A Christmas Void, Chapter 3- Millstone’s

It didn’t take long to find work. As soon as I got internet set up in my new place, I applied for jobs everywhere in town. I only got a few interviews thought which went nowhere fast. If anyone else had offered me work, I would have taken it. I was so desperate to earn money again that I would have gone anywhere. I was running out of money, and even though I wanted a career type of job, I had bills to pay. I didn’t have a choice- I couldn’t hold out for a more glamorous job. There was one place that needed a lot of help for the holiday season, and in a small town like this, they didn’t have a lot of options in terms of who got to hire. In mutual desperation, I took a job offered to me by Millstone’s.

I never cared much for Millstone’s before, and, quite frankly, I never understood why other people were so obsessed with it. A department store with name brand merchandise doesn’t have much originality. All of their competition had similar boasts of low prices, but the prices of the merchandise all seemed the same to me. I think the only real difference with Millstone’s was their loyalty program. For every fifty dollars someone spent there, they got a ten dollar gift card (which they called Sawbucks) back to them. Also, every purchase earned them points, which they could trade in for more Sawbucks. I could see why people thought their rewards would earn them extra discounts, but I’ve always found that I saved more money by shopping somewhere else. As silly as their idea seemed to me and however little I shopped there, I was still willing to cater to their elite customers so I could finally earn a paycheck.

If I had thought more clearly, I would have turned away from them just based on my first encounter. I pushed past my instinctual warnings, thinking my nerves were just getting in the way, but I never should have given them a chance! I don’t think most people would have, but did I mention I was desperate? I walked up to a cashier, a decently good-looking guy who sort of resembled Peter Parker with Clark Kent’s glasses, and I waited for him to finish with his current customer. It didn’t occur to me then that their nearly silent exchange was sort of odd, I just concentrated on maintaining a perky demeanor in order create a positive first impression. When he finished with the customer, he listlessly inquired, “How can I help you?”

“I’m here for an interview!” I chirped.

As if I were wasting his time, he barked, “Go to customer service!” When I looked confused, he begrudgingly explained, “Just follow the aisle behind the cash registers and turn right. It’s all the way in the back.”

“Thank you,” I replied hesitantly. He ignored me and quietly attended to the next person in line. I found our interaction strange, but I figured that maybe he was the exception instead of the rule and followed his directions.

The line at the customer service desk was long, but I wasn’t there for a return. Still, I felt a bunch of stink eyes on me as I ignored the queue and went straight to the lady at the counter. She reminded me of a basketball that got overly inflated since she was very round and her clothes were so tight they almost looked like they were painted on. Her already narrow eyes looked even more narrow with her abnormally heavy use of eyeliner, and her pulled back hair fell out of its clip as her eyes furrowed on the computer screen. Since she didn’t have a customer in front of her, I politely got her attention, “Excuse me, I have an interview at eleven.”

“Then someone’ll get you at eleven!” she snapped.

Feeling a little hurt, I moved to the side and waited. I stood by the water fountain, which stood between the bathrooms. I got in people’s way a couple of times, but I chose that spot because it stood directly across from a door that read “Employees only” and I figured my interviewer would come out from there. Ten minutes went by, and that door didn’t budge. I watched the clock reach eleven, and I steeled myself up, ready to do this interview. After a few minutes of no activity, my anticipation began to wane. I decided to give them a little time since I was once the person who did all the interviews and often ran over time on my appointments. Once it turned to ten after eleven, my patience wore out. They didn’t seem very professional, and if they really wanted me, they would have came by then. If I had just walked away at that moment, our story would have ended there… The line at the customer service desk ebbed, and the lady working at the counter cheerily inquired, “May I help you dear?”

I stopped in my tracks because of the oddity of her change in attitude. Did she forget our previous interaction? I reported, “Well, I had an interview at eleven, so-.”

“I’m sorry!” she apologized. “It’s been so hectic since we’re so shorthanded. I normally do the interviewing and scheduling, but I’m stuck behind the desk today, so I’ll find someone to interview you.”

“Okay,” I agreed. I decided to feel sorry for them and their situation. I thought that if they were this bad off, maybe they were desperate and would hire me quickly, so perhaps it was worth giving them a second chance.

After a few minutes, a beautiful dark skinned girl came out of that door I had been watching. Her strong jawline gave her the air of authority, but he bright red capris and skin-tight black shirt seemed too casual for someone to be giving me interviews. To my surprise, she asked, “Tiffany?” I nodded. “Come on back!”

I followed her past two empty yet messy desks to a meeting room. An empty table with plastic chairs took up the majority of the space, but they squeezed a couple of computers at the back of the room. The side opposite of the computers had a whiteboard with sales codes written on it, and the lady immediately erased everything and pulled up a chair for me. “Have a seat,” she invited. I complied and waited expectantly. She sat down and breathed, “Okay!” She looked around the room in confusion. “Where’s everyone else?”

I had no idea they expected anyone else! Based on how they treated me, I didn’t think they expected even one person to actually show up! “I was out there for almost twenty minutes and I didn’t see anyone.”

With a frazzled expression, she noted, “We usually do group interviews. Why did they only schedule one person?”

I shrugged. “After I filled out my application, I got an email inviting me to pick a time and day to come in for an interview. I picked today at eleven, and I guess no one else did.”

“Hmm, weird.” She sighed, “Oh well! Okay, well, tell me about yourself.”

“Well,” I began, “ I grew up here in Dasher Lake, but for the last two and a half years, I managed a sales division of-.”

“You did sales?” she interrupted. “You must have been good at it to become manager.”

“I was!” I obviously wanted to highlight the glory days of that job and hoped that the turmoil at the end of it all wouldn’t come up. “I even won an award at a regional sales conference last year!”

“Wow!” Her eyes sparkled, signaling she saw an opportune possibility. “So, part of the job of a cashier is to sell our credit cards, which we call Pine Passes. A lot of cashiers left because they could enroll people for our rewards program, Pine Points, but they fell short on Pine Passes. I bet you’d be good at selling Pine Passes!”

I enjoyed the buying signs of Millstone’s hiring me that I ignored the red flag of a bunch of people left the company, so I boasted, “I can sell anything!”

“Great!” she chimed. “What’s your availability like?”

I replied, “Open to close.” A little piece of advice, if you’re applying to retail, always write down the actual store hours. I always thought open to close shielded me from any overnight shifts, but I didn’t count on the store hours changing for the holidays…

“Good!” She told me, “We need cashiers who have open availability.” I made a confused face, so she asked, “What?”

“Well,” I said cautiously, not wanting to blow my chances of getting hired, “I applied for full time shoe sales.”

“Really?” Now she looked confused. “We don’t even have sales people on the sales floor! I wonder why… Oh well, we’re hiring part time cashiers right now. Is that okay?”

“Yes,” I lied. I could afford my expenses on part time, but I preferred a full time job so I could save up more money for the future. Plus, the furniture in my living room needed to be replaced badly! Still, full time jobs were rare in Dasher Lake, so I didn’t think I had much of a choice.

“Awesome!” she responded, obviously not catching on to my lack of honesty. “I’m going to give you positive feedback to the hiring manager. You should hear from us in a few days!”

She extended her hand, and I shook it. As she led me out, I took note of how utterly short the interview went, which added to my theory about their desperation. As I walked through the store, I felt reasonably confident that they had a dire need for cashiers, and she planned on giving me a good review, so I felt pretty sure that I had just gotten the job. So, why didn’t I feel more excited? Maybe because this wasn’t my plan A; it wasn’t even my plan B or C, more like plan triple Z. I also wondered if it was a foreboding feeling of my time there, but I actually felt more depressed that I pretty much already had the job. I kept telling myself that I just had bad experiences in the past that gave me low expectations of the future. Despite that logic, I still debated whether or not I should turn down the job offer and keep trying for a more promising opportunity. Something told me that though this job would turn out to be emotionally devastating, it was something that I had to go through. I decided to go with my gut and would take the job if it got formally offered to me, but I wish I knew why and hated just how cryptic fate can be sometimes!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 7

The singer stood before her! As he came closer and closer, her heart beat faster and faster. When he was right next to her, excitement flooded her body so much that she could hardly move. Stacy could hardly move. She could hardly believe it when he opened his mouth to speak. She didn’t know what to expect, but a part of her hoped for a romantic line to sweep her off her feet. Instead, he stuttered, “I…uh…” Stacy felt confused, and it took her a moment to realize he felt nervous to talk to her! She fancied that her presence made him tongue-tied, but she figured that he was probably shy. She wanted to help him out by breaking the ice, but she definitely got too bewitched to speak!

Just when Stacy decided to force herself to say something, Janet popped up and wrapped her arm around him. “Did you find it, honey?”

“Yeah.” He pointed to the phone book.

A surge of disappointment ran through her. The singer hadn’t come to talk to her, he wanted the phone book! She tried to convey a chipper demeanor as she told them, “Oh, go ahead!”

“Oh, we can wait ’til you’re finished,” Janet responded politely.

“I’ll be a while with it,” Stacy pushed the phone book towards them. “I’m looking for places to apply to in Nashville.”

Janet and the singer sat across from her, and the singer nervously suggested, “You should check out their newspaper. It’d be probably be a little easier.”

“True!” Stacy acknowledged. “I’ll probably do that too, but sometimes companies don’t list their vacancies publicly. At least not right away.”

The singer appeared to grow more comfortable talking to her now as he inquired, “What kind of work are you looking for?”

“I don’t know,” she replied truthfully.

The singer grinned. “So, you’re gonna apply to all of the businesses listed in the book?”

“No!” Stacy laughed. “I’m just check out my options so I can narrow it down a bit.”

The singer chuckled, and Stacy couldn’t help but admire his smile. They didn’t expand the conversation further thought because Janet cleared her throat. The singer turned his attention back to her, and she pointed to the phone book. “What do you think? This hotel looks nice, but I bet this one’s cheaper.”

Stacy maintained a level of pleasantness, but inwardly, she couldn’t help but grow incredibly jealous at the idea of them in a hotel together. She very nicely conversed, “Romantic getaway?”

The singer answered, “Oh no! Janet has a convention on memorial day weekend.”

Stacy made a face at the mention of the convention, and when Janet and the singer gave her particular looks, Stacy explained, “I just remembered that my husband…ex husband… loved to go to conventions to get more clients for the business. It always meant a long weekend for me!” She couldn’t believe a memory of him came to her like that! She had put so much focus into finding work that Hadeon didn’t have a chance to haunt her until now. She supposed that it still didn’t feel real to be adapting to a whole new routine and way of life. She apologized, “Sorry! I’m going through a divorce, it’s still pretty fresh!”

“Sorry to hear that!” the singer sympathized. “It’s probably a hard thing to get used to.”

“We used to do everything together,” Stacy felt a little better since the singer seemed to understand what she was going through. “There’s a lot I need to get used to doing on my own!”

“Like your taxes!” Janet interjected. “You’ll file separately this year.” When Stacy looked taken aback by that comment, Janet blushed. “Sorry! I’m a CPA.”

“Oh, that makes sense!” Stacy responded jovially now that she understood why she had made that point. “We always filed separately.”

Janet raised an eyebrow at that. “Why is that?”

Stacy shrugged. “He was pretty protective of his finances. He claimed he didn’t want me to grow greedy from knowing how much the business made, but really, I think the business didn’t make as much as he claimed. He kept everything secret to maintain an image. Ugh, that damn image! Anways, it didn’t bother me that much, one less thing for me to do.”

Janet seemed suspicious about something, but she didn’t elaborate. “How about we write down the number to both hotels and see who might negotiate a better deal.”

“Sounds good!” the singer replied. He turned to Stacy as they left and told her, “Nice to meet you!”

“Likewise!” Stacy waved goodbye, and after they left, she became a little sullen. She wished she had gotten more time to speak to him, or better yet, she wished she could have gotten some time alone with him. She felt supremely curious about his thoughts on the note she gave him. Janet did seem really nice, but she felt thoroughly annoyed that she had her claws sunk in him deep enough where she couldn’t get a chance to get close to the singer. She really had hoped that someone had said his name at least once! She sighed and figured that maybe it was for the best since she needed to concentrate on job hunting. She remembered the memory of Hadeon that their conversation had sparked, and she renewed her vigor to search through the book.

On Monday, while Stacy addressed a few envelopes and stuffed her resumes in them, the phone rang. She answered it, “Hello, Alyson residence.”

The person on the other end talked in a very solemn, business-like tone, “Hello. This is Allen from Stereo Hut. I’m looking for Stacy Alyson.”

“Speaking.” Stacy knew they were calling to schedule an interview, and she felt as though she should be excited, but she just couldn’t bring herself to that level. A part of her felt guilty about not having a better attitude about this potential opportunity. She scheduled an interview for the next day, but she felt depressed about going.

She arrived at the store promptly the next day, and she tried to buoy herself up for the interview. She knew she didn’t want to do retail, but she wanted to get a divorce as fast as possible, and that motivated her to walk through those doors. Despite her ill feelings, she put on a smile as she informed the cashier she had arrived for an interview. A man came out with a dismal expression, which did not bode well for her. She tried to think positive thoughts as she followed him back.

The man sat her down and sharply asked, “Do you have experience in electronics?”

“Well, no,” she answered, “but I’m a fast learner.”

Stacy thought that she gave a great response, but the manager didn’t seem to agree. He candidly said, “After my assistant manager called you yesterday, I had him call your previous employers…” Stacy went completely numb! Her worst fear had come to light! “I spoke to the secretary-.”

“The secretary?” Stacy blurted out. She realized that she interrupted him, so she apologized, “Sorry! I used to be the secretary there, and….” He didn’t seem interested in her explanation, so she stopped. She really wanted to ask him more questions to figure who had replaced her so fast, but she refrained from doing so. She felt a small glimmer of hope because this secretary was new to the company and may not have known the full story of what happened between her and Hadeon.

“She said that you were fired.” He read her application and noted, “You put down ‘voluntarily resigned’ on why you left. Care to explain?”

“I walked off from the job,” Stacy stated. “I consider that quitting.”

“Your application also says you were formally known as Stacy Bancroft. The owner of the company’s name is also Bancroft. Was the owner your father?”

“He was my husband.” Stacy felt like the manager’s questions were getting personal, which made her uncomfortable.

The manager continued, “So, I’m guessing you got into an argument and stormed off.”

“You’re right,” Stacy admitted.

“What could have been so bad that you’d walk off from your job?” the manager questioned. “Did he cheat on you?”

“No.” At this point, Stacy decided she may as well be honest. “He hit me, so I left him.”

“You don’t look hurt to me,” he remarked. “It takes two to fight. If you push a man too much, it’s only natural he may lash out! You could have done more to calm him down. You could have prevented this, seems pretty irresponsible…”

Stacy couldn’t believe what she had just heard! Her father had always taught her that no man should ever hit a woman, and this guy thought it had been her fault! Despite her objections to his outrageous argument, she wondered if he had uttered an element of truth. She had always wondered if she could have done something to prevent Hadeon from doing what he did, and now she felt like a complete failure. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she couldn’t hear anything else that the manager had said. She couldn’t take it anymore and marched out without looking back or saying another word!

Stacy had sobbed during the entire bus ride home, but the patrons on there left her alone. She felt distraught enough that she didn’t care what anyone was thinking about her actions at the moment. She kept going over everything that she might have done wrong and wondered if she was now bearing the punishment of her actions. She wondered if she would have to endure this every time she got an interview, which made her less tempted into accepting another one. When her house came into view, she saw that her father had come home, and she couldn’t wait to receive some reassurance from him. She expected him to detect her distress the moment she walked in, but instead, Frank immediately asked her, “Who’s Nick Rolland?”

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 5

He opened up a desk drawer and pulled out a packet of paper. He clicked a pen and held it up so he could write. “Alright, tell me about yourself.”

Stacy hesitated for a moment. She used to answer that question quite easily because she had very definitive career goals, and now she just needed fast money for a fast divorce. She didn’t want to divulge her personal life if she could help it, and she knew she had to say something, so she came up with, “I grew up in Makawee. Actually, Emporia was my first job…”

“Oh, you worked here before?” he reacted in surprise.

Stacy found that question odd since she made a point of putting that on her application. Clearly, he hadn’t read it, so she knew that he was either so desperate for people that the didn’t care about candidates’ qualifications or he didn’t want to hire anyone and this was just a formality. Either scenario didn’t bode well for her. “Uh, yes. I used to work for Kimmy. How’s she doing?”

He replied, “She got fired three years ago.”

“Oh!” Stacy felt very awkward, and since she didn’t know how to respond, she decided to finish answering his question, “I just moved back here from Nashville. I have a lot of experience in customer service and sales…”

She paused as he took notes in the packet. She waited for him to invite her to continue, but instead he flipped to the next page and instructed her, “Tell me about a time when you had a difficult customer and how you dealt with him.”

“That’s hard, there’s a mix of nice and not so nice customers every day,” Stacy opinionated.

He requested, “Can you be more specific?”

Stacy had to think about it since she hadn’t dealt with customers for a very long time. He seemed to grow a little impatient, so she spouted the first example that she could think of, “Well, there was a woman who got mad at me because she thought we forgot to give her the receipt for her transaction.”

“And how did you handle it?” he inquired.

She replied, “I looked in the bag and it was there, so she was happy and left.” Stacy felt that her lame example didn’t impress him, but it was hard to know for sure because his facial expressions hadn’t changed much since the interview started. She wished she had thought of a more elaborate example, but as she said earlier, difficult customers came by every day and once they left, she didn’t make a point to remember each detail. Actually, she usually forgot about them and moved on with her life. This interview kept going downhill for her, and she really wished it would just end.

He flipped the page again. “What would you consider to be one of your weaknesses?”

She felt irked she had to explain a weakness before she had a chance to explain her strengths, but she tried to hide it by making a joke, “I’m a horrible singer!”

She expected him to laugh or at least crack a smile, but instead his brow furrowed as he scribbled notes. As he turned the page, Stacy confirmed her suspicions- he was reading the questions from the paper! “Tell me where you see yourself in five years.”

Stacy’s heart sunk at this question. The truth was that she had no idea. She hadn’t thought of career aspirations while she so ardently searched for a survival job, and in the back of her mind and bottom of her heart, she didn’t picture herself staying in Emporia! She couldn’t say that though, so she shakily threw out, “Management…”

She felt relieved to see him turn to the last page, which meant this travesty would come to an end soon. He probed, “If I were to call your last supervisor, what would he say about you?”

Her mind went blank, and she truly started to panic. She hadn’t thought about his possibility before, but now that she had, her spirits totally deflated. Her last supervisor was her abusive husband, and if anyone tried to call him, she felt sure he would sabotage her attempts to pay for the divorce on her own by giving her a bad reference. If, by some miracle, he had been honest, prospective employers would still find out she had married and broke up with her former boss. Her chances of getting a new job seemed more impossible now! She held back her tears and told him, “I was a good, hard worker for many years.”

After he finished taking notes, he stapled them to her application and explained, “Alright. I’ll share your answers with the other managers and give you a call.”

“Thank you for your time!” Stacy dashed out as soon as she could.

Everything was a blur as she rushed out of the mall. She didn’t want to break down in front of a bunch of people, and her feet seemed to instinctually know where to take her. She brushed past people on the street, and as the crowd dissipated, she found herself at the park and saw her bench waiting for her. She flung herself onto the bench and let out all of her tears and anguish! Not only did she have an interview go so horribly, but she realized that Hadeon extended his control over her more than she thought he had! At the moment, it was hard for her to comprehend just how she could overcome this hurdle. She assumed that most of her prospective jobs would call her past employers, so she felt so stuck. She refused to relent to the idea that she would have to go back to him as he wanted, but she had no clue what the solution was! She turned to the sky and silently wished for some kind of sign on what to do…

Suddenly, she heard an electric guitar strumming the introduction to a song that instantly mesmerized her. She had heard it once before when one of Hadeon’s clients from Canada gave them a taste of it, and it had totally seduced her, which surprised her at the time since the subject of the song centered around infidelity and she couldn’t fathom doing that to her husband. She didn’t think she would hear it again until it got released in the fall, and yet it played in front of her right here in little Makawee! She got entranced by this notion and simply had to get to the bottom of this mystery!

She stood up and turned around, and as the man began singing, it completely ensnared all of her senses. His voice had a more husky tone than Bryan Adams, but he captured the sould of the song “Run to You” perfectly! Mesmerized, she walked towards the stage in a trance. She already got drawn by his sheer musical talent, and she absolutely had to get a clear image of what he looked like. She felt surprised at the ease at which she got close to the stage; it was almost as if the small crowd that had gathered had left her a pathway there! As she nestled near the center, she couldn’t see his face, but she truly believed that she was witnessing a rock star perform! He wore a plain, fitted tee shirt and jeans, and his dark blonde hair parted neatly in the middle, so her belief really stemmed not from his image but his magnetic aura. She earnestly willed him to turn his head her way so she could get the full picture…

All of a sudden, it happened! Not only did he turn towards her, but they instantly locked eyes! He had blue eyes that ran deep, and his face conveyed the intense emotions of the song. His good looks and passion for his art made him irresistible to her! He maintained his gaze for a long moment, and Stacy longed for him to come closer to her. She could sense a part of him wanted to, but like a true professional, he moved on to other parts of the stage to continue with the show. Stacy knew right then that this man had too much talent to play for free at this park; he needed to become famous!

While he moved to another end of the stage, Stacy pulled out one of her resumes and tore off the part with her contact information on it. She yanked out a pen from her purse and wrote “You’re so talented! Make records!” on the paper. She didn’t know what his ambitions were, but she knew that not a lot of people had big dreams in Makawee, so she couldn’t leave without him getting this encouragement and advice! She waited for him to move back her way, and when he did, she held up the piece of paper high for him. Her heart beat madly as he very smoothly grabbed it from her! She felt a rush of gratitude when she saw him slip it into his jeans because she knew he would keep it and read it. She watched him finish his song with the exhilaration of knowing he had her words in his pocket!

When the music stopped, he spoke avidly into the microphone, “Thank you!” As he passed the guitar to the next person waiting to play, he gave Stacy one last meaningful look. Stacy froze as she watched him walk off stage, and after he had, she cheered like a true fan girl.

As the next group began to play, she left her post by the stage and walked to the side of the complex where no one stood. Her mind just came back to reality, and she couldn’t believe that she had just done that! Her marriage hadn’t technically ended yet, and she gave her phone number to a strange guy! Encouraging his music didn’t seem to logically low with her goals of getting a job, but it gave her a purpose that made her heart feel stronger. In her gut, she felt that this potential adventure would prove key to unlocking the door to exactly where she wanted to go!