Dear Young Women Who Work at Chain Bookstores,

The first moment I saw you, I knew you were different. Here, in the midst of this multinational chain bookstore, was an independent soul. Look at her black-plastic-framed glasses! Look at her fierce unwillingness to conform! My heart went out to you.

I know it’s hard for you. Most customers are middle-aged middle managers buying a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? I know that daily you deal with women buying kitten calendars, and parents buying American Girl books for their little sorority-sisters-in-training, and teenagers sitting at the café, pretending to like coffee, trying to impress one another and you. Your coworkers like you, but they tease you, because they don’t really understand you. They’ve never heard of the bands you like; they continually recommend best-selling chick-lit novels for you to read; they want to talk about the season finale of Friends, not the season finale of Enterprise. I know that sometimes you go home and cry, and I feel for you.

You’re lonely, Young Women Who Work at Chain Bookstores, and you want to find someone who understands you. You dream of a man who will hold you in the dark, listen to you talk about your deepest fears, and take you shopping at Hot Topic. You size up customers as potential allies, and you try so hard to make friends with those who are like you, who bear the cross of Not Fitting In. You tell them you love their T-shirt, that no one around here listens to Indie Rock Band Depicted on Customer’s T-shirt; you try to smile, take deep breaths, and not appear desperate. It’s hard—it’s so hard, I want to take you into my arms and promise that it will get easier, but it won’t.

Young Women Who Work at Chain Bookstores, here is what I am saying: stop hitting on my boyfriend. For Christ’s sake, I am standing right next to him. I am not his little sister. I am not his best platonic friend. We are going to talk about you in the parking lot, and we will laugh. Tonight, while he is holding me in the dark, I will consider how you and I are really rather similar. Then I will drop off to sleep, and never think of you again.

Sara Bauer