s charming business district. All the signs were there—another vacant storefront, the cracks in the sidewalk that had lingered for months without being repaired, the suspiciously short line at the corner coffee shop.

            But Jamie didn’t notice any of those things.

            With her favorite polka dot dress swishing around her legs and her cat carrier slung over her shoulder, she couldn’t help seeing her hometown as she always had. The duck statues she loved so much—a mama trailed by four tiny ducklings—were lined up in a neat row on the wooden footbridge of the walking trail. A puppy romped playfully at the end of its leash in the crosswalk by the pizza parlor. Preschoolers in bright coats and knitted beanies held onto a walking rope as their teachers led them to the nearby park.

            It was the same Waterford she’d known and loved her entire life, since she herself had been one of those fresh-faced preschoolers. So maybe, just maybe, she had a tendency to look at the business district through rose-colored glasses. Was that really so bad, though?

            In this case, yes. Yes, it was.

            If she’d stopped long enough to take a closer look at her surroundings, maybe she wouldn’t have been caught so off-guard by what came later that day. But she didn’t stop. She kept right on following the cobblestone path all the way to her bookshop, hands buried in the pockets of her red swing coat and rose-tinted glasses firmly in place.

            A tiny meow came from the cat carrier as Jamie unlocked the frosted-glass door to the shop and stepped inside. Eliot, her orange tabby, never missed a day of work and liked to announce his arrival to the white French country bookshelves and the faux cherry blossom tree that loomed over the best-sellers table. As per usual, neither responded.

            Jamie deposited the purple carrier onto the sales counter and gave Eliot’s pink nose a gentle tap through one of its mesh windows. His bright gaze followed her as she made her way beneath one of the store’s big arched walkways—with crown molding as white and frothy as icing on a wedding cake—to the inside of the square checkout area.

            She unzipped the top of Eliot’s bag.

            Meow.

            Eliot popped his furry orange head out of the cat carrier and cast an evaluating glance at his surroundings. He took his job as an official bookshop cat quite seriously.

            “Oh, hello.” Jamie smiled at him and was rewarded with a rumbling purr in response.

            She scooped him up and lifted him out of the bag. “It’s a beautiful day to sell books. Isn’t it, Eliot?”

            He blinked, which Jamie took as a yes. After all, wasn’t every day a good day to sell books? Of course it was, particularly if you were a feline named after T. S. Eliot.

            “Yes, I agree.” Jamie nodded and released Eliot to pad along the smooth white countertop, weaving around vases of fragrant pink roses and waterfall orchids.

            Many people didn’t know T. S. Eliot’s poems had been the inspiration for the musical Cats, but Jamie did. Just as she knew that Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past was the longest novel ever written and that First Impressions was the original title of Jane Austen’s beloved classic Pride & Prejudice. Someday, she hoped to be a published author herself. Every now and then, she liked to imagine what her name might look like printed on one of the volumes that lined her bookshop’s shelves.

            Books were Jamie’s thing; her one true love. Other than Eliot, of course. And her bookshop, which was aptly called True Love Books & Cafe. The name hadn’t actually been Jamie’s creation, but it fit. It always had.