Thea Bennett sat within the comfort of her parked car, mentally preparing herself for the visit. The weather was dismal, matching her heartbroken feelings. Mere days had passed since the tragic events of her eighteenth birthday, so the grief was still fresh in her mind. Rain pattered against the windows and wind-shield, causing them to fog up, but Thea didn’t mind; the windows were like curtains that hid her sorrow.
She squeezed her eyes shut and breathed in deeply to hold back the tears. It seemed to work; she felt herself relax just a tiny bit as she pulled down the vanity mirror. When she regarded her reflection, she was a little shocked as to how much she had changed in the last few days. The straight brown hair that many considered her prettiest asset was now a frizzy mess, while her striking eyes were red and puffy from crying. She could see her chapped lips tremble as she struggled to maintain a brave face. Taking one last deep breath, Thea grabbed the carnations that were resting on the passenger seat and left the car. Clutching the flowers close to her chest, she walked into the cemetery.
She weaved past the tombstones of varying shapes and sizes, heading for two markers placed under a small tree near an empty patch of grass. As she trudged along, she noticed families paying their respects at different markers. One family in particular caught her attention: a little boy was placing flowers at a gravestone, while his mother looked on with a sad smile. ‘I wonder if I’ll end up like that,’ thought Thea as she quickened her pace.
When she arrived at the two markers, she took a moment to take in their appearance. One showed clear signs of age, with its rough stone surface marred by small hairline cracks, while the dirt around the other revealed that it was recently dug. Though the rain darkened the color of the stones, the names OLIVER BENNETT and CECILIA BENNETT were still visible. Thea knelt and placed one carnation on the grave of her mother. She had died when Thea was a little toddler, so she had few memories of her. Her father, however…
Thea’s gaze shifted to the other, more recent gravestone. Just looking at the grey slab brought back the grief and sadness she had tried so hard to lock away. She fell to her knees and closed her eyes, tears flowing down her cheeks as she recalled the events of just a few days before, when her life changed forever.
She would never forget the utter hopelessness that she felt on her birthday, when she arrived home from school to discover life’s terrible present for her: her father’s mutilated body. The splatter of blood all over the floor would forever be ingrained in her brain. Though her father’s murderer was apprehended the next day, Thea still felt miserable. Oliver Bennett was more than a father to her; he was her protector and best friend. She loved how, despite their dire financial struggles, he treated her like his princess and gave her anything she wanted. After his death, Thea was terrified. Now that she was legally an adult at eighteen, she was on her own. How could she survive out in the world, all by herself?
She let the tears fall until they eventually dried up. Wiping the last of them from her face, she took the second carnation and and gently placed it at the foot of the gravestone. Then, she sat cross legged in front of her father. “I miss you, Dad.” she whispered softly. “I wish you could come back to me…” She sat like this for a while, opening up to her dead parents as the rain droplets bounced off of her purple windbreaker. Once she was finished, Thea stood up and wiped the wet grass and dirt off her jeans. She was surprised to see that talking to her parents had helped relieve some of her sadness. “Goodbye guys,” she said quietly before she left the cemetery. “I’ll come visit again.”
As she drove home, she noticed a small, run down shop as she drove by it. Something about it called to her, and on a whim, she jerked the steering wheel to the right and hastily turned into the parking lot of the shop, ignoring the honks of the drivers on the main road. Once she was safely parked, she breathed in a sigh of relief and looked at the building. The “shop” turned out to be Freedom Books, a bookstore that she had never heard of. Judging by the packed parking lot, the store seemed to be pretty popular. Thea exited the car once again and entered the bookstore.
She didn’t know why she came here, really. When she walked into the bookstore, she felt lost. The place was surprisingly big, despite its drab exterior. A square checkout terminal sat in the center of the store, and large bookshelves lined the walls. Dozens of people occupied the store, browsing the shelves for books, or reading in one of the many chairs situated throughout the place. Thea wandered aimlessly, unsure of what to do. Her father was the bookworm, not her. When he would try to encourage her to read for leisure, she would always laugh him off and go back to browsing on her phone. She felt her face turn warm as the grief and longing struck her once again.
“Excuse me, miss?” She jolted out of her stupor to see a middle-aged woman standing in front of her, a concerned expression on her face. A quick glance at the lanyard hanging around her neck told Thea that her name was Margaret. “Do you need help with anything?”
“Um, uh…” She avoided eye contact as she struggled to find her reason for coming here. “I’m looking for a book to read.”
“Oh! I’ve got the perfect thing for you!” Margaret quickly walked towards the back of the store, and Thea followed. The lady scanned the shelves, running her finger along the spines of the books until it rested on her target. She pulled the book off the shelf and handed it to Thea. “This one should do the trick.”
Thea thanked the woman and looked at the thick paperback she held in her hands. She read the word Release on the cover, written in a swirly font over an image of a beautiful city landscape. Thea wondered why Margaret thought she would like this book. The cover looked boring to her. However, that title… she couldn’t help but think it was a sign. She sat in one of the comfy reading chairs and began to read.
Thea felt a strange sense of relatability as she read about a sheltered boy who had to learn to survive on his own in the real world. She became immersed in the narrative until she could not stop reading. By the time she was on the last few pages, most of the customers had already left, though a few still browsed for books. Once she read the last word, Thea closed the book and looked at the cover with appreciation, reflecting on the parallels between the boy’s experiences and her own. Amazed at how the book had alleviated most of her sorrows, she decided then and there that she absolutely had to own this book.
She took the copy to the checkout terminal, where Margaret gave her a knowing smile. “You really liked the book, huh?”
“Yeah,” Thea nodded. “It really resonated with me.”
Margaret’s knowing smile grew. “You’re Oliver’s daughter, aren’t you?”
It took Thea a bit to realize the woman was talking about her father. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“I thought so,” Margaret nodded. “That’s why I pulled that book for you. That was one of your father’s favorite novels, you know.”
Thea felt her face flush. “How did you know my dad?”
“He came to this store for books every single weekend. Knew everybody working here, too,” Margaret answered. “We were devastated to hear about his passing. I’m so sorry for your loss…”
Thea pondered this new information as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a shiny new credit card: her father’s final gift, given to her the day of his murder. When Margaret saw the card, she shook her head. “No, dear,” she said kindly, holding out the book for her to take. “You can keep it. Think of it as a gift from me.”
“Th-thank you,” Thea stammered as she took the paperback. While she appreciated the woman’s kind gesture, she felt guilty for not buying anything, so she quickly grabbed a bracelet from one of the nearby racks and placed it on the counter along with her credit card. “I feel kind of bad about not paying for the book, so I’d like to buy this.”
Margaret laughed. “You’re a very compassionate woman…just like your father!”
As she rang up Thea’s purchase, she looked at Thea with worry. “If you need anything at all, I’m here for you.” Margaret gave her a smile. Seeing how caring she was, Thea knew she would take the nice lady up on her offer sometime.
Thea smiled her thanks as Margaret handed her the receipt, a symbol of her first purchase as an independent woman. When she walked out of the bookstore, she saw that the rain had stopped. The sky was bright and sunny, with a faint rainbow cutting through the clouds.
Slipping her new bracelet on her wrist, Thea beamed and headed home, taking the brighter weather as a sign of her brighter future.