James was running late when he entered the library, and he had to ask at the children’s desk to figure out where he was supposed to go. The lady at the desk was pleasant, smiling and pointing him toward the room where he would be holding his weekly event, and he gave her a nod of thanks before heading in that direction.
This was supposed to be his new start, getting back out into the world after Paul, but perhaps he had unconsciously been too resistant. Or maybe he just needed a better watch. He had planned to be there early to help set up the reading room, but once he entered, he saw that it had already been done for him. Not a great way to make a first impression.
As requested, the chairs had been set up in a circle, reminiscent of the old storyteller format that he remembered from his youth. It was much more welcoming than the stuffy rows upon rows of chairs that he’d had to get used to during his book tour readings. Despite his success, he always felt like he was being examined when he was in front of a crowd, like they were just waiting for him to screw up or forget the words he wrote.
“Excuse me,” he said, calling out to the young man at the back of the room, the only occupant at the moment. “I think I’m supposed to be in here?”
The man turned, giving him a guarded smile. “Sorry, you must have gotten turned around. This is the children’s reading room.”
James couldn’t help it. He sucked in a quick breath at the man’s appearance. It was like looking at Paul when they first met twenty-two years ago, with his tousled brown hair and piercing green eyes. Those features were small pieces of memory that James couldn’t let go of, and he felt a pang of sadness in his chest as he answered.
“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat to get himself under control. “Sorry, that’s what I’m here for, actually.” He stuck out his hand as the man raised an eyebrow at him. “James Murphy. I’m the one signed up to do the reading.”
“Ah,” the man said as he closed the distance between them and held out his own hand. “David. You talked to my boss on the phone.”
James shook David’s hand. “Yeah, she told me I could come early and help set up, but I guess you beat me to it.”
“Guess I did. But you can help me break down after you’re through,” he said, his tone light. “You know, to make up for it.”
James couldn’t suppress a light chuckle, instantly drawn to David’s comeback. “Sounds fair.”
“She said you were going to make this a weekly thing?”
“My boss,” David said, looking amused at his distraction. “She said you wanted to do this every week, a standing event.”
“If the kids are up for it. I’m here as long as I have an audience.”
“Oh, don’t make those kinds of promises,” David said, shaking his head. “I know a couple of the regulars, and they’ll stick around until you don’t have a voice, if you let them.”
“Sounds fine to me,” James said, feeling the last remaining tension ease from his shoulders.
He was nervous to even extend the offer in the first place, but his agent suggested he find something to occupy his time. He had retreated for a bit, to mourn and deal with Paul’s death, but that had turned into a situation that just cycled through emotions without a resolution. When left alone, his mind focused on the emptiness left behind, and his writing had begun to suffer as a result. If he didn’t break out of his self-imposed isolation, he would do damage to his career. For Paul, and for himself, it was time to move on.
“You ever do this kind of thing before? Storytime?”
“Oh, not really,” James said, shaking his head. David must have thought he was losing his mind with the amount of mental wandering he’d done in the few minutes they’d been talking. “I mean, I’ve read for my niece and some of her friends before, and I’ve done a couple of readings of my own work. Why? Is there something special I should know?”
“Never show fear,” David said, sounding serious, with a look that matched his tone. Before James could ask him what he meant, David broke into a grin. “Just kidding.”
James huffed out a small laugh. “Had me worried there for a minute.”
“The normal group that comes in and out of here are good kids. We used to do a few events like this every month, but with budget cuts, we couldn’t spare the staff.”