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Smokey Saga

0: “A Night At Millicent’s”


Sixty! Another Smokey milestone. Enjoy, bibliophiles, this one’s for you! Forgive me if I left out anyone’s preferred sections laying out this little shop of wonders. This story is dedicated to you, Reader—yes, you; you rock!—and also to any British fans I may have, in particular. This story highlights my Anglophilia. Even though I’m American and the story takes place in America (Juniper, MN, like all of mine), this is written from a Brit’s P.O.V. Aren’t dedications great? They’re free, and can encompass whomever you choose them to. I haven’t dedicated that many stories because I suspect most of them would be to the same individuals—the Readers as a whole. But, you know who you are, and you know how much you mean to me. And as always, your feedback is welcomed, valued and appreciated.


Me Bloke-Mate’s Back

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016, 6:56 p.m.

Her cell rang.

“Oh, buggers,” Sophie muttered, taking the obligatory moment to answer. She was on her way out the door, but she’d never been one to ignore a ringing phone and send it straight to voice-mail, even in the case of unknown numbers. She pressed talk.


A British male voice came through the line.

“‘Ello there, is this Sophie Trimble?”

“Yes! This is she.”

“Oh, goodness, love! I can hardly believe it! It’s me, Nigel!”

Sophie stopped in her tracks, feeling her heart suddenly melt.

“Nigel??…You’re joking!”

It was Nigel Finehammer, her childhood best friend. They’d met when they were just wee children in Lincolnshire, having discovered their mutual love of books and reading in single-digit years. They buddied up in language arts/lit class in grammar school. Their intrigue in each new story studied in class made them stand out, two lone wolves in their own little pack. When Sophie was fourteen, the Trimbles came to America. It broke her heart to part ways with Nigel, but she hadn’t any say in the matter. Now grown up, they’d reconnected a bit online, and exchanged phone numbers as a mere formality, but she hadn’t heard his voice in ages. And now he was calling her. This was his actual voice on the other end, her lifelong pal. She couldn’t believe it either. This was amazing.

What was yet more amazing was that now being an international businessman, Nigel was actually in town. The company had put him up right here in Juniper, Minnesota for a couple of months, and once he found himself in Sophie’s home city, he naturally had to tell his buddy girl the news. Sophie was only too ecstatically happy to hear.

“Come off it!” she giggled excitedly. “You’re kidding me!”

“Not at all!” he replied. “I’m staying at the Meridian. That’s where I’m calling from right now; I just settled in me room.”

“The hotel?” asked Sophie. “Sweetie, that’s hardly necessary! Come stay with me! Really, I’d love to have you!”

“Oh, love, you’re just as sweet as ever,” said Nigel. “Well, the company’s already booked me ‘ere and made all the arrangements, but I’d be honoured just to visit and hang out with you indefinitely.”

“Yay!” replied Sophie. “Hey, speaking of books, I’m just about to go to Millicent’s! Why don’t you meet me there? I can’t wait to see you!”

Nigel yawned. “Aw, Sophe, I wish I could, mate. But I’m actually terribly jet-lagged, and all I’ve the energy for tonight is a nap. I, eh…I guess I should’ve opened with that for a start, but…oh, I was just so happy to ‘ear your voice.”

Oh well. This was perhaps a bit disappointing, but of course she understood.

“Oh well. That’s perhaps a bit disappointing, but of course I understand.”

“But I’m free all day tomorrow.”

“Oh, smashing!” she exclaimed. “So am I! Oh, double yay! This is going to be so much fun!”

They chatted a bit longer, briefly catching up. Not to be gotten wrong, Sophie could have sat down and shot the telephonic breeze with Nigel all night long, except for the facts that he very much needed some sleep, and that she still wanted to get to her destination tonight. They’d do some serious catching up the next day when they met in person. And now, she was a woman on a mission.

She needed to get a nice present for her best buddy.


Tomes Away From Home

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016, 7:45 p.m.

Sophie Anne Trimble pulled around the corner from the shopping centre and into the lot surrounding the massive, three-storey Millicent’s Books & Gifts, her favourite retail shop for just the two things in its name. She grew excited already before impatiently locating a parking space and exiting her Taurus. So excited, in fact, that she almost left her keys in the car and locked herself out. Almost.

She scampered to the front door. It was dark and in the 30°s outside, but for all Sophie was concerned, it could’ve Bostancı Escort been a bright, sunny June-y afternoon-y. She was simply thrilled as always to be here. She pulled open the bulky door and let herself in.

Oh! she breathed. Here she was in one of her favourite places in the world, a veritable sanctum sanctorum for her. She looked around.

Well, there was one obvious distinction from her last visit. A huge banner had been hung, wishing customers a Happy New Year. As she stood and took a gander around, she noticed something else. Normally, the store’s stereo system—over which the staff also made announcements—piped light classical music through the speakers, which today was absent. Hm, she thought. Perhaps the stereo system was malfunctioning. Oh well. Sophie began on her usual path around, turning left to circumnavigate clockwise.

She loved this bookstore. Moreover, reading was her favourite pastime, and she loved books in general—of just about every variety and genre: fiction, nonfiction, mystery, romance, thriller, humour, comic…then of course all the subdivisions available therein. There were a couple retailers and a library or two nearby Sophie’s home, but these outlets were bluntly smaller and ordinary with a sparse selection, compared to the mighty Millicent’s. This, her beloved happy place, resided about thirty miles away. It was one reason her trips here were sporadic and special. Another reason was so that the store retained an elusive novelty and allure that kept Sophie wanting more again another day. Visiting Millicent’s was more than a mere activity for her. It was an event.

Clearly, she couldn’t come here every day; otherwise, her mileage would go through the roof. The drive was time- and gas-consuming, and parking was no picnic either, but successful entry made the hardships worth it. First and most noticeable of all, the place was enormous: as aforementioned, three storeys, goodies on sale top to bottom. Squared away in their own assigned corners sat—

Endless assortments of bound, printed parchment filed under a hundred labeled categories, a magazine/periodical newsstand, a separate section for CDs, DVDs and audiobooks, escalators to ferry clientele from floor to floor, adjoining displays of toys, board games and other knickknacks (bookmarks, nightlights, paperweights, et cetera), a built-in cafeteria, bordered by a fro-yo and smoothie bar (boasting high-speed Wifi for laptop-toting visitors), a children’s area, an aquarium, and a life-size bust of Samuel Langhorne Clemens himself, better known to most as Mark Twain. Finally, the observant customer would note a patch of open space here and there reserved for special occasions, such as in-store author signings and hosted readings for kids.

Sophie had missed the place. Again, her trek to reach it was lengthy, but made her all the more appreciative when she finally got there. And it had been extra long since her last visit, on November 7th. She usually tried to make it to the store about one Saturday per month, but wisely skipped December, in deference to the craziness of the holiday season. She’d done all her Christmas shopping a month or three before, as with every year, beating the rush.

And so it went without saying that she wanted to get back to the store for another visit as early in the new year as she could. Yesterday was off-limits, being a federal holiday, and she already had a lot on today’s proverbial plate as was. First of all in the morning, she had a doctor’s appointment. Secondly, her beloved cherry red Ford Taurus desperately needed an oil change. Ben Trimble, her Dad, usually accompanied her on trips to tend to her vehicle. They took separate cars, so that while Sophie’s was being worked on, Ben could take her out for lunch—not always, but oftentimes, at the Wendy’s a few blocks down.

This took her into the early afternoon. Her next errand included another family member, her big sister Clara. Both sisses had been in need of groceries, and so had elected to go together to the Angels supermarket, which would, this one day and one day only, be hosting an extravagant Happy New Year Sale, with deals too good for the Trimble girls to pass up. After splitting up with Clara, adjourning back home and putting her goods away, she took the next little while to answer nature’s call and hop in the shower.

The sun was down, but that was okay; it was early January, and Millicent’s was open until 10:00 every night. Her last activity before leaving for the store was the only unanticipated: the phone call from Nigel. She’d gotten dressed, just pulling on her trainers as he rang. A bit over half an hour later, she made it to the store.

The entrance took her into level two of the hexagonal outlet, escalators right in the centre. There was also a lift behind the back wall, but like most, Sophie didn’t typically use that. The bookshelves and other furnishings were arranged in such a pattern that Sophie could Bostancı Escort Bayan circulate through on her clockwise path, floor by floor. When she made 360°, she turned to go in between the shelves in the same direction, and so on further inwards to form a spiral. When Sophie thought of the visit in this way, it made her want a Cinnabon.

She decided to do things a bit differently this time. She’d saved up a nice bundle from her job at the Crafts Chest—Juniper’s answer to bigs like Michaels and JoAnn—where she helped customers find and buy artsy-crafty supplies. And now it was time to treat herself and splurge. Especially since she’d be hanging out with her friend the next day. She picked up a basket at the entrance and began packing it with whatever merchandise struck her fancy. Normally she wouldn’t plan such an involved spree, but again, she felt she’d earned the right to indulge herself. Besides, behind Millicent’s doors, she didn’t have to shell out cash on anything she decided against.

Right; let’s see… thought Sophie, traversing the second floor, surveying the se(le)ctions it had to offer. This level was all nonfiction books: Geography, Travel, Culture, Language, Reference, Religion, Politics, Sports, Music, Entertainment, Medicine, Pets, Animals, Nature, History, Science, Maths…basically pure and concrete facts. Nothing wrong in learning about the world and everything in it, but the bulk of Sophie Trimble’s shopping dollar was usually spent elsewhere. She supposed she just preferred literature that allowed her mind to be touched, her emotions to run free. Sophie lived a pretty peaceful, normal life, and didn’t expect a book—or really even a short story—would ever be written about her, which was fine; she very much enjoyed reading the varied, diverse adventures and escapades of others, both fictitious and real. Having her own wild adventures, while exciting, might intimidate her.

Nevertheless, she found a couple interesting informatives here in the middle floor to occupy space in her basket. There were checkouts on each floor, so it didn’t matter where she ended up. She entered, as all did, on level two, and so it was really a flip of a coin which to choose next. One and three both had their niceties to offer. Sophie was usually inclined to go down to the bottom floor on the second leg of her journey, saving the top for last. She couldn’t really say why; if questioned about it, she’d answer, “Because…reasons. That’s why.” But while she didn’t fully realise it, Sophie liked to settle down and rest on the top floor, which was where the developers had placed the café and juice bar, surrounded by tables and chairs. After filling the first two levels with printed bound pages of words, the books left over occupied floor three, as did the refreshments, snacks and bevvies. So as in the majority of her past visits, Sophie finished combing level two, worked her way to the centre hub, and hopped on the down escalator.

Here below-ground, level one was called home by a completely different assortment—as well as the children’s area, restrooms, and media centre, where one was to find CDs and DVDs. As for the parchment, on these shelves Sophie was greeted by Fine Arts, Painting, Crafts, Architecture, Horticulture, Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense, Poetry, Philosophy, Manga, and the little cubby hole devoted to Erotica, which Sophie secretly liked more than she’d admit. These were the sections that really stimulated her (in more ways than one). She truly did love stories in the narrative form. She adored letting them take her away, escaping the world, her imagination running wild. She couldn’t wait to turn the page and see what happened on the other side. They made her laugh, they made her cry, they made her glad she was alive. To complement the passion, she was blessed with the ability to read swift and rapid, while absorbing every riveting word. It went without saying that she devoured truckloads of books—more than half of which were novels. Most she merely liked. Some she loved, feeling the need to purchase, to enjoy over and over again. Then there was the occasional gem she’d unearth, and wind up treasuring so much, she went online to find the author and write him or her, to say just how much.

She giggled again with giddiness, giving a few excited hops in place as she remembered sharing childhood literary adventures with her dear mate Nigel, and how she’d actually be getting to relive those happy moments tomorrow. What a magical, marvellous time they would have. It made her want to just buy up the entire store. Unfortunately, she couldn’t afford to spend quite that much.

Her basket grew fuller and fuller as she combed level one’s aisles. In searching for novel(la)s to tickle her fancy, just about anything went. Sophie boasted a wide open mind which welcomed new experiences and new friends found on the printed page. Very few tics browned her off or made her wish to stop reading. Oh, to be Escort Bostancı sure, she had her pet peeves like anyone else, and it went without saying that not every book would so greatly enchant her. But that was fine. If every book was as equally appealing as the next, there would be far too much to read in her meagre time, and she’d be robbed of the joy of digging up those diamonds in the rough.

Sophie found no CDs or DVDs that she’d want and didn’t already own, but she did find an audiobook. Books on CD were a fantastic invention, she’d always felt. They allowed her to be entertained by a real speaking voice—likely one she was already familiar with—and to lie back, shut her eyes and ever more vividly imagine the story. They were also good for listening to on short or long road trips, such as making her way to Millicent’s itself. She might just listen to this one on the way back home. They made Sophie feel special, as if she lay in bed hugging her teddy bear while a famous voice personally blessed her with a lovely reading.

Indeed on floor two, she’d only filled about a quarter of her basket space with new material for her eyes’ pleasure, but down on one, it bulked up to more than half. Oftentimes such as this, Sophie felt like Matilda, the little girl and title character in Roald Dahl’s children’s book. Matilda was also quite the bibliophile, borrowing literal wagonloads of books from the library. The library too suited Sophie fine when she was small, but alas proved less than ideal now. As an adult who worked for a living, and slept much of the time she wasn’t at work, Sophie hadn’t all the free time in the world to devote to her hobby. By this point, it might take her longer than granted by the library to make her way through borrowed—and even renewed—books, thereby rendering the act sort of pointless. Sophie liked to take her time to really sink her teeth into a read. Besides which, she preferred up-to-date editions. She relished that new parchment smell.

Done with floor one, she rode the escalators up to three. Here alongside the lounging and dining areas were all the books that weren’t found in the levels below. The biblio-setup here was a mishmash of different things: Business, Psychology, Self-Help, Love And Sexuality, Relationships, Computers, Puzzles, Games, Humor, Comics, Social Studies, Cultural Studies and (Auto)Biographies. She saw only a couple of folks sitting at the tables around the café, reminding her that she was running out of time. She dug out her cell to check. Dead.

Oh, bollocks, she thought. It hadn’t been fully charged to begin with, and the call from Nigel must have drained its remaining battery life. She looked for a clock or an employee, finding neither in eyeshot. So she approached a fellow standing from one of the tables.

“Pardon me, mate,” she waved. “Have you got the time?”

“Oh. It’s, uh…” He checked his own cell. “…9:32.”

Sophie had just under a half hour remaining. She thanked him, made a quick reassessment of the third floor sections and determined that she had done enough shopping. Her timewise friend with the undead cell departed. She performed a quick mental calculation of how much she’d racked up. Most publishers were thoughtful enough to print their book prices right inside or on the backs of their volumes. Sophie roughly totaled them, arriving at a number she’d more or less expected.

She’d best be getting to the register to pay. Factoring in Minnesota’s high sales tax and her audiobook, she was looking well into triple digits here. Oh well, this was why nifty little plastic cards had been invented, after all. She trotted to the checkout, lugging the basket along with both hands. She could almost feel her muscles getting bigger carrying all this around. Finally, she reached it.

There was only one person in front of her, a short, older lady buying a single book. Perfect, Sophie thought. That was perfect. Just enough time to set the basket down and give her arms a rest, and not long to wait at all. She wrung out her arms and wrists for a bit of relief and studied the little gifts and knickknacks surrounding the checkout area. She heard the cashier’s voice.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, your card didn’t go through.”

Sophie arched her brows. Uh-oh, she thought. She always felt bad for a person when this happened.

“Oh,” said the lady, taking the card back, “It does that sometimes. It’s an old card. You just kinda gotta…”

She gave the magnetic side a breath, rubbed it on her sleeve and handed it back. “Here, try it again.”

The cashier obliged, to the same result. “No, ma’am, I’m sorry, it still didn’t go through. Do you have another card?”

“No, no, I’m telling you, it’s fine,” the woman calmly insisted, performing the same touch-up again. “I promise, I’m nowhere near my limit. This really is just an old card. It’s just kinda temperamental, ‘s all.”

Sophie now felt slightly less bad for her. She considered heading off to checkout on one of the two lower floors, but she didn’t want to appear rude…or carry this basket too much more. Then again, rudeness was in the eye of the beholder…then again again, she was also British, and polite almost to a fault. But none of the three of them had all the time in the world left here.

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