The glass door was propped open with one of those hard, plastic wedges jammed beneath it. Nervously I peered inside, wondering if I was really going to go through with it? I’d never done anything like this before. It was so out of character for me that I could hardly believe I had thought of it all by myself. The boy behind the counter looked too young to have a job. His hair was flopping over the brim of his visor, and that vest! Oh god, to even think about buying something from a boy wearing a vest like that and wasn’t working in a hardware store was almost too much.
Just as I was ready to discard the idea entirely, the kid looked up and spotted me. I guess I’d blocked the light a little too long.
“Hi! Welcome to Literation Services!” His face radiated happiness as he looked at me like I was his favorite uncle. “My name is Kevin. How may I help you today?”
I felt my eyes get bigger as I contemplated just running away. How would that look though? The other people on the sidewalk might think I was a shoplifter trying to get away with something. They might try to stop me!
“Come on in!”
In spite of myself I responded to his energetic wave and stepped across the threshold. The change was like night and day. The feel of the store from the sidewalk had been pretty normal, like it was any other store on the street. From the inside it was like holding your breath in a submarine, completely unnecessary but oddly compulsory. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with shelves packed so tightly with words it was almost impossible to see exactly where one stopped and another began. My hard won high school diploma seemed an unlikely aide among all these choices.
Walking around the counter Kevin stood in front of me and held out his hand. His eyes were shaped like almonds with a perfect duct in each corner, just big enough to hold a single, pristine tear.
“What can I help you with?”
“Um… I’m… uh…” How did people do this? Did they just come right out and ask? Or did they play twenty questions? I shook his hand, so young and lacking lines.
Turning to stand beside me Kevin looked up at one of the shelves and gestured with his open palm.
‘We have anything you could possibly want, it doesn’t even matter what language you need.” His face glowed with pride as he openly preened over the inventory. He looked back at me. “So tell me, what are you looking for today?”
Okay, so I was just going to say it. No games or charades, just straight out ask for it.
“I need a word that starts with L.” My voice sounded clipped and hard, like I might chip it if I tightened it any further.
Kevin’s face grew thoughtful.
“How many letters?”
“Seven.” Yes, seven letters. I felt like a huge schmuck.
“Okay. Are you looking for a noun? Adjective?”
“Adjective.” What man can’t come up with his own adjective? I wanted to cover my face.
Moving away like a hound on the hunt, Kevin raised his hands in the air and let them flow across the shelves like he could feel the words better with his hands than he could see them with his eyes.
“Can you give me an idea of what you want to use the word for?” His voice floated back, very professional and businesslike. I could not accuse him of being judgmental.
Stopping, hands still raised, Kevin looked back at me.
“Don’t worry, I’ll never tell. All your business with Literation Services is private now and forever. We don’t even keep a database.”