Between the Pages - Lauren Baker

Chapter One

There was no indication as Emmy opened up the bookstore that Monday morning that the comfortable world she’d made for herself over the past four years was about to come crashing around her ears. The plain cream envelope nestled among the pile of bills on the floor looked unthreatening and bland, and she made no move to open it until she'd sifted through the urgent mail.

It was lucky she'd drained her coffee by the time she finally got round to opening the letter, because otherwise she would have spilled it all over herself.

"... in view of which, I am unlikely to renew your lease when it comes up at the end of April, and take this opportunity to let you know ahead of time so you can make alternative arrangements. I am willing to discuss compensation terms in view of your excellent record as a tenant.

Eric Oswell"

The fact that the lease had transferred to a new landlord wasn't news. The whole building had been sold recently, but with six different tenants — five in the apartments above plus her in the store — Emmy hadn't been expecting major change. Apparently, she was plain wrong. There wasn't much detail, but one thing was clear — Oswell intended to get rid of everyone in the house, and sooner rather than later.

Open Book was her haven, and the first endeavor of hers that she could claim as a legitimate success. A small bookstore, tucked away on the first story and basement of a slightly decrepit, once grand brownstone, it sold both new books and secondhand, with a thriving trade in college course books and, thanks to Emmy's friend Natalie, a small coffee corner that sold fair trade coffee, homemade cupcakes and pies to a motley crew of students, lecturers, aspiring writers and book lovers on the Upper West Side. Emmy had taken over the management when it was a shabby debt-ridden second-hand bookstore on the verge of closure.

Four years on, thanks to a lot of hard work, good contacts both in the book trade and at Columbia University and creative thinking — regular book signings and readings; a weekly theatre workshop; bookclubs and conversation classes for foreign students — she was keeping her head above water, and enjoying every minute of it.

And now it was threatening to fall apart.

When Natalie turned up a half-hour later, she found Emmy sitting on the floor by the door in a near catatonic state, the letter clutched in her hand.

"What happened? Is it your family?"

The concern etched on her friend's face startled Emmy out of her trance.

“God, no. Nothing like that. But look, bad news for you, too," she said, pushing the letter at Natalie.

"Oh, this can't be true!"

While Emmy had taken it as a punch to the gut, Natalie reacted in her usual fiery manner, stomping across the store uttering swearwords and cursing "that bastard Oswell" to hell and back. The torrent of abuse felt strangely soothing to Emmy.

"Do you think I should write to him? Explain what we're doing, how well things are going for the store? Maybe get him to come and visit... yeah, no, what am I talking about? He's a heartless businessman, he won't care, will he?"

From the coffee corner in the back of the store came an angry mumble, followed by a pause. Natalie stuck her head around a bookcase, her red streaked bob a flash of color against the pale wood.

"You know, that's not a bad idea," she said. "Get him over here, show him what you made of the place. If he's a good businessman he might appreciate your business plan."

"Yeah, unless he wants to strip down the whole place and retrofit it as condos for millionaires. He won't want a bookstore on the first floor."

"Oh, please, this guy has money, right? He's talking about financial compensation for not renewing the lease. Why shouldn't he change his mind? Besides, what have you got to lose?"

Emmy had to concede — it couldn't make things any worse.

She picked up the letter where Natalie had discarded it and examined it closely. It was handwritten, which was unusual, in an elegant and legible hand, and the letterhead showed a snail mail and an email address as well as a telephone number.

"Email, or should I write an actual letter? He seems sort of old school."

“Go for the personal touch?"

Emmy realized as she sat down to compose a reply that she hadn't written a proper letter for years — postcards the last surviving island in