Chapter Five: Alive Again

He drifted through the next two weeks. Every day was some variation of the same, work and customers and coworkers and then coming home to the dark, lonely basement.

Adam missed having friends. He’d never made any strong connections with coworkers. There was a couple once, a woman who worked in the deli and her boyfriend who worked in receiving, they’d invited him over a few times to drink and party. They’d been nice enough, but gave him weird vibes. The woman, Renee, used to chop up pills and snort them, and she always touched all over Adam like she was trying to flirt, even though her boyfriend was right there. Other than them, Adam hadn’t really made any friends at Wal-Mart, even though he’d worked there for years. He missed the group he’d had in high school. Sometimes he felt so distant from everybody else. He didn’t know the last time he’d really felt connected to someone. There probably wasn’t one person out there in the world who thought about him. Maybe people thought of him in passing. That was it.

He didn’t matter to anyone.

He didn’t matter.

He used to matter.

Or maybe he never had mattered and he’d always been lying to himself.

Back in high school, he’d had some decent guy friends. Most had been girls. Girls liked to talk to him. They always said he was a sweetheart. Yep. Sweet and sensitive. That was Adam. He hadn’t minded it in high school, especially since Monica had dated him for awhile. He might have been friend-zoned by most girls, but at least one had seen him as a romantic prospect. What had changed since then? Why couldn’t he get a female to give him the time of day?

His thoughts tumbled over themselves, crashing and rolling, colliding and careening. That’s why he didn’t notice that he’d been slicing the black forest ham for far too long. He moved his arm back and forth, back and forth. The repetitive movement was soothing, dreamlike. For a long, drawn-out, internal moment, he forgot he was standing on the greasy brick-colored linoleum of the deli, a line of customers on the opposite side of the glass display case, the smell of oil from the fryers. That oil permeated the air. The customers muttered to one another and looked down at their watches. Time, time, everything was time. It moved, it slowed, it stilled. It kept on going, even though Adam never went anywhere, never did anything. He wasn’t progressing. He wasn’t-

“Adam?”

He started, narrowly missing the spinning blade zipping by beneath the blade-guard with the tips of his fingers. Emily stared at him with wide eyes. She nodded in the direction of the waiting customer on the other side of the glass, a balding Indian dude with a pointed nose and oversized glasses.

“I think you have enough there,” Emily suggested with a tight smile. “Zoning out over here?”

Adam turned off the slicer and snatched a deli bag to wrap the meat. “A little,” he muttered. “Just tired today.”

“Yeah,” she said softly. “You seem sort of out of it. You want to take a break?”

“Nah, I’ll take my fifteen when Rick gets back.”

He gave the sliced ham to the visibly-irritated customer, who stalked off without a word, and then tried to find a way to salvage the extra meat he’d sliced while spacing out. It was about a quarter of a pound. He wrapped it in cellophane and then stuck it to the end of the ham husk, and then wrapped it all up together at the cellophane-wrapping station.

Just another busy Saturday. Another boring, pointless Saturday. Emily and Rick were on shift with him, although Rick would be leaving at seven, as usual. Closing alone with Emily again. He used to like closing with her. He used to like talking to her. Maybe he’d been holding out, thinking something might happen between them. He was always an idiot like that, getting stuck on women who didn’t know he existed. Well…Emily knew he existed, but only because she had to work with him. Women only noticed him when they had to.

And he was getting up there in years too. Twenty-three. If he hadn’t gotten a girlfriend yet, not a serious adult relationship anyway (did a few weeks back in high school even count?) then maybe he never would. No education. No prospects for a good job. No hope. No future.

No attention from any females ever.

They didn’t see him. He wasn’t worth it.

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Oh sure, they could use him for a ride home. They could be friends with him. Like Christina sending him stupid messages on Facebook, complaining to him about her relationship problems. Chicks could cry to him, come to him for some sympathy and attention, but had one ever actually liked him? Even Monica hadn’t seemed super into him. He’d always had the sense that she was dating him because they were both the only singles in their friend group. She’s only kissed him a handful of times. She’d never seemed super into it. He couldn’t even blame her. He had such an ugly fucking face.

He fell back down into the abyss of his thoughts, swirling about like water being sucked down the drain. With the current lull in customers, he took the opportunity to wipe the counters a bit. Not that there was any point. They’d get dirty again, and he’d still need to do the deep clean once the deli closed.

Swirling a wet rag over the shining metal counter, smooth, concentric circles, his thoughts mirrored his physical movements. Ruminations. Cyclical cynicism, round and round until it made him dizzy. He wasn’t tall enough to get women to notice him. Five feet eight inches. That was nothing. His face was ugly. His nose was too bulbous, squished almost flat with nostrils that flared out too wide. His eyes were too far apart. His skin was shit. He didn’t have a chin. He’d cover that mess with a beard if he could, but he couldn’t grow more than a few pubey looking patches, no matter how long he went without shaving. But the worst curse of all; he was ginger. Most girls didn’t dig ginger dudes. He wasn’t even the carrot-orange kind of ginger that the few chicks with a ginger fetish might go for. He had dark red hair, red with a brownish tint. No Ron Weasley fangirls for him. Just ginger enough to turn off basically all females.

His break couldn’t come fast enough. He tossed the rag back into the bucket and fucked out of there the second Rick was back.

Adam didn’t smoke, but sometimes he liked to spend his break in the smoking room. The guys in receiving were always chill to talk to and all of them smoked. In the regular break room, he usually ended up talking to the cashiers. The chicks who worked the front end seemed to be under the impression that he was one of the girls. They liked to rope him into conversations about their boyfriends and which bras fit best. It was fucking embarrassing. ‘Course he was too much of a pussy to actually say anything about it. So he ended up sitting there like a dip-shit talking about girl stuff. He didn’t know why women didn’t see him as a real man. He was a man. Had a dick and everything. They shuffled him into some kind of ‘gay best friend’ category, even though he wasn’t gay. It fucking sucked and he didn’t have the energy for it today. He’d hang out with the smokers. They were so chill they never even asked him what he was doing in their break-room.

He wound his way through the store, bobbing between harried mothers with babbling children, old women with Karen hair, and middle-aged men in sweats and ill-fitting Red Sox shirts. The Saturday crowds were out in full swing, but Adam knew the best paths to cut through the store without getting stopped. He cut through grocery, which was the path of least resistance because it was the quickest way to the back aisle of the store, but there were a bunch of people in the dairy section, so of course he got stopped to direct traffic along the way. Beans in aisle fifteen. Condensed milk is over in aisle twelve. The shoe department is over that way, at the back of the store. Tires that way. Yeah, the sale is still happening. Give ‘em the coupon before they ring you up. Otherwise it takes forever to re-ring it. You’re welcome. Of course. You have a good day too. Fuck all of you and learn how to read.

At the back of grocery, he hooked a right and plodded through the back of the shoe department. He made it through those six aisles without incident and finally reached the entrance to receiving. He pushed through the thin, swinging door, breathing a sigh of relief as he left behind the harsh fluorescent lights and customer chatter of the sales floor. He didn’t have the energy to be here today. He didn’t have the energy for anything today. Every action felt so pointless. It was all a long slow drag towards nothing…

“Adam, hang on a sec!”

He paused, mood plummeting ever further. The voice of the HR lady was followed by the patter of her heels over the concrete. He turned around, shoving his hands into the pockets of his black Dickies work pants. He drug the toe of his boot over the scuffed ground.

Cheryl hurried towards him, her brightly-dyed red hair bobbing at her shoulders. Why could women pull off being ginger? They even did it voluntarily. No dude would ever dye his hair red on purpose.

Behind Cheryl, a girl Adam didn’t recognize trailed behind. She had jet black hair and bangs. She had a real cute nerdy girl sort of thing going on. Large plastic glasses covered most of her face. Adam couldn’t see her eyes, because she kept them on the ground. She wore a baggy black hoodie with skeleton ribs on either side of the front zipper. As Cheryl bounded over to Adam with one of her hallmark cheesy fake grins, the new girl shuffled behind, not looking at anyone and tugging at the ends of her sweatshirt sleeves. Adam smiled softly. She was a nervous thing. He felt for her. He could be nervous a lot of the time too. Except she was so pretty. There was never any reason for pretty girls to be nervous.

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“Adam, this is Becca,” Cheryl said with a flourish. “She’s a new hire about to start in your department. Can you bring her out to the deli and introduce her to everyone?”

Adam almost said no. He almost said that it was time for his break and he really needed one. Cheryl was such a phony bitch. Always riding him and pushing him around. She knew he was about to start his break. Why the fuck else would he be coming back here? She thought she could walk all over him. People always thought they could do and say whatever to Adam. He was quiet and didn’t make a fuss. If a dude wasn’t being a loud dick-bag half his life, everyone assumed he was a pussy.

Then again, maybe he really was one…

Becca glanced up at him then. Light brown eyes filled with hesitation, trepidation. The corners of her eyes crinkled and she gave a quick smile, before her cheeks flared pink and she was staring down at the ground again. Fuck, she was cute. How did someone that shy even get hired? The deli’s Karen customers were really gonna tear her apart.

Well…he could always stick up for her. He’d help her out. Teach her the ropes.

He smiled and waved, praying his hair didn’t look too nasty from hours spent sweating under a hairnet.

“What’s up, Becca? I’m Adam. I can show where the deli’s at if you wanna come with me.”

She glanced up at him shyly and smiled.

His heart exploded with a tidal wave of emotions.

He actually felt alive again.

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