Light One Candle
Keelan Ellis © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Josh eyed the crowd waiting outside the glass doors of Origin Story Comics, while Amy, the assistant manager, put the tills into the registers. “Every year I tell myself I’m going to find another job so I won’t have to go through this for another holiday season,” he grumbled.
“Yeah, right.” Amy slammed the money drawer shut and rolled her dramatically made-up eyes at him. “Good luck finding another job that lets you work on your graphic novel behind the counter when it’s dead in here.”
Josh sighed, knowing she was right. He was in the middle of his third one at the moment, the first two having been published to very little fanfare. He didn’t even like telling people anymore, because they always seemed so shocked that an artist with two published books would still need to be working retail. They had no idea.
“And anyway,” she continued, talking over her shoulder as she walked to the front of the store, “you’ve been here nine years. You must not hate it that much.” She unlocked the doors and stepped aside to let the hordes of Christmas shoppers stream in.
Josh and Amy were the only employees in the store that morning because the part-time kid they’d hired for the holidays had flaked after two shifts. The place was chaos during the holidays, as always, packed with people who had never set foot in a comic book store in their lives. About two hours into his shift, Josh’s phone buzzed while he was trying to help a middle-aged woman who couldn’t remember whether her son had asked for Midnighter or Moon Knight. The woman stood there with the two volumes in her hands, looking back and forth at them.
“I can’t remember,” she said. “Should I get both?”
Josh knew he should probably just say yes—that’s what his boss would want him to do—but he felt a sort of affection for the lady. She was trying to get something her kid would really like, and she’d actually made the effort to come into the shop rather than buy it on Amazon, but still. His hand itched to pick up his phone and glance at it; he thought it might be Brandon, who he’d hooked up with twice last week, but who hadn’t texted him since. Josh wasn’t about to let pride get in the way of getting laid. Besides, after the day he was having, he needed something to look forward to. As he stood there, the buzzing stopped, but there was another short buzz indicating that a voice mail had been left.
“I’m going to call his sister and see if she knows,” the lady said.
“Good idea,” Josh said. He reached into his pocket and put his hand on the phone, squeezing it in frustration. He looked over at Amy, who had just finished ringing someone up. The crowd, miraculously, had thinned out for the moment, and when he caught Amy’s eye, he mouthed help.
She was visibly annoyed, but came over to where he was standing. The woman he’d been helping had wandered a small distance away to make her phone call. “What?”
“I just got a call, and I think it might be that guy from last week. Do you mind if I go outside for a minute?”
“Wouldn’t it be better to make him wait? I mean, at least, like, until your lunch break? You’re going to look desperate.”
“I don’t give a shit. He’s out of my league anyway, to be honest, and if I don’t call him back, he’ll just go on Grindr and find someone else in like two seconds. Please.”
“Fine,” she huffed. “Five minutes, and then get your ass back in here. What’s the deal with her?” She jutted her chin in the mom’s direction.
“She’s trying to figure out which of those comics her kid wanted. I’d recommend a gift card.”
Josh walked outside into the biting Philadelphia December air and up the street to the alley, which afforded a tiny bit of respite from the wind. He pulled out his phone, already anticipating a fun night with Brandon, and opened up the voice mail.