Rachel doesn’t love her publishing internship, but she does like her Marketing and Sales supervisor. Glasses Guy. She meets him her second week on the job.
‘Rachel?’ he says, stopping by her desk. Her ears perk up at his flat, Midwestern accent. ‘Hey, I think you helped me with a book mailing when I was out of the office last week.’
Glasses Guy mentions his name but Rachel doesn’t catch it, distracted by his circular tortoise shell specs. They are by most standards rather too large for his face, over-magnifying his eyes so he looks nervous and bookish. Everyone in the office is bookish, of course, but his bookishness feels imperative to his essence, like his button-down shirt/mustard-coloured crewneck combo, or his socks repeatedly embroidered with the word ‘book’ that peek between the bottom of his black trouser legs and the top of his worn leather brogues. He reminds Rachel of her favourite stuffed animal, the one she still takes to bed every night.
Staring at her own corgi-patterned socks, Rachel realizes she has no idea what Glasses Guy is talking about. ‘Um, there were a lot of mailings last week,’ she replies.
Glasses Guy says something else but Rachel becomes distracted by the way he touches his hair. It’s that sort of blonde, brown, red; the limp kind that most people never know how to style. Glasses Guy has made it work with a slightly off-centered part and, she imagines, a dandruff-preventing shampoo. He sort of resembles an attractive marionette: pale and thin with intricate teeth. He strays from it, though, with his ruddy-coloured neck beard. Rachel is a sucker for neck beards; that, and a good pair of glasses.
‘Well, I’m sure we’ll work together in the future,’ Glasses Guy says. He moves his hands about for emphasis, but when Rachel’s eyes follow them, he pins his arms firmly at his sides and swallows. Looking down, he adds, ‘Nice to meet you,’ before turning and heading back to his desk, revealing moth holes in the crewneck and a bag in his trousers around his non-existent ass: the kind of ass Rachel likes best.
When in the mailroom later that day, Rachel listens to her saved songs on Spotify, printing off postage she is only somewhat confident is correct to stick on customs forms for contracts in route to Canada and manuscripts to Mexico. ‘Mamma Mia’ shuffles through the playlist as she sings to herself, bobbing her shoulders to the beat, filling clear plastic bins and dancing around to assure her feet do not go numb from standing.
Rachel looks up and notices Glasses Guy has entered the room. Blood rushes to her cheeks as she pulls out her earbuds, muttering, ‘Oh, sorry…’
Glasses Guy laughs, a guttural sound two octaves lower than his speaking voice like a boy in puberty. It sends a chill down Rachel’s spine. He starts going through a large stack of books collected for donation, asking Rachel if she has heard about a surrealist Portuguese writer whose new release he plucks from the pile. She hasn’t. He then holds up a hardcover featuring a cactus. ‘You know about The Paris Review thing, though, right?’ he says.
‘Oh, sure.’ Rachel looks from the book cover to Glasses Guy. ‘But, uh…what do you mean, specifically?’
‘Well, that it was a shitty place, and then Emily Nemens came in as editor and made it better, and now,’ he says, looking at the cactus cover fondly, ‘she’s written a book about baseball, and I can’t wait to read it.’ Glasses Guy tucks a few more titles under his arm then takes a step toward Rachel. Sweat starts to prickle against the back of her neck. ‘What are you reading right now?’ he asks, lowering his voice.
‘That isn’t for school?’ Rachel asks.
Glasses Guy blinks.
‘I recently finished Rabbits for Food,’ she says.
‘Soho Press is doing great things.’ He pauses, looking Rachel over. ‘Did you like it?’
‘Oh, 100%. I’m in Binnie Kirshenbaum’s class, actually.’
Glasses Guy nods, revisiting the donation pile once more before walking out. Rachel returns to her mailings, wondering if it’s a problem that the only things Glasses Guy knows about her are that she has a horrible memory and likes to read books about depressed women.
At the end of the day, they end up in the elevator together. Glasses Guy doesn’t notice what with his nose pushed into yet another book. It’s something by William Faulkner with a very thick spine. The elevator starts to descend and Rachel tries to remember anything about Faulkner, like if he’s in her category of men (among them David Foster Wallace, William S. Burroughs, and any male that writes about road trips like he’s the first person to take one) whose work occupies the coffee tables of dudes’ apartments but has almost never been read, the apartments in which no women should ever spend the night. It feels unlikely Glasses Guy would be into that kind of literature. He comes off more like the type who still has to Google how to give someone an orgasm and would very much love to meet your mother.
Glasses Guy lowers his book as the elevator opens, finally noticing Rachel. He allows her to exit first and she in turn holds the building’s door for him. ‘Thanks,’ he says. ‘Have a goodnight, Rachel!’
Rendered speechless, Rachel waves back, a charged feeling accompanying her for the walk home.
The crush is strangely akin to when Rachel liked someone in elementary school, one that germinates in a place where everyone is expected to be sober and sexless: the ripest environment for tension to grow. Glasses Guy is undoubtedly the best option in the office, one of the few men who aren’t gay, married, or balding. In the real world, he’d likely become just another lanky dude with a cowlick and a tattered paperback Geoff Dyer novel standing obliviously near the entrance of the L train, but in the context Rachel knows him, Glasses Guy isn’t a dime-a-dozen frog. He’s a literary prince.
Rachel’s favourite tasks become those for Glasses Guy. Tuesday, he entrusts her with his password cheat sheet to login to the company database and she notices they all involve inversions of his first initial, surname, and the letter ‘M’. She obsesses over what the ‘M’ stands for—Martin, Michael, Myles, Matthew, Maurice—nearly forgetting about the paperback titles she’s supposed to be compiling. Wednesday, she has to organise booksellers by region, sort sales numbers, and put series in order by publishing date, which she finishes all before lunch. ‘Oh my gosh, how did you do that so fast?’ Glasses Guy asks. Rachel almost jokes that spreadsheets aren’t the only thing she can finish quickly, until she remembers it’d be weird and inappropriate to make spreadsheets sound sexy. Thursday, Rachel realizes that from her desk she can hear any time Glasses Guy laughs. She becomes afraid that the sound makes her cheeks flush a little too deeply to blame on the thermostat, that it’ll become apparent that he makes her want to read more books and actually understand Excel the way her resume claims she does. She gets water from the kitchen cooler, trying to un-fluster.
Glasses Guy rarely leaves her mind at work. He tells Rachel her skirt is pretty and she wonders what that means, you know, besides her skirt is pretty. She wonders if he prefers dogs or cats. On her lunch break she writes down all the words she associates with him in her notebook: the way he drinks seltzer and wears jumpers and eats yoghurt. She overhears in the bathroom from one of the editorial assistants that his birthday is the ninth of February and entitles the list, ‘Glasses Guy is an Aquarius’.
When Rachel tells her friends about Glasses Guy, they look him up online. They don’t find his relationship status but do find his Goodreads page: 125 books so far that year. Rachel swoons. Then they discover through LinkedIn he graduated university nearly a decade ago, making him actually thirty in the way Rachel only pretends to be. He tweets about getting his perfect glasses (‘What do you see when you look at this face?!’ —Me desperately to the bemused employee at Warby Parker) and getting carded in bars whilst drinking on the Fourth of July, alone, asking the digital world, Is that American enough for you, before confessing he has succumbed to drunkenness and emailed his mother YouTube clips of Martin Sheen ‘being presidential’ in the West Wing. Ignoring this, Rachel goes to Instagram and finds a photo of him holding a book, a gentle smile on his face nudging his tortoise shell specs up the slope of his pointed nose as he looks down at a dog in his lap. It’s a corgi, and the only thing Rachel might love more than books are corgis.
Rachel has never believed in signs but feels like this is one. Glasses Guy must be the one.
Weeks turn into months and Rachel settles into a routine. Glasses Guy makes coffee in a white mug each morning then leaves it around the office—in the mailroom, by the bloggers’ cubicles, around the corner from his desk—before bashfully walking about in casual search. Sometimes, when Rachel feels bold, she brings the mug back to his desk with a smile and a nod, a cross between a deadpan sitcom character and a flirtatious diner waitress.
To start her own day, Rachel rereads her emails from Glasses Guy. Her favourites are the one from when she brought in apple muffins for the office and he asked about the frosting (caramel, she replied) and the one after he realised she had re-written the table of contents in his reference binder, calling her ‘so sweet’. She pictures her and Glasses Guy’s future brownstone in Brooklyn filled with boundless paperbacks in cheaply constructed, thrift store bookshelves, how they are constantly expanding due to his never-ending enthusiasm and her inability to tell him no. In this life Rachel wears her eyeglasses, too, picking up coffee mugs and complaining to her girlfriends on the phone as she secretly enjoys every single second.
Menial tasks in the mailroom fill Rachel’s afternoons where she eagerly anticipates Glasses Guy’s breaks to sift through the ever-changing book donation pile, him sharing anecdotes for nearly every title. One afternoon, when the office is slow, Glasses Guy expands his search to the recycling bins of old galleys. He catches Rachel watching him and looks up.
‘Sorry if this is weird,’ he says. ‘Please, ignore me, hanging out with the trash.’
‘No,’ Rachel replies, ‘it’s okay.’ She feels more charmed by him than she has ever felt by anyone, like she wants to dump the bins of unpublished books onto the ground so they can make love on top of them, not stopping until they have both come twice and managed to bend back all the covers and force folds onto every single page.
Even when he’s frustrated, Rachel wants Glasses Guy, like on the day he storms into the mailroom filled with disappointment about losing a sale. ‘I am dealing with so many krī-səs-əs today, Rachel,’ he says. ‘Do you understand just how many books two hundred books is?’
‘I don’t know,’ Rachel teases. ‘Do you mean krī-ˌsēz?’
Glasses Guy smiles as they start putting together packages for an upcoming authors’ dinner. He leans over a printed spreadsheet ticking off names as Rachel uses a ballpoint pen and her Christmas card cursive to scribe thank you’s, pretending this is how writing their wedding invitations would feel. When he hands her labels to stick on envelopes, she notices his nails are slightly overgrown with bits of dirt underneath. She gets excited by the idea of being the person who points this out to him, to help make him the best possible version of himself.
‘Oh, sorry,’ Glasses Guy says, standing behind Rachel. ‘I don’t mean to hover.’
‘You’re fine,’ Rachel assures, although her voice takes on the tone of a slightly exhausted housewife. She imagines his feeble confidence would be their biggest fight. ‘This name, though, that you have here.’ Rachel points. ‘It doesn’t have an address.’
‘Right, that shop hasn’t opened yet,’ he says. ‘Wow, that was incredibly unfair of me to do to you. Again, I am so, so sorry.’
Rachel bets Glasses Guy apologises a lot in bed, especially during make-up sex. She wonders what it’d feel like to have the words muttered into the hollow spaces of her neck.
‘There are a couple of cards I’m going to write myself,’ Glasses Guy says. ‘They’re people I know. I wouldn’t want to push my guilt of not writing something personal onto you.’
‘I don’t mind,’ Rachel says. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s in the intern’s job description to absorb the office guilt.’
Glasses Guy laughs. It feels as good as her Friday paycheque.
Rachel only gets frustrated with Glasses Guy once, on a sort of only Tuesday when he stops her in the mailroom and says, ‘I have a favour to ask of you tonight.’ After she flutters with anticipation, he adds, ‘Can you help me organise my books in the stock area?’
Begrudgingly, Rachel does it, however when she runs into Glasses Guy in the office kitchen she doesn’t tell him that he has crumbs in his beard from lunch, making no effort to tap her own chin in subtle indication nor admit that she wants to open her mouth and remove the bread remnants herself. After finishing with the books, Rachel sees the office has emptied for the day. She picks up a printout Glasses Guy has left in the copier and carries it, like she does with his coffee mugs, to his cubicle.
Glasses Guy looks up. ‘Hey…Rachel. What’s up?’
‘Your books are organised,’ Rachel says, dropping the printout on his desk. He continues looking at her so she tries to angle her head in a way so he cannot see the zit forming between her nose and upper lip. ‘Anything else I can do for you?’
‘Not in two minutes,’ Glasses Guy says with a sort of playfulness, the one he uses when he asks Rachel to do something he knows is below her skill set. He usually adds that she’s going to hate him, not knowing this is nearly impossible.
‘I stay until half-past,’ Rachel reminds him.
Glasses Guy erupts with a smile. ‘Oh, great! Why don’t you grab a seat and I can explain the next project?’
Rachel perches on a plastic chair in Glasses Guy’s tiny workspace. Whenever she sits close to him she gets distracted, noticing the slightest fade of grey hair on his left temple that pairs with a similar patch on his neck beard; the small, raised red zit adjacent to his right eyebrow. This, Rachel figures, is what thirty really looks like: the worst of all worlds colliding.
‘We are going to be working with metadata,’ Glasses Guy says. ‘There isn’t really any way to explain it to make it sound more fun.’ He groans toward his desktop, the spinning wheels of buffering and hopelessness. ‘We’ll have to work with the calendar, too.’ He fiddles about, moving his Glad container of nuts and his out-dated iPhone with headphones attached that have the rubber coating worn off near the jack; the most reckless thing about him.
Eventually, Glasses Guy’s computer loads a series of book titles alongside numerous spreadsheets. ‘So, this is our database,’ he says. Glasses Guy handles the print out she brought him and points at information, going on about things he’s explained to Rachel numerous times. She’s more focused on making eye contact. She’s never noticed before that behind his glasses his eyes are blue-green with small, light brown flecks in the upper halves.
‘Oh shit,’ Glasses Guy mutters, blinking. ‘You will also need this.’
Glasses Guy stands up and reaches for a binder. As he stretches, his jumper moves out of place, exposing the tag of his Fruit of the Loom boxer briefs and the skin of his lower back, a part of his body Rachel has given an entire life of its own in her head but never actually anticipated seeing in person. And yet there they are, spine-to-face. Her stomach tingles and her ears stop working as she stares, breathless. It is so much paler than she imagined.
Eventually, he sits back down, handing her the binder. ‘Does all of that make sense?’ Glasses Guy asks. ‘It’s okay to say I’m not explaining it very well. It’s kind of a lot.’
It isn’t, but many interactions with Glasses Guy kind of feel like he wants to play teacher with Rachel, overly describing the tasks and looking for her responses when appropriate. Since Rachel likes role-play games, she doesn’t mind.
‘I’m basically just moving things from one digital place to another,’ Rachel says, ‘right?’
Glasses Guy emits a different kind of laugh: the after-hours kind, the kind Rachel would rather hear in the bedroom. ‘You just synthesized my entire day,’ he says, pointing at his computer. ‘Looking at and moving around these boring spreadsheets.’ Rachel doesn’t respond. Glasses Guy glances at his watch. ‘Wow, it’s already half-past,’ he says, his voice falling slightly. ‘Well, I suppose you’ll be prepared to get to work tomorrow.’
Rachel nods, forcing herself to get up and head out for the night, to not make it look like she’s waiting, hoping, for Glasses Guy to do the same.
As the office’s holiday party approaches, Rachel decides she wants to get something for Glasses Guy, but she doesn’t want to make it weird. She eventually decides on a pair of socks featuring tiny trees and frolicking snowmen that remind her of the odd ones he wore the day they met. Rachel wraps them in plaid paper with a white ribbon tied into a big bow, carrying the package into the office alongside a tray of cookies. She bumbles awkwardly into the elevator, noticing Glasses Guy there, too, without his usual reading material. As more people pile in, they bump into one another.
‘Hey…Rachel!’ Glasses Guy says. ‘Did you bring something for later?’ He smiles toward the tray in her hand. ‘Did you bake?’
‘Oh, um, yeah,’ she says. The elevator eventually opens, letting them off. Glasses Guy unlocks the door with his ID and holds it for her. ‘Wait.’ Rachel follows him past her desk and around the corner to his. ‘I, uh, actually have something…for you.’ She’s so ruffled by the morning interaction that she drops the package. The chocolate snowflake lollipop she picked up to go with the socks tumbles to the ground in front of their feet, cracking. Rachel bends down and picks it up, placing it on his desk as though nothing happened.
They briefly look at one another. Rachel feels her face overheating. She tips her head down and walks away without another word, unable to make eye contact with Glasses Guy. She maintains timid silence all morning and into the afternoon as they set up for the party, her helping to cut up cheese for the crudité spread and him retrieving pitchers and platters from the tall cabinets. Once festivities are underway, Rachel figures it’ll be easier to avoid him amongst the people wearing reindeer antlers and singing carols. She talks to the other intern, who brought her boyfriend, to whom Rachel introduces herself twice and yet he still calls her Rebecca, before wading into a quiet corner of the conference room next to the drinks table.
Shortly after, Glasses Guy ends up there, too. Rachel tries to pretend she doesn’t notice him but he taps her on the shoulder. She jumps a little. ‘Hey, uh, can I scoot past you?’ he asks, gesturing toward the coolers.
‘Oh, sure, sorry,’ Rachel says. She stares at his arm as he reaches for his third beer of the evening. He has finally trimmed his nails. It makes her feel as blue as the blazer he’s wearing, the one with the worn-out elbow.
After getting a fresh IPA, Glasses Guy stares at Rachel with the blank look she often has around him. His eyes wander without focus. His mouth opens. ‘You know,’ he starts, lowering his voice, ‘you are important, Rachel.’ He pauses. ‘But so is alcohol.’
Rachel isn’t sure how to respond to this. She spends the rest of the party choking down warm white wine, wondering when she can sneak out without anyone noticing.
Rachel then spends the next month in London working a short-term job in an office full of women. She loves it, but she misses Glasses Guy. She wonders if he ever opened the socks or read her card where she expressed her love of working with him on metadata and spreadsheets. She wonders if he’s still growing his beard or if he’s managed to remember his neck with the razor. She wonders who’s cleaning up the coffee mugs in the office, if Glasses Guy has been forced to track them down himself for the dishwasher, if when he inserts the detergent pod he ever thinks of her. Every time she sees someone in slightly large specs on the tube reading a book or smells medium roast gone cold, Rachel always thinks of him.
When Rachel does return to New York, the only thing she’s excited about is getting to see Glasses Guy. She wears a new green dress with matching metallic eyeliner, her toes tapping with excitement when she gets to the building’s elevator and makes her way to the top floor office. Colleagues welcome her back with hugs as she slips into her familiar desk, shrugging off her coat before heading to the mailroom to reunite with the manila envelopes and packaging tape. Ceremoniously, Rachel pushes earbuds into her ears and gets to work, but after a few minutes she senses someone walk in. Looking up, she pulls out an earbud. She tries not to smile.
There he is. Glasses Guy.
‘Welcome back, Rachel,’ he says with a grin that seems more crooked and awkward than she remembers. ‘How was London? I’ve heard it’s like a fairy tale during the holidays. I’ve never been, but that’s always how it’s described in books.’
‘Uh…yeah,’ Rachel replies. ‘It’s pretty special.’
Glasses Guy takes his usual stance at the books for donation corner, holding the covers just slightly closer than what feels normal to his face. He’s wearing a navy-blue turtleneck Rachel doesn’t recognize, lightly dusted with dandruff on the shoulders, and he’s shaved his beard, exposing hollowed, somewhat pitted cheeks. Most notably, though, he isn’t wearing his glasses.
‘Did you get…contacts?’ Rachel asks Glasses Guy.
‘Yep,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t for a while because something was wrong with my eyes, but they’re healed now. It’s great!’
Rachel nods a little as Glasses Guy takes a few more books from the pile. She knows that he’s the same as he was before—just as bookish, just as brilliant—yet without his glasses, something about her illusion is shattered. His previously unnoticeable grey eye bags are now on full display, and when he laughs at one of the covers Rachel notices the way his eyelids pinch together. He’s got those little wrinkles in the corners, like her parents. She feels her shoulders fall a little toward her suddenly aching feet.
Finishing with the books, Glasses Guy turns to Rachel. ‘Well, welcome back!’
Rachel watches him walk out of the mailroom, listening to his leather brogues click against the tiles. Once he’s gone, she slumps beside the mailing table and wonders what the Warby Parker employee who helped pick out Glasses Guy’s frames might say now, if the employee might be the only other person to feel her exact sort of loss and disappointment. She wonders if the employee wears glasses, too, and if he might happen to be single.
Rachel A. G. Gilman’s work has been published in journals throughout the US, UK, and Australia. She’s the Creator/EIC of The Rational Creature, a columnist for No Contact Magazine, and was EIC for Columbia Journal, Issue 58. She holds an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and is currently reading for an MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford. More at rachelaggilman.com.