by E. Bailey Medilo
If you’d choose a word to describe Mr. Suzuki’s store, it wouldn’t be organized.
But words like impractical, nonsensical, maximalist, or a general mess come to mind.
While it’s true that the renowned collector may own nearly every object under the sun, he puts little effort into storing them coherently. It isn’t a dream job, not by a long shot. It paid better than any other job a city boy could have. So when the eccentric man hired you to work for New World Organs a few months ago, you took it upon yourself to bring some order to the thrift store.
The task proved to be a challenge.
After clearing a few blocked hallways and moving the floor knickknacks aside, you slapped together a workable space for you and your customers. Mr. Suzuki visited once in a while to drop off stock. He’d chat your head off about the latest little imports from Pike Place. So when you weren’t dealing with customers, you had the store to yourself.
Not to be hyperbolic, but this store feels magical.
You discover a new hallway and room every day. Each one boasted its own assortment of various trinkets and furniture. You keep a small collection of things you like. Stuff like a baseball cap from the ’70s that looked better backward on your curly, black hair and a loose-fitting cardigan that complements your light olive complexion.
Several weeks ago, you uncovered a blocked door that led to an abandoned sunroom with a whole trolly car filled with books in its center. Ever since then, that room has served as your retreat. You’d spend your free time sprawled over a pile of dusty pillows and discarded papers. Reading or doing homework inside the abandoned trolly car whenever there were no customers.
Speaking of customers, one would assume that such a strange store would attract a weird crowd. However, mostly everyday customers visited the stuffy Japantown store. Ringing the bell as the door opened, you’d barely be through the archway to the main room when the customer began talking.
Mr. Suzuki had neglected to instruct you on engaging with customers, so your first week working for New World Organs was definitely… different. You remember the awkward silence and forgiving looks that the shop goers gave as you struggled to assist them.
After that week, though, you’ve nailed down a routine.
Save for the occasional window shopper, each customer will come to you with a specific request or problem. It then falls to you to find something to fulfill the customer’s needs. This isn’t hard, as you stumble upon such items after a bit of trial and error on behalf of yourself and the customer. You’ve kept an internal catalog of the weirdest products you’ve sold. They’ve ranged from a decades-old cigarette pack to a dusty vinyl of a long-forgotten Brooklyn band. As disorganized as Mr. Suzuki is, you’re thankful that he at least price tags every item for sale in the store.
You have a lot of fun fulfilling a customer’s commissions, but running around the maze of a shop is tiring. So you’re thankful for the rain today; few customers visit the store when it’s wet out. You spend the time cleaning the store and lying in the sunroom. The pitter-patter of the rain hitting the glass proves to be an adequate substitute for white noise. It’s a bad idea to sleep on the job, but you’ve already sunken into your pile of dusty pillows and discarded books. Before you know it, you feel yourself drifting…
You jolt up, fussing with your hair and rubbing your eyes. Looking presentable isn’t a top priority considering the store’s… aesthetic choices. Nonetheless, you try to pat down your uniform as you descend the stairs and slide across the hall into the main room.
You’re greeted by fluffy brown hair, curious brown eyes, and an air of teenage masculinity that you can smell. This guy’s one of your regulars, a boy your age who goes to a proper school, unlike you. He’s somewhat taller than you and dressed like your average cool kid; you straighten your back, feeling inadequate by his mere height. He’s the kind of guy you wish you looked like, with the style and appearance that screamed “Casanova” from the rooftops.
Actually, it’s unfair to just call him one of your regulars. By far, he is your most frequent regular. He started coming by weeks after Mr. Suzuki hired you, visiting every few days, giving you ample time to get to know him. He’s always talking too much and asking for weird things, and you’ve seen weird — it’s all this store does. You feel like he wants things for other people, perhaps? One can’t be sure.
He’s looking back at you, so you must have been staring. You clear your throat and move behind the store counter.
“Oliver,” his name, which had slipped into your vocabulary many days ago. “What can I do for you today?”
He snickered as he walked over to the store counter, a pathetic but endearing smirk plastered on his otherwise agreeable face.
“I need your help,” he states, drumming his fingers on the counter.
You lock eyes with him.
“I know you need my help,” you reply, tilting your head curiously.
“With a problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
He snorts. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
If he were any other customer, you’d chase them out with a broom. But you decide to play the game, stepping back from the counter and making a big show of throwing your hands in the air.
“Fine, be that way. Y’know, I can’t help you until you indulge me with a proper request.”
You begin to walk away, which elicits an abrupt “Wait!” from the other boy. You turn back to face him.
“Well, I don’t know how to explain it…” he says, raising a hand to his chin.
“So you don’t know what you want?” It’s hardly the first time you’ve had an uncertain customer. Usually, you’d take them on a tour and try out many products until they found something that satisfied them.
“No, no… I know what I want. It’s just…” He’s tapping on his cheek now, his face slightly scrunched in concentration.
You sigh, stepping around the counter and gesturing to him to follow.
“Step it out for me,” you say, taking care to avoid the piles of stock on the floor.
Oliver nods, walking close behind you as you make your way through a hallway to a closed door. You open it, revealing what you could only describe as a cross between a library, a root cellar, and an art studio filled to the brim with shelves full of gift items. You step aside to let the other boy through.
“Woah,” he says, trotting in like a kid in a candy store.
You squint. “Don’t act like you’ve never been here before.”
“It’s still awesome.”
Deciding not to question that, you walk over and grab some items from the nearest shelf. It’s all sorts of random paraphernalia, foreign snacks, and other assorted imports.
“I assume you want something gift-y,” you say, rearranging the shelf’s contents.
“Yeah, something gift-y…” he mutters, picking up a box of strawberry Pocky. “But I want it to mean something. Not just a gift for gift’s sake. I mean, these are cool things, don’t get me wrong, but I kinda want something… y’know, like…”
Oliver puts down the box to imitate a firework with his hands. Or a sea urchin? Whatever it was, it ain’t clicking. He’s grinning like a puppy, you shoot him a glare.
“… Oh, sorry. I had to take a moment to digest the whole lot of nothing you just told me,” you reply, putting down the box in your hand. “Let’s go upstairs. There’s better stuff up there.”
Oliver nods. You hold out your hand to take the Pocky box from him, but he puts it down and grabs your hand instead. You glance at him, he shrugs, smirking.
“So, who’s the gift for?” you ask, leading him up the stairs.
He pauses for a second. “Well, I can’t really tell you… It’s a secret.”
You snort. “You know I don’t exactly talk to people.”
“You have a tendency to leak things, Maxie—”
“Maxwell,” you correct him, letting go of his hand as you reach for your keys to unlock the door.
He chuckles, placing his freed hand on your shoulder. “… Anyway, enough about me. Have you eaten today?”
If you weren’t trying to pry open a door with your keys, you’d turn and make a face.
“Dude, I mean it.”
You groan, nodding. Technically, that wasn’t a lie. You stole half of a microwavable meal from the dusty old fridge in the basement. Mr. Suzuki keeps food in there, but eats nothing. Luckily for the old man, hell will freeze over before you let perfectly good food pass its expiration. You force the door open, opening it wide to let the other boy into your sunroom.
He walks in, glancing at the well-kept room. A cozy, bold contrast to the rest of the store.
“Is this an Everett streetcar?” he says, walking over to the trolly in the center of the room. He draws a smiling face on a dusty window.
You swat his hand away. “Don’t touch my bed. Besides, we gotta find something for your girlfriend or whatever.”
He turns to you with a confused look on his face. “Girlfriend?”
“Tch. I’ve sussed you out. I’ve read all about slightly sporty, overly forward cool kids who think body spray is an acceptable alternative to showering.”
“Well, frankly, I resent that characterization,” he says, following as you open a door to reveal another packed hallway. “Also, I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“A crush, then?”
He doesn’t respond, which probably means you nailed it.
You trot down the hallway, intending to find the second floor book room, but a door with a floral pattern catches your eye.
“Would some flowers work?” you offer, skidding to a stop in front of the door.
“… Yeah, I like flowers,” he responds, which you decide to take as a yes.
You step forward to open the door, revealing a large greenhouse you’ve never seen before, complete with multiple beds of blooming, colorful flowers.
“It’s not even spring yet…” you mutter, walking fully into the room. The harsh floral aroma hits your nostrils, causing you to sneeze.
Oliver walks in with you, glancing around at all the various flowers. “I’m assuming you didn’t know this room was here?”
You don’t even bother denying it. You squat down to see the flowers. Almost every color seems to be present, complete with little planter tags denoting what type of flower they are.
“I like this one,” Oliver says, prodding at a deep red flower. “Red Carnation. Can I get this one?”
You scoot over next to him, looking at the carnation. You’re not dumb, you’ve read enough books to know the basics of flower language. “A bit on the nose, don’t you think?”
“Well, I think it’s perfect.”
You shrug, trying to ignore your slight disappointment, standing up to look around for a set of gardening scissors to cut the stems. You find a pair and grab them, returning to the flower bed to cut enough for a small bouquet of red carnations.
“I think I have some plastic sheets downstairs to wrap this,” you say, holding up the bouquet.
The two of you return to the main room. You place the flowers carefully on the counter, then crouch down to search for the plastic wrap in the counter’s drawers. Oliver drums his fingers on the counter.
“So, are you off tomorrow?” he asks.
You roll your eyes, appearing from below the cabinet with a sheet of plastic. “Yeah, the store’s always closed on Sundays.”
“Cool, cool,” he mutters as you wrap the flowers carefully into a proper bouquet. “So… do you think you’d be up to having lunch with me? I’ll pay.”
You give him a look.
“Yeah. I’ll pick you up from here at noon.”
“Deal, then. Also, here.” You pass the bouquet onto his hands. “It’s on the house. I hope she likes it.”
He accepts the bouquet, only to give you a weird look. “I never said anything about a ‘she.’”
“Well, then… who is it for?”
Oliver grins before holding the bouquet out in front of you.
“Will you go out with me?” he asks, beckoning for you to take it.
It takes a moment for you to process what he said. You definitely didn’t expect this at all. You wouldn’t oppose going out with him. It’s not like you don’t look forward to him stopping by every few days. And frankly, he’s probably the only person you talk to regularly, at least within your age. And he is kind of attractive. You simply never thought of seeing him that way.
You want to say something. But you’re pretty sure the maddeningly red blush on your face beat you to it. Without thinking, you accept the bouquet, holding it close. He then leans over to give a brief, chaste kiss on your cheek that leaves your skin burning.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says, before turning to run out the door. The bells jingle as he abruptly opens and closes the door.
You’re left standing there, clutching a bouquet of red carnations.
For the first time in a while, you break into a smile.
E. Bailey Medilo (he/they) is a Seattle-based creative, youth activist, and indie game developer. Inspired by the potential of art, writing, technology, and life, they strive to use art as a vehicle to evoke emotions and provide commentary on societal issues. They can be found on Instagram and Twitter @BaileyMedilo or on their website.
📸 Featured Image: Illustration by Keira Firestone used under a Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0) license.
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!