A Christmas Void, Chapter 6- The Plot Thickens

Merry Christmas!” I had to blink a couple of times to really register it. The last twenty-four hours had been hectic between the half hour I spent with my family on Thanksgiving, working the HUGE rush at the pre-Black Friday sale, the three hours of sleep I got, and coming in the next morning for another shift. Customers had been telling me “Merry Christmas” since Halloween, but it just then occurred to me that now the holiday season had arrived and it was actually appropriate to use that expression! I think I replied to the nice old man who said that to me, but I never really felt sure. I felt so tired that I basically ran on auto pilot again. The one silver lining to Millstone’s twenty-four hour sale had been that most of the crowd showed up last night, and the wee hours of the morning slowed way down. I think the customer looked disappointed about my lack of enthusiasm for the holidays. He just didn’t understand- Millstone’s took away my Thanksgiving, so how could I get excited about Christmas?

My inner monologue got interrupted when Brennan startled me by sneaking up on me and stating, “Tiffany! You’re training today!” I must have made a face because he followed with, “What? We’re a little short staffed. You don’t wanna be a team player?”

“I’ve training people before,” I refuted without sounding too argumentative. “I was just surprised that someone’s day one is on a holiday!”

Brennan’s face twisted as if he agreed but didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of getting on my level. “He’ll be here soon, so make sure you’re setting a good example.”

“Of course?” I didn’t mean to make that sound like a question, but if they didn’t trust me to do the right thing, why would they have me train someone? He opened his mouth like he meant to say something back, but he changed his mind and slunked away. I sighed and beckoned for the next customer.

A man carrying a heavy box came up to me and inquired, “You do exchanges here, right?”

“Yes, but only even exchanges,” I informed him.

“Oh good!” He dumped the box onto my counter, and it landed with a thud. “I bought this vacuum a week ago and it doesn’t work. I’d like to exchange it for a better working one.”

“Alright, sir, I’ll be happy to…” After inspecting the product, I noticed that the box couldn’t close. I peeked inside the box and found out that there wasn’t a vacuum in there, it was a cinder block! “Sir, I can’t take this. If you want to do an exchange, we need the actual product.”

“I threw it away because it was broken!” he protested. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No, not at all! It’s just… exchange literally means you get the product you want and we take back the product you don’t want. We can’t do that in this instance because we don’t sell cinder blocks here.” I can’t believe that sentence ever needed to get uttered in this store!

The man huffed, “I know what exchanges are! Now you’re calling me stupid?”

“No, no, no! But we need the actual product to do the exchange. Otherwise anyone could dig up an empty box out of the trash and make this claim. We’d constantly lose money if we took in products that we can’t sell!” I thought I really made my point to him, but…

“So, now you’re accusing me of being a thief!” The man, now hysterical, drew everyone’s attention.

Cecil came running over and piped in with, “How can I help you, sir?”

The man exclaimed, “This woman is accusing me of being a stupid, lying thief!”

“Sorry about that, sir. If you’ll follow me to the customer service desk, I’ll issue you a refund.” Cecil offered. The man took his cinder block, shot me a dirty look and headed towards the customer service desk. Cecil leaned in and told me, “You can’t make close minded people see logic. Next time a customer gets like this, don’t risk your safety, just call a supervisor!” He smiled gently and left.

“But it’s a cinder block!” Cecil had already left, but my sleep deprived brain couldn’t hold that thought in. I thought I had talked to myself, but I got startled by Korah suddenly appearing behind me. She barked, “What happened? You really held up the line!”

I couldn’t believe that she was about to hold up the line by lecturing me about holding up the line, but, as always, I bit my tongue. I didn’t want to give an explanation, but she glared at me expectantly, so I told her, “I had a belligerent customer and had to call Cecil over to take care of the situation. I had no intention of holding up the line.”

For a moment, I thought I had won because she couldn’t seem to come up with a reason to yell at me for that story. Instead, she probed, “How many Pine Passes did you sell?”

“Uh, none,” I confessed. I hadn’t put in the effort that day because people lined up practically out the door and, despite being accused otherwise, I didn’t want to hold up the line longer than I had to. Plus, my extreme tiredness could hardly muster up the energy to talk to the customers let alone sell them Pine Passes!

Korah lectured, “You know, Mara looks at your Pine Pass quotas when she gives out hours. If you don’t start selling more Pine Passes, you will get less hours!”

As she walked away, I muttered, “Is that supposed to be a punishment?”

Warm laughter sounded out behind me. “Should I complete my first day or run for the hills?”

The man’s voice intrigued me. It had a strong timbre, yet a sense of kindness and optimism flowed out like honey. I had forgotten that I was supposed to train today, and I put on a brave face to talk to him. He sounded like a nice guy, so I didn’t want to pass my stress onto him. I turned around, and my heart stopped! How do I describe the most handsome man I’ve ever seen in my life? His olive-toned skin glided as smooth as silk. His toffee colored hair cascaded down his head like sand on a private beach. His blue eyes sparkled like moonlight dancing on a lake. He was so beautiful that I broke into poetry, for crying out loud! And that body! He wore appropriate clothing for the job, but he wore it well! And I could tell underneath it all, he had that perfect mix of clearly having strong muscles but did not overly obsessed with going to the gym. For a moment, I felt so tempted to fall into his arms and run my fingers through his hair…

At that moment, I I realized had been gawking for too long. Suddenly, I felt so self-conscious. He he was looking so gorgeous and I looked and felt like I had survived a zombie apocalypse! Every girl gets insecure when they’re around someone they’re attracted to, but that day, I had valid reasons to feel concerned about my visage! I know my eyes were red and had pronounced bags under them. My skin must have gotten a little sallow since I hadn’t slept properly in days. I wished my clothes were more flattering! I was half asleep when I threw this outfit together, and while I felt pleased that they actually matched (for a second I worried it didn’t), I regretted not wearing something that really showed off my curves a little more. Of course, out of all the times for a total hunk to show up, it had to be this day!

Up until now, my story followed the plot line of ninety percent of your typical cheesy Christmas movies: a young woman, somewhere between twenty to forty years old, is sad around the holidays when a sexy stranger shows up. I always found it obvious who the love interest ends up being because he’s way more handsome than any of the other actors on set! What happens next in these movies, the man’s presence teaches her the magic of the season, and then they fall in love, which somehow solves all of her other issues, and live happily ever after. Yes, I had fallen into a funk around Christmastime, and he was far better looking than anyone around (though it didn’t seem like a fair competition at Millstone’s), but unlike these cliché holiday classics, it didn’t seem so obvious that we would end up together. For one, he may not have had a lot of competition, but I sure did! A lot of cute ladies worked here, and gossip of a hot trainee sure traveled fast because women had already gathered to ogle him. Somehow, their weariness from the job wasn’t as evident as mine. A lot of attractive women shopped here too, and some of the girls waiting in line seemed to fight for positions that would put them at this register. I felt like I couldn’t hold a candle against all these ladies in my current state, but despite my self esteem issues of the moment, there was a much more complicated reason why we may not have gotten to that happily ever after point that I’ll reveal later on…

I apologized to him for my awkwardness, “Sorry, I’m tired. My name is Tiffany.”

“Isaac!” He extended his hand, and I shook it very willingly! His grip was strong, but his skin felt very soft, very appealing!

I took a deep breath and kept it very professional. “Okay, I’m going to be honest with you… Speaking from experience, you won’t get this all in one day. They’re gonna expect you to, but trust me, don’t put pressure on yourself to go beyond baby steps to learn it. First step to your training today, listen to what I say to the customers. Trust me, they’re big on that.”

Isaac chuckled, “Alright, let’s do this!”

I’m glad I had already turned away from him when he said that because the double entendre made me blush! “Next in line!” Much to the dismay of the anticipating women in line, a sweet old lady was next. I greeted her with, “Hi there! Did you find everything okay?”

“I always do!” She turned to Isaac and asked, “Are you in training?”

“No, just creepy!” he joked. He quickly followed with, “I’m totally kidding! Today is my first day!”

“Well, welcome, young man!” she kindly remarked. As I rang her up, she asked him, “What made you work for Millstone’s?”

He hesitated slightly, but then he answered, “It’s kind of complicated. Basically, I’m an English teacher, and I need a break from the house! I’m spending all my time, not to mention my money, on my wedding…”

I dropped the figuring she was purchasing when I heard that. Luckily, it didn’t break or get damaged. “Sorry, I’m tired!” That wasn’t a total lie; I’ve mentioned several times that I didn’t get enough sleep, but I didn’t drop her figurine because of that reason. The old lady totally understood, and she ranted about how unfair it was to make people work on Thanksgiving. I rang up the rest of the items subconsciously. He was engaged? So, I thought our love story was over before it began. I didn’t have a lot of hope of winning his heart in this state in the first place, but I had gotten so struck by him that I liked to keep the fantasy alive. I silently laughed at all the hopeful girls trying to catch his eye, they would never get his attention no matter how hard they tried! But if they didn’t have a chance, then neither did I. Although I felt bummed about losing this shot, I thought logically that I had gotten out of this situation before my feelings got me in too deep… Or so I thought! No, dear reader, once again, the story doesn’t end here. What a pointless tale that would have been! No, the complications were only just beginning…