I knew this one wasn’t going to end well before it even happened. The customer walked up to my counter, the same way he always did. I didn’t know his name. I didn’t want to.
“I need to return this,” he said.
“Can I have your receipt?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t have it.
“I don’t have it,” he said, “but I just bought this yesterday and it doesn’t fit.”
He shoved a shirt at me – a style that we clearly haden’t had since winter, since it was flannel. And it didn’t have any tags on it.
“Sir, if you don’t have the tags or the receipt, I can’t return it.”
“You need to,” he said, the same way he always does.
“How much did it cost?” I asked, trying to keep my cool, hoping my manager would notice he was back.
“It cost me nineteen dollars and something cents,” he said.
I bought that shirt for my brother. It was less than eight dollars.
“Lady, I need you to take this shirt back and give me back my nineteen dollars.”
At that point, I was grateful for the counter between us.
“I’m sorry, sir, but without the receipt or the tags I can’t take an item back.”
The man leaned against the counter and I took a step back as he leaned over, trying to get in my face.
“I want my nineteen dollars,” he said, spit flying through his teeth.
“Hey, leave the girl alone,” a new voice said, and the rude customer was shoved to the side. “It’s not her fault that company policy says she can’t take it back without tags or a receipt.”
The new voice was cute. He looked close to my age, dark hair, glasses, hazel eyes.
“It’s her fault that I’m not getting any money back,” Rude Customer said. “She does this every time.”
I groaned and pulled out the twenty that I’d put in my pocket for lunch. Last time he’d stood here for an hour, arguing with me. I’d been in tears when he left. I wasn’t going through all of this again. “Just take it and go.”
If only I could call him an asshole. That would probably get me fired, though, and then I’d go without lunch more than just today.
“Whoa, whoa, no,” my rescuer said, pushing my hand back. “Not happening. You, sir, are leaving.”
“I want my money,” RC said stubbornly.
“You’re not getting it from her,” my rescuer said. “Go take it up with a manager, if you’d like, but you’re not going to harass her anymore.”
The two men stared at each other for a moment, then Rude Customer stomped off.
“Thank you,” I said with a sigh of relief, putting my twenty back in my pocket. “You saved my lunch. And, y’know, dinner for the next week.”
“Well, helping damsels is my favorite way to pass the time,” he said, setting a watch – and more importantly, a receipt – on the counter. “Speaking of time, my watch that I bought a week ago broke.”
“Let me get that returned for you,” I said with a smile.
“I would appreciate that,” he said. “Does that asshole come around often?”
“Far too often,” I said, shaking my head as I scanned the receipt.
“Have you spoken to your manager about him?” he asked.
“I have,” I said.
He waited patiently for me to process his return and hand him back his receipt and a store gift card with his credit on it.
“Thank you for the help, miss,” he said with a friendly smile.
“You’re welcome,” I said, a genuine smile on my face for the first time since I’d gotten to work. “You have a great day.”
“You too,” he said. “By the way, your hair looks really pretty today.”
With that comment, he strode away, leaving me touching my ponytail.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
You’ll never guess what happened at work today, I typed to my best friend.
That asshole came back? he typed back.
Joe didn’t answer for a minute and I closed out of my Twitter DMs and pulled up Instagram. That sucks, flashed across the top of my phone. Wish I could be there to kick his ass for you.
I smiled as I opened up my DMs. I wish you were here too.
We’d never met in person, Joe and I. We’d been friends for three years, but I didn’t even know where he lived. He and I were both very private online – more so than most of our mutual friends. Neither of us had our face as our profile picture, and we didn’t have our locations set. And unlike several other friends, who’d let it slip where they lived, Joe and I hadn’t done so.
But despite never meeting, or never seeing his face, Joe and I had connected. I knew that he’d always be there for me if he were actually in my real life.
Sometimes I wished he was in my real life.
Actually, most of the time I wished he was in my real life.
It wasn’t that my real life friends weren’t great. It was just that… Joe and I fit. I never worried that he would take anything wrong, even though all of our communication had been through the written word. I never worried that he would let me down. He was Joe. He was always there.
One day we’ll meet in person, Joe said.
It WILL happen, I type back. It has to.
Still, I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to rescue you today, he said. One of these days, I’m going to come find you just so I can stand over you at work and kick that guy’s ass.
Please do, I type back, a grin on my face. But today wasn’t that bad, actually. There was a cute guy who rescued me.
Oh, I have competition now, he sent.
Hard to compete with someone whose face I don’t even know, I said.
I’d sent him several selfies – but he’d never sent one back.
Sorry, he said. One of these days, you’ll get to see me.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next day, I was checking out a guy who’d been blatantly flirting with me for several weeks. Today, he’d tried several variations on a cheesy pickup line, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I took the last item from the conveyor belt.
“So, Kami,” he said, leaning in as he handed me a fifty dollar bill. “Want to help me use some of those?”
It was a box of condoms.
I shuddered and nearly dropped it.
“Is this guy bothering you?” someone asked, and I looked up to see my rescuer from yesterday, his hands on his hips as he stared down at Obnoxious Guy.
He was tall.
“I think he was leaving,” I said as I held out his change and his receipt.
“Yeah, I was,” OG said, glaring at me.
“Do you have a magnet that attracts terrible guys?” my rescuer asked as he put a watch down on the conveyor belt.
“They just don’t like different around here,” I said as I scanned the watch. “Did you forget to get a new one yesterday?”
“Yeah, I wanted to make sure that rude guy left you alone and as I was following him out, I forgot to get a new one.”
“Thank you,” I said, suddenly shy. “$10.89.”
He handed me a ten and a one and I made his change. “Eleven cents,” I said as I handed him the receipt and the coins.
“Thanks, Kam,” he said, and I startled at the sound of my Internet name. “Oh, sorry, Kami. I missed the “i” there.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “Have a great day.”
“You too,” he said with a smile.
I turned to help my next customer, and when I looked back, he was gone.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He came back today, I told Joe while I was on my break.
Is he still cute, or did the shininess wear off now that he’s not wearing his shining armor?
Actually, he rescued me again.
What happened this time?
Some douche asking me if I wanted to help him use the condoms I was checking out for him.
Stay classy, random dude.
Seriously. How’s your day going?
I got to see a pretty girl today, so it’s going pretty well, he said.
My fingers froze on my phone. He’d mentioned other girls before, but never like that.
Lucky you, I managed to type out before turning my phone off and sliding it back into my pocket. I had to get back to work.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I was about five minutes away from leaving work when my knight in shining armor appeared in my checkout lane, a bag of apples and a pie crust in his hand.
“No creepy people for me to scare off this time?” He asked, setting the apples and pie crust down on the conveyor belt, making a show of looking around the store.
“No, you just missed the last pervert by about ten minutes,” I said.
He frowned. “What happened this time?”
“I’m kidding,” I said with a laugh. “It was my older brother.”
“Oh,” he said, his mouth relaxing into an easy grin. “Well, Mom decided she wanted to make an apple pie tonight, so I was the lucky one who got sent to the store.”
“Coming here twice must be the highlight of your day,” I said.
“Actually, there’s a pretty girl, so it’s not all bad,” he said, the corner of his mouth turning up.
I blushed as I set the apples in a bag. “$11.47.”
“There you go,” he said, handing me a credit card.
I swiped it and handed it back, waiting for the receipt to come out.
“Tell your older brother that I said to leave you alone,” he said as he took the receipt from me.
“What’s your name?” I asked. “He probably wouldn’t be impressed if I said that my knight in shining armor said to leave me alone.”
He leaned against the counter. “Knight in shining armor, hey?”
“You have rescued me from two trolls already,” I pointed out.
“True, true. Yesterday’s might’ve been an ogre though.”
“If you say so, Sir Knight,” I said with a grin.
“My name’s Josiah,” he said, sticking his hand out.
I shook it. “And I’m Kamiya, or Kami.”
“Nice to officially meet you, damsel,” he said, bowing.
“Why thank you, Sir Knight,” I said, taking the sides of my jeans and trying to dip into a curtsey. All I managed to do was lose my balance and go tumbling sideways.
Josiah’s hand grabbed my shoulder and kept me from tumbling any further. “Apparently you do need a knight in shining armor,” he said with a grin as I stood up straight.
“Probably shouldn’t attempt that move again,” I said with a laugh.
“Your mom probably wants to make her pie,” I said as another customer approached.
“Probably,” Josiah said, his fingers sliding from my shoulder to my wrist. “Are you going to fall over again?”
“I should be good,” I said as Nancy approached to relieve me at the register. “My shift’s over.”
“Maybe I should walk you to your car, to make sure you don’t tumble again,” he said with a wink.
I thought about it as I moved out of Nancy’s way. It would still be light out, and he had saved me from those other guys. He probably wasn’t going to save me from them just to hurt me himself, right? And he felt so familiar.
“Okay, I’m parked right outside,” I said.
“I figured you were,” he said, grabbing the bag with his apples and pie crust.
We walked outside together and he followed me to my car. “You be careful driving home, now,” he said. “I’ll see you around.”
“Thank you, Josiah,” I said gratefully.
“Anything for you, fair maiden,” he said. “Just don’t curtsey again.”
I laughed. “No danger of that.”
He pulled out his cell phone and opened his camera app. “I feel like we should document this,” he said. “The time we learned each other’s names and you nearly killed yourself.”
“I did not nearly kill myself,” I said, laughing again, and that’s when he leaned in next to me and snapped the picture.
“I’ll see you around, damsel,” he said, waving his phone at me as he walked away.
“See you around, knight,” I called after him with a grin as I slid into my car.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My knight in shining armor came back, I DM’d Joe.
At what point does he upgrade to Prince Charming?
Idk. Probably never. But it was fun laughing with him instead of him having to chase away an ogre.
I blushed at the thought of me falling over while I attempted to curtsey.
I made a total fool out of myself though. It was so embarrassing.
Nah, he probably thought it was cute. Most guys would.
Most guys would what? Think I’m cute, or think a girl making a fool of herself is cute?
It was a moment before he replied. Anything you do is cute, @KameraShy. Your username is totally a lie though, isn’t it? I bet you’re a total ham when it comes to doing embarrassing stuff on camera.
I thought about the picture that Josiah had snapped earlier and blushed again.
Usually? Are there pictures I should know about?
Maybe I’ll show them to you if we ever meet in person.
That’s a low blow, Kami-girl.
…why had he added the I to my name? He didn’t know that was my real name. I’d always been careful to cover my name tag when I sent selfies at work.
Another direct message popped up.
How about Thursday night?
You want to meet on Thursday night?
I don’t even know where you live.
I know where you live. There’s only one Ducking Grocery Store in pretty much the entire United States. I know. I Googled it.
You know where I live.
I didn’t bother adding a question mark. How long had he known? How long had he been in the area, been within reach, without telling me?
Sorry for not telling you.
I took a deep breath.
Since the first selfie.
The first selfie had been at work. It was the day I got my job, three months ago, and I was so proud to wear the uniform.
So where do you live?
I’ll tell you Thursday night. If you’re free.
Instead of jumping for joy, like I should have been, I was irritated. Why hadn’t he told me?
Where should we meet?
The coffee shop? Flora’s?
I get off work at six.
I know. Is 6:30 too early?
6:30 it is.
Damn it. Instead of being thrilled that I was meeting Joe in real life, I was pissed off at him. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
I slid off my bed and hurried out to the garage. “I’m going for a bike ride, I’ll be back,” I hollered.
“Be careful,” my brother yelled back.
I grabbed my bike and peddled away. I didn’t want to be mad at him. I didn’t.
I was three streets over when someone hollered, “hey, damsel”.
I braked, and there was Josiah, sitting on the front porch steps with a plate of pie in his hands. “Hey there, sir knight,” I said, resting my sneakers on the ground.
“Want some pie?”
Five minutes later, I was sitting next to him on his front porch steps, eating a plate of steaming hot apple pie, and telling him all of my problems.
“So after all this time, all this build up, he’s known where I lived for months. He knows what I look like, he knows where I live, hell, for all I know, he could’ve already met me! What am I supposed to do with that?”
“Well,” Josiah said around a mouthful of pie, “maybe he was scared that real life him wouldn’t live up to your expectations, and he decided he’d rather have your friendship online and not have to worry about you rejecting him.”
“I don’t even know what he looks like,” I whined. “We’ve been friends for three years. I know that he likes Star Wars better than Star Trek, Lord of the Rings is his life, and he’d rather be playing Dungeons and Dragons or whatever it is than be doing anything else. His sister drives him nuts, but he loves her, he hates when women always point out what’s wrong with themselves, and he always gives me a compliment when I send him a selfie, or when he knows I’m not feeling well, and he really is my best friend and all I’ve wanted to do for the longest time is give him a real hug, not an Internet hug, and tell him how much he means to me.”
“Sounds like you know this guy pretty well,” Josiah says. “So tell me this. Do you think he’d hide the fact that he knows who you are just to hurt you?”
I shake my head. “The last thing he’d want to do is hurt me.”
“Well, maybe you should think about it from his angle. Maybe he was scared that, once you met him in real life, you wouldn’t want to be his friend any more. That once you saw what a huge nerd he is, you’d run away. Or maybe he’s just constantly covered in zits and didn’t want you to see them.”
I laugh at that. “I suppose that could be true.”
“Because honestly, zits are the worst,” Josiah continued. “I get them–”
“Your girlfriend doesn’t want to hear your complaining about your zits,” a female voice yelled through the open window.
“She’s not my girlfriend, sis, and butt out,” Josiah called.
“Well, I should probably get going,” I said, setting my plate down and preparing to stand.
Josiah hopped to his feet and held out as hand. “Wouldn’t want you fainting at my feet, fair maiden,” he said as he pulled me up.
“I didn’t faint earlier, I tumbled,” I said.
“Because tumbling is so much more graceful than fainting,” he said, leaning over to pick up our empty plates.
“Oh hush,” I said, shaking my head.
“If you called it fainting, you could blame it on me,” he said with a smirk.
I couldn’t contain the giggle that came out. “Nice try. I’ll see you around, sir knight. Thank your mother for the pie for me.”
“I will,” he said as I walked down to the sidewalk and got on my bike. “Be careful on your way home.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wednesday passed far too slowly. I saw Josiah once, at work, but I was working customer service and there was a line three people deep, so he only waved as he walked by. I tried to push down the disappointment when he didn’t come over.
Joe and I were talking like nothing had happened. After talking to Josiah, I’d said sorry, and we were back to normal.
I was still upset that he hadn’t told me, but mostly excited to see him in person. Well, hug him in person. That was the part I was actually excited for.
And if I’d thought Wednesday was a long day, Thursday was torture. The only bright spot was when Josiah stopped by to get some peanut butter for lunch, and wished me good luck.
Finally, it was 6, and I drove home quickly to change out of my work uniform. I put on my favorite red sundress and brown sandals, my favorite necklace, and hurried back out of the house. “I’m going to Flora’s to meet someone. I’ll be back,” I called to my brother, who was playing video games with his friends in the living room. He’d do that until Mom and Dad came home at eight, when they would be acting like very good college students, studying at the kitchen table.
I slid into my car and raced towards Flora’s. I got stuck at a red light and my left foot tapped the floor of my car. I was going to meet Joe in person! I didn’t want to be late.
What if Josiah was right, and he was different in person? What if he wasn’t as funny? What if he was covered in zits? What if… what if he didn’t like hugs?
I took a deep breath as I pulled into the mostly-empty parking lot at Flora’s. I checked my phone and there was a DM from Joe.
This is what I’m wearing, it said, along with a picture from the neck down. Blue UVA shirt, blue jeans. I smiled. Blue was his favorite color. He’d told me he might even pick a college based on what its colors were. If the UVA shirt was anything to go off of, maybe he had.
UVA was close to here. I’d be going to UVA in the fall. Would he be there too??
With steady hands but a shaky heart, I got out of my car and walked into Flora’s.
There was a boy in the corner, his back to me, but he was wearing a blue shirt and blue jeans as he hunched over his phone.
I’m here, my phone said, in the western corner.
It was him.
Heart racing, I walked over to him and draped my arm across his shoulders. “Hey there,” I said, blushing when my voice came out a little shaky.
“Hey there, damsel,” he said, turning his face to look at me.
I dropped my keys. “Josiah?”
“I promise I never meant to hurt you,” he said quickly, raising his hands. “I didn’t even mean to talk to you in person. I knew you were going to UVA and I wanted to wait until we were there and then all of a sudden you were at the customer service desk and that guy was being a troll and I had to do something and then you were so much better than I’d imagined and I couldn’t stop.”
I couldn’t say anything.
“I’m sorry, I know I screwed this up but I tried to fix it as soon as I could and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we’re okay,” he said anxiously.
“I probably made it worse,” I said slowly. “I was direct messaging you about yourself and talking to you over pie about yourself and oh my gosh, that must have been confusing.”
“I got to suggest my own nickname, though,” he said.
Joe and Josiah were the same person. My best friend and the cute guy who’d been shamelessly flirting with me were the same person. Oh my gosh.
“Please say you’re not mad at me.”
“I’m not,” I said slowly, “I’m just trying to process this.”
“Okay, well, process all you’d like,” he said, handing me a cup. “I know it’s still a lot of sugar, but I had them make it decaf for you.”
I took a sip, knowing that it would be a chocolate chip frappe.
“Oh my gosh, when you said that you’d met a pretty girl that day, you were talking about me,” I realized after a moment.
“Yup,” he said.
“And… wait. Did you say you were going to UVA?”
“Also yup,” he said.
With a squeal, I launched myself at him and wrapped my arms around him. “We’re going to the same college,” I said.
“Let’s be honest, I didn’t ever have another school I wanted to go to.”
I pulled away and looked up at him. “But you said–”
“I didn’t want to get your hopes up, in case I couldn’t get in. But I got my acceptance letter this afternoon.”
“I’m so proud of you!” I said, squealing again.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said, pulling me in for another hug.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that you were Joe,” I said after a minute, pulling away and punching him in the shoulder.
“Ow, damsel, you hit hard. How was I supposed to say it? ‘Uh, I’m your Internet boyfriend’? Like that?”
“Boyfriend, huh?” I asked.
“Sorry, that’s how my sister phrased it.”
“I mean, I wouldn’t mind that,” I said.
“Well, we are going to the same college. And we do kinda live in the same town. And you are my best friend, and you rescue me from trolls.”
“Oh, well, rescuing you from trolls doesn’t mean anything. I do that for every damsel I meet.”
“Yes, but how many of them do you call fair maiden?” I asked.
He thought about it for a moment. “Hm. Just you, actually.”
“Good,” I said, “because apparently I get jealous when it comes to you.”
“Oh yeah?” He asked, looping his arms around my waist.
“Yeah. I was awfully jealous of the pretty girl you met the other day.”
He laughed. “I’m sorry, but that’s funny if you think about it.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“So… should I call you my girlfriend, or do you want to stick to fair maiden for now?”
I thought about it for a moment, long enough to make him sweat. “How about both?” I said when his eye started twitching.
“You’re so mean,” he said, shaking his head at me.
“What? You deserved it after what you put me through.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, pulling me closer. “I won’t do it again.”
“You’d better not,” I said, shaking my head as he leaned in.
“I won’t,” he whispered after kissing my forehead.
“Do you promise?”
He kissed my nose. “I promise. I won’t keep my secret identity a secret from you ever again.”
“Good,” I said breathlessly as he paused, his lips only a few inches from mine.
“Are you sure about this?” He asked quietly.
“One hundred percent,” I said, leaning forward and pressing my lips to his in a ghost of a kiss.
“Good,” he said, before kissing me for real.
It was a minute before we came back up for air, a minute of being closer to anyone than I’d ever been, both physically and mentally.
“If you’d ever told me that my online friend Joe would be my first kiss, I would have laughed at you,” I said, smiling up at Josiah.
I should have seen it sooner, honestly. They really were alike.
“You’re eighteen years old, and that was your first kiss?” He asked. “Are all the boys around here blind?”
“You were,” I pointed out.
“Nah, I was just waiting to meet my best friend in person,” he said.
“I’m glad you did,” I said, pressing up on my toes to kiss him again.
I may not have seen this coming, but it made sense. After all, every fair maiden needed a knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet. It had taken me a while, but I’d finally found mine.