I rub my eyes, a bleak attempt at waking myself up enough to do my job. Too bad I left my coffee at home this morning. I stayed up until midnight last night, knowing full well that I would have to come to work today. Call it a poor decision, but I'm not about to miss New Year's for a few extra hours of sleep. I barely avoid pricking my finger on my name-tag as I pin it to my shirt. I look in the desk mirror the manager keeps at the customer service station. I straighten the pin, making sure the gold, metal-embossed "Veronica" is perfectly aligned. In reality, I'm just trying to delay what's sure to be a very hectic shift. It's a futile pursuit, though, because the store opens at 8 am on the dot, or it's supposed to anyway. As I unlock the doors and flip the old-fashioned sign to "open", I try to look at the bright side of this situation. Hey, at least I don't work at the gym. Fitness centers are the busiest establishments during the new year season. Sure, it's a business boom, but with all the people trying to do good on their resolutions to "lose weight" or "go to the gym more", it's also a lot of work and a lot of socialization. Not that Barnes and Noble isn't busy. We still have our fair share of customers. People who are trying to "improve their financial status" or "follow trendy new diets." Usually, these people are hysterical, irrationally hyped for their resolutions. The New Year season is my least favorite time of year, beating out Christmas and Black Friday by a mile. At least Christmas brings customers who are bookish nerds. I can actually hold a conversation with a nerd. I can't for the life of me make small talk with someone who only steps into a bookstore once a year. Don't even get me started on the people who don't even have library cards.
I sit behind the customer service desk with my book, savoring the silence before the morning rush hits. I set a timer on my phone, just for the fun of it. Ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds elapse between the time I unlock the door and the time the first customer to come in. She doesn’t strike me as a nerd, so I don’t try to start a conversation. As expected, she heads straight to the “self-help” section of the store without acknowledging, much less talking to me. It might be rude, but I don’t mind. The more socialization I can avoid the better. Trying to draw as little attention to myself as possible, I close my book and get up. I walk to the staff room to retrieve the register key. My sneakers squeak on the linoleum floor, and I wince as the noise punctures the silence.
In a few minutes, I ring up the first customer of the new year. She resembles Heather Chandler, complete with platinum blonde hair and a bright red scrunchie. As I scan her purchase, I look at the book she’s selected. “The Art of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. The lady on the cover, as well as the general aesthetic of the book sparks curiosity in my mind. After sending Heather Chandler out the door with her receipt, I walk over to the “self-help” aisle myself. As I pick up “The Art of Tidying Up,” I hear the bell on the door sound again. Sighing, I head back over to customer service. People generally need help finding the section they want in the store. I don’t know why they can’t just read the signs hanging from the ceiling. It’s frankly a miracle that the first lady didn’t get lost. As the next customers approach the desk, I brace myself for some awkward small talk. It’s something that generally ensues when there are only three people in a large store.
“Good morning, happy new year. Could you point me to the section with the ‘resolution’ books?” asks a rather tall guy, who walks in step with his girlfriend.
The resolution books? Is that what they’re called now? This is why I like nerds better. Still, I plaster on the brightest, most positive smile I can muster and show them to the aisle.
“Thank you!” Tall guy’s girlfriend is energetic and has a very perky voice. She reminds me of Glimmer from ‘The Hunger Games’. Tall guy himself looks like Four from ‘Divergent’.
“You’re welcome,” I smile and speed walk back to my desk. I sit at the desk, waiting to ring up the couple. Four and Glimmer take their sweet time, and at least five new customers come into the store while I’m waiting. I check my watch. It’s been half an hour. Another worker should be showing up around now. The manager can’t possibly expect me to hold down the fort alone on New Year’s Day.
Glimmer and Four happily leave the store with “Girl, Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis and “Gmorning, Gnight” by Lin Manuel Miranda. Again intrigued, I add both of those books to the now growing pile on the desk.
About ten more customers have paid and left before my back-up arrives. None of the customers were very notable, save one girl who I can only describe as having a vague Luna Lovegood vibe. My co-worker, who’s named Jannyce, starts helping me ring up customers. And boy am I grateful for the help. The sheer number of people was starting to overwhelm me. Not to mention, my apparent lack of social skills makes the entire experience uncomfortable for everyone involved. By 10 o’clock, the store is bustling with activity. But the atmosphere is completely different than it normally is. Bookstores are typically a safe-haven for nerds and bookworms. The type of people who get abnormally excited about hard-covers on clearance. But on New Years, the bookstore is a different terrain altogether. All sorts of people are shopping today, people you don’t ordinarily see in the bookstore. Super buff guys who buy diet books and books about fitness regimens, hot girls who buy books about fashion and sexuality. Even sleep-deprived moms who obviously don’t have time to be at the bookstore. But very few nerds. Because nerds are smart.
They, or should I say we, know that on New Year’s Day, a bookstore is a foreign place. They know to avoid it. If only I could too. But I’m a nerd who’s working her dream job at the bookstore, and this is the only time of year I feel out of place.
The “self-help” section of the store is extremely crowded, but the other sections are starkly barren. Books are flying off the shelves, but only in certain areas of the store. I make repeated trips to the stockroom to bring more books out. Luckily, the manager prepared for this rush. We have plenty of merchandise for all the New-Year’s-resolution-crazed people here today.
At 2 pm, my shift is over. I clock out and quickly check out the ‘resolution’ section before leaving. As I scan the bare shelves, one book, in particular, catches my eye. I don’t recognize it, and I haven’t restocked it all day. It’s possibly the only book in that section I haven’t restocked. I pick it up and read the blurb on the back cover.
I drive out of the Barnes and Noble parking lot with a brand-new book sitting in the passenger’s seat. My new book? “The Nerdiest Way” by Chris Hardwick.
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Hello! I am catching up on Reedsy's critique circle and your story was recommended in one of their emails to read awhile back. I honestly really loved this story!! I had to look up the book mentioned at the end and might have to order it myself. I enoyed reading the whole thing and I also liked the length of the story. A lot of stories are long when they don't need to be, so I was very satisfied with that aspect. It was written wonderfully as well. Overall, you did a great job! Keep up the great work.