By the time you knew love, The Rent-A-CD shop had become a branch of state government, demolished, like the rest of your city, in a summer that stretched into nearly a decade of detours.
It started with a face. A face that fastened itself to my every thought. It was so magnetic; so very bright and expressive. A smile that demanded my focus because it seemed constant. The eyes were hidden behind corrective lenses, but somehow that made them all the more hypnotic. As if those lenses were intended to amplify her allure. Her hair was dark, and lengthy. It was pulled back, down past her shoulders, and ending just a couple of inches short of her waistline. She always kept it in some form of a braid to keep her appearance clean and uniform. The vibrant way her dark locks acted to frame her light, youthful features made her, in my point of view, a force of nature.
People walked right by her all day and continued on their business, but she had taken a hold of me without even making contact. I would catch her in my sights and have to shake my head from time to time in order to concentrate on the task in front of me. Like a rat in a maze, with every other step her face flashed through my mind, and I would have to choose whether to linger or seek out the cheese.
I first met her in a supermarket. She was a new cashier. At first, she was as common to me as any of the other girls and women who worked the front of the store. I would go through her line and notice that she met every customer with a smile and handed them their receipt just as happily. Now and then I would go through other checkout lines and watch the different cashiers’ methods of ‘customer service’. Some of them would issue haphazard smiles while others wouldn’t even crack a grin, or even acknowledge the customer in front of them. A required ‘Hello’ and a complimentary ‘Thank You’ would be all that perhaps half of them bothered to issue. In my head, it quickly became apparent that she was something different. I therefore took the initiative to grab a glance at her name card. ‘April.’
Very small things began to bring her more and more to my attention. One detail that caught my eye was how she folded up the legs of her jeans to bare her shins. That odd little habit, or fashion quirk as it were, stayed with me. Also, on the occasions that I would skip her line and proceed instead through the cashier’s line directly behind her, I would glance back and see something curious. Between customers, she would lift her left foot and press the toe of her blue shoe against the floor and wiggle her heel left and right. And speaking of small things that grabbed me, the detail that was most out of character for me was that I was used to being interested in petite girls. ‘Short chicks’ had always turned me eye, but April was only about two inches shorter than me.
Anyone else would have let such details pass them by without a second thought. However, all of it came together to form layer after layer of a strong crush that only took about two weeks to mature.
This is when the trouble started for me. I’m relatively adult, but whenever it came time to talk to females I was totally out of my element. One could blame it on growing up in a family dominated by men, or how our mother righteously controlled that family, but I had rarely spoken flirtatiously with any girl. Every time a female of interest came before me I would seize up and drop my chin, or look elsewhere. Even in college, when young men and women are challenged to meet, flirt, and experiment with various carnal activities, my head would only be found in the books. My own brother would even say “If you can’t find a girl in college, something is wrong!”
Perhaps my lack of experience with the fairer sex came from listening too intently to my siblings’ advice, even if it was for my own good. One example occurred while I was working with one of my brothers in his furniture store. He was a salesman and found me a job working in the warehouse assembling the furniture with a partner. There was one very attractive girl working the main counter taking customer’s orders. My brother heard me talking about ‘Adriana’ one afternoon with the other guy and pulled me aside to warn me. He said that she had three children from three different men, and to be careful about becoming too interested in her. I was shocked to say the least. So, the first time she actually approached me and tried to flirt, I acted like an idiot to her face. She came right out and said she thought I was hot, and I literally looked around the store and replied, “It’s a little Warm!” I then went about my duties as usual and didn’t even watch her walk off. There’s no doubt she probably approached my brother to ask if I was ‘a little off.’
Other girls over the years caused me different levels of anxiety because I had no practice approaching them. It just didn’t appear to be in me, as it seemed to be in just about every other man, to walk up and talk to them like an ordinary person. Therefore, subconsciously, I took a different approach. I abandoned ‘myself’ almost entirely.
I had a good friend who introduced me to his sister, ‘Amber’. She’d heard us talking on the phone and wanted to meet his buddy with the sexy voice. He brought her over to my house and somehow I completely withdrew from my tense demeanor and joked like a madman with the both of them. The way I talked to her was totally uncharacteristic to the ‘mute’ tactic I normally used when speaking with women. She was the first girl I was able to really get close to, and we’re still friends to this day.
I once saw a film starring Matt Damon titled “We bought a zoo.” In the end of the film, he explains to his young daughter and older son how he met their late mother. He tells them he saw her through a diner window and decided to act on 20 seconds of ‘insane courage’ to speak to her. That gave me an idea to use the same courage I had exhibited with my friend’s sister.
Over the next few years, not many females tickled my fancy to use that courage the way I had before. One girl ended up liking other girls, and still another one actually called me ‘Creepy.’
When it was time to find a way to approach April I was back to the drawing board. I realized the girls I’d tried speaking and flirting with before had all worked with me at jobs or other projects. With her, it was new territory. I was coming from out of the blue. How to even break my silence around her was the dilemma. It wasn’t too difficult to find reasons that I needed to visit the store. My mom is diabetic so one day I decided to grab some sugar-free candies. I walked through her line with one person ahead of me. April had been working in the store long enough that she was actually training a new hire on the register. I put the candy on the conveyor and did some lamaze breathing. The new cashier scanned the candy and put it to the side. She asked me if I wanted a bag for it and I sighed.
“Sure, I’ll take one of April’s bags!” It practically came out sarcastic. I wasn’t sure if she would be surprised that I knew her name or if she would have just expected that I read it off her name tag.
“Well, I just wanted to double-check. It’s a small item. Anyway, why are you buying sugar-free?” she asked.
That broke the ice a good bit. Although, on subsequent visits to the store it was difficult to be one-on-one with her. It was about three weeks later when we were on a longer chat at her register that I finally confessed my interest. Like a dork, I had even Googled how a shy guy can communicate with his crush. The answer was to be direct and up front. So I spilled,
“I really like you, and I was wondering if I could give you my number.”
She was all smiles throughout my entire half of the conversation. Even giggling when she gave me a paper to write my number, and watched my hand tremble as I tried to write. I was on cloud 9.
Unfortunately, I had to double-check my luck.
“Are you with anyone right now?
She kind of tilted her head to the side and winced.
“Yes! I have a Girlfriend!”