by Norsebard

Contact: norsebarddk@gmail.com



This easy-going, romantic ensemble story belongs in the Uber category. All characters are created by me though a few of them may remind you of someone.

This story depicts romantic relationships between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.

There is some profanity in this story. Readers who are easily offended by bad language may wish to read something other than this story.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.



Written: May 10th - 31st, 2015.

- Thank you for your assistance, Ixnay :)

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D

Description: Living, loving, laughing, and perhaps a little bit of crying - that's life in a nutshell at Felicity's Bookworm Sanctuary, the friendliest second-hand LGBTQ bookstore you could ever hope to find. Through tireless work, it has become the number one hangout for women of all ages who spend their time mingling, chatting and reading books from days gone by. There's always room for one more on the Kozy Korner sofa, so come on in and have a look around!



A series of hurried, hard footsteps on the linoleum floor in the hallway acted as the first indication of Felicity LaMarre's imminent arrival. The multi-colored door to the second-hand bookstore was soon flung open, and the forty-six year old administrator of one of the most important hangouts in the community center's Rainbow Family project stepped inside.

The tall - though somewhat rotund - dark-skinned half-Latina, half-African American still wore her dripping wet, pale-blue denim jacket over her head like she hadn't had time to notice she was already out of the downpour. Her smartphone was glued to her ear as she strode across the smooth floor headed for her office to the left of the entrance. The long stride made her quaint bell-bottom jeans flap around, reminding the world of her standard reply to anyone who dared to comment on the retro garb: "I look fabulous. Deal with it."

At present, she listened rather than spoke, but it didn't stop her from not paying attention to where she walked. Two steps later, she nearly bumped into one of her long-time regulars, Lisa-May Farrington, who had been in early to help open the store since Felicity had been late, and it was only the latter's agility that prevented a head-on collision.

Felicity offered the other woman a smile as an apology before she continued along the hallway past the stack of new Out & Around magazines and the row of posters offering help and tips on how to reach the spousal abuse prevention line, the rape victims support hotline, the AIDS research foundation, the animal shelter and the new all-purpose hotline set up by the city council that was called I Refuse To Look Away.

Arriving at the door to the office, she dug into her jeans pocket to find the bundle of keys that would enable her to get inside. She preferred an open door policy, but understood - with some gnashing of teeth - that the insurance company didn't.

Once inside, Felicity kept the door open as she strode over to the gray metal desk that greeted her with piles of paperwork, a calendar that was literally out of date, and a filthy mug that she had forgotten to clean the day before.

She rolled her eyes as she took in the unpleasant sight of old coffee stains at the bottom of the mug. The person at the other end of the line kept on talking, so she had plenty of time to shed her denim jacket and throw it onto a hallstand that already sported several other jackets and vests.

The office wasn't all that large, only fifteen by fifteen feet, but it was just the right size for running a second-hand bookstore that had branched out to also buy and sell other used home-entertainment products like graphic novels, vinyl records, CDs and DVDs.

Apart from the hallstand, the desk and a no-frills swivel-chair, the office was equipped with an even more uncomfortable spare chair, a small wash basin and an intricate system of shelves that laid claim to two of the four walls. Felicity had a sneaking suspicion the color-coded binders were up to no good during the nights since they seemed to multiply on a near-daily basis, but she had created a clever indexing system that enabled her to stay on top of the paperwork.

One of the two walls that didn't sport shelves offered a look out onto the gray parking lot instead, but the reams of rain that splashed down the window made her close the blinds.

Walking around the desk, she fluffed out her burgundy shirt that clung to her ample curves; it needed a little more to look fully fabulous, so she loosened the top two buttons to offer a further glimpse of her necklace and her dark-caramel-colored skin.

The swivel-chair was pulled out in a hurry so she could sit down without missing a beat in the one-sided conversation. As she continued to listen to the man at the other end of the line, she ran a hand through her shoulder-length, dark-brown hair and began to toy with the two women's symbols that were attached to her leather necklace.

"No, I understand that perfectly, Mr. Bloom," she finally said in a voice that dripped with honey. It was a voice she had perfected for the situations where she had to deal with people - men, typically - that she was trying to sweet-talk into coughing up a donation for the bookstore.

Her own voice, a dark, silky-smooth timbre that reached a lower register than many other women, worked wonders with those who knew her well, but seemed to confuse those who didn't. She had often been asked why a woman of her coloring and Hispanic-African American background didn't speak in a stereotypical Latin accent, and her reply was always a scathing "Maybe 'cos I was born in Cincinnati?"

Pushing all that aside, she leaned back in her swivel-chair and looked up at the ceiling while she listened to the man's voice on the telephone. "Yes, Mr. Bloom, we would appreciate any donation you can offer. Our bookshelves are getting old and rickety… it often happens that one collapses in a- I'm sorry?  Yes, we do have a large volume of second-hand books here, but we also have- Oh, yes, the bookstore is quite popular so we have a pretty quick turnaround when it comes to- Oh, that would be so wonderful, Mr. Bloom."

The extent of Felicity's gushing caused another of the bookstore's regulars to stick her head into the office. Kristen Laneau - the twenty-two-year-old resident poet, singer-songwriter, sketch artist and much more - mocked Felicity by moving her hand like a sock puppet while making funny faces and jiggling her hips like a go-go girl of yore.

The antics clashed with her tattooed arms, her facial piercings, her jet black, slick possum hairstyle and her regular outfit which consisted of low-riding, khaki cargo pants and a black, sleeveless T-shirt that said WHY? on the front and WHY NOT? on the back, but the broad grin that spread over her face proved it was all made in jest.

Felicity narrowed her eyes while she listened to Chuck Bloom droning on at the other end of the line, but she found enough time to throw a ball of scrap paper at Kristen that made the young woman vamoose in a hurry, giggling out loud all the way down the hallway.

"Yes, Mr. Bloom," Felicity continued, shifting the telephone to her other ear, "we know how much the digital revolution has impacted the bricks-and-mortar bookstores… well, killed them, to be honest… but our situation is different. The bricks themselves are owned by the community center which in turn is funded by the city council. The first batch of books were donated by users of the community center, and we've regularly bought new stock at trade fairs, swap meets, neighborhood jamborees, et cetera, over the years. The staff?  Well, the staffers are all volunteers and therefore unpaid. Yep."

Felicity leaned forward and looked into the filthy mug from the day before. Grimacing at the ugly, pale-brown stain at the bottom, she pushed the mug away and rose from the chair to get another mug from the small table underneath the window.

Mr. Bloom kept talking in Felicity's ear, and she kept nodding at what he had to say. "That's true, Sir. However, the official funding has grown less over the past few years and that's why we're looking for private donations. That's an unfortunate fact, yes."

Standing at the percolator, Felicity pinned down her phone between her ear and her shoulder while she measured a spoonful of grated coffee beans and poured it into the coffee maker. With that part done, she took the pot and shuffled over to the wash basin where she filled it with cold water. "Yes, Mr. Bloom," she continued while she operated the tap, "but the main difference is that we also have a social function in our little community. We host various events like poetry jams, arts and craft get-togethers and debates on current environmental and political topics, and we organize guided tours to get some of our lonely citizens out and about. Mingle with like-minded people, you know… yes, that's right, Mr. Bloom."

With the pot full, she turned off the tap and shuffled back to the percolator. After filling the water tank, she put the lid on the pot before she shoved it into the machine and turned it on. "Well, that's true. We obviously welcome all, and we have books et cetera for all tastes, but we're primarily a Gay and Lesbian bookstore. Or to be precise, Lesbian and Gay," Felicity said with a grin.

The news that filtered through the telephone was encouraging, so she grinned broadly on her way back to the swivel-chair. "Yes, I had a hunch that sponsoring such a bookstore would give ZenTech World Business Solutions some cred on your published financial reports. You'll send someone over to check out the sights?  Oh, the site. Right. No, I follow you, Mr. Bloom. I'll be looking forward to meeting your representative."

Felicity glanced at the piles of paperwork on the desk. The smile faded from her face, and she leaned forward on the swivel-chair to begin sorting the mess. "All right. Good bye, Mr. Bloom. We'll talk later, I'm sure. Yes. Bye-bye."

Finally giving her ear a rest, she put down the phone on the desk and rubbed her weary face. "Step one complete," she mumbled, looking at the piles that would give her plenty to do until the moment where the representative for the company she had just spoken to would step into the bookstore. "Forty steps to go to make the place presentable… damn, I need some coffee first."


Five minutes later, Felicity sat down on the swivel-chair with a mug of coffee and tried to come up with a plan that would work. Crossing her legs at the knee, she picked at a loose thread on the embroidery at the foot of her bell-bottom jeans. It, and a matching one on the right rear pocket, depicted a rose with swirling leaves, and although it was cheesy and quaint, she loved the design.

It always reminded her of her maternal Nan's astonishing skills when it came to cross-stitch needlework, a skill that - much to her disappointment - she hadn't inherited. The old lady could create magic with her steady hands that would blow the minds of anyone looking at it. Appropriately enough, the old lady had drawn her final breath while working on another colorful embroidery.

"Anyway," Felicity said and took a long swig of the coffee. Leaving Memory Lane behind, she got up and put the empty mug down on the desk next to the one from the day before. Continuing to put off the inevitable wouldn't make it any easier, so she grabbed an armful of the color-coded binders and began to file the endless reams of paperwork to give the office a less scrappy appearance.

"Author index in alphabetical order here, detailed data sheets on their works in chronological order here, cross-reference sheets here…" she mumbled while she went through the piles of multi-colored papers that matched the colors of the binders, "title index in alphabetical order there, detailed data sheets on the corresponding authors there, cross-reference sheets there… man, I should have done this yesterday!  Or the day before yesterday… or last week. Damn."

Felicity looked up from filing the paperwork and let out a long sigh. Crinkling her nose, she tried to think positive thoughts but nothing would come to her. She returned to the tedious work with a shrug and another sigh.


It took Felicity twenty-five minutes to get through most of the paperwork, and by then, she was ready to go home. Since she had only been at work for less than an hour, she obviously couldn't; instead, she got up from the chair and stretched her back this way and that to get all the kinks out. "Ohhhhh," she groaned, putting her hands behind her head to get the full effect, "my body was made for easy lovin', not rock-hard swivel-chairs."

Thoroughly stretched and feeling satisfied with finishing off the piles of paperwork, she shuffled out of the office and into the bookstore itself. She'd held several successful jobs on a managerial level over the years, but the accomplishment that gave her the most pride and satisfaction was nurturing the second-hand bookstore into an entity that seemed to have an organic life all of its own.

There were twelve aisles in total, all lined by shelf systems five storeys tall. Every shelf on every aisle was crammed full to - or beyond - its breaking point with books in every conceivable category that appealed to all ages from seven to ninety-seven. The adult-themed and explicit erotic novels were placed on the top shelf in an aisle of their own so innocent souls wouldn't by accident get an eyeful of something they weren't ready for yet.

Beyond the books, there were several crates with CDs, DVDs, old-fashioned vinyl records and even sheet music. All items were for sale for reasonable prices that started at fifty cents for threadbare pulp novels and ended at three hundred dollars for a rare, pristine first edition of Rachel V. Baxley's debut novel Amazons Attack At Dawn.

The walls were white - apart from the colorful posters - and the floor was covered in cream linoleum from wall to wall; not only was it far easier to mop up spilled coffee from the smooth linoleum, the risk of anyone contracting dust allergies and thus suing the city council was far less.

The section of the room to the right of the main entrance was devoted to the special events held at the bookstore, like the poetry jams and the debate meetings, and three portable fiber glass walls that could be wheeled into place in case the members of the meeting needed privacy were ready to be used.

An unmistakable scent of old books permeated the air. Some just called it dust, but to Felicity, that special scent of paper, ink and glue touched her very soul. The best memories of her childhood came from the days she had spent with her paternal grandparents. They had a amassed a large library of books that perhaps weren't expensive or exclusive, but they were boundlessly exciting to a six-year old who was just learning to read - the best part was that she was allowed to read as many books as she wanted to. The scent had stayed with her, and the moment she entered the community center's bookstore for the first time on a pure whim, her future was sealed. She had never left.

To give everything a warm, cozy feel, Felicity had decorated the top of the shelf systems lining the aisles with old things from her home, like ceramic mugs, flags, little teddy bears and globes in garish colors. The bright purple Kozy Korner sofa with the large, fluffy cushions - which was indeed in the far corner of the room - added to the homeyness and had evolved into the favorite spot for the bookstore regulars.

Felicity shuffled along the first aisle which contained paperback romance novels of the girl-girl kind, stopping here and there to even the lines by pulling some books out and pushing others in. A piece of neatly folded white paper lying on top of the second shelf from the top caught her eye, and she unfolded it to see what it said. "To the pretty blonde," Felicity mumbled, reading from the note, "who looked at this book last Wednesday. Remember the brunette who helped you pick up your bag that had tipped over?  I would dearly like to talk to you again. Call 555-5225 if you're interested."

Looking at the note that was written in the hand of a teen - and decorated with plenty of little hearts - Felicity laughed out loud and made sure it was placed back on top of the book the 'pretty blonde' had looked at. "Wow… go for it, girls," she mumbled as she carried on along the aisle.

The Kozy Korner at the end of the aisle was occupied by two people though only one of them used it in the way the designers had intended. Kristen Laneau sat on the floor, sprawled out wide on one of the soft cushions while she bobbed along to a beat provided by a pair of white earphones. The heavily gelled possum hairstyle that rested atop her otherwise shaved head looked like it was painted onto her skull - not a hair moved even though she bobbed her head around with great vigor.

The filtered strip lights in the ceiling created a mini-lightshow by being reflected in the many shiny piercings Kristen had in her ears and her eyebrows. Devotees of body art nearly always had studs in their lips, nose and tongue as well, but she had found they hindered her singing so she kept to the basics. She was busy reading from a sheet of music and didn't notice Felicity shuffling up to the sofa.

The other woman did, however. Lisa-May Farrington looked up from the book she was reading to offer Felicity a sad, wan smile. The thirty-four-year old woman was dressed in gray from top to toe as she invariably was. Sensible shoes and long socks that reached halfway up her calves; a pleated skirt and a neatly designed cardigan over an O-neck blouse, all held in shades of gray. The only things on her being that weren't gray - her lips and eyes included - were her dusty-blond hair and the gold pendant of a pierced heart she wore on a chain necklace. "Hello, Felicity," she said in a listless voice as she put the book across her lap. Unlike her young companion on the floor whose legs went every which way, she sat with her legs prim and proper together as the most natural thing in the world.

"Hiya, Lisa-May. Listen, I'm sorry I nearly bowled you over before. I was in a hurry," Felicity said and stuffed her hands down her jeans pockets.

The gray woman nodded somberly. "Oh, that's all right. I know you would have helped me up and wiped away my tears if I had taken a bad tumble."

"Ah… yeah. Anyway, I spoke to someone who was interested in donating a sum to keeping the bookstore going. He's coming by sometime today…" Felicity said and took the opportunity to push in a book that wasn't in line, "so I'd appreciate it if you and Miss Rock Chick there refrain from making any scenes while he's here," she continued with her tongue stuck firmly in her cheek.

Lisa-May didn't appear to understand the humor and responded by nodding somberly. "We shall, Felicity. Don't you worry. I'll tell Kristen as soon as she-"

The Rock Chick in question noticed they had a visitor and pulled out the earphone on the right-hand side to return to the present. The air was at once filled with thunderous indie rock that made the two older women wince from the abuse of tones. "Girl… did ya finish kissing ass?  That was bad… real bad," she said with a wink.

Felicity matched the wink with a grin. "Yeah, I'm done. Listen, we have a potential investor coming over soon, so behave, yeah?  Kristen, I'm talking about you."

"Awwww, when did I ever embarrass you, girl?" the tattooed woman said and pretended to be deeply hurt by the accusation.

"Well, let's see," Felicity said and began to count off on her fingers. She put up seven or so before she gave up. "On a weekly basis, kinda. And this week has been trouble-free so far so I'm guessing you're building up to a real thumper, right?"

Giggling out loud in a warm, pleasant fashion that belied her hard exterior, Kristen shook her head as she put the earphone back where it belonged. "That's for me to know and you to find out," she said before she moved her attention back to the sheet music.

Felicity chuckled and shuffled back to Lisa-May's side of the sofa. "Good. Now we adults can have a serious conversation," she said with a grin. "Hey, I've come up with a little project that I think would be fun. We've had a few broken hearts in here recently, so… so I thought it would be appropriate if we created a shrine for the Goddess Aphrodite."

"Aphrodite?  The Goddess of Love?" Lisa-May parroted listlessly.

"Yeah!" Felicity said and sat down next to the gray woman. Nudging Lisa-May with her hip to make the petite woman make way for the wider one, she offered her a smile when the request was followed. "So, here's how I see it. I intend to find a pic of Dite somewhere online and print it out… then I'll put the pic on a large piece of pink or purple cardboard. Once all that's in place, I want us  to make a small offering to the goddess. Just a trinket, but something personal. Do you see what I'm getting at?"

Lisa-May shrugged.

"Good. I'm thinking about adding a keyring. I have a one in the office with a real colorful rainbow logo on the side that would be just right. What'll you bring?"

The gray woman shrugged again. "I don't really have anything I can spare."

"Oh, there must be something… anything…?  C'mon, it's just a bit of fun," Felicity said and leaned in to give Lisa-May a brief bump with her shoulder.

"Well…" Lisa-May moved her arm clear of the wider woman next to her and searched the right-hand side pocket of her cardigan. She produced a purple handkerchief adorned with little, white hearts. "Will this do?  It's clean, of course."

"Oh, that's just great, Lisa-May!" Felicity said, secretly shocked the gray woman's handkerchief was in color and not gray like the rest of her.

Down on the floor, Kristen pulled the earphones out to mark the end of her loud indie session. She put the sheet music away and turned around to lean her shaved head against the sofa's cushions. "I heard what you were talking about. I'll make a sketch of my dream babe. Dite's gotta respect that, right?"

"I'm sure she will, Kristen. Uh… please don't make it too explicit 'cos it's probably gonna come up on the public message board," Felicity said with a broad grin. "Awright, it's off to a great start. Now let's see if I can get anyone else in on the project."


Half an hour or so later, Felicity shuffled out of her office and came to a halt in the middle of the floor. Cocking her head, she waited for a repeat of the odd sound she had heard, but nothing happened. The bookstore only had a few guests at the time, and they were all quiet while studying books they could have an interest in buying.

Lisa-May's lunch break was over so she had gone back to the modeling agency she worked for, Williamson, Crewe & Rosenthal, but Kristen was still there in all her colorful glory. The young woman was rummaging through the Adult & Erotic section so she would be occupied for a good while, too.

Felicity shrugged and turned around, but just when she put her heel down onto the smooth linoleum, the sound was indeed repeated - and it was someone knocking on the main entrance. "What the…?" Felicity mumbled and hurried over to the door to see if it had been locked by accident.

She grabbed hold of the handle and whooshed it open in case it was stuck, but the hinges and everything else worked like they always did. A cute blonde in her early to mid-forties with a ponytail and square-framed spectacles - that covered wide, embarrassed eyes - stood outside with a sheepish look on her face. The first thought through Felicity's mind was that it was the 'pretty blonde' referred to in the little love note she had found on the shelf.

The woman's bashful look and curious behavior were clues that she hadn't been at the bookstore before, though, so Felicity stepped aside to let her in. "Hi!  Welcome to the Bookworm Sanctuary. For future reference, we don't knock, we just barge in. If the door's locked it's because I haven't shown up yet."

"Uh… noted," the blonde said sheepishly as she stepped into the bookstore and looked around. She was dressed in dark shoes, pale-blue jeans and a graphite-gray windbreaker over a white shirt. Her ponytail that swished across her back as she moved had left a few blond hairs on the fabric of the windbreaker, but it didn't detract from her smart image. She was dry, meaning the downpour had ended.

As Felicity closed the door behind them, she couldn't help but notice the rather exquisite curvature of the blonde's rear. Chuckling, she thought back to the days in her early twenties where she considered any woman over twenty-five a museum piece. Somehow, the women around her seemed to grow finer as she grew older. "Hi, I'm Felicity LaMarre. I run the place. You're new here, aren't you?" she said and put out her hand.

"Yes, I am," the blonde said and turned around so she could shake Felicity's hand. "Sandra Gottfried, hello. Boy, you sure have a lot of books here… well, duh… it's a bookstore!" Her expressive green eyes that were set well in a cute, natural face made a quick tour of the premises, stopping at the posters, the aisles and all the other little bits and bobs around the store.

"Hah, yeah. Books, CDs, DVDs… we have a lot of great stuff," Felicity said and glanced at the stock. Looking back at the blonde's face, her eyes stopped at the right wrist which sported a thin bracelet decorated in the colors of the rainbow flag. It made her grin - at least she didn't have to worry about that particular aspect. "So… are you looking for anything specific?  We have pretty much every kind of rainbow-tinted book you could ever wish to read."

The beginnings of a blush colored Sandra's cheeks, and she shuffled back and forth on the smooth linoleum floor like it was all so new to her that she could hardly think straight. "Well, I do enjoy a cozy romance… perhaps spiced with a little mystery as well…?"

"You're in luck," Felicity said and gestured towards one of the aisles. "We have an entire section dedicated to romantic thrillers. C'mon, let me show you where it's at so you can begin browsing."

Sandra broke out in a wide smile that made her face light up. Unzipping the windbreaker down to half mast, she shuffled across the linoleum to get to the aisle Felicity had gestured at. She momentarily slowed down her steps when she caught a glimpse of Kristen in all her shaved, tattooed splendor, but she was soon back at Felicity's side.

"Action, biographies," Felicity said, pointing at the aisles as they walked past them, "crime dramas, personal dramas, sports dramas, medical romance novels, regular romance novels, historical romance novels… I guess we like romances, huh?  Anyway, Westerns, sci-fi, Fantasy. The adult stuff is over there, by the way. Ah, here we are. Thrillers and romantic thrillers. Also murder mysteries. Knock yourself out."

"Gosh, thank you very much," Sandra said and let her eyes roam over the shelves that were all filled to capacity. Seeing wasn't enough for her, and she moved a hand up to touch the colorful spines so she could feel the texture.

"I do that too all the time," Felicity said with a grin. "It makes us connect better with the books, doesn't it?"

Sandra lit up in a smile, and she adjusted her spectacles to show she agreed with Felicity's statement. "Yes, it really does. The books really come alive for me when I can feel the paper they're made of. The various eReaders are smart, of course, but I must admit I still adore actual books." Sandra turned back to the books, but since she was several inches shorter than Felicity, she had to lean her head back to check out the titles on the top shelves.

Felicity noticed at once and shuffled up to the end of the aisle where she always kept a kickstep ready for just such an eventuality. Wheeling it over, she delivered it at Sandra's feet. "Here you go, Miss. It'll be easier for you to look upstairs."

"Oh, thank you… and please, call me Sandra. May I call you Felicity?" the woman said, placing a touchy-feely hand on Felicity's elbow.

"You certainly may," Felicity replied with a broad grin stuck to her lips. Having a pretty woman touching her wasn't bad at all in and by itself, but the prospects of having Sandra Gottfried becoming a regular customer was even better. The bookstore had been through a weird, negative phase so any positive news was accepted with eagerness. "Yeah. We see ourselves as one, big, happy family here. Just like all families, we have the zany aunts, the responsible adults, the sourpuss teens and the adventurous kids. I'm one of the adventurous kids," she continued and briefly stuck out her tongue.

Sandra laughed out loud and gave Felicity's elbow a little squeeze. "Oh, how charming!  To be honest, I don't know yet which category I fit into."

"I guess we'll find out. Anyway, if you catch a book you think looks interesting, feel free to mosey on down to the purple sofa in the Kozy Korner and read it. That's how we do it here. Okay?"

"Okay. Sure… thanks, Felicity. And when I find something to buy, I just come over to the office and pay for it…?"

Felicity grinned and returned the earlier favor by reaching out and putting a gentle hand on Sandra's elbow. She hadn't flirted with a customer for years, and she did wonder if she was overdoing it, but the smile on the blonde's face proved it had been an appropriate response. "In short… yes. My office door is never closed… except when I take a nap."

"Noted," Sandra said with yet another grin splashed across her face.


The hands of time had just crept past one p.m. when the main entrance opened and a woman in her late fifties shuffled into the bookstore. Once Cathy Giardella was inside, going backwards to protect the white cardboard box and the stack of flyers she was carrying, she stepped away from the multi-colored door which slammed shut behind her with a bang.

She usually wore batik t-shirts, denim bib overalls and sandals - the casual clothing was a good match to her graying hair that she always kept down to her collar in a boyish haircut - but today was a special day so she had chosen a nicer outfit: classy shoes, almost-new dark designer jeans, a gray blouse and a black sports blazer.

Cathy had never been a Size Zero, and certainly wasn't one at fifty-nine, but she felt better in her skin than she had during the many years where she had been on a permanent starvation diet because she knew she would be scrutinized by all and sundry on a daily basis. Save for her indispensable chapstick, vanity care products had been banished from her life, but she still shaved her pits - after all, Jungle Jills just weren't sexy.

After she had been fired from the newspaper where she had worked as a journalist for close to twenty-five years, she sued them for age discrimination and won the case. The meager sum that was left after the lawyers had taken the lion's share was spent on building a new career as a biographer for the regular, hardworking folks whose voices were never heard in a society that grew ever faster and shallower.

Looking around the half-empty bookstore, Cathy shuffled over to the public message board which was located next to the colorful posters. It appeared to be a slow day at the Bookworm Sanctuary as the board was hardly used. She had no trouble finding a good spot for the orange flyer advertising her sister's brand new croissant bakery down the street, and she attached it with two bright red pins.

Since no one was there to greet her, she picked up the cardboard box and shuffled down to Felicity's office. Knocking on the doorjamb, she stuck her head inside. "Hi, Felicity… got a moment to taste something really delicious?" she said in a voice that still carried the aftereffects of the thousands of cigarettes she had smoked for the thousands of deadlines she'd had over the years.

Felicity sat at her desk with a look of raw boredom on her face. The mere sight of Cathy Giardella made her grin, but it was overpowered by a yawn that threatened to break her jaw. "Oh… excuse me," she said and smacked her lips. "Yeah sure… come in, Cathy. Siddown. What's that you're carrying?"

"Croissants. My sister's butter croissants, to be precise," Cathy said and pulled the spare swivel-chair over to the desk. Putting down the cardboard box, she opened the lid to reveal three pastries with a filling of soft, creamy chocolate.

"Oooooh!" Felicity said and was suddenly wide awake. "So today's the big day?  I was wondering when it might be… it was raining so damn hard when I drove by this morning I didn't notice a thing. Hey, let me get the plates," she said and got up. She was back at the desk in a hurry with a pair of almost-clean plates that she had forgotten to clean the day before.

Cathy maneuvered two of the croissants onto the plates before she pushed one of them over onto the other side of the desk. She arranged it so it was neat and ready for whenever Felicity returned.

"You want some coffee or something?  I don't have any sodas left," Felicity said before she sat down again.

"No, I'm fine, thanks," Cathy said with a grin. "Now, when you eat it, you gotta watch the creamy filling. It has a tendency to go everywhere if you're not holding it right. And with that fancy shirt you're wearing…"

"Haw haw… look who's talking," Felicity said and took the plate.

"Yeah, I suppose I've been dolled up today. Eh, it's a special occasion."

Grinning, Felicity took the first bite. She remembered to hold it right and got the full dose of the creamy filling onto her tongue instead of down her burgundy shirt. The dark, rich taste of proper chocolate exploded in her mouth and made her groan out loud. "Aw, this is just… aw, Gawd, this is good!  So damn good!" Felicity mumbled, savoring the croissant.

"Does that mean you're a satisfied customer?"

"Gawd, yes!"

"I'll pass it on," Cathy said and took a second bite of her own pastry.

A brief knocking on the door proved to be Sandra who came into the office holding a stack of books. When she noticed the older woman, she put down the books on a corner of the desk and extended her hand. "Hello, I'm Sandra Gottfried. I'm new here."

"Cathy Giardella. Hiya. I'm part of the furniture," Cathy said with a grin before she went back to more important matters, like eating the pastry.

"Uh… okay," Sandra said, furrowing her brow. She glanced at Felicity who was too busy with her own pastry to notice. Shrugging, she picked up the stack of books she had put on the corner. "Felicity, I've found a couple of titles I'd like to buy… when you have the time."

"Two minutes," Felicity said around a large bite.

Sandra nodded and began to shuffle around the office. She eyed the last croissant in the cardboard box but didn't dare ask about its availability. Instead, she shuffled over to the window and peeked out through the blinds. The sun had come out, but the puddles were still visible around the parking lot. "Oh, Felicity, a quick question before I forget it," she said and turned around, "do you know if it would be possible for you to source the fourth book in Loretta Jean Baker's period murder mystery series It's Murder, Darling?  You know, the one about the rich heiress Lady Leah Crammond, better known as the First Lady of Justice?"

Felicity munched on the last of the croissant while she rummaged through some of the paperwork that had sprouted out of nothing on her desk while she hadn't been paying attention. "I remember the First Lady of Justice series," she said while she licked her fingers clean. " 's funny, I actually thought we had all eight books. We don't?"

"No, you only have one, two and three, then five, six and seven. Book eight isn't as important because the quality slipped a little during the run… uh, in my opinion… but book four was really good."

Grinning over the unexpected enthusiasm of the cute blonde, Felicity wiped her mouth on a napkin and pulled out the bottom drawer on the left-hand side of the desk. The drawer contained the laptop where she kept the electronic copy of the databases, and she pulled the gizmo up and placed it on the desk. "Let's see…" she said as she opened the lid. Once the PC had come back from hibernating, she clicked through the program and sorted the thousands of records in alphabetical order of the author's surname. "Baker, Baker, Baker… Carlotta, Chester, Fred… okay, Loretta Jean Baker. It's Murder, Darling. Hmmm… it says we have book four, so I'm almost certain it's been mislaid somewhere."

"Oh… darn," Sandra said and put down the other books that were suddenly unimportant since a vital part of the sequence was missing. "I guess it's inevitable with hundreds of people looking at your books. Does it happen a lot?"

Felicity scratched her dark hair. Missing books was the absolute last thing she needed in a situation where she was going to sweet-talk a sponsor into donating money. Although the man she had spoken to was late, she had a hunch he would turn up at the worst possible moment. "Well, not really. Our customers know better than to mess around with my strict system," she said and shuffled around on the swivel-chair. "Did you check on the shelf behind the other books?  Perhaps it's been pushed in…?"

"I checked. It wasn't there."

The annoyed look that fell upon Felicity's face was Cathy Giardella's cue. She got up and dusted off her hands before she put it out for Felicity to shake. "I'd love to help relocate the book, but I just don't have the time right now. I'll swing by tomorrow as always… maybe later today if I get a gap in my schedule. Yeah?"

"Yeah," Felicity said absentmindedly before the words registered in her pre-occupied mind. "Cathy, wait… you can't leave before you've made an offering to the Goddess Aphrodite!"

"Before I… what?"

"Make an offering to the mighty Dite," Felicity said and got up from her swivel-chair. "To make her clear the air and send us a few, groovy love waves. Just a little thing… maybe a pen or something?"

"Well, I only have my keys and some coins, and Aphrodite ain't getting those!  How about I wrote her a little poem?"

"A poem?  Works for me, Cathy. Pen here, paper there," Felicity said and pointed at the desk.

Cathy grunted and took the offered items. She doodled a little flower in the corner of the page while she waited for a flash of inspiration. "Ah… roses are red, violets are blue… Dite, I hope you're queer 'cos I wanna do you. Love, Cathy."

A strangled "Oh-my-Gawd!" said as a single word burst out of a furiously blushing Sandra who promptly turned away from the two other women so they wouldn't see the shade of crimson that swept over her cheeks. With shoulders that shook from the nervous laughter that bubbled up inside her, she let out a chuckle that was perhaps just a tad too screechy for what had actually been taking place.

"Yeah," Cathy said and pushed away the paper. "If that doesn't get old Dite's heart going, I don't know what will. See ya later today or tomorrow, Felicity… Sandra, it was nice talking to you."

"Bye, Cathy," Sandra squeaked, looking anywhere but at the little love poem.

Felicity laughed out loud and followed her old friend out of the office to leave the young 'un alone to cool off. In the doorway, she turned around and pointed at the last croissant. "Sandra… if you feel like it, help yourself to the pastry. Just be careful when you eat it 'cos the chocolate is alive."

"Thank you… I think I'll have a bite." Breathing deeply, Sandra nodded to herself a couple of times before she shuffled over to the desk and reached for the cardboard box.


The screeching howl that burst out of the office a scant minute later was loud enough to penetrate the wall of noise that blasted directly into Kristen's brain. Sitting up straight at the Kozy Korner, the colorful young woman pulled out the earphones and stared wide-eyed at the space in front of the office where the cause of the commotion soon became evident.

Sandra Gottfried came out of the office wearing a chocolate-brown shirt rather than the white one she had worn when she entered. Her shirt wasn't the only item that had received a quick color-correction: her face had grown shock-white in the melee.

"Shit," Kristen said and put away the anthology of sizzling short stories that she had found in the adult section. The goings had just turned good, but she jumped to her feet and ran over to the unfortunate woman to help her.

She met Felicity and Cathy halfway there. The expressions carried by the two older women were a mix of mirth and worry - mirth over the bad spill, and worry over the risk of getting sued - and they seemed reluctant to get too close to Sandra Gottfried in case she threw a hissy fit.

None of that was ever on Kristen's mind, and she put her hands on the stained blonde's shoulders and steered her back to the wash basin inside the office. "Girl," she said as she opened the hot faucet, "that's gonna stick if ya don't soak it at once. Maybe it's too late already."

"I only bought this shirt yesterday," Sandra mumbled as she adjusted her spectacles. She cast a cautious, sideways glance at the tattoos, the many piercings and the odd hairstyle of the woman next to her who - by the smell of things - was unwilling to use deodorant. In other situations, she wouldn't be caught dead in the company of a member of that segment of society, but Kristen was the only one who came to her rescue so she couldn't be as bad as her exterior made her out to be.

"Yeah, and it's a really nice shirt," Kristen said and moved her pinkie out of the stream of hot water. With no towel in the vicinity, she wiped it off on her butt. "Okay, the water's ready… ya probably need to take the shirt off before ya douse it."

Sandra's eyes grew wide for a moment. She turned her head to look at the open door, but the chance of saving her new shirt proved stronger than the risk of being humiliated by taking it off in public. "Uh… okay," she said and began to unbutton it from the top down.

"Kristen," Felicity said from the door, "this is where you go back to whatever you were doing before. C'mon."

The colorful young woman chuckled and patted Sandra's shoulder. "Best of luck with it, girl."

"Thanks…" Sandra said, pausing at the third button which would reveal her bra once it was opened.

At the door, Felicity tapped her knuckles on the jamb to urge the young woman into getting a move on.

"Yeah, yeah, Felicity, I'm coming," Kristen said and shuffled across the office floor. Once she reached the curvaceous administrator, she stopped and offered her a grin. "By the way, I've found a really great anthology… awesome sexiness. I'll put it aside for you."

"Thanks. Now git."

"I'm gittin', I'm gittin'," Kristen said and left the office.

Once Felicity and Sandra were alone, the administrator closed the door and turned the lock so the cute blonde wouldn't be caught in the buff. "Listen, Sandra," she said and wrung her hands, "I'm really sorry about your shirt. I'll pay for it if you can't save it. Okay?"

Sandra shrugged and resumed working on the buttons. "Okay, but it was my own fault," she said as she pulled the shirt out of her jeans and off her shoulders, revealing the white bra that kept her two shapely globes in place. She moved the shirt under the hot faucet and soaked it thoroughly. "I bit down on the croissant, and splat… chocolate everywhere. You had warned me, though."

"Yeah, but it was a tricky pastry," Felicity said, observing the toned muscles on the blonde's back and shoulders rippling when she rubbed the fabric. She knew she was crossing the line between simple curiosity and plain creepiness, so she licked her lips and shuffled over to the remains of the croissant which had been distributed all over the desk.

Grimacing, she began the clean-up operation to take her mind off the fact that a half-dressed - and more than fully fit - woman was standing in her office.


After a long campaign of strenuous scrubbing, Sandra let out a sigh as she looked at the results. No matter how hard she scrubbed, a dark-brown stain was visible in the shirt's delicate fabric. "It's no use. Damn," she said and turned off the hot faucet. "Perhaps you should have offered me a bib before I took that last croissant."

Felicity chuckled briefly. "You know, that's not a bad idea. We don't have any bibs in our merchandising line yet, but I think I'll make a note of it. No, seriously… Sandra, I'm really sorry. Like I said, I'll pay for your shirt. Let's do that at once so there won't be any financial stuff between us," she said and reached for her rear pocket. Finding her wallet, she opened it and counted a few dollar bills. "How much did you pay for it?"

"Two hundred dollars."

Felicity's fingers froze around the twenty dollar bill she had already selected. "Oooookay. Two hundred bucks for a shirt," she said and realized she only had sixty dollars in total in her wallet. "Was that a three-fer offer, or are we talking just the one shirt?"

"Just the one shirt," Sandra said and crossed her arms over her chest so she wouldn't be so exposed.

"Right. Does it have gold buttons?  Listen, I think I'm going to have to write up an I-O-U 'cos I only-"

"Do you have anything here I could wear so this won't turn into a peep show?" Sandra said, turning to face Felicity though she still had her arms crossed over her chest.

"Well," Felicity said and licked her lips all over again, looking anywhere but at the bare, toned midriff and the perfectly sculpted shoulders in front of her. "I do, but not in your size. And it's old."

"Doesn't matter as long as it's dry."

"It's dry, but it might be a little dusty," Felicity said and opened the drawer above the one where she kept the laptop. A bundle of old clothes came into view, and she chose a flannel shirt in the traditional red and green pattern. "Okay, this should do nicely," she continued as she pulled it out of the drawer and fluffed it to get any potential critters out.

The shirt was in one piece save for a missing button across the tummy. She had meant to get it fixed for months, but somehow it always ended up at the foot of her to-do list. Now, it would come in handy as a life preserver. "Here you go," she said and got up from the swivel-chair. After handing the shirt to Sandra, she turned around and shuffled over to the door to give the unfortunate blonde some privacy.


Changing clothes didn't take too long, but it was a shaken Sandra Gottfried who left the office guided by Felicity's steady hand on her elbow. The two women shuffled across the smooth linoleum to get to the Kozy Korner so the unfortunate woman could catch her breath. Her graphite-gray windbreaker was still lying where she had left it when she had gone to the office in the first place, and she picked it up like she wanted to leave.

The looks of honest concern on Kristen and Felicity's faces made her reconsider, and she put the windbreaker back before she sat down with a bump on the soft sofa. Once she was comfortable, she patted the windbreaker's inner pocket to feel if the important documents were still there.

"Girl, I think I know where the missing book four is," Kristen said, crouching down in front of Sandra so she would be at eye-level with the other woman. "Cathy told me you couldn't find book four of the murder series, right?  Well, I think I know where it is 'cos I only saw it yesterday in a wrong aisle."

"Oh… oh, that would be nice," Sandra said, picking at the unfamiliar, though comfortable flannel shirt. "If you can find the fourth book, I think I'll buy the whole series…"

Felicity grinned and gave Kristen a nudge. "And that definitely works for me… get to it, girl."

Getting up, the colorful Kristen spun around on her heel and strode over to one of the other aisles where she started going through the shelves from top to bottom.

While the young woman was busy, Sandra reached for the anthology of erotica to sneak a peek. The cover image of a red rose in full bloom promised plenty, but she wasn't quite ready for the direct prose she found. Within half a page, she had read about flushed skin, rigid nubs and throaty moans, and her cheeks responded by catching fire. The book was quietly pushed away, but she kept it within reach for a later study when she wasn't watched by Felicity.

The administrator grinned at the cute reaction to the sizzling book, but her attention was soon snatched away by the whoop let out by Kristen. Smiling at Sandra, she strolled over to the aisle where the colorful young woman had found the missing book.

Kristen blew the worst dust off the book's cover and removed the rest by slapping it against her butt. "Told ya I saw it," she said as she buffed the paperback's cover. "Book four of the It's Murder, Darling series by Loretta Jean Baker. Don't I deserve a book token for being so helpful to a new-"

"We can talk about that later," Felicity said and took the book from Kristen's tattooed hands. She flipped it over to make sure it was really book four. The series had been published in the late 1990s, but the cover art and the typeface used were both designed to fit with the period and location in which it was set, namely London in the 1880s. "Great work, Kristen. Thanks. Wait, before you go… you wouldn't happen to have a hundred and forty bucks on you, would you?"

Kristen narrowed her eyes down into slits. "You shittin' me or something?  Where would I get a hundred and forty bucks from?"

"Yeah, forget I asked. I owe Sandra two hundred bucks for the ruined shirt."

"Whoa, girl…"

"I know. Who in their right mind would pay two hundred bucks for any clothing item, huh?"

Kristen chuckled and reached down to rub a couple of tattooed fingers against Felicity's decorated bell-bottom jeans. "How much you pay for those?  Ten bucks at a dumpster sale?"

"Forty bucks!  Now scram, ya little brat!" To take the sting out of the words, Felicity stuck out her tongue and gave Kristen's shoulder a fair nudge. They winked at each other before they went separate ways, and their laughter echoed through the aisle.


When Felicity returned to Sandra with the recently excavated book, she was still chuckling over the exchange. As she got closer, the cute blonde pushed away the anthology once more, but the red cheeks proved that she had been reading it.

"Look at this, Sandra… book four," Felicity said and put the book down on the Kozy Korner sofa. "Kristen found it for you. It had been mislaid in the aisle for Westerns. No idea how it got there, but here it is."

"Oh!" Sandra said and made sure the adult anthology was discreetly pushed as far away as she could reach. Taking book four of the It's Murder, Darling-series, she leafed through it and finished by reading the credits page at the front. "Yes, that's the right one. Thank you."

"Don't thank me, thank Kristen. I know she looks wild, but she's a sweet kid."

"I will. What do I owe for all seven books?  Let's forget the eighth for now. Loretta Jean was contractually obliged to release it, but she didn't have her heart in it so it's nowhere near as entertaining as the others." When Sandra realized her comments had strayed into the realm of all-out nerdiness, she cleared her throat and adjusted her square-frame spectacles.

"Boy, you know a lot about books, Sandra," Felicity said and tried to turn up the old charm. She managed to coax a smile out of the blonde, but the mess with the croissant still weighed too heavily on her mind so it was soon gone. "Well, hmmm… I feel bad for ruining your shirt so let's make it an even fifteen dollars."

"Oh, they must be worth more than that…"

"Seventeen bucks and fifty cents to be precise," Felicity said with a chuckle, "but the two bucks fifty is a special discount."

Sandra shook her head as she reached for her wallet. "No way, Felicity. Here's twenty dollars. Keep the change."

"Well… okay. Much obliged," Felicity said and stuffed the twenty into her breast pocket before the cute blonde changed her mind.

"Would you mind if I went into your office and took the other books?  They're on the corner of your desk."

"Of course not, Sandra. Just stay away from the chocolate… you're wearing my last clean shirt!"

"Oh, don't worry about that. I learned that lesson the first time," Sandra said and broke out in a nervous laugh. Working autonomously from the rest of her body, her fingers crept towards the anthology with the sizzling short stories. "I've… I've… uh… I've been keeping Kristen's book warm for her while she's away," she said and let out a squeaking chuckle as she tapped her fingers on the anthology's cover.

"Oh, she's probably forgotten all about that now. You know the kids today… never doing the same thing for more than five minutes at a time," Felicity said with a grin. "Which means you have plenty of time to read the next story if you want. Eh?"

Sandra ducked her head down while yet another red surge tainted her cheeks. "I might do that. It was just getting good."

Male voices from the main entrance made Felicity look over her shoulder. Two men in their mid-twenties had entered the bookstore, each with a hand buried in the other one's rear pocket. She grinned at the obvious sign of affection. "I better steer the guys over to the appropriate aisle. Talk to you later, okay?"

"Sure," Sandra said without looking up - she was already leafing through the anthology to get back to the page where she had been forced to stop.


Felicity had just finished updating the database with the sale of the seven Loretta Jean Baker books when the old-fashioned landline telephone on her desk started ringing. Closing the laptop's lid, she drained her coffee before she took off the receiver and pressed the button to make the incoming call go hands-free. "You've reached the Bookworm Sanctuary… this is Felicity LaMarre. How may I help you?  Oh, and you're on vox," she said before she leaned back in her swivel-chair.

'Uh… okay. Don't know what that means. Is it a collect call?' a male voice said at the other end of the line. The sound was a little hollow like the man was standing in a large hall of some kind.

"What?  No, it means hands-free," Felicity said with a sigh. "Never mind. How may I help you, Sir?"

'Oh, yeah… this is Pete from PartyPeople Rentals. You have ordered fifty stackable chairs and a dais to be delivered this coming Wednesday, right?'

"Thursday!" Felicity said and leaned forward on the chair in a hurry. "Whatever you're calling about, it better not be bad news!"

'No, no, Miss, calm down. Thursday, right. It's not bad news… we're experiencing a teeny-tiny hiccup getting all fifty chairs, but now that we have the freedom of another day, we'll probably get there in the end.'

"Look, Pete," Felicity said and leaned real close to the telephone like it would make a difference to the man at the other end of the line, "we need those fifty chairs on Thursday afternoon. And the dais, too. Are you saying you can't deliver?  The person I spoke to when I placed the order said it wouldn't be a problem!"

'Oh, we got the dais and there isn't much of a problem with the chairs, Miss, we're just experiencing a teeny-'

"-tiny hiccup. You told me already, Pete. Let me tell you something, I hate hiccups. You hear me?  Why is it so difficult to get fifty stackable chairs?  Don't you have them in stock or something?  Last time I took the freeway, I happened to look down at a giganto PartyPeople Rentals warehouse just off the road. That's why I called you in the first place!"

'Uh… calm down, Miss. That's not our warehouse, we only rent the end wall for the advertising space.'

"Aw, that's just great… that's just so damn great, Pete," Felicity said and rubbed her brow. "We need the chairs for a really special event Thursday afternoon and evening, and that can't be moved. Would it help if we cut down the number of chairs?  How many have you managed to find so far?"

'Uh… twenty-two.'

Felicity's face grew even darker than its usual brown hue, and it was scrunched up into a perfect image of a bullfrog in a foul swamp. "Twenty-two out of fifty chairs?" she said in a low, dangerous voice.

'Yes, but we have every reason to believe we'll find the rest before Wedn- make that Thursday. I'm calling you as a favor, lady, but you seem a little hostile.'

"Oh, I'm not hostile, Pete. Waiting for a bus in the pouring rain only to see it drive past without stopping would make me hostile. Aiming for the last tube of ketchup at the supermarket and seeing it snatched before I could get there would make me hostile. This isn't hostile… just disappointed."

'Whatever you say, lady. You still seem hostile to me. Anyway, now you know about the hiccup. We'll contact you again if we're unable to get the chairs. Have a nice day.'

"Have a nice day!" Felicity mocked, but Pete had already closed the connection. Grumbling, she put the receiver on the telephone and leaned back on the swivel-chair. After a few seconds, she swiveled around to look at the shrine she had made to honor the Goddess Aphrodite. "Dite… you're not helping. You're supposed to be creating groovy vibes for us, that's why we offered you all those things."

The small picture on the pink piece of cardboard didn't reply.

"Ah, this is going to hell in a handbasket," Felicity said and leaned forward again to pick up the receiver. "I better hedge my bets and call another rental service."

Before Felicity could punch in the first digit, Sandra peeked around the corner with a puzzled look on her face. "Who are you talking to, Felicity?"

The cord for the telephone was tied around Felicity's little finger several times before she answered the question. She knew the silence was getting suspicious, so she put the receiver back on the telephone and leaned back in the chair. "Oh… uh… myself, I guess… ha ha."

"Is there a problem?" Sandra said as she stepped into the office.

"No problem… just a hiccup. Did you see the flyer for the big poetry jam next Thursday?"

"Oh, on the message board?  Well, I glanced at it but I must admit I didn't read it."

"Seems we might be standing up during Kristen's performance. The chair people ain't got no chairs," Felicity said and threw her hands in the air.

Sandra eyed the desk carefully in case any chocolate filling had stayed in hiding to stain her jeans as well. A brown stain on a shirt was bad enough; a brown stain on a pair of pants was bound to cause untold hysteria. Everything seemed clear, so she pulled out the spare swivel-chair and sat down. Just as she was about to inquire about the 'Kristen'-part of Felicity's statement, her eyes fell on the pink cardboard. "Oh… the shrine for Aphrodite. I didn't have time to look at it before I was assaulted by the croissant."

"Ah, it was just some silliness I cooked up that I thought would be fun…" Felicity said and waved dismissively at the cardboard.

"It is fun!  And we all have to… uh… sacrifice a token to the Goddess?"

"That was the plan, yeah," Felicity said with a muted chuckle.

"That's so charming!  I think I have… I'm sure I had… a little… I used to have an old…" Sandra mumbled while she rummaged through her pockets. She finally found what she was looking for - a tiny brass key. "Here we go. I don't know why I've kept it… the locket it was for is long gone. Oh, there's already a keyring… how appropriate," she continued as she put the brass key next to the other items.

Felicity stared at the brass key. She had provided the keyring, and now the cute blonde with the friendly eyes and the perfectly shaped butt had offered the key to go with it. The symbolism strayed dangerously into cheesy territory, but she couldn't stop a big grin from forming on her lips. "That's great, Sandra… I'm sure the Goddess will be pleased. Ugh, now I have to call around to other rental services… wish me luck."

"Best of luck, Felicity," Sandra said and got up. "Oh, I think I hear a book calling my name… I better answer it. Have you ever read the Knifed Through The Heart series by Erikka Colchester?  They're really good."

"Mmmm… don't think so."

"You know, I could spend a lot of money here… a lot of money," Sandra said before she left the office.

Felicity nodded in a highly exaggerated fashion before she picked up her smartphone and went online to find a better rental service than PartyPeople.


Calling around took a lot of time, and the hands on the clock were already approaching three in the afternoon before Felicity crossed the final name off the list of potential companies. The mission had been a success: even if PartyPeople Rentals let them down, she had found another rental service that could deliver an unlimited amount of chairs anywhere in town within an hour of getting the call.

She had the munchies for something sweet, but her secret stash of candy was as empty as her love life had become lately. A yawn crept up on her and she put her hands behind her head to stretch out. When the skin on her tummy itched, she stuck a hand in through a gap between two buttons in the burgundy shirt to scratch it in an overly lazy fashion.

"Nah, I'll fall asleep if I keep this up," she mumbled, pulling her hand back out. Yawning again, she rose from the swivel-chair. She glanced at the percolator, but she didn't feel like she could hold more coffee on top of the five mugs she had already had during the day. Instead, she shuffled out into the bookstore that saw more activity than usual.

She was surprised to find that Sandra had left without saying goodbye, and it made her furrow her brow in disappointment. The two twenty-something men from earlier in the day had returned and they had brought a couple of friends with them. All four guys wore black jeans and white T-shirts, and they were teasing each other down at the Kozy Korner. A pile of graphic novels had been spread out on the floor in front of the sofa.

"I guess a combo of black jeans and a white T is the thing to wear these days," Felicity said with a shrug as she observed the four men. They hadn't bought anything yet, but each of them had a small hill of books near his feet.

Walking around the bookstore to see if everything was in good order, Felicity chuckled out loud at the sight of Kristen Laneau flat on her back down on the floor. The colorful young woman used one of the cushions from the Kozy Korner as a pillow, and she had her legs straight up in the air, resting her ankles against the middle shelf of the romance aisle. The music she listened to through her earphones was so loud Felicity could hear the screamed lyrics plain as day.

"How can she lie in such a position?  Gawd, if I did that for two minutes, my back would kill me," Felicity said and shook her head. There was no need to disturb the grooving Kristen, so she shuffled over to the message board to check out the new Out & Around magazine and study the flyers on display.

The latter part didn't take long since only three had been pinned to the board. The look of the one advertising Cathy's sister's croissant bakery had an interesting design that caught the eye at once. Their own flyer promoting the upcoming poetry jam was less flashy, but it was perhaps more personal in its artistic effects.

Someone had left a clean napkin on the narrow shelf below the posters, and Felicity swept it up to throw it into the trash. Letting out a curious grunt, she reconsidered and began looking for a pen instead. "I wonder if I could draw a flyer that would stir up some new interest?" she mumbled as she shuffled around for a writing utensil.

Once she had found a felt-tip pen, she took the cap off and began to doodle on the napkin. A line here, a few words there; a box here, an arrow there. When it was finished, she took a step back to get the big picture. The jury of one didn't need long to determine that the feeble attempt at creating a flyer wasn't all that great. "Crapola. Pure and simple," Felicity mumbled and tore up the napkin so nobody would ever see it.

In the meantime, Kristen had moved her legs down into a more regular position: sitting cross-legged on the purple cushion from the Kozy Korner. She was checking something on her phone, but looked up when Felicity approached her. "Girl, you look exactly like my Dad does when he's gonna chew my ass royally… what did I do?"

"Actually, I was going to ask if you would do me a favor," Felicity said and put away the felt-tip pen.

"Yeah?  Okay. Hey, what happened to that fancy-boy investor who was gonna come over?  Did he shit on you?"

Felicity shrugged. "I think he did, yeah. I haven't heard anything since the call."

"All that ass-kissing for nothing. That blows. Anyway, I'm your woman," Kristen said and got up in case she needed to do something physical like carry boxes of books from the storage room in the cellar.

"Great!  Wait a minute, how come you turned your T-shirt around?" Felicity said and pointed at the text on Kristen's front which now said WHY NOT? rather than WHY?

" 'Cos I'm in a 'why not' kinda mood right now."

Felicity narrowed her eyes and took a good look at the colorful, young woman. "You didn't swap it around out here, did you?"

"Sure I did."

"You were topless in front of four guys?"

"None of those guys got any clue what to do with a pair of girl-breasts," Kristen said and glanced at the four twenty-something men who were still playfully teasing each other at the Kozy Korner.

"Okaaaay," Felicity said, drawing out the word to cover for the fact she didn't have a proper comeback to Kristen's statement. "Anyway, do you think you could draw us a flyer?  I mean one advertising the Bookworm Sanctuary?  We could get it photocopied and distributed in key places around town… 'cos, frankly, business could be going a little faster."

"I've noticed," Kristen said and looked around at the half-empty bookstore. Only the four men at the Kozy Korner brought any life to the proceedings. "But girl, really… photocopied?  I know you're kinda old, but nobody photocopies anything anymore. Social media," she continued, holding up her telephone.

Felicity hadn't made if far beyond the 'kinda old'-part, but she managed to screw a smile on her face and remember that she had been just like Kristen when she had been that age. "Okay… social media. I know social media. Facebook, right?"

"Facebook?" Kristen echoed, trying hard not to break out in a condescending smile at the older woman's limited knowledge. "Facebook is so yesterday, girl. WoCo is where it's at."

"I have no clue what that is," Felicity mumbled.

"World Connected, girl. What do you do in your time off?" Kristen said and gave Felicity a teasing slap on the arm.

"I watch TV."

"Oh. Okay. Never mind. Anyway, I can draw you a flyer, post it and share it with my online followers in… shit, fifteen minutes. Maybe ten if I hurry."

Felicity stared at the colorful young woman to see if she was pulling her leg, but it didn't appear that she was. "Uh… sounds good. I'd rather you spent fifteen minutes on it to make it just right. Can you do that?  And this time, you will get a book token."

"Consider it done, girl," Kristen said with a grin. She mashed the earphones back into her ears and turned up the volume to get into the zone. Before long, thunderous indie rock blasted into her brain from both sides at once.


Eighteen minutes and forty-two seconds later, Kristen held up her phone to show a disbelieving Felicity that the flyer she had made had already traveled halfway around the world on the wings of her WoCo profile. The news item had received comments from Alaska to South Africa, and from Finland to New Zealand - and more importantly, a host of locals now knew about Felicity's Bookworm Sanctuary.

"You were right before," Felicity mumbled while she looked at the telephone just as another comment dinged in on the WoCo profile. This time, it was from right next door; sent by someone working on another of the community center's Rainbow Family projects. "I'm getting old. Old and fuzzy-brained."

"Aw, you're still cool, Felicity," Kristen said and bumped shoulders with the old - older - woman.

Behind them, the door opened and Sandra Gottfried stepped inside holding a fabric carrier bag advertising an environmental organization. "Hi!" she said cheerily as she took off her graphite-gray windbreaker. She still wore the flannel shirt underneath, but she had tucked it into her jeans which transformed its appearance from an old rag to a fashionable clothing item.

"Hi again," Felicity said and left the colorful Kristen behind. It pleased her no end that Sandra hadn't left for good after all, but she tried to keep a neutral expression as she walked closer to the cute blonde. "Where'd ya go?  You were here, and then you weren't…"

"Oh, I just put the It's Murder, Darling books in my car," Sandra said and reached into the carrier bag. "Out in the parking lot, I noticed a convenience store across the street. I had the munchies for something sweet so…" - she pulled out her hand which held a bag of multi-colored Candy Balls, a chocolate bar, a CaraMellow bar, a stick of high-quality liquorice and a bag of Fine English wine gums - "… I got some."

"Oh, baby!" Felicity cried and took a big step closer to the blonde visitor and the enticing contents of her carrier bag. "I've been a really nice girl today… I think that rates a Candy Ball at least."

"You can have the whole bag," Sandra said with a grin as she gave Felicity the bag of multi-colored candy. "I'm more of a wine gum girl myself. Wine gum and all-sorts liquorice… and chocolate… though I had enough chocolate today to last a week," she continued, pretending to wipe down her shirt.

Felicity nodded as she tore open the bag of Balls. She popped a yellow one in her mouth at once and began to suckle on it. "Love candy balls," she said around the jawbreaker candy. Her mouth never stood still as she waved Kristen over to share the loot.

All three women were soon busy with the candy, but they nearly choked on their respective treats when a loud, rolling crash was heard from the aisle housing the science-fiction and Fantasy books. "Awww hell!" Felicity croaked around the candy ball, "that fu-mmmphing shelf!  That's the fourth time it's collapsed in the past ten days, dammit!"

"So the books are all over the floor now?" Sandra asked, taking the opportunity to throw another pair of wine gums in her mouth.

Felicity pushed what was left of the candy ball into her cheek so she could speak better - it created a huge bump that looked like she had the world's worst gumboil. "Yeah. But it's the bottom shelf, thank God."

Sandra nodded and closed the bag of wine gums. After swallowing some of the juices produced by the frantic chewing, she patted Felicity's arm. "I'll help. It's the least I can do."

"Oh!  Look at the time," Kristen said and pointed at her bare arm. "I'm sorry, girls, but I promised I'd be home for dinner today. So… catch ya tomorrow, yeah?" Before Felicity had time to even move the yellow candy ball away from her tongue so she could speak, the colorful woman spun around on her heel and exited the premises through the front door.

Felicity chuckled as she watched the door close behind the young woman. "I love her, but she's been here the whole day without buying a single book. Sometimes, I think we're running a warming shelter and not a bookstore."

"Perhaps she doesn't feel welcome anywhere else?  I mean, she does look kinda… mmmm… out there. I must admit I didn't feel comfortable around her at first," Sandra said and began to shuffle over towards the aisles. "Is she a college student or what?"

"No. Her parents couldn't afford it," Felicity said as she followed Sandra across the smooth linoleum floor. She was hard-pressed to convince her eyes not to look at the blonde's gently wiggling hips in front of her, but she managed to stay away from the worst danger - mostly.

"That's too bad."

"Yeah. Now she's just doing odd jobs here and there to stay afloat. Don't quote me on it, but I think she's kinda big on the Internet."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes. The Jam next week was booked full in a hurry. She writes pretty good street poetry for her generation, and I know she's got a whole bunch of online followers. That's all fine and fancy, but she'll never get a decent job looking like that… she knows it, too."


"But that's who she is… the piercings, the tattoos, the crazy hair and all that. Who are we to force her into a box labeled 'Normal,' huh?"

"No kidding, Felicity," Sandra said, looking over her shoulder. "Didn't we all spend most of our adolescence trying to break out of that damn box?"


Turning a corner between the aisles hosting the medical romances and the science-fiction and Fantasy titles, it wasn't difficult to find the shelf that had collapsed. Three dozen paperbacks with fanciful titles and futuristic covers had been spread all over the floor; two of the older, well-worn books had lost chunks of pages that were resting haphazardly on top of other books.

The shelf - or second-hand plank to be precise - that hadn't been able to support the weight of the tomes hadn't cracked as such, but it was drooping in the center to such an extent it nearly touched the floor. A small strut that had been used to hold up the weight had snapped in two which had led to the paper avalanche.

"Uh-huh," Sandra said and rubbed her nose that was tickling from the dust that hung in the air at the accident site. "I'm not a professional, but I definitely think the shelf has collapsed."

"No!  Really?" Felicity said and clapped her hands on her cheeks for comical effect. "You should join the FBI with those sublime skills of yours!  Gosh, I'm so glad you're here to explain these things to li'l ol' me…"

Chuckling out loud over the inane silliness, both women knelt down next to the unruly piles of books and began to sort them into orderly stacks. The books didn't take too long to sort, not even those that had lost pages, but the wooden board itself proved tricky. The support was only fit for the trash, so a new one had to be produced from somewhere before they could start arranging the books.

While Sandra sat down on her butt and began to leaf through a couple of the Fantasy titles to check out a genre she didn't usually read, Felicity went on a search and rescue mission to locate a suitable support strut. The search took her all the way to the drawers in her office before she found what she was looking for. Although it resembled someone's long-lost peg leg, the wooden strut was in fact created for the purpose of acting as a shelf support.

When the community center had had evening classes in carpentry a few years back, she had asked a woman she knew from the bookstore if she would mind making a dozen struts or so - she didn't, and she had.

A quick count proved they only had five struts left after the recent spate of collapses. "Damn," Felicity mumbled as she slammed the drawer shut. "Why didn't that damn investor-fella come over when he said he would?  This place will fall down on our heads one day if we don't keep up the maintenance."


Back out at the collapsed shelf, Felicity lifted the wooden board and jammed the strut in at the center. It wasn't pretty, but it would do until the day came where the peg leg would give up the ghost just like all its brethren. She let out an annoyed huff as she took the first stack of books and put them on the shelf with a little more force than necessary.

"Oh… was it something I did?" Sandra said while she handed Felicity the next pile of books.

"No. I've been stood up today, that's all. I spent nearly half an hour sucking up to an investor slash sponsor this morning. He said he'd send a fellow over who'd take a look at the bookstore," Felicity said and almost threw the next load of books onto the shelf.

"And the fellow didn't come?" Sandra said, looking over the rim of her square-framed spectacles.

Felicity shook her head as she took the last books. "He didn't come. I mean… would it have killed him to call and say he couldn't make it?  I guess it would 'cos he didn't call, dammit."

"Well, that's just rude."

"You said it, Sister!  Rude's the word," Felicity said and dusted off her hands after filling the shelf with the errant books. Sighing, she turned around and sat down on the smooth linoleum next to her blonde companion. "You know, I think the problem could be the unusual financial structure we need to follow. The Bookworm Sanctuary is part of an umbrella project run by the community center called the Rainbow Family."

"I remember reading about that in the papers, actually."

"Yes, it was a big deal when it was announced. We even had a TV crew down here who shot a segment for the noon show on Channel 59. Anyway, the bricks all around us are owned by the city council, but we don't receive any funding at all from the center or the council when it comes to what's actually in here."

"Oh… I didn't know that," Sandra said and looked around at the hundreds of books near her.

"The shelf systems, the books on them, everything in my office, even the damn purple sofa over there… all those things have been donated by individuals with big hearts. Well, that's beautiful, but we can't go back to them and say, 'hey, you wouldn't happen to have another section of the shelves, would ya, 'cos the old one's a piece of shit now…?' "

Grinning, Sandra reached over to slap Felicity's knee. "I suppose you couldn't."

"No. And that's why we need to come up with fresh funding. Before the things get so old and dilapidated they'll only swallow up more money than we can throw at them," Felicity said and wiggled around on the floor like she couldn't find a comfortable spot. "Oh, my big butt's getting numb from sitting on the hard floor… wouldya mind if I went back into my office?"

"Of course not, Felicity. In fact," Sandra said and jumped to her feet with the agility of a cat, "I think I'll join you once I've visited the bathroom. There's something I want to run by you."

"Yeah?" Felicity said, taking a little longer to get her rotund figure up from the floor than her younger, fitter companion. "If it involves more candy balls and less collapsed shelves, I'm all ears."


The main entrance swung aside once again to reveal the returning Cathy Giardella. She wasn't carrying a box of croissants this time, but the coffee-to-go-mug had been bought at her sister's bakery. She glanced around to greet anyone she knew, but the bookstore was in a lull just like the first time she had visited. The only activity came from the bathroom where someone flushed the toilet.

Unlike her first visit of the day where she had worn her fancy outfit, she had changed into regular clothes and was wearing a batik t-shirt in a Polynesian design, denim bib overalls and sandals.

Shrugging over the odd inactivity, she stepped inside and shuffled over to what was probably her number one favorite aisle, the one with the historical romance novels. After sipping her organic de-caff frappa, she started from the top at A and worked her way down towards Z, hoping that Felicity had managed to get a few more novels by J.P. Lovestone who had turned into one of her top-three authors.

She didn't find any new titles, but one she had read before from Lovestone's pen caught her eye. Smiling at the prospects of revisiting an old friend, she pulled the paperback out of the shelf to look at the cover and read the blurb. Mairie's Marauders was a bodice ripper that told a tale of a Celtic chieftainess who was ruthless in battle but who was powerless to stop her heart from falling in love with a fair-headed maiden her men had claimed as spoils of war during a bloody campaign. J.P. Lovestone would never win the Nobel Prize in literature, but her stories always touched Cathy's heart - and elsewhere, too, with their numerous steamy love scenes.

Grinning, she took Mairie's Marauders and her coffee-to-go-mug and shuffled over to the Kozy Korner. "Mairie, I'm all yours," she said out loud as she made herself comfortable and opened the book on page one.


At the other end of the bookstore, Sandra stepped out of the bathroom after washing her hands thoroughly. Like the rest of the Bookworm Sanctuary, the bathroom wasn't up to current sanitary standards, but at least it was better than aiming at a hole in the ground.

She spotted Cathy sitting at the Kozy Korner and decided to shuffle over there to say hello to the earthy woman with the graying hair, but before she could get going, Felicity stuck her head out of the office and tapped her knuckles on the doorjamb.

"Now where'd ya go?" Felicity said with a shrug.

"It took a little longer to work the faucets than I had expected," Sandra said with a grin. She looked up and briefly locked eyes with Cathy, but the older woman soon went back to her book. Grunting, Sandra turned around and shuffled into the office - she had plenty of important topics to discuss with the administrator.


The Bookworm Sanctuary finally saw a bit more life - though gray life - when Lisa-May Farrington came back in after a long day behind her desk in the accounts department at the Williamson, Crewe & Rosenthal modeling agency. The gray woman stood at the door trying to blend in with the wall for a little while before she committed to entering the bookstore. She closed the door softly behind her and shuffled over to one of the aisles to find a book to read.

"Hello, Cathy," she said as she sat down on Cathy's left on the sofa in the Kozy Korner. As always, she held her legs together in a prim and proper fashion.

"Hiya, Lisa-May," the older woman said without taking her eyes off the pages. Unlike her gray companion, she was sprawled on the sofa with one leg draped over the armrest. Turning a page, she had time to look up at her sofa-mate. "What are you reading?"

"Over-Over-Under Knitting Made Easy by Inga-Sidsel Eliasson. She's a Norwegian woman who invented a new knitting method in the early 1980s."

Cathy narrowed her eyes and took a good look at Lisa-May's face to see if the gray woman had learned the concept of sarcasm since the last time they had met. The title splashed all over the book's cover confirmed that it was indeed Over-Over-Under Knitting Made Easy. "Huh. Betcha that's a page-turner."

Lisa-May harrumphed and looked at the cover of the book her companion was holding. "Mairie's Marauders. Again?  Haven't you read that several times already?"

Cathy turned to the gray woman and shot her a blinding smile. "Yeah. The sex is so awesome. Look, in this scene, Mairie is trying to interrogate the maiden by torchlight, but the tables are turned and they end up… ba-da-bing, on the table!"

"Well, that's just a filthy boys' locker room fantasy. Having sex on a table is not only unrealistic, it's dangerous."

"Oh, I could tell you a few tales, my friend… but I won't," Cathy said with a saucy wink.

"Thank you. I've told you before, and I'll tell you again. You have a one-track mind, Cathy," Lisa-May said and shuffled around uncomfortably. Putting aside the knitting book and her purse, she opened the top button of her cardigan.

"You know, that's what my nineteen-year old girlfriend said!"

The juvenile joke made the corners of Lisa-May's lips point downward, and she turned around to shoot the older woman a suitably scandalized glare. "Cathy Giardella, tell me you don't have a nineteen-year old girlfriend!  Why, that's practically cradle-snatching."

Cathy chuckled and reached over to pat Lisa-May's hand in a very reassuring fashion. "Of course I don't. I'd need to bribe any nineteen-year old with a ton of jewelry just to make her look at me twice. Or at least to look at me without crinkling her nose in disgust."

Lisa-May didn't have a comeback to that apart from a half-shrug. "Love. Who needs it?" she mumbled after a little while.

"Shhh, Mairie's coming," Cathy said with a wide grin plastered onto her face. As expected, her lewd comment earned her a scandalized glare and a matching snort from the gray woman.


Holding her graphite-gray windbreaker over her arm, Sandra shuffled into the office and put the jacket over the backrest of the spare swivel-chair. She sat down and patted her thighs like she wanted to say something important.

Felicity looked up from the paperwork and locked eyes with the blonde whom she had initially considered 'cute' - now, she considered her 'cute with a really, really pleasant personality.' "What's on your mind, Sandra?" she said and leaned back in the chair.

"Well…" Sandra started, but soon fell quiet. Craning her neck, she studied the office with all its basic amenities that could also use a little touch-up here and there. One of the three strip lights in the ceiling had failed, and the cord to one of the other two had fallen out of its clamp and was dangling loose. "Oh, it's just that…"

"You're gonna sue us after all 'cos of what happened to your shirt?" Felicity tried when it became evident that the blonde had something important on her mind.

"No, no… well, I did get upset, but it wasn't your fault. No, I… I think I've fallen for the rustic charm of the Bookworm Sanctuary. I mean-" - Sandra gestured towards the open office door - "it's just so cozy and old-fashioned, and… simply a fun place to spend time if you love old books, which I do. If we could only get a few more customers, it would be perfect."

"Huh. Thank you for the vote of confidence, Sandra. I'm not sure where you're going with that, but… thank you nonetheless," Felicity said and saluted the blonde sitting opposite her.

"Oh, you're welcome, Felicity. What I'm getting at is… would you mind if I started as a volunteer gofer?" A faint blush crept up on Sandra's cheeks almost like she worried about being rejected. "I mean, to do all the practical stuff… and stuff?  Okay, I already have a full-time job, so I won't be able to be here all day like Kristen, but I could pop over every afternoon and help you with this and that until you closed. Then I could help you clean up… and stuff."

Felicity sat up straight and cocked her head. The words needed to be parsed a couple of times before they had been processed enough to enter her brain, but when they had, a smile spread over her face at the prospects of seeing the cute, congenial blonde on a daily basis. "A volunteer gofer?  Be my guest, Sandra. I'd love to spend some time with you here… uh, I mean, I'd love to get new input, and… you know, have you add a little life to what can be a dull day. Welcome aboard!" she said, reaching across the desk to shake the new woman's hand.

Hands duly shaken, Sandra sat down and grinned broadly at the dark-skinned woman across the desk.

Felicity grinned back and felt a little happiness bubble up inside her for a change. Still grinning, she rummaged through the drawers to find a spare name tag that she was sure she had somewhere. She needed to go through three of the four drawers before she found it back in the first one she had checked - it had been hiding underneath the bag of Candy Balls. "Ah, here we go," she said and pulled it up.

The plastic name tag was dull and dusty, but it was nothing a quick rub against her jeans wouldn't take care of. To call it a name tag was an exaggeration as it had begun life as a luggage tag, but that was beside the point. The slot where the name should go was empty, but Felicity tore off a corner of a piece of scrap paper and wrote S-A-N-D-R-A on it with the felt-tip pen so everyone would know the name of the new volunteer. Once the paper had been pushed into the slot, she handed the name tag to the cute blonde. "Here you go. Signed, sealed and delivered. The Bookworm Sanctuary is now your playground."

"Thank you very much!" Sandra said and accepted the tag. Beaming, she extended the pin and attached it to the flannel shirt. It was hanging a little crooked because the soft fabric couldn't support the weight of the plastic, but it was still readable. "I've always wanted to carry a name tag again. I haven't done so since I worked part-time at a supermarket as a teenager. I don't need one at the company," she said as she craned her neck and crossed her eyes to look at it while she wore it.

"Oh, why is that?  Because you sit in cubicles and don't interact with your colleagues or something?" Felicity said and put her hands behind her head.

"No. Because I own it."

"Uh… okay," Felicity said and furrowed her brow. The dots were slowly connected in her mind, but she needed a moment or two to really draw the pretty picture. The line connecting the dots picked up speed, especially as she took in the smug grin on the cute blonde's face. "Wait a minute… waaaaait a minute…" she said, creeping forward on the swivel-chair.

Chuckling, Sandra leaned forward as well and put out her hand again. "Sandra Gottfried, the owner of ZenTech World Business Solutions. Hi. I believe you spoke to my right-hand-man earlier in the day. He said someone would come over, and I did."

"Gawd almighty… and holy shit!" Felicity cried and put her hands on the edge of the desk so she wouldn't slip off the swivel-chair. "I was… we were gonna… we meant to… I wanted to make the Bookworm Sanctuary nice and shiny for your representative… but you were already here!  We ruined your shirt… and we exposed you to smut… and Kristen scared you… and you sat on the floor while we fixed the damn shelf!  Gawd, I'm so sorry, Sandra… the day's just been a disaster," Felicity said and buried her face in her hands.

"Disaster… what are you talking about, Felicity?  I've had the time of my life. I just joined up as a gofer, remember?  And besides," Sandra said and reached into the inner pocket of her windbreaker, "I think your day is about to get a whole lot better."  She produced an old-fashioned checkbook that she opened on the first page.

"How so?" Felicity said through her fingers.

"Well, doesn't twenty thousand dollars sound like an improvement?" Sandra said and wrote out the check. She finished by adding her signature with a flurry of her wrist.

Felicity shook her head but kept her hands in place as she did so. "I'm dreaming. I know I am."

"Oh, this is no dream, Felicity," Sandra said and tore off the check. She put it on the desk and pushed it over to Felicity's side. "This is a donation on the value of twenty grand. For fixing the shelves, getting new strip lights in here, new faucets in the bathroom and whatever else we can think of."

Felicity took the check and stared at it wide-eyed. After a few heartbeats, she looked up and locked eyes with the blonde who was apparently just as wealthy as she was cute. "But why?"

"Because I know a good thing when I see it, and I know that good things should be supported," Sandra said and crossed her legs at the knee. "Because of your regulars who are one hell of a great bunch of gals… and because of the rock-solid way you run the project."

"Gawd, thank you… but I've done nothing but laze about on my fat ass all day…"

Sandra chuckled as she got up and reached for her windbreaker. "Well, you love this place. It's evident in everything you say and do. Am I wrong?"


"Didn't think so," Sandra said as she ran her arm down the sleeve. "All right. I need to go now, but I'll see you tomorrow afternoon. Sweet dreams."

Felicity laughed out loud and held up the check. "Oh, I will. Hey… thank you. I-" Realizing she needed to show more gratitude, she got up and hurried around the desk. "We really appreciate it, Miss Gottfried. This is amazing."

"Oh, what happened to 'Sandra', Felicity?" the blonde said and reached around the administrator's rotund figure to pull her into a hug. "We're going to be working together now, aren't we?  It's Sandra."

"All right. See you tomorrow afternoon, Sandra," Felicity said as they separated. "Oh, and I promise we won't be buying any croissants for a good, long while… even if Cathy will get sore about it since it's her sister's bakery."

"I wouldn't want that. We can still buy croissants, but I'll stay away from the chocolate ones… 'cos that was too much of a good thing!"  Sandra moved over to the door but turned around and shot Felicity a blinding smile before she left.

Felicity smiled back, but she soon looked down at the check with the huge donation. Nodding, she gave it a little kiss before she put it into her breast pocket and turned back to her swivel-chair. It was time to break the fantastic news to the regulars, but before that, she was going to celebrate with a wild, extravagant candy ball - a red one.





Three days later.

The main entrance to the Bookworm Sanctuary opened softly, and the gray, somber presence of Lisa-May Farrington stepped inside. The only splashes of color on her being came from the pure white carrier bag from the croissant bakery down the street that she had over her shoulder, and the gold pendant of a pierced heart she had on a necklace. The rest of her was draped in gray from her shoes, past her slacks and up to her blouse and cardigan. Her short, dusty-blond hair was neat and wet-combed like she had just stepped out of the shower.

Laughter reached her from the office to her left. She recognized Felicity and Sandra's voices, but she didn't feel like saying hello. Instead, she shuffled to the right and picked up a copy of Out & Around from the stack of magazines that occupied a narrow shelf underneath the public message board. She put the colorful magazine into the carrier bag for later reading. Finishing off the little tour, she cast a brief glance at the message board itself, but nothing caught her eye save for the flyer announcing the Poetry Jam the following week.

Lisa-May wasn't too keen on activities involving a great number of people, so she moved on towards the first aisles. More laughter from the office made her turn around and shoot a wistful, longing look in the direction of the open door. She could just make out the back of the spare swivel-chair that appeared to carry Sandra Gottfried, the woman who had invested a handsome amount of money in Felicity's Bookworm Sanctuary.

Sighing, she turned around and walked over to the shelves that carried the medical romance novels. She moved her finger down the row of books on the top shelf, stopping here and there for the occasional interesting cover art. A book with an evocative title - All Hope Is Lost - was her first catch of the day. It was a mass-produced, pulp paperback valued at ninety-nine cents and written by a ghostwriter, but it was just what she needed.

She carried on along the rows of books until she came to a halt at a specific book, and allowed herself a brief smile. Patricia Quentin's Doctor Jennifer's Diary was right there at her fingertip - one of her all-time favorite melodramas about a pediatrician who discovers she's terminally ill. Lisa-May grimaced when she realized the old book was in a poor shape. It had been published in the mid-1980s, and the glue in the spine had become so old and dry that several pages had come loose. On top of that, there was a tear in the cover that hadn't been there the last time she had read it.

Putting down the carrier bag with the magazine, the coffee-to-go mug and a cardboard box containing a croissant, she used both hands to extricate Doctor Jennifer's Diary and carried it with great reverence over to the bright purple sofa in the Kozy Korner.


Half an hour later, a clattering of chairs from the office meant Lisa-May didn't have the Bookworm Sanctuary to herself anymore. She put her own bookmark into Doctor Jennifer's Diary and prepared to greet Felicity and Sandra. As always, she sat with her legs prim and proper together like she felt all ladies should, and she took the opportunity to straighten the creases on her slacks that had become messy.

As anyone who worked in an accounts department knew, messy was bad - in fact, messy was the first step to the apocalypse. Neatness was the be-all and end-all of the world, and Lisa-May Farrington was neatness incarnate. Therefore, she closed the top button of her cardigan so it wouldn't look to Felicity and Sandra that she was trying to be provocative by accentuating her bosom.

The two charming, cheerful women were just around the corner now, and Lisa-May sighed and put a listless smile on her face.

When Felicity turned the corner intending to sit down on the sofa, she came to a jerking halt with her dark-brown eyes wide open like she had been spooked by the gray woman's presence. "Oh!  What in the world, Lisa-May… when did you get here?  I didn't hear a thing!  Hell… you weren't here all night, were you?"

"No. I came in half an hour ago. There's a conference at work I don't need to take part in so I have the day off. Good morning, Felicity. Miss Gottfried," Lisa-May said softly.

Felicity smirked as she looked at Sandra, her new business associate, who smirked back. "Well, how are you this morning, Lisa-May?"

"I'm fine, thank you. I'm reading a few books and the new magazine. Oh, let me move away so you and Miss Gottfried can sit and talk here," Lisa-May said and began to collect her things.

Sandra stepped in at once and put her hands on top of Lisa-May's. "No, no, no… that won't be necessary. Just sit tight and enjoy your coffee and the rest of your pastry," she said with a smile. "Felicity and I can talk while we go around and sweep the floor. Right?"

"O-yeah," Felicity said with a grin.

The woman in gray smiled back at the two women, but it soon faded from her face as she studied Sandra and Felicity. The latter was dressed in an electric blue shirt and her regular decorated, bell-bottom jeans that Lisa-May felt were perhaps too tight for a woman with such a rotund figure. The former wore white Capris and a forest green, wide-strap tank top that matched her eyes. The tank had a slight gap at the waist that allowed a peek at her stomach as she moved.

Lisa-May was in two minds about that; although a part of her wished she could be as bold in her choice of clothing, another part considered it inappropriate for women over a certain age - thirty - to be flaunting their bodies. It was bad enough that Sandra's toned arms and shoulders were in plain view, but she drew the line at tummies and belly buttons. To end the discussion, she turned her attention back to Doctor Jennifer's Diary.

Sandra and Felicity looked at each other and performed identical shrugs. "Oh, Lisa-May," Sandra said and briefly sat down next to the gray woman, "when you eat the rest of your croissant, you need to take great care or else you'll get chocolate filling all over your cardigan. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about."

The two women locked eyes for a second or two before Lisa-May offered her companion a brief smile. "I asked for a croissant without any filling at all, so I'll be safe. However, I truly appreciate the warning, Miss Gottfried."

"Oh… no filling?  Just the dough?  Isn't that kinda… well, bland?"

Nodding, Lisa-May once more locked eyes with Sandra, and that conveyed a silent message that her favorite taste was no taste at all.

"Right," Sandra said and got up. "Uh… we'll leave you to it, then." She cast a glance at Felicity and shrugged once more - Felicity just grinned.

"What are you reading, Lisa-May?  It looks kinda ragged," Felicity said, bending over to look at the cover while the gray woman was reading in the book. "Doctor Someone's Diary?"

"Doctor Jennifer's Diary, in fact, by Patricia Quentin. It's a beautifully written melodrama," Lisa-May said and held up the tattered book. As she did so, another section of the old glue holding the spine in place released its grip on a few pages that nearly fluttered to the smooth linoleum floor. She caught them in time and swept them back inside the book. "Oh… but it's getting old. There's a tear in the cover and the glue is hardly doing what it's supposed to."

"Oh, that's too bad. I must admit I'm not familiar with that author," Sandra said and sat down again. It was clear by the honest look on her friendly face that she was eager to strike up a conversation with Lisa-May.

With her favorite book waiting to be read, taking part in a conversation wasn't at the top of the gray woman's wishlist. She humored the blonde with the square-framed spectacles by showing her the back cover that was graced by a picture of Patricia Quentin saddled with an unfortunate - and huge - 1980s hairstyle. "She only wrote a few novels. None of her other works came close to matching this one. It's fiction, but it's written in a verité style. It's actually unfinish-"

"Oh!  Is there a chapter missing?"

Lisa-May looked at the bubbly Sandra with a listless though pointy gaze that said she wasn't too appreciative of being cut off like that. When the blonde piped down and put her hands in her lap, Lisa-May smiled and continued: "No, but it's written like a diary. It's supposed to invoke an impression that she passed away before she could write the last entry. The premise is that a dear friend of the woman extrapolated from the diary to write the book after the doctor's death."

"Oh… I see. It sounds intriguing, but it's not exactly your average happily-ever-after ending, huh?" Sandra tried, craning her neck to read a few lines of the page.

"Some stories are better without one."

Sandra smiled again, but it was a puzzled, slightly confused smile. "Ah, perhaps so. Felicity, weren't we supposed to sweep the floor?"

"We were," Felicity said, grinning at the interaction between the two women who were perfect, even polar, opposites of each other - one cheery and bubbly, and the other gray and perpetually downcast. "Lisa-May, tell you what…"

The gray woman sighed and put down the book all over again. "Yes?"

"You can have it. Nobody would want to buy such a ragged book anyway," Felicity said and reached down to put a supportive hand on Lisa-May's shoulder. "It's a gift."

For once, a genuine smile spread over the gray woman's face. It didn't last long, but it had been there, and it had transformed her appearance into something prettier and warmer. "Oh… I'm grateful, Felicity. Thank you very much. It really means a lot to me."

Felicity chuckled and gave her old acquaintance's shoulder a little nudge. "I knew it would. I hope you'll love it to bits. C'mon, Sandra… we've got work to do."

Getting up, Sandra smiled at Lisa-May in the hope of seeing one in return, but the gray woman had long since gone back to her regular listless expression. Puzzled, the bubbly blonde moved away to grab the broom Felicity held out for her.

Lisa-May tracked Felicity and Sandra with her eyes when they finally left her alone. Peace was restored to the Kozy Korner, but it was accompanied by a sinking feeling inside her. She had once again been rude to someone without really wanting to. It just happened; it always just happened. The cheerful people just didn't understand that not all were like them - she could be social when the mood hit her. It just rarely did. But on the few occasions where she did have a need to speak to a fellow human being about deeper topics than books or tips on how to knit in the Norwegian over-over-under technique, nobody came to her because of the impenetrable brick wall she had put up around her.

Sighing, she returned to the pages of Doctor Jennifer's Diary. It had lost its magic for her and she put it away after inserting her bookmark. With the news she had been given the book as a gift, she didn't need to read it all at once, anyway, so she reached into the carrier bag and took the colorful Out & Around magazine that was produced by the community center as part of the Rainbow Family umbrella project.

While she leafed through it in the hope of finding just one article that had her type as the intended audience, she picked up a conversation between Sandra and Felicity from the next aisle where the two women swept the floor. They spoke in hushed tones, but Lisa-May had never had problems with her long range hearing.

She put her thumb on a random page and closed the glittery magazine around it so she could divert her full attention to the words that were spoken about her.

'I must admit, I just don't get Lisa-May… and I think the feeling is mutual,' Sandra whispered with every word accompanied by a whooshing sound from the broom. Now and then, the whooshes stopped and were replaced by plastic hitting linoleum - the dustpan at work. 'You should have seen the look she gave me when I asked if there was a chapter missing. I mean… that was a perfectly legitimate question, in my opinion. Did you see the state of that book?  How should I know the story actually ended like that?' she continued in a whisper that had grown a little weaker as she went further down the aisle.

'I know,' Felicity chimed in, 'but that's how Lisa-May works. We have to respect that.'

'Well, of course… of course we have to respect that, but that look she gave me made me feel like an moron. That wasn't nice of her.'

Activity at the door to the bookstore made Felicity and Sandra pipe down and concentrate on sweeping the floor. A couple of women in their mid-twenties entered the Bookworm Sanctuary and went over to the Science-Fiction & Fantasy aisle. Behind them, another woman entered and closed the door softly behind her. She clutched a purse and a pair of old books to her chest, and took a faltering step into the store like she wasn't sure what she was supposed to do.

Lisa-May's shoulders slumped hearing Sandra's fully justified closing statement. The look she had shot her had been inappropriate, but it was for another reason than what the bubbly blonde thought. "It wasn't for that at all," she mumbled to herself. "It wasn't because of the question, it was the fact that I was interrupted… if I don't draw the line somewhere, I might as well be a doormat… but I misjudged it. Again. I walked all over her instead. And now I can't address it because they'll frown even worse at me for eavesdropping on them…"

Sighing deeply, she opened the Out & Around magazine and looked at a random article about a gay actor without reading any of it. A small tear formed at the corner of an eye, but she wiped it away with her new handkerchief before anyone could see it.


The cautious, female guest of the Bookworm Sanctuary still had the purse and the pair of old books clutched to her chest as she walked around the various aisles. Looking high and low at the thousands of titles on display, she stopped now and then to pull out a book and study the cover. Most went back onto the shelf at once, but she kept the odd one.

The inevitable happened further along the aisle: the stack of books she had found slipped through her fingers and ended up creating a racket as they fell onto the floor. A color best described as fire-engine red burst onto her cheeks as she looked around in a panic to see if she had disturbed anyone. Breathing deeply, she knelt down and scooped up the books, but to add insult to injury, she dropped all of them a second time which worsened her blush.

Lisa-May put down the magazine and stared at the female guest who was working hard collecting the books she had dropped not twenty feet from the Kozy Korner. Her gray lips had been reduced to a pair of tense lines in her face for being interrupted for the umpteenth time on her day off, though the expression softened when she took in the appearance of the woman.

The slender visitor was on the tall side of average and looked to be in her mid-thirties. She had a full head of mousy-brown curls that reached a short distance down her back, and she used fashionable dark, horn-rimmed spectacles. Though she did have a certain grace, it was clear by her frantic gestures trying to hold onto the books that she didn't possess the same kind of suave hand-to-eye co-ordination that many women in that age-bracket had.

She dressed old-fashioned - even for Lisa-May's standard - in gray ballet flats, white bobby socks, off-white slacks that stopped a few inches shy of her ankles, and finally a dusty-gray sweater that sported a pair of unmistakable peaks. In short, she looked as if she had just stepped out of a postcard celebrating the wholesome All-American lifestyle of the clean-cut 1950s. All that was missing was an Archie-like boyfriend who would escort her to the malt shop.

Lisa-May sighed and looked down at her magazine, but her sixth sense kicked in at the last moment, and she looked up again. The visitor locked eyes with her and offered her a nervous smile. Moments later, the new woman shuffled closer to the Kozy Korner.

Sighing, Lisa-May put away the copy of Out & Around and returned the smile. "Hello," she said when the other woman was close enough to hear.

"Hello… may I have a seat, please?"

"Why, certainly," Lisa-May said and began to scoop up her things so there would be better room for the visitor. She put most of them into the white carrier bag save for the half-empty coffee-to-go thermos mug.

The other woman sat down and put her legs together in a prim and proper fashion. Lisa-May noticed at once, and the small, though vital, gesture prompted her to smile. "I'm Lisa-May Farrington," she said and put out her hand.

"Pleased to meet you, I'm Adrienne Gryszkowski," the other woman said while she shook the hand offered to her. Following the formal introduction, they fell silent and appeared satisfied with keeping mum.

Up close, it was revealed the sweater was genuine cashmere which earned Adrienne another little star in Lisa-May's Book of Approval, as did her sparing use of perfume which seemed to carry an exquisite flowery scent.

The pause was too pregnant to last, and before long, Adrienne turned towards the gray woman sitting next to her. "I beg your pardon, but you wouldn't happen to know if the Bookworm Sanctuary still buys second-hand books, would you?"

"I believe they do, but you need to ask the administrator, Miss LaMarre. She'll be in her office," Lisa-May said and pointed at the open office door where Felicity and Sandra had gone to after sweeping the floor.

"Oh… I see," Adrienne said and craned her neck to locate the door.

Silence once more fell between them, and Lisa-May decided to give the cheap, ninety-nine cents medical romance novel All Hope Is Lost a try.

It didn't last long. "So is it all right to just knock on the door and go in there?" Adrienne said, looking like she was on the brink of chewing on her fingernails.

Sighing, Lisa-May put down All Hope Is Lost before she had even had time to look at the credits page. She shot Adrienne Gryszkowski a look of pure exasperation though she managed to rein herself in before her look would turn insulting to the woman who was clearly just shy and nervous. "Yes it is. Miss LaMarre is always in, though you should remember to knock on the doorjamb before you enter."

Right on cue, Felicity stepped out of the office to go on a little tour of the premises. She whistled through her teeth as she pulled out a book here and pushed in a book there to maintain a uniform look to the shelves. Stopping at the public message board, she picked up one of the Poetry Jam flyers and read it.

"There's your chance, Miss Gryszkowski," Lisa-May said, pointing at Felicity. "That lady there is the administrator I mentioned."

"Oh, thank you very much, Miss Farrington," Adrienne said and rose from the Kozy Korner. With an unfortunate intervention of fate, the grip she had on the books she had found wasn't good enough, and they ended up on the floor with a rattling bang all over again. "Oh… oh no," she croaked, staring at the mess of books at her feet.

Felicity stopped whistling and hurried over to the Kozy Korner to see if the characteristic sound of books falling onto the linoleum had been caused by yet another shelf collapsing. When she noticed the pile, she smiled and bent over to help the curly-haired woman retrieve them. "Whoops, huh?  It happens. You think your fingers are strong enough, and then… you find out they ain't."

Adrienne nodded, still clutching the original pair of books to her chest. She opened her mouth to ask about selling the books, but she didn't have time before the dark-skinned administrator had shuffled over to the gray woman on the sofa.

"Lisa-May, I'm glad I caught you," Felicity said and sat down. She held up the flyer for the poetry evening and showed it to the listless woman. "I've been meaning to ask you… have you seen this?  I know you're not much for this kind of thing, so perhaps you should find something else to do all of next Thursday. It's going to be pretty hectic and confusing all day long. And loud. Just a heads-up."

Lisa-May nodded with a small smile on her lips. "I've seen it, thank you. Kristen deserves a turn in the spotlight. She's smart, even if she can be quite infuriating at times with her challenging behavior."

"Yep. All right?" Felicity said and rubbed Lisa-May's shoulder.

"Yes. Thank you."

Felicity grinned at her old acquaintance before she got up from the Kozy Korner. "You're welcome. I'll be in my office if you need me."

"Oh!  I need you right now!" Adrienne said and stuck her hand in the air like a schoolgirl who wanted to be excused. When she realized she had said something that could be perceived as innuendo, she blushed all over again and clutched the books to her chest.

Felicity looked from the gray Lisa-May to the blushing Adrienne and wondered if someone had invented a cloning device without the press getting wind of it.

"I'm Adrienne Gryszkowski, hello," Adrienne said and put out her hand that was jittering with nervous energy. "I was wondering if you would perhaps be interested in buying these books?  They're volume one and two of Loni MacLean Porter's fabulous series Henrietta & Co. Volume one is Henrietta's Great Riverboat Adventure, and volume two is Yee-Haw Cowgirl. They're in good shape. I have more at home if you're interested in them. I got most of the series for Christmas and my birthdays and other holidays. I've had them for many, many years but I don't really read them anymore because they were written for an audience mainly of young teens and I haven't been a teenager for decades, ha ha, but the books were really good and exciting and well-written and I've spent many a night in my bedroom reading underneath my blanket with a little flashlight… and… and… I'm talking too much. I'm sorry. I'm just a little nervous," Adrienne said and adjusted her horn-rimmed spectacles.

Even Lisa-May's eyes were wide as she took in the nervous bundle of energy in the shape of a woman. She glanced over at Felicity who clearly held back a grin.

After shaking the nervous woman's hand, Felicity wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I'm Felicity LaMarre, hi. C'mon into my office and we'll take a look at them. It's just over here." As they shuffled on, Felicity gave Lisa-May a broad, exaggerated wink.

With peace once again restored to the Kozy Korner, Lisa-May let out a sigh of relief and opened All Hope Is Lost. Before she started on chapter one, she looked up and observed Adrienne's slender, and surprisingly graceful, figure walking into the office. A brief, unprompted smile played on the gray woman's lips that she had no idea where came from.


Part 2

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