There are the weeaboos sitting on the ground in front of the manga section, giggling to stories no one will probably understand. Next to them are the geeks, reading comic books intently with their thick-framed foggy glasses. Across the bookstore is the children’s area which is, ironically, void of any children in sight. The colorful books remain in place, untouched and unscathed. Nowadays, children are too busy tapping their little boogery fingers on iPads to flip through flimsy pages of paper. Then there are the upperclassmen high school kids picking up their AP class guides and SAT prep books- both of which, they will glance at for 30 minutes, then never read again. Finally, there are the old people who sit at the Starbucks area, reading newspapers and going about their day.
In between these sections are people who are lost. They either came to the store looking for something they can’t find, or came to the store with no reason to besides to look.
I don’t want to be here, but my mom told me to either watch the Smurfs with her and my sister or entertain myself around Bay Street. I brisk through the store on a mission: to find Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. I brush shoulders and bump into people until I reach the teens fantasy section. It must be that time of the month- the books on the shelves had been rummaged through and left a mess. On the ground laid a pile of new but clearly read through Twilight books. I kick them aside. Right above it read ‘M’.
But just as I pulled the book, a voice sighs behind me. The breath makes the hair on the back of my neck tingle.
I turn around to see a face. He was so close that our noses almost brushed. I lose my balance and almost topple over the bookshelf, but he grabs my arm and pulls me up.
“What the hell?” I say, trying not to blush. His hazel eyes are distractingly magnetic. Maybe it was the stupid tweens section, or karma for the pile of Twilight books I kicked.
I am stuck in a cliché romantic teen novel. It’s like one of the books on the shelves came to life.
“So are you gonna buy that book?” He asks.
“I came here looking for the same book. Damn it.” He mutters.
“Sorry, man. Maybe you can find it online?” He grins after hearing ‘man’. I am still in the closet, so my subconsciousness thinks using the words ‘man’ or ‘bro’ make me appear more masculine. He obviously saw through this façade.
“You wanna share it?” He politely asks.
I stare at him, unable to process any word.
“I’m not going in there.” Ashley declares. For my sister, we are nothing alike. She despised anything related to books.
“I’m going to Forever 21.”
“You can’t go alone. Mom will get pissed.”
She frowns. “I’m 13.”
And just like that, she’s gone. Bay Street is crowded today. I don’t remember this place being so full of people.
My mom decided to take my sister and I to get her eyebrows done. I decided to spend my college-free weekend somewhere else, so she shoved me two $20 bills, then shooed us away.
It’s weird being back in this Barnes and Noble. The air had a whiff of nostalgia, and my mind is inhaling it like marijuana. Memories flood my thoughts; from the time I bought The Phantom Tollbooth as a child to when I was in the store every other day scavenging for AP test prep books as a senior. I didn’t realize how much I missed being in a bookstore since I left for college.
By instinct, I start walking towards the teen fiction section. The store reeked of memories, but that area has a particular scented trail that was magnetic.
Isaac Marion finally released a prequel to Warm Bodies. I needed to find The New Hunger.
My mind is afloat. How long has it been since I bought a book? The last novel I remember reading was Into the Wild for my Expository Writing class in high school. I spent an entire summer without the sweet smell of a newly purchased book. This is very uncommon. I remember summers when I would sit in my backyard with an iced tea and a new book every two weeks. I guess college applications, SAT preps, club meetings, and entrepreneurship competitions got in the way of reading. I suddenly feed illiterate.
I bump into someone without realizing.
“Watch out” the voice warns me.
Something envelops my stomach. It was as if my McDonalds breakfast suddenly wanted to take a glorious exit out my throat.
I turn around, and there he was, staring at me, wide eyes and jaw agape.
“Hey,” I am too baffled to react, but he goes in for a hug, “how have you been?”
“Good,” I answer, “how long has it been?”
I knew something smelled familiar; It was the scent on his hoodie. Dylan always sprays himself with Chrome Azzaro before leaving the house. I didn’t think that the nostalgic smell was an actual scent.
But what are the odds? After three years of not speaking, he somehow managed to meet me here. Of all the Barnes and Noble in the East Bay, he’s here, right now. The curse of the cheesy tween section suddenly returned.
All the cheesy tween book quotes applied to this moment. ‘It was like meeting him for the first time’ or ‘Was it fate? Or destiny?’. As sickly and sticky this moment felt, it was all so real. He’s gotten taller since I last saw him. He’s even more muscular. Jesus Christ, get me out of this book.
“So do you still live in Hercules?”
“No, I actually haven’t lived there in a few years. I live in San Jose for college and I’m just visiting for the weekend.”
“Oh, right. You were homeless. I was so sorry to hear about that.”
“You knew?” His empathy made my stomach feel warm. The last time we spoke, I lived in a five-bedroom house in Hercules. We spent late nights on the couch watching the movie adaptation of Warm Bodies under a heaps of blankets. A few months later, my mom left town with her new husband and told me to either move out with her or figure out how I’d live in Hercules. My stubbornness picked the latter, and I ended up living at a friend’s grandmother’s couch.
“How did you know?”
“I just did” he says with a soft smile.
I was a freshman in high school again, staring into the eyes of a stranger, unaware of what comes next. Four years of my life had been erased.
“Look” he says, holding up the book on his hand. It’s The New Hunger.
Of course. Of all the books in the store, of all the days of the week and hours of the day, he would be in the same bookstore we met, holding the sequel to the book we learned to love together.
I am suddenly convinced there is higher power in play.
“I haven’t read it.”
“You came here to pick it up, didn’t you?” He asks.
“Yeah.” He smiled, as if signaling he understands what’s happening.
“This was the only copy on the shelf.”
“Damn.” Could it be? The world suddenly stopped.
“You can have this one.” He offers the book to me.
“No, I can’t do that,” I try to push it back, “Finders keepers.”
“But I kept the last book,” he says, forcing the book to my hand, “this one is yours. I’ll even pay for it.”
For a second, the curse of the sticky teen romance was in full effect. Everything had to happen for a reason. It’s meant to be. Ignore all the cheesy romantic clichés. This is real life, and I am living it. I’m not seeing anyone. Is this the right moment? Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. I want a sign.
“No, I don’t-
And just like that, his phone buzzes.
He pulls it out of his pocket, waves his index finger at me, then slides through the unlock screen to pick the call up.
The magic is gone. My heart drops. The air grew stale, and the pit in my stomach returned.
“I was just picking up that book you wanted,”
Every word he said was like a needle in my eye. I remember why this didn’t work. He’s not ready to come out. He’s still hiding in the closet, and I was romanticizing what I thought was a healthy a relationship. Both of us weren’t ready for a homosexual commitment since we were closeted. We could only be together under the moon, and when the sun rose, we became strangers.
Since then, I’ve learned to love who I am. I always thought that after all this time, being with me at least taught him to embrace who he is.
But alas, this is no book.
I wanted to sticky fantasy relationship so much that I turned a blind eye and mistook neglect for love.
“I’ll see you soon,” he continued, barely looking at me, “Love you, bye.”
In a way, my life is already a storybook. A homeless teenager turned CEO of a student start-up who would go on to represent young entrepreneurs on television and in the presence of the president. I should be satisfied.
But I was craving more. I was craving fantasy. I was craving a dream.
It was romantic gluttony, and I hated it.
“It was nice seeing you, but I gotta go. Do you still follow me on Instagram?”
“No. I haven’t been for three years.” His face fell. The nostalgia went away. We are suddenly transported back into the real world where, where we have to accept things for what they are.
I hand the book back to him. “Keep it for your collection.”