May wraps her oversized shawl tighter around her head as she approaches her mother’s store.
Rain is biting at her nose and eyes, the only parts of her face still visible.
When she pushes open the door a welcoming warmth spreads through her and she hears the well known jingle of the store bell. She unwraps the shawl and tries to shake of the rain as if she were a wet cat.
“Good afternoon honey,” her mom says while handing her a towel, “How’ve you been?”. May kisses her mother’s cheek as she fumbles to get rid of her coat. “Fine..” She responds softly.
“Speak up sweety, you wouldn’t want people to overlook your presence, remember?” She casts May a stern look as she continues on rearranging the vases and pots in the corner.
May decides not to respond. She is used to her mother’s critique. She used to try to convince her mom that she loves not being noticed, to blend in to her surroundings effortlessly without having to really talk to anyone. But her mother never understood, and probably never will, so May just stopped responding.
May wanders through the racks and display cases full of second hand items. She used to love playing in the store when she was little. Using the items to create her own worlds. Worlds in which it was enough to be herself, just the way she was.
She stops at a rack full of XL male sweaters. She looks down at the sweater she’s wearing. Her sleeves are rolled up and fixed with supporting arm-bands. The bottom falls over her small hips, almost like a dress. It’s made of the most comfortable wooly fabric ever and it doesn’t even itch one bit.
She was very lucky to find this one. However, just under her armpit there is a giant hole where she caught herself on a part of the fence surrounding the play yard of the elementary school she teaches at. Even though her arm covers most of the hole, she should get something new.
Browsing through the rack, her eye is caught by a huge red fleeced hoodie. She takes it off the rack and brushes her fingers over the soft material. A small smile appears on her lips.
“Don’t even think about it”, her mom hasn’t even turned around but for some reason sensed what was going on in May’s mind.
“What? I need something new!”
“Exactly! That’s why you shouldn’t buy anything from me, nothing here is new!” Her mom has now turned around and has placed her hands on her hips.
“You cannot afford refusing customers,” May responds. She throws her mom a cheeky grin and continues to browse the store.
At that moment, the store bell jingles and May’s boss steps into the store.
“Good afternoon”, he nods his head and gives May’s mom a charming smile. He is dripping wet but seemingly unaware of that fact as he gracefully strolls towards the corner where May’s mom is working. She greets him by returning his smile.
“I am looking for a present for my mother. May mentioned her mother ran a second hand store and since my mother loves retro I thought I’d stop by.”
“Well what a nice surprise! Let’s see what we can find.”
“Thank you m’am.”
The moment May identified who entered the store, she ducked behind a rack of floral dresses. As her mom and her boss move off into the store, May tries to slow down her rapid breathing. Her face feels like a furnace.
She’s had a huge crush on her boss ever since she started working at the school three months ago. Of course he hadn’t noticed her, and she preferred it that way. She didn’t think he had listened to what she said this afternoon when she had told a couple of her new colleagues about her mom’s store; but here he was.
May shifts uncomfortably on her feet while keeping an eye on her mom and the most handsome man alive. Her heart is beating loudly and she can’t remember how to stand up normally; how did she stand before?
As her mom and her boss move through the store, she stays hidden behind this rack, sneaking around it depending on the direction they take.
Her mom and her boss are now making their way to the register chatting pleasantly. Not even noticing that May is right there, slowly dying inside.
“Are you sure this is something she’ll like?”
“Oh I’m certain m’am, thank you so much for helping me picking it out.”
May’s boss sets down a small lamp on the counter. The lamp has a golden foot and a crocheted lampshade; it’s absolutely hideous.
“So you are a colleague of my daughter’s sir? Oh dear… I have been calling you sir this whole time, I haven’t even asked you name, how silly of me, forgive me sir…” May’s mom looks at him expectantly.
“No worries m’am, yes, I work with your daughter and my name’s Tayler, nice to meet you.”
“And you sir… Er… Tayler”, May’s mom replies.
At this point May has absolutely no idea what to do with herself. Luckily her mom and boss are focussing on each other. She feels that, if Tayler should notice her, he’d see her standing like an awkwardly positioned ragdoll. It doesn’t help that he is now standing significantly closer than when he was browsing the shop with her mom.
A contemplative look crosses the face of May’s mother, she looks at Tayler. “Honestly Tayler, let me ask your opinion on something..”
May’s mom glances in the direction of the floral rack before returning her gaze to Tayler. May squints her eyes, trying to figure out what she’s up to.
“How do you like my daughter’s choice in wardrobe Tayler?” her mom then asks bluntly.
May’s eyes grow big in disbelief as she helplessly observes the situation.
Tayler gives an amused look before answering.
“Of course m’am, I think her personal style is really nice.”
“You… what..?” May’s mom is visibly shocked now, looking from Tayler, to the the floral rack and back.
May’s stomach jumps a little on hearing these unexpected words from Tayler’s mouth.
“Oh yes ma’am. It’s not only one of the reasons we hired her, but she even has her own fanbase down at the school.”
Tayler’s eyes are positively shimmering with delight now as he scans the confused face of the woman in front of him.
I do not! May thinks, eyes big, a hand reaching for her mouth.
“Yes, she really does! The 2nd graders call her the Fuzzy nurse. They love it that she always wears the softest fuzziest sweaters, because it’s good for cuddling they say. And they also said she’s such a warm and caring lady, like a nurse. They have been calling her Fuzzy nurse for over a month now. I have to say, this was exactly the image we got ourselves during her interview. That’s why we hired her.”
“I can’t believe it…” May’s mom whispers.
“So… You don’t think she should dress a little more… modern? A little more… her own age?” she asks, her eyes still wide in disbelief.
“No ma’am.” Tayler takes out some money from his wallet and puts it down on the counter. He looks at his hands when saying the following words.
“I happen to adore fuzzy things”.
Without realising it, May is no longer crouched behind the rack. She is standing behind it, wordlessly looking at Tayler, almost unable to blink.
“You… what?” she whispers.
That is when Tayler realises that May is in the store and, what’s even worse, aware of all the things that he just told her mother.
He breathes in hard, his cheeks flustering. His eyes dart to several places in the store at random, he doesn’t even know where to look. Clutching his appalling gift, he then stumbles backwards, hastedly turning around, and rushes out of the store. He has just about enough time left to call out;
“Don’t worry about the receipt, I’m sure she’ll love it!”
The jingle of the store bell sounds and then he is gone. All that’s left in the store are two stunned women and, most importantly, a contemplating silence.