There were all types of people — the young executives with their phones to their ears and scarf tails flying as they hurried to their important days. There were the young kids, the kind of the age that you wondered if they shouldn’t be in school, kids who were filled with the city, like it lived in their lungs and hearts and veins. Mothers and children. Old ladies laughing together.
I imagined a story for each of them that consisted of one sentence.
An old man sitting on the bench: He loved her, but when she left the world, he was never the same.
A businessman tying his shoe: She dropped her business card in an accident of chance, and when he picked it up, he looked up to find her long legs walking away.
A teenage boy and his girlfriend: He knew every alley in Hell’s Kitchen, but couldn’t tell you the capital of any state, a fact which didn’t bother him in the least because what was there really other than New York?
I climbed the station stairs and walked the blocks to Wasted Words, which was situated just south of Columbia. Walls of windows spanned the length of the store, which consisted of two rented spaces that Rose had turned into one, building the bar right in the center, flanking it with comics on one side and fiction on the other.
I unlocked the doors and slipped inside, locking them behind me, smiling as the scent of books and coffee hit me.
The space was sweeping, with open ceilings and a loft across the back. Bookshelves lined the walls and stood in rows like broad-shouldered soldiers, with leather couches, lamps, and tables clumped in groups in between. We even had a large room in the middle of the loft people could reserve for book clubs or parties.
It also served as the ideal space for employee meetings.
I climbed one of the wide staircases that led to the second floor and waved at Rose through the glass walls. She waved but didn’t smile, never the morning person, her black hair tied in a knot on top of her head, wearing a grey V-neck and leggings. Classic Rose, looking chic without a stitch of makeup and basically in her pajamas.
She was setting up boxes of donuts next to a crate of coffee as Greg put a stack up paper cups on the table.
“Hey, guys,” I said when I walked in. I beelined straight for the donuts, wetting my lips as I looked them over. “Mmm, going with glazed. Thanks, Rose.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank Greg.”
I held up my hand for a high five. “Greg, thanks, dude.”
He smiled and slapped it. “You bet.”
Employees began to show up then, first at a trickle, then in a pour. We had twelve employees, including Rose and myself, five bartenders and five floor employees, but we were working on training everyone in everything, and everyone pulled their weight. Rose even bartended alongside the rest of us, and sometimes managed the floor, same as me. I was in charge of almost all the same stuff she was, the two of us sharing the responsibility pretty seamlessly. I was her right hand, filling in the gaps where they needed to be filled. On top of which I was responsible for ordering comics.
At twenty-five, I had acquired my dream job.
I sat down next to Greg and sipped my coffee as everyone milled around the donuts — Beau, the smirky jokester, and Harrison, his best friend who had no idea he was super hot in the nerdiest way. The two of them were like the bartending dream team of handsomeness. Then there were those employees who were mostly on the floor — Warren, the only douche of the group with the know-it-all comic book chip on his shoulder, Ruby, an eighteen-year-old firecracker with fire-engine-red hair who was training to tend bar, Elizabeth, the quiet girl who all but disappeared when you weren’t looking directly at her, Eva and Polly, the female equivalent of Beau and Harrison, and then there was Jett.
Jett was a fucking unicorn.
With a name straight out of a romance novel and abs to match, he was the assistant manager who read romance novels obsessively. He legitimately could have been on the cover of any book about romance, muscles, gorgeous smiles, and-or perfect hair.
Like I said. Unicorn. There’s only one other guy who I’ve seen girls — and sometimes guys — trip over like they do, and that’s Tyler.
Bayleigh walked in last, her blond, straight hair piled on her head as a yawn stretched her lips into an ‘o.’ Once she had coffee in hand, she scanned the table for a seat, but I flagged her and offered mine.
Next to Greg.
Which I totally set up.
She took my seat as I walked to the front of the room to stand next to Rose, watching as Bayleigh got situated. She glanced over at Greg and smiled shyly, and I patted myself on the back when he gave her a handsome smile back, leaning in to whisper something. She laughed.
I smiled, unabashedly smug.
“Morning, everyone,” Rose started. “We’ll try to keep this brief because mornings are dumb. I just wanted to thank you all for your hard work this last month. Most businesses lose a large portion of their staff in the first few weeks, but you’re all still here with smiling faces, ready to work, so thank you for that too. I couldn’t have asked for a better team. Thanks for not sucking. And that’s all I have to say this early. Cam?”
I smiled as she sat down and took a hit of her coffee. “So, our numbers are looking great, much better than we projected. As far as openings go, you guys have been killing it, which makes me look great. Keep it up.”
“Singles night is tonight, and I hope we’ll see you singles there. Free drinks for you guys. Don’t forget that it’s a costume party, so if you don’t dress up, prepare to be shamed. Publicly. By me. And I’m relentless,” I said with a smile. “We’re placing our first new order tomorrow, so be sure to get any suggestions for authors or books into the suggestion box before noon. Please also be prepared for next week’s schedule to have some additional hours assigned to you for labeling and stocking. I’ll be catering the extra shifts with burritos and pizza.”