Hot. The word plagued my brain, repeating over and over again until it was all that I could think about. My skin burned with the intensity of the mid-day California sun and a thin layer of sweat covered the entirety of my back.
In the distance, waves roll in and crash upon the rocky shores in rhythm. Seagulls dot the bright blue sky, diving down occasionally to pick up scraps of this and that. It was beautiful here, every tourists’ dream, and I was lucky enough to spend every single day here. Although when I say here, I seldom mean the actual beach.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved coming to the beach and being outdoors but there were a lot of things I’d rather be doing, especially in the middle of May.
Lynn decided today, the hottest of the week, was the best day to drag me outside and into the hundred degree weather. According to her we both need a little time out of the small two-bedroom apartment we shared. I personally disagreed. I didn’t mind staying in and had actually argued much of this morning against coming, but I lost the argument in the end. Now I was unfortunately covered in sunscreen and sweat with my toes buried in the burning sand. Apparently, none of the reasons I could come up with for staying in came off as valid even though heat stroke was a very real possibility. Lynn could care less however, the heat discouraging her even less than the flip-flop she had misplaced earlier on in the day.
I glance over at a now lounging Lynn. “Hey, what do you have for the time?” She peeks out from under her white polka dot sunglasses at my question and nods before turning to rummage through her tote. A small book falls from her lap, lips smacking at a piece of hours old gum.
“Its almost three. Do you have somewhere to be?” I shake my head but I honestly wished that I did. The heat was causing a dull throb to poke at the base of my skull and my stomach had been growling angrily at the lack of food we'd eaten.
“I think I’m going to head back though, the refrigerator is calling my name. Do you want to come or are you cool staying here?”
“No you go ahead I’ll be home in a few hours. Save me some of whatever you cook though!” I smiled and nodded as she settled back into her previous position, the book long forgotten in the sand. I knew that she would stay even before I asked but I did anyway out of habit. Lynn loved the beach more than just about anything. She could spend days here at a time, basking in the sun and watching tourists walk happily along the coast. She usually even stayed after the sun had set and with her spontaneous, carefree attitude I was almost surprised she hadn’t attempted to pull an overnighter yet.
“Alright, well I’m off then.” She waves absentmindedly as I stand to pick up what little I had brought with me and stuff it into my bag. Then I begin the ten minute walk back to our apartment complex. The crowd bustles around me as I make it out of the sand, paying little to no attention to the girl whose eyes drift slowly from storefront to storefront.
I'd seen them all a thousand times before, but I still found myself looking every single time I passed by. There was just something about strolling along without a care in the world.
It’s when I’m a few blocks from home that a bright red sign reading ‘RECORDS’ finally catches my attention. I make my way over to it, curious as to how I had managed to never notice it before, especially when Lynn and I live so close by. The fact that I had travelled this very same path numerous times before is what sparked the initial curiosity and the thought of a record store nearby raised my previously dull mood significantly.
I had a love for music just as almost everyone else in this world, but to me it was different. Music wasn’t just something I used to pass time, or fill silence, it was something I could use to express my feelings and even cope with them. A wide grin spread across my face at the idea of possibly bringing a record or two home to Lynn. She too, loved music.
A faint bell rings throughout the store as I push open the deep burgundy door. It then takes my eyes a minute to adjust to the much darker atmosphere but when they finally do, dozens of rows and cases that run the length of the store greet me. Posters of various albums and bands cover the painted concrete walls and the dusty-old smell of every record store I’d ever been in floods my nostrils all at once. Like most places, it was neither too clean nor too dirty but it could definitely use an additional window or two.
Or maybe even a single employee... just maybe.
I shift my bag up onto my shoulder and begin to search through the first aisle, thumbing over anything that looks to be of interest. The store is vacant, almost silent as I do so- not a single soul in sight.
After a while, a soft voice breaks through the quiet hum of the air conditioner. It startles me despite the intensity.
“Hey there, can I help you find anything?” I turn to take in whoever had appeared so suddenly, shocked to find a man much closer than I’d expected. He smiles, kind emerald eyes peering across the single row that separates us.
I wasn’t sure how I hadn’t heard him approach, the store looked vacant up until not even a moment ago. I bite gently at my lip, watching his every move.
He makes me nervous for some reason.
The man is a bit taller than I, perhaps a little older too. He approaches my side like that of an old friend, leaning over to view the black record I have held in my hands. Soft brown hair falls over his forehead, hazel eyes trained on the plastic coated cover.
A soft sigh leaves his full lips.
“Well never mind, it looks like you’re good off on your own. Are you a fan?” he asks, nodding to it. I rub my thumb across the edge of the plastic.
“Yes actually, they’re one of my favorites.” The man nods again in approval and leans his hip up against the rack adjacent to me. I lean back myself, taking him in. He eyes me from head to toe, a look of confusion crossing his brows.
“Have you been around here before?” he asks after a moment.
“I’ve never been in the store before no, but I do live around here.” I turn back to pick through the records and pull at the loose tank that’s covering my swimming suit. It rides up occasionally, leaving a good portion of my stomach exposed to the chilly air and goosebumps rise on the skin of my arms.
A nice little distraction.
“I see, I knew I would have remembered.” Long thin fingers reach up to flick a stray dark hair from in front of his eyes. The oddity of the phrase catches me off guard and he blushes at my lack of response, “I just mean what customers we do have are regulars. It’s nice seeing a new face around. I uh- I’m Sam.” he says, sticking his hand out for me to shake. I take it, trying not to grimace at the layer of sweat that coats his palm.
“Elle.” I smile sweetly at Sam but in all honesty I wouldn’t have minded if he walked away never to appear again. He was nice I suppose, but I wasn’t really interested in awkward small talk that would inevitably lead to nothing. Maybe that was cruel of me, but now just didn’t seem to be the time for things to work out. I wasn’t even looking.
Luckily, another boy appears from the back of the store just before he is about to speak again. He motions for him and then approaches when Sam stays glued to my side. I immediately notice the height difference between the two with Sam coming in quite a bit shorter than the other. They share the same hair color though from what I can tell and the new boy stares back at me with warm brown eyes that without a doubt beat out Sam’s similar ones. They’re warm and intriguing, thoughts veiled as a gorgeous smile overcomes his features. The similarities between, while there, are small but the idea that the two are related makes more sense as they converse.
“Something needs looked at in the back, will you check it out?” Sam rolls his eyes and huffs, then disappears into the back without a word. I boldly ignore the other man and continue my trip up the final aisle. His eyes burn holes into the back of my head as he watches me browse and when I look up he doesn’t tear his gaze away “Was he actually of any help?”
So he speaks. “I didn’t need help.” It took everything in me not to turn around as I said this and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to look at him at all. His eyes were remarkable, a color I had seen only once or twice in my lifetime, and a faint layer of stubble ran along the curves of his jaw. I couldn’t help but think of how it must feel against the palm of my hand. And his eyes, good god, they would stun just about anyone. They were so kind and appealing but hypnotizing all the same.
“Oh so he tried to but then wouldn’t leave you alone, huh?” He smirks and runs a hand through the messy hair at the top of his head. Its well kept, a slight curl to each and every lock.
“Pretty much,” I muse, picking another up from the box. Wasn’t he doing the same thing just now? How was this any different really?
“Fantastic. Well, Im Beck. You can come looking for me if you want any actual help.” He smiles again but doesn’t make a move to leave. I stare up at him from over the Beatles record in my hand as he peaks over to the clock and then returns his gaze to me.
My thoughts fumble with the direct eye contact-
“I uh- guess you could take my money so I can go home.” Beck’s smile drops but he starts towards the register near the front of the store regardless, waving me forward. I follow, setting the two I had picked out on the wooden table top. My fingers pick nervously at the edge of the counter. Stickers plaster every surface, coming loose from the overuse in bits and pieces.
“Interesting choices you’ve got here... it’ll be thirty-six ninety-five for the two.” I hand over some cash and wait patiently for my change. Sam reappears from the back as Josh’s fingers drop the last coin into my open palm. He looks puzzled, lost even. I sigh internally but plaster another soft smile onto my lips. I had been hoping for a clean get away: damn Beck and his slow change counting.
“Hey man, what am I supposed to be looking for? There’s nothing back there.” Beck laughs and hands the bag with my records over the waist-high counter. My fingers brush slightly against his knuckles as I grab for it very slowly, scared to spook Sam or encourage him further.
“I know.” He looks to me and mouths ‘you’re welcome’ as I turn to leave, spewing a quick “See you around Elle!” as I head for the door.
The bell chimes again as I push through it for what is most likely not the final time and I find myself wondering how Beck managed to know my name. I could remember telling Sam beforehand, but it hadn’t come up in the short conversation after he has left for the back room. It was strange really, but I couldn’t find it in myself to be creeped out. I mean, I did check him out pretty obviously. Maybe he had time to talk to Sam and I was just too out of it to notice.
Lost in thought, the apartment soon comes into view and I waste no time running, or you could say labored-breathing-speed-walking up the three flights of stairs to our floor. The hermit life style I chose to live didn’t include exercise of any sort and in that case, the three flights was essentially 25 and I was tired and ready for a nap after finally reaching the top.
When I push the door open, the lights are already on and an unexpected, delicious smell is coming from the kitchen. I inhale heavily and shut it behind me, confused by how quickly Lynn had managed to walk home and scrounge up a meal. I surely couldn’t have been in that dinky little store that long?
“Elle?” Lynn calls, “Are you home? I bought food.” Her bright cheery face pops out from the doorway as she eyes the bag in my hands, her bright red hair swinging back and forth as she stills. “What’s that?”
I kick my shoes off as I round the corner.
“Always so curious. If you must know, I found a little record store just down the street from here. Do you want to see what I got? I’m sure you’ll like them.” She nods enthusiastically and eyes the bag.
I sigh. Knowing her she’d probably have ended up with the Beatles record anyway so its not a surprise when she pulls it out with a squeal. I plop down in front of her on the opposite side of the table and turn to the takeout containers she has placed on the stove. I was actually glad that we wouldn’t have to be bothered with cooking tonight considering how draining the afternoon at the beach had actually been. It didn’t help that Lynn couldn’t even cook Macaroni and Cheese properly though.
Its when I’ve got just about half of an eggroll in my mouth that she finally speaks up. “Uhm Elle, who’s Beck?” And queue the choking.
She holds my receipt from the store up, and there bright as day is a lovely note written by the man himself. I swallow forcefully and grab it from her hands as she begins to swish it back and forth.
I mean with anything by the way
Alright, he found a way to make it a tiny bit creepier than it had been before, planting a note I was certain I hadn’t seen him write in my bag. There was also still the question of how he know my name. I paid cash, didn’t I?
“Elle, what is this?” Lynn laughs. I toss the paper back into the sack and return to my half eaten food but she bugs me again and again until I give in and tell her about Beck and Sam anyways. Lynn smiles over her pad thai, eyes bright as giggles leave her lips.
I sigh loudly, swallowing another bite. There was no way I was going to call him so I might as well take the time to tell her. I’d just have to leave out the part where I stared at him for a bit-If I didn’t there would be no changing Lynn’s mind, I’d have to call him and god knows I couldn’t do that.
She waits patiently until the very end, smiling like an idiot through the whole thing despite the lack of obvious detail. He was a man as far as she knew. One that worked kind of near our house. And yet, that seemed to be enough.
“Hmm, well what do you think? Are you going to call him?” she winks. “He did say... with anything, you know?”
“Lynn! Do you even know me? Of course not!” Her smile drops immediately and is replaced with a pout. She was always so devious when it came to my love life. The pout was a ploy if anything-
“I think you should, you need to live a little.”
“I’m alive aren’t I?” I argue,” It’s not going happen.″ Sure, my argument wasn’t very strong, but for some reason it seemed to be working so I was past the point of caring. I was going to stand by it if it was the last thing I did that night. I didn’t have the time or energy to chase a relationship. I was busy after all.
She finally mumbles something in defeat as she gets up from her spot at the table and rounds the corner to her bedroom. I toss the empty container in the trash and follow, eager for a good night’s sleep after such a long day although I doubt I’d be lucky enough to get it.
I strip quickly and change into an old black tee and a pair of shorts after I’m in the privacy of my room. I go to plop down but my cell phone pings the second my butt touches the mattress and Im forced to roll over so that I can read it. Of course it’s from Lynn:
I of all people should have known what it would say, she was always like this.
Still, I had no plans to call.
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