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Can’t rain forever (part 02)

Julie lives a meaningless life, mourning her losses

Two days later I was in a new city. I knew nobody, had no relatives nor friends, and couldn’t count on anyone but me. I tried and tried. I passed weeks looking for jobs and the money was soon going to finish until I found a kind old woman who hired me to work in her bookstore. Not that I was going to become rich there, but it was a job that allowed me to earn a living. On the upper floor, the woman rented me a two-room flat, with just a small open kitchen/lunchroom/living room, a small bedroom and a bathroom just big enough for a shower stall, a sink and the loo. That way, my rent would be detracted from the pay, and I would only pay the bills for what I was using.

Television wasn’t of any interest to me, I’d rather read, so I was reading everything from the bookstore, and my bills were always quite low, as I didn’t need almost any household appliances. I did most things the old way, and cleaning wasn’t any way an effort given the small space I was living in.

More or less the next three years passed like that, and at twenty-two, I was very shy of people, and never dated another man. Not that I had a row of them looking for a chance to take me out. I discouraged the couple who asked me out, probably thinking that a bookworm would be easy prey, and I never gave the faintest impression of being interested in men. I always wore baggy clothes to conceal anything womanly in me too. Since my longest walk was from the bookstore to the grocery store next door, and I always stayed home, nobody ever even noticed me, and I was fine with that, trying to be even more invisible, if possible.

After the first year, my crying for the losses of my life, the betrayal from all the people I knew, I trusted and I loved – I discovered that my parents even changed their mobile numbers – and more than anything for the loss of my baby girl, calmed down. I was still crying for her now and then, but the deep wound, if not healing, at least was aching less. I guess I was getting used to the pain, more than feeling it less.

The woman who hired me was friendly and kind, but still never pursued a friendship, keeping things to a more professional level. Thus, I never really related to her, and since I didn’t know if I could trust another person again, I was fine with that. Anyway, she was satisfied with my job. After raising my salary a couple of times, she gave me more and more responsibilities, as she was getting older, until I was managing the whole bookstore alone. She was always present, of course. I think she had a lonely, empty life as well, but we never shared personal information.

When she hired me, she was just helping a broken young woman and was ready to replace me in a few weeks, as soon as like many other young people she hired before. I would quit for the hard work or for finding something better. Instead, I proved to be a person who was honest, not shy of working, and with no interest in partying or friends and not looking for a new job to climb the path of a successful one. So, she came to trust me – professionally speaking – and was content with my work. In an age where books were less and less used, our small bookstore was nonetheless doing fine. Maybe my age and my fresh diploma allowed me to understand things better, or I was just lucky – I can’t believe I said that – anyway, I convinced her to get a computer to manage the bookstore, and we made a full inventory.

Then, after I discovered that being a bookstore associated to a big chain of independent libraries for almost thirty years, and being the only one that old; we had the rights to purchase a certain amount of books from several editors at print cost, I managed to convince the nearby schools to buy their books through us. That allowed us to sell the books to the schools at prices lower than those of the distributors themselves, and thus we got a good steady income from it.

Next, by doing the inventory, we discovered a full shelf of very old books in perfect condition. It was a collection her father kept from the bookstore and then was soon forgotten when he got sick and died. No, it wasn’t a gold mine, but at least a couple of them we discovered were worth a thousand bucks. The others were rare, but not that rare, spanning from a hundred to a few hundred dollars each. That allowed the old lady to do some renewal to the shop, and she also gave me a little prize of a couple of hundred bucks. My savings after almost two years tripled in a moment. Yes, I told you I was barely earning a living. But I liked my job, the chance it gave me to stay invisible and alone and managed to keep myself informed about books, their editions, historical books, and such. I had nothing else in my life, and I wanted nothing else either.

That was what brought Robert into my life.

He entered the bookstore one day, one year later, looking for an old book. He said that he saw that we had an edition of it that he was looking for, for his collection of the author’s writings. It wasn’t a famous writer, just that his mom loved it, and he was going to gift her the whole bibliography, but it was taking time to track a copy of all of the books.

When I showed him the book and the price, I saw he was uncomfortable about it. I told him we could talk about a discount, and he said that it wasn’t the problem. Quite the opposite, the problem was that the book was worth double the price we were asking and he wasn’t comfortable in buying it for what we were asking, feeling he was swindling us. I said that our price was that for a reason and that we lowered it because nobody was buying the book. In the end, we agreed that in addition to the price, he would pay half the amount between what we were asking and what he felt he should be paying, and I sold him the book. I was impressed with such a show of honesty.

I forgot about him as soon as another client came in and was surprised the next day when he showed up again.

He introduced himself and then asked a few questions about rare books, which I answered, but I was often interrupted by customers entering the bookstore. I didn’t notice when he left, even if I had a faint feeling he saluted before leaving and that I politely, but distractedly answered. The untold message was ‘leave me alone; I’m not interested in anything, be it friendship or anything else.’ Over the years, that message became part of me and was embedded in any move I did. Probably, in a different place and situation, I would be called a ‘stuck-up bitch,’ but in the store, people were looking for books and someone knowing about them, not dating or socializing. Thus nobody cared.

It took a few days before he showed again to ask about other rare books and at a certain point, he asked to see one of the rarest books we had. I called Mary, the owner, and asked her to show him that book. I could see he had hoped to have me show it, but he played along and followed the woman. Ten minutes later they were back, he asked me a few more questions and left when a new customer asked me something.

A week later, he came in again, and this time he asked me out. I watched him, and told him I wasn’t interested in dating, or going out, or partying, or anything he had in mind, and to please do not bring up the issue again.

He answered that it wasn’t a date that he wanted to talk again with me about books, but during the working hours, it was almost impossible. He enjoyed my knowledge about books, that – he said – was uncommon and wanted to speak only about books. I could choose the place, the means to get there and the time, he would simply do what asked and I wouldn’t regret it. I wasn’t convinced, but his initial honesty was marked in my mind. I was suspicious on the brink of being paranoid after all the people I ever trusted in my life betrayed me and in the end, some even almost conspired to destroy my life. So I told him I’d think about it and would let him known the next morning.

Then I asked for a counsel with the old woman. Her answer was, “Julie, the day I hired you, it was clear you had been in hell. I never asked you what happened, and I have no intention of doing it now, nor even want to know it. I will tell you this only. You have to choose if you want that hell to become something in the past and go on with your life, or if you want to live it forever. The first way, you could risk to be hurt again or to find happiness. That’s life. But it is yours to choose if to risk, or if to live the lonely life you are living.”

Well, I felt it was an answer like ‘do what you want; it’s not my business.’ During the evening alone in my room, I couldn’t read. Her words kept coming into my mind. Then I realized that her real answer was, ‘you either must find the courage yourself to better your life, or keep living this meaningless kind of life you are living.’ Well, not that a single ‘non-date’ was going to change my life, but it was right. I had basked in my self-pity for more than three years; it was enough. I would accept his offer! Just with my conditions.
 

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