Helen managed to get herself a job. It had taken an unbelievable amount of time, during which she had interviewed all over with the strangest people for the worst jobs. Initially, she had been quite selective, only applying to jobs in her field or things that genuinely interested her. By the end, she had been applying to literally anything she thought she had a hope of getting. She had been turned down by five separate companies for reception work as well as a doctor’s office who inevitably decided that they didn’t want her to be their part-time file clerk because, as she was so graciously told over voicemail, they didn’t feel she had the right attitude for it.
“Who does have the right attitude to be a part-time file clerk?” Helen had raged upon relaying the contents of the voicemail to Priscilla one evening.
“Sixteen year olds who don’t know any better,” had been Priscilla’s very succinct response.
Helen’s new job was as a salesperson at a massive bookstore. It was called Volumes & Tomes. Helen had to wear a red vest and, as it turned out, primarily help people find birthday presents for the nerdy daughter or niece in their family. Helen had the entire Harry Potter paraphernalia section memorized within her first five shifts.
“I went to school for so long,” she complained to Iggy one night, having gone to visit her at the coffee shop where she worked. “And this is the best I can do? Selling books to people who think the kid in their family who enjoys Jane Austen is a weirdo?”
Iggy gave her a long, wry look as she topped off the mason jar in front of her with steamed milk.
“Are you kidding,” she replied flatly. It wasn’t even a question. Helen supposed she could’ve chosen a different friend to complain to, perhaps someone who didn’t pour coffee for strangers on a daily basis and share measly tips with several other people, most of whom were much younger than she was.
“Yeah, sorry,” Helen offered weakly. Iggy only glared at her.
One Tuesday while she was working an evening shift, Helen saw a very attractive ginger man in the autobiography section of the store. He was reading the back of a book written by some baseball player Helen hadn’t heard of. She watched him for a long time, feeling slightly creepy, but doing it nonetheless. Eventually, after she watched him read the backs of two other books, Helen wandered off to the graphic novel section in order to limit her creepiness. She ended up regretting it because she then had to help an elderly woman pick out a Spider-Man comic for her grandson and, knowing virtually nothing about Spider-Man, Helen found it quite challenging. Plus, the woman smelled like moth balls and had a hearing problem so the whole ordeal was unpleasant.
Two days later, while Helen was finishing up her Thursday afternoon shift, she saw the same beautiful ginger man. This time, he was perusing the card selection. Helen walked past him four times before she worked up the courage to ask him if he needed any help with anything.
“Uh, no,” he replied kindly, but unsurely. “I think I’m alright.”
It was a fair response, given that most people didn’t need help picking out cards. Helen wasn’t sure she would be much help anyway, but it was worth it just to speak to him once. His eyes were incredibly blue.
She saw him on the following Sunday morning, this time looking at cookbooks. He waved her over as she was gathering the nerve to walk past him for a second time. She was giddy. She hoped she came off as calm and collected, though. Not only did she want to make a good impression on someone so handsome, but she also worked on commission. She didn’t want to freak him out of buying anything.
“Do you have Jamie Oliver’s cookbook?” He asked her. Helen paused for a moment, thinking of how to respond. They had many of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. As he was Jamie Oliver, he had written several.
“Which one are you looking for specifically?” She returned, hoping it came off as professional. Earlier, she had been trying to get an unobstructed look at his ass by craning her head around a shelf full of knitting pattern books. Her question seemed to stump him. He thought about it for a long moment, somehow still managing to look cool.
“His latest one?” He replied. “It’s for a gift.”
“Oh, okay,” Helen said brightly, as if that made any sense or difference. She beckoned for him to follow her around the corner to the row of Jamie Oliver cookbooks and picked up his latest, a cookbook about eating paleo. She handed it to the man, who looked down at it briefly as if it had offended him on a deep and personal level, before looking back up at her and smiling.
“Thanks,” he said with a nod and took off for the cash register. Helen watched him walk away for as long as she thought she could get away with and then hurried off to another section of the store.
The next week, on Wednesday night, Helen saw him again. This time he was hanging out in the new fiction section. As Helen walked past him, he smiled and waved her over again. He held up a book, something with bright colours on the front and a tagline boasting it to be the hottest read of the summer.
“This any good?” He asked her.
“Uh, I’m not sure,” Helen answered, wondering if he expected her to have read every single book in the entire store.
“So you’re not Christine then?” He returned, pointing to the sign above the display table declaring the books underneath to be “Christine’s Top Picks”.
“Oh, no I’m not,” Helen shook her head. She was pretty sure Christine was the CEO of the entire company. She was also almost positive that Christine had not chosen any of her picks herself. Some poor underling had likely scoured the internet to find new books being released that summer to declare Christine’s favourites.
“That’s right,” he nodded. “I see now that you are Helen.”
He pointed to the name tag on her red apron with a corner of the book instead. Then he held out his hand for her to shake.
“Well, Helen, I’m Carey,” he introduced himself.
“Oh, hi,” Helen replied, rather startled. She shook his hand, praying that her hand wasn’t as sweaty as she felt it was. Maybe it seemed normal to Carey. Or maybe he was internally marvelling at how clammy her hand was, like some sort of half-human, half-seal hybrid.
“I figured I should finally introduce myself,” Carey continued, letting go of her hand. “Since I’ve been coming here for about a week trying to catch your attention and I don’t think I can afford to keep buying random books.”
Helen stared at him in shock. It was blatant, but she couldn’t help it. He looked like a ginger Paul Newman and she was wearing a red apron and a name tag.
“Seriously?” She asked before she could stop herself.
“What kind of jackass would I have to be to not be serious?” Carey returned rhetorically. He had a point.
“Do you want my number?” She asked straight-forwardly.
“I would very much, yes,” Carey nodded, pulling out his phone. He unlocked it and handed it over to her so that she could add herself as a contact. She passed it back and he put the book he was holding back on the display table.
“This has worked out really well,” he told her, looking impressed. “For one thing, now I don’t have to buy that book. I already have that paleo cookbook I need to pass off to someone else.”
Later that night, Helen went back to the coffee shop where Iggy worked to tell her about her glorious shift at work and her chance meeting with Carey.
“He looks like ginger Paul Newman,” she gushed.
“What about Bear?” Iggy returned immediately. Truth be told, up until that moment, Helen had kind of forgotten about Bear. They had only been out one time and she’d been swept up in her meet-cute with Carey.
“What about him?” Helen shrugged.
“You kissed him!” Iggy pointed out. Helen frowned at her.
“What are you, a nun?” She retorted. “Yeah, we kissed one time. We’re not betrothed. I’m sure he won’t care. Did you not hear me when I told you that Carey looks like ginger Paul Newman?”
“Yeah, I heard you,” Iggy grumbled, folding her arms over her own apron.
“Ginger Paul Newman,” Helen stressed again for good measure. “Like Paul Newman, only ginger.”
Iggy just continued to glare at her, but Helen knew that, deep down, she understood.