Joe got into his beat up Buick. It was white but turning a burnt orange color. It was old. It got him from one place to another, but it was dying. He only drove it between work and home; a few other local places too. Booze runs. Getting baked in the car. Nothing serious. He worked in the Macy’s in the mall closest to his house, which was only a few minutes away. He wanted to be part of the older crowd, but spent his time with people his own age mostly. He was friendly with the older guys at work, as well as some of the older ladies.
Joe was thinking about her as he pushed open the car door. It creaked like it was going to fall off, but he didn’t notice. He slammed it shut and didn’t bother to lock it. No one would steal it, and even if they did they would be doing him a favor. There was nothing of value inside. But Joes was thinking about these things as he approached the entrance.
The double doors showed his reflection as he got closer. He was the height of the average woman, perhaps an inch or two shorter. His fluffed hair was dirty blond with curled bangs that dangled to his eyebrows. He was eighteen but could pass as fifteen or sixteen, as most people mistook him to be.
“What’s happenin’ bro?” Ronnie came out from the shelves of woman’s athletic attire and stepped in time with Joe.
“Not much man.” Joe was quiet. He was looking for her. If he had looked at the schedule right she would be there. They were working the same hours this evening. Four to ten. As they rounded the corner, ahead of them off in the distance the mall opened up to all the other stores and shops. And she was leaving. All he saw was her ass walking away as his heart melted into his lungs.
“Well there she goes.” Ronnie added. The depression began to make itself comfortable in Joe’s mind.
“I thought she was working tonight.”
“She was. I took her shift.” Joe punched Ronnie’s shoulder.
“What the hell do you mean you took her shift? I’ve been waiting for this day for two goddamn weeks and you just decided to take her shift?”
Ronnie’s eyes were wide as he rubbed his shoulder and stared back. “You bastard, she asked me to. Can’t say no to that. You wouldn’t even know what to say if she came up to you and actually talked to you.”
“I’ve talked to her before.”
“She asked you to pass her a box of socks as you were leaving one day. Passing a box without moving your lips doesn’t count.” They entered the employee room to punch in. “You do realize she’s twenty-three, soon to be twenty-four, don’t you?”
“It’s never gonna happen, bro. She’s going to be finishing up school and you’ve just started.”
“When we’re older it won’t matter.”
“Yeah, when you’re both old and gray, sitting in rockers on your front porch watching your grandchildren play in the sandbox.”
“That’s the dream…”
“That’s NEVER gonna happen.”
“What are you, jealous or something?”
“Jealous? I’m just a realist.”
“Do you even know what a realist is?”
“I know enough to be able to tell you that you should move on with your life.”
“Get outta here man. I don’t need your negativity.”
“I’m just trying to do you a favor bro. Just trying to help you out.”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Joe started to walk away, but turned back. “You can help by not stealing her shifts when I’m scheduled to work with her.”
He may as well have skipped his classes the next day. They didn’t matter much. They were just his general education courses. They didn’t relate to the things he wanted to do with his life. It was all about science. Chemistry. That was everything. An afternoon was not better spent than he with his numbers and elements. But Joe especially despised English and essay writing. It’s not that he was bad at it, he just deemed it a waste of time because someone else would be doing that for him some day. Writing about past events in his life wasn’t all that exciting anyway. Really nothing worth remembering.
“Your next paper is due a week from Tuesday.” Her dress fluttered as she rose from her desk. “Your topic can be generally up to you but you have some guidelines you need to follow. You need to write about an event, a somewhat recent event, in your life that was meaningful to you.” She handed out the assignment sheet to the person in the front of each row, and everyone passed the sheets back until a copy eventually landed itself on Joe’s desk. “It could be something that doesn’t mean a thing to anyone else. It just has to be important to you.”
These papers were starting to become a serious waste of time. He thought he was clever and had a way with words when he spoke, but writing it all down was just a pain in the ass. He wasn’t excited for this essay because all he could think about was her and nothing exciting had happened with that yet.
Joe was home from school by 3:30 as usual. He walked over to the fridge and saw it was rather empty, as usual. He reached in and pulled out a can of Coke and climbed the stairs to his room. The door slammed shut and shook the upstairs as his computer turned on. Once it was booted he opened Word.
He could write about high school graduation. That was momentous. It was more of a “thank God” than anything though. Nothing exciting happened, it just took forever. Or maybe he could write about getting his license. That brought great freedom. Smoking in the car with his buds was always great. Some awesome times had happened. Like that time he and Jay were out at three in the morning higher than the moon in the middle of the woods. Then Greg showed up and tried to rob them of all the pot they were smoking. What a shit show. Probably not school appropriate. And the teacher might get all biased knowing something like that.
He found himself staring out the window. Two sparrows were chasing each other around the tree branches. “Gross. Don’t tell me that’s supposed to be my inspiration.” But it was. He started thinking about her all over again, and thinking about what Ronnie said. It was making him angry. Ronnie didn’t know what he was talking about. So he began to write about Caity.
“She showed me how to punch in my first day of work. Her hands looked soft and delicate, like a flower on a beautiful spring day.”
“Her pants were tighter than anything I’ve ever seen, hugging each and every curve like Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Daytona 500.”
Well that’s inappropriate. And probably not true. Backspaced…
“She asked me to hand her a box of socks. My tongue was tied but I did as I was told. Her voice was kind and her appearance was beautiful. I tried to come up with an excuse to talk to her every time we worked together, but I didn’t always succeed. But I always saw her, hoping she might ask me to hand her another box of socks.”
Well it’s a little corny. But I think it’s got potential.
He spent the next two hours writing. Planning, or perhaps scheming, might be a more accurate word choice. He wrote and rewrote, spiced up sentences, sprinkled in some romance, looked up words and everything. This was going to be more than just a paper for class. It had turned into a process essay on how he was going to score a date with Caity. He talked about how funny he was going to be, included the jokes he would say; the way she would laugh and bat her eyes at him, and slowly say how she would love to go out with him.
It topped off at three pages. The printer rumbled and shook the shelf it was on. Joe snagged it off the printer catch and stapled it. “I didn’t think perfection could exist, but I’m pretty sure I’m holding it in my hands right now.”
The week blurred by. He turned the paper in early so he could receive feedback as soon as possible. He got it back on Friday, with nothing but positive things written all over. On the last page his professor had given him an A: “Very well written! This is a cute story and it is clear how important this event is to you. There were a few grammatical errors, but otherwise fantastic work.”
That proved it. It was just about flawless. If his teacher thought it was great, or ‘fantastic’ as she so nicely put, then it was bound to work. BOUND to work. Now all he needed was Wednesday to arrive and his plan would be deployed.
Joe spent the weekend as he normally did. He went out Friday night with the guys and worked on Saturday from twelve to six at night. He met his buds at a fire that night and spent Sunday playing videogames.
Finally he sat in the parking lot outside his job, knowing that Caity’s shift had started forty-five minutes ago. He had worn an extra nice shirt today, one that he felt made him look taller. He had received the text from Ronnie confirming that Caity was in fact working and that no shift swapping had occurred. The text had read: “The prize is hanging lingerie. And looking good. Keeps dropping hangers.” Joe wished he had Ronnie’s vantage point.
He popped a cinnamon altoid onto his tongue. The Buick door creaked open, which disturbed the epic music in his head a bit, but didn’t stop the few slow motion steps that followed. He tripped over his untied shoe lace a few feet from the door. He didn’t fall, but his all-important game plan slipped from his back pocket. He picked it up and looked at the first few paragraphs. Tripping over his shoelace had not been included.
Things were already not going according to plan. It was supposed to be flawless. But then again he should have had his shoes tied before he left the house. If anything it makes the story a little funnier. Not a big deal. Just keep going.
Everything was just as he suspected it to be when he saw himself walking into work on this day. The women’s athletic attire was on his right, women’s pajamas to his left. First thing’s first; he must not get ahead of himself. He needed to go to the employee room to punch in. Caity was still hanging hangers, (and dropping them) according to Ronnie. Damn him. No matter. He would be there in just a minute.
After Joe punched in he sat down at the worn down table where workers often sat on their lunch break. He wiped some crumbs to the floor and took out his pencil and his guide. He hoped that reading through it a bit would help calm his nerves.
Suddenly shift manager Mike barged in and interrupted everything. “Sup little man. Working on homework?”
Joe hovered over his paper like a gremlin guarding something he deems precious. “Yeah.”
“Well I hate to be the bad guy but I need you to put that aside at least for now. I need you to go help Caity in lingerie. A shit load of new stuff came in and it all needs to go up.”
What? This was not part of the plan. But it would work. It was actually much better than his own idea. Now he didn’t have to use his excuse to make conversation by sneaking up behind her and pretending he needed her help in the bedding department. He was handed the perfect excuse to go talk to her: she needed his help. He would play the hero.
“Stop staring at that paper, Joe. Are you even listening to me? Another delivery just came in and there are several boxes out back that need to be brought around and everything, I mean, everything, needs to go up. The section is pretty naked.”
Oh God. He threw his paper away, beginning to question why he had brought it. It wasn’t going to be of any use once he was with her. He knew he was better when he just spoke on the spot, and that was obviously how things were going to go today.
Joe paraded out of the employee room and towards lingerie. He stopped in the dress section and peered out as he pushed puffy, flowing dresses aside. Her brown hair fell a few inches below her shoulders and flared towards the bottom. It tumbled and floated through the air each and every time she reached for another article of clothing. Standing and straightening up she flipped her hair from her face. Caity saw him hiding out of the corner of her eye.
“Hey Joey,” she said.
“Hey.” He hated being called Joey but it sounded so right rolling from that tongue. He was staring. His phone buzzed in his pocket. Without thinking he pulled it out and he saw a message from Ronnie. “Awkward dude, say something.”
“Is… everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah, it’ just Mike said there was a ton of stuff that needed to go up and told me to give you a hand. So here I am, ready to give all the hands you need.”
She let out a breath of air; a quiet laugh to herself. But he wasn’t trying to be funny yet. That was for later, to break the silences that would arise. He had all sorts of clothing jokes prepped for launch. Like the one where you ask what has several pairs of legs but can’t walk? A few pairs of pants. Classic. You can’t not laugh at a classic joke like that.
“Huh? Got what…”
“How everything is supposed to be hung up. The weird panties go on that table over there. The plus size cups are going on those racks over there and I’ll take care of the kinky stuff because it’s difficult to manage. Just figured I’d save you the trouble, with all the hooks and clips and other nonsense things that men have trouble with.”
Oh God. She’s talking about me having trouble taking off bras. If given the chance I’m so sure I could do it…
“Do you need me to reach something for you?” she suddenly asked. Joe’s hands were reaching around her, by her right shoulder when her voice interrupted him.
“Oh! No I thought I saw a spider web hanging from the ceiling there. You know when you see that one strand when it catches the light? Just didn’t want it getting in your hair or anything. I don’t know if you’re afraid of spiders or something.”
“Nope. Not particularly. I don’t really see anything either… but anyway, here.” She handed him a box of underwear. “Why don’t you go fold these and make them look nice on that table over there. Bigger sizes towards the back, extra smalls to the front. Try not to get too excited.” And then her back was to him and there was silence. He opened his mouth for a joke, but bit his tongue and sighed.
The boys picked up the bright panties and aggressively tossed them on the table, several pairs falling to the floor. Ronnie stood staring with the same dreamy gaze that was sitting on Joe’s face. The pairs they had already folded were messy and lopsided. Then Ronnie’s hand bumped Joe’s.
“Dude what are you even still doing here. You’re shift ended like an hour ago.”
“Yeah I know. Just wanted to see what happened.”
“Well kill it bro, get outta here. I need to do my thing solo.”
“Fine.” Ronnie threw a pair of neon green granny panties at Joe’s head, where they got stuck around his left ear. He ripped them off and watched Ronnie exit the store, and turned to look back at Caity. Her lips were moving and her finger pointed his direction. Mike was standing next to her and he looked for a second before turning back to Caity. Feeling like he had done something wrong by wearing the panties as a hat, he quickly looked back down at the table and began to reorganize it properly.
Did she see the underwear on his head? Did Mike? Was Caity being a tattle tale? What was the finger pointing about? Why would she want to get him in trouble? His hands were shaking like an old man with Parkinson’s. It was uncontrollable, unintentional, and uncomfortable.
They were speaking quietly when Joe first noticed Mike near Caity. He looked up to see that the two of them were gone. He lifted his head and looked frantically around, searching for wherever they might be hiding. They could be anywhere. Joe shifted his eyes around, trying to be casual. The concern was clear on his face.
“You’re not folding those right. Let me help you.” And just like that his world went into chaos. She came up behind him, talking quietly into his right ear. Her hands covered his and together they were touching women’s underwear, folding them gently and softly. His body burned up like coals, powering his actions without thought. He just went. Nothing was making sense anymore, and perhaps it didn’t matter now, because here she was, pure beauty standing mere centimeters away from him.
Her smell was subtle, hidden so that you could only catch it with the slightest breeze, the smallest movement. But now it sat on his shoulder, whispering into his ear, telling him what he wanted to hear. Her hand landed lightly on top of his, almost as if it were planned. Was she blushing? She’s smiling. It’s working. That essay was so useless. Well maybe not completely. Having a plan in mind certainly helped. But most of this was done on the spot, just the way I like it.
He smiled at her, looking up into her eyes. She blinked and looked away, laughing like he had just been punched in the balls by a five year old. Joe laughed a little harder too, because it was cute when she laughed real hard and scrunched her nose up like that. He looked away, still smiling, when he saw Mike reading his essay. It was no longer crumbled up in the trash in the employee room where he had left it. It was in Mike’s hand, and he was reading it to Steve.
Oh dear God.
Caity’s a bitch.
Without a word he walked away, heading straight for the employee room. He would never be able to live this one down. He put his two weeks up on the bulletin board and left. The rearview mirror in the Buick reflected a flushed face and frustrated eyebrows. Joe put it in drive and sped off.
Caity’s a bitch.