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I told her my name.
“It’s Moon.” I said. “Just Moon.”
She smiled. “What’s the story behind that one?” she asked, as if she had met many others with unusual first names.
I didn’t answer right away.
Moon wasn’t your typical Austin or Alex. It was different, uncommon in the book of most popular boy names yet one you’d never forget. I couldn’t tell you how many Austin’s and Alex’s I’ve met in my seventeen years but I had yet to meet another person named Moon. I was the only Moon I knew. I was the only one existing in a world full of Austin’s and Alex’s.
Moon was such a distinctive name that it couldn’t possibly be left without some sort of meaning behind it or an embarrassing and triggering story like how I played the part of the moon in my kindergarten play of Hey, Diddle, Diddle or how every one of my grade school teachers thought Moon was such an adorable name for a boy.
A name that was “adorable” yet an easy target of endless ridicule by my peers. I was always the kid with the funny name or the boy named after the big, round thing in the night sky. I could never live it down. I was stuck with the name until the day I die. It made me envy the Ryan’s and Jacob’s of my fourth grade class.
The barista was still waiting for a response from me. She resembled the porcelain dolls mom kept in a large box in the garage, the only asset that was inherited from a filthy rich great-grandmother.
The barista’s eyes weren’t dead or haunting like the porcelain dolls but they were mesmerizing pools of black that instantly drew me in but not in the weird, love-at-first sight, kind of way. There was something deeper there, way beyond the surface of her eyes and the green glitter across her eyelids, but I couldn’t figure out what it was because my focus was too hung up on her hairstyle which was short and outdated, like a 1960’s housewife who had just traveled back to the 21st century. Dangling from her earlobes were silver, coffee mug shaped earrings. If she wasn’t wearing the coffee shop uniform, I would’ve thought she was extraterrestrial. Then again, the uniform could’ve been a disguise to hide her true self or maybe it wasn’t that deep and my imagination was just a little overactive and she was just another typical barista serving me a cup of coffee.
Her name was Evie, according to the sticker name tag on her shirt. I noticed that all of the other employees had silver or gold name tags pinned to their shirts, representing their status of hierarchy in the coffee making business, except for Evie. I assumed she was either a new employee or she really sucked at her job and couldn’t get promoted past the, “Hello, My Name Is…” sticker.
Still waiting for a response, Evie finally broke the silence between us.
“It’s okay.” she said as I continued to strain my brain for something, anything remotely sensible to say. “Your name is unique either way.”
She slid my coffee to me before heading back to the espresso machines.
I walked over to a table and cursed at myself for being an anti-socially, awkward imbecile. Evie probably thought she had dodged a bullet with me, that the best way to end a conversation with somebody who couldn’t answer a simple question was to compliment them, give them their cup of Joe, walk away and hope they don’t need your service again.
I sat near the window view of the city at The Warm Mug Cafe. I had never been to The Warm Mug Cafe before, it was my first time, but it was supposed to be one of the biggest and most popular coffee shops in town so I took my chance with it.
It was late November but the upcoming December weather was below thirty with a hint of hypothermia. Ice covered the windows, making it hard to see the passerbyers with their puffy winter coats and snow boots like they were on their way to climb Mount Everest.
The cafe was decorated in migraine-inducing Christmas lights taped around the window sill and a dancing Santa Claus bobblehead next to the tip jar. Playing over the intercom was an annoying pop version of Jingle Bells as an elderly couple walked in wearing matching red and green Christmas sweaters with miniature bells sewed onto them that jingled everytime they moved. Just like every year, Christmas was being celebrated early. I never understood that. Each holiday had its own month yet Christmas seemed to overshadow both Halloween and Thanksgiving. I was so deep in the thought about Christmas taking over the world that I almost thought about starting an uproar over it in the coffee shop but I kept my cool.
Looking at my coffee cup, Evie had drawn a moon on it with a black marker, clearly representing my name. She even went as far as to add the tiny craters on the surface and stars surrounding it. It was creative, I’ll admit, but definitely not original. I had been to many coffeehouses in the past and each one had drawn a similar depiction of the universe on my coffee cups. It was expected. It happened so often that I started to wonder if the baristas were secretly making a joke out of the fact that I was named after a big, round thing in the night sky. Or maybe they thought my name was just adorable? It was like the fourth grade all over again.
I took a sip of the latest holiday drink called, Mistletoe, then regretted it after the bitter tasting beverage had failed to live up to its social hype. It was one of those trendy coffee drinks everybody talked about only for its popularity to rapidly decline because of how shitty it tasted. The only reason why everybody wanted it was because of the vomit green color with a hint of red food coloring, so basically it was like green vomit tinted with blood. It was the first and last time I was going to succumb to society’s obsession with trends.
After awhile of trying to down the coffee without gagging, Evie stopped by my table with a notepad in her hand and a pencil behind her ear.
“How are you doing?” she asked, putting on her best customer service voice.
“Fine.” I replied. “Thanks for the coffee.”
“You’re welcome.” she said. “Let me know if you need anything else, ‘kay?”
I nodded and she walked off, looking back at me once more before stopping at another table to take an order.
I turned my attention to the table up front where a kid was turning his bagel into a pile of crumbs. I quietly cheered him on as he stood on top of his chair, pretending to be a giant as he smashed the bagel with his hands. His mom was too busy with the other kid, the one in the stroller who was screaming his head off, to notice or care.
Then there was the elderly couple in their Christmas gear who sat one table away. They were sitting side by side, video-chatting with their daughter who was studying abroad. I had to stop myself from eavesdropping because I was becoming too involved in their conversation and felt like I was invading in on their privacy.
The rest of The Warm Mug Cafe was neutral. Nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Even the guy who was discreetly picking his nose behind his laptop was a normal occurrence.
The night continued on with customers coming and going, one by one, minute after minute. Even after the last few customers had left and the employees were clocking out for the night, I was still glued to my chair with no intention of leaving. I thought if I stayed long enough I would come up with a plotline for my next story but nothing came to me. I was experiencing an inspirational setback. I was patiently waiting for something to hit me but my writer’s block was on the spectrum of severity and it was slowly driving me insane.
Then, the cafe was completely empty and I was still there, contemplating life while the customers who were once around me had left to resume their lives somewhere else whether it’d be at home with their immediate families or the local bar with a drunk that won’t stop talking.
Right then I took out my notebook and pen from my backpack and wrote down that last idea, the one about the talkative drunk. It was a possible story in itself and I was desperate for something to write about.
Aside from the Christmas music, the cafe was quiet.
The elderly couple with their annoying Christmas sweaters, the unruly bagel kid and his careless mom, the laughter, the open conversations and the vibrations coming from the coffee machines were replaced by the sound of my brain wracking against my skull like a ping-pong game as the caffeine slowly started to kick in.
Evie was wiping down the tables, starting with the one that was scattered with bagel crumbs, while humming along to the Christmas songs that played on a continuous loop. At the same time, a heavy set girl with large, red framed glasses came into view from the back. She slipped on her gloves and wrapped a thick scarf around her neck. Everything about her screamed dramatic from the shock of red hair on her head with one side of her head fully shaved to the purple lipstick she wore.
“I’m going home.” the girl said, wrapping her arms around Evie. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow, Olive.” Evie said.
Even that was a more common name than my own.
Olive didn’t leave right away though. She stood by Evie’s side, almost like she was in ultra protective mode, when she saw that I was still sitting in the same spot and hadn’t moved an inch.
I looked down at the table where the mysterious initials, ‘SJ,’ were deeply carved into the wood. I pretended to be intrigued by it as Evie and Olive exchanged a few words. I couldn’t make out anything they were saying. Lip reading wasn’t my thing either. They mastered the art of whispering.
When they finally parted ways, Olive passed by and shot me a tight lipped smile that appeared more like a warning than a friendly goodbye.
“Can I take that for you?” Evie asked, pointing to my now empty coffee cup.
I handed her the cup and she tossed it in a nearby trash can.
She took a seat across from me and folded her hands on top of the table like she was about to shrink me into telling her all of my life problems.
“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked, glancing outside the frosty window. “ I have to close tonight and I don’t want to kick you out in the cold.”
“Yeah.” I replied, even though I wasn’t waiting for anybody.
“Who are you waiting for?” she asked, as if it were any of her business. Then again, it kind of was her business since I was a lone wolf in her café and probably keeping her from going home.
“Nobody.” I said, taking the hint that it’d probably be best if I did leave before she called the cops on me for being abnormal.
When I left the table, Evie pushed back in her chair as the legs scraped across the tile floor with a loud screech.
She raced past, bumping me on the shoulder to get to the door, blocking it with her entire body. I wondered what the hell was wrong with this girl?
“It’s frostbite weather out there.” she said with serious eyes. “Do you really want to walk out in this type of weather?”
I laughed but it was all sarcasm.
“I’ve walked through rain, snow and nearly had a heatstroke last summer.” I told her. “I think I’ll be fine.”
Evie hesitated, her red lips twisting in thought as she contemplated on letting me go or not. We were engaged in a staring match which was slightly entertaining to say the least.
When I broke the stare, she dropped her hands to her side and moved away from the door, finally giving in.
She crossed her arms. “Have a nice day.” she said, but I don’t think she meant it.
I was greeted by the bright neon signs nailed to the maroon painted walls, the purple lava lamp sitting on a table by the door with a swinging pot of plants overhead, the strong aroma of cinnamon spice incense and a catchy, upbeat tune by a 1980’s pop duo playing from a nearby record player. It was a warm, aesthetic welcoming at the one and only Amazing Scratch Music Records. Its initials being ASMR for what Marty described as the pleasurable, spine tingling euphoria brought on by the sound of music. I just shortened it to Scratch Records because Amazing Scratch Music Records was too much for me to say in one sitting and ASMR sounded more like a crazy party drug than an actual record store.
Marty was the owner of Scratch Records. He was an obnoxious hippie with an odd sense of style that never changed even when the seasons did. He casually wore his Hawaiian printed t-shirt and retro glasses during the winter months and kept his long, grey hair in a braid down his back with a tye-dyed headband. Around his neck was a Peace sign medallion he wore for good luck and it seemed to work because he was probably the luckiest guy I’ve ever known. He was pushing fifty and had more girlfriends than I could ever dream of, a self-made business that was all his own and a bad-ass sports car sitting in the driveway of his luxurious condo.
Marty leaned over the counter to me.
“You see that lady over there?” he asked.
I looked behind him at the woman unpacking boxes of book orders.
“Yeah.” I said. “What about her?”
“That’s Charisma.” he said, sporting a fuzzy beard with a lingering alcohol smell to it. “Isn’t she somethin’?”
I looked over at Charisma again, trying to get a better look at her.
Marty definitely had a type when it came to women. All of his past girlfriends were taller than him, dark-haired and scary-looking with tattoos, muscles and a line of work that mainly consisted of nightclub bartending, biker gangs or bodybuilding. Charisma was different though. She was a high school english teacher.
I asked Marty about his last girlfriend, a former wrestler who went on to do infomercials on protein shakes and vitamins after they had broken up.
He shook his head. “Never speak of her again.” he said, then reached under the counter and pulled out a bag of chips with a sly smile. “Do you need a quote to go with your munchies?”
It was always a game between us. Marty would give me one of his quotes, which were always taken from a book for dummies or the internet, and a bag of chips just for the hell of it.
I took the bag of chips. “Sure.” I said. “Hit me with a good one.”
“Quote numero uno.” he started, putting up his index finger. “If ya can’t reach it, ya don’t need it.”
There was a pause and then Marty’s loud, cackling laugh that brought the attention of anybody who
was standing nearby.
“Thanks for the quote, Marty.” I said. “And the chips.”
He grabbed my arm.
“By the way.” he said, pointing up at the ceiling. “When you get the chance, can you replace that light bulb? It’s looking a little funky.”
“Sure thing, Marty.”
I walked over to Marty’s Wall of Spectacular Things, a name he trademarked himself. It was a wall collage of vinyl records. Some were nailed to the wall and others were hanging low from the ceiling by invisible string, creating the illusion of raining vinyls. It looked even cooler during the summer, when the light would hit the vinyls just right, bringing a flash of color to the entire store, almost like a rainbow after a storm. It was amazing.
I had no use for vinyl records but I always found myself in that particular area of the store. I would stare at the wall of vinyl’s as if they were art pieces in a downtown gallery somewhere. There had to be more than a hundred of them at Scratch Records.
I took one record from the shelf. The cover was a group of five guys. I had never heard of them before but I guessed they were popular around the late 60’s based on their bowl cuts and wide pants. I took the vinyl out, examining its round, sleek surface and wishing the old man at the record player would leave so I could figure out how to use it.
Evie stood beside me, browsing the records just the same as I was as if she had been there all along.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, looking from left to right as if I was being followed by other baristas of her kind but it was just her.
Evie pointed to the record I was still holding. “Those brother’s are musical geniuses.” she said. “What’s your favorite song from that album?”
“I’ve never heard of them.” I said, slipping the record back in its slot on the shelf.
“You’re missing out.” she said. “They’re really good.”
“You’re following me aren’t you?” I asked.
It was obvious.
I had just seen her at The Warm Mug Cafe just moments before. Our second encounter in a time span of just a couple of minutes was more than a coincidence to me. I had never been stalked by a girl before, let alone a pretty one so I wasn’t complaining. I was just a little curious.
“I’m not following you.” she said. “You’re not that special, Moon.”
Her harsh words meant nothing to me but the fact that she remembered my name was something. I knew I couldn’t have made a huge first impression on her at The Warm Mug Cafe after messing up the start of a conversation we had about my name.
“I’ve been coming here almost every day for the past six months.” I told her. “I’ve never seen you walk into Scratch Records until now. The only reasonable explanation would be that you’re stalking me.”
“Is this a private establishment?” she asked, her black eyes locking onto mine, unblinking and fearless. “Am I not welcomed here? Did I miss the, ‘No Baristas Allowed,’ sign?”
“Nevermind.” I said. “You win.”
I left Evie’s side and rounded a corner to the aisle of books but it didn’t take long for her to catch up to me like a stray. I could hear her footsteps close behind.
I picked up a book, unknowingly from the romance section, and opened it to a random page. I pretended to read it, hoping Evie would get the hint and leave me alone but she didn’t. She stood behind me, peering over my shoulder.
“Come with me and I’ll show you the time of your life.” she read, her peppermint scented breath hitting my neck. “You do know that I am secretly judging you and your choice of novels, right?”
I closed the book and laid it back down on the shelf. Marty wasn’t too keen on alphabetization or organization.
Evie’s sharp brow raised in amusement and I could tell she was enjoying every second of the harassment she was throwing out at me. If our roles were reversed and I was the one following her around the store, I wouldn’t have been so lucky.
“What do you want?” I finally asked her.
I was never easily annoyed by another person until Evie came along. My annoyance level with her raised to the very top of the totem pole and she was nothing but a stranger to me. It wasn’t like an annoying sibling or an annoying next door neighbor. Evie was a different type of annoyance that was difficult to describe. As much as I wanted her to leave me alone, I also didn’t mind her being around me.
She took my hand and led me to a secluded part of the store. We stood in the comic book section, hidden between two large shelves of comics, far away from the front desk counter where I could hear Marty’s muffled voice.
The fluorescent light flickered and buzzed above our heads. It was just the two of us, me and Evie, not counting the pot bellied man who was soundly sleeping in the leather recliner next to the restrooms with a Sci-Fi magazine on his lap. The rest of Scratch Records might as well have been non-existent to us.
The spot where we were standing couldn’t have been any more perfect. We stood right at the center of the security camera where we could easily be spotted. I wondered if Evie knew that. I didn’t tell her about the cameras because I needed proof to show the jurors that I was never apart of her calculated plans, just in case she was going to do something stupid or illegal. Then again, nothing was stupid or illegal at Scratch Records.
“Moon.” she said, her voice barely audible despite how close we were standing in front of each other and her eyes unsure about what she was doing or going to do. “There’s something I forgot to give you.”
Out of my own natural reaction, I dug into my pockets, hoping I didn’t drop my house key or a twenty dollar bill somewhere. I started to check my backpack when Evie stopped me.
We were so close I could hear her heartbeat, or maybe that was my own heart unnaturally beating at full speed against my chest. I could’ve been an actor in a movie or a character in one of my own stories. I was impatiently waiting to see what was going to happen next. The suspense was killing me.
Standing as close as I was to Evie, a complete stranger who was nothing more than a name and a face to me, I never would’ve predicted her next move.
She reached behind my neck, pulled me close and kissed me.
She kissed me.
I didn’t know what to do. What could I have done? I couldn’t push her away. I wouldn’t allow myself to be that cruel. I definitely couldn’t kiss her back. That wouldn’t be normal. I couldn’t even pull myself away from her because I just couldn’t. Something was holding me there, preventing me from moving. Instead, I stayed with my hands to my side, awkwardly inviting her in like it was just another ordinary day making out with a complete stranger surrounded by superhero comics and a sleepy old man.
Evie’s lips were cold, dry and foreign against mine but oddly enough, it felt really good. Too good to be true. It was so good that it was wrong. It was something that didn’t happen often or ever, at least not to me. I was just one person out of billions of others. Like Evie had said moments before, I wasn’t that special.
My mind was racing with questions I didn’t have the answers to and thoughts I couldn’t get rid of as quickly as I wanted.
What is she doing? What am I doing? Is this a joke? Is this legal? Am I dreaming? Am I dead and this is what Heaven really feels like? I hope I’m doing this right. Did she just put her tongue in my mouth or was that my tongue in her mouth? Damn, she tastes so good.
The kiss lasted longer than it probably should have. I should’ve ended it after the first sixty seconds was up but I was too caught up in the moment and the overall weirdness of the situation to be the one to stop it. Plus, I wasn’t the one who started it in the first place.
My mind tried to signal my body to move but I was frozen in Evie’s presence. It wasn’t until I reached up and lightly ran my fingers across the side of her cheek that she quickly backed away from me, finally breaking us free.
I stumbled back into the bookshelf, disoriented and knocking over one of the comics as she leaned back against the other shelf and laughed.
“You’re definitely a class act.” she joked.
I laughed too, or at least that’s what I thought it was. It sounded more like a mix between panic and confusion with a little bit of what-the-hell-just-happened-to-me?
Evie had fried my thought process and numbed every working organ in my body to the point where I couldn’t feel anything anymore. All I could do was stare back at her like an idiot while she seemed unphased by the entire ordeal, like she had kissed many strangers before me and I was nothing more than a name added to her long list of makeout partners. Her calmness made me feel like a complete amateur. I felt like more of a virgin than I already was.
“Can you explain to me what just happened?” I asked her.
“You ordered the Mistletoe at The Warm Mug Cafe.” she said, as if that was explanation enough.
“Anybody who serves that specific drink to a customer has to kiss them. It’s a stupid game between me and my fellow co-workers. Don’t take it seriously, Moon.”
My anxiety was at an all time high at this point. My hands were shaking and I quickly put them in my pockets but it didn’t stop the adrenaline from rushing through my veins and my voice from cracking like I was experiencing a late onset of puberty. I was trying way too hard to hide my nerves that it only made it worse.
I tried to keep my cool and act as if Evie’s kiss was just one more name added to my own list of makeout partners even though, as sad as it probably was for a guy my age in this millennium, Evie was my first.
“Right, right.” I said, clearing my throat and acting as if I knew about her plan all along. “A coffee shop, gang affiliated initiation. I knew you thugs were trouble. You can’t trust anybody these days.”
Evie scoffed. “What about you?” she asked, crossing her arms. “What normal person sits in a coffee shop after hours without some kind of internal issue? My co-workers were getting a little worried. They thought you might be dangerous.”
“I’m not normal.” I told her. “Or a terrorist if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Whatever, Moon.” she said, moving away from the comics. “Whatever you say.”
Now, I was following her in and out of aisles, stopping where we had first started, right by the vinyl records where the store seemed lively again with customers roaming around and Marty keeping busy with Charisma behind the counter.
I watched as Evie pulled out different records from one of the shelves, naming every musical genre, her eyes solely focused on what she was doing like it was a task she had to complete before moving on to something else.
“Indie, Punk, Jazz, Pop.” she trailed on, going through the list. “What’s your preference, Moon?”
“I know some really good radio stations that play the best tunes.” I blurted out, my mind still buzzing from the kiss.
Evie made a face that made me wish I could go back and change my answer. She was already looking at me with regret.
Her face softened again, making her appear a lot less intimidating.
“Your name is Moon.” she said, holding up one finger. “You like coffee, you read erotic fiction and you listen to the mainstream radio station. I’ve learned more about you in the last ten minutes than I probably would in six months.”
“I don’t read erotic fiction.” I told her, trying to clear up that piece of false information but didn’t tell her how much I hated coffee, especially the Mistletoe drink I ordered from her at the café.
Her eyes scanned the store as a middle aged woman with eighties hair and a leather outfit walked past us with a handful of CD’s.
“I’m guessing this place is mainly home to former Woodstock party goers, Rolling Stone-heads and superhero fanatics.” she said disappointedly, like she was hoping Scratch Records would turn out to be something more than what it was. Most of Marty’s customers, the middle aged and older, came to Scratch Records to reminisce on their past. Teenagers occasionally dropped by to checkout the latest comic, lounge around on the beanbag chairs or sneak a peek at the adult magazines that were easily attainable in the back. Other than that, Scratch Records was a walk down memory lane for what Marty called, “the old folk.”
“It’s a pretty diverse place.” I said, trying to defend my safe haven.
Evie rolled her eyes. “The public library is a pretty diverse place too.” she said. “The mall is diverse and so is every goddamn world market in town. What makes Scratch Records so special?”
Before I could state my opinion like Evie had freely stated hers, she patted the side of my face. Her touch was cold and unfamiliar yet comforting. She gave me a wink and a smile. I guess that was her way of saying goodbye because she turned her back on me without saying another word and I stayed where I was, watching her leave.
A departure that was just as strange as her arrival.
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