“The deli’s this way. It’s a cool place to work. Everybody is really chill. You workin’ opening, close, or mid?”
Becca kept her eyes on the ground, shuffling through the store beside him. She’d brought her wrist up to her mouth and had started chewing on the end of her sweatshirt sleeve. “Dunno,” she squeaked. “I’ll work whatever they tell me.”
Adam rubbed the back of his neck, as they left the shoe department and veered into grocery. He clenched his teeth, heart hammering. He had to make a good impression on this girl. She was pretty, but awkward as hell. Her lack of social skills might give him an actual chance. If he could just get a girl to look twice at him, maybe he’d actually feel like a human. He didn’t feel like anything or anyone most of the time.
“You got open availability, huh?” Adam pressed on. “That’s cool. You in school or anything?”
She shook her head quickly, causing her straight black hair to swish around her face. “No. I’m not starting college until the winter semester. I have free time until then.”
“Cool, cool,” Adam replied. He darted through a congested gaggle of shopping carts in the center of the dairy aisle. He paused and looked back over his shoulder. Becca tugged at a strand of hair and moved between the shoppers. Every movement was jerky, filled with hesitation.
The corner of Adam’s mouth twitched. She was so cute and shy. All he wanted to do was wrap her up and protect her. He had to get to know her better. He just had to figure out a way to get her out of her shell…
They reached the end of the aisle and Adam pointed through produce to the deli counter.“That’s our department. Rick and Emily are on shift now. You’ll like ‘em.”
Emily nodded and shoved her hands into her pockets. Adam frowned, looking over her attire and realizing she couldn’t step behind the counter dressed in jeans and a hoodie. Steve, the grocery manager, was making the rounds today and he was such a dickhead for dress code. He remembered the day Emily had come in wearing dark brown pants instead of black pants. He’d sent her home and left Adam to close by himself. That night had sucked. He’d had to argue with Steve to give him clearance to pull Chuck from seafood, so he could get coverage for his lunch break. Not that Adam would have minded skipping his break. It was just that the “can’t go over five hours” policy would have gotten him written up. Steve hadn’t let him pull Chuck until he’d brought that up, snapping, “Steve, if you don’t let me pull somebody for coverage, how am I supposed to keep from going over five hours? I’m the one who is getting written up if I don’t take a break, but you are actually preventing me from taking a break. What do you want me to do here? ‘Cuz when Cheryl pulls me in the office tomorrow, I don’t know what to say except for ‘Steve wouldn’t let me pull coverage.’” Out of all the power-tripping, ex-jock, peaked in high school, mid-level Wal-Mart managers, Steve was the worst, and he wasn’t gonna let this new girl come behind the counter in skinny jeans and a hoodie.
“Hey, you supposed to work at all tonight?” Adam asked. “You aren’t in dress code.”
Becca shook her head without looking at him. “No. I’m out in ten minutes. Cheryl just said I should see where the deli is. I still have to do all my training tomorrow.”
“Ah, that’s right,” Adam murmured, leading the way through the tables of fruit over to the deli counter. “They make all you new hires do like fifty hours of shitty videos in the back.”
She nodded, scurrying along a few paces behind him. “Yeah, you didn’t have to do that?”
“Nah, it was like…I don’t know…probably ten hours worth of videos back when I started. I’ve been here a few years. They added a bunch more training videos about unions and theft. Oh, and that active shooter training. They did make us all watch that one when it rolled out. You’re about to see some award-winning acting, get ready.”
She shot him a shy smile. “That bad, huh?”
He hazarded a quick grin. “It’s not great. And they don’t even tell ya anything useful. Someone comes in with a gun, fucking run. Gee, thanks Wal-Mart. None of us retarded wage-slaves would have figured that out for ourselves.”
She barked out a high-pitched laugh. It was short, exploding out of her, before she clapped a hand over her mouth and bent her neck further, hiding her reddening face with her hair.
He smiled softly. He didn’t get why such a pretty girl would be so shy and anxious. She had nothing to be anxious about. “Come on,” he said. “Let me introduce you to these guys.”
They paused in front of the counter. There were only three customers waiting. Both were standing at the far end of the counter, in front of the prepared hot foods. Rick was waiting on them, cracking corny jokes and laying on all that old man charm as usual. It was incredible that he could get away with that winking, sly shit, without coming across as some kind of dirty old man. If Adam tried to pull any of that, he was pretty sure he’d end up talking to Cheryl, getting lectured on sexual harassment and all that. Juan had landed himself in hot water with Cheryl just for making a joke about one of their trashy customers. They got so many white trash, nasty looking meth-head women in this store, and they all dressed like they thought they were as hot shit. One came in wearing tight-fitting white yoga pants, totally see-through when stretched across her fat jiggling fat rolls. Juan had laughed about it in the smoking room, saying, “Bitch, get outta here with all that. Ain’t nobody want to see your labia. Maybe if you lost about a hundred pounds, I’d want to take a look.” And one of the girls from the front end had turned him he. Made her “uncomfortable,” that was how she put it.
Adam drummed his fingertips on the counter and watched as Rick winked at the middle-aged soccer mom and asked her if she and her “sister” wanted anything else.
“Oh, you knock it off!” she howled, giggling as the surly teenager beside her glowered and tapped away at her phone screen. With a smirk, she reached over and took the box of popcorn chicken from his hands, allowing her fingertips to brush over the back of his hands ever so slightly.
Rick’s mouth twitched. “You folks have a real nice day. Come back in and say hello sometime.”
“I’m sure we will,” the woman tittered, and off she strolled with a far too pleased-with-herself expression on her aging face.
Rick turned to the next customer, an old white guy with a beer belly jutting out from beneath a stained, ill-fitting, white t-shirt. The old tomcat’s demeanor changed immediately. His smile switched from lecherous to one that was only friendly.
“What can I do you for, friend?”
And the fat guy rattled off his order, a large one with more calories than any human should be digesting one sitting. If Adam could be thankful for anything, it’s that he wasn’t fat. He might be below average in looks, but at least he wasn’t a fat slob. There might still be some hope for him after all. He wasn’t a buff Adonis-looking guy, but his body wasn’t a disgusting mess either.
His gaze shifted to the shy, pretty girl beside him. She looked around, craning her neck to scan from the big vats of fryer oil bubbling away cooking up fried food to the glass-encased spinning rotisserie chickens, to the long table of slicers, one roast beef, one cheese, and two for all remaining meats.
The plastic door that led into the kitchen swung open and Emily came bustling through, her arms clasped tightly around four honey hams pressed into her torso. She shimmied past Rick and around the wrapping station in front of the fryers. She dumped the hams down on the slicing counter and then glanced up, catching Adam’s eye.
He waved and gestured to Becca. “This is our newest coworker. Cheryl asked me to introduce her to you guys.”
Emily smiled warmly and approached the counter. “Hi, I’m Emily. How’s it going?”
Becca gave a jerky wave. Her head snapped up for barely a second, before she looked back at the ground. “Hey,” she squeaked. “Becca.”
Emily raised her eyebrows and gave Adam a look. “Well,” she continued. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m a closer. So is Adam. Rick over there is the shift leader, but he only works mids. There’s no opening or closing shift leader.”
Rick had finished up with his customer and noticed the three of them talking.
Emily smirked and raised her voice as Rick approached. “That’s why you need to get on closing with us. No boss men hanging out here after six!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Rick chuckled, coming to stand beside Emily and placing his elbows atop the glass case. “We all know you and Mr. Goffney here like to raise the roof once the sun goes down. Adam, what kind of trouble y’all get up to in here?”
“Loads of trouble,” Adam joked. “Sometimes we take the slicers apart five minutes to close.”
“That’s a write-up, young man,” Rick chuckled, waving a finger in his direction.
Adam grinned and looked over at Becca. She was smiling and her shoulders had relaxed a bit. Her eyes darted back and forth between Rick, Adam, and Emily.
“Nice to meet you,” Rick said. “What was your name?”
“Welcome aboard, Becca. When you starting out here with us?”
“I dunno. I have computer training tomorrow.”
“Ah, Cheryl’ll keep you busy with corporate red tape for the next eight years, I’m sure.”
Becca giggled and pushed a strand of hair out her eyes.“Okay,” she murmured. “I’m supposed to go clock out now. Thanks for meeting-I mean, it was nice meeting..” Her face reddened, as she tripped over her words.
“It was nice meeting you too,” Adam interjected.
She shot a quick, grateful smile.
“You want me to walk you back to the break-room?”
She shook her head. “No, I remember where it is.”
He rubbed the back of his neck and shifted from one foot to the other. “Great, well, have a good night…”
She gave an awkward, jerky nod of her head and then twisted away.
Emily called out after her, “See you around, Becca!”
Becca waved over her shoulder, then jammed her hands into her pockets and scurried off.
Adam watched her retreat back through grocery, slipping around the displays of bananas, kiwis, and peaches. Her hunched shoulders and dark hair disappeared down the dairy aisle.
“She’s a nervous little stray cat, isn’t she?” Emily laughed.
Adam nodded. “She might have trouble with the customers.”
“We can put her on prep if she works open or mid,” Rick suggested. “But she’ll come out of her shell if she works here long enough. Remember what you were like when you first started?” Rick fixed him with a knowing look.
Adam chuckled. “I know. I was a shy dude back then.”
“Eh, you’re still kind of shy,” Emily teased.
Shaking his head, Adam replied, “No, you didn’t know me when I first started. I used to panic when talking to the customers. I used to go to Rick for help with everything.”
Rick waved a hand absently. “You were fine. You opened up and started to talking to other people after…ah, I don’t know…about a year of working here?”
Adam laughed. “Shut up, old man. It wasn’t that long.”
“It was awhile.”
Adam started at the sound of a sharp, female voice behind him. He twisted to his left to see a stout woman with a baby on her hip looking back at him with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. He fought back a flash of irritation. She was acting like she’d been standing waiting for ages, but he knew that couldn’t be the case. Rick and Emily were facing in her direction and would have said something. She must have just marched up, but because he was smiling and chatting she had to get all pissy. It was like customers hated being reminded that employees were actual human beings who might stop to have a conversation from time to time…
“Where do you keep the pool chemicals?”
Adam pointed towards the front end. “If you go down that way, past all the cash registers, it’s aisle thirty-four, about halfway down-”
The woman heaved a great sigh and tapped her foot. Her heel clacked against the linoleum. Irritation marked her plump features. “Can you show me?” she snapped. “I don’t have all day to run around this store.”
“Sure,” Adam intoned with forced politeness. “Come with me.”
He turned away from the deli, not before catching Emily’s eye roll and look of commiseration. They’d probably drag this lady when Adam got back to the deli.
He walked the shopper through the store and over to aisle thirty-four. Of course, once they reached the aisle, that wasn’t the end of it. Then she wanted him to walk him over to the bay of pool chemicals and help her find the specific item she needed.
Ten minutes and a ridiculous number of inane questions later and Adam was finally heading back to the deli. Just in time too. It was about time for Rick to clock out. As he crossed in front of the main entrance, his eyes widened and a strange warbling feeling filled his chest. Becca was leaving. She walked right past him, without even noticing him. Why would she notice him? What about him was worth noticing?
She giggled, her eyes alight, and walking beside her: Josh. The six-foot-three jacked asshole from produce. Such a massive cocksucker. He was mean as hell, but girls liked him because tall. He was self-absorbed and probably sat around sniffing his own farts for fun, but chicks threw themselves at him because muscles. Josh was going on about how much he could dead-lift and she was eating it up. Becca put her hand on Josh’s arm.
Adam’s blood seared under her skin.
Sickening. Even the girls who acted so innocent and sweet, could be so sickening.