Peer Review by Stone of Jade (United States)

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The Things Which Can Happen in a Bookstore

By: lady lantsov

 1 - in the bookstore with tag

    He was starving. Deprived. He needed books like a heroin junkie needed a hit. 
    Never had he felt so desperate for black typeface on paper. For those written enchantments. His legs changed from walking to jogging without consulting him first. Books for the Soul felt miles away. How was he going to get there before his paper-and-ink lifeline was stretched—stretched—and—snap
    A quarter mile away from his own house, and he seriously doubted whether he would make it. It wasn’t his physical abilities that he questioned. He was lean and fit and fast, a soccer and cross-country star who would begin his third and final varsity season in a few months; his mental and emotional states, however, needed a swig of life-giving water. 
    Otherwise known as books. And possibly an iced almond milk latte.
    He saw the quirky sign dangling in the distance—the rough-cut wooden slab that never hung straight, the hand painted letters that beamed at him amidst the rest of the shops. He breathed a sigh of relief. Brooks would know what he needed. Most afternoons, he ventured into Books for the Soul with no specific title in mind, but Brooks—assistant manager, shelver, cashier, best friend, hero, brother—always managed to find him the right book. 
    “Tag! Where’ve you been? School ended weeks ago! And you’ve only just come to see me?” Montag, home at last in the bookstore, smiled at Brooks. He was the grandson of Margaret Felmar, the lively sixty-something owner whom Brooks had persuaded to fulfill her dream of traveling the world, allowing him to run the store. The last that Tag had heard, Margaret was hiking Machu Picchu, whittling blowguns, extracting poison from frogs for blow darts, and ousting jaguar hunters with an indigenous Amazon tribe.
    Brooks’ nickname for Montag had emerged years ago. They had been playing tag with a few of the neighbors, and Montag had snuck up on Brooks, yelling, “Tag! You’re it!” To which Brooks responded, “Tag! You’re it!” and tapped him on the arm before darting away. Brooks’ younger sister, Annaliese, commented on how “tag” sounded just like a shorter version of Montag. From there on, he was pretty sure his birth certificate actually said Tag. Montag never existed.
Brooks let Tag trail behind him wherever he went without complaint, came over to hang out, and taught him what he thought Tag needed to know. When Tag turned fifteen, things had changed; the seven year gap felt less insurmountable, and they became something like brothers. 
    Now, at twenty-four, he came out from behind the counter and threw a lazy punch at Tag. He dodged and tried to put Brooks in a headlock, but Brooks, who hit the gym when he wasn’t working or reading, was able to easily pull away. Tag was weaker but quicker than Brooks. They tussled for another minute, shoving each other, before Brooks wrapped an arm around Tag and looked down at him. Brooks stood a good five inches taller.
    “I'm six foot even,” Tag always insisted to Brooks, who shook his head. “You stopped growing the day you turned sixteen,” he would say. 
    Once again, Brooks grinned down at Tag. “So, what’s up?” His other hand snaked around and jabbed Tag hard in the ribs. “Man, it must suck to only be five eleven and three-quarters.” 
    “I’m six foot even!”
    “What a shorty.” 
    “Okay, okay. Enough of that. I need books. Now.” 
    “Come on, Tag, don’t you want to talk? Pour out your conflicted teenage heart to me? It’s been, like, a whole week since our therapy session,” he said mockingly. Tag ducked out of Brooks’ arm, but it was not out of awkwardness; they had an easy, comfortable friendship. But Tag didn’t want to get into a long heart-to-heart. 
    “I told you, I really need a book. I mean, I’m kind of desperate for the right one. Preferably a thick one.” Tag’s tone dissolved into pleading on the last sentence.
    “That’s what she said.”
    “Very funny. What are you, thirteen?”
    “And a half.”
    “Cut the crap, Brooks. Please. You know what it’s like when you need—”
    “The right book. Yeah, I understand.” Brooks was all business now; his piercing gaze—storms hovering between blue and gray—had turned concerned and solemn. 
    “Yes, please. What do you have?” Tag knew he sounded vulnerable and stupid when he was like this, but the hunger for the beauty of a story gnawed at him. Insatiable.
    “There’s a new collection in RUU. Came in at the crack of dawn today.” BOOKSTORE NAME was more familiar to Tag and Brooks than their own homes. RUU—a room filled with Rare, Unusual, and Unique books—was one of many acronyms for various bookstore sections.
    “A crate of twenty-five?”
    “Only ten this time.”
    “What were you doing here at the crack of dawn?” Tag wondered.
    “Couldn’t sleep. Besides, I’m implementing a new organization system.” Brooks lowered his voice. “Also… Elly’s brothers are in hot water again, so she’s pretty anxious. I let her crash here.” A small part of Tag mused, Were you with her? Elly was Brooks’ girlfriend of ten months.
    “What happened this time?” Brooks shook his head at Tag’s curiosity. 
    “That’s her deal. I can’t tell you.” Tag shrugged. It’s not my business. Elly’s three brothers were all alike but as opposite from Elly as night and day. While she was working her way through an online university to a Master’s degree in architecture, her brothers were not nearly as ambitious. It wasn’t the first time they’d been on the wrong side of the law. 
    “Well, give her my regards if I don’t see her. Have you looked through the books yet?” Tag was already at the top of the curved landing, eyeing the second floor.
    “No. It’s all yours to discover. And that girl’s.”
    “A girl?’ His confusion and Brooks’ smirk was the only thing that held Tag’s feet to the wooden staircase.
    “Maybe you’ll finally have a girlfriend. It’s been a long time since Briana. This girl was striking, I’ll give her that. You know I can’t help but notice every detail about everyone who crosses my line of sight. Tall for a girl, about your age. Slightly tan, like me, average build.” Brooks had warm olive skin, and the sun liked to turn him even darker. “Her hair, it was dark chocolate with unusual streaks in it, kind of russet and gold. It looked natural, believe it or not. Like… fire and sunlight amidst—amidst a waterfall of dark chocolate from Big Valley Confectionery. Man, they should give me the Rattle Poetry Prize for that line. Fifteen thousand dollars if you win, did you know? Anyway, you’ve gotta go and find her yourself. If I say anymore, El will have my hide.”
    “You’re turning into a gen-yoo-wine poet,” Tag noted. “Wait, did you say fifteen thousand? You’re splitting that with me when you win.” Beneath the banter and jokes, though, the steady thrum of necessity bored into him. Books. Books. Books, it whispered.
    “A gen-yoo-wine poet, huh? Our very own Walt Whitman,” said a warm voice. A few inches shorter than Tag, with sandy waves of hair that she called frizzy and a smile that never appeared forced, Elly was impossible not to like. She bore no sign of the stress or anxiety that Brooks had described, aside from the subtle dark circles under her eyes. She walked up to Tag, handed him an iced almond milk latte, and slapped a receipt into Brooks’ hand. 
    “Thanks, Elly.”
    “Don’t thank me, thank him. Four dollars on your tab, Mr. Felmar,” she said teasingly. He slipped an arm around her shoulders, which were nearly level with his. Elly leaned against him. “Did you say that for writing a poem, you could win fifteen thousand dollars?”
    “And a subscription to their magazine.”
    “Screw the subscription, you’re splitting it with me. Oh, and Tag. I suppose.”
    “Elly, someday all the money I have will be yours… and everything else of mine.”
    Tag sipped his latte, which was usually a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, creamy and sharp. 
    “Speaking of that, Brooks, can I have a few hours of your time? Kelly Tilder invited us to her engagement party, and she wants us to bring a dessert…” But today, the coffee drink tasted bland and empty. When Elly’s lattes were flavorless, it was no fault of her own; he knew it meant he was distracted and book-famished. By the time Brooks and Elly were consumed in an animated debate between candied pecans and caramel-pecan scones (“candied pecans do not count as a real dessert!”), he stood outside of the RUU with latte spillage on his hand.
    The RUU was his favorite section, even when it had no new shipment. Added to the fact that the dark-haired girl had piqued his interest, and nothing could have drug him away. Not many teenagers looked in that room for books, but Tag was always drawn to it. He wiped his latte-covered hand on his jeans—luckily, they were already stained and worn—and pushed open the warped wooden door. Creeeaaak. 
    The bookcases wound around in a dizzying oval. The room was neatly kept, save for ten lovely novels spread on the floor beside a foam-padded wooden crate. 
    Tag’s eyes widened. He stared ravenously at the embossed leather covers. Two of the books were identical, black leather with only a gold circle in the center. Inside the circle was an intricate shining symbol, foreign to Tag. Tag snatched a copy just as the second book disappeared.
    Into the hands of a girl with fire and sunlight in her hair. 

This is a very rough draft... but I've loved this idea for a long time. It's been sitting in my drive for a while, and I realized I could just pull it and use it here. I know it exceeds the word limit. I'm working on it.
The inspiration for this was originally from Pinterest, but that actually isn't even mentioned in this excerpt yet. It was the idea of a book where the main character falls in love with the reader. The book mentioned here is that book, written directly to the reader. If you'd like a transcript of that pin, message me in the comments and I'll copy and paste it in a reply. It's a fascinating idea. I decided to put a story within a story here, but unfortunately, I'm already exceeding the word limit...
I'll cut more eventually, but I just wanted to publish it for now. I'll also release another excerpt of a different section so you guys can help me decide which to submit. This piece starts from the beginning. It's chapter 1 of part 1.
Review for Review!

Message to Readers

*changed title for now; also, any ideas for the bookstore name? I threw in "Books for the Soul" at the last minute because BOOKSTORE NAME interrupted the flow. XD
I'll cut more eventually, but I just wanted to publish it for now. I'll also release another excerpt of a different section so you guys can help me decide which to submit. This piece starts from the beginning. It's chapter 1 of part 1.
Review for Review!

Peer Review

The title caught my attention first but as the story went on i got more and more into it! And then that last line! That made me want to keep reading!!!

his love of books made him so relatable. this whole idea of going to a bookstore and drinking coffee and your friend is there and AAHH it makes me want to live in this world! i made some comments about physical descriptions and the lack/unnecessary need for it. they are just suggestions tho ;)

I would LOVE to read more on a description of the bookstore. is it dusty? clean? colorful? cozy? the new "modern" style? also adding in a friendly cat would be cool altho that's just me and my love for a cat in a bookstore haha

the setting is perfectly clear--timeline, not so much. but that isn't really needed for this type of story.

please keep writing this! I commented on the piece itself why i love it so much but there is this nostalgic/longing for this bookstore vibe that really draws a lover of books in and makes them want to keep reading. it is a really good intro!

Reviewer Comments

i made a bunch of comments but, as always, they are just suggestions. hope this was helpful!!