My dreams, the rope and the knots, I know exactly what they mean.
You don’t tie yourself to something unless you’re scared you might float away.
The beginning of December is one of my least favorite times of year in Massachusetts. It always feels like the calm before the storm.
The air is often thin and frigid, as if it could shatter like glass. But, today at least, it’s warm enough that the light precipitation is just a drizzle of rain and not the beginning of flurries. Although this is a somewhat unwelcome reminder that our first snow is looming.
I am wearing black jeans, a slouchy cream sweater, tall brown boots, and a black peacoat. I never wondered what I’d be wearing when I saw Jesse again because I never thought it would happen.
And yet here is the answer to the question I never knew to ask myself: jeans and a sweater.
There’s no dress code for this sort of thing, for seeing the love of your life who has been missing since your first anniversary.
One of the loves of your life.
Sam left early this morning and didn’t wake me up to say good-bye. I opened my eyes only when I heard him shutting our front door on his way out. I watched him from the bedroom window. I saw him walk to his car and get in. His face looked stoic but his posture betrayed him. Shoulders slumped, head bowed, he looked like a man at the end of his rope.
He pulled away before I could call out to him, and when I dialed his number, he didn’t answer.
Meanwhile, Jesse lands at three. Which means I have the whole morning and most of the afternoon to get through as if this isn’t the most unbelievable day of my life.
Just before nine, I pull into the parking lot behind Blair Books and make my way inside, turning on all the lights and bringing it to life—the way I do almost every morning.
My parents are officially retiring next year. But at this point, they have retired all but in name. I run the store. I am in charge. The clerks report to my assistant manager, Tina, who reports to me.
My dad still oversees the bookkeeping. My mom comes in on Saturday afternoons and works the floor—she wants to know what people are reading and she likes to keep in touch with the same customers she’s grown to care for over the past twenty years.
Everything else is me.
Blair Books is the one thing in my life right now that I am unequivocally proud of.
I may be a bit overwhelmed and sometimes feel like I’m in over my head, but I am good at running this store.
Sales are staying solid in light of the changes in the industry. Not many people can say that. Just being able to keep the lights on at a time when even big-box chain stores have closed is, obviously, the most important thing. But the truth is that’s only a fraction of where my pride lies. I am, more than anything, incredibly excited about how we are engaging readers.
We have author events at least twice a month. We have signed copies of best-selling books. We have eleven different reading groups and a writers workshop that each meet here once a month. We have a thriving online business. We have exceptional customer service. We have free doughnuts once a week.
I am especially proud of the free doughnuts.
When I’m done tidying up the store this morning, I head to my office and sit down at my desk to check my e-mail. I see a message from my mother at the top of my in-box.
The subject line says Did You See This? The body of the e-mail is a link to the article in the Beacon about Jesse. It must have gone live this morning. Underneath the link, my mother wrote, Call me anytime today if you need to talk. I’m thinking of you.
I’m not sure that I want to read the article but I can’t stop myself from clicking.
Missing Local Man Surfaces on Pacific Island
BY ELIZABETH IVAN
Jesse Lerner, 31, from Acton, has been found after having gone missing three and a half years ago.
Lerner had been involved in a fatal helicopter crash that killed the other three passengers on board. The team was on their way to film in the Aleutian Islands when the helicopter experienced a critical engine failure. Lerner, then 28, was presumed dead. Seven weeks ago, he was discovered at sea by a ship heading to Midway Atoll.
Midway is a former naval air facility and is currently managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Though it is far out into the Pacific, a third of the way between Honolulu and Japan, there are anywhere from thirty to sixty FWS members stationed there at any given time.
Lerner is believed to have spent the majority of his time stranded on an islet within a thousand kilometers of Midway. There has been no official word on how he made his way to safety.
Hospitalized shortly after rescue, Lerner has recently been cleared for travel and will arrive back in Massachusetts sometime this week, most likely by way of Hanscom Field. His parents, Joseph Lerner and Francine Lerner of Acton, eagerly await his arrival. “We cannot tell you the depth of the pain of losing a child. And we cannot begin to describe the relief in finding out he’s coming home,” said the Lerners in a joint statement.
Over a decade ago, Lerner made headlines when he beat the high school state record for the five hundred–meter freestyle. A year before he went missing, Lerner married local woman Emma Blair. When contacted, Blair had no comment.
I finish reading the article and I read it again. And then again. And then again. I snap out of it only when Tina calls my name.
“Good mornin’, Emma,” she says to me as she comes in through the back just before ten. With her thick Boston accent, my name sounds more like “Emmer” than “Emma.”
She pronounces “library” as “libry,” calls water fountains “bubblahs,” and leaves work on time so she’s not late for “suppah.”
Boston accents are warm and cozy and wonderful to me. When I hear people make fun of them on TV, I always wonder if they’ve ever been here. So many people in Massachusetts don’t even speak with a Boston accent, and the ones who do would never pahk they-ah cah in Hahvahd Yahd.
There’s nowhere to park in Harvard Yard.
“Good morning, Tina,” I say.
Tina is the sort of employee you search high and low for. She’s an empty-nested stay-at-home mom who loves books more than anyone I’ve ever met. She is sweet to everyone, but firm with people who are unkind. She misses her kids, who are all in college, and works here to busy her mind. I don’t think she or her husband needs the money she makes. It’s not that I’ve asked, it’s just that she uses at least a quarter of her paycheck every week to buy books with her discount.
When I start to get overwhelmed by all that there is to do running this store, it is Tina who I count on.
The other thing that I like about her is that she has absolutely no interest in being my friend. We work together. I am her boss. We are kind to each other and occasionally share a laugh in the stockroom. That’s the beginning and the end of it.
When I first started managing people, I had a hard time setting boundaries and expectations. I wanted everyone to like me. I wanted the people here to feel like they were part of a family—because that is what this store has always been to me. Family. But business doesn’t work like that. And I don’t need my employees to like me. I need them to respect me and do their jobs well.
I’ve learned that lesson the hard way a few times, but at least I can say I’ve learned it. Now, I have a group of employees who might sometimes go home and complain about me but take pride in their jobs and run a great bookstore.
Today I am especially grateful that my employees are not my friends. I know that Tina reads the Beacon. I’m sure she read the article. But I know she will not ask me a single thing.
When the Acton Ladies Reading Society comes in at eleven to start their book group, I begin to get anxious.
Jesse’s plane lands in four hours.
Jesse, my Jesse, will be home today.
I dropped him off at LAX three years and seven months ago and I will be at the airfield this afternoon when he lands.
I am not good at my job for the hours between noon and two. I am scatterbrained, unfocused, and impatient.
I ring up a woman for $16.87 and when she hands me a twenty-dollar bill, I give her $16.87 back.
A man calls asking if we have any copies of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and I tell him, “Yes, we carry all of Jonathan Lethem’s books.”