Exclusive Excerpt from Top Shelf
by Allison Temple
One of the books had flopped open when Martin dropped it, and he was momentarily distracted as the words on the page shifted. But the words weren’t moving; he was seeing several pages at once. He bent to lift the book, and the pages rolled as the spine shifted in his hands. Once again, he was struck by the sense that the book was lighter than it should be. The pages had been cut, but unlike the bird book on the table, this one had no images. Instead, small rectangular-shaped perforations dotted the lines of text so words on subsequent pages were visible. He turned the page, delicate as lace.
He flipped the cover shut. The title had been carved away, but the author’s name was left. Calvin Forrester. Martin turned through the first few pages again. The original book’s topic was nearly unintelligible with so few of the words remaining. How would Mr. Forrester feel?
“What are you doing?” Seb was standing surprisingly close.
“I was just—”
“How did you get in?”
“I was showing him my project.” Cassidy was still crouched on the floor.
“That’s not your project.” Seb’s cool eyes were on the book in Martin’s hand.
“She asked for something to weigh it down.”
“It’s not a paperweight.”
“No, I can see that,” Martin said as he bounced his hand up and down with the open book in it. The spiderwebbing of pages fluttered in the breeze. Seb’s eyes widened, and his nostrils flared.
“Stop that!” He pulled the book out of Martin’s hands. “It’s not a toy.”
Martin’s face flushed, and his insides squeezed. He hated how he couldn’t control the reaction. Who was Seb to make him feel like this?
“It’s art.” Cassidy interjected from her spot on the floor.
“You cut up a book?” Martin’s frustration tried to boil over. He shouldn’t be the only one upset here. He wanted to hold the book again, really heft it. If the rest of the pages were like the ones he’d seen, only a third of the words remained.
“And what if I did?” Seb’s voice was flat.
Didn’t he understand? “Those are someone’s words.”
“Words no one was going to read. It was about agricultural best practices in New England, printed in 1977.”
“That’s not the point. It was someone’s work. You can’t deface a book like that.” Despite everything, Martin’s spine straightened. Whatever awkwardness he normally felt in Seb’s presence gave way to anger on behalf of the unknown writer’s lost words.
“What do you know about it?” Seb brushed past him, his shoulder pushing against Martin’s.
The casual dismissal made Martin’s face heat. He never seemed worthy of Seb’s time, but he was suddenly unsure Seb’s interest was something to aspire to. “What gives you the right to ruin someone’s work like that?” He thrust his chin out. This was one place where he could hold his ground. He’d made a career out of unearthing the words of lost writers.
Seb slid the book back onto the shelf where it had been. “What gives you the right to judge me for it?”
“I wrote my dissertation on—”
“Your dissertation?” Seb’s laugh was low and mean as he turned back to face Martin. One blond eyebrow arched.
“I told you he was a doctor,” Cassidy said.
“A doctor. Is that right? Doctor Martin?” He stepped forward. Despite Martin’s conviction, the accusation in Seb’s eyes forced him to take a step back.
“Like a real doctor? Or one of those fake doctors? The ones with all that useless knowledge that only qualifies them to judge the rest of us poor slobs who actually had to go out and face the real world?”
“Real” doctors. Because, those who couldn’t do taught. He’d heard all the things PhD stood for: Post hole digger, pathetic hopeless dreamer.
“I worked hard for my degree.” Years of hard work. He’d loved those years before he’d finished his doctorate, when his direction had seemed so clear. And now he was defending them to someone who didn’t even see what was wrong with cutting up a book. How had he gotten himself into this? He’d only been trying to save Cassidy from giants.
“What are you doing in my house?” Seb asked again.
“I wanted to show him my portfolio,” Cassidy said.
“Well, he’s seen it.” Seb gestured behind them without looking away from Martin. “Now you can go.”