I keep walking and pass the Disney Store and Pet Depot and H&M and the stand that sells Dead Sea lotions and always has these really hot Israelis working at it, and then finally, I'm here.
The store marquee is written in blue cursive script, and there are vibrant displays in each window with new releases and old favorites. One of the books is angled a bit too far to the left, making the title hard to read. I make a mental note to fix it as I step into the store. The scent of books and the quiet hum of morning customers browsing the shelves welcome me. My body lifts with contentment. I'm home.
* * *
A few hours later, the store is packed with holiday shoppers, and I'm running around nonstop, restocking displays, ringing up customers, and reshelving books in the correct spots because god forbid someone puts a book back where they found it, or at least on a display table, instead of shoving it into a spot on the wrong shelf. On my way to the stockroom, I notice a middle-aged white guy standing in the philosophy section. He's wearing a gray sweater and jeans—and he's taking pictures of a book, one page at a time.
"Excuse me, sir—" I stop short. "You can't do that."
He doesn't even look at me, just flips the page and angles his phone.
"Sir?" I repeat, making sure he hears me.
He glances up this time, but his eyes don't register me as a threat. I guess my five-foot stature and chipmunk-print dress aren't very menacing.
"I'm almost done," he says, taking another picture.
"But you're not allowed to do that." I take a small step forward. "This is a bookstore. A writer worked hard on that book. You can't steal their work without paying for it."
"And yet," he responds, turning another page, "I can."
"Sir, please either take the book to the register or put it back on the shelf."
"Sweetheart," he snaps, voice hard and laced with condescension. "Stop talking."
The word "sweetheart" burrows under my skin and makes it burn. Ugh. There's a walkie-talkie attached to my dress pocket, and I want to use it to call security on this guy over the PA system. But this guy is a stranger, and very tall, and the domineering tone of his voice makes me think engaging him further is not a smart idea.
So instead of publicly shaming him, I rush out my next words: "This is wrong, and you're a bad person," and then make a run for the stockroom before he can respond. Patronizing, thieving jerk.
"Shoshanna!" a voice calls out to me as I rush past the children's section. I spin around to find my boss behind me. Her hair is cropped close to her brown skin, and the turquoise color of her blouse pops against her jet-black power wheelchair.
"Hey, Myra!" I clear my throat. "What's up?"
She tilts her head. "You okay?"
I'm probably flushed from that interaction. "Just some airplane food." That's our code phrase for a bad customer. "I'm okay, though."
"Okay, good." She smiles, and I feel myself relax. I love this woman. She opened Once Upon fifteen years ago. It's the only indie bookstore in Wakesville, Georgia, our midsize city ninety minutes south of Atlanta. Books are basically the best thing to ever happen to anyone ever, so I applied for a job the summer after my freshman year. Myra and I spent the hour-long interview discussing fan theories for our favorite series, Time Stands Still, and just like that, I was hired. "We have a new employee," Myra continues. "He's in the break room, and I need you to show him the ropes, all right?"
"Absolutely, captain!" I salute her.
She shakes her head. "Don't do that."
"Yes, ma'am." I bow.
"Don't do that, either."
"All right, Your Highness." I curtsy.
She points at me and grins. "Now that I like."
I curtsy again and then head to the break room. As I open the door, I cheerfully say, "Hello! Welcome to Once Upon! I'm Shoshanna and today—"
My spiel is cut short when I set eyes on the new hire. The hot new hire.
The are-you-a-lead-in-a-Netflix-teen-movie freaking hot new hire.