Today's Reading

But today I'm not so welcoming of the quiet. Instead I'm wishing for some of those Sunday shoppers to come back, because I liked it—all the noise, all the people, being face-to-face with brand-new faces. At first I thought it was simply the novelty of having my phone put away for so long—a forced hiatus from those red notification circles that stack up in my social media apps, likes and comments on the videos I post, the ones I used to do for fun but now are mostly for sponsors. Me showing off brush-lettering pens I don't even use all that regularly, me swooping my hand through a perfect flourish, me thumbing through the thick, foil-edged pages of some luxury journal I'll probably end up giving away.

Eventually, though, I realized it was more than being away from the phone. It was the break from that master task list I've got tacked above the desk in my small bedroom, the one that's whimsically lettered but weighted with expectation—my biggest, most important deadline ratcheting ever nearer and no closer to being met. It was the relief of being away from the chilly atmosphere in my once-homey, laugh-filled apartment, where these days Sibby's distant politeness cuts me like a knife, makes me restless with sadness and frustration.

So now the quiet in the shop seems heavy, isolating. A reminder that a rare moment of quiet is full of dread for me lately, my mind utterly blank of inspiration. Right now, it's just me and this word, M-A-Y and it should be easy. It should be plain and simple and custom-made and low stakes, nothing like the job I've been avoiding for weeks and weeks. Nothing that requires my ideas, my creativity, my specialty.

Sans serif, bold, all caps, no frolicking.

But I feel something, staring down at this little word. Feel something familiar, something I've been trying to avoid these days.

I feel those letters doing their work on me. Telling me truths I don't want to hear.

M-A-Y be you're blocked, the letters say to me, and I try to blink them away. For a few seconds I blur my vision, try to imagine being decorative, try to imagine what I'd do if I didn't have to keep my promises to the client. Something in those wide vertexes? Play with the negative space, or . . .

M-A-Y be you're lonely, the letters interrupt, and my vision sharpens again.

M-A-Y be, they seem to say, you can't do this after all.

I set down the Micron and take a step back.

And that's when he comes in.

* * *

The thing is, the letters don't always tell me truths about myself.

Sometimes they tell me truths about other people, and Reid Sutherland is—was—one of those people.

I remember him straightaway, even though it's been over a year since the first and only time I ever saw him, even though I must've only spent a grand total of forty-five minutes in his quiet, forbidding presence. That day, he'd come in late—his fiancée already here in the shop, their final appointment to approve the treatment I'd done for their wedding. Save the dates, invitations, place cards, the program—anything that needed letters, I was doing it, and the truth is, by then I'd been almost desperate to finish the job, to get a break. I'd been freelancing for a few years before I came to Brooklyn, but once I started contracting for Cecelia exclusively, handling all the engagement and wedding jobs that came through the shop, word about my work had spread with a speed that was equal parts thrilling and overwhelming. Jobs coming so quickly I'd had to turn more than a few down, which only seemed to increase interest. During the day my head would teem with my clients' demands and deadlines; at night my hands would ache with tension and fatigue. I'd sit on the couch, my right hand weighted with a heated bag of uncooked rice to ease its cramping, and I'd breathe out the stress from meetings that would sometimes see couples and future in-laws turn brittle with wedding-related tension, my job to smile and smooth ruffled feathers, sketching out soft, romantic things that would please everyone. I'd wonder whether it was time to get out of the wedding business altogether.

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