“Do you know the gay girl that works in Hy-Vee?”
My coworker, Kerrie, asks me this late in our graveyard shift. Eleven hours left. I’ve barely been awake long enough to give her a proper answer.
“Not all gay people know each other,” I reply, half snark, half patience.
Kerrie shrugs but still eyes me knowingly. “Well, she’s really cute. She has an elephant chest tattoo that she was telling me about. She wants a pride tattoo, that’s how I found out she was gay. You should talk to her.”
I laugh, a little. “Yeah, maybe. We’ll see.”
But, I doubt it. I don’t know anything about this woman they’re telling me about. I’ve not had much luck with dating in the area, this would surely be no different.
Yet, after work in the wee hours of the morning, I find myself in the grocery store with some excuse. I’ve been wanting some chips, I tell myself. Something I can take to work for lunch this week.
I look at every cashier. No one matches her description.
The next day is the same. And the next. I stop by after work, and I stop by before work. Finally, I decide that I’ve been foolish chasing after some girl that I probably won’t ever meet. And if I did, what would I even say to her?
I go to the farmer’s market, pick up some homemade face wash and organic honey. I don’t need to go to the grocery store, now. I worked a twelve-hour shift, and now it’s time to go home and sleep.
But as soon as I sit down in my car and turn on my music, the first song that plays is Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko. I skip, and it’s Same Love by Macklemore. Then Pretty Girl.
What the hell, I have a few days off, I can sleep after a quick trip to get some chocolate. One last search for the mystery girl.
And I see her, almost right away. Short hair, dark brown, with wisps of a tattoo peeking over the collar of her shirt.
I know in my rabbiting heart that she’s the one I’ve been looking for.
In a haze, I find a few things to put in my cart. I regret that I didn’t shower first, that the shirt I’m wearing is too low cut, that I haven’t put on any makeup. This was a mistake. What was I even doing there? What if I was wrong?
I get in line, some milk-free chocolates and some crisp gala apples on the conveyor of her check out lane.
I try not to make it obvious that I’m staring, trying to piece together what I remember about my descriptions of her to see if they match up. But I can’t remember what anyone has told me about anything, ever. All I hear are my nerves screaming and my pulse pounding.
I don’t hear the woman in front of me who is giving her unwarranted makeup tips. I don’t see that the cashier’s smile is more plastic than usual. I don’t know what to do when the older lady before me packs up her bags and leaves.
It’s my turn.
She smiles at me, our eyes meet and I’m weak. “Did you find everything okay?” She asks, a question that she’s probably asked in her sleep.
I try to nod politely, and maybe I do for a second. Then I blurt out, a little too loudly, “What’s your tattoo?”
I have to ask her that way. I have to get it out of my body before fear silences me and I waste the entire trip.
She’s a little surprised, and her delicate hands move away from the scanner to unbutton her top button and pull the lapels to the sides. My sternum feels like it’ll crack from my heart trying to burst through it.
A full chest piece, the face of an elephant with strokes of soft color framing it and reached along her collarbone. The shading and line work is impeccable. I try to let myself focus on that, on something I know a little about. “Wow, that’s really good,” I say. “Where’d you get it done?”
She closes her shirt and puts her skin away. “Oh, I got it done in Florida,” she dismisses my question. I’d never be able to find her artist and go see them. Right?
Yet she stops me, dead. Florida is where I grew up, 1500 miles from snowy South Dakota. Why is she here? Why was she there? But, it’s a big state. Just because she was in Florida doesn’t mean we ran in the same circles. “Where in Florida?” I ask. My nerves settle.
“Destin,” she answers.
An hour away from where I grew up. A place I’ve been dozens of times. An area of the state that I’m intimately familiar with. “No way, I grew up in Crestview,” I tell her.
She gawks. “I lived in Destin with my aunts and their kids!” She said. “I grew up here, though, I recently moved back.”
But it’s enough for me. We’ve been dancing around each other for years, it seems. I have to know if she’s the girl that I was told about. I have to let her know I’m interested.
“Your aunts?” I repeat.
She nods with a patient, cautious smile.
“Like married? To each other?”
“Yes,” she answers. She’s rung up the last of my things.
I take the plastic grocery bags in hand, not wanting to hold up her line. “Oh, cool,” I say. I give a nervous half-chuckle. “One day.”
“Yeah,” she says. “Me, too.”
Our eyes lock. Just for a moment. Then she flicks her gaze to the customer behind me. Gives him a polite, but hurried, smile.
And my bravery falters. My feet fly me forward, straight to the door and out to my car. The wind outside is cold, but I can’t feel it. I can’t feel anything. Everything inside of me is buzzing.
I didn’t know that I’d left her watching after me, wanting to give me her number.
It isn’t until much later that I realize I was a fool for running away like that. And I don’t want to keep going back to Hy-Vee once or twice a day, every day. I remember that I have an “in” at the store, one of my good friends works in the kitchen. All I have to do is have them look into it for me, pass along my phone number.
My friend does some snooping among the other workers, getting her name and her preference and age.
Eventually, the mystery girl, whose name I learn is Trysta, approaches my friend. She demands to know if the friend that’s interested is me. Then, she gives my friend her phone number. They pass it along to me, through appropriate channels.
I tell myself that I should wait, play it cool. But I’ve never been good at that. I text her right away.