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Girl working in gift shopEllen secretly liked working in the shop. Yes, it was dull sometimes. But she had grown used to the absurdity of the über-hipster merchandise, and the parts of the floor that sagged, and the way the lights in the back room flickered. She knew where the new pens were now, and how to process a gift card. She liked working on her own, as customers drifted in and out. And she liked the quiet, comfortable warmth of the space, orbs of light suffusing everything in a golden haze.

It was October, and she had now dropped out of every course except one. It wasn’t that they were too hard, or that she wasn’t interested in history anymore. But something had shifted—she had stopped caring, at some point. The dark, rain-soaked mornings awakened a sense of despair in her. And one morning she had realized that no one would actually make her get out of bed. Now she slept until noon sometimes. After class she came home and climbed right back under the covers.

She had been working part time at the shop for a year or two now. It helped pay rent; kept her student debt at bay. At first she had been awkward and quiet, and had hated making small talk and encouraging purchases. But within a few months she had gained confidence. Now she knew all the intricacies of the store—the delivery times, the inventory on hand, the best spots for merchandising. She knew how to make someone buy something, if she felt like it, without them even noticing it had happened. Her manager turned to her for advice, asked her for opinions about which products to stock. She had started taking more shifts. She hadn’t mentioned this to her mother, who would (of course) disapprove.

And why should she feel obligated to “make something of herself,” anyway? What was she even aiming for? Would she really feel better if she finished her degree, struggled her way to some low-paying academic job, and started saving, dollar by painstaking dollar, for a townhome in Burnaby that would cost more than she could earn in 20 years?

No, she liked her little rental suite on the ground floor, even after the break-in (they hadn’t stolen much, anyway). And she liked knowing exactly what she had to do every day. It was peaceful, in a numbing sort of way.

But the insomnia was starting to get to her. It had started last month. She lay wide awake in the darkness, an irritating, sing-song monologue running through her head. Why aren’t you sleeping? You were really tired. Now you can get four hours of sleep, it said, and other mundane things. Will you be in this same bed when you’re fifty?

She had started going for night-time walks, but then the monologue intensified. What are you doing out by yourself at night? Do you want to get attacked? What was that rustling?

After one such fright, it had occurred to her that the shop was only three blocks away from her apartment. And so, she had let herself in, locked the door, and turned on all the lights. The ceiling fan whirred quietly. No one needed anything from her. She could stay here all night, scrolling through Pinterest, and no one would know or care.

Follow Lindsay Vermeulen:

Writer & Editor

With a background in publishing, content marketing, and online sales, Lindsay has spent the last decade writing and editing content from around the world and across genres, with a focus on food, travel, lifestyle, literary fiction, real estate and the arts. She loves chocolate, afternoon tea, social justice, classical music, being outside, and heartbreakingly beautiful books.

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