Who: Sally-Anne Perks, Taliesyn Robards
Where: Tattered Pages
When: 11 April 2001, early evening
Taliesyn yawned. It was almost closing time. It was Wendy’s turn to do most of the closing up duties. All he had to do this afternoon was work out his schedule for tomorrow. Should he do inventory first or restock? They were getting a delivery tomorrow; an eclectic collection that Tali had sourced from a deceased estate. There could well be rubbish but he was hopeful of the odd rare, out-of-print gem. You just never know.
He scribbled ‘restock’ at the top. No. Restocking could take ages. He had long mulled over where exactly certain books should go. Some just defied categorisation. He didn’t want it to spill over into lunch. Personally he wouldn’t care but didn’t want his father on his case again about eating properly.
Maybe if he cleared space he could get a start right now, before Wendy dragged him out the door. He jumped to his feet and ran down an aisle, almost running over a blonde.
“Oh! Sorry! Nobody usually goes down this section,” Tali said. “Are you all right?”
Sally-Anne was sitting on the floor, eyes a little teary and lamenting that this wasn’t how she’d thought her day would go. All she’d wanted to do was get a book for her brother, but somehow her browsing had taken her down one aisle, then another, until she’d become hopelessly lost in what felt like a forest of books.
Trying to get out, she had even tried using a trail of books, only to end up going around in a circle. After what felt like forever, she had finally sat down, positive that someone would come by this way soon enough. That had been about an hour ago and that was where Tali found her now, sitting cross-legged as she leafed through a book.
She looked up, sniffing. “Um. I got a bit lost.” Sally-Anne quickly rose to her feet. “Do you know the way out?”
Tali’s face lit up like he’d just been asked the million-galleon question in his exact area of expertise. “Like the back of my hand,” he said. “You’re lucky I found you, it’s almost closing time.” He leaned a little closer. “Wendy doesn’t check for stragglers,” he whispered in a conspiratorial tone. Not strictly true.
Sally-Anne sighed in relief before a bright smile lit up her face. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that.” She tucked the book she had been reading back onto the shelf, giving it a friendly little pat when she was done as if to thank it for keeping her company. Sally-Anne kept the book that she had selected for her brother tucked neatly in the crook of her arm. “I feel like I’ve been in here forever!”
“Maybe,” said Tali, nodding. “It’s easy to lose track of time when you can’t see the outside. Don’t know if that’s on purpose or whether he just kept stocking up and making the shelves go higher and higher. Sooner or later it’ll reach the ceiling and you’d have to blast your way out.”
His face suddenly turned serious. “Though it better not come to that. Damaging books is criminal. Oh, this way,” he gestured.
Sally-Anne gaped, aghast. “Oh, I would never damage books,” she promised earnestly. Every book that she had nudged slightly from its place on the shelf had made her feel increasingly guilty, so the very thought of blasting bookshelves in order to escape was horrifying.
“I think I walked around and around in circles for such a long time,” she admitted, trailing after him. “All the books started to look the same after a while. Do you ever find that?”
“Can’t say that I do, after working here for so long,” replied Tali. “But the shelves do shift. It’s on account of all the magic. There was this period in the 20s where books that came alive were all the rage and no author would publish without a special effect. Beware the pop-ups.”
He lead Sally-Anne around another corner and looked back to see if she was keeping up. Recognition hit him. “Hey, you work in Higher Grounds, right?”
“Oh, my.” Sally-Anne peered at the books as they passed, starting to wonder whether one might just jump out from the shelf at any moment. “I can’t say I’ve ever been attacked by a pop-up.” And she hoped that she never would be.
At the mention of Higher Grounds, she brightened immediately, smiling. “I do! Actually, I’m the manager. But I have the afternoon off. Obviously. Otherwise I would be at work and not lost in your shop.”
“Well, it’s not really my shop,” said Tali. “It’s… well, soon it might be Orpington’s shop. But he said I will still work here and everything will be as normal. I was sceptical but he said he could get me the earliest known draft of A History of Magic, so he must care. I’m expecting it next week.”
Sally-Anne frowned. Orpington. Of course. “It feels like he’s trying to buy the whole town.” Just thinking of the man made her feel uncomfortable. “He wants to get his hands on Higher Grounds, too,” she added. “But we keep saying no. It’s a family business. We don’t want it to become some sort of… chain.”
Tali nodded. “I understand. It’s nice that the whole family can work together. Mine definitely can’t.” He chortled to keep the mood light, though it was something that pained him. “Well, maybe they could, if they cut me out.”
“Well, it’s just me left working there now. My brother and sister decided it wasn’t for them. But it works out great for me! I love it. And oh! You should definitely come by sometime. You deserve a piece of cake of your choice for rescuing me from the books.” The occasional freebie was an excellent way to try and secure a bit of loyalty to the shop. Higher Grounds needed a solid customer base in case Orpington tried to lure them away with a new venture. Sally-Anne just hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
She spotted a display of books that she thought she recognised. “You know, I think I know where I am now. I never knew this place was so big.”
Tali nodded glumly. “That’s true, you only need one heir.” And it was Idris, hard luck.
He put on a cheerier expression as they neared the counters. “I see you actually still want to buy something after all that trauma,” he said. “I’ll ring it up. And I will stop by Higher Grounds, thank you. I know, I can show you the first draft of History of Magic! Once I get it properly protected, of course. It’s unbelievable how people will accept top galleon for precious artefacts and then post it without any secure packaging.”
“Oh, yes!” Sally-Anne smiled brightly and set the book she was carrying down on the counter. The cover depicted a skeleton embossed across the front, rather appropriate for an anatomy tome. “I came in here to get this for my brother. He’s been working ever so hard lately and I think he’s been a bit stressed. So I thought I’d get him a present to cheer him up!”
“Good choice,” said Tali. “No-one can refuse a book. Do you want it gift-wrapped then?”
“Yes.” Sally-Anne nodded. “That would be lovely. Thank you very much.”