Finding Beautiful by Thuy-Nhu Phung

This story is one of the January Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.

“Oh, sh**.”

My eyes snap open from where I’d been taking an end-of-shift nap to see the incoming customer.

“Um, excuse me, ma’am, but we’re closing soon.”

It’s a girl who looks around my age, with dark braids framing her face, large brown eyes, and an array of miscellaneous items at her feet.

“Right, sorry,” she says, shooting me a sheepish smile. She bends to pick up her stuff, among which I can make out a quilt, a journal, and a large ziplock of watermelon sour gummies.

I pointedly eye the last item.  “Also, we don’t allow food or drink.” Our bookstore boasts a built-in café, and as a result we’re extremely strict on this rule.

She simply winks at me. “Mhm. Gotcha.”

However, once she gathers all of her stuff, rather than leave, she begins marching towards the back of the store.

I fumble to grab my phone before following after her.



“Right. May I kindly ask you to leave? It would be in both our best interests if you did so without complaint.”

Either not hearing me or blatantly ignoring me, she continues on.

“Damn, I really thought Tam’s shift was today,” she mutters to herself.

She halts suddenly when we reach the poetry corner, and she gapes at the wall of poems, where many have pinned various poems, quotes, words, and the like onto a large cork board.

Her eyes are wide as she whispers, “This is it.”

Behind her, I clear my throat. “I’m really sorry, but you have to leave. You can always come back tomorrow.”

She turns around and pouts. “Please?”

I lift my phone and pull up my manager’s contact. “It would be best if you didn’t try such stupid tactics with me.”

In an instant her face falls, and she rolls her eyes. “Oh, who shoved that stick up your ass.”

I feel my eye twitch at that, and I hover my finger over the call button.

She holds her hands up and glances down at my name tag. “Listen, Alex?”

Before I can respond, she continues. “This is really important to me that I do what I need today. If you try to get rid of me, I’ll make a fuss, and you’ll end up staying late anyway with more trouble rather than have a fun time with me. Besides, if you really wanted me gone, you’d already have called.”

I send her a glare at the last comment, but I put my phone back in my pocket. She has a point.

“Fine. But you better make this worth all the rules you broke.”

Her smile’s so wide her eyes nearly disappear. “We broke.”

I’m on my back, laying on the quilt Erin set up in front of the poem wall she now stares intently at, the ziplock of gummies now open between us.

I sigh. “This wasn’t worth it. What are you even doing that’s so important anyway?”

Without looking away from the wall, she speaks: “First of all, rude. Second of all, I woke up this morning and felt inspired.


“To find something amazing, great, beautiful.”

I eye her skeptically. “And this is of utmost importance because…”

“Because I can feel that impulse. Genius doesn’t always strike, you know, so I need to act while I can. Once I saw this store, this wall, I felt it.”

Despite how passionate she seems, I can’t help but scoff. “Jeez, how much free time do people have these days?”

Erin waves me off, now moving on from staring to writing furiously in her journal. “Alex, you’re too wound up. If you’re so cynical, there is no hope for you to find the beautiful.”

“Oh, I see. So you’re going to enlighten me, bring me into your nonsensical, beautiful world?”

I’m being sarcastic, but she gives me a sincere smile.

“I hope to.”

Strangely, I want to believe her.

Surprisingly, when I wake up to find myself still in the store, the first thing I see is not someone looming over me to scold and/or fire me (that was the second thing) but three words on a pinned piece of notebook paper.

Meeting was beautiful.



Thuy-Nhu Phung

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