Short Story, ‘The Stolen Book’

crop faceless woman reading book on bed
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This is a creative writing university assignment I completed, based on a set prompt with a maximum word count of 2,200.

© D.E. Kendall

The Stolen Book

Lana stole a look at the bar over the pages of Affinity, her latest literary purchase. The bar’s cluttered appearance somehow added to its charm, with rustic cask ale pull taps, mirrored shelves laden with dusty spirit bottles, and her.

‘Good book, luv?’

Snapped unexpectedly from her reverie, Lana dropped her book and accidentally dipped a sleeve of her designer blouse in her latte as she fumbled to catch the paperback.

‘Sorry, luv, didn’t mean to scare ya.’

Rory slapped the back of the ancient wooden chair Lana was sitting on. She scowled at the woodworm-infested oak table her coffee-soaked arm was resting upon before turning to face the enemy. ‘It’s alright.’

Lana was as unnerved by his yellow-toothed, gappy smile as she was by the light bouncing off his balding, middle-aged head. As far as leering men were concerned, Lana was thankful that this one was at the less threatening end of the spectrum.

‘New book?’ Rory almost sloshed his half-a-pint of flat, amber liquid on Lana’s shoulder as he leaned over her to ogle her cleavage under the pretence that he cared what she was reading.

‘Um, yes,’ Lana shifted uncomfortably as the letch’s foul breath lingered, cutting through her personal space. ‘Tt’s by Sarah Waters, have you heard of her?’

Assuming that Rory didn’t read – he may not have been able to for all she knew – Lana hoped that’d be enough to get rid of him.

‘Can’t say I ‘ave, no…’ he seemed briefly contemplative. ‘Say, luv, why ain’t a nice girl like you home with the mister? You gotta ‘ave better things to do on a Monday night.’

‘I like the coffee here, I like the atmosphere,’ Lana vividly recalled having almost the exact same conversation with the man last week, ‘and it’s on my way home from work.’

‘Speakin’ of drinks, can I buy ya one?’

Smooth, she concluded.

‘Need a top-up there, Smythe?’ Alys’ melodic tones were enough to send Lana’s heart thundering, and turn her ears red.

‘Aye, luv!’

Lana felt an increasing sense of relief each step Rory took away from her as he made his unsteady journey towards the bar.

Alys collected a few stray glasses from a neighbouring table. Lana couldn’t help but turn to the source of clinking and clashing, gazing unnoticed while subconsciously tucking her hair behind her ears – as if it’d help her see more clearly, and cool her crimson complexion. Captivated by the cheerful barmaid, everything about Alys lifted Lana’s spirits: those flowy, patterned, knee-length dresses she always wore, even in winter; her brightly-coloured tights; her heavy, deep-soled, shiny black shoes; her half-shaven, half-pixie-cut hairstyle that was currently dyed blue; her shimmering red lips forming the trademark smile that never failed to brighten Lana’s day; and that nose ring Lana wanted for herself but never had the courage to get. The confidence Alys exuded opposed all that society had taught Lana to be – she often wondered whether her conventional fashion sense, tall, slim frame, and high heels ever inspired such a glance from Alys. A moment spent beyond those dark brown eyes and thick, winged eyeliner would make putting up with a thousand leering men worthwhile, Lana frequently thought.

Catching her by surprise, Alys asked Lana if she was enjoying her coffee and whether she wanted anything else. A flustered ‘No thanks,’ followed by an escape to the Ladies’ allowed Lana to avoid any awkwardness and take a minute to compose herself.

Thankful that the bar wasn’t too busy, Lana returned to her seat, only to discover her book was missing. Oddly, if someone had stolen her book for profit, they had completely ignored her expensive, lightweight jacket with her nearly new smartphone in the pocket.

Scanning the area, all she noted was Alys serving Rory another pint from behind the bar as he hunched over in an attempt to invade her personal space. The sizeable stone pillar in the centre of the pub, separating the bar from the tiny restaurant area, blocked her view beyond the small collection of tables dotted around the faded ruby and gold flecked carpet. All Lana could see was a pair of suit-clad businessmen huddled over a hefty-looking laptop.

Just in case the perp might be hiding there, Lana amused herself by checking the imposing fireplace to the right of her table. If the summer weather wasn’t enough to give away the fact, Lana ascertained that the fireplace hadn’t been lit for quite some time – owing to the scent of aged ash it emitted.

Smiling to herself as she enjoyed playing detective for a minute, Lana decided that despite her reservations regarding the floor’s hygiene – and the concern about creasing her palazzo trousers – she had to get down on all fours to clamber under the table in search of her missing book.

‘Everything okay?’

‘Ouch!’

‘Sorry, didn’t mean for that to happen,’ one of those suited businessmen stood beside the table, ‘I saw you dive under the table and wanted to check everything was alright.’

‘I’m fine, thank you.’

He offered a helping hand to Lana, which she didn’t accept, opting instead for the assistance of the nearest chair to pull herself to her feet.

‘I lost the book I was reading, that’s all,’ she smiled politely, avoiding eye contact as she pretended to be checking the floor for any sign of her book.

‘I’m Devon, by the way,’ he reached out a hand once again, ‘Devon Charles.’

‘Lana Myers.’

Subtlety didn’t work, so Lana decided to go for the blunt approach instead. Rarely did men like Devon continue on their path of intrusion if they met with such resistance.

‘I work in the city, here on business.’

Shooting a swift half-smile at Devon, Lana’s eyes darted about the pub as she panned for the best escape route. However, her lack of response only spurred Devon on.

‘I’m staying here for a couple of nights with my colleague, Alan,’ Alan reacted to Devon’s gesturing toward him with a wave, ‘we like the coastal setting. Nice views. So, do you come here often?’

‘Yes.’

If it weren’t mid-summer, icicles would have offered a softer response. Lana started shuffling items around in her handbag as if searching for car keys.

‘Hello, Mr. Mayhew!’

Saved by the belle, thought Lana.

‘Oh, I’m not Mayhew, I’m Devon Charles.’

‘Terribly sorry.’ Alys shot a cheeky smile at Lana, whose knees weakened to such an extent that she slunk into the battered, old chair beneath her. ‘I need to check something; it’s to do with your room. Would you mind popping over to the bar with me a sec?’

Visibly disappointed that his attempt at courtship had been thwarted, Devon reluctantly bid Lana farewell before following Alys to the bar.

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, grateful that she no longer had to share her personal space with a man, Lana engaged in an internal debate as to whether she should buy another latte to drink in the beer garden – away from the testosterone floating around the bar. The search for her purse was disturbed, however, by a familiar voice.

‘I hear you’ve lost a book?’

Turning to take in a rotund figure with a friendly face, Lana was pleased she wasn’t being harassed by yet another middle-aged man.

‘Hi, Cathy! How are you?’

They shared a hug before Cathy continued the interrogation.

‘Never mind that. Can’t have one of my finest patrons losing their stuff on my watch, in my pub. Even if she never buys alcohol…’

‘You know I can’t, Cathy.’ Lana knew Cathy was speaking in jest, though couldn’t prevent that pang of sadness that accompanied any thought of her late father.

‘I know, I know. I’m just messin’ with you,’ Cathy placed a comforting hand on Lana’s shoulder, ‘Now Missy, when did you last see that book of yours?’

Within ten minutes, there was a full-blown, pub-wide investigation into the case of the missing book. Lana couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by the fuss her oldest family friend was making, but then, Cathy was somewhat of a motherly figure to her since Lana’s mother disowned her when Lana was just twenty-one. Sometimes, Lana considered telling Cathy her secret, though the thought of losing her friendship was too devastating to contemplate. Of course, the alternative was Cathy trying to set Lana up with her niece, but Lana had never been much of a gambler.

‘I sha-haw her re-heeding it yonder,’ Rory slurred in response to Cathy’s questioning.

‘I noticed the young lady almost dropping the book in her tea when he startled her.’ Alan answered, with an accusatory finger pointing directly at Rory.

‘Don’t ya go pointin’ those manucurried digeds at me!’ Rory flopped off of the barstool and wobbled to his feet, swaying slightly as he tried his utmost to point a finger at Alan – failing miserably on account of beer-induced double-vision.

‘How dare you threaten my business partner like that?!’ Devon attempted to demonstrate his masculinity by standing up for his slightly shorter colleague.

‘Come on ‘en!’ Rory’s chubby fingers suddenly clasped into fists as he stumbled forward with the effort of his threat.

‘Let’s calm it down, fellas,’ Cathy’s authoritative tone was usually enough to suspend alcohol-addled spats, ‘I just need to know what happened to this young lady’s new book. Now, what did anyone else see?’

As Lana and Cathy turned to talk to an elderly bystander – who didn’t know what happened to the book but wanted to hear the day’s specials – a kerfuffle broke out between Rory, Devon, and Alan.

A chef who had been minding the bar rushed over in attempt to prise the drunken brawlers apart. Cathy got stuck in too, as soon as one of her beloved antique bar stools got knocked over.

‘Where the hell is Alys?!’ Cathy shouted, tactfully dodging an errant hand.

‘She… she…’ Maurice the chef struggled to answer as he almost took a shoe to the face, ‘she went to ch… change a barrel, then she went on b… break. Whoa man, watch it!’

Lana didn’t know what to do. The closest she ever came to such a scene was having to deal with a situation during last year’s Black Friday Sales at the department store she worked at involving two women who fought over the last pair of high-end, bargain-price hair straighteners.

Kicking, hitting, and elbow-jabbing intensified as thudding sounds resounded about the pub, drawing an audience to the scene. Since it resembled something out of an old American western movie, Lana channelled inspiration from that and took the first action that sprung to mind; she grabbed a pitcher of iced water from the bar and threw it over the assailants, accidentally splashing Cathy and Maurice in the process.

Expletives flew about the once quaint pub as all five adults reacted irritably to Lana’s snap-decision.

‘Sorry,’ Lana’s cheeks resembled mini beetroots, ‘I didn’t know what to do and was afraid someone would get hurt.’

The atmosphere calmed as the crowd of spectators dispersed, and those remaining on the scene guffawed.

‘Look, Cathy,’ Lana stepped aside out of earshot of the others, indicating for Cathy to join her, ‘I’m sorry things got so out of hand. It’s just a book; honestly, it’s no big deal. Please let the issue go.’

‘Alright love,’ Cathy put an arm around the shoulders of her unofficial daughter, ‘you get home, and I’ll get this all cleaned up. Seems these gentlemen can’t control themselves around you.’

Very funny.’

Cathy always knew how to put Lana at ease.

‘Thank you.’

‘No worries,’ Cathy started the clean-up operation as she lifted the fallen bar stool, ‘now get gone, before I have you barred from my pub!’

After a final, fleeting hug with Cathy, Lana collected her remaining belongings. Rushing out of the door, Lana refused to cave into the curiosity daring her to look back at the carnage she was leaving behind.

Stepping outside into the refreshingly salty air, Lana admired her surroundings for a moment. Beams of light from the day’s sunset glinted off the calm, kinetic peaks of the sea. Small fishing boats creaked in the harbour as gentle waves lapped against the harbour wall. A solitary seagull cawed overhead as it flew by. Then, Lana lost all sense of her surroundings as she tripped over something left in the middle of the pathway.

Swiftly scrabbling to her feet, brushing remnants of sand from her once pristine clothing, Lana’s embarrassment faded the second she saw what she’d tripped over – Affinity.

Collecting her book from the ground, Lana was puzzled. How on earth did my book get here?

Upon opening the book, Lana discovered an inscription: 06222100723 – Alys <3

Awestruck, Lana shook her head as if to reset her brain, in case what was happening was a dream. Yet to her delight, the inscription was real. Lana turned back to look through a window of The Coastside Inn. There, framed by blossoming clematis climbing the pub walls, stood behind the bar, was Alys – beaming back at her.

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