My coffee was gone.
I eyed all the people milling around the communal coffee pot.
It was a busy day for a Monday. I wasn’t able to stay in the back exploring all the new releases that we had just received.
How I longed for a fresh cup of coffee.
Why are all those people over there? Sure, they are fellow lovers of fiction. Why did they have to stay so close to the coffee? I don’t want to interact-
I snapped out of my coffee daze.
“I am ready to check out.”
I wanted to sigh, but I couldn’t. Instead, I plastered a smile on as I took up my customer service mask. I wanted to pause and stare pointedly at Darlene who was staring down at her phone.
“Have a good day. I hope you enjoy your book.” I smile and stand up.
I want to tell Darlene to put up her phone up and do her job, but I am no better. I was blanking out and inadvertently ignoring one of my customers. All I wanted was a hot cup of coffee and some downtime. I needed, no I wanted to go through the new releases without any other human interference.
“Darlene can help you at the next register.” I tell the next person I see approaching the counter.
Now Darlene will be forced to look away from her phone and be the one to interact with the customers.
I beeline it to the coffeepot, trying not to get noticed by anyone. I smile, happy that there is still some creamer left. I pick up my warm cup of coffee with two hands and turn toward the back of the bookstore. It is where I want to go, but the store is still too busy.
What to do? I could abandon Darlene and let her fend for herself for a while.
I know what will happen if she is left alone. Some of the customers will get impatient and angry. Some may even leave their unbought books in piles around the store.
Honestly, I don’t know why I thought about running to the back.
“Are you okay?”
It took me a few moments to realize that someone was talking to me.
My face flushed and I immediately threw back on my customer service mask.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry. I did not realize that you were talking to me.”
I slowly edged my way to the front counter.
“No big deal. I was just wondering how good the coffee is. I saw your face when you picked up your coffee cup. It was the only time I have seen you smile.”
I froze as I tried to recall the face that stood before me.
“Oh yes. The coffee is good. There is still some in the coffee pot.” I smiled, willing the man with blue eyes and brown hair to walk away.
I could feel my face. It was red it had to be red. The heat emitting from me was a beckon to other customers to cluster around me. At least that is what it was starting to feel like.
“Can you help me get a book? It’s on the top shelf and I can’t reach it.”
“Do you have any books on flowers?”
The questions were buzzing around me.
“Why don’t you go grab a cup of coffee?” I turn away from the man who was standing too close. My personal space bubble was growing smaller by the second.
I now realized that going out from behind the counter for coffee was a mistake. It was safer behind the counter.
“Give me a moment to get a ladder. I will meet you over at bookshelf C.” I nodded at the young girl who had asked for my help.
“Yes sir, the books we have on flowers will be on shelf F or shelf G.” I smile encouragingly at the salt and pepper haired man as he slowly turned toward the area of the store, I had pointed out to him.
AHHHH. My precious coffee will be cold by the time I am able to get back to it.
I hide my little cup of joy away on the table in the back of the store before I grab an old rickety ladder. I try not to think about falling each time the ladder swayed an inch under my weight.
After I have given the dangerously sought-after book to its new owner, I went to check on the salt and pepper haired man. I just knew he would be lost. Somehow, I knew it. Call it bookish intuition…ha, I like that, bookish intuition. I smile to myself.
After pointing the salt and pepper haired man to the right book I speed walk to the back.
I’m not hiding. I am just drinking my lukewarm coffee and checking in the new releases.
I breathe in the smell of ink and fresh paper. I want to ignore Darlene calling out my name. I dearly want to, but I know I can’t. I leave my small haven to venture back out into the wilderness of the bookstore, fraught with happy and annoyed customers.
By Ashley Houston
This is a work in progress. I will post more parts to Introvert Shorts as I write them. 🙂
The photo is one I took a few months ago.