buddy-boy, can you check this shipment in?”
Ed asked, handing the young man a clip board of inventory as they stood
beside a half dozen cases filled with shoes.
Systematically, Nick began opening the cases, deftly using the box
cutter to separate the red and translucent packing tape along the edges of the
large cardboard boxes. He had learned
how to check in shipments a few months ago, remarking to himself that any
monkey could do this job. Although his
boss had given him minimal instructions on how to perform the task, Nick found
the job quite repetitive and boring.
Thank God it's never more than a few cases at a time, Nick thought, or
I'd go insane with the monotony. Not
that selling was much better.
fact, soon after learning how to stock the merchandise, Nick accidentally
shelved the shoe boxes in their wrong order, placing the half sizes above their accompanying whole numbers instead of
just below them. Amanda, his co-worker
and the store's assistant manager, had first caught the error, but when Ed discovered
the mistake as Nick moved up and down the store's back aisles searching for
other out of place boxes, he had taken the opportunity to rib Nick at every
“Oh, and ah
– by the way buddy,” Ed remarked almost as if an inadvertent afterthought, “make
sure you put them up the right way: halves below.”
He chuckled aloud as though he had just thought of the joke
although it must have been the thirtieth time Nick had heard the remark. Any humorous effect was lost after the tenth
time his manager had said it.
working again today, and Nick enjoyed working with the young lady. She was in her mid-twenties, a couple of
inches taller than the man and very slender, and had graduated a few years ago
with her bachelor's degree from the same college Nick had dropped out of. Amanda wasn't pretentious like many of the
college girls Nick had come to know during his first unsuccessful year at
she was nonetheless
down-to-earth and very nice, someone with whom Nick enjoyed speaking with when
the two were scheduled together. Nick
wasn't particularly attracted to her, although she was soft on the eyes, but
much thinner than he preferred and blond – a definite turn off. It seemed, however, that whenever he worked
with Amanda, Ed focused less on nit-picking on him and gave more attention to
a bad trade-off in Nick's mind.
something quite odd, though, about the way in which Ed acted when he was around
the females whom he had hired to work for him.
Both franchise owner and manager, Ed was the type of boss who certainly
got things done and Nick had gotten the job due in part to Ed's recognition
that the young man an needed a job. The
church which they all attended was rather influential when it came to its
members supporting one another, and practically everyone Nick hung out with had
some association with the independent church
behavior was often unpredictable as far as Nick was concerned. Although he had been moved, obviously, with
compassion to hire the man who had almost no experience with anything in life,
there were times when Nick had the sense that he somehow inadvertantly
irritated the older man, who wasn't tparticularly demanding but understandably
hands-on. It was as though, Nick once
observed inwardly, he somehow got in Ed's way although exactly how Nick had not
a clue. He
felt certain, however, that
it had something to do with the fact that practically everyone – no, in fact,
everyone – who worked for Ed was female, and of at least moderate attractiveness.
thoughts were quickly dispelled by the ringing of a little bell above the
doors, signaling the entry of someone into the store.
Nick hurriedly peeked around the corner of the stock room door
and found a n older lady and her daughter had entered the store. With Amanda no where in sight and Ed
fiddling with some something in his office, Nick took the opportunity to help
the customer although he had just got done helping the ;last customer. It was customary for the sales staff to
rotate between customers so as to give everyone the chance to meet their
individual sales goals and to earn, perhaps, a little bit of commission.
morning,” Nick greeted the customer, who started at the young man's loud,
just looking,” the wary woman replied instinctual after recovering, turning her
back so as not to look at the salesperson.
So that's how it's going to be today, Nick reflected. Like a hunter staking a large game
the African Savannah, Nick had learned quickly that the difference between prey
and predator in the world of selling was often only the slight difference
between how one handled the “just looking” response or one of its derivitives.
In fact, Ed
taught Nick one trick of selling on the floor that he taok to heart: kill 'em
with kindness. Although Nick had been
selling only a few weeks, he knew how to act.
out shopping today, are you?” Nick asked, approaching the customer. Her young child ran haphazardly around the
response, though, met only silence.
to the lady's side so he could be seen.
“What are you 'looking' for today?”
placed the shoe she had been looking at back on the display ledge and turned to
walk down the display wall, her back still to the man.
She said nothing.
“We have a
sale going on today,” he continued, starting to become a little put off by the
woman's rude behavior. “If you tell me
what you're looking for, I could suggest an item at a great price!”
mumbled something unintelligible but continued facing away form the man. Awkwardly, Nick stood there to her side for
what seemed like a long time, the customer waling sideways allowing the
displays until she reached the end of the room.
When she turned to look at something else, their eyes met
momentarily and Nick offered her his broad, genuine sales smile. That was all the contact she would allow,
though, and moved off, calling to her daughter and instructing the little girl
to stop running. She moved, then,
toward the clearance racks and picked up a shoe now and again seemingly at
random, turning them over to see the price marked on the soles before returning
them to the racks. Bitch, Nick thought.
to browse for a few minutes longer while Nick moved quietly away, arranging
some of the shoes along the shelves in an effort to keep busy. He still hoped to make a sale. Sales, in fact, had been down for quite some time,
and Nick was determined to
show Ed what he could do. If you
couldn't sell, it wasn't likely you'd keep your job for very long,Nick
realized, so he took the opportunity seriously.
Besides, it was much, much better than simply stacking and
awhile, the woman and her child headed towqrd the door.
Nick stood and wished her a good day, but
the woman simply exited without acknowledging his remark.
bitch, Nick said aloud under his breath.
He continued to rearrange shoes until he grew bored. There were more shoes to stock, anyway,
back, so Nick moved toward the stockroom before the bell over the door rang
again. Nick glanced casually at the door then stopped in his tracks, staring.
entered the store. One was older, maybe
mid-fifties with dyed blonde hair. She
was a bit hefty with a large nose and a flowery-patterned blouse and pant
this was not what had caught
Nick’s attention. Coming inside behind
the woman was a girl Nick recognized instantly – and he felt his breath catch in
Nick was a
high school sophmore when he first met Michelle.
Both had worked together on
float for the homecoming parade, and in the few weeks spent with his
peers working on the float at nights, the young man had become enamored with
the girl. Michelle was from an
upper-middle class background. Her
father had remarried and mov3ed with his new wife to country club when she
and Michelle lived with her
mother in an old Victorian home in an older but wealthy neighborhood. She had dark brown hair, shoulder length and
wavy, and her eyes were deep brown , almost black.
The girl was about 5’ 5” and of medium build, but she wore her
weight, Nick had always noticed with eagerness, in the right places. She had the profile of her Greek ancestry
with the rounded chin and full nose to match.
She was ibn every sense of the word, beautiful, and Nick was not the only young teenage boy who
by the girl.
Nick had layed in bed at night after the time they had spent together on the
float, fantasizing about Michelle and girls like her.
He had this recurring fantasy with Michelle in particular, where
she was his girlfriend and wanted to have his baby.
Nick masturbated to domesticized image of the young woman many
times throughout his highschool years, but that was all it was: a fantasy. Nick knew that there could never be anything
between the two of them. They were from
spoken to her several times over the three years they were in school together,
yet the crowd with whom Michelle hung out with was very different from Nick’s
circle of friends. The young woman’s
friends were mostly affluent and popular. She mixed well with this crowd. Nick’s friends, on the otherhand, were
rather poor and mostly nerdy. For fun,
his friends would hang out above the windows overlooking the lower entryway
where student would arrive off of the buses and toss water balloons at kids
they didn’t like – mostly jocks and others nerdier than themselves. Michelle’s crowd hung out at waterfountains
and alongside the hallways, discussing parties and looking their nose down ot
others less fortunate than themselves.
few times thqat Nick did manage to speak to her, he had never really had time
to say much. Girls like Michelle were
usually trailed closely by one or more of the popular crowd, and at a
confluence of three or more, Nick became self-conscious, noticing the
condescending looks of her friends while they engaged her and each other in
conversation. It was at these times
that Nick always slunk away, quiet and morose.
Not this time.
no one else around.
salesman moved quickly onto the floor, his breath growing shallow, his heart
beating faster. Neither woman took
notice of him. There was no one else
with them, and when the two women split up to look around the store, Nick
stopped short and reconsidered his situation.
was, a 19 year old college drop our working for four dollars an hour as a stock
boy/aspiring shoe salesman. Watching
Michelle, remembering the rather flashy late model ford mustang she had driven
to school each day and comparing it to his own green bomb setting outside on
the parking lot, Nick’s sudden rush of excitement turned to dread. What would he say? What would she think?
Would she even recognize him?
The young drop out felt suddenly dtymied and insecure, as though he had
just cornered the girl of his dreams only to discover that she was surrounded
by dozens of rich and popular friends, all of them staring at Nick or looking
at him out of the courner of their eyes as if to say, “who the hell is that
geek?” Nick didn’t know what to do.
can we help you ladies with?” came a familiar voice as Nick turned to see Ed
walking out onto the sales floor from the back of the room.
Recalling his boss’s penchant for pretty,
young women, Nick suddenly knew which of te two women Ed’s comment had been
primarily directed. Nick had to act
quickly or lose and chance he had at talking to his fantasy girl.
“I got it,”
the young man said, proceeding quickly toward the young woman before Ed had the
chance to intervene. Wiping his palms
on the side of his cordourey dress paints, Nick stepped forward as the women
were glancing at shoies along the wall.
Swallowing hard, Nick finally opened his mouth to speak.
casually to glance at the young sales person staring at her, the young lady
opened her outh as if to speak, then smiled broadly.
remembered my name Nick thought, returning her smile.
“Hi Michelle. How are
shook her head, her shoulder-length, thick head of hair mesmorizing the young
man standing before her. She smiled, a
broad, white smile that made Nick’s heart jump in his chest. She was as pretty as Nick had remembered
her, and te way that she stood at that moment, one arm casually holding a purse
strap against her shoulder while the other hand was placed on her hip, her
thumb inserted inside her right front jeans pocket, reminded nick of everything
he had liked about Michelle in high school.
Her air was familiar, yet sophisticated, as if she was comfortable just
hanging out with old friends while recognizing, at the same time, just how much
everyone in the room desired her.
“I’m great! What’ve
you been up to?”
Nick swallowed noticeably
speaking. “Oh, uh, just working – and
going to school,” he lied quickly, suddenly embarrassed by his drop out
didn’t know why it
mattered, but he felt as though his value as a person improving himself somehow
mattered to the woman. “So, what have
you been up to this summer?”
for the summer,” she
replied, adding, “I’m sure glad the year is over!”
Nick and Michelle both
“So, where have
you been going
to school – or ah, college?” he asked.
she replied. “How about you?”
“Um, Briar Ridge,”
wishing he could have said something else.
For years he had dreamed of attending an Ivy League college. But he thought that in this instance,
something closer to the truth was more appropriate.
Michelle moved to the
rack while Nick followed along side of the woman.
He wondered if she could sense his nervousness; he kept wiping
his hands on his pants, looking from his former classmate to the shoes, and
back again. He could not even think of
selling anything to her.
Michelle called out,
getting the woman’s attention. The
older lady was not far from the pair, and after an eschange of looks, Michelle
reintroduced Nick to her mother. “this
is Nick. We went to West together.”
Her mother smiled, and
recalled the good reception she had given him three years earlier after meeting
her and her husband at a homecoming party at their home.
Nick turned back and reached out his hand,
not wanting to seem impolite.
Michelle’s mom took his hand in hers.
“I thought you looked
Nick smiled, genuinely
by this simple remark. He womdered what
knid of impression he had made on Michelle’s parents.
the shelves before her as she picked up forst one shoe, than another, asking
her mother now and again whether she liked this shoe or that one. Nick tagged along, unsure of just what to
say or how closely to stand by the girl he had once had erotic dreams of. But each time Nick stumbled for something to
say, Michelle broke in with some well-timed question or comment that encouraged
the yong man to respond. Nick was
grateful for this. He wasn’t sure if
Michelle was conscious of his nervousness or his sudden inability to uphold his
end of the conversation or not, but Michelle seemed unperturbed byt the brief
moments of silence that followed her responses.
He felt increasingly at ease in her company and was grateful to
“How do you like
mean, Iowa State?”
alright. I’m in a sorority. My sisters are a blast!”
“Cool.” Nick smiled,
uncertain what to think of
had always perceived sorority
girls as stuck up little bitches, but here was a girl who, although she had the
appearance and social status of someone who would fit easily into a college
sorority, for all practical purposes seemed down to earth.
Somehow, Nick was moderately attracted to
her even more.
“How do ya like
she asked, returning a shoe to the rack while lightly tossing her hair to one
side, peering first at her mother, then at the young man before inquiring
to many parties.”
Oh yea, Nick thought,
within. Lots. The last party
Nick had been to was his birthday party two years
he didn’t think a party
with his mom counted.
“Yea, I been to
Michelle laughed and touched
elbow briefly, before beginning to relate a tale of one of many social
gatherings she had been to. Nick felt
tendrils of chill rise up his arm as he realized suddenly that was the first
time they had ever touched. Her smile
was broad and warm, the kind of gesture that two old acquaintences would give
one another after a short time apart.
Nick knew that her smile, her touch, was likely platonic, but the
thought that maybe – just maybe – it might be a sign of something “more” swept
over his mind. He wanted more. Much more.
Nick was only half-listening, and when her story was finally done, he
stood there, watching the expressions
on her face and in her brown eyes, wondering all the while what it might be
like to kiss those soft, full, red lips.
“So how about you?”
Nick stood there quietly,
nodding until he finally realized she had directed a question toward him. He open his mouth and nearly stammered
before finally digensting the meaning oof her inquiry.
Me too,” he responded.
Michelle tilted her head
puzzlement, smiling ever so slightly.
realizing his response had not quite been the right one yet still uncertain
what her question was, “I went to a couple of parties this past year. They were alright.”
Appatently he had hit
the mark. Michelle smiled and nodded in
“So, ah, how long
are you here
for?” he asked.
“I’ll be here
unitl the end of
summer,” she replied.
“going back to ISU?”
Nick didn’t know
why, but his
spirits suddenlty felt deflated, if only a little.
He had no idea why, but he realized inthat moment that he had
somehow assumed she was back for good.
Michelle continued perusing
shoes, stopping to examine a couple of pairs on the sales rack before moving on
toward the regularly priced displays.
Nick shadowed her for a bit, asking her if she had seen or heard from
people whom they both had known in high school.
Michelle shook her head at the mention of several names.
“I did see Lenny!”
exclaimed, as Nick struggled to keep his face neutral.
“He’s in the same dorm as me.” This news did little to impress the
Lenny was Nick’s
academic and social nemesis throughout junior high and high school. Whenever Nick bragged that he got a B+ in a
class, Lenny received an A- and when Nick had achieved an A, Lenny invariably
received an A+. Lenny was aas
intelligent as Nick and always seemed to receive better grades regardless of
how hard or how long Nick studied, but what had always bothered Nick more was
that Lenny – huskier than Nick and with glasses, too – was vastly more popular
than Nick. Nick was annoyed by this
fact, particualryl when the same rich, smart kids who openly snubbed Nick
happened to be the close friends of Lenny.
Something didn’;t seem quite fair about all of that to Nick, and
although he couldn’t say that he hated the boy, Nick certainly felt great
animosity. Jealousy, too. And, as if Lenny’s popularity with the
incword wasn’t bad enough, Nick was more annoyed by the fact that it was the rich
and popular girly with whom Lenny was most close to.
Even this could be swallowed – many people wer more popular with the women than Nick
– yet it
was Lenny’s openly condescending and arrogant attitude whenever addressing Nick
that bothered the latter the most. For
this fact alone, Nick never forgave his young rival.
“did you guys ever
date?” Nick couldn’t believe he had just asked that
young woman laughed,
but we went to a lot of parties together.
Fuckin’ great, thought Nick. “Yea, he’s pretty cool.” The
false admission almost choked him, but he thought ha had better say something
kind since Nick knoew that she and Lenny had been close in high school. Nick imagined at that moment what the heel
of the shoe Michelle was presently holding would look like embedded in Lenny’s
left eye socket.
More to come . . .