Chapter Eighteen: A Date

He was doing it today. He was doing it today. He was doing it today. He was doing it today.

Tight hands clenched a steering wheel that brought him all too quickly to the store. He parked and checked his reflection. Watery blue eyes and red hair that wasn’t quite red enough. It washed him out without giving him that jolt of color. Some girls legit have a ginger fetish. That was what u/goodinkeltakeshower had said when commenting on a ginger dude’s picture over on r/incelselfies. That same dude had said everybody on incelselfies was a larper and that no real incel would ever post their picture. Some of the guys on that sub looked a lot better than Adam. A few looked a lot worse.

He parked in his usual spot to the far left of the parking lot under the cluster of Hemlock trees. He shut off the car and Iron Maiden was silenced. He sat in the sudden silence, breathing heavily, eyes shut. He was really going to do this. He was really going to ask a girl out.

A burst of voices caused him to start. Eyes flying open, he took note of several coworkers laughing and chatting as they walked past his car. Josh led the pack, his stupid smile way too big. His face was too perfect, large chin, perfect eyes; it made Adam want to brain him.

“Aw, fuck that,” Josh cackled. “That’s a butterface if I ever saw one. Not sticking my dick in that.”

“Like you didn’t already,” his friend ribbed. A short man with straggly blonde hair in a low ponytail. “We all know you got a thing for ugly bitches.”

“Long as the ass looks good, who cares?”

Their voices filtered away slowly. Adam watched their retreating backs near the store. Josh was the biggest out of the group. Wide shoulders, tall and imposing. That was the sort of guy that Becca would probably go for. Wasn’t Josh the sort of guy that all girls went for?

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Catching his won eyes in the mirror, Adam’s spirits sunk further. He’d styled his new haircut, but he no longer felt confident in it. He felt conspicuous and foolish. His hair looked boyish in its curly strip, sticking up in random tufts. Then there was the rest of him. Small but not small enough to be a fetish. He’d read a comment from a woman posting to r/incelswithouthate. “You aren’t competing with Chad. That’s what you all need to realize. You should be going for women who are into your physical type. Like my six foot sister legitimately has a short guy fetish. Her 5’3 boyfriend wasn’t competing with Chad. He was competing with all the other dudes under 5’4 ‘cuz that’s her thing.” Except that Adam wasn’t that short. He wasn’t short or tall. He wasn’t anything. He looked only ‘meh.’ No woman would ever soak her panties over him.

He snatched his wallet from the center console and shoved into his pocket. This was stupid. She was going to say no. Becca would say no and tell everybody what a creep he was to ask her out. They’d only spoken once. But how long was he supposed to wait? He’d waited with Emily and now they were firmly in friend territory. Nothing romantic would ever happen between them. Becca was new. She was cute. She had smiled at him a little. Plus, she was mad shy. She probably wouldn’t be mean if she turned him down. She probably wouldn’t tell anybody.

Don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. Just do it and get it over with you fucking pathetic loser. You virgin. You….you cuck!

He internally berated himself, all while making direct eye contact with himself in the smudged rear-view mirror. Okay..he had this. He would do it…If only because he never had made a move on a girl before, and at twenty-three it was about time. If he did it once, he could it again. If he could do it again, he could get a girlfriend. He could find someone who loved him. His life could finally start.

His mother’s words: It’s like you got no start button.

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With hardened resolve, he climbed out into the early afternoon sunlight and slammed his door shut. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and, head down, watching the cracked gum-splattered pavement speed by below him, he marched into the store. He could do this. He could do this. Hey, Becca, did you want to hang out sometime? Did you want to do something after work? No, no. Start smaller. Do you like anime? What the fuck! Was he trying to fail? That’d never-

“Adam, new haircut?”

He was interrupted as the automatic doors slid open and the sounds of the store enveloped him: managers crackling over the intercom, the beeping of the front registers, the hum of voices, the shitty generic pop playing at a volume that was low but just loud enough to make itself known.

“Yeah, it’s new. Thanks, Janet,” he replied absently to the short old woman who greeted customers at the door. He kept walking.

“Looking sharp, Adam! Looking sharp!” she called jovially after him.

He walked quickly, sidestepping customers. When would he ask Becca out? During their shift? He knew she was closing with him and Emily tonight because he’d checked the schedule posted in the back. Did that make him a creep? Stop it! Stop!

The tips of his fingers shook. He balled his hands into fists in his pockets. Three more coworkers stopped him on the way to the timeclock to comment on his haircut. He thanked them curtly and kept moving. He decided he’s ask Becca at the first available moment. The very first moment that they were alone together, he would-

His heart clanged and his guts churned. In the dim narrow hallway where the time-clock hung, there was Becca, referencing a scrap of paper in her hand and clumsily jamming the numbers on the keypad.

His mouth ran dry. There was no one else around. The entire long hallway of lockers and stacked merchandise waiting to be palletized, Becca and he were the only two hearts beating. He almost called it off. He almost said fuck it. But a flash of instinct propelled him on. Reddit and WOW and hot pockets and shame; there had to be more to life than that!

His feet moved quickly. Every nerve in his legs shivered as if to say “Stop it, you moron! Stop moving!” But he kept on. He closed the five feet between them.

She swiveled to look at him, eyes wide. Surprise? Fear?

He realized too late that he was standing far too close to her. She must have noticed it too, for she took a step back.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” he said.

Silence.

He had to say something. The look she was giving him was so utterly confused. He was being weird! So fucking weird!

“Want to hang with me?”

Her eyebrows came together. His head swam. What kind of fucking autist was he? That was the line he’d chosen to go with?

“When?” she squeaked. She chewed her lip furiously, eyes on the floor.

Something lifted within him. When? She was asking when?

“Uh..I don’t know. You just seem cool. Thought maybe we could hang out…do you like anime?”

What the fuck?! Who was telling his mouth to say such cringe-inducing shit?

She shook her head and her black hair swished. “No, but I haven’t seen a lot of it. Do you like anime?”

Did he like…

“Yes.”

Silence again.

She chewed her lip and flicked her eyes up to meet his. She gave a cautious smile. His heart panged.

“Want to grab an ice cream or something next time we both have a day off? I could…” he racked his brain desperately, “tell you about my favorite animes. And you could tell me about the stuff that you like. What do you say?”

She twisted a lock of hair. “Sure. I have Friday off.”

Blood roared in his ears. “I don’t. But we could get together for lunch? I don’t work until two that day.”

Becca smiled, but it didn’t meet her eyes. Was she into this? Not into this? Adam couldn’t tell. “That sounds good. I don’t have a car though. I live in Lyndeborough. Could you pick me up?”

A smile split his face.

“No problem. I can pick you up. How about at eleven?”

“That’s great with me. Sounds like fun.”

“Yeah…fun…” He realized he was staring at her stupidly. He cleared his throat. “Cool, so I’ll see you up there. Closing with me and Emily tonight, huh?”

“I haven’t closed yet.”

“That’s fine. We’ll teach ya everything.”

She backed away awkwardly. Then gave another shaking smile, a jerking wave of her hand, and scurried off, disappearing through the swinging laminate doors that separated the employee area from the sales-floor.

Adam stood there in shock, reeling from the interaction.

A date? He really had a date?

Each chamber of his heart echoed with elation.

He did have a date, a date with an actual cute girl.

She’d said yes so quickly.

He punched the time-clock and made his way to the deli counter with a spring in his step. He swung his arms at his sides and smiled at everyone he passed.

He’d never felt like more of a man.

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