Man Bun Christmas by LeslieMcAdam

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For three months, I worked next to him, unpacking local kale, Swiss chard, and cilantro from cardboard boxes. Watching him. Watching the way the veins in his forearms undulated when he used the X-Acto knife to slice the tape on boxes of bean soup cans. The flex in his biceps when he lifted packed up oranges, slinging them around. The way his back moved, sinuously, when he pushed the dolly of cases of Santa Ynez wine into the back room.

Working at Tri-County Produce, a not quite frowzy store with only four aisles, I had the opportunity to look at him, constantly. A Santa Barbara institution, the shop attracted everyone from snobby chefs to bargain hunters, because it stocked local, organic produce at reasonable prices. The front of the store opened to the street entirely; there were no doors or windows and the coastal breezes wafted in until we shut the rolling garage-type door at night. It was a semi-indoors farmer's market that boasted local wines, vinegars, olives, and other treats, in addition to the veggies.

Jeremy Chisholm, my hot co-worker, invaded my brain so frequently, it was getting to be near-constant. In addition to his meaty body, his green-brown eyes, tanned skin, and regular, classic features, supported many a daydream of mine. Most of the time he had a scruffy beard. And he had a tattoo on his arm that peeked out of his shirt on occasion. I didn't know what it was. But his most striking feature was his glorious hair: long, and dirty blonde. When it was down, it hit the middle of his back, but most of the time he anchored it in a messy man bun.

I didn't know where guys learned to do the man bun. Maybe there were how-to videos on YouTube. But the way Jeremy did it, most of the time, it perched, not squarely on the top of his head, not way down on at the back near the nape, but where the top and back met, sort of diagonal from his chin, if that makes sense.

On some people the man bun looks silly, but on Jeremy? It suited him. Tendrils escaped occasionally, and the whole pile of hair was wound up, shoved inside a hair band, and constituted way more hair than most mortals needed.

I liked hippie guys. I had a crush on Jeremy. So damn hot.

Le sigh.

Jared Leto, Brock O'Hurn, and Harry Styles, eat your heart out.

This wasn't a ridiculous crush where I viewed him from afar: he knew that I was alive, because he greeted me every day, saying "Hi Gretchen," as I stacked green grocery baskets, straightened shelves of local olive oil, and worked one of the three cash registers. He seemed a little clueless, though, and barely talked with anyone else.

I started working at Tri-County while I worked to get my degree in Botany. I wanted to go work for the Forest Service, inventorying rare, native, California plants. But right now, I just needed to finish up my course work, and slinging organic vegetables was as good a way as any to do it. Besides, I could astonish people with nerd facts, like how cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and kale, all stemmed from the same species, Brassica oleracea.

Okay, maybe no one was astonished with that.

Now that it was December in California, these "cold weather" crops were coming in. Cold weather in California meant that sometimes it was 60 degrees. At night. #blessed. We were also getting the special treats for the holidays: bags of cranberries, piles of sweet potatoes, stacks of orders for free-range, local turkeys, kits to make gingerbread houses, tins of spices to mull cider or wine, and mesh bags of gelt.

But I had no one to enjoy these treats with. My parents had decided to go out of the country for Christmas, and, because of school, I couldn't leave town. Instead of presents, long ago, we had decided to give each other adventures: trips to the Galapagos, safaris in Namibia, a pilgrimage to Ayres Rock in Australia. Not this year, though. I was getting a major student loan payment from my parents and they were headed to the Christmas markets in Germany. Yes, I was grateful. But it wasn't exactly something that made me feel the glee of a little kid at the holidays. More like the doom of the real world of being a grown up. It wasn't something that I could unwrap or experience. So I wasn't complaining, but it did make me feel a little melancholy, rather than warming my heart.

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