Katie Ganshert is a wife, mother, writer, fifth grade teacher, and dog lover who lives in the heart of the Midwest. She writes inspirational women’s fiction and contemporary romance. She is an active member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association (ACFW), enjoys blogging and reads voraciously. She’s completed five novels and looks forward to writing more. She is represented by Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary Group. You can find her on the web at http://katieganshert.blogspot.com/.
Shall what is formed
say to him who formed it,
Virginia Woolf. Sylvia Plath. Hemmingway.
He wouldn’t be the first writer to slip into insanity. Nor would he be the last. But seeing her in the aisle of his favorite bookstore? Not the crowded one on Main, but the one tucked behind an insurance building along an unnamed alley. It made him feel a little bit more than insane.
She bent over and plucked a used book from the bottom shelf. The way she moved. The slant of her shoulders. Jeff knew her. He’d know her anywhere. Scarlett Waters. In the flesh. He squeezed his eyelids tight. Maybe when he opened them, she’d be gone. Or maybe she’d turn around and show him eyes the wrong shade of blue, or a bottom lip that was too thin, or ears that didn’t stick out just enough to make her self-conscious. He took a deep breath and peeked.
She was still there. Tapping her foot, scrunching her forehead, sucking on the tip of her thumb in that way she did whenever she had a decision to make. Should she purchase the used book or look for another?
Jeff wiped his hands against his jeans, looked over his shoulder then back at the woman. Scarlett. It was her. It had to be. He craned his neck to peek at the title clutched in her long, slender fingers—fingers he’d fashioned just for her. Piano fingers. His Scarlett played the piano. She shifted her weight, blocking the title from view.
Jeff patted his thighs, scratched his jaw, and crept closer—a sort of suspicious-looking side creep, like he didn’t know which way to face. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. He’d met his characters before. Once while waiting in line at the grocery store. Again at a Fourth of July parade. Another time in the sanctuary of his church. Each time it happened, he had the same funny reaction—his stomach disobeyed gravity and his heart tap-danced against his sternum. He gathered an unsteady breath and took another step closer. His elbow knocked into a row of books. He clawed at their wobbling spines. But too late. Three paperbacks smacked onto the floor.
Scarlett looked up.
Jeff drank in her features. The angle of her nose. The freckles dusting her cheeks. The copper tint of her hair beneath the bookstore lighting and the way she’d swept it into a messy ponytail. He glimpsed the title of her book. A collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe. A pocket of air popped in his throat. He’d given Scarlett a passion for poetry. She read one every night before bed.
The woman’s mouth fell into an uncertain O. Her eyes twitched. Jeff knew what she was thinking. Who is this guy? Why is he looking at me like that?
He cleared his throat and picked up the scattered paperbacks. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“You didn’t frighten me.” Her answer came too quick. Her voice too high. She was lying. Scarlett’s voice always came out high and fast when she fibbed.
“What’s your name?” He couldn’t help himself. He had to know for sure.
She fingered the yellowed pages of poetry. “Scarlett.”
A swoosh of breath blew past his lips. He wanted to savor this moment. To freeze time. Strike up a conversation, maybe buy her a cup of her favorite coffee. Wrap his arms around this woman he’d taken such care in creating. This woman he knew everything about. Only he couldn’t. He’d scare her away. So instead, he smiled. “O’Hara?”
The left side of her mouth quirked. “I get that a lot.”
Jeff shrugged, replaced the books, then reached out his hand. “Jeff Long.”
She hesitated before slipping her hand into his. Smooth and cold. Scarlett always had cold hands.
His lungs twisted. He couldn’t help himself. He wanted her to know he’d created her. That he’d put such thought into the shape of her face, such consideration into the things that made her cry, labored over her gifts, her pattern of speech, whether she’d be shy or outgoing. She needed to know that he’d fashioned her for a purpose. That she wasn’t some accident or byproduct of random chance. “You’re Scarlett Waters.”
She reclaimed her hand with a jerk. “How did you know that?”
Jeff tucked his into his back pockets, hoping an easy stance might erase some of the fear creeping into her brow. “I’m a writer.”
She stepped away.
His insides wilted. He wanted to tell her to stop. He wanted to make her stay. But he wouldn’t force her. That was something he’d never do. “This is going to sound really weird.”
Suspicion slitted her eyes.
“But I wrote you.”
She stopped her backward exit. “A letter?”
“No. I wrote you.” He scribbled an imaginary pen across the air. “Into existence.”
One of her eyebrows jumped toward her hairline. “You wrote me?”
Sadness pressed a palm against Jeff’s chest. She didn’t believe him. “You’re Scarlett Waters. You live at 566 Elmore Avenue. Only child of Annette and Daniel Waters. Your mother lost her life to cancer five years ago. You dropped out of college your freshman year to take care of her and now you work at the Piggly Wiggly. You aren’t married. You’ve never been in love. Your best friend is your yellow lab. You play the piano just like your grandma and every time you read Jack Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, you cry.”
Black pupils crowded out the crystal blue of her irises. Her mouth dropped into that familiar O. “Who are you?”
“I already told you. I’m Jeff Long. The one who created you.” The one who loves you. The one who knows you better than anybody else ever could.
“I don’t believe you.”
His shoulders sagged. The others hadn’t believed him either. “Why not?”
“But it’s true.”
She stepped away, shaking her head, clutching Edward Allan Poe like a life preserver. “You didn’t create me.” She looked behind her and took another step back, widening the distance between them. “You leave me alone or I’ll—I’ll call the police. Don’t come near me ever again. Do you understand?”
Jeff stood in the empty aisle, arms dangling by his sides, watching her back away.
“I said, do you understand?”
Each word pierced his soul. He nodded. Of course he understood.
He sat down in front of the poetry books, took out a dusty book by Emily Dickinson. Scarlett’s second favorite poet, right after Tennyson. He slid his fingertip down the spine. Maybe if he kept coming back to this bookstore, maybe one day, he’d run into her again. But that would only scare her. He fished a pen from his coat pocket. On the inside cover of the book—the one Scarlett would eventually buy—he wrote her a note. A simple truth. One he hoped she would accept. One that would never change.
For Scarlett. Because you are special. Because you are loved.