Harold strolled through the listing bookshelves. Worn spines stood in line on the press board shelves. Soft covers had been jammed into every nook. Peeling scotch tape held hand written subject labels to the splinter strewn wood.
His found Ancient History and felt at home. He proceeded to follow his wrinkled finger as the tip pointed to each tome. Three shelves had fallen by the wayside and he had dropped into a crouch, when he smelled Frieda’s rosy perfume.
Rising, he let out a mild groan as blood coursed back into his calves and his knees aligned with a grind.
Frieda bobbed around the back corner and deposited her cardboard box between her feet. A cloud of dust puffed into her face in exchange for the heavy load. Her round face tilted in order to read the parallel and perpendicular spines on the first set of shelves. After carefully examining the stack to her right, she switched her petite feet around her box and poured her attention into the opposite bookcase.
Harold let out a sigh as he watched her studious perusal then sauntered over to her side. Moving closer he could see the folds of the cardboard box buckling around the contents.
Meanwhile Frieda tittered to herself and extracted a book, the cover of muted gold, from beneath a half dozen others. She dipped down and inserted the paperback into one of the few remaining crevices.
Harold folded his arms. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Frieda jumped and her hand clutched at her plaid blouse.
“Harold,” she reprimanded, and then her forehead crinkled with concern. “What’s the matter?”
He motioned toward the box. “How many more do you have in there?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She batted him away and returned to her expedition.
“It’s all well and good to buy them, but shouldn’t you finish the ones from last time first?”
“These are for the kids.”
“They don’t need any more books either.”
She frowned at the spines on the shelf and avoided meeting his gaze. “I like to have a variety to choose from. This way whenever we head out, I have options.”
“You’re going to end up with one of everything.”
“And happy to boot.”
Harold raised his hands in defeat and returned to his hardbacks.
Frieda continued her examination of each and every shelf. She hauled her box passed him and he could hear her plodding down the last aisle.
As her steps neared the cashier at the entrance, he closed his skimming material and slid the summary of Egyptians Dynasty back into the hole on the shelf.
He stuffed his hands into his pockets and strolled to the front.
The quiet cashier had tucked a frayed bookmark, complete with tassel, into her own reading material and set her paperback beside the register. Frieda’s part of the transaction left her attempting to pick up her box.
Harold laid a hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her back. He gripped and tried to lift with his knees. An exhale puffed out of his lips as he set the box on the counter.
The cashier opened the tabs and methodically processed each one with a tap of her fingers on taped the calculator while Frieda watched on.
Harold saw her grin blossoming with each book. He assumed she was recalling why the particular one being tallied had been chosen or perhaps who might be receiving the gift.
The pile filled one bag, and then another pair.
“46.75,” reported the young woman.
Frieda pulled over her purse and wallet, extracting a crisp fifty withdrawn from the ATM for the occasion.
She handed the bill over with a warm grin.
“Please keep the change,” Frieda said, tapping on the tip jar beside the impulse bookmark display.
The cashier’s mouth hung for a moment then she seemed to gather the insinuation.
“You’re very welcome. Just make sure this place stays open. Nowhere else has such treasures for such a price.”
The woman glanced between Frieda and Harold and back again, slowly nodding. “I’ll…pass that along.”
“Excellent,” said Frieda, stowing her wallet. She swiveled to face Harold as she slung her purse out of the way.
“What do we have left to do?”
Harold slid his hands through the handles of two of the paper bags, leaving one for Frieda. The sides crinkled under the weight, but at least, he noted, they were balanced.
“Hon’?” asked Frieda, scooping up the third bag into her arms like a small child. “Did we need to get anything else?”
“Yeah.” Harold chuckled at her suddenly worried gaze. “We need to get another bookcase.”