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A Bookstore Romance
Fiction by Alice Reagan
I work in a bookstore, and my favorite section is Mystery. The women and men who buy these books are the ones you'd never suspect. Quiet, unassuming people with thick glasses and dark curly hair. They come in the store silently; they know what they want. They slide over to the back corner of the store, on the other side of Children's, and peruse their favorite author's shelf. Most mystery writers have a series, and the true connoisseur has read them all. The only reason they come to the store is to pick up the latest installment. And if it's only available in hardcover? No problem. These people are addicts, and they're not cheap. I've seen many a Sue Grafton junkie plunk down $22.50 for a novel that will be devoured in an hour and a half.
Mysteries feel great. They are all basically the same size, about an inch thick. I can fit five at one time in each hand. I love the way they slide into their places on the shelf, perfect every time. They have such great titles, too. The Face of Death, Murder at the Monastery.
I was straightening the Garden section, putting Gardening the Easy Way in front of The Weekend Gardener, when I saw him. He was an aisle over in the Literature section, reading the back of Madame Bovary. His name was Matt. I recognized him from school; he had just graduated, and it was June. That night I would search the yearbook for his picture, pore over his senior quote, memorize his face. But just then, I knew it was lust. May I help you? I'd say, sauntering over to him, looking him straight in the eyes and almost startling him with my direct approach.
Why, yes, if you would, he'd reply. I was just looking for a romance. Do you know any good ones?
Ah, my specialty, I would purr. I was so very coy. Jane Eyre is the best of the Gothic romances, but Lady Chatterley's Lover is also fabulous. . . .
"Ellen? Ellen. Ellen!"
"Uh-what? God, you scared me to death." I awoke from my daydreaming to the acned face of Ron, my boss. Ick.
"The regional manager is going to be here within the hour. Can you move on to Social Sciences, please? This half of the store looks fine."
I grunted at Ron. He didn't deserve my attention. I looked around, but Matt had left.
The next day when I came into work, there was a note on the counter for me.
"Ellen-straighten-Psychology-call in special orders-vacuum-Thanks-Ron"
Ron didn't use punctuation. It was too committed. Ron also never called the Psychology section by its new name: Self-Help. I think Ron just wanted to show off that he knew how to spell psychology.
Self-Help took up a whole wall, behind Travel and across from New Age. It was really a mess-some shelves were overstocked while others had wide white gaps. It was supposed to be alphabetical by subject, then within each subject, alphabetical by author. The subjects were all out of order, never mind the authors. I think it made some of my coworkers nervous to be around Self-Help. I know Ron avoided it completely: Self-Help was embarrassing. It was for vulnerable divorcées looking for a lover: How to Marry the Man You Want NOW! It was for those who couldn't control themselves: It's Not What You're Eating, It's What's Eating YOU. It was for . . . it was for Matt, who was browsing two shelves away from where I was crouched on the floor in a skirt, rearranging misplaced books and mumbling about how no one who shelved this section knew the alphabet.
Excuse me, Miss? He'd say earnestly, his cowlick standing his hair on end, his cheeks almost purple with embarrassment.
Yes? Can I help you in some way? I'd say graciously, rising-no, floating up to his eye level from where I had been shelving, my swanlike neck bowed gracefully. I was looking for a book called, um, Overcoming Shyness. (Matt was so adorable when he stammered.)
Why, I know that book, I'd say, quite sure of myself. It's right here. I ran my fingertips along the spines of the books until I came to it. Right there. And I would start to pull out the book for him when-Oh God, it was right next to How to Satisfy a Woman Every Time and Have Her Begging for More!
This was awful, just the most awkward, most mortifying thing that could ever . . .
"Ellen, are you doing anything or just staring at the sex books? Huh?"
"God, Ron, I am not staring at the sex books. I'm fixing this section, and if whoever put these away in the first place had done it right, I could be doing something else."
I looked around, but Matt had left.
The next time I worked, there was a huge shipment of New Fiction in, twenty boxes full. I love brand-new books, almost as much as I love Mystery. Brand-new books, heavy with important words, heavy with beautiful covers, dust jackets with raised letters, pages that smell like the world. I love the authors' pictures on the back covers. Authors look like real, live people. Most of them are kind of chunky around the middle. They almost always wear their favorite pair of jeans and an old shirt to the photo shoot; they look like the people across the street. I like the ones who smile best. It shows they don't take themselves too seriously.
Each book has to be checked in on an invoice. One mark next to the number of books received, another next to the price to make sure they match. I like checking in the books. It's exciting to pull out the latest novel by a famous author, to be the first one to see it, to hold it, to feel its exact weight and width in my hands. It's not exciting, though, when the sticker price is wrong on forty-five copies of the new Stephen King novel, and I have to split all my fingernails prying the price off and write up new ones to slap on the inside flap.
I was chewing on my lower lip-I do that when I'm aggravated-and carefully, carefully pulling off about the 300 millionth sticker, trying not to rip the dust jacket, and I was thinking about Matt. Maybe I could impress him by finding a really obscure book on the microfiche machine. . . .
You look kind of lost. Can I find something for you? I'd murmur in Matt's ear, as he was stumbling around the Dictionary section.
I really didn't think you would have it anyway. I was looking for a Yiddish-English dictionary for my grandmother, kind of a surprise, but you don't seem-(he was so kind, so generous with his time, helping his bedridden grandmother like that).
Well, let me look it up on the fiche. Maybe I can order it.
Oh! You can do that? I had no idea. Wow. He'd look at me adoringly, with those beautiful blue eyes.
I'd stroll over to the fiche machine, push Ron aside and speedily find what Matt was looking for. Ah, here's one I think your grandmother would love to have. . . .
"Hey, Ellen, I didn't know you worked at this bookstore. I come here all the time. What's up?"
I looked around. Matt was standing right there.
¬2002. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Teen Ink Love & Relationships edited by Stephanie Meyer, John Meyer. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.