Harry Styles had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. His days were uninteresting and his nights were even duller. His life had become a routine, a pathetic, the-fuck-am-I-doing routine. Waking up at noon every day to walk to his job at the old, dingy bookstore which was only two blocks away from his even dingier flat above the Chinese restaurant – which, let’s be honest, didn’t deserve to be open anymore with all those health violation it had – was what he grew accustomed to after being out of school for the past two years. He couldn’t really complain though – but he still would – because dropping out of university was his fault, or his choice. He didn’t fit into the university life, doing maths and sciences, not knowing when he was ever going to use those in his life, but only because he had no idea what he would ever do after he finished uni. The back and forth with his academic advisor gave him migraines, the thirty-something year old pushing him to pick a major, the twenty-one year old not succumbing to the woman’s insistence. When Harry wanted to, he would pick something he would love to do for the rest of his life and he would go back to school when he was ready.
Today was not that day.
Instead, today, Harry woke up, noon as usual, to walk down to the bookshop. Don’t get him wrong, he loved that bookshop to death. It was one of the only jobs he could get at the age of nineteen, freshly dropped out of college and he had Mr. Windsor to thank for giving him the job. The bookshop was family owned, his father making it into what it is now. Harry didn’t know much about the history but it’s been in the family for a long time now. Mr. Windsor was an old man, who was slowly needing a cane to wall but was too stubborn to admit to it. He was still full of life, with a head of fluffy white hair and grey crinkled eyes. Unlike many others, Harry enjoyed his company – despite the very strong smoking pipe smell – because he didn’t stare at him like a complete failure, but more like puzzle to be solved. He’d never figure it out, though, because Harry didn’t even know what puzzle there was to be solved. But other than that, Harry enjoyed the advice he received and the books the elderly man would recommend, it taught Harry a lot more than what that old, uptight university taught him.
It was cold when Harry walked out of his flat, the smell of aged Chinese food lingering in the air making him cringe while he cursed at himself for ever thinking it was a good idea to live here. But it was the cheapest rent he could afford on the salary that Mr. Windsor paid him. He held his breath until he left the restaurant, waving at the middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Yang, who owned the place.
He took a breath of fresh air as soon as he stepped outside, wrapping the scarf around his neck tighter and pulling down his beanie even further over his mop of brown locks. The cold wind was nippy and despite being bundled up in layers of fluffy sweaters, he shivered. This was when he loved the fact he only had to walk a couple blocks to the bookshop, even if his entire flat smelled of old Chinese food. The sky was gray and cloudy, and it looked like it was about to rain, or snow, it didn’t matter, but the winter months were taking a toll on the weather, something Harry loved. Winter was his favorite season, loving how almost every year he’d be able to walk down snowy paths, and make hot chocolate. Though it was only November, Harry was excited for December, couldn’t wait, actually. He had presents already planned out for Mr. Windsor and the Yangs and his –
No, it didn’t matter anymore. He hadn’t seen his family since his father figured out he had dropped out of uni, which was actually several months later when both his parents showed up at his dorm and found only his old roommate leaving him to break the news to two very distraught looking parents. Needless to say, Harry’s father wasn’t the forgiving type and if he was being shunned by his father he couldn’t speak to his mother, as well. And that hurt him but he would never admit to it.
Harry entered Windsor’s Books, the small bell above the door ringing in the silence of the small shop, shoving his beanie into the pocket of his coat letting his wild, unruly curls roam free. It was empty, as per usual, and sometimes Harry wondered how in the world Mr. Windsor still had the ability to keep this place open and pay him. Still, Harry was glad that it had remained open. With a sigh, he shrugged his coat off and placed it behind the counter of the till, rolling the sleeves to his black jumper up to his forearms. Though it was near freezing outside, it was bloody hot for Harry inside. Thinking Mr. Windsor had left the heating on all night, a frown settled on his face, imagining how high the heating bill would be. He’d have to talk to him once again, knowing this problem would arise another time in the future. Going to the thermostat at the back of the shop, Harry adjusted the temperature before wandering around, trying to look for Mr. Windsor.
Windsor’s Books was a hole in the wall, miniscule, diamond in the ruff type of place. One of the only reason’s Harry had found it was because he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. The front of the building still had the authentic white paint, faded and peeling. It wasn’t the best looking storefront and the only indication that it was a shop was the sign dangling above the door, wooden and chipped. But the inside was a different story. It was a room with endless rows of bookshelves from ceiling to floor, books in piles at the corners and a small reading nook with old, comfy chairs and it smelled like the comfort of old and new books. It was always brightly lit, despite the lack of windows, by luminescent lights above and string lights tacked onto the walls. It was a book lover’s paradise.
So, Harry had to admit that the bookshop wasn’t as dingy as he made it out to be because he enjoyed spending his time here. It was just nothing new for him and he wanted something new and exciting.
“Mr. Windsor,” Harry called out, running a finger through the ridges of the books on the shelves against the wall. There was no answer, no raspy and gruff voice echoed back to him. Looking around, he tilted his head, confused as to how the shop was open but no one was here. With a shrug, he went back to the counter and sat on the stool, resting his cheek on his left hand, hoping a customer would come in. It wasn’t a customer who came in, just five minutes later. Mr. Windsor, a bundle of joy and carrying a rather large box comes barreling through the door. “Mr. Windsor!”
“Harry, m’boy. Glad you’re here.”
Harry rushed towards Mr. Windsor, grabbing the box from the man. Mr. Windsor gave him a warm, toothy smile before grabbing his cane from behind, Harry having no idea where it came from, before marching in front of him.
“If you follow me.”
“What is all this?” Harry took a peek inside, but merely saw a white cloth covering the contents of the box.
“In a minute, place it on the counter,” Mr. Windsor waved his hand in a casual manner.
Harry shrugged but placed the box on counter, accustomed to the strange antics Mr. Windsor does every once in a while. Last week, he came in with ten beanies on his head; it wasn’t raining or snowing at the time. He still doesn’t what Mr. Windsor was doing with all the beanies and he would never bother to ask. Mr. Windsor was of the eccentric kind, very peculiar and you never questioned it. Mr. Windsor walked to the counter and, with a flurry, he lifted the cloth and revealed its contents. At the very top of the box were…minced pies?
“Erm, Mr. Windsor, why-“
“Come, Harry, take one.. The ol’ lass from down the road, Mrs. Surry, made tons. Gave them out to everyone. But I’ll tell you what.” He lowered his voice and leaned into Harry, his gray eyes brightening up. “She gave me the most.” There was a twinkle in his eye and Harry couldn’t help but smile, knowing how fond Mr. Windsor had grown fond of the woman down the road.
“That’s great, but I’ll I think pass on the pie,” Harry crinkled his nose in disgust causing Mr. Windsor to guffaw before shaking his head and taking out the remaining pies from the box. Underneath the box, Harry wasn’t expecting to see. It looked like trinkets of sorts, a memory box. But were they Mr. Windsor’s? He was immediately drawn to the small wooden jewelry box at the bottom of the box, underneath the photo album that look about ready to be torn from its spine and a black raggedy sweater that seemed too feminine for someone like Mr. Windsor. His eyes were transfixed on the hand carved swirled details, the gold accents and the smooth finish. He wanted to know the story behind. Who gave him the jewelry box, where did it come from, why was it just in the box? But before he could ask him about it, or, in fact, get his hands on the object, Mr. Windsor placed the cloth back in the box, covering the rest of the items from view, snapping Harry out of his reverie.
Harry looked up at Mr. Windsor, not realizing he had zoned out.
“M’boy, you a’right?” Worry was etched onto the man’s face, his wrinkles even more prominent before Harry nodded.
“I – er- yeah, sorry,” Harry smiled sheepishly before looking away, cheeks tinted pink.
“Anyway, I want you to take the box into the backroom, but put it in the room to the right instead of the left one. And then come back out quickly so you can help. We’re handing these out, helping Mrs. Surry.” He bustled along as fast as he could with his cane and left the counter.
“The room to the right? Mr. Windsor, there is no room to the right.” If Harry had only met Mr. Windsor, he’d be a bit worried about his mental capacity, but this isn’t the first time he had said something that didn’t make sense. “Mr. Windsor,” he called, but Mr. Windsor was too wrapped up in something to pay any attention to Harry.
He let it go and grabbed the box, noticing how much lighter it was without the gross, mince pies inside. Mince pies. Who in the world likes, much less eats, mince pies? Harry had to hold in a visible shudder as a faint memory of his mother trying to shove a mince pie into his mouth. Of course, it was all in a playful manner and he was ten at the time. It was Christmas, a white Christmas in Cheshire, and everyone was happy, even his dad who only seemed to be happy during the holidays. He immediately squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to remember what used to make him happy. Despite the warm feeling he got in his chest when it came to thinking about his home life, he didn’t want to think about what he didn’t have anymore. That memory was eleven years old, and he hadn’t even remembered it until now, and a dejected feeling surged through him He wouldn’t think about it now, or ever again. If his mum didn’t want to contact him then he didn’t want to contact her either. It was petty of him, but he was still hurt. Another Christmas would be passed by himself, once again.
Harry opened up the door that led to backroom. It was a very small room where more books were thrown on the ground, cleaning supplies like a bucket, broom and mop laid at the corner of one side, and on the other side, the left side, was a door. The only door in the backroom. Harry shook his head and made for the door until a noise startled him. He jumped, his heart beat quickening before he spun around, noticing that the broom had tumbled over, now blocking the path to the other door.
The other door?!
Harry had to do a double take as he stared, open mouthed, at the iron wrought door. It stood out amongst the wooden interior of the room, and he couldn’t understand where it came from because it was never there until now. Harry was confused and, to be a bit honest, nervous. Was he really that absent minded that he never noticed an abstractly designed door that almost engulfed the room? With timid steps, Harry shuffled along the floor, the box held tight in his grip. He shuffled it to one side of his body before reaching a shaky hand out to the cast iron door handle. He looked behind him, the room empty and silent before pulling the door open. It was heavy and creaking and he had to use more of his strength than what he expected. What he didn’t expect, when he opened the door, was how small the room on the other side was. It felt like he was in a cupboard; it was small and barely had enough room for the empty bookshelf off to the side. There was nothing in here, and the anticipation Harry had before was long gone. With a sigh, he placed the box on the floor, crouching down with it. He looked over his shoulder but the room was empty, Mr. Windsor most likely setting up the mince pies. He looked back down at the box and ever so gently lifted up the white cloth. His eyes were immediately drawn to the jewelry box. Something about the simple ornate box was intoxicating and he didn’t know why. Everything in his body told him to grab it, to keep it, so he reached for it. He held his breath, not knowing what would happen, but when he grabbed the box nothing happened. Harry released the breath he was holding and tried not to seem disappointed. He didn’t know what to expect but he sort of wanted something other than silence to engulf him.
With a huff, he pulled out the box, running his finger along the surprisingly smooth edges of the wood. It seemed really old that he couldn’t put a date on it and he wanted to know who it belonged to, or where it came from. He knew all he had to do was open the box and the contents would be revealed. But he couldn’t open it, at least not yet. Harry didn’t know why but he thought that he should wait. For what? He didn’t know, though. But with another look over his shoulder, the door to this room still wide open and nothing different had changed to the backroom, Harry decided that he didn’t have to wait. No one could actually stop him from opening up the box.
So, he did.
And he didn’t know whether to feel disappointed or surprised. Harry saw only a few things laying in the box. First, he noticed a silver chain, which he picked up to reveal a small, heart pendant dangling from the end of it. A closer inspection revealed something inscribed on the pendant but it was to faded and worn for Harry to read out. He set that down and picked up the next item. It was a piece of black, velvet cloth that looked like it was torn from some kind dress or shirt, perhaps. He stared at it, feeling the cool texture before moving on. The next item confused him to no end. He picked up the black feather and examined it, noticing that it was soft, softer than a cloud, Harry thought. The feather, he noticed, wasn’t from some bird since it seemed to be darker than any regular black bird. And he almost knew for sure that no bird could be this soft. He was amazed as he ran his fingers through the feather, more questions popping up in his head. Where did it come from? Why did Mr. Windsor have this box to begin with?
With a sigh, he set down the feather and picked up the last object, a photograph. This caught his attention the most. The black and white photo was dark and blurred but his eyes could make out a tiny figure in the center of it. It had to be a girl, he concluded as her small frame was surrounded by the darkness around her. She was sitting on what looked to be a swing, or a chair, he couldn’t tell, and that was about it. Everything was just black and all that peaked out through that photo was her, dressed in a white gown. Her head was down, her hair covering her face and that was it. Harry wanted to know who this girl was. Why wasn’t she staring at the camera? Why did the background look dark and empty but the foreground the complete opposite?
He brought the square photo closer to his face, trying to inspect it, trying to gather even more details despite him knowing it was futile. He still tried, too engrossed in it to do anything else. The hairs at the back of his neck stood to attention, suddenly, when he saw something in the photograph move. He blinked, bringing it closer to his face and waited a good minute before he realized nothing was happening.
It was probably just a figment of his imagination, a trick of the shadows. Harry was probably just staring too long and his eyes were straining. Whatever the case, he sighed but before he could even put the photograph down, a loud slam caused him to jump. His heart was beating at an erratic speed as he spun around and saw that the iron wrought door was slammed shut. He gulped before he took a hesitant step forward. Everything for him was getting weirder and weirder and he didn’t know what to do. He reached his hand out to the door handle, walking so slow and careful. His hand shook and he cursed to himself to get it together. He was fine, he was fine.
He placed his hand on the shockingly cold handle, ready to open it.
Harry flinched and jumped away from the door, body shaking.
“Harry, where are you?”
It was Mr. Windsor, he realized with a sigh of relief. He looked down at his hand, the picture still there before he put it back in the jewelry box. He grabbed the box and rushed to put on one of the shelfs in the room. With a quick look around, he went for the door handle and pushed it open.
“M’coming, Mr. Windsor,” Harry yelled out before quickly shutting the door behind him. He took a deep breath, his mind racing with everything and nothing at the same time. He made his way through the back room, turning his head ever so slightly so the iron wrought door was in his peripheral. A shudder coursed through him and he immediately felt the temperature decrease a few degrees. He needed to get out of there before he was sucked into whatever else was in that room. With a sigh, he walked out of the backroom, closing that door, too, before walking up to the till, where Mr. Windsor sat.
“What took you so long?”
Harry shrugged, at a loss for words. “I got distracted.” His voice came out as a mumble, low and confused. “I didn’t know we had another roo. In the back room.”
“Harry, y’alright? You’ve worked here for the past two years and you’ve never known that?” Mr. Windsor let out a loud guffaw before he stood and clapped a hand down on Harry’s shoulder.
Harry could feel his cheeks heat up in embarrassment as Mr. Windsor took the mickey out of him. “Yeah, whatever,” he mumbled.
“C’mon boy, let’s finish putting out the mince pies.”
With a nod, Harry followed Mr. Windsor out the shop where a table was already set up, mince pies piled high on top of each other.
“Need to make this look extravagant, can’t disappoint Mrs. Surrey.”
Harry nodded and swore to himself that he could see the tips of Mr. Windsor’s ears turn a slight shade of pink.
“So, when are you going to tell Mrs. Surrey about your feelings for her?”
Mr. Windsor paused, his eyes widening as he turned to look at Harry who had a sheepish grin on his face.
“I’m an ol’ geezer, can’t do anything about it.”
The way Mr. Windsor brushed it off almost made Harry’s heart deflate. He shouldn’t feel like that, Harry thought. There shouldn’t be a cap on age, and Mr. Windsor should still be able to go for what he wants, despite his age.
“No point in thinking ‘bout it. Come, let’s fix this display.” And when Mr. Windsor changed the subject, Harry knew it would be dropped.
So, Harry got busy with fixing the mince pies display, which they would sell to help Mrs. Surrey, This whole thing made Harry forget about the backroom and the box and the strange objects.