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Stop By

by Jean-Thomas Cullen


a sentimental love story & romantic suspense novel



Introduction

Happily Ever After, But First…

Stop By, a romantic suspense novel by Jean-Thomas CullenMarian and Rick lived happily ever after. But the real story is how Richard and Marian got there, by those jolts and twists of life, and that includes a bit of a suspenseful mystery story. Their fate was written in the stars, to mangle Shakespeare a tad. Here is their romantic, sentimental tale in all its glories and surprises, including some sad moments with tears shed, some wistful glances exchanged, some laughs here or there, and a quantum of misunderstandings soon enough corrected. In a world where so much goes wrong—Rick and Marian were meant to be. That’s the wonder of it. But the story is what we want to really know, so here it is.

Marian and Richard

There was, not long ago, a tired traveler—a handsome, sharp-eyed man in his early 30s, wearing a finely-tailored business suit and driving a nice gray imported car. He made millions of dollars wheeling and dealing in New York City, and usually was just eager to return home to his 5,000 square foot exclusively gated house in West Hartford for a beer, a sandwich, and a dip in his large, elegantly interior-lit swimming pool surrounded by mosaics and marbles. He’d been through a nasty divorce, and was single again. For a while, he surrounded himself with hot and cold running beautiful women. Soon enough, he’d tired of their glamor, beauty, status, money, sensuality—their seeking, like hard, sterling currency. That mode of companionship had become merely what he called elevator music. You had everything except a deep sense of satisfaction. People in that mode seemed perfect and modular—they could plug or unplug from relationships with all the sincerity of snap-on toys. He longed for deeper waters. Lately, he tended to swim alone.

About once or twice every week for several years, he passed through the small town of Emery (not the board or nail file, but actually in backwoods, small town New England, and founded in the 1600s). This one particular, fateful day, chance led him to stop for gasoline, pizza, and some air-conditioned library atmosphere.

The traveler’s name was Richard Moyer.

He had to look on a sign to see what the name of the little township was, but after today, he would never forget that name. There, in Emery, in the heart of rural Connecticut, he was to meet a beautiful young woman named Marian. And yes, she was a librarian. Marian sometimes jokes that they should have been electricians, for the spark that passed between them the moment they first met.

Or lightning rods, he may reply—because that is how they are, always together. They think alike and finish each other’s sentences.

Or lightning bods, she may joke. They get along really well, those two. Having a sparky sense of humor is the medicine for most maladies.

Getting there was a different matter all together, as we learn from their story. It was a tough time for each of them, with many tense moments.

Theirs was a relatively slow burn—though the initial spark was instantaneous—so this was a process that took some time to zap them both, amid all the jolting (sometimes awful) situations that life throws at us all.

Marian and Rick did not know each other until a fateful summer day. Each had experienced a unique personal tragedy, but they had the bounce it took to get up, dust themselves off, and look for a strong new start. This is their story.

Cheerful Librarian Will Fulfill Your Every Need

Like a place of refuge, the Main Public Library of Emery Township lay on the main highway where cars and trucks whizzed through the town’s outskirts in minutes. Few ever stopped for gas or lunch, much less to check out a book—or a librarian, as the rather silly sign outside seemed to imply.

Season after season, the long, low building maintained its stark, simple lines against the woodsy New England landscape. By day, its west-looking windows looked dark when the morning sun was in the east. Toward evening and closing time, its windows took on a lantern-like glow, first as the late sun slanted into the book-lined halls, then as the inner lamps glowed with a yellow, homey light amid all of history’s stored learning. Yes, here, in the small New England town of Emery as in myriad similar small places across the land, Plato and Socrates rubbed shoulders with Shakespeare and Jefferson, Homer and Virgil came out to chat with Dante and Emily Dickinson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald raised a glowing toast to Mrs. Mouse and Mrs. Rabbit in their Beatrix Potter garden hole houses.

With utmost fidelity, the librarians worked at their tasks, usually bent over in dutiful concentration. As Chief Librarian Linda Damien liked to say, “We are members of the world’s oldest profession since the invention of writing, unless you count scribes.” The librarians worked in their quiet, sacred realm under Mrs. Damien’s guidance. Here was a woman pushing a cart loaded with books. There was an elderly man cautioning a table of grammar school children to keep the whispering down.

And over there was a singularly attractive young dark-haired woman writing something at the Help Desk, wearing a modest blue dress over which flowed a twirling mass of rich, dark, glossy hair surrounding a pale, pretty face. Her name was Marian and she really was a Librarian, just like in song and in legend, except here she was, a young woman with a life—full of joy and tragedy, and right now in limbo. The quietly adorable but remote Marian Charles had made a journey in her young life (28) from being the girl next door to being a happily married young wife to being a war widow. That, and more. Like a sleeping beauty, she was going through the motions every day, living life in a kind of suspended animation. Every day, she still had at least one teary moment, quietly and alone while in her usual positions—standing at the Check Desk or the Help Desk, or sitting on a foot stool with a stack of return books on her lap to be filed away. No stranger could guess why she wore a black ribbon, some days on her wrist, and other days like a pretty, drooping bow over her heart. Marian was not even remotely thinking there could be a charming prince to wake her from the slow amber drip of the hours and days in her shattered life.

Marian had studied English and Library Science in college, and was the Emery Township Free Public Library’s chief story teller. She was the number one entertainer for miles around if you happened to be in Kindergarten or First Grade. Everyone looked forward to story hour with Mrs. Charles—or, as she knew she must eventually think of herself again, under her maiden name as Miss McLaughlin.

Beautiful, sad-eyed Marian McLaughlin was from a small town in Oklahoma, but after marrying a handsome, brave young New Englander named Thomas Charles, had followed him gladly, transplanted to his even smaller and far older town in the tiny state of Connecticut.

Like Sleeping Beauty, Mrs. Charles or Miss McLaughlin lived in a kind of library slumber amid all the great names of history. She had wanted to give herself to her husband and their children, but all that had been taken from her. What she still had was the degree in Library Science and the desire to give some little thing more to the world. She had thought about teaching, but had felt she was not enough of a control freak to closely manage several dozen children all day long. She had thought about nursing, but did not relish all those fluids in pans, syringes, and test tubes, not to mention dirty sheets and sad outcomes. So her heart (or, as they say in the South, mah hort) had led her to the marvels of the library universe, and she had never looked back.

In the stories she told to children (she could handle an hour of story time), she and the children together dreamed about an inquisitive, handsome, courageous prince. He would come into the tower, did not take no for an answer, was not scared of evil fairie godmothers, and would find his sleeping beauty in the tower. If he could wake her, she would be all his. She would give her heart and soul to him, her smile and the dazzle in her eyes, and all her beauty, and make him a very happy man indeed. In the story, of course, it took a hundred years for such a man to bumble along.

Marian was about to find out that her man, should she decide to wake up, drove a Jaguar and wore sharply tailored Fifth Avenue suits. He had been alone for some time, and though he was a busy millionaire, he was kind of looking for just such a princess. It would not be giving away too much, and spoiling the story, if we said his name is Richard.

Richard Moyer, 32, had the key to the tower, only he didn’t know it yet. But give it a little time, and a few coincidences, and one huge, major act of fate that nobody would ever be able to explain. Okay, a hint: the moment they first met, it was as if the sun got brighter—those caramel-green eyes could get no wilder, like an animal being hunted; the forest got deeper, the primordial tale was very powerful--as their eyes met and their future was sealed forever. But there were still all those steps to be taken up the winding tower with its unpredictable twists and turns. One or two real ogres lived in there, who were miserable and mean, and did not want a charming prince and a beautiful princess to be happy together.

Folks who are curious about how this all happened—so many things went wrong that it was not at all certain they would actually live happily after—such curious people (like you, dear reader) would have to continue reading here, which means hanging around Emery Township and lingering in its wonderful, dusky library; or learning about the dark, awful thing that nearly happened by the lake, and so much more.

Aside from the break room, the cloak room, the offices, and of course the Stacks where all sorts of shadowy books slumber awaiting their call to shelf life, the two most important public spots are the Check Desk and the Help Desk. At the Check Desk, you could check books in or out. At the moment, all the staff were women, although men also worked here—just not at the moment. At the Help Desk was a veritable cockpit of resources. Above the Help Desk was a sign that read:

Reference and Help—Cheerful Librarian Available to Answer All Your Questions and Fulfill All Your Needs.

Or something like that. Despite the comments, nobody ever had time to take the sign down and replace it with something a little less intriguing, so it stayed there with a nice fringe of old library dust across the top. Once a month, the custodian and guard, Mr. Perez, might run a rag over the rim so it would not drizzle dust on the library folks standing under it.

At Emery, the librarians and staff took turns serving at the Help Desk, among them Marian Charles, at 28 the youngest of the permanent employees.

The library was an island, a refuge, ever present. In winter, when the trees around its flat roofs were barren, you could see the ancient brick grammar school looming behind it. Sometimes it lay blanketed in a frosty layer of ice and snow.

In spring, its lawns were so green, and its trees so shocked full of newly born leaves, that it was hard to imagine how that same dutiful woman with dark hair could remain indoors and continue scribbling in such concentration—but the records must be kept, the accounts must be tallied, and the rolls must be called. Children must be entertained, and classic fairie tales must be told again and again as they had been for ages.

In summer, when humidity and heat rolled over the parched landscape in a haze, the interior was a shadowy, air conditioned warren smelling of paper, floor wax, and crayons.

In fall—Rick Moyer’s favorite time of year—the library was a passing lantern in the evenings when he made his long journey home from the concrete canyons and business arenas of the Big City. He never had any reason to stop there, but he wondered vaguely—if just for a passing moment, what it was like inside; and he knew, in his heart—because everyone remembers such a library from their childhood.

It is a lantern passed by road traffic, a glowing refuge on rainy afternoons, a steady beacon or light house as darkness falls and the street lights wink on, as the universe passes by and stars wheel overhead.

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Amazon e-book pageThank you for reading. If you love it, tell your friends. Please post a favorable review at Amazon, Good Reads, and other online resources. If you want to thank the author, you may also buy a copy for the low price of a cup of coffee. It's called Read-a-Latte: similar (or lower) price as a latte at your favorite coffeeshop, but the book lasts forever while the beverage is quickly gone. Thank you (JTC).

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Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.