I have regulars who come into the bookstore. Several are voracious readers, and come in nearly every week to buy multiple books. Others surprise me by showing up with notebooks and detailed lists of specific books, both read and unread that they're looking for, and leave only with books from the lists. Some are mainly browsers who come in at no particular interval and often leave with nothing but sometimes with mismatched books of unrelated genres.
And two come in almost every single day and never buy a thing. They're little girls, ages 9 and 11 now, who live in a small apartment near the store. The apartment has no yard, and there's not much of interest close by that they can get to without crossing busy streets, which they're not allowed to do. So they ride their bikes the 70 yards or so to the bookstore nearly every day after school.
I've never met the parents, but know that they often work during the day. The mother at McDonalds. The step-dad at different places doing construction. The girls have keys that they keep in little purses, or backpacks, or pockets. When the chains on their bikes fall off, they bring them to me to fix. On Saturdays, when the parents are home, the girls run over to tell me before going to a playground or McDonalds, or to the library, which they know I like to hear.
We've developed a few rules. One piece of Dubble Bubble per girl per day, regardless of how many times they come in. The same rule applies to the pink bucket of free kids' books that's kept inside. And to the bookmarks that they're collecting.
Sometimes they grab a piece of gum and run right back outside after saying thank you (another rule), and sometimes they try to come in very quietly and hide from me. We made a rule about that too since I feared locking them in some night.
But usually we just chat. The youngest asks me to her school functions and tells me family secrets. "Don't tell Daphne I told you this," she'll start. I know they lost a baby brother several years ago, that they have step-siblings, and that their dad lives in Chicago with a woman he's not married to.
The oldest is starting to fill out and is beginning to show some interest in boys. It seems too soon, and I find myself throwing better books in the kids' free box hoping she'll turn her interest towards books.
They're moving on May 1st. "To a house," the littlest one tells me, with only two bedrooms, but also a basement that the oldest wants to make into a bedroom so they can each have their own rooms. Their mom is expecting another little girl in July, so I'm not sure how long they'll each have their own room even if the basement works out.
But I'm hoping it works for at least a little while. I also hope that they have a yard. And that they take with them a memory of a few rooms filled with books that was a nice place to spend some time.