7. Amongst the Books

The next day Grandma wanted to take me shopping. I accepted gratefully, welcoming the normality of going to our town, which was small, more like a village, but it had a few decent shops to mooch around. And a bookshop, which happened to have a sale on at that time.

I loved books. My room was practically lined with them, and my favorite birthday or Christmas gift was always a bookstore gift card from the day I learned to read. I also spent a lot of time in the local library, reading books. Because I had to watch my funds, I obviously could not afford all the books I wanted, so I often went to the library to check out if a title I’d heard about was worth buying.

I had put in my Christmas order early by telling my parents that I wanted an e-reading device, whether Kindle, iPad, or Nook. I had already seen how cheap books were in electronic form, and looking at my book shelves groaning under the weight of the volumes I had purchased, I knew I would either have to start moving my books to the guest bedroom or get that e-book reader. Seriously, I sometimes imagined that my bedroom floor was going to collapse under the weight and used to joke that it would be the first ever “death by books”, though since losing Kitty I didn’t really make jokes about death any longer.  Anyway, my books were already in double rows on each shelf and the thought of having one device with all the reading material I could ever want in it was almost too good to be true.

But I still loved printed books. They felt like old friends in my hands. I guess I would always have “old fashioned” printed books as well, just like my dad collected old vinyl records. There was that special something in old-fashioned books…

So, of course I wanted to go to the book shop, and Grandma parked her sports car right in front of it in one graceful curve, steering the wheel easily with just one hand. The car got appreciative glances from the members of the male population who happened to be passing by. As did Grandma herself. I hoped I had inherited her genes and would age as beautifully as she had – she looked thirty years younger than she was. Really, not kidding.

The only strange thing gene-wise was that both my parents were quite short, yet I was considerably taller than they were. When I was a child, Dad used to joke that there must have been a giraffe in our family tree somewhere. And I, being in the first grade then, had asked about this possibility at school. After my teacher stopped laughing, I did not speak to Dad for two days.

I smiled at the giraffe-memory now, and followed Grandma through the open door into the book store.

I loved the smell of books and the sight of all those racks, relishing the moment. What should I look at first? Books about cats, I decided and walked over the worn wooden floor towards the books about nature and pets. Grandma vanished somewhere amongst the taller shelves.

I more or less just drifted down the corridors of the book store after that, reading the book titles, picking up some of them to find out more from their back covers, and then moving on. I noticed Grandma at the metaphysical section, in front of a slew of books about angels. Well, where else, I thought. I wanted to tell her what had just happened, and was starting to move towards her when out of nowhere someone almost ran me over. I fell against a bookshelf and hit my knee, hard, right on the bone.

“Owwwww!” I grabbed my knee. I knew there would be a gorgeous bruise later on. For a moment the pain overtook me and it was a few seconds before I could think of anything else.

“Oh, sorry! I do hope I haven’t hurt you seriously?”

At a glance, he was maybe a few years older than I was, but it was somehow hard to pinpoint his actual age.  He was very tall – a rare exception to the young guys I knew. Looking down on them tended to have a bit of a cooling effect on any romantic intentions they had, to put it mildly. Sure I had been on a few dates, and had my experiences of awkward kisses, but nothing serious. I was certain that me being so tall was the cause. I figured that men, for whatever reason, mostly feel insecure if their girlfriend is taller than they are.  Standing on tiptoe while kissing a girl seemed to be too much for the male ego – that was my experience, anyhow.

His T-shirt revealed muscular arms. It wasn’t a body builder’s physique, though, just the well-proportioned muscles of someone who had clearly done some physical work. Two very blue eyes stared down at me. I almost forgot to be angry with him – he was so handsome. And oddly familiar… I just couldn’t place him. I had the weirdest feeling he looked at me as if I was someone he knew. Maybe he was the big brother of one of my friends or classmates? But no, I dismissed that… I knew I would not have forgotten someone like him, even if I’d only met him once before.

“Watch where you’re going!” I snapped anyway, a bit taken aback by his ice blue, honest gaze.

“I am sorry,” he repeated, looking embarrassed. Oh, and did I mention handsome? Blond hair, blue eyes and a pale skin to match it.

Rather too pale for the midst of summer. His skin was nearly… translucent? It certainly had a glow that looked almost airbrushed. Maybe he was a fashion model I had seen on a magazine cover? Or the net?

He calmly observed me observing him. In fact he seemed to be looking at me such intense curiosity I began to think there was something wrong with my face. Had my mascara run? The pain had momentarily brought tears to my eyes, and I did that thing that you do, where you’re trying to see a smudge on your face without letting on that you’re doing anything apart from concentrate on the other person in the conversation. He certainly deserved my full attention. Wow, he was pale though.

“No, I am not an albino, if that’s what you’re thinking. Nor a vampire. I’d be in fashion though, if these books are anything to judge by, don’t you think?” He had clearly noticed me looking at his skin, and smiled and waved his hand at the young adult books on the shelves. “I’ve been traveling for a while and only just came back to the sunny side of the world.”

He sounded very educated for his age. Also his smile was…. captivating. I found myself staring at his beautiful lips. He seemed amused, and that of course made his smile widen. His face was heart-stoppingly gorgeous when he did that. Then it occurred to me I was ogling him, and that he had realized it too. I blushed.

Bending down to hide my embarrassment, I began to dust the knees of my jeans even though the bookshelves I’d crashed into – had been knocked into – were clean and completely dust-free. When I looked up again, he had vanished. I glanced around, and quickly even stood on my toes to see over the taller shelving, but he was nowhere to be seen. Surely he couldn’t have ducked behind one of the shelves and be hiding there? He was real enough – I had the pain in my knee to prove it.

I picked up my old duffel bag. I’d brought the one I used at school, because I usually ended up buying soooo many books. I had also put a light jacket in the bag in case it became chilly (“Chilly this time of the year? We do get summer in England, you know. Well, some years anyway.” I could almost hear Kitty laughing. “You are just like your mother – prepared for every conceivable catastrophe.”).

“So, did you find anything you’d like?” Grandma’s voice asked me.

I jumped. She had marched right next up to me without my noticing. She moved as silently as a hunter in the movies.

“Nnn…no, not yet!” I stammered.

“Want to look some more?” Grandma was already carrying a few books herself. “There are some books I could still go over for a while.”

“Sure, maybe a while longer.”

I did not admit even to myself, that the reason I wanted to stay was to see if the young man was somewhere in the store. He really was a sight for sore eyes…Kitty’s laughter seemed to sound again in my head. “A sight for sore eyes? You sound middle-aged sometimes. Eye candy, Dana, eye candy!”

But I did not see him again, which I found a bit strange, considering that I had a direct view to the store door over the shelves, and I was absolutely certain he had not gone out. Surely no one would use the back exit to a store. Unless he was staff?

In the end, I did buy two books – one about cat breeds, as I’d planned, and another about the pyramids of Egypt. It was one of my dreams to travel to Egypt. My father had promised he would take me there, when I graduated.  But the turmoil of late, after the unrest of the Arab spring, was making my father reconsider his agreement.

Carrying her heavy bag of books with considerable ease Grandma then dragged me across the street to a clothes store, to “supplement your wardrobe” as she put it.

“You look as though you’re wearing someone’s grandmother’s hand-me-downs, my girl!” She shook her head. “And I am not talking about myself!”

Obviously not. She was always so casually elegant. One of those ladies who looked good in everything she wore – though it was mostly jeans and some exciting blouse or jacket. Her trimmed body of course played a big role in that. I had long had the suspicion that she lived in a combined gym and beauty parlor. No one should be so fit at her age. She looked like a long distance runner.

After buying me a new pair of jeans (“Oh forget the baggy ones!”) and three shirts (“Don’t even think cowboy-style!”) she yanked me off to a shoe store.

Eventually I looked like a born again shopper with all the bags I was carrying, and I got approving and slightly envious glances from my classmates who happened to walk past us when we headed for a cafe.

“Hi, Dana!” Elaine waved a tanned hand so that the gold bracelets on her slender wrist clinked together. “Nice jeans!”

I managed what I hoped was a laid-back smile, while I tried to stay erect in my high-heels and make out I wore them every day. (“Don’t you ever be ashamed of being tall! And keep your knees locked – nothing looks worse than someone in high heels with their knees bent,” I remembered Grandma’s advice). High-heels, for heaven’s sake! What was Grandma thinking! But obviously I had done something to get the approval of the Blonde Section – Elaine and her giggling court. All in different shades of blond hair color: ash blonde, strawberry blonde, bombshell blonde and golden blonde.

We weren’t exactly on the same page, even though superficially I looked the part that day. I was a bookworm, for one thing. They called me “a nerd” and also English terms that I hadn’t understood at first, because I never knew the latest singers or make-up trends, and wasn’t interested in movie stars or the latest sighting of whoever happened to be Hot in their books. They mimicked my American accent and made fun of me, but they avidly tried to dress and act like the American High School teenagers that they saw in TV programs. Knowledge of history didn’t rate very highly on their list of “what’s hot”. When I’d once told them that I wanted to study Egyptology, they had looked back at me with blank eyes. Finally one of them had said “Egyptology? What the hell’s that?” emphasising her words in a way that indicated I was a freak, in their own terms. Still, I wasn’t considered an enemy, because I posed no obvious threat to them on the dating scene, being so tall and not wearing much makeup, and with my mind being off on other things a lot of the time.

I managed a relaxed wave and walked past the Blond Section, feeling their eyes on my back. Their combined perfumes hit us like a wall as we passed.

“You do need some nice high heel shoes, now that you are turning into a gorgeous young woman, Dana,” Grandma commented, as though she’d been reading my thoughts on the Blonde Section and dating. “At home you can loll around in whatever you want, but when you go out on a date…” she made some appropriate noises in imitation of a man’s approval. I was waiting for her to give one of her loud, shrill wolf-whistles – that was another one of Grandma’s skills – but thankfully on this occasion, she didn’t burst my eardrums.

I sighed and rolled my eyes.

“Not you too! Mom is always trying to find out if I’ve got a guy hidden away somewhere!”

Grandma laughed out loud and voiced her doubts as to what my mother would do if she actually found a boyfriend hidden in my room. While the scene of such an event played vividly in my mind, Grandma opened the door to a little coffee shop. She rushed to meet and greet her old friend, who ran the shop, and as that would likely take a few moments, I went ahead and sat down to a table next to the window. I reached for my cell phone in my bag and felt something that should not have been there.

A book.  Well, of course there were the two books Grandma had bought for me, but this one was definitely neither of those By the feel of it, it was an old book. I took it out of the bag.

“What’s in a Dream – a Scientific and Practical Interpretation of Dreams” the cover said.

I had always been interested in dream interpretation so I opened the cover to have a better look.

The book was old – it said it had been printed by the G.W.Dillingham company, NY in 1901. There was something written inside the cover – in old fashioned handwriting, the words written with real ink. It seemed to be someone’s dream, written down in the book because the dreamer had thought it important.

“I dreamt of angels and ghosts in the sky, fighting for the throne hidden in the mists. There was a war going on in the mountains, in the seas, over the lakes, rivers, fields, cities and villages. Castles and towers fell into the fire. Waves of the ocean threw ships on dry land. Lightning struck from thunder clouds and death was walking the streets. I took shelter in a house in the hills, deep in the forest, where I was safe. I traveled through a gate to a land of sleep, and suddenly I awoke, surrounded by friends and there was great joy and light and laughing and hugging. But we knew we would have to draw our swords, take the key, open the door to the garden of Adam and Eve, and of the apple tree of wisdom, the seed of which was sown by the guardians of the orchard. But the snake, the dangerous adder was spying on us with its soldiers, under their flag and black banner and flames were devouring their hearts. We escaped them to our strongholds of stone where their jaws could not bite, but they stole our children and turned them into monsters who attacked their parents, their brothers, and their family. And tears rained in the midst of ruins where once beauty resided. So we went running to a library of books and ancient letters, to gain victory over our enemy and end this battle. And in the library there grew a beautiful flower, a lovely rose which I took. And when I woke up, I still held it in my hand.”

A strange dream to be sure…

There was something more scribbled under the dream. 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 1-1…

“What’s that you are reading?” Grandma had managed to sneak right up behind me without making a noise. How did she do that?

“Oh, this? It seems to be an old dream book. I found it in my bag but I have no idea how it got in there.”

“Hmm… maybe it had been there for a while and you’d just forgotten you had it. That’s happened to me in the past. Here, I bought us cappuccinos. Don’t let yours get cold.”

She placed the tray on the table and bent closer to have a look at the handwritten dream.

“What a strange dream!” she echoed my sentiments. “Maybe you should try to interpret that!”

“That might be fun,” I admitted, closing the book and putting it back in my bag, managing to get my finger caught in the bag’s zipper in the process.  When I sucked the blood from my finger, something bumped against the window next to my face. I almost screamed.

A little girl without front teeth was smiling back at me, her ice-creamy hands leaving palm prints on the glass. She had a Hello Kitty balloon tied to her shirt button and the wind was bouncing it against the window right at my eye level.

On the other side of the street I saw the blonde young man. He just stood there, looked at me directly, his eyes piercing the space between us. I felt a sudden shortness of breath – the beauty of his ice blue eyes was out of this world, even at this distance.

For a fleeting moment I almost remembered him. Then a truck drove between us, and when it had gone, so was he. Vanished into thin air.

After the initial shock of his sudden disappearance, I felt a surprising surge of disappointment.

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