Welcome to chapter 2 of The Next Chapter, book three of the Spencer Valley Chronicles. I honestly, am at a bid of a mental standstill with this book so I’m not sure when I’ll share the next chapter. We will see. Maybe I’ll get some more ideas this next week.
If you would like to read the first chapter, you can find it HERE.
Spencer Valley Library Director Ginny Jefferies unlocked the back door of the library early Monday morning, quickly slipped inside, and slammed the door behind her.
She patted down the strands of her dirty blond, shoulder length hair that had blown out of place during her dash, breathing hard. Getting to her job was like an undercover assignment these days. She was seriously getting too old for this.
There were hours posted on the front door of the library, but people rarely read them.
Why should they?
It was a public library after all.
Wasn’t it always open?
That’s what a few of the patrons seemed to think, but no, the library wasn’t always open. Ginny needed at least a few minutes each morning to get ready before she opened the doors, but lately she wasn’t getting those few minutes and it was taking a toll on her nerves.
At least she’d been smart enough not to use the front door this time. That still might not guarantee her safety, however. The back door wasn’t exactly hidden from the public eye since it was located directly next to the back parking lot of the local supermarket.
Ginny just wanted time to open the library calmly, without everyone and their grandmother pushing inside to start her day before she was ready.
“Can I just slip inside and grab that new Jan Karon book?” Clarice Farley had asked one morning a month ago, clutching her bright pink rain hat down on her head with both hands.
Ginny had stared at her, mouth agape. “I don’t even have the system up to check you out, but we’re open in —”
“Oh please?” Clarice clasped her hands under her chin. “I’ve been waiting months for this book. It’s the last in the series.”
“I know, but —”
Clarice winked. “It will just take a minute.” And then she pushed her way past, through the door Ginny had just opened.
Ginny had shaken the umbrella off, peeling her wet sweater off as she stepped inside and watched Clarice rush to the new book section.
“You open?” Dan Bennett’s head had appeared inside the door Ginny had forgot to lock behind her. He hadn’t wait for her to answer. “Good because I need to print an important paper off for my insurance man. Wouldn’t you know it, the printer ran out of ink just last night.”
“I haven’t actually turned the computers on yet —”
“No problem at all.” Dan stepped inside with a wave of his hand. “I’ll get them for you. One less thing for you to do this morning.”
“Ah, okay, but I —”
The door opened again.
“Is it time for story time yet?” Mary Ellis was holding the hand of two toddlers with a third young child standing behind her, all three of them dripping water on the carpet inside the door.
“Storytime isn’t for another two hours,” Ginny said, hoping to usher them back outside.
“That’s okay.” Mary bumped her arm against Ginny’s on her way by. “We’ll just spend some time in the children’s room. You still have those blocks and toys here, right? The kids will love them and it’s better than trying to entertain them at home.”
“I – uh – but —”
Ginny decided then and there to make her entrance into the library as incognito as possible from then on.
She’d been arriving like a ninja for a month now and had even considered borrowing Brent Phillips’ camouflage hunting clothes, so she’d blend into the hedges out front. That was if she and Brent had been on talking terms, but they weren’t, or weren’t supposed to be, since her daughter had broken up with him the year before.
She leaned back against the door and sighed. So far so good. No one was pounding on the door. Not yet anyhow. She seemed to have made it in unseen.
Looking around the three-story library, lit only by the curved windows above the shelves on one side of the main room, she relaxed into the silence. Sunlight streamed in through a high window on the main floor, pouring light across the Women’s Literature section.
The building was the former Spencer Family mansion, built in 1901 and deeded to the town in 1967 to be used as a community library. Walls had been knocked down, floors removed, ceilings lifted, to create a larger open space that provided room for six-foot high bookshelves on two levels, ten rows on each floor. The Spencer family patriarch, J.P. Spencer, had left the building to the library association in his will, much to the fury of his remaining family members, a son who already lived in a mansion on the other end of town and a daughter from a previous marriage who had never even lived in the town. J.P.’s family had founded the Spencer Valley Railroad Company in the mid-1800s, making the company the second largest employer in the county at one time, next to farming. These days railroad and farming were dying out, fading away like an actual physical newspaper.
Ginny refrained from turning the main lights on, still hoping to remain in silence until her first cup of coffee was finished. She plopped down in the plush chair at the front desk and stared blankly at the row of computers, urging her brain to turn on before she turned the technology on. The computers were a fairly new edition, especially the ones in the gaming stations in the library basement.
The introduction of gaming computers was not something Ginny had been in favor of. The library board had overruled her, however, insisting they were needed to stay with the times and appeal to the younger generation. For Ginny, the library was a place to read, a place to fill a child’s head with knowledge, not somewhere for them to destroy brain cells playing ridiculous games on a computer.
“Well, who knows, maybe when they are done playing their games, they’ll wander up the stairs and find books!” Frank Rouse had said during the meeting, talking with his hands, as usual, long arms flapping around like a chimpanzee on speed as he talked. “We’ve got to move into the future, Ginny or become a relic of the past. It isn’t me driving the demand, it’s society. We need to meet that demand or simply watch libraries be boxed up with the rest of the artifacts.”
Artifacts and relics. It was all Frank seemed to be able to talk about since he’d hit the age of 65 and Ginny wondered if it was because he felt like he was becoming both. There were days she knew she felt like it and she was 12 years younger than him.
With a deep sigh, Ginny walked back to the office in the back of the building, flipped the light switch to on, and walked to the coffee pot she’d brought in herself to keep her and her assistant, Sarah, awake for the day. As the smell of Columbian Dark Roast hit her nostrils, she glanced at the photo of her husband Stanley on the shelf above her desk. She’d bucked the stereotypical trend of being a spinster librarian, but maybe that was because she’d been an English teacher at the local high school for 15 years first.
The picture of Stanley was from his third win as regional real estate agent, or was it his fourth? She couldn’t remember. He was up for the award again this year. Would he win number six? They’d know in a few more months. She wondered if he’d even ask her to attend. He hadn’t been asking her much of anything lately, or even talking to her for that matter.
Sipping hot coffee 15 minutes later, Ginny flicked her fingers across the row of light switches in the main room. Fluorescent highlighted the bookcases and tables, the children’s room, and the doorway of the conference room. The rectangle over the mysteries and thrillers section was still flickering, making her feel slightly off balance. She’d have to ask the volunteer maintenance man, George Farley, who was also the town’s funeral home director, self-proclaimed town historian, and director of the local community theater, to help her change it this week.
She picked up a book from the return pile and did what she always did to start her day – opened the book and deeply inhaled the smell of ink and paper. She loved the smell and feel of books. She wasn’t a fan of those so-called e-books, which she felt was a misnomer. A book was something you held in your hand, not looked at on a screen. She didn’t want to hold some cold, hard, unfeeling device in her hand. She wanted to touch an actual physical copy of a book and lose herself inside another world with each turn of the page.
She turned on the computer on the front desk with a scowl.
The switch from paper filing to computers was another update she had fought against before admitting typing information into a computer was easier than pulling open drawers and flipping through rows of index cards. Using the computer system had been easier. Or it had been up until six months ago when the board voted to implement a new, supposedly more advanced and efficient, software. Sadly, the board hadn’t voted to upgrade the computers which meant the fancy-dancy software overloaded and crashed the system several times a week, sometimes several times a day.
The back door squeaked open and Ginny’s assistant Sarah Shultz slipped in quickly and slammed the door behind her, leaning against it as if to hold back some kind of nefarious onslaught.
“I think Ed Pickett just saw me from the diner’s front window,” she panted, looking over her shoulder like an escaped criminal. “He could be here any minute.”
“Oh, good grief. It’s way too early and way too Monday for Ed,” Ginny said sipping her coffee and closing her eyes. “I hope he finally reads the hours on the front door.”
Ed, the incessantly question asking Ed.
“Do you think I’d like the new John Grisham book or the new Tom Clancy?”
“Should I try out this new book by this woman author? I don’t usually read women authors. Too much estrogen for me.”
“I’ll just sit over here with these books, read the first chapter of each and decide which one I’ll check out. Okay?”
Then there was that time he had read the same book she was reading.
“Ah, that’s a good one,” he said, leaning one elbow against the front desk. “Too bad he killed the love interest off in the last chapter. I really liked her.”
Sarah lifted the strap of her messenger bag over her head and laid it behind the front desk.
Ginny shrugged. “Boring one.”
“We need to get you a new hobby.”
Ginny bit her tongue. Literally.
Sarah was well-meaning but 24, bubbly, and clueless about getting old. Ginny adored her but wanted to slide a book about menopause across the counter and introduce her to her future.
“I can’t imagine what I’d do,” Ginny smirked. “The library is my life.”
“Or so the library board thinks,” Sarah quipped.
“God forbid I am not here at all times.” She rolled her eyes, walking toward the drop off box.
“Or be thinking about anything other than new programs,” Sarah called after her.
“And keep up the perfect appearance in the community,” Ginny called back, practicing her royal wave.
Ginny gathered the books in her arms and carried them back to the desk and stacked them on top of the returns from the previous day.
“You start entering them in,” Sarah said. “And I’ll start putting them back in their rightful places.”
“Get them done as quick as you can and make sure you get yourself some coffee. Ed will be here at the strike of 9, I’m sure.”
Ginny’s phone rang as she started to type. Her daughter Olivia’s photo popped up on the screen. Ginny took a deep breath before sliding her finger over the accept button.
“Hey.” Olivia’s tone denoted the same air of melancholy that had been present in her voice for months now.
Ginny bit her lower lip, wondering what the heavy sigh mixed in with that one word meant. “Are your bags packed yet?”
“What time are you leaving for the airport?”
“Don’t know yet. Probably seven. My flight’s at nine.”
The click of the computer keys under Ginny’s finger filled the long silence that followed while Ginny waited for her daughter to offer a reason for her call.
After thirty long seconds, Ginny coughed softly. “So, will Victor be coming along?”
“His name’s Vernon, mom.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. I knew it started with a ‘V’ at least.”
“Yeah, anyhow, he won’t be coming. I broke it off with him last night.”
Ah. The reason for the heavy sighs.
Ginny was glad her daughter couldn’t see the smile tugging at her mouth. She forced the happiness from her voice. “I’m sorry, Liv. Do you need to talk about it?”
Olivia huffed out a breath. “No. Whatever. He’s just a jerk.”
Ginny typed Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis into the computer and clicked the box next to returned.
“He said we were too different.” Oliva scoffed. “Whatever. More like he was too different. And a weirdo. All that constant pontificating about Tennyson and Hardy.”
Ginny smirked, recalling the awkward family dinner at Thanksgiving when Oliva had brought Vic — er — Vernon home from California with her for the holiday break. The way his complexion had paled at the sight of Tiffany changing a diaper in the middle of the living room floor while she shared her birth story with Ginny’s second oldest, Maddie. Really, though, Tiffany could have excused herself to the bedroom. Of course, Olivia’s announcement over dinner that she was now a vegan and couldn’t imagine “something dead that had once been alive and free” touching her lips hadn’t helped the day either.
“Well, who knows what will happen over the winter break,” Ginny said propping the phone between her cheek and shoulder as she typed. “Maybe absence will make the heart grow fonder.”
“He’s transferring to Cornell for the spring semester. Says they have a better architecture program.”
“You know —”
“I know, Mom.” Ginny heard a door or drawer slam on the other end of the line. “I could have gone to Cornell, two hours from the tiny, boring town I grew up in.” Another slam. “And I could have married the brother of a senator like Maddie or popped out babies like Tiffany and joined the Spencer Valley PTA and become like all the other closed-minded, uptight smalltown women.”
Ginny pressed her lips into a thin line. “There’s no reason to be snotty, Olivia. I’m not making you come home. You’re welcome to spend spring break out there if Spencer Valley is so detestable to you.”
Her youngest daughter sighed. “I’m sorry, Mom. It’s not that I don’t want to come home. It’s just, I don’t know — Classes were tough this semester and now all this with Vernon.” Ginny listened to fingernails drumming on wood. “But a visit home is probably what I need to clear my mind and help me decide if this is where I want to finish my degree.”
Ginny had a hard time imagining her daughter finishing her social work degree anywhere other than California after she’d begged to attend Stanford University two years ago. She couldn’t count the number of times Olivia had declared her love for the state of California, especially its all-year-around warm weather. Still, having Olivia closer to home, where Ginny could figure out where her daughter’s joy had disappeared to, would be nice too.
“I’ll call you when I have my flight details.”
Ginny clicked return next to a Tom Clancy book. “I’m looking forward to seeing you, Liv. Your father is too.”
“Yeah.” Olivia sighed again. “I’m looking forward to seeing you guys too.”
Her tone didn’t convey excitement, but at least she’d made the effort to say the words. Ginny finished entering returns after she hung up. She slid her finger over her phone screen when she was done, tapping on her husband’s name as she walked to the front door to unlock it.
“Shouldn’t you be opening the library?”
Couldn’t anyone just say, ‘hello’ anymore? “A good morning would have been nice.”
“Good morning. Shouldn’t you be opening the library?”
“I’m doing that now. I was delayed by a call from our daughter.”
“Ah. I see.” She heard the click of the computer keys on his end. “She’s on her way home for spring break?”
“Yes. Not very happily, but yes.”
“What’s His Face coming with her?”
“Vernon and no. They broke up.”
Stan snorted. “Wonderful. Maybe she’ll start eating normally again.”
Ginny shrugged. “Not sure that had anything to do with Vernon.” She took a deep breath as she heard the rustle of papers. Her stomach tightened. She shouldn’t ask. He’d probably say no but, “Want to grab lunch at the diner later?”
“Hmmm?” The crinkle of rustling papers muffled his voice. “What’s that?
She clicked the lock open on the towering wooden front door and tilted her head to one side, sighing softly. “I asked if you want to grab lunch at the diner later.”
More papers rustling. “Oh. Yeah. No. Can’t. I have a showing at lunch time and another one at 2. Rain check?”
If she had a dollar for every rain check they’d agreed on in the last year she’d be a millionaire. Not one of those rainchecks had ever been called in.
“Yeah. Sure. No problem.”
She cleared her throat, rubbing her fingertip along the edge of a bookshelf and making a face on the dirt staining her skin. She’d better move dusting to the top spot on her to-do list.
A drawer slammed shut on his end. “Great. See you later.”
She drew a deep breath, rushed ahead before she could chicken out. “I could make us those steaks I picked up at Clark’s.”
“I’ve got a meeting in Danby at 5 so I won’t be home until late. I thought I told you this morning.”
He hadn’t. “Oh. Right. Well. See you later then and love —”
The trill of a ringer cut her out off. “Gotta go, hon’. Probably George about that commercial property in Laporte.”
“Of course, go take —”
Ginny stared at the black screen for a few moments before setting her phone face down on the desk. She could only hope the rest of her day went better that those two phone calls had gone.