“As a Jewish teen, I rarely saw myself reflected in the stories I read,” Laura Silverman wrote for Alma earlier this year, “which is the main reason I write Jewish characters in my books now.” Silverman is the author of two YA novels — Girl out of Water and You Asked for Perfect — as co-edited an anthology of Jewish stories called It’s a Whole Spiel. And we are incredibly excited to reveal the cover of her next novel, Recommended for You.
Pitched as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets You’ve Got Mail with a decidedly Jewy twist, Recommended for You, out this September, tells the story of Shoshanna Greenberg, a bookseller at her favorite local bookstore, Once Upon. When her boss announces a holiday bonus to the person who sells the most books, Shoshanna is ready to prove herself. The only person standing in her way? New hire Jake Kaplan. Jake is an affront to everything Shoshanna stands for. (He doesn’t even read!) But somehow his sales start to rival hers. Jake may be cute (really cute), and he may be an eligible Jewish single (hard to find South of Atlanta), but he’s also the enemy, and Shoshanna is ready to take him down. But as the competition intensifies, Jake and Shoshanna realize they might be more on the same page than either expects…
Here’s the exclusive first look at the cover of Recommended for You, illustrated by Maggie Cole. Be sure to scroll down to read the sneak peek of the first two chapters before the book is published on September 1, 2020.
Barbra Streisand grinds and grinds before sputtering to a stop.
“Ugh!” I call out, and then plead with my car. “Barbra, sweetie.” I place my hand on her dashboard and rub in soothing circles. “I need you to start. I’m going to be late for work. Will you start for me? Pretty please? Okay, ready?”
I turn the keys again. The grinding sound is worse this time, metallic shrieking. “Darn you!” I yank out the keys. It’s a freezing December morning, and as I exhale, I can see my frosted breath.
My phone buzzes with a text from Cheyenne: I just folded my 75th sweater of the morning. When do you get here?
The mall opens earlier than usual this week for the Christmas rush. Cheyenne has already been folding clothes at the Gap for an hour, and I’m supposed to be at Once Upon, the independent bookstore I work at, in twenty minutes.
I text back: Hopefully soon! Barbra won’t start
She replies: Rough! I’ll drive you home later
I send her an emoji kiss face, then step out of my car, tug my coat tight, and hurry inside. Mom and Mama are still home, but the house is silent. I peek into the living room first, then the kitchen. Nothing. I thud upstairs to their bedroom, but the door is shut. Muffled voices filter into the hallway at an inaudible murmur. Usually their door is open. Usually I’d waltz right inside and jump on their bed, playing with the tassels of a throw pillow while asking for a ride. But now their door is closed, dampening the tense voices inside.
I take a short breath, then square my shoulders and knock with two quick raps.
The voices stop, and moments later, Mom opens the door. We have the same brown eyes and the same curly brown hair, but her eyes are tired, and her hair is pulled back into a frizzy braid. It really needs a deep condition. I want to recommend a recipe for a great avocado hair mask I found online, but reading the room, now is not the time for hair-care essentials.
“Shoshanna,” Mom says. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
Her voice almost snaps, like she’s mad at me or something. I fiddle with my Star of David necklace and rock back on my heels. “Barbra won’t start. Again. Can I get a ride to the mall?”
“That car should’ve been junked years ago,” Mom mutters.
My pulse skips. She can’t junk Barbra Streisand. Yes, she’s old, passed down from my moms to me, but I need a car, and my Once Upon paycheck doesn’t cover much more than gas and insurance. “Um.” I clear my throat. “I don’t want to be late. Christmas rush and all.”
Mama walks over to us. Her blond hair is still wet from the shower, and she’s wearing her silk peach bathrobe, cinched lightly above her rounded hips. It’s strange, both of them standing by the cracked door, bare feet on their bedroom carpet, while I’m here in the hallway, boots on the hardwood floor.
“I wish I could take you,” Mama says. “But I’m teaching a class soon and need to get ready. Sorry, love.”
I give her a small smile. “That’s okay, Mama.”
“Fine.” Mom’s voice does snap this time. “I’ll take you on the way to work, then. I’ll be downstairs in five.”
“Okay.” I twist my fingers together. “Thanks.”
Mom nods and slides back into the room, closing the door behind her. Their murmurs continue, slightly louder than before. I catch a snippet about dirty dishes. Dishes? Is that really why they’re arguing?
I walk downstairs, but instead of going straight to the garage, I head into the kitchen. The coffeepot sits in the sink. Next to it are a spoon and a mug with an ounce of milky coffee at the bottom. It’s a silly thing to fight about; I can fix it, just like that, and everyone will be happy. I slip off my coat, pull on our pair of ladybug-patterned dish gloves, and wash and dry each piece.
Mom pulls to a stop in front of the mall and then slips a lipstick out of her purse. She applies the creamy pink color in two easy strokes. When I was younger, I’d sprawl out on her bedroom floor, rummaging through her countless bags of cosmetics and perfumes, while she sat at her vanity rubbing in moisturizer and lining her eyes with soft brown pencil. It was calm, our little sanctuary.
“Do you need a ride home later?” Mom asks, capping the lipstick. She sees me eyeing it. “Go on.”
Tension eases from my shoulders as I take her offering. She’s not mad at me. Of course not. It’s not like she was going to jump for joy upon hearing Barbra broke down yet again. “Cheyenne can drive me home,” I say. “Thanks, though!”
I pull down the passenger mirror and apply the color, immediately smudging some onto my skin. I rub my finger at the corner of my mouth to fix it and try not to feel like a little kid playing dress-up. Then I press my lips together and smile. The color is a much softer pink than my jacket and looks nice with my rosy winter cheeks.
“Pretty,” Mom replies. And then, “I need to get to work.”
“Right.” I place the lipstick in the center console. “Well, thanks for the ride.”
I unbuckle my seat belt, grab my tote bag, and slide out of the car. But as I’m about to shut the door, Mom turns to me, her eyes softened. “I’ll ask Eve to swing by later, see what it’ll take to fix Barbra. Okay?”
I beam. “Okay!” Eve is our family friend and a mechanic. Mom met her in their kickboxing class like a decade ago, and Eve always makes house calls when one of the cars, usually Barbra—okay, always Barbra—needs fixing. “See you at Latkepalooza tonight?”
“Of course,” Mom says. “See you tonight.”
I shut the door, and Mom gives a quick wave before driving away.
Latkepalooza is our last-night-of-Hanukkah family tradition. We aren’t the light-the-candles-all-eight-nights type of Jews, but we make sure to celebrate at least one evening with latkes and dreidel. My moms and I love spending time together, whether it’s for Latkepalooza, a 90 Day Fiancé marathon, or a night out bowling. We just click, fitting seamlessly together like the five thousand piece puzzle we tackled last year. One summer we even made it through a sixteen-hour road trip to New York without getting into a single argument, which is probably like a world record for traveling families everywhere.
But things have been different lately. Open doors and TLC binges have been replaced with shut doors and arguments. And more common than fighting, there’s been silence, all of us disconnected. As Mom drives away, I try to shake off my unease. It’s probably nothing. Just petty squabbles over dishes. We’ve all been busy—Mom works a million hours a week, Mama paints on the screened-in porch, space heater running full blast, often well past dinnertime, and now that it’s winter break, even I’m pulling double shifts. But tonight we’ll all light the candles and open presents and eat stacks of fried potatoes with applesauce, the best topping, and everything will be good again.
The frigid December air cuts through my jacket as I walk toward the mall entrance. It’s barely eight in the morning, but the parking lot is already half full. A silver sedan roams the packed front rows, looking for a close spot. I enter through the east wing doors and sigh in relief at the burst of warm air. Most of the food court restaurants are still closed, but employees prep in the back, shouting to each other and blasting music. Starbucks is open, the line already fifteen people deep. I’m running late, so I ignore my taste buds begging for a peppermint mocha.
I reach the Gap and spot Cheyenne through the window. Her dark brown skin pops against the display of cream and peach sweaters. She startles when I knock on the glass, then sees me and grins, waving me into the store. I shake my head, saying, “Late! See you at lunch, beautiful!” She blows me a kiss through the window, and I catch it with a smile. We met in the cafeteria in seventh grade when we both went to grab the last slice of cheese pizza. Total rom-com meet-cute moment. We split the slice and talked for all of lunch, topics ranging from our love of Bob’s Burgers to speculating if there’s intelligent life on other planets to confiding in each other about our current crushes, and now our friendship is forever cemented by cheesy goodness.
I keep walking and pass the Disney Store and Pet Depot and H&M and the stand that sells Dead Sea lotions and always has these really hot Israelis working at it, and then finally, I’m here.
The store marquee is written in blue cursive script, and there are vibrant displays in each window with new releases and old favorites. One of the books is angled a bit too far to the left, making the title hard to read. I make a mental note to fix it as I step into the store. The scent of books and the quiet hum of morning customers browsing the shelves welcome me. My body lifts with contentment. I’m home.
A few hours later, the store is packed with holiday shoppers, and I’m running around nonstop, restocking displays, ringing up customers, and reshelving books in the correct spots because god forbid someone puts a book back where they found it, or at least on a display table, instead of shoving it into a spot on the wrong shelf. On my way to the stockroom, I notice a middle-aged white guy standing in the philosophy section. He’s wearing a gray sweater and jeans—and he’s taking pictures of a book, one page at a time.
“Excuse me, sir—” I stop short. “You can’t do that.”
He doesn’t even look at me, just flips the page and angles his phone.
“Sir?” I repeat, making sure he hears me.
He glances up this time, but his eyes don’t register me as a threat. I guess my five-foot stature and chipmunk-print dress aren’t very menacing.
“I’m almost done,” he says, taking another picture.
“But you’re not allowed to do that.” I take a small step forward. “This is a bookstore. A writer worked hard on that book. You can’t steal their work without paying for it.”
“And yet,” he responds, turning another page, “I can.”
“Sir, please either take the book to the register or put it back on the shelf.”
“Sweetheart,” he snaps, voice hard and laced with condescension. “Stop talking.”
The word “sweetheart” burrows under my skin and makes it burn. Ugh. There’s a walkie-talkie attached to my dress pocket, and I want to use it to call security on this guy over the PA system. But this guy is a stranger, and very tall, and the domineering tone of his voice makes me think engaging him further is not a smart idea.
So instead of publicly shaming him, I rush out my next words: “This is wrong, and you’re a bad person,” and then make a run for the stockroom before he can respond. Patronizing, thieving jerk.
“Shoshanna!” a voice calls out to me as I rush past the children’s section. I spin around to find my boss behind me. Her hair is cropped close to her brown skin, and the turquoise color of her blouse pops against her jet-black power wheelchair.
“Hey, Myra!” I clear my throat. “What’s up?”
She tilts her head. “You okay?”
I’m probably flushed from that interaction. “Just some airplane food.” That’s our code phrase for a bad customer. “I’m okay, though.”
“Okay, good.” She smiles, and I feel myself relax. I love this woman. She opened Once Upon fifteen years ago. It’s the only indie bookstore in Wakesville, Georgia, our midsize city ninety minutes south of Atlanta. Books are basically the best thing to ever happen to anyone ever, so I applied for a job the summer after my freshman year. Myra and I spent the hour-long interview discussing fan theories for our favorite series Time Stands Still, and just like that, I was hired. “We have a new employee,” Myra continues. “He’s in the break room, and I need you to show him the ropes, all right?”
“Absolutely, captain!” I salute her.
She shakes her head. “Don’t do that.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I bow.
“Don’t do that, either.”
“All right, Your Highness.” I curtsy.
She points at me and grins. “Now that I like.”
I curtsy again and then head to the break room. As I open the door, I cheerfully say, “Hello! Welcome to Once Upon! I’m Shoshanna and today—”
My spiel is cut short when I set eyes on the new hire.
The hot new hire.
The are-you-a-lead-in-a-Netflix-teen-movie freaking hot new hire.
He’s white and has dark brown eyes and hair and a jawline sharper than the edge of our display tables I always bang my legs on. He must go to a different school because I definitely would have noticed him walking down the hallway of mine. Heat rises to my cheeks. How dare someone look so attractive this early in the morning? It’s an attack, honestly.
I smile and hope my lipstick hasn’t gone rogue and ended up on my skin again. “Hi, hello. I’m Shoshanna!”
“You mentioned,” he says.
“Oh, right.” I rock back on my heels. “And what’s your name?”
“Jake.” He stretches, pulling one arm behind his head and tugging it with the other. His flannel shirt rises up a bit, exposing the world’s tiniest sliver of skin. I bite my lip. I should get out of this room. This small room with just us inside of it.
“Let’s head out to the floor, Jake!” I clap my hands together. “Nothing special about the break room. Whiteboard has our phone numbers and the weekly schedule. Fridge, label your food, but most of us eat in the food court. Bring your own lock for the lockers. And . . .” I pluck a spare name tag off the whiteboard. “Here you go.”
His hand grazes mine for a moment, and I squeak and jump back. He gives me a funny look and then glances at the name tag. “Peeta Pettigrew?”
“A little book humor. We give it to the new people. You’ll get one with your own name if you stick around long enough.”
“Right,” Jake says. He stands and slips the name tag into his pocket.
“Oh, you actually need to wear it!”
“Sure,” he responds. But he doesn’t move to put it on. Huh, maybe he’s team Gale or something.
Now that Jake is standing, I notice he isn’t very tall, maybe five-six. But since I’m only five feet, he’s probably the perfect height for my head to fit into the crook of his shoulder, which is not at all a weird thing to observe the first time you meet someone. He picks up a spiral notebook from the table, rolls it up like a newspaper, and shoves it into his pocket. “Are you a writer?” I ask. “I like writing too! I’m working on my first book. It’s a disaster but not a total disaster, which I think is impressive for my first try!”
“No,” Jake replies.
“Real monosyllabic, aren’t ya, buddy?”
He just stares at me.
“Not even a single syllable that time!” I wait for a laugh but only get more staring. I tug on the sleeve of my cardigan, feeling a hint of unease. Why isn’t he laughing? I’m being funny. “Anyways.” I clear my throat. It’s fine. Jake probably just has first-day jitters. I’m sure he’ll warm up to me soon. “Off to the floor!”
I spin and push open the door. But it doesn’t budge because it’s the world’s heaviest door, and I have the strength of the runt of a hamster litter. There’s a button to open the door automatically, but I’m in too deep now to retreat. I push the door again with my shoulder and a huff, but it only cracks open an inch. Then an arm reaches out above me and shoves it open with one solid push, and I’m acutely aware of Jake hovering behind me and how if I leaned back, my shoulders would press against his chest, and my cheeks are heating even more, so I rush out onto the store floor, squeaking out the word “Thanks!”
Jake follows behind me, and I feel in control again. This is my domain. Okay, it’s Myra’s domain, but I’ve been working here for a year and a half now, and I’m totally her favorite employee even if she won’t say it because favoritism or whatever. I usher Jake around each section of the store, explaining the shelving systems and different tasks he’ll need to do. Jake is attentive but silent.
“Myra owns Once Upon,” I say as we round the corner to the children’s section. It’s my favorite part of the store. There are shelves of books I devoured as a child and new ones out all the time. There are little tables and chairs where Mr. and Mrs. Murillo, retired schoolteachers and loyal customers, host story time twice a week. And Myra’s husband, an architect by trade and carpenter by hobby, even built a wooden castle for the kids to crawl inside of and read. Sometimes, when I get to work really early, and it’s only Myra in her office and me on the store floor, I curl up inside the castle with a good book and soak up the calm.
Yes, I can fit inside a children’s wooden castle.
“You met Myra for your interview,” I continue. “She’s pretty great, as long as you follow shelving protocol. So, like, for example, don’t shelve all the purple books together on Prince Remembrance Day, even if she’s a huge Prince fan and you thought she’d appreciate it.”
Jake raises an eyebrow. “Specific.”
“I may or may not be culpable.” I catch his eye and try for a grin. He doesn’t grin back. The hint of unease grows. “Right,” I muster on. “So we all have six-hour shifts, and we can take a half-hour break for food when we want. Like I said, I usually meet some friends at the food court. You could join us today—”
“I brought my lunch.”
“Well you could—”
He cuts me off again. “No, thanks.”
My back stiffens. I’m getting low-key thieving-jerk-in-the-philosophy-section vibes, minus the thieving. I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I do know this Jake guy doesn’t have to be rude. “I’m just trying to be friendly,” I tell him.
“And I’m just trying to learn how to do my job.”
“Well, part of your job is being friendly. Like me.”
Jake’s response: raising his eyebrows.
I’m about to bite back when a young voice cuts in, “Um, excuse me, miss.” I look to my left and see a young girl around eight wearing lime-green overalls. I ignore Jake and his attitude and his jawline and kneel down so I’m the same height as the girl. “Hi there!” I stick out my hand. “I’m Shoshanna. What’s your name?”
She shakes my hand with a funny grin, then shyly says, “Marissa.”
“Marissa! That’s an awesome name.” I glance back at Jake. “Isn’t Marissa an awesome name?”
I make direct eye contact with his stupid-beautiful brown eyes. A challenge. I bet he can’t handle a single customer interaction, especially with a kid. But he surprises me by smiling, and it’s a ridiculously good smile that makes me blush, and thank hashem he’s looking at Marissa and not me so he doesn’t notice. “Definitely an awesome name,” Jake agrees. He gives her a thumbs-up, and she giggles and gives him a thumbs-up back. Well, fine. Whatever.
“How can we help you today?” I ask Marissa.
“I want a book,” she says. “But I’ve read all the Princess Doctor ones.”
I smile approvingly. Princess Doctor is a series of early readers books where the Princess of Wynthrop gets a medical degree and goes around the world saving people. She’s a total badass. “Those are great books! Some of my favorites! You know, I can think of a few other stories you might like. . . .”
Marissa trails me around the children’s section as I pluck half a dozen books off the shelves for her. The stack is getting precarious in her small arms when her dad turns a corner and calls her name. She rushes over to him, and he looks aghast at the large pile of books clutched to her chest, but he nods and takes them up to the register. I give a satisfied sigh as they walk away. I seriously have the best job.
Then Jake asks, “So Princess Doctor is one of your favorite books, huh?”
I turn to him and narrow my eyes. “Your tone is quite judgmental. Your face is quite judgmental too.” His smile is all amused, and now it seems like he’s about to laugh. Jerk. “Princess Doctor is a fantastic series and feminist as heck. You’re missing out.” I cross my arms. “Why? What do you read? Great works of lit-er-a-ture?”
“I don’t read, unless it’s for school.”
My mouth drops. “I’m sorry, what? You don’t read?”
I can hear my voice getting louder. “Then why do you work at a bookstore?”
He speaks the next words slowly and laced with condescension thicker than the philosophy thief. “Because I needed a job, Shoshanna.”
“Don’t talk to me like that. Don’t say my name like that.”
The dots are starting to connect. No wonder this guy is standoffish. He doesn’t read books. He’s not even one of us. And he’s talking down to me, treating me like I’m silly and naive probably because I like kids’ books and chipmunk-print dresses. And it’s even worse than that guy in the philosophy section because Jake works here. And here, Once Upon, is my second home, a retreat from the rest of the world, a bubble of comfort and security—an escape from closed doors and fighting parents.
And now, Jake threatens to destroy it.
My fingers twitch, automatically grabbing the walkie-talkie hooked to my dress.
“What are you doing?” Jake asks.
I press the PA button. The speakers crackle.
He takes a step forward. “Seriously, what is your problem?”
“Attention,” I speak into the radio. “We have a code purple.” Jake looks murderous as my voice booms out over the store. “The new hire doesn’t read books.”
“Did you really just announce that over the store speakers?” Jake asks.
“Do you really not read books?”
“I read books. I read them for school.”
“Yeah, but you don’t read for fun, so what are you doing at a bookstore?”
“Working,” Jake says.
“Hey, Shosh! That was an . . . interesting announcement.” I spin and find Daniel, my “work husband,” behind me. Daniel is Black, tall, and has light brown skin. He ran orientation on my first day, and we bonded over our bookish enthusiasm and belief in giving people zero shade for their favorite genre, even if that genre is Loch Ness monster romances. Yes, it’s a thing. No, don’t google it.
I’ve always had a little crush on Daniel because he’s a book nerd with biceps and I’m a heterosexual girl, but he’s been in a relationship since we met, and I can’t even begrudge him for it because his girlfriend, Lola, is both the coolest and the sweetest.
“New hire?” Daniel asks.
“Yup,” I pop out the word. “Daniel, Jake. Jake, Daniel.”
“What’s up, man?” Daniel asks. He leans forward and slaps hands with Jake.
“Not much,” Jake responds.
“Where’s your name tag?”
I bite back a snicker. Okay, I fail to bite back a snicker. Jake does not look amused. “Fine,” he says, then pulls the name tag out of his pocket and pins it on.
“Love that thing.” Daniel grins. “Peeta Pettigrew. Perfect Harry Potter–Hunger Games crossover.”
“Never read them,” Jake says.
“Ah,” Daniel replies. “So the announcement was true. That’s okay. I wasn’t a reader either until like ninth grade, and now I’m double-majoring in English and screenwriting.” He pauses. “With a minor in poetry.”
“Seriously?” Jake laughs.
Daniel nods. “Seriously.”
Guilt pinches my stomach. Of course it’s okay Jake isn’t a reader. I didn’t mean it’s not okay. Not everyone reads. I only meant it’s weird that he works here and doesn’t read, when there are like a million other stores in the mall.
Suddenly, Myra descends upon us. She zips forward in her chair with intimidating speed, and then stops short in front of me. “Shoshanna,” she says, voice firm. “Radio, now.”
I swallow hard and hand over the radio. Myra presses the PA button. “Attention, Once Upon employees and shoppers, Shoshanna Greenberg has lost radio privileges. You’re welcome.”
“Now how is that fair?” I ask.
“Because I’m the store owner,” she replies. Then she glances over at Jake, who looks quite smug. “I apologize, Jake. I’ll have Daniel take over your training.”
“Thanks,” Jake says.
Daniel pats him on the back. “C’mon. Let’s start with the register.”
As he leads Jake off, I raise my voice. “Et tu, Daniel?”
He laughs. “Chill out, Shosh. See you later.”
Once they’re gone, I turn back to Myra. “I’m sorry,” I say. “That probably wasn’t the most professional announcement in the world.”
“Yeah, probably not.” She eyes me. “If you want PA privileges, you’ve got to prove you’re responsible enough for them.”
“I know.” Most employees earn PA privileges after three months. It took me six. For some totally unknown reason, Myra didn’t trust me with the power.
“And for the record,” she says, leaning back in her chair, “although I love a well-read employee as much as the next person, you don’t need to be a bibliophile to stock shelves and ring up customers. It’s the holiday season, and Jake came with a great reference.”
“But what if someone asks him for a book recommendation?”
“Well, then you can help them. Farshteyt?”
“Are you using Yiddish against me?”
“You’re the one who taught it to me, mamaleh.” Myra’s teasing eyes ease the tension in my shoulders. Yeah, she still loves me. “Go take your lunch and then come back and do what you do best.”
“Enchant people with my dazzling personality?”
Myra rolls her eyes. “Sell books.”
“Over there!” I shout, pointing to a table at the back corner of the food court. “Quick!”
“Take my tray.” Cheyenne shoves her tray into my spare hand, and as I balance both our lunches, she sprints through the packed food court, diving and diverting around shoppers with dozens of bags and preteens moving in packs. She’s almost there when a man with a double stroller barrels her way, but she spins, leaps, and slides into the chair, shoving both her arms over the table. “Goal!” she shouts.
“Success!” I cheer. With our trays, it takes much longer to thread through the crowd, but eventually I navigate the maze and join her at the table.
“I knew those rhythmic gymnastics lessons would come in handy one day,” Cheyenne says as she reaches for her food. Cheyenne has had many enthusiastic but short-lived interests including but not limited to: rhythmic gymnastics, French horn, kickboxing, calligraphy, and competitive karaoke. I must go where my muse takes me, she declares. I just hope her muse never, ever returns her to fly-fishing because she convinced me to join her once, and gross, freaking gross.
Cheyenne takes a long sip of her milkshake and groans in satisfaction. “Ugh, sweet sustenance, how I needed you. I’m so tired, Shosh. I should’ve quit before the holiday season started.”
“Would your dad have allowed that?”
She pauses before saying, “Probably not.”
I love working at Once Upon, but I do also need the job, or I wouldn’t have money for gas or car insurance—or, okay, these really cute Harry Potter hairpins shaped like quills. Mama teaches art classes, and Mom is a bookkeeper for a marketing company. We’ve always had enough but not much more. Cheyenne’s parents are well-off for our area. She doesn’t need the money, but her dad wanted her to learn the value of a dollar and insisted she get a part-time job.
“At least you don’t work with your ex anymore.” I shrug. “That was awkward.”
“Yeah,” Cheyenne draws out the word while she plays with her straw. “But, the thing is, I kind of miss Anna.”
“What?” I lean forward. “This is new information. When did this happen?”
“Recently. I don’t know. I think it’s the holiday season.” Cheyenne sighs. “Plus, she was, like, a supergood kisser. Folding sweaters is somehow even more boring when you don’t have someone to kiss. Shocking, right?”
I laugh and steal one of her French fries. Cheyenne broke up with her girlfriend, Anna, two months ago. I’m not sure why. I’m not a seasoned dating expert. Technically, I’ve never dated before. And by technically, I mean I’ve never dated before. Anyway, a couple of weeks after they broke up, they got tired of making awkward eye contact over cardigan displays, so Anna left Gap and got a job at Nordstrom, which is pretty cool because they never hire high school kids.
“Hey, y’all! What’s going on?”
I glance up and find Geraldine standing next to us, holding a tray of chips and guacamole. She’s wearing perfectly winged eyeliner and brick-red lipstick. Geraldine and I have been best friends since elementary school. We were the two nerds who always asked our teacher for extra reading assignments.
“Cheyenne’s lusting after her ex,” I fill her in. “How’s work?”
“Ooh, interesting! Scoot,” Geraldine orders. I slide over so we can both fit on my chair, one butt cheek each. “Work is hot. Really testing the limits of my waterproof mascara. Feels like I’m never going to save up enough to buy a camera.” She sighs and fans her face. “Guacamole anyone?”
“Yes, please!” I snag a chip. Geraldine works at Bo’s Burritos and is trying to save up enough to fulfill her dream of becoming a beauty YouTuber. She’s honestly destined to be a star. Even back in elementary school she had style, pinning back her tight curls in a new way each day, convincing her parents to let her get lip gloss with color. She’s a total van Gogh with a makeup brush and eye shadow palette.
“You will save up enough eventually,” I say. “And in the meantime, you can practice your artistry on me, okay?”
“Thanks, Shosh.” Geraldine grins. “I’ll take you up on that. How are things at Once Upon?”
My expression must go sour real fast.
“Holiday shoppers?” Geraldine asks.
“Someone highlight in your favorite book again?” Cheyenne asks.
“Nope,” I respond.
“What, then?” Geraldine leans toward me.
I pop a chip in my mouth and crunch hard. “Jake.”
Cheyenne narrows her eyes. “Who’s that?”
“The new Once Upon employee. I had to show him around this morning, and he’s rude as all heck.”
Geraldine and Cheyenne exchange smirks.
“What?” I ask.
“By rude . . .” Geraldine says. “Do you mean he wasn’t immediately charmed by you?”
“No!” I shout. “I mean . . . maybe. . . .” I think back on our conversation. Was Jake being a jerk or was I being a bit much? Probably both. But either way, calling him out over the PA system took things too far. I should apologize when I get back to the store.
“Is he cute?” Cheyenne asks, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Is he, though?” Geraldine chimes in.
I roll my eyes. “Seriously y’all? Are we not feminists?”
“Please,” Cheyenne responds. “Feminism has nothing to do with it. Now, on a scale of one to ten.”
“Fine.” I look up, as if the answer is written on the ceiling that hasn’t been cleaned since this mall was built in the eighties. “He’s an eight.” But even as I say it, his smile flashes in my mind, and my stomach gets all fluttery. Damn it. “Maybe a nine.”
Geraldine crunches a chip. “Not. Bad.”
“TIMOTHY, GET DOWN!” a shouting parent turns our attention to the center of the food court, where a little boy has climbed onto a high-top counter and is chucking Lego pieces at people passing by.
Geraldine blows out a gust of air. “How many more days until Christmas?”
“Six,” I answer.
I love the holidays, with all their sparkling lights and delicious baked goods. And I really love helping people find the perfect present because it’s a wonderful feeling when you open up a gift and realize a loved one really gets you. I can’t wait for Latkepalooza tonight when my moms will open their presents (carefully curated books, of course). I’m sure our festive Hanukkah celebration will resolve any petty fights.
“It’s going to be a long week,” Cheyenne says.
“But at least we’re here together,” Geraldine adds.
We glance around the chaotic mall as that reindeer song plays for the fifth time today, and then we nod in mutual commiseration, holiday soldiers prepped for retail war. I lift my cup. “L’chaim, y’all.”
They tap cups and chorus, “L’chaim.”
“That will be thirty-eight twenty-two,” I say. “Would you like a bag?”
“Yes, please,” the woman responds. I slide the three paperbacks into a bag as she pulls out her credit card, but then: “Oh my god! Hi, Amy!”
Another woman gasps and squeezes past the other people in line. “Monica! How are you? How’s Rufus?”
Monica tsks. “Not great. He hasn’t had a normal bowel movement in weeks. The veterinarian wants us to change foods again. That’s a great top, by the way.”
“T.J.Maxx,” Amy responds.
“But of course!”
“Um, miss,” I say, trying to get her attention. There’s a line a dozen people deep, and they’re all staring daggers at us. “Your card, please—”
She either ignores or doesn’t hear me. My eyes focus on the credit card cinched between her two fingers, as she waves her hand around in enthusiasm. “I love that store,” she tells her friend. “I found the greatest deal on a purse the other day. Seventy percent off. Clearance section. Total. Steal.”
“Ooh, what designer?”
“Excuse me, miss!” I say a bit more loudly. “If I could just grab your card—”
“I’m so sorry about your dog, Monica,” Amy continues.
Oy vey. The people in line are shifting forward, ready to stampede if I don’t take action soon. This time I say—okay, I maybe shout, “Monica!”
She jerks toward me, looking stunned.
I clear my throat, then smile and lower my voice. “Hi, I love T.J.Maxx too! We all love a great fashion deal! But do you mind sliding your credit card my way? I can finish checking you out, and you and your friend can go chat—” Literally anywhere else. “Over there? By the lovely coffee cart?”
Monica looks startled but hands over her card.
I swipe it, then hand it back along with her bag of books and an over-the-top grin. “Happy holidays, Monica!”
“You mean Merry Christmas,” she corrects.
I grin harder. “Sure.”
After another hour on the register, someone takes over for me, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I definitely prefer working on the floor. Recommending books is the reason I love this job. It’s like a little burst of endorphins every time I help someone scratch their perfect literary itch.
“Hi, Ms. Serrano,” I say when I round the corner to the historical fiction shelves. Ms. Serrano is one of our most loyal customers. She retired from her law career six years ago and is in here at least twice a week browsing for new books to devour. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Shoshanna!” She smiles at me, eyes wrinkling. “I wouldn’t mind a coffee. Do you know where my mug is?”
“Of course! Be right back.” Ms. Serrano is here so often that she has her own mug in the break room. It’s white with blue trim, a beautiful, old chipped thing her father brought over from Italy. During my first week of work, I checked out Ms. Serrano on the register and accidentally charged her for an extra book. I noticed the mistake right as she left the store and ran after her, red-faced with embarrassment, scrambling to explain and apologize, worried I’d get in trouble and lose my job.
But Ms. Serrano just patted my arm and said, “You take that extra book, one you like the most, and donate it to the library for me. All right, dear? Have a good day. See you next week.”
She is, to put it simply, my favorite customer.
I head to the break room and fill up her cup, black with one sugar, and grab her a biscotti as well. When I return to the floor, I tell her, “I’ll be around, so just let me know if you need anything else!”
“Thank you, Shoshanna,” she says warmly, sipping her coffee, her eyes already trained back on the bookshelves. Ah, a girl after my own heart.
The store is a mess. But there are only two hours left in my shift, and then Cheyenne will drive me home, and it’ll be time for Latkepalooza! I throw away trash left on display tables and scrape gum off the floor. Humans are disgusting creatures. I try and magic eraser a scuffed wall in the children’s section – Myra navigates her wheelchair with speed and precision and has on more than one occasion said if her employees employed a little more coordination like herself, they wouldn’t always be banging into and damaging her walls with the book carts. I then move from shelf to shelf, straightening books and picking up strays. There’s a tourists’ guide to Rome chilling on the sci-fi shelves because sure. I grab it and head to the travel section, which is where I find Jake, stocking the shelves with diligent attention.
I clutch the Rome book and watch him for a quiet moment. His hands are steady and purposeful. His brown curls look soft, and I have the disturbing urge to rub my fingers through them. That spiral notebook is still rolled up and sticking out of the pocket of his jeans, jeans that fit quite nicely around his behind.
I step toward him. I’m sure he’s actually an okay guy. He was overwhelmed on his first day, and I was leading orientation with 100 percent enthusiasm and 0 percent impulse control, and we got off on the wrong foot. I’ll apologize, and he’ll thank me for being so gracious, and everything will be great. I fluff my own curly hair before chirping out, “Hey, Jake!”
No response. Maybe he didn’t hear me.
Though, I’ve literally never had that problem before.
“How’s your first day going?” I ask.
He turns to me then, eyes meeting mine. “You mean before or after you announced to the store I don’t read?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” I say. “Really.”
He shakes his head as he picks another book off the cart. “I’m surprised Myra didn’t fire you. My other boss doesn’t put up with juvenile behavior.”
“Juvenile.” The word hits a nerve, and my skin flushes. I square my shoulders as I reply, “I am not juvenile.”
“Yes,” he says. “You are.”
“Am not!” I shout.
Jake raises an eyebrow.
My cheeks flame red. “Look, just because—”
“Shoshanna,” Jake says, and my heart suddenly thumps, because he says my name smooth and slow, the way someone says a name in a movie before that first, perfect, dramatic kiss.
I bat my eyelashes. “Yes?”
“I don’t care what you have to say. It doesn’t interest me. I’m going back to work.”
I gasp. “That is just—you are just—” I narrow my eyes and step forward. Damn it, he smells delicious. Like freaking baked goods. How is that even possible? Does he have a croissant in his pocket? Is that a croissant in your pocket or are you just—
Okay, focus, Shoshanna. “You, Jake,” I say, leaning even closer, “are not a nice person.”
His eyes flicker, and I inhale sharply.
But then he just shrugs and turns back around, shelving books he doesn’t even read. Adrenaline drains fast, and I feel more confused than angry, but then feeling confused makes me angry because Once Upon is my store, my happy place.
And Jake is going to ruin it.
Cheyenne drops me off at four thirty when the sun is already setting because winter is the literal worst. I invite her to join us for Latkepalooza, but she has a cello lesson, so she says goodbye and drives off. Cold wind rattles leaves along the driveway and whips against my bare hands and cheeks. I give Barbra Streisand a loving pat and wonder if Eve had a chance to check on her.
I head inside and find the house is empty, which is kind of weird. Mom always works until at least six, but Mama is usually home by now, out on the back porch painting or curled up on the couch with a book or her tablet games. I pull out my phone to check for missed texts but don’t see any, so I send one off to both of them asking when they’ll be home.
Despite the long day at work, I’m fidgety from my last interaction with Jake. I have shpilkes, as my bubbie calls it—ants in my pants. So I throw my energy into Latkepalooza decorations. I have excellent decorating skills. Myra has seriously upped her window-display game since hiring me.
I grab the Hanukkah paraphernalia from all over the house. Does any Jewish family keep all of their Jewish stuff in one spot? Doubtful. It’s like one of our commandments: Thou Shalt Not Keep the Menorahs and Dreidels in the Same Cupboard, and Thou Shall Not Have One Full Box of Hanukkah Candles When You Can Have Four Different Quarter-Filled Boxes Instead.
It takes more than an hour of searching, decorating, and digging old candle wax out of the menorah to get everything in place, but eventually the white-and-blue tablecloth is on the table, the happy hanukkah banner hangs on the wall, and my moms’ presents are carefully wrapped. Mama never turns down a good Sapphic romance, so I bought her a couple of recent releases. And I know Mom is going to love the boxed set of her favorite mystery writer. She’s a mass-market-paperback fiend, and I have to say, cracking a mass-market paperback spine is the single most gratifying pleasure on this planet.
After I’m done with the gifts, I turn to the sack of potatoes sitting on the counter. Hmm. Shredding potatoes is usually Mama’s job, and Mom does the frying, but I’m still the only one here. I rock back on my heels as I pull out my phone. No new messages, and it’s six o’clock now. Mama should definitely be here, and Mom shouldn’t be far behind. I send out another text, and then, feeling a hint of worry, I go ahead and call Mama. It rings and rings, and I think the call is going to voice mail, when suddenly she picks up. “Hey, sweetie!”
“Hey!” I say brightly. “Where are you?”
“I’m sorry, honey. A teacher is out sick, and I have to pick up his classes. I’ll be home in a couple hours. You and Mom get started without me, all right?”
“Oh.” My throat feels weirdly tight. “Um, Mom isn’t here either.”
The line beats with tense silence. When Mama finally replies, she sounds funny—forced positivity like the time my elementary school music teacher told me I had a beautiful singing voice even though we both knew that was a lie. “I’m sure she’s caught up with work too!” Silence again. “I’ll see you in a couple hours. I love you!”
“Love you,” I say, before ending the call.
I put my phone down on the table, then twist my fingers together and look around the empty kitchen. It’s quiet. Really quiet. This has always been a loud house—dinners together every night, boisterous chatter and laughter, talking over each other to share our story or funny comment first. Loud and warm, just how I like it. But, standing here now, I actually can’t remember the last time we had dinner together, and my thoughts wander back to all of those muffled arguments.
We love Latkepalooza. We cherish Latkepalooza. We’ve celebrated this night together my entire life. But right now I’m alone. And, strangely, I feel like crying. Which is ridiculous. No crying over fried potato pancakes. My moms will be home soon, and everything will be okay. They’re busy. And they’re just going through a rough patch or something. Everyone’s allowed to have a rough patch.
I take a shaky breath, then head upstairs to my room and sit at my desk. I’ll work on my book until they get home. There’s something undeniably magical about creating. I love falling deep into my own world. I’ve been writing this book for more than a year now. I’m up to 107 pages of fantasy and romance and time travel, perhaps more than a little influenced by Time Stands Still. It’s my favorite series in existence and is about an entire town that gets magically sealed off from the rest of the world, and no one can leave, and no one ages. And now I’m at the scene where my love interests, Isobel and Henry, finally share their dramatic first kiss.
After scrolling down to the bottom of the document, I rest my hands on the keyboard and stare at the blinking cursor, imagining Isobel and Henry in the town square at dusk, all that romantic tension swirling between them. But as hard as I try, I can’t concentrate. I can’t lose myself in my fantasy world. All I can do is sit and listen, waiting for someone to come home.
Recommended for You by Laura Silverman will be published on September 1, 2020 from Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.