In the four years that had elapsed since that first visit, Neverland’s had become a second home for Leila. She had lost count of how many times she had visited the simple bookstore. She turned the corner now and saw the dim light emanating from Neverland’s. She clutched her sweater tightly around her and ran even faster. She stopped just before the door to look inside. Practically nothing had changed.
Tall bookshelves still lined the walls, overfilling with so many books. To the left was the small kitchenette and in the center was the lounge area. The store was little and could easily be overcrowded but Leila loved it immensely.
She walked in and a small bell signaled her arrival.
Aaron looked up from the kitchen sink. His smile was wide and broad. “Leila’s here!” he shouted. A slight crashing sound could be heard from the back room and soon Marley was tackling Leila in a bear hug.
“Too long,” she said, her voice muffled by Leila’s hair. “Far too long. You need to visit us more often, Leila.”
“I’ll try,” Leila said, returning a smile. Leila often felt that the only time and place she smiled, really and truly smiled anymore, was in Neverland’s Treasure.
“‘Do or do not, there is no try,’” Aaron said.
“And you don’t have the option of ‘do not’,” Marley said. “So, what grand adventures have you gone on, Leila?”
“Well, that’s part of the reason I came,” Leila confessed. “I need new books.”
“We all always need new books,” Marley agreed. “I’ll see what I’ve got in back.”
“I thought you came to see my pretty face,” Aaron whined.
“Your face is just a bonus,” Leila responded.
Aaron put his lips out in a pout, “You didn’t say my face was pretty!”
“It’s because she knows not to lie, Aaron,” Marley said, returning with a cardboard box of books. She sat the box down on the coffee table. “Have a look through those,” she said with a nod to Leila.
Leila got down on her knees and began to rifle through the old paperback copies. Some of the titles she had seen before but a few were completely new to her. There were quite a few books by Jane Austen. Leila picked up a copy with the words ‘Sense and Sensibility’ emblazed on the cover. “What’s this one about?”
Marley turned around and smiled. “That’s a little advanced for you yet, hon. Though when you’re older I’d completely recommend it. Every single novel written by Austen is a must read.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Leila said, continuing to rifle through the paperbacks.
“Wait,” Marley said, “aren’t you supposed to be in school right now?”
Leila smiled sheepishly. “I slept in.”
“Leila Forsythe if there is one thing that is going to help you in this world it’s an education.”
“It’s just one day!” Leila objected, laughing. Besides, I’m not missing anything important.”
“Oh, okay,” Marley said with an over-exaggerated eye roll. “You know I wasn’t so fond of school when I was there, but I suffered through it.”
“And look when you are, Marley,” Leila countered. “Running a bookshop with your boyfriend, living comfortably. You’ve got it better than everyone.”
Marley shrugged. “I do have it better than most people. But I think that’s because I expected different things than most people.”
“Like what?” Leila asked, honestly curious.
Marley grabbed a mug of coffee from the kitchenette and sat down in the lounge. Aaron trailed soon after clutching his own mug. “I never wanted to be rich or famous, Leila. I never wanted millions of dollars or all these material luxuries. I wanted to be happy.”
“And are you happy now?”
Marley grabbed Aaron’s hand and smiled up at him. “Perfectly.”
Leila stared with envy at the two. They were so obviously in love and it almost pained Leila to see that pure and perfect of love. “Marley,” she asked hesitantly, “Marley, how can I be happy like you?”
“It doesn’t come easy, Leila. And it doesn’t always last. But I’ll tell you a secret.” She looked over her shoulders even though it was only the three of them in the store. She leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “It is so worth it.”