No matter how difficult the day, there was always peace to be found among the aromatic stacks of books.
Andrea took another steadying breath as she paused by the small table at the front of the store, momentarily distracted by the stack of new releases. Her fingers trailed over the glossy embossed cover of the latest Patterson release but resisted the temptation. She was about to move on when a Tom Clancy novel caught her eye. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she remembered a few of her co-workers raving about the latest game based on that very book.
She meandered past the first table to the first bookshelf. In typical fashion, it displayed several military history books, all of which were no doubt featured on the various services' recommended reading lists. Sure enough, there were books on foreign affairs, wars and conflicts spanning the past fifty years, special operations units, and even a couple of books on how to be a leader. It should have come as no surprise, given the bookshop was the only one on the base.
Andrea scoffed under her breath as she walked by. There were far too many people in the unit who desperately needed to read a couple of those yet probably never would.
The next shelf covered world cultures, religions, and languages. She didn't stop, knowing the only ones that would have even piqued her interest a little wouldn't be present. She passed the study guides too. Those were for service exams and college equivalency tests, none of which she needed.
A small section was dedicated to fiction, mostly sci-fi or mystery. Andrea paused there and strolled along, tilting her head to read the spines, but nothing grabbed her attention. She let out a restless sigh and moved around the corner, her eyes gliding over the myriad greens, whites, and golds of the book covers without actually reading any of the titles.
When her eyes finally focused on one, she frowned in confusion, surprised to find a couple of the shelves in front of her filled with self-help books and memoirs. She glanced around and, satisfied that the only other patron was on the opposite side of the shop, dropped to her knee to take a closer look. On the bottom shelf near the end of the stack was a section Andrea had never noticed in all her months of frequenting the little store.
"Whoa," Andrea whispered. She reached out and pulled one of the books partly out to get a better look at it.
Undertow: A US Navy Veteran's Journey Through Military Sexual Trauma, she read. Her mouth formed the words but no sound came out.
Andrea pushed the book back and glanced at the camouflage-colored cover next to it. Another memoir, this one by a Marine from the Vietnam war.
A tight clump started to form in Andrea's throat. Her eyes quickly scanned the rest of the shelf, but there were no other memoirs on that subject. Instead, there were a few about general sexual trauma and then some books about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Andrea squeezed her eyes shut, trying to figure out the unfamiliar rush of emotions rising in her, why her chest had started hurting. She shook her head, unwilling to face it yet. No one knew. No one would ever know. She tried to lock up the reaction, imprison it behind a giant wall in her mind. Another slow, deep breath brought the papery smell of the pages back to the forefront of her senses. It served to soothe her.
When she was ready, her eyes opened again. Andrea made to stand up, but a bright yellowish green cover at the very end of the shelf drew her gaze. Slowly, without even realizing her arm was moving, she reached forward and drew the book from its spot. It was taller than the standard paperback. It felt light and heavy simultaneously in Andrea's hands.
"Warrior Renew." Her voice came out almost breathless, and her mouth felt drier than it ever had in the sandbox overseas.
Flipping through the book and skimming the passages, Andrea became convinced that she needed the book. More than that, she wanted it.
A glimmer of confidence broke the ice that had frozen her in place the moment she saw that shelf. Without warning, she popped to her feet and strode to the front where the checkout counter waited. As she lay the book face-down on the white plastic-coated counter, she glanced around in search of the store's attendant. One hand reached into her cargo pocket for her wallet while the other tapped almost noiselessly on the book.
The clerk, a squat woman with short curly hair, came into view and, seeing Andrea, hurried over. "Find everything you're looking for, dear?" The woman reached for the book to scan it. She flipped it over automatically and caught sight of the title.
A small smile that flitted across the clerk's face made Andrea shift and avoid eye contact. She considered walking out of the store without the book. That newfound confidence seeped away as quickly as it had come. "Yes, ma'am," Andrea mumbled.
"Your total is $14.99."
Andrea handed over her debit card, thankful for the lack of sales tax on base. She risked raising her eyes, relieved to see the other woman distracted with working the register. Allowing herself to relax a little, Andrea breathed a small sigh of relief that the transaction was nearly done.
The receipt ticked out of the register while the clerk bagged the book once, then twice. Andrea blinked in surprise.
"We're having a special sale next week," the woman said as she tore the receipt from the machine. She flipped it over and grabbed a pen, scribbling something on the back. "Now you have the details. We were supposed to have fliers printed, but you know how it goes trying to get anything back from the print shop on time." She smiled as she put the receipt in the bag and handed it to Andrea along with the debit card.
"Oh." Feeling dumb, Andrea added, "Thank you. I guess I do come here a lot." She grinned and took the bag, sliding the wallet back into her cargo pocket.
"Take care, dear."
Andrea paused in the alcove just outside of the store. She yanked her cover out of a different pocket and fitted it onto her head before making the trek to the barracks.
Later, when Andrea pulled the book from the bag, the receipt fell with it. She picked it up and saw the clerk's scribbling on the back. It read,
You aren't alone. You're brave, and you can do this.
Come by anytime if you want to talk.
Andrea sank onto her bed, still clutching the note in one hand. For the first time in too long, there was no shame associated with her secret being revealed. A speck of hope danced in her thoughts that someone might finally believe her.