The bookstore was two blocks down from her place. The entire space was tiny because two windows lit up the entire room. The square shaped room utilized every inch of floor space there was. Sturdy strong wooden bookshelves held up rows of books. The novels seemed to be as old as the bookshelves themselves. Although there really was no dust, it was the type of store one would think had been inhabited for years.
But, it was very much a habitat for one individual. He didn’t exactly live there; he spent so much time working there. Sometimes he would fall asleep on the chair, only to be woken up by the rustling of the morning. He had only started working there for a few weeks. It wasn’t the greatest job in the world. He was broke all the time. But, it was easy and he could spend most of his days doing what he loved most – reading and talking to people.
She had walked past this store countless times. As a young, freshly graduated student – she spent most of her time looking for a better job. Although her current job was decent, she had spent the last four years dreaming of more. This simply wasn’t it. Graduate school was the next obvious choice, but she had chosen financial independence and poverty instead. She hosted potluck parties instead of going out to dinners. She made poorer friends. She went on coffee dates instead of actual dates. That was a lie – she didn’t date.
Her flask of instant coffee in her hand, she was giddy going to work. Her steps had an air of confidence that she often lacked. She wouldn’t question where it came from – confidence was always lovely when it washed over. It must have been her boots. There was something about the short brown pair she wore that made her feel like a total bad ass.
She’d seen the bookstore being renovated. She’d seen it transform from an old Chinese medical store to a bohemian inspired cavern of hidden stories. A smile or two would always be exchanged. Sometimes, she would wave and he would wave back. She knew they could be friends. He read books for a living, practically. This was her kind of man. And thus, the epic saga of a fantasy had already started to weave itself, before any words had even been exchanged.
Three weeks later, the store finally opened. A painted red sign read OPEN. He sat on the stool inside. The window had finally been cleaned, with actual soap, so the interior of the space was fully visible from outside. He appeared to be reading. But really, he was just nervous. What if nobody came in? She decided not to go right away, after all, she was late to work as it was.
The same day, it was 6’oclock when she passed it again. He was locking up, leather satchel swung to his side. His dirty bangs were longer than they should have been, and his shirt hung loose. It had been a relatively long day, and he hadn’t been able to focus on reading with all the excitement. This new venture had cost him a lot, and hopefully it would be worth it.
He said hi. She said hi and asked him how his first day was. He said something interesting, she laughed and smile. He asked her if she was hungry. She said she was always hungry. The walked down the street, exchanging causalities. He picked a diner that he claimed was cheap and good. She said that cheap was exactly what she wanted. They had a few beers. They talked about irrelevant things. Her apartment was on the way, so they walked together. They said bye.
This was just the beginning. This happened more times. Sometimes, she would be so tired, she’d just come in the store. Sometimes they wouldn’t even talk. They would be wrapped in their own thoughts. He’d ask her about her short term plans. She would ask if he saw the last episode of whatever show was super popular. They were in each other lives, but not really.
She tried to define the relationship. It was a friendship of sorts. But it was entirely passive on both ends. His store happened to be in the way of her daily life. She would just come in and they would have delightful conversations that made her feel alive. He made her feel like a person. He validated her stupid endless thoughts and made them somewhat significant.
She craved intimacy, but she didn’t know how. Her imagination ran wild as she stayed up nights thinking of unlimited possibilities. Maybe she could quit her job, and they could expand the store to a coffee and bookstore. Maybe they’d both quit their jobs and just go travel the world. Maybe he’d write her a love letter. Maybe they would get married and she would do the whole white picket fence thing that she’d always despised. That he’d come home from work, and she’d make tea, and they’d sit by the window.
The feelings washed over her. He had no idea, and his bangs grew longer. He felt like a bad ass sometimes, the type of guy who casually hooked up and broke young girl’s hearts. He would shamelessly flirt with other customers while she was there. She would console herself, saying that he was just doing his job. The days passed and activities grew repetitive.
Her visits grew fewer, as her want of more increased. She wonder if he noticed her absence. She wondered if he even missed her. Out of the blue one day, she walked into the store. Her walk was the same kind of a super model on a runway. They made chitchat for a while, before she blatantly wrote her number on a piece of paper. She was a girl, shouldn’t it be easier to seduce someone? But regardless, she gave him the piece of paper. He took it, not really understanding, she was here all the time. Why did things have to change.
She stopped going to the store altogether, and used an alternate longer route to get to work. He noticed but didn’t do anything about it. He obviously liked her presence. He liked her support and when she laughed. But he was in his prime. This wasn’t the time to date. He didn’t even have the time to maintain friendships. He was troubled and awkward, but didn’t do anything.
She distracted herself with books and movies and friends. The days passed slowly. Sometimes she couldn’t even tell the days apart. Most of the time she was an utter zombie to this whole living thing. She lost sleep over why he didn’t call, she ate unhealthily, and slept in whenever she possibly could.
His bangs grew longer, but now, nobody asked him to trim them. When he was closing, her chirpy voice no longer filled the confines of the space. He was actually able to do his job better without her looming presence constantly distracting him. He couldn’t really fathom that someone like her would fall so hard for a bum like him. He just assumed that life had caught up. He assumed that she was finally making the effort to befriend her colleagues, or to spice up her love life or maybe she was reading that book she’d bought ages ago.
Oblivion and pride, and the inability of saying things. Her mind raced as to why he couldn’t quite put the pieces of the puzzle together. And she couldn’t quite understand what was stopping her. Rejection, obviously….but her state of affairs clearly indicated that this was a venture she must fully divulge into, before closing its doors. What if he simply couldn’t verbalize as well as she could?
Time passed and she returned.
Words hinted, and he understood. But something lacked.
And thus, there lay her wonderfully woven fantasy.
Stories didn’t end well for a hopeless romantic.