Tag Archives: Janet

story time by juleshg

16 Jan

Janet sat down in the cement stairway in the back room of her little book store and leaned forward to let her chin fall to her chest. As she closed her eyes she tried to focus only on her breath.

Come on Janet, you can do this… She inhaled slowly through her nose then pursed her lips trying to control the stream of air as it left her lungs.   In, two, three… Out, two, three…

It had been almost a year since her last panic attack but the heart palpitations and the tightness in her throat were just as terrifying as Janet remembered.   In her younger years she would sit herself down with her head between her knees until the dizziness and the shakiness subsided but since she turned fifty the arthritis in her spine had left her too stiff to even come close to that position.

She wiped her clammy hands on her pants before reaching up to unbutton the top of her white cotton blouse trying get some extra air into her lungs. Letting her head roll from one side to the other, she tried to relax the muscles in her shoulders that always pulled up tight when she was stressed. Her first instinct was to climb the staircase and retreat back to her small apartment over the store. She wanted to climb into bed, pull the covers over her head and forget everything that had happened today. But, this afternoon was children’s story time and she needed to get herself under control before one of her customers got concerned and ventured into the back corridor to check on her. Since she could imagine nothing worse than someone seeing her in this panicked state, she took one last deep breath, stood up straight and re-buttoned her blouse. It was time to put on a happy face and greet the world — whether she felt like it or not.

Usually Janet loved story time. It was a small town but the weekly session had been drawing steady crowds since she introduced it last year. The young children liked to arrive early and jostle for a spot in the front row where they could see the book’s pictures more clearly. Sometimes Janet even chose a ‘helper’ from the front row to come up and turn pages with her. Meanwhile the moms browsed the shelves and gossiped over coffee. In a town the size of Cranton Creek it was inevitable that a gathering this size would lead to a run-down of who was divorcing whom, who had been drinking too much at the bar last night and which newly-married woman had been seen flirting in the bank line with the new doctor in town. Janet always joked that there was one story for the kids and lots of stories for the moms. She would be damned if the talk of the town was: did you hear that Janet at the book store is having a breakdown? I saw her last week and she looked horrible.

She hadn’t looked horrible when she woke up that morning and headed down the long familiar staircase to open up the shop. In fact Mondays were her favorite day of the week. She loved seeing the children and the moms always left with a book or two so sales were typically strong.

This morning she was extra happy when she saw Bob walking down the street. Bob had arrived in town a few months ago and had become a regular at the shop. He was a writer so books were his passion and he frequently came in with an extra coffee for Janet so they could chat about the books they both loved.   Last month when he asked her to dinner she knew all of the  story time moms would be discussing her date the following week but she couldn’t have cared less. At her age, she would be foolish to turn down a shot at romance.

Bob came into the store with a big smile. “Hello there beautiful,” he said with a wink. “I thought I would come by to hear this morning’s story. I have heard through the grapevine that you are wonderful with the kids so I thought I would come check it out for myself.”

Janet felt herself blushing like a schoolgirl as she turned away to get the kids ready for their story. As she went to sit down she realized that in her fluster she had forgotten her reading glasses behind the counter. She looked up to see if one of the mothers was around to grab them for her but instead she saw Bob. While his back was half-turned to her she could clearly see the book he had stuffed under his jacket.

Janet sat stock still for a moment before jumping up and racing to the back room. Bob had stolen from her. Was this the first time? She doubted it… She was an old fool for believing that he had been smitten with her in the first place but she would be damned if that was the rumor that headed through town.

Instead, she stepped back into the store and said in her loudest voice: “there are my glasses. I thought I had left them upstairs.” She headed back to her spot in the middle of the children and announced that today she would definitely need a helper. As children’s hands flew up all around her she looked up and saw Bob smiling at her. With only a quick second’s delay she looked him straight in the eye and smiled back.

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