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The Manuscript: Rough Draft Chp -1 (Compare this draft to the final version after I am published)

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Chapter -1


 


            “Hey, 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.


            Once, in 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 turn.


            “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.


            Amanda was 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 school.  Single, 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 her.  Not a bad trade-off in Nick's mind.


            There was 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  


            Yet Ed's 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.  


            Nick's 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.


            “Good morning,” Nick greeted the customer, who started at the young man's loud, cheerful greeting.


            “Oh, ah, 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 animal in 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.


            “So, you're out shopping today, are you?” Nick asked, approaching the customer.  Her young child ran haphazardly around the floor.


            His response, though, met only silence.


            Nick moved to the lady's side so he could be seen.  “What are you 'looking' for today?”


            The woman 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!”


            The woman 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.


            She continued 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 rearranging boxes.


            After 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.


            Fuckin’ bitch, Nick said aloud under his breath.  He continued to rearrange shoes until he grew bored.  There were more shoes to stock, anyway, in 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.


            Two women 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 suit.  But 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 his throat.


            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 was  young, 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 was  smitten by the girl.


            Many times 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 different worlds.


            He had 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.  


            During the 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.


            There was no one else around.  


            The young 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.


            Here he 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.


            “Hey, what 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.


            “Hi.”


            Turning casually to glance at the young sales person staring at her, the young lady opened her outh as if to speak, then smiled broadly.


            “Hey, Nick.  How are you?”


            She remembered my name Nick thought, returning her smile.  “Hi Michelle.  How are you?”


            Michelle 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 before speaking.  “Oh, uh, just working – and going to school,” he lied quickly, suddenly embarrassed by his drop out status.  Nick 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?”


“I’m home for the summer,” she replied, adding, “I’m sure glad the year is over!”


Nick and Michelle both laughed.


“So, where have you been going to school – or ah, college?” he asked.


“Iowa State,” she replied.  “How about you?”


“Um, Briar Ridge,” he answered, 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 next shoe 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.  


“Hey, mom,” 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 Nick 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 familiar.”


Nick smiled, genuinely touched by this simple remark.  He womdered what knid of impression he had made on Michelle’s parents.  


Michelle’s attention returned to 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 her.


“How do you like Iowa?  I mean, Iowa State?”


“Oh, it’s alright.  I’m in a sorority.  My sisters are a blast!”


“Cool.”  Nick smiled, uncertain what to think of this.  He 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 Briar ridge?” 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 softly,  “Go to many parties.”


Oh yea, Nick thought, scoffing within.  Lots.  The last party Nick had been to was his birthday party two years ago.  Somehow, he didn’t think a party with his mom counted.


“Yea, I been to a few.”


Michelle laughed and touched his 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.  “Oh, yea.  Me too,” he responded.


Michelle tilted her head in puzzlement, smiling ever so slightly.  


“I mean,” he continued, 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 closer to the mark.  Michelle smiled and nodded in return.


“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?”


“Yea.”


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!” she exclaimed, as Nick struggled to keep his face neutral.  “He’s in the same dorm as me.”  This news did little to impress the young man.


Lenny was Nick’s self-assigned 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 question.


“naw,” the 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 . . .


 





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