“But you don’t know anything about working in a bookstore,” Eva said while on her knees in front of me. She was shortening my apron. My very own apron with “Simon” embroidered onto the right breast pocket.
“Pish-posh. I volunteered for my hometown library when I was in high school and where did I always hide out in college?” I asked before answering the question: “The library.”
Eva rolled her eyes. “You didn’t hide out in the library. You stalked the library for hot guys. Big difference.”
“Remember that time we stayed in the library all night?” I reminded her.
“Yeah, creeping on my macroeconomics TA while he was studying,” Eva said, “with his girlfriend.”
Okay, so she had a point. But really, I was down with Dewey (the decimal system). I was born to work in a bookstore or to be an old librarian with a different cardigan for every day of the week.
“I start later today, so you better get to hemming and tucking. Only the best for Beau.”
Eva had a piece of thread between her lips, trying to wet it enough to slide it through the eye of the needle. She was basically Martha Stewart, just a 22-year-old version. But I guess even Martha was Martha Stewart at 22. Do the youths even know who Martha Stewart is? Maybe Grace Helbig was the new Martha Stewart, but hopefully Grace won’t spend time in a prison and then get portrayed by Cybill Shepherd in the television movie. Two television movies, actually.
“Did you ever watch Camp Takota?” I asked Eva, who was still trying to thread that damn needle. “And does Grace Helbig do crafts? I just tried to compare her to Martha Stewart in my head.”
She huffed, frustrated that her sewing prowess wasn’t on full display. “Eh, not yet and probably not. I love Grace, but I’m jealous that she did that book for postgrads before I had the chance.”
Grace’s character was basically me. Well, except I didn’t spend my summer at an all-girls camp and fall in love with the farmer who lived nearby. (Spoiler? Eh, it was predictable, so get over it.) But her character’s life basically went belly-up like mine. Is that how all 20-somethings feel, though?
“There's romance, friendship and a cute guy with a beard and enough hair for a man-bun.”
By now Eva had started stitching the bottom of my apron. To work in a bookstore in the gay district, I needed to at least show off my shapely legs. The baggy version they handed me after orientation covered my whole body, leaving everything to the imagination.
“No man-buns, Simon. Ever. No,” Eva said. “I’m only on board with man buns. Gimme that ass.”
That Carter guy from her office really needed to text her, because she was never that vocal about her engine running.
“Watch the movie,” I said, patting the top of her curly head to calm the lust brewing inside. “It’ll distract you.”
Four hours later
Decreed via email by the store’s elusive 73-year-old owner, Elaine, I was to be trained by none other than Beau for my first week.
Beau’s hair swooped down over half of his forehead and his body was a toothpick. There would be no sexy times between Beau and me, just to be clear. He reminded me of someone that would be found in the underground lair of the CDC after an apocalypse eradicated the human race. And he wouldn’t have even known zombies were roaming the hallways above, munching on his colleagues.
He was super sweet, but his brain operated in a completely different solar system. He obviously kept a stash of weed in a carved out book hidden somewhere in the store. He and Elaine were probably in cahoots, operating the largest marijuana business in the Castro.
In my typical fashion, I arrived 10 minutes before my shift and was pacing the floor. Beau stood behind the cash register, hands in his apron pockets.
“Dude, you’ve gotta chill,” he said calmly, slowing the pace of the room. “You’re going to make the rest of us look bad if Elaine sees that you’re punctual.”
Elaine was only a name to me.
“When do I get to meet our boss?” I said, looking around to see if Elaine was sitting at the large wooden reading table in the middle of the bookstore, probably sipping on some old lady tea.
Beau pointed to the security camera above the entrance. “We don’t see Elaine. Elaine sees us.”
My dumbfounded expression must’ve told Beau all he needed to know, so he continued, “All right. Listen up, newbie.”
He hopped up on the counter to sit cross-legged for story time with Beau. “I’ve worked here for three years and I’ve yet to meet Elaine. She’ll call sometimes but she never comes in, and no, I’ve never asked why.”
That put an end to my marijuana theory.
My mind started racing with possibilities: Maybe she was disfigured by a jellyfish on a trip to the beach as a child, maybe she had a fetish for pretty gay boys and only wanted to watch, or maybe she was just a shy old lady. I would get to the bottom of this, even if I were the only one at the bookstore who cared.
“Say no more. I won’t ask any more questions.” Lies.
I spent the rest of the afternoon following Beau around the small store and taking shorthand on how to separate the gay erotica from the gay picture books and what to do if an angry twink demands a refund.
“You tell that twig to come back when he’s had that buttplug professionally removed,” Beau said, obviously pulling the example from a real-life experience.
“That's definitely not covered in the manual, which ... was last updated in 1983.”
Beau looked at me like, “Is this guy for real?”
“Long story, but this busted Randy Blue model came in one day wanting a refund for a bunch of books he didn’t even buy here,” he said, shaking his head at the thought of the incident. Hopefully the only Randy Blue models I saw were on my computer screen.
“Noted. All right, what’s next?”
Beau was pointing toward the back of the store where boxes were stacked on one another, almost touching the ceiling.
“That,” I repeated.
“That,” Beau replied, “is mainly why you were hired. Elaine ordered an insane amount of some gay boy’s memoir a few weeks ago and they need to be labeled and shelved.”
Graceffa or Franta, I guessed. Shelving wouldn't be so hard. “So, where do they go?”
“Ah-a. There's a catch,” Beau said a bit too happily. “Theoretically there's just no space. Things are stacked on top of each other as it is. Good luck.” He tossed a stack of pre-made bar codes to me and walked back to the register.
The thought of actually receiving a paycheck in two weeks kept me from walking out the door and burning my pretty little apron. I needed the money, especially in a city where everything was triple the price of stuff back home.
“Living here better be worth the price,” I muttered, stumbling over to the boxes that were actually blocking access to the store's only restroom. “Illegal.”
Two hours had gone by when Beau meandered over to where I was crouched, rearranging the last of our of 350 copies of Joey Graceffa's autobiography. (Autobiography, not memoir like its labeled, folks. There's a difference.)
“Hello again, my bright little protégé, you get to go home,” said Beau, placing his hands on my shoulders and placing a quick peck on my forehead.
“Don’t freak out. That’s just something I do.”
But he kissed me on my forehead. We had only known each other for, like, six hours. Oh fuck it.
“It was nice,” I said, blushing just a little out of habit. “See you tomorrow, Beau.”
“Get that apron hemmed. It’s too long,” he said, waving at me as I left the building.
“Too long? It barely covers my crotch.”
As “crotch” left my mouth, I saw him, the guy I’ve only seen from Eva’s nook. He pushed the bridge of his tortoiseshell frames to a better position on his nose before turning toward me and smiling.
Completely mortified, all I could do was shyly return a smile before he passed and climbed the steps to his apartment building next door.
Sometimes we Snapchat.
Quiet. It was quiet. It was Saturday afternoon, I was lying on my bed and it was peaceful. Simon was at his new job, which seemed to involve flirting with the guy at the checkout counter more than it did selling books, but he was out of the house and I was alone.
I had washed my clothes, folded them and stuffed them back into their overcrowded drawers. I had finished my book and was now deep in a reading hangover (still too wrapped up in the characters and storyline to start a new one). I had gone running and completed my 3-mile loop, jamming out to Carly Rae telling me to “Call Her, Maybe.” An old song, I know, but the beat was great for my pace. I had showered and checked my email twice to find nothing but stores announcing sales, all of which I deleted before I was tempted to buy something. And I had treated myself to Roasted for a late lunch. Simon hated when I substituted a latte for an “actual meal,” but the way I saw it any kind of caloric intake around the middle of the day counted as lunch, even if it was hot, flavored soy milk jazzed up with a few shots of caffeine.
All there was left to do was take a much-needed nap and I was so excited.
I’ve come to realize that 20-somethings are very similar to kindergarteners. We are the new kids in the school, except this time school is the world and we are expected to wear pencil skirts and heels on the first day instead of Osh-Kosh overalls and a new pair of pink Skechers. (Oh, the ’90s.) Plus, nothing gets us more excited than snacks and naptime.
I slipped into my favorite old T-shirt and dove under the covers amongst my mountain of pillows and blankets. What in the world will I do when a man wants to sleep over and there won’t be any room for him? I took a deep breath and cuddled in for the best part of my Saturday.
One hour later
I rolled over, disoriented. What was that noise? Why was it interrupting my peace? Where was it coming from?
OH SHIT, my phone! I bolted up and grabbed it from the nightstand. It kept buzzing happily as Kacey’s face smiled at me from the screen.
“Heyyyyyy! Where are you?” she yelled in the phone, overcompensating for the road noise.
“I’m in bed. I was napping. Why the sudden need to know where I am? What are you doing?”
“You’re ... sleeping? You have a date tonight, the first date you’ve had since moving to this city and you are spending the afternoon taking a nap?!” Kacey asked in disbelief. “Did you go out this morning? Please to God tell me you got waxed, mani/pedi-ed, blown out and have a new outfit, including lingerie, ready to go for tonight.”
“First off, take a breath. It’s going to be fine. I thought about going out and buying a new top for the occasion, but then I checked my bank account and it laughed at me.”
“Oh honey, I will be over in an hour. Hang tight!”
And just as fast as she was there, she clicked off. I fell back onto my pillows. I was supposed to get a blow out for a first date? Damn, grown up dating was way more demanding than college dating. And a wax and a mani/pedi and a new outfit? How do people afford to casually date and pay rent? Maybe that was just how Kacey did it. I took another breath ... sleep for another thirty minutes or get up and do my nails so Kacey doesn’t have a heart attack when she gets here? Looks like I’ve got a date with Deborah Lippmann and a bottle of top coat.
Two hours later
Knowing Kacey would be late, I was sitting on the couch watching Hulu and catching up with Jess and Mindy when Hurricane “Kacey” busted through the front door. Four medium brown bags showed that Kacey had recently ransacked Bloomingdales and Simon was already drooling over them.
“I see you two have already met,” I said as they made their way to the couch.
“Kacey was struggling to get in the door. I got off early and was there just in time. Eva, this girl is fabulous! Why haven’t you had her over yet? I think she might be in the running to replace you as my official GBF,” Simon said, starting to go through the bags Kacey just sat down on the floor.
“No one could replace me as your girl best friend,” I said in mock shock. “What is all of this, Kacey?”
“Sweetie, you have a date in three hours. You’re in sweatpants and a concert shirt. And you said you were broke. So ... this is your date survival kit!” She was jumping up and down, and Simon was debating doing the same. Kacey was clearly excited about helping out, which meant I was going to have to go along with all of this.
I got up and joined Simon, who was admiring a pair of pumps he’d uncovered, on the floor. I reached in the first bag and found three Sephora aisles, the second was a tangle of shoes (many of which I wasn’t interested in walking more than a few yards in), the third was full of clothes and the fourth was a bag of snacks. Kacey had planned for a full afternoon of getting ready and cleaned out her bathroom, closet and kitchen cabinets to get it done.
“So this is the outfit I think you should wear tonight,” Kacey said, pulling out a bundle of clothes from bag number three. She laid them out on the couch. “I knew you would want to wear jeans because it’s cold outside, but the top is not negotiable.”
“The top isn’t a top. It’s lingerie! I can’t wear that out! I’m going on a date, not sitting in the crowd of a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show,” I countered. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, I love fashion, but my style is the preppy East Coast look to Kacey’s edgy, glam.
“First off, you know nobody wears VS to the VS fashion show! And I bought it in the clothing section not the intimates. Just go put it on.”
Thirty minutes later, I was primped, polished and the only thing I was wearing that I actually owned was a pair of heels I had splurged on months ago. One last look in the mirror and a wave of relief washed over me. I actually looked pretty good, I felt good in my jeans and the little zit that had ruined my week wasn’t even noticeable anymore. “Time for the big reveal,” I said into the mirror.
I made my way into the living room and did the obligatory twirl and pose. Except instead of the two faces I was expecting to see on the couch, there were three. Plopped right in between my two best friends was Carter.
“Oh hi, you’re early,” I muttered.
“I’m habitually fifteen minutes early, but seeing that twirl proves my point that being early is always worth it. You look very nice.”
“Oh honey, he’s a keeper. He’s just as anal about time as you are,” Simon piped up.
Kacey started cracking up, her cold-pressed kale juice coming out of her nose. At least, my twirl and pose wasn’t the most embarrassing thing to happen. But now that my Type A personality was on display, I was ready to go before any more of my quirks were exposed.
“On that note ... I think it’s time to go. Carter, I’m going to grab my coat and I’ll meet you at the front door.”
“Sounds great. It was great meeting you, Simon. Kacey, you enjoy that juice. I’m sure I’ll see you around the office soon.”
Carter opened the door for me as I shrugged into my coat. The chilly evenings were something I would never get used to. I shivered and Carter put his arm around me. And just like that, I was dating again.
Five hours later
Carter left me at my front door. He walked up the steps, gave me a peck on the cheek, made sure I got inside then trotted down the steps and jumped back in our Uber. I watched the tail lights head up the street before I let myself take it all in. He had acted like a gentleman all night. At first, I thought he was just trying to make a good first impression. Trying to be one of those knights in shining armor, doing his best to follow one of those “10 Things Every Girl Wants in a Guy” lists from an issue of Cosmo or Glamour. But I was beginning to think that maybe that really was him. I took a breath and headed to the third floor. I ran through all the details in my head, knowing the millions of questions I was about to be bombarded with.
I got to the apartment door and slipped my key into the lock. There was no squealing, no laughter, just muffled sounds coming from the TV. Surely, Kacey didn’t take Simon out to one of her clubs. He’d come back schwasted on Hpnotiq and pineapple juice, and he’d be covered in paint and probably glitter. I put my bag down and wandered into the living room, Simon and Kacey weren’t at a club, they were passed out under every blanket I owned. Empty popcorn and ice cream bowls littered the coffee table, along with two bottles and a box of wine and their leftover glasses. RuPaul stared out from the TV screen, like he was judging my friends alongside his queens. I considered taking a picture to tease them with, but I turned off the TV and made my way to bed instead.
I started taking off my makeup and noticed the butterflies that had been taking up residence in my stomach all week were gone. In their place, I actually felt happy. I knew to take it slow, though. The higher you feel, the harder you fall. I’d read that in a book somewhere and always taken it to heart. I’d have to wait and see where this all led, tread lightly and all that, but for now I would let the happy memories from the evening take over. It was a great date, a wonderful evening that I’d share with my best friends in the morning. After they got over their food comas and cheap wine hangovers, of course.