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He wore a long, blue and white button-up shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and tan board shorts of a youthful fashion which, when rode up at just the right angle, revealed the long-ago faded remnants of a sailor’s tattoo resting just above the man’s knee. His sperry’s were as tan and worn as a used baseball glove, and matched his overall visage quite well. The only telltale sign that this man was still clinging on to his youth, the way children grasp their mother’s before they leave them to face the night, were the alert, quick eyes that he used to surveil the numerous passersby, shifting through the crowds like ocean currents. They were deep and blue as Mellville’s seas, quick and curious as the creatures of the depth. Still just as capable of storms as they were many, many decades ago. He took a long draw from the cigarette and watched two sweethearts enter a store. The girl was a brown haired beauty, no older than seventeen, prancing along with the youthful vigor and confidence of a young doe. The man beside her, tall, muscular, handsome, strode with the prominent gait that all men seem to adopt when they’re in public with the woman they love. Protectful, purposeful, confident. He would go a long way, the old man thought, continuing to smoke the cigarette. He would go a long way if he managed to keep up that walk without stumbling. Up along the promenade, something caught the old man’s eye. In the distance orange-coated construction crews were tearing down some old brick building, grown moldy and rank and rusty with the passage of time. Staring with all his elderly strength, he could make out only one singular word, brown and faded as old cheese, plastered to the side of the structure in what was once white paint; “Charlie’s,” it read. For a moment, those deep blue eyes plunged to depths they had not explored in ages and ages. He saw, in sepia hues of golden twilight, a girl with an angelic face, singing and laughing in the early morning sun. Feelings that had been beaten and bruised and buried swirled back up to the surface, freed from their watery shackles. The man smoked his cigarette. The feeling subsided. It was a quarter of the way burned now, but it would have to do. Up in the sky, a seagull cried at the world and, finding no one cared much about its plight, decided to leave it altogether, disappearing into the camouflage of a white cloud. The old man sat back and imagined he, too, was a bird, flapping away from this absurd world and disappearing into a different era, a different person, a different time. ….“James, stop,” Maria said through fits of laughter, “you’re going to get it on my skirt.”James jabbed his head one again at her ice-cream cone, sticking out his tongue and trying his best to steal a taste of the delicious vanilla-chocolate custard. He was successful. The day was hot, and the ice cream felt sweet and cool on his pink, youthful lips.“Looks like if you want that part back you’ll have to go straight to the horse’s mouth.” James swept back his greased hair and puckered his lips.“Horse indeed,” Maria said, and returned his gesture with an affectionate punch in the shoulder. They walked together, hand-in-hand, down the freshly painted planks of the boardwalk. The sun smiled down on them, new and fresh. They had each been looking forward to this early June day for some time, stealing secret glances at their calendars and each other in the crowded hallways of their school while the anticipation and excitement built like the crescendo of an orchestra. Maria felt happy in this moment, with her hand nuzzled in his. She felt warm. Safe.“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” she said, twirling a piece of her brown hair, “that I really enjoy spending time with you.”He sighed and looked far away into the distance. “If only I could say the same.”She laughed and gave him another punch. “Are you sure the Navy is right for you? I think you’d make a splendid actor with the amount of sarcasm you manage to conjure up.”Suddenly Maria stopped, so abruptly that James stumbled and nearly fell over. “Seriously, though,” she whispered, in a voice that sounded like wind chimes, “I’ve never felt this way, about anyone. You make me feel… not happy,” she paused as she grasped for the words, “even better than happy; comfortable, like the feeling you get when your inside on a stormy day, looking out at all that wind and chaos but knowing that the walls around you and the roof above you are going to keep you warm and dry.” She blushed. His face was solid as stone. “I know I’m dramatic, but I just thought you should know--”The sentence never escaped her lips. He kissed her, then, in the middle of the boardwalk, with shaky hands and through the gritty saltiness of tears. He kissed her in the bright, blinding light of newly begotten love, in the hope that sparkles off the waves and crashes in the seas. Later, he would kiss her deep in the middle of a pale dream, a ghost who’s lips still tasted like mother’s homemade apple pie and strawberry wine. The kiss followed him through that bright day and stalked him in the night, when the taste had long eroded from his lips and the sensations had long abandoned his nerves, until only the face remained, eyes closed in an everlasting sleep. He kissed her because he loved her, and he left for the same reason.….The last stragglers were slowly making their way to their cars, sensing that the end had come. Usually night brought with it a new energy, a youthful excitement so contagious that it spread even to the most sordid of natives, looking at the tourists with contempt and disgust. But perhaps the jittery side-effects of this seasonal virus were finally wearing off, leaving its host cold and shivering and dead with the approach of winter. It seemed so; the boardwalk was empty, a shell of what it might be in the heat. Stores were being deserted, beaches abandoned, houses fled and responsibilities resumed. All was rot and ruin.Yet the old man remained. He still lingered on the bench, staring at the red cherry at the tip of his cigarette. The ember was weak, a dull throbbing red resembling the setting sun, but like the sun it stayed on, casting shimmering shadows over his tired face. He contemplated whether to stay or go, whether it was worth it to keep stalling the inevitable drive back to his empty house, where the slamming of the doors were met with nothing but echoes off of bare, musty walls. The night grew long, he thought, very long indeed. And his cigarette grew short.He got up and started to pace towards the exit ramp, when suddenly a thought consumed him. He immediately turned left, and began the long trek towards the promenade. His old bones rattled and shook with every step, and his heart was keeping three-quarters time, a strange rhythm of quick beats in succession followed by long, frightening pauses. Nevertheless he carried on, battering against, wind, will and time.After ten minutes he finally arrived at his destination. Charlie’s bookstore stood like a skeleton, nothing more than an empty husk of corn. Surrounding it in the front was a metal fence, approximately the height of the old man’s hip. Inside laid various tools and machines, splayed about like toppled chess pieces. It looked eerie at night, abandoned, as if the construction crew had suddenly vanished into thin air, leaving their work in the middle of its progress. A pull-down gate covered the entrance, which was undoubtedly locked, but unlike most store coverings this was made from chain-link, so as to allow the casual night-time onlooker to see into the store, and perhaps gleam a look into his past. The old man’s keen eyes worked only so well in the dark, however, and so reluctantly he vaulted the fence and approached.….“James,” Maria asked, crunching on a french fry, “have you ever been inside a bookstore?”He laughed and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. It was August, and hot, but it was also the afternoon, and the sea breeze sent tiny shivers down his bare shoulders. “Do I look like the reading type to you?”“You look like the handsome type.” She smiled and winked. “Really, though, have you ever been in a bookstore?”“No, if you must know, I haven’t.”“James Baxter!” Maria cried, sarcasm dripping from her lips like honey, “17 years on thisEarth and you’ve never once been inside a bookstore? You’re doing yourself a disservice.”“I’m doing myself a favor,” he said in a bored tone, “books are nothing but distractions from the beauty of real life, of what’s going on all around us.” Maria obviously wasn't pleased with this response. He shrugged and continued. “Why read a book about people doing things, most of the time boring things, when you can go out and live your life, go out and sing a song or drive a car or see a movie or kiss a pretty girl.” At this last part he leaned in for a kiss, which was rejected.“I am not kissing you until you step foot in a bookstore, and pick out a book for us to read. Together. Something that will enhance our relationship.”Maria was always looking for ways to “enhance their relationship.” He thought it was perfectly fine the way it was, no enhancing required. He was still madly in love, of course, the way boys are for their first cars or girls are for their first makeup kit, but sometimes she could get on his nerves, grind him up a little bit with nonsense like this. But then he looked at her. And when he looked at her, he saw everything he wasn’t. He saw the intelligence, the compassion, the kindness and the caring that he longed for, that he needed, that he relied upon like food and drink. He hadn’t realized it yet, it was impossible for him in that adolescent state, but nevertheless he felt, in the stirrings of his subconscious, that something about her made him grow, made him reach up like a flower blooming in the sun to be everything he had ever wanted and everything he could ever be. It was the growing, that warmth and sunshine and youth and fervor and passion and hope and change and life and love, that made him go on picnics in crowded fields or watch romantic movies or pretend to be in romantic movies or make plans for five kids and name them together or look at houses or read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was that sweet attention that made him bloom. That made him shine.“Okay,” he said, “let’s go.”They walked for a while, Maria excitedly dragging James behind her, until they reached a store named Charlie’s. It was a bright red building, bustling despite the lateness of the day, with a big wide entrance that seemed to invite the whole world to get lost for a few hours in the pages of mankind’s collected stories. They entered together, two halves about to become a whole, bound and strapped by spines of paper. “Good evening, you gentleman, young lady,” said a short elderly man with a kind face, nodding at each of them in turn. “My name is Charlie, and as you might have guessed, this is my bookstore. Is there anything I can help you with?”“We’re just browsing, thank you though sir,” said Maria. She turned to James, green eyes twinkling with fervor. “Anything look interesting to you?”James was in a sensory shock. All around him, as vast as some of them were thick, were volumes upon volumes of leather bound and paper-back books. Tall, short, long, thin, old, new, dusty, deeply clean, dry, moldy, and all other assortments and varieties swam in his eyes and in his head, teasing him with their long-kept secrets. James knew, in that climatic moment, with the assurance of someone who has seen for the first time, what it was like to be Herodotus, standing for the first time in that brilliant monument of Alexandria; only later would he be one with Caesar, watching something so beautiful, the result of the endless toil of the greatest minds of the highest civilization, be destroyed in flame, reduced to nought but smoke and ash. “I, I don’t know where to start,” he said honestly, brushing his fingers over the golden titles. Suddenly he stopped, eyes fixed on a book perched perilously on the top shelf. He reached for it, and with one quick blow blew a thick coat of dust off the cover, rendering it visible.Charlie approached him from behind, and stood on his tiptoes so as to peer over James’ shoulder. “Ah, the Catcher in the Rye,” he said nostalgically, a far-off look in his eye, “an excellent choice.” James turned to look him in the face. His pupils were just as blue as his. “I must warn you, young man, this book will either change you, or get into your head until you’re an even bigger version of yourself. I’m afraid I can’t answer which is good, and which is bad, only that one of the two is sure to happen, like Winter following Fall.”James only stood there, an uneasy feeling developing in his stomach. Maria smiled and grabbed the book from his hand. “We’ll take it,” she said, and started towards the register.It wasn’t long before James had started smoking cigarettes and going out with the other girls and enlisting in the navy and screwing prostitutes and drinking himself silly and wasting away his days on boats coming from nowhere and headed to the same destination. But for the time being, August waned into September, like the melting wax of a fading candle. ….Although he had expected it, the shock still convulsed around his body like a stroke when he peered through the gate and found that the bookstore had been gutted. The wooden walls, floor, and ceiling, once containing shelves upon shelves of mysterious knowledge, were now bare and naked; only the ghosts of shreds of paper remained, haunting the vacant space like the words and whispers of a deranged mind.Another drag. He had stopped feeling the buzz long ago, but he had never stopped the habit. It was the only thing that reminded him of those summer nights, those hazy days of sunshine and warmth with the girl he had promised to marry, the girl that had made him flower. What was he now? Nothing but a walking corpse, a man with a death sentence. His roots were dry, his buds were withered and wilted, the sunshine was gone and replaced with clouds and rain and long cold winds that blew the stalks and shook the trees and tore up the ground and whipped him like he deserved to be whipped because he had never given her a second thought not the time of day nor the peace and happiness and love and hope and dreams that he had promised and now he was a dying piece of gravel, a chunk of ugly mold growing and festering like this damned bookstore and this damned book and this damn cigarette and this damn boardwalk and this god-damn god-forsaken life.He was lying to himself. He knew it. Smoking wasn’t all he had, not by a long shot. He had kept it, held onto it, kept it safe all these years. Shielding it like her house shielded her when the storms shook it to the rafters. Shielding it like he had once shielded her.He reached into his pocket and pulled it out. One of the first printed copies of The Catcher in the Rye, deeply worn from overuse and the stain of salty tears. He shed some final ones now as he stared at it, becoming lost in the cover as he had once been lost in her eyes, her hair, her scent and taste and touch, so many years ago.He opened to the front cover. Etched in blue pen, faded like those sepia memories, were the words “I love you James,” scrawled in a neat script that looped and twirled like the winds over the sandy shores of the beach. Taped below these words, staring into a window of time, was a picture of two teenagers happily walking along the boardwalk; one a strong, handsome young man, the other a beautiful, brown-haired young girl, smiling in the comfort of the summer sun. Smiling the way she had, only hours before, been smiling next to a different man, arm in arm, as another old man watched from a lonely bench, puffing on his final cigarette. It was nearly extinguished now. All the better, he thought. It was time he went away anyway. He slid the book through the gate in Charlie’s old store, and dropped the cigarette on top of it. A last orange flame lit up as he walked away, burning with the passion and glory and substance of youth before drifting, drifting, drifting into an endless ocean of scattered ash. ,mature women dating Atascosa,date club Pocantico Hills,