The Apple Store is a strange place. It does its very best to pretend it isn't a shop. There are no tills ringing or sour-faced shopgirls stacking shelves with garish product or hurrying along pretending they're too busy to help you, no groaning rails or higgledy-piggledy stacks of boxes. The Apple Store, especially the one in Covent Garden, London, is more of an 'experience'. Smiling pretty boys in skinny jeans loiter at the doorway with eager smiles and eyes so wide they can only be the result of a recently dropped ecstasy pill. They have youth, enthusiasm and a handy line in charming condescension. You could be excused for mistaking it for a bar or café, not a global corporation desperate to get its hands on your hard-earned cash - the more noughts at the end, the better.
But where there is wireless, hardware, oak beams and credit cards, there is retail; and here I am, wandering around it on a Saturday, looking for nothing in particular. I'm glad my own MacBook Pro, which wheezes like an asthmatic vuvuzela every time I turn it on, is at home and not here to see the sleek, steel-encased upstarts that will one day replace it both in my affections and upon my knee. The place is crammed with Apple fanatics in all shapes and sizes and with every variety of facial hair imaginable. Ageing computer geeks, tight-skinned students, emo girls, hipster grandmas, confused middle-class parents rife for a fleecing by their offspring and me, peeking over everybody's shoulder to get a look-in at a machine so I can check my email, as my ever-unreliable phone is about to gasp its last in battery power.
I'm having no luck, so decide to move upstairs to find a free computer. As I make my way to the staircase, I notice three younger people - two guys and a girl - standing at the foot of it and looking my way. One guy is whispering in the ear of the other guy and looking at me. It's making me a bit uncomfortable, but I carry on - I'll leave being afraid of youths until I'm elderly. They're dressed in that young way where nothing seems to fit them properly and one of the guys looks like he hasn't taken his baseball cap off since he was a toddler. They are, of course, all beautiful in their own way. I walk past them and start up the steps. I only manage two or three paces before I feel someone rush past me and stop right in front of me. It is Guy 1, the whisperer, sans baseball cap. I don't have much time to take him in, but he is young, cute and staring quizzically at me.
"Excuse me?" he says, in an accent I immediately recognise as French. By stopping, I've already excused him, I guess, so I don't reply. He goes on: "Are you gay?"
I'm confused. It's not often I get asked this question in public, let alone in the middle of the day. And even though we're in the middle of the uber-liberal, peacenik outpost of sun-kissed California that is the Apple Store, I'm wary. Why would he be asking? Is he a homo or a homophobe? Is he going to kiss me or punch me on the nose?
I can't think of what to say, so I say nothing. His eyes search my face, desperate for an answer. I eventually say "Sorry?" to fill some stale air.
He begins to falter, before continuing: "It's just that you are very good-looking."
He pauses for a second, bows his head in embarrassment and looks like he's about to say something else. He doesn't, however, and darts off, away from me, just as I manage to blurt out a stunned "Thanks".
Thanks? Is that it? The best I can do? It's not as if I get told this every day. Not since my adoring grandmothers died have I received compliments on the way my face is set out with such enthusiasm (not to mention unsolicited). How is one supposed to react when someone compliments one's looks? And why would they be doing it right here, right now? Does he want me? What for? Should I be flattered? I am more than flattered. Would I feel the same if he hadn't been such a mouthwatering proposition himself?
I start to make my way back down the stairs, I don't know why. To get his number, maybe? To ask if he'd like mine? Instead, I notice him leave the store. As he does, he gives me a backward glance, full of mortification and missed opportunity.
And then he's gone. Shit.