It’s exactly as you remember it.
The soft light caresses your cheeks, a homely warmth engulfing your body, bearing an instant calming effect on you.
You take a quick survey of the place, shutting the door behind you.
Just like last time, the mysterious shopkeeper is nowhere to be seen.
But that means more freedom to really take a look around.
So you begin to do just that.
There are the rows of practical joke props, the racks of clothing (now featuring some more springtime fashions), the clear-door refrigerator stocked with drinks together and a wide variety of foods, the selection of odd knickknacks sitting on countertops and hanging from hooks.
You take interest in a small selection of trinkets and jewelry sitting patiently beside the clothing section.
None of them look manufactured. Not even in the least. Each looks carefully created, hours upon hours, thought upon thought put into each one. A lot of them bear ancient Celtic designs or themes. Lines crisscross over one another, bending over themselves, folding on top or below their neighbor in a beautiful organized chaos in circles, squares, diamonds…
Your attention is turned to rows of shoes just beneath the jewelry, stretching from where the clothes start and ending where the adjacent wall does at the joke props.
You recognize several styles from what you’ve seen in stores. But many of them are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Not in your town, anyway. Not even on TV. Every last pair looks extremely well-made, as if they’d last a lifetime if they were properly taken care of. Each one seems to be something that you would wear. Even the ones that you’ve seen in stores look better than, well, the ones you’ve seen.
Most of them seem to be in children’s sizes, though you’re pretty sure you could just go up to the counter and ask the shopkeeper for an adult’s size.
You pick up a close-by rain boot for closer inspection.
Definitely better made than anything you’ve ever seen. You turn it up to get a look at the bottom of the shoe, looking for its size or anything else of interest.
Nothing much here. Just the shoe size, a number engraved sitting top of a clover engraved into the sole. Noting that it’s too small for you, you don’t bother to try it on, carefully setting it back in its place.
You stand back up.
A bookcase catches your attention.
You pass a few shelves of toys—plushes, building blocks, things of that sort—and look up at the tall redwood case. It’s filled to the brim with books of all sizes. Tall, short, thin, thick. It seems to have all sorts of genres too, from fantasy to encyclopedias and “how-to’s,” from plays and poetry to freelance comedies, a small piece of everything. As if it reached into the universe of books and took just the best of each field. The best in your opinion, at least.
It’s almost as if the store is tailored to fit you.
Maybe there’s something in here that has some information on what’s going on with Jack, you resolve, beginning to scan over the titles as your hand hovers just inches from the spines of the books, fingers ready to snatch one up at a moment’s notice.
“Well, hello again,” a familiar voice greets to your right. It’s coming from behind the counter.
You jump slightly at the sudden salutation, your hand returning to your side as if you were doing something wrong even though you clearly weren’t.
The man laughs, his cheeks turning rosy with the action.
You smile back at him, happiness replacing the shock. It’s the same happiness you feel after seeing an old friend again after a very long separation.
He’s in a green dress shirt with the long sleeves rolled up and khaki pants this time.
You approach the counter, somehow knowing that the solution to your problems wouldn’t be found on those bookshelves.
“Hello,” you finally respond, feeling comfortable enough to lean on the counter opposite and just to his right.
“’ow have you been?” he asks, his bright green eyes twinkling. “I haven’t seen you in a long while. Since Christmas, I b’lieve.”
Did he always have that slight Irish accent? It’s barely noticeable, but still there.
Now that you think about it, it was present the last time you were here. Though you were too preoccupied and excited about Jack’s Christmas gift to really notice anything else in the store, let alone the shopkeeper’s subtle accent.
“I’ve been great. More than great,” you say, blushing as you recall all of the time you’ve been spending with Jack. And the confession of love.
But then you remember that things aren’t really all that great at the moment.
The shopkeeper seems to pick this up, his face growing concerned. “Is something the matter, luv? Something gone wrong with Jack?”
Your eyebrows shoot up in astonishment, forgetting momentarily about finding a remedy for Jack. How did he know?
He chuckles. “I know more than ya think. Not just your average ol’ shopkeeper, I am.”
You know that this isn’t just your average shop. It disappeared on you right after you left it, after all. So you kind of figured that this man standing before you wasn’t your normal person. But now you’re even more curious about his shop…and about him.
“You know,” you cautiously begin, “I’ve been trying to find this place again for months. I’ve searched high and low, tried everything I could possibly think of. I knew that it was real because of the hoodie…it never disappeared or anything. So this place just had to be real. I could somehow get back. But no matter what I did, I never found it again…”
“That’s just it, darlin’,” he says. “You tried.”
At first, you have no idea what he’s hinting at. Then you go back to how you found the shop on Christmas. You were wandering, with no real destination, no real goal in mind. Just lost in Christmas thoughts and the need for a gift. And then this time. Once again, unsure of where you were going, just traveling in hopes of somehow finding a cure. Neither time had you once thought of the shop and finding it.
You didn’t actually try to find it.
You just happened to stumble upon it.
By some random stroke of luck, you had come upon it.
You look back up at the man in understanding. He winks in response.
“Me and this shop, y’see, we appear whenever someone has no real destination, is unsure, just lookin’ for something. Wherever in the world tat may be. That’s why small children find us so much. They’re just out to play, not aiming to go or be anywhere but all the imagination in the world, just wantin’ some fun and adventure and whatnot.”
You smile at the incredibility of it all.
But that still doesn’t answer your question.
“Excuse the rude question, but,” you nervously ask, “who…are you?”
“Y’know, that’s the thing with rainbows,” he continues as if he didn’t hear your question, picking up a snow globe from beneath the counter and beginning to polish it with a cloth. “Everyone always wants to get to the end, so they try and try and try. But they never do, the end always gets away from tem, running away. But if they’d just stop tryin’, the end of the rainbow would happily come to them.”
Rainbows? What is he talking about? you think. But you’re unable to write him off as some crazy guy that you’ve mistakenly begun to trust. You just like him and his magical little shop way too much, and your curiosity has gotten the better of you yet again.
Then, slowly but surely, like the sun rising in the morning, it dawns on you.
The craftsmanship, the shoes, the Celtic designs. His subtle Irish accent. The intense amount of luck you had for finding the shop in your time of need on Christmas. The shop that imitates the end of a rainbow.
Dear me. Why can’t any of them just tell me out straight who they are? you think recalling your first encounter with Jack as you smile wide at the man, a new wave of wonder taking over you.
The shopkeeper looks up from the snow globe, his green eyes meeting yours as he flashes you a wide grin.
You’re across the counter, standing face-to-face with the Leprechaun.