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Giulia thumbed through the multitude of playlists on her phone, twirling her pen around her fingers. She selected one, and shifted her position on the tall stool that she was sitting on. The bookstore had been relatively quiet today, which meant that she was allowed to get some homework done instead of having to wait until ten o’clock like she usually did.
The bell on the door jingled, and Giulia looked up.
“Hello, welcome to Book Nook!” Giulia said in a bubbly voice. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
The boy who had walked into the store was appropriately dressed for the weather, albeit a little fancy; a black turtleneck over light-colored jeans accompanied his silver-rimmed glasses and a prominent scowl on his face. Giulia noticed that his hands were shoved in his pockets, just topping off the “I’m-a-difficult-customer” look. But no matter: she had dealt with far worse.
“Are you just browsing, or are you looking for a gift?” Giulia asked, walking around the front desk. The boy just scoffed at her, and began to head to the back storeroom. “Excuse me, sir?”
Giulia followed him to the back, desperately trying to explain that she could help him if he just told her what he was looking for, and that customers weren’t allowed in the back. If Sônia, her boss, caught wind of customers wandering about on Giulia’s watch, who knew what she might do?
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to either stop or leave,” Giulia said, ducking around him and standing in his path. He smelled overwhelmingly like licorice and books— although that might have been the newly shipped ones sitting in various boxes around them, waiting to be organized and shelved. He finally looked at her, jeering. Before he could say anything, however, Sônia interrupted them.
“Hugo, I— oh, Giulia! I see you’ve met my nephew, Hugo,” Sônia grinned as Giulia took several steps away from him. “He’s coming to stay with me for a couple weeks, so I thought it would be a good idea for him to work here. Maybe you could teach him the ropes?”
“I— oh, sure, Sônia,” Giulia said, eager not to make a bad impression on her boss.
“Great. Hugo, why don’t you go with Ms. Minelli here, and we can catch up after the shift ends, no?” Sônia whisked back to her office, presumably to make more calls about the book she was writing.
“Ok, Tia,” Hugo smiled, and then dropped the expression as soon as Sônia had left. “I think I can figure this out myself, thanks. If you don’t mind, the person in charge of being at the front desk carelessly left it unattended, so I’m going to go back to the front before someone tries to rob my Tia Sônia’s cash register.” Giulia had no time to come up with a witty comeback as Hugo left, leaving nothing but the scent of licorice and the beginnings of a grudge behind.
Giulia scoffed in disbelief and followed Hugo back through the door. He had already assumed a position at the desk, and was now charmingly greeting a customer as though he hadn’t just usurped Giulia’s job.
“Well, aren’t you a cutie?” A regular at the store, Denise, was a sweet old lady that Giulia had extended conversations with about Denise’s overactive Papillon.
“Thank you very much, ma’am,” Hugo smiled, flashing all of his teeth at her. “My name is Hugo da Costa, and I’ll be here all day. If you need any help, just ask.”
“That’s very sweet, dear. If I may ask, what happened to— oh, Giulia! I didn’t see you there!” Denise smiled at her, offering Giulia a candy. Giulia shook her head and smiled.
“Sorry, Denise, I have some… work things to discuss with Hugo here,” Giulia smiled through gritted teeth.
“Oh, of course! Have fun,” Denise tottered off in the direction of the thriller section. Giulia waited for her to be out of earshot, then whirled to Hugo.
“This is my job, and I applied for it. I’m supposed to be teaching you the ropes!” Giulia said indignantly.
“But it’s my Tia’s store, and she asked me to help,” Hugo mocked her tone, not even looking up from the computer. “Who’s Leo?”
“What— why are you looking through my messages?” Giulia sputtered, hopping over the counter and turning off the computer.
“Why did you sign into the computer with your personal accounts?” Hugo smirked. Giulia noticed that she was much too close to him again, but she had nowhere to go.
“I didn’t know anyone else would be using this computer. Now move, I have some more books to log into inventory,” Giulia gently shoved him out of the way and restarted her music. It took her a moment to realize that Hugo was still standing behind her.
“May I help you, da Costa?” Giulia scribbled something in her planner, expecting some sort of snarky response.
“I… don’t know what to do. You said you would ‘show me the ropes’,” Hugo made air quotes around his last words. “No need to be so catty.”
“Right,” Giulia inwardly cursed. “Well, there actually aren’t any new books to take inventory of. I did that all yesterday. You could straighten the kids section?”
“Whatever you say, boss,” Hugo saluted with two fingers and gave her a crooked smile, sauntering off in the direction of the children’s books.
Giulia came to work the next day expecting Hugo to be there, and was oddly disappointed when he wasn’t. She spent a while doing nothing, scrolling through the settings on the computer, aimlessly flipping through a book, and braiding and unbraiding her hair, when he walked in halfway through her shift. Giulia immediately sat up, then berated herself as he began to walk towards her.
“Afternoon, Minelli,” Hugo grinned, dropping a little keychain on her counter.
“What’s this?” Giulia picked up the keychain and held it in her hand. It was a little graphic showing a stack of books.
“A gift. Tia says it’s good manners to thank your boss for hiring you,” Hugo shrugged as though he thought otherwise, but Giulia could see his eyes nervously watching her reaction.
“I’m not your boss, technically,” Giulia was slightly put off by the difference in Hugo’s attitude from yesterday and today.
“If you don’t want it, Minelli, I can give it to the old lady,” Hugo grinned as Giulia tucked it protectively in her palm.
“No thanks, da Costa. I think I’ll hang on to it. Now get to work,” Giulia gestured in the direction of a stack of books (including one of Giulia’s favorites: Anne of Green Gables) that needed shelving. “And be careful, those are some of the best books in existence!”
“Right. And what will you be doing?”
“Funnily enough, helping you.”
Weeks passed. Hugo actually began to come to shifts on time, and he and Giulia soon settled into an easy routine. As time went on, Giulia occasionally wondered if he would ever go back to where he lived before, but she was too nervous to broach the subject. Then one day, Hugo brought it up himself.
“My dad’s found a house, back in California,” Hugo reached up and put a book away. Giulia stopped what she was doing and turned to him.
“And?” Giulia prompted.
“And… I’ll probably go live with him soon,” Hugo turned away so she couldn’t see his face, so she had no idea what he was thinking. Was he excited to leave?
“That’s… great!” Giulia injected a forced amount of excitement into her voice. The real question was, why was she sad about this news?
“Yeah,” Hugo nodded, pretending to be very interested in a copy of Pride & Prejudice. “Ever since my mom left, it’s been hard for him. So Tia volunteered to give him a break, take care of me for a little while. And now, I get to go back.”
“To your old life,” Giulia nodded.
“And I won’t take up your time anymore. I probably made your shifts longer than they had to be, what with you having to teach me stuff,” Hugo was facing her now, eyes earnest. “Plus, now you can hang out with Leo.”
“Who— oh,” Giulia smiled a little bit. “Leo’s a random kid in my class. We had a project together. We’re not…”
“Right,” Hugo said. Was it just Giulia’s imagination, or did he look slightly relieved. “Anyways, I leave right after this shift to go pack my stuff. I probably won’t come back for a while.”
Giulia blinked, unsure of how to react. He was leaving so soon, and he waited this long to tell her? She panicked slightly as she realized that the end of the shift was in less than five minutes.
“I didn’t even get you a parting gift,” Giulia attempted to make a joke, but her voice came out more raw and hurt than she intended.
“You’re— that’s ok. It doesn’t matter,” Hugo gave her a quick smile and pushed the cart back to its little holding dock. “Okay, I should really— hello.”
Giulia had followed right behind him, and he nearly ran into her as he turned around.
“Goodbye, Minelli,” Hugo winked at her, but didn’t go anywhere. Giulia took a deep breath, then leaned forward and gently kissed him. She blushed, and then ran away to the storeroom. When she came back out, he was gone. However, there was a sticky note on the computer, which she promptly ran to and read. It had his number and the words, “Anne, look here. Can’t we be good friends?,” written on it. Giulia smiled at the reference, and settled herself on the stool, dreaming of her future.