The new display looked fantastic. They had just had an order of themed cook books and so Cara had wasted no time in redoing the front window with the vintage cake stands she kept in the café kitchen, gingerbread men bunting and the old Alice in Wonderland cardboard cut outs they’d used for World Book Day.
After straightening up the teacups and making sure the Lord of the Rings recipe book was slap-bang in the middle, (it was her favourite, and she’d definitely be making the lembas bread later) Cara called over to the bookstore’s owner, Scarlett, to take a look.
“Only you could take some old Christmas bunting and teacups and turn it into something out of a fairy-tale!” Scarlett laughed as Cara brushed herself down. Handling decorations always meant being covered in stray glitter.
“Well, if it looks magical then maybe someone will actually buy a cook book! We’ve not had a sale on them since last year’s Bake Off final.”
It definitely wasn’t their most popular genre. Usually anything non-fiction was delegated to the upstairs shelves next to the café, there for customers to flick through whilst waiting for their lattes. Science fiction, fantasy and young adult dominated their main floor and they were often changing their displays to fit what was popular. Cara’s favourite part of the shop was the crime and thriller section, as she was a huge fan of Q from the recent James Bond films (she’d even gone as far as calling her cat Q and had bought him a little plush laptop to play with) and so she’d decorated the space with Bond posters, cat plushies and scrabble mugs. Scarlett had pointed out that only she was obsessed enough to get the references, but Cara had already agreed not to bring her cat to work as an official mascot, and so Scarlett couldn’t have everything her own way.
Their relationship was definitely not one of an employer and employee. Given that it was only the two of them on the main floor every day, as their other colleague Martin ran the café single handed, Scarlett had become like a big sister to Cara and they’d bonded over their love of books and too much cake. Scarlett often commented that Cara had given the shop a new lease of life, as she was crap at window displays and didn’t have an artistic bone in her body.
Cara had been given a lot of creative freedom when she’d joined. The main floor was now full of dark wood tables and plush armchairs. Lanterns hung off little stands and the exposed walls were covered in bookish wallpaper. Due to how popular their shop floor now was, Cara was now in charge of decorating and event planning.
“I admire your passion, but I think you’re on your own. Even Disney won’t get the next generation cooking.” Scarlett thumbed through the book and pulled a face at the Mickey Mouse shaped pie. She couldn’t imagine fiddling about with pastry when she could just stick a Tesco’s ready meal into the microwave.
Cara slapped her hands away and pulled the book to her chest like an overprotective mother, “it’s about appreciating good food you uncultured heathen. Now, if you’re done getting fingerprints on my books, could you check how many Sally Rooney totes we’ve got left? I might have to put another order in.”
“Um, who is the boss around here?” Scarlett raised an eyebrow.
“Definitely Martin, we wouldn’t survive if he didn’t feed us!” They both laughed and began to finish up so that they could unlock the door. There was usually a couple of early morning customers who liked to get a cup of coffee and read the paper upstairs, then browse politely for ten minutes before leaving empty handed.
To Cara’s surprise though, when she went to unlock the door she came face to face with a man considerably younger than their morning regulars. He was tall and had a full head of dark curls, rectangular glasses and was carrying a brown leather satchel. Cara immediately thought of her favourite Bond character and wondered if the universe was favouring her today.
“Hi there! Welcome to Cups and Books, can I help you with-“
“I need a spare table and any nonfiction you have on Oscar Wilde.” He barged past and any fangirl thoughts vanished immediately. Cara frowned at his demeanour.
“All nonfiction is upstairs, Sir. Right next to the café.”
Mr Rude didn’t even bother to say thank you, and instead rushed over to the stairs as if Cara had purposefully held him up. From the corner of her eye she could see Scarlett at the tills, watching the scene unfold with a puzzled expression. Cara went to join her, wondering what on earth had just happened.
“Why do all the good looking men have really bad personalities?” Scarlett asked, sympathetically wrapping an arm around Cara. “I hope he doesn’t stay long.”
“He looked like an older version of Q! I was all ready to be the perfect host until he opened his mouth. My god, he’s worse than Mr Darcy!” Cara glanced mournfully toward the staircase and then shook her head. It wouldn’t do any good to focus on one bad customer so early in the day, not when she’d put so much effort in with the window display and there was bound to be some bookish youngsters who would want to chat about the new Sally Rooney book or those shortlisted for The Booker Prize. Mr Rude would not spoil her love of being at work.
Sure enough, the rest of the morning went without a hitch. A group of teenagers praised her window display and one of them, to Scarlett’s shock, bought a Lord of The Rings recipe book.
“It’s the lembas bread, it wins every time.” Cara passed the bagged book over to its new owner, a teenage girl dressed in a Minecraft shirt, with a huge grin.
Around lunchtime they both escaped upstairs to steal some shortbread off of Martin, who had some cheese toasties waiting for them. Bless him. Cara adored him the way a sister adores her older brother, and often commented he should apply for The Great British Bake Off because his cakes were out of this world. He always replied that he was flattered, but if he went on the show there’d be no one to run the cafe or feed his favourite girls. Martin was a sweet guy who baked for his wife on the weekends and then brought in the leftovers on a Monday. Scarlett always said that if he ever quit, she’d sell up because there’d be no point in coming to work.
Mr Rude must have left whilst they were occupied with customers, as the upstairs study area was empty when Cara checked it before locking up. Her and Scarlett had this funny routine of saying goodnight to each section as they turned off the lights and then they patted the door on the way out.
“Another day done, good job today partner!” The two women hugged each other before going their separate ways, Scarlett to the car park to drive home and Cara walking ten minutes down the street to her flat.
Q was perched on the kitchen table when she got in, his little paws kneading his plush laptop.
“Hard at work too?” She grinned and swept him up for a kiss, “time for a break Mr. Let’s get dinner.”
She’d brought back a copy of the Lord of The Rings recipe book and quickly got to work mixing the dough for the lembas bread. Once that was done and in the oven, she stirred some premade casserole and then got Q’s dish out from the cupboard.
“What will you be having tonight, Sir?” Grabbing two tins from the shelf, Cara held them out and laughed when the cat batted at the tuna, “ah, a very good choice.”
Once the food was done and Q was happily munching his fish, Cara tucked herself up onto the couch and took a huge bite of the bread, sighing with happiness as it melted in her mouth.
“God bless the elves, they really have invented the food of the gods.”
Q chirped happily in agreement.