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Oh my God… why can’t I get this to work?
Miller Shields impatiently tapped his foot, glaring at his Moleskine as the soft jazz played throughout the shop. Being the only employee left on shift, Mill had to think fast in order to get a few words on the paper before a customer walked in. This urgency had clear negative effects on Mill’s ability to write coherent sentences on the page, but he hadn’t noticed until the stress was beginning to get to his head.
For weeks now, Miller hasn’t been able to write a good first verse that flowed smoothly with a short melody that he made near the end of his Science class one day before Spring Break. He had hoped that the start of his time off would also start a new personal era for him in which he would find the motivation to write mountains of songs, but, he was wrong. His new job at Recycled Records had kept him from getting anywhere close to writing at least a handful of songs, and there was only a week left until he would be back in school again.
He had been so proud of the melody, too. Mill had played it on his guitar at least five times before his excitement simmered down.
Maybe I should stop before I break down and cry, Miller thought, letting out a frustrated sigh before he set the pen down on the counter. It might not be working because I’ve been on shift this entire time and I haven’t been given a break. I haven’t stopped to think about the lyrics and their emotional depth because every time a customer walks in, I have no choice but to drop it and assist them whenever they ask for help. All I’ve been doing is creating bad lyrics that have no meaning just to create a verse that sounds good alongside the melody itse–
The entrance door to the Recycled Records had been opened, triggering the welcome bell. Mill was so close to exclaiming a curse right then, but he held himself back, knowing it wouldn’t be polite to do so.
Mill reluctantly gazed up from his Moleskine, meaning to briefly scan the customer before standing up from his seat behind the counter to greet them.
What Miller saw first about him was his body. He was muscular for his age, in which case he appeared to be as old as Miller himself. Though he was wearing jeans and a flight jacket, he was muscular enough to visibly bulge his clothes. He was tall, his brown hair was tousled, and his posture was tired. An unnerving fact that came to Mill’s head was that this man was probably taller than him. Miller was already gathering assumptions based off of what he could see now.
Oh, God, Mill thought, sucking in a breath behind clenched teeth, he’s that type, isn’t he?
As the guesses of this mystery man’s character began to pile up in Mill’s mind, his fear level increased with it. He’s never dealt with a rowdy customer before, having only been working at the Recycled Records for about five weeks now. He didn’t want tonight to be the first instance of this. He had better things to be doing, such as making a better first verse for his guitar melody.
No matter, he thought, standing from his seat. I’ve gotta do my job. That’s what I’m here for, even though I’m terrified right now.
“Hello sir,” Mill called out, raising a hand as he tried to get the boy’s attention. He hoped he sounded friendly enough. “Are you having any trouble finding anything?”
Mill froze completely when the taller man turned to stare at him.
This stranger’s eyes were hypnotizing. They were the bluest shade of blue Mill has ever seen in the eyes of a human. He was aware he was being glared at with those beautiful marbles, but for a moment, he didn’t seem to care. Being lost in eyes as entrancing as those had such a magnificent feel to it.
Until he spoke.
“No,” came the boy’s low voice. “Thanks.”
Even in that tone, he probably hadn’t meant to strike any nerves when he responded as such, but it still hurt Mill’s feelings. Why was he feeling hurt in the first place?
Miller shook it off. Whatever. It might just be me.
“Alright,” Mill said, trying not to smile too widely, “but you can call me over if you need any help.”
The boy huffed in response, then turned over to the rack of vinyl records he was staring at prior to Miller’s approach.
Mill, although unwilling to, slowly began to walk back to his spot behind the checkout counter. He felt an urge to keep talking to the boy, to get to know him better despite knowing full well that his speaking skills were less than tolerable to strangers. Others said that Mill was the type that asked too many questions, and it felt like an invasion of privacy when Mill breached the line of inquiry for them. It was upsetting because this was how Mill was instructed on human interaction; just ask questions. Make the other person feel important.
Turns out he was always just making the person feel uncomfortable rather than important.
Sitting down on the stool behind the counter, he sighed miserably. Reaching out for the ballpoint pen he set down next to his Moleskine, he thought, What will I get from knowing the man better, anyway? If I fail, that’ll be one more point to my meter of insecurity. If I succeed, I doubt I’d have the balls to ask for his number.
Miller’s eyes narrowed.
His number? Well, yeah, his number. It’s not like asking for his number immediately qualifies as you indirectly asking him out. Right? You don’t have feelings for him even though you don’t even know his name yet, right?
Mill’s eyes widened, and he realized he was zoning out. Looking up, he saw the customer’s stunning eyes focused directly on him again. In immediate reflex, Mill responded, “How do you know my name?”
The stranger scoffed, a teasing grin beginning to form on his lips. “Nametag,” he answered, raising a finger to point at Mill’s shirt.
Mill didn’t even need to look for confirmation that it was there; he distinctly remembered putting it on when he came into work today.
Almost instantly, he tried to recover from the embarrassing situation; “Oh, yeah, s-sorry about that, haha… I was, um, I was spacing out, I didn’t realize that–”
“Quit it,” the boy cut in. “Don’t get your boxers in a twist.”
Mill swallowed hard. “Y-yeah,” he sputtered, nodding his head. “Sorry about that.”
The boy clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Well, I was calling your name because I needed help trying to find the record that I’m lookin’ for.”
“Oh, yeah yeah,” Mill said, standing up from the stool too fast, knocking it down. *****, um… yeah, I’ll help you with that.” Mill, already embarrassed enough as he was, decided to simply leave the stool on the floor. He knew he’d trip over air trying to reach for it and stand it back upright.
“You’re a mess, dude,” the boy commented, his arms folded.
“I get that a lot,” Mill murmured under his breath as he walked around the counter.
The boy snorted. “Probably,” he agreed, his tone snide.
Man, Miller thought to himself as he sighed. “Well,” Mill said, “what record were you trying to find?”
Mill followed the boy back to the rack of vinyl records he was surveying previously. “You guys got ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ here, don’t you?” the boy said as if expecting to hear a positive response.
“Ah, yeah. It’s right here.” Mill reached out from behind the boy and pulled out a vinyl record. It was tucked into a warmly-colored sleeve that had a circular hole cut in the front so that customers could read the label.
Mill held the vinyl record up in the air for a moment, expecting the boy to grab it out of his hand. Within the silence that filled the Recycled Records in that one moment, Mill felt the same tension that embarrassment carried with it. Though, it wasn’t coming from him this time.
“Thanks,” the boy said, suddenly. He grabbed–practically snagging the record out of Mill’s hand. He turned away and began to head towards the checkout counter.
What was that? Mill thought to himself, turning around as he watched the boy walk away. Was it something I said? Again? Mill, what is with you today?
Though not knowing what he said to trigger the boy, he was sure it was his fault somehow. He still wanted to redeem himself, despite everything.
Jogging forward to keep with the boy’s pace, Mill said, “Arctic Monkeys are a nice band. Have you heard of their song ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’”
Just as Mill was by the other boy’s side, the customer turned his head, staring at Mill yet again with his elegant eyes. For the first time since they met, he wasn’t glaring at Mill, but instead, he was simply looking with a neutral gaze. “Is that the only song you’ve heard of them?”
“It was the song that introduced me to them,” Mill explained. “Their songs are the types of songs you’d hear muffled while crying in the bathroom at a party.”
“You speakin’ from experience?”
“It sounds like something that’d happen to me, but, no.”
“Okay.” The boy snickered.
Mill hoped his self-deprecating humor was at least entertaining to the other boy.
Soon, they arrived at the check-out counter, and Miller had swung around the side to go behind. “You can place the vinyl down on the counter,” he said as he reached down to pick up the stool.
The boy did as suggested and waited for Miller to be done placing the stool upright. Once he was finished, Miller reached out toward the vinyl. He flipped it once it was in his hands and put it underneath the barcode scanner, trying his hardest not to look at the other boy. Not long after, the barcode scanner beeped and Miller pulled the vinyl away.
“Fifteen twenty-one,” Miller said.
The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a brown leather wallet. He fumbled around inside it before pulling out a twenty and placing it down on the counter.
Miller picked up the bill then opened the cash register which sat on the inside of the check-out counter. Just as he was about to sort out the change, Mill noticed that there was a piece of paper right underneath the bill.
Furrowing his brow, Mill used his left hand to slip out the paper from underneath. On the paper were a set of numbers with dashes and a name above it.
Shocked, Mill looked up from the paper. His surprise increased when he saw the other boy smiling at him.
“Jackson VeNerzo, huh?” he said, trying to steady his tone in his words.
“I’m sure that’s what I put down,” the boy, Jackson, responded.
Mill couldn’t help himself. He started to grin like a fool as he slipped the paper into his back pocket, looking back down at the cash register. He picked out Jackson’s change from the slots then closed the cash register. “Four seventy-nine,” he said, handing Jackson the coins and the bills. “Would you like a bag?”
Jackson shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said, plucking the cash from Mill’s hands and sliding it into his wallet before he tucked it away in his pocket.
He lifted the vinyl from the counter and held it tight in his hands. The boy turned around and began to head for the door.
But, just before he left, he glanced over his shoulder at Miller. He winked and lifted his free hand, making the “call me” hand gesture.
Miller just couldn’t believe it.
He didn’t believe it even when Jackson exited the store.
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