I’m very pleased to let everyone know that I’m nearly through the final edits on my next novel, Neither Present Time. I’m aiming for a release date sometime around Labor Day (early September for those of you not in the U.S.). I’m posting a preview of the first chapter here along with the blurb for the back cover. Please read and I’ll keep you posted as the release date draws near!
Can a house save the lives of the people who live in it? Can an inscription written in a book over sixty years ago change the fates of people not even born when it was written?
Beryl Gray is solid and dependable – her partner, Claire, thinks so, her family thinks so, her colleagues think so. She has a long-term relationship and a job she likes as a university librarian. Her life seems settled, content – except nothing is as it seems.
Aggie Bishop’s last girlfriend left her three years ago and she hasn’t had a date since. Her life now revolves around work and taking care of her great-aunt Cory who doesn’t want to be taken care of. Aunt Cory still lives in the run-down mansion that the rest of the family wants to sell if they can only get the old lady into a nursing home. Aggie is all that stands between them and her great-aunt.
When Beryl finds a book with a romantic inscription dated 1945, the events that follow will change the lives of both women forever.
Spanning decades, this enchanting tale reminds us that some loves never fade and that sometimes, home truly is where the heart lies.
With a silvery tinkle from its old-fashioned bell, the door swung shut behind her and she felt, as always, that she had entered a sanctuary where the noise and congestion and rudeness of the world outside couldn’t follow, where time itself hardly seemed to exist. She breathed deeply, taking in the unmistakable smell of old books.
“Miss Gray! How are you, my dear?” the elderly gentleman behind the counter greeted her graciously.
“Hello, Mr. Herrmann,” she smiled. “I’m well, thank you.” The unchanging nature of Mr. Herrmann’s appearance was part of the charm of coming to this shop. His crisp white shirt and bowtie, his tweed jacket and neatly trimmed silver goatee all contributed to her feeling that this establishment could have existed any time in the past century.
“Stuffy old fart,” Claire would usually mutter on the rare occasions when she tagged along.
“No, my dear,” Mr. Herrmann would have said had he overheard her, “These are manners, something most young people today sadly know little of. My grandfather insisted we maintain the same standards of courtesy here in America as he was accustomed to do when he ran his bookshop in Budapest.”
A younger man, fortyish with red, curly hair emerged from the labyrinthine depths of the store, carrying a heavy stack of books. “Hey, Beryl,” he grinned, his wire-rimmed glasses giving him a decidedly bookish air. He grunted a little as he folded his tall, lanky frame to set the stack on the floor.
“Hi, George,” she said. “How was the auction? Did you get anything worthwhile?”
“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Herrmann enthusiastically. “Three boxes. I think some may be very fine, but I haven’t had time to research them.” His eyes twinkled in a knowing smile over his half-glasses. “Would you be interested in doing some appraisals?”
“We’ve been too busy with all the drop-offs,” George said.
“Yes, please,” Beryl said excitedly. She followed George through the maze of towering shelves reaching nearly to the embossed tin ceiling – shelves containing hundreds and hundreds of books, mostly old, some very rare: history, religion, philosophy, biography, politics – but Beryl’s favorite section was fiction and literature. She could – and frequently did, she would have admitted – get lost for hours here.
Today, though, she did not tarry as she followed George to the back room in which there was barely room to move. Here, there were more shelves packed with books, and yet more stacks of books stood tottering on the floor, books brought in by people needing to clear space on their own shelves, or perhaps emptying out the house of a deceased relative. Squeezing between piles, George led her to three large cardboard boxes, each marked with a lot number from the auction.
“Have fun,” George said, filling his arms with another stack of books to be shelved.
Beryl lowered her backpack to the floor, fanning her damp shirt to unstick it from her back. She’d lived in D.C. her entire life, but the heat and humidity, even now in mid-June, seemed to bother her more the older she got. Her glasses were sliding down her sweaty nose. She took them off, wiped her face with her sleeve and then replaced the glasses. “If I’m this bad at thirty-six, what am I going to be like when hot flashes start?” she muttered to herself. She found a wooden folding chair leaning against the wall, and set it up next to the first box. Pulling a notebook from her backpack, she began making notes on the books in the box – date published, edition, general condition. There was a wide variety – Hawthorne, Twain, Cather, Hugo, Bacon as well as some histories. Looking them over, a puzzled frown creased her brow. Almost every single one was a first edition and they were in pristine condition. She set aside a couple that she was interested in purchasing, and then tugged the second box near, repeating the process. Again, most of the books were first editions in wonderful condition. She began to look more carefully inside the front covers and noticed several inscribed with names: Mary Bishop, Eugene Bishop, and other Bishops dating back to the 1840s, though some of the books were considerably older.
Eagerly, she dove into the third box, continuing to make notes as she pulled books out. Tucked along one side of the box, standing upright so that it was nearly undetectable, was a tiny volume. As she tugged it free, her cell phone rang, startling her. She flinched when she saw who was calling.
“Where are you?” came Claire’s irritated voice.
“I’m at The Scriptorium,” Beryl admitted guiltily, glancing at her watch and startled to see that she’d been there for nearly two hours.
“You were supposed to be home thirty minutes ago,” Claire reminded her unnecessarily.
“I’m sorry,” Beryl said. “I’m on my way.”
“Don’t bother,” Claire said. “Just go straight to the restaurant.”
“Oh, and Leslie’s coming,” Claire added.
Beryl closed her eyes, pressing her fingers against her forehead.
“She and Bob had another argument last night,” Claire continued, ignoring Beryl’s silence. “She just needs to talk. Get there as soon as you can.”
Beryl sighed and quickly closed up the third box. She picked up the handful of books she had set aside for herself and took them up to Mr. Herrmann.
“Oh ho,” he smiled. “It paid off, getting – how do Americans say – first dibs? Yes?”
Beryl smiled. “Yes.” Mr. Herrmann’s grandfather, as she had heard more times than she could count, had immigrated to the United States after the First World War, deciding to open his bookstore in his new country’s capital. Though the family had spoken Hungarian at home and Mr. Herrmann’s English still had a slight accent, he was as American as she was, but he liked to pretend he was more European than American and Beryl always played along.
“I’ll get back to you as soon as I can about the other books,” she said. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at their value.” She placed her chosen books on the counter. “How much for these?”
He looked them over. “How about an even trade on your time?” he suggested.
“How are you going to stay in business if you keep doing that?” she asked, tucking the books into her backpack.
“You help me stay in business,” he reminded her.
“I’ll see you soon, Mr. Herrmann,” she smiled as two teen-aged girls entered the shop. “Bye, George,” she called.
“Bye,” came his voice from somewhere in the maze of shelves.
Beryl hurried toward the door as Mr. Herrmann’s voice raised indignantly, replying to the girls that he most certainly did not sell e-readers.
“How could you be so rude?” Claire asked a couple of hours later as she unlocked the door of their Adams Morgan rowhouse.
“It wasn’t rude,” Beryl protested, trailing behind her up to the second floor living room.
Claire placed her purse and briefcase in one of the stacked wooden cubbies against the wall. “I invited her to stay with us tonight, and you told her she should go home. You don’t think that’s rude?”
Beryl turned her back to Claire as she pulled out a dining chair and deposited her backpack on it. “All I said,” she said, bending down to pick up a brindle-striped cat winding himself around her ankles, “was that she and her husband need to talk and that maybe she should go home so they could.” She kept her head tilted toward the cat so that her hair swung forward, curtaining her face.
“Or don’t you want them to work things out?” she added as Claire went into the kitchen to get a diet soda from the refrigerator.
“Oh, here we go again,” Claire said with a roll of her eyes as she let the refrigerator door shut a little more loudly than was necessary.
“It’s just that she’s been hanging around here a lot,” Beryl pointed out, not for the first time.
Claire popped her can of soda open, saying, “I wish you’d stop being so…” But she didn’t finish as she poured the soda into a glass and rinsed the can before placing it in the recycling bin.
“Stupid?” Beryl finished for her, setting the cat down.
“No, silly,” Claire’s tone had changed instantly. She came to Beryl and kissed her on the cheek. “I was going to say jealous,” she said placatingly. “Leslie is just really lonely. I wish you would try and like her more. She would love to have what we have.”
“That’s my point!” but Beryl didn’t say that.
“I’m going up,” Claire said, heading toward the stairs. “Beryl?”
“Oh, sorry,” Beryl said, taking her backpack off the dining chair which she slid back into position under the table. She went into the kitchen and opened a fresh can of cat food.
“Here you go, Winston.”
She snapped a lid on the unused portion and put it in the frig. As the door closed, her eye was caught by the collage of photos covering the front of the refrigerator.
Claire and her shadow.
It had started as a joke between them, but it was true. From the moment Claire had come to the library asking for help with a reference for her master’s thesis, Beryl had been smitten. Claire wasn’t enrolled at Georgetown, but she began coming to the Lauinger Library for her research, flirtatiously chatting as she stopped by the research desk, enjoying Beryl’s worshipful attention. Claire, with her luxurious dark wavy hair and beguiling dark eyes, was beautiful, Beryl thought, whereas her own appearance was nondescript – hair neither brown nor blond, eyes a boring hazel behind her old-fashioned round eyeglasses. Everybody noticed Claire; nobody noticed Beryl. Beryl used to take pride in that, pride that she was the one who got to be with Claire. She was content to be in the background, the shadow. Only lately… lately, it was hard not to wonder if Claire really still loved her, or just tolerated her because she was always there….
After eight years together, Beryl had thought that they had moved past the point of Claire needing to be worshipped to just being loved. But recently, with Leslie’s rapt attention when Claire told stories, Leslie’s laughter at Claire’s witty comments, Beryl could see the light in Claire’s eyes – the light that used to be there when it was Beryl doing the listening and the laughing.
That would make anyone feel good, Beryl thought now. Winston was done eating and was loudly demanding attention. She’s right. I’m just being stupid, she told herself as she carried the cat to the sofa and turned on the television.
copyright 2013 by Caren J. Werlinger