[Baat poh is Cantonese for bitch, as far as I am aware, but do let me know if this is incorrect or of a closer translation. Yes, this chapter marks the return of the wonderful Ramona. Sadly, this was also the most horrible chapter that I've had to write, and there are mentions of homophobia, transphobia, and physical assault in the second half of this chapter (after Taylor leaves Flashback.) I appreciate that those are sensitive topics, please be cautious in choosing to read the second half of the chapter if necessary.]
Perched on the stool, I rested my back against the wall, which was papered with local bands' gigs posters, as my right foot tapped away to the music. I rifled through the box resting upon my knees, my fingers skimming along the various cases.
Amongst the shelves and tables were the regular customers, mostly guys in their thirties who looked like they still lived with their parents and were surprisingly friendly, along with hipster types who weren't so friendly and the occasional mother of the aforementioned thirty-something blokes in search of a birthday present.
Curled up in an armchair like a lanky spider was Colin, having perused the vampire section of the books (the Ann Rice variety not Twilight.) Colin furtively glanced over the book, and shook my head as our eyes met. I could just imagine the puppyish droop of his expression as it appeared Ramona wasn't emerging anytime soon from round the back. When she did, he'd hurry over to purchase the book, blushing furiously beneath his pale make-up, only for the suggestion that she attend the university's vampire society to be rejected. Again. Regardless of how abundantly clear Ramona made her zero interest in males or pretending to be a vampire, Colin never gave up.
High pitched giggles attracted my gaze across to the stash of manga, where a couple of tiny adolescents had gathered. As I looked back over the store, I spotted an older woman approaching from the trove of 70's and 80's TV shows, and I turned down blink-182 on my iPod.
"Hello young man. Just these please," the woman gave what she'd assume to be a friendly smile, though that familiar knotted sensation slipped through me at her referring to me as a guy.
"Sure," I tried to keep my expression in that neutral happy-to-help look. I nodded my head with the occasional 'ah really' as the woman informed me how she remembered watching the shows all those decades ago, and the fates of the actors since.
Finally, she gathered up the receipt and cardboard bag, leaving behind only a trace of flowery perfume and a prickling along the back of my neck. Before, I'd accepted strangers using the pronoun. But the constants flicking between calling me a 'cute girl', and emphasising she, or saying I'm 'not enough of a man', or just plain 'it' from my peers left me uncomfortable every time I was misgendered.
'Hey, you come here to get away from school crap. Alexa, Dan and rest of them can go to hell.'
My head jerked up at Ramona's voice, and I felt myself blink as her arms flung forward, but she released another cardboard box from between her crimson nails onto the counter.
"Gotcha there. That's the last box, I think," Ramona said with a sigh that made the tips of her fringe temporarily take flight.
"Or not," I nodded towards the approaching figure of Angie, her face hidden behind a huge box.
Ramona glanced back and muttered something, before hurrying over to help Angie set the box down beside the counter.
"There, that should keep you two going for a while," Angie said, as she adjusting the glasses, which had slipped down her nose to make her look like a bad-tempered owl.
"Where do you even get all this stuff from? I swear every time I'm here more stock has materialised," I said.
"I've been hoarding it all in the back until now, thought that we could with a spring clean and bit of reorganising. Now, I'll be round the back if you need me. Oh, don't forget that we're finishing at noon-"
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