You ever notice how terrible self help books are? Like, look, I get it, sometimes they can help if you’re really, really hopeless, but come on. You’re really going to turn to a five hundred page book by some rich author who succeeded thanks to Daddy’s money and dumb luck? You really want to read what someone like that has to say about living life and being happy? They’re all the same book anyway, so why are there so fucking many of them? They’re all “take risks!” and “have a positive outlook!” and “believe in yourself!” etc, etc. You can get the same effect from the generic posters they hang in boring, grey offices when HR tells them moral is down.
I absentmindedly tap the gift card in my pocket with my fingernail. I got it for Christmas from my Grandma and I haven’t used it yet still. Turns out the damn thing won’t work online, so I had to come all the way here to the store itself to buy some stupid book. And sure, I love to read, who doesn’t, but there’s one thing I like more, which is being alone and not in some crowded fucking book store in the middle of fucking January.
Oh God no. Please, don’t talk to me.
“Oh my God, Riley, hi! Remember me?”
No I don’t, please, just leave me alone.
I close my eyes, take a breath, and look over at whoever’s calling me. Her smile is brighter than the fluorescent lights that flicker above us, and her hair is in some painstakingly effortless bun. I recognize her, unfortunately.
I hope my voice doesn’t give my exhaustion away too much. Though, I suppose if it didn’t, my tangled hair and the bags under my eyes would, so who cares.
“God, I haven’t seen you since high school! How have you been?”
Why is she talking to me? I hate this. We weren’t even friends back then, why is she bothering with me now?
“I’ve been okay. You?”
“Oh, y’know, nothing too big, just publishing my first book!”
She raises her hand, and I see that she’s holding a thick hardcover book with her own face on the cover. “Living Life Without Doubt: A Self Help Book For The Young And Confused.” Oh, great, a self help book. Of course she’s publishing a self help book.
“Congrats. I didn’t know you were interested in being an author.”
“Y’know what, I wasn’t for the longest time, but then I read this book by Angela Yhilt, and I just completely-”
At this point I’ve zoned out completely. I don’t care about any of this, I just want to get out of here as fast as humanly possible. Maybe I can fake a phone call? I can say it’s a family emergency, and that I just really need to go, but it was lovely seeing you again, good luck with the book and let’s meet for some coffee one of these days. Or maybe I can pretend to be sick? I certainly look sick, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
“-you? What brings you here?”
Oh, wait, hold on, she’s asking me something. Okay, quick, think of something.
“Oh, uh, I just thought I’d stop by. I’m not here for any particular reason. It’s a crazy coincidence that you found me here.”
“I know, right? It’s insane!”
I try to smile back at her, but I’m pretty sure it came out looking more like a grimace. She doesn’t seem to notice, or at least doesn’t care. Her watch beeps, and her grin turns to a surprised expression.
“Oh, shoot. My signings just about to start. I have to run, but it was so nice seeing you! Here.”
She hands me the copy of her book. I don’t want this. How do I tell her I don’t want this without coming off as an asshole?
“Uh, I can’t…”
“Oh, honey, don’t worry about it. The friends and family discount means you can just take it, no charge.”
She’s gone in a crowd of her fans before I can argue. Crap, I can’t just take this. I don’t want it, even if it is free. I try to think for a moment, my mind scattered by the interaction and the steadily growing crowd surrounding me. Okay, fine, fuck it, I take the book and make a dash for the exit.
Once I’m back in my car, I sigh in relief. After not leaving the house for a long while, that experience was enough to drain me completely. I look down at the book in my hands with a frown. Screw it, I have the book, I might as well see what the fuss is about. At the very least I might be able to sell it online for a bit of pocket money. I flip open the cover, and there’s something unexpected. It looks like a handwritten note from April.
“Hey Riley! I know we didn’t talk much, but I’d like to change that! Call me! <3”
Her phone number is written under the note. But, wait, why? Why did she put this in here? Why is there a heart? Oh my God, does she want to date me? No one wants to date me, why would she? Is that why she called me “honey” earlier? Oh my God that’s totally it. Right? I’m not crazy for thinking that right?
Ugh, nope, can’t think about that right now. That’s a problem for tomorrow me. For now, I’m just going to read the actual damn book. I stare at the first word filled page, trying to focus on whatever anecdote she decided to start this thing with. But my mind keeps slipping off of the page, wandering off to different lines of thought. Do I want to date April? I barely know April. Am I overthinking this? Maybe she’s just, like, really nice. That must be it, right? There’s no way someone like her feels anything for someone like me. It’s completely unbelievable. I shut the book in a quick motion. I guess I’ll read it later. Right now, I can’t focus on anything.
Hours pass. I’m in my tiny apartment, the scent of smoke and leftover Chinese food strong as ever. I’ve been going back and forth from staring at that damn book, distracting myself with Netflix or video games or whatever before turning back to the book. April’s face on the cover mocks me, like she knows what she’s done and she’s loving every second of my unnecessary panic. This is stupid, why am I freaking out so much?
Before I realize it, my phone is in my hand and her number is being added to my contact list. It’d be a real dick move to just ignore her, but it would be so much easier. Besides, I need to at least try talking to people again, and she isn’t, like, the worst option. I’ve had shittier friends than her.
I force myself to press the “call” button. My phone rings, rings, rings, until it reaches voicemail. Damn, she must still be busy. I leave a message.
“April? It’s Riley. Just thought I’d call and...I don’t know, say hey? Uh, thanks for the book, by the way. I didn’t have the chance to say that earlier, so, yeah. I guess call me back when you get the chance, or you could send a text. I don’t mind either way. But, uh, yeah. It was nice seeing you. Bye.”
I quickly hang up. I feel like I’m going to vomit. I throw my phone into my bedroom and sleep on the couch that night. It’s stupid, worrying over something so small this much. I guess I’m just really, really hopeless, huh?