“Oh hi, Janet!” Stacy chirped. Outwardly, she did everything she could to convey friendliness, but inwardly, she was writhing. Despite Nick’s claim of her nice personality, she couldn’t help but dislike her. She felt as though she controlled him and kept him from pursuing his dream of music, something he had a deep passion for. Plus, she obviously had romantic feelings for Nick and envied the fact that Janet had him. Suddenly, it occurred to her what section they were in, and she worried about why Janet would need to shop for baby…”What are you doing here?”
Janet explained, “Oh, we’re having a baby shower at work, so I’m using my lunch break to shop for it.”
“Oh, won’t you be hungry?” Stacy hardly noticed what she had said to Janet; in her head, she had taken a huge sigh of relief.
Janet shrugged. “I’ll just eat my desk. Oh, just so you know, I think you did a great job on those dresses! Usually, the racks are a total mess and you can’t find anything. I don’t know why she’s complaining.”
“Maybe because she would have to start putting things back in the right spot instead of wherever she feels like,” Stacy half-joked.
Janet laughed, “Probably! People hate it when the new guy comes in and makes them look bad.” She paused and told her seriously, “Don’t let people like that push you around too much. If you’re following the rules and still get yelled at, there’s something wrong with them, not you. Don’t let them take advantage of you.”
“That’s, uh… thanks! That’s good advice.” Stacy secretly hated to admit that. She didn’t want to see evidence of Janet being a good person, but she had been very thoughtful and kind to her. She actually seemed like the kind of person she could become friends with, but she didn’t want to do that, not while she was Nick.
Janet picked up a blue onesie from the pile Stacy had worked on. “This’ll work. Would a rattle be in the toy section or the baby stuff?”
“No idea!” Stacy replied. “Apparently, they don’t tell you anything around here.”
“Not until you’ve already messed up! Well, I’m sure I’ll find it before my lunch break is over. Good luck!” Janet waved as she headed towards the infant section.
“Thanks!” Stacy watched her disappear among the racks. Janet did seem very empathetic, and she seemed to have a flair for making people feel good about themselves, so she felt puzzled as to why she would hold Nick back from his musical ambitions…
Her thought train got interrupted by a tall and very slender young man with an Emporia badge. “Hey! I’m Claude. I’m supposed to train you.” He saw her progress on refolding the onesie table and got confused. “Are you new?”
“Oh, I worked here back in sixty-nine,” Stacy clarified.
Claude remarked, “Oh, wow! I was two years old in sixty-nine!”
“Wonderful!” Stacy suddenly felt old, and it just really cemented how much time had passed between now and then. And yet, she still ended up in the same spot!
“Well, I’m gonna start folding at the other end,” he informed her. “Just find me when you’re ready to go on your fifteen.”
“Fifteen?” Stacy questioned. “I thought we got thirty minutes for lunch.”
“Nope,” Claude listlessly replied. “You have to work six and a half hours to get a lunch break.” He shuffled over to the other end of the children’s section, and Stacy groaned at the long day she faced.
Barbara and Frank watched television on the couch when Stacy burst into the house. She immediately removed her dress flats and moaned from relief. “I don’t know how I did it in high school! I wore the same kind of shoe back then, and I don’t remember it hurting so much back then!”
“Maybe next time you can wear sneakers,” Barbara suggested.
As Stacy went into the kitchen, she grumped, “We’re not allowed to wear sneakers! We have to dress business casual to maintain the store image. Like, who cares if we’re on our feet walking around the store all day!” She held her bowl of stew and circled around the kitchen before she remembered that her parents didn’t have it. “My first check, I’m buying you a microwave!”
Frank replied, “Don’t waste your money! A microwave only saves you a few minutes!”
“A significant amount of minutes!” Stacy differed as she sat down at the table to eat. “Like reheating this would take a couple of minutes versus like ten on the stove! Did you know, in a microwave, it only takes a few minutes to make a baked potato?”
“Five minutes?” Barbara reacted incredulously. “Oh, Frank, five minutes! It takes me an hour and a half sometimes!”
“That sounds so unnatural! It probably tastes way better cooked naturally in the oven!”
“Ovens are man-made,” Barbara playfully teased him. “How old fashioned do you wanna get? Do you wanna go back to cooking everything over a wood fire?”
“I would be totally comfortable with that!” Frank opinionated. “If it were up to me, we’d retire in a cabin on a distant mountain top! So quiet and peaceful!” Barbara shook her head as if he proposed a ridiculous idea. Frank chuckled and then changed the subject, “So, Stacy, once you’re done eating…” He glanced over and saw her slurping the last bit of what remained in her bowl. “Wow, that was fast!”
Stacy finished her meal and explained, “We only get fifteen minute breaks if we’re scheduled less than six and a half hours. I didn’t get to finish the lunch I brought!”
“Oh, hmm…” Frank didn’t seem to know how to react to that. “Well, I got off work early today and I wanna show you what I did.” He and Barbara led her to her old bedroom, and she saw that some of the gym equipment got pushed to one side of the room. She felt pleasantly surprised to see her old childhood bed stood in there once again! “We kept the parts in the attic, so I thought since you’ll probably be with use for a while, you should have a room to sleep in. On the weekend, I’ll move the rest of the equipment out.”
Stacy had gotten so used to sleeping on the couch that she hadn’t thought about sleeping in an actual bedroom in a long while. She felt touched by her father’s thoughtfulness, but it also made her feel a little dispirited by it. Couch surfing made her feel like she would only stay at her parents’ house temporarily, but, to her dismay, she now felt like a permanent resident. She despised working for Emporia for a pittance, and seeing this sign of it being long term thoroughly depressed her. Living with her parents, working at her old job, and sleeping in her old bed made her feel like a child. She knew that leaving Hadeon would mean she would be starting over, but she had no idea she would have to go back that far! She wondered if it would take another fifteen years to get another shot of independence!
Barbara almost seemed as though she could read Stacy’s mind because she tried to cheer her up by saying, “Don’t put too many decorations up! Soon, you’ll get a fancy new job, and when you leave, we’re turning it into a guest bedroom.”
Frank kidded, “At least this time you don’t have to hide your rock and roll records! We’ll even let you bring booze in here now!”
Stacy laughed, “Thanks! And thanks for the room it’s very nice.” Frank and Barbara gave her a smile and left the room. Stacy sat on her bed and just contemplated it all.
The next day, when Nick came out of work, he walked out and saw Stacy holding up a poster board. “You trying to start a protest against this place? I won’t stop you!”
“You wish!” Stacy retorted. Nick agreed, and they both giggled. Stacy turned the sign around, and it read, “Pay Attention by Nick Rolland, a tribute to a fallen war hero.” Stacy told him, “Just a visual way to get you noticed.”
“Is that glitter?” Nick asked, and Stacy nodded. As they walked to his truck, he remarked, “I didn’t think you’d have the time since you had to work yesterday.” They got into his truck and buckled up. “Janet told me she ran into you.”
Nick began driving, and Stacy had been so focused on all of the other drama from work that she forgot about that encounter. Now that he had brought it up, she grew curious about what Janet may have said about her. “Yeah, she was real nice to me, I was surprised!”
“Why?” Nick inquired. “Do you think I would date someone who wasn’t nice?”
Stacy’s heart lurched when she got reminded of the fact that Nick had a girlfriend that wasn’t her, but she didn’t let it show. She had to think of a valid reason of why she found Janet’s friendliness surprising. “Customers weren’t very nice to me there. They kept asking where stuff was, and they got irritated when I said I didn’t know. Then, at one point, I guess the lines where long, so they expected me to come open up another register to save them time, but I’m not trained on the registers, so I couldn’t. They did not like to hear that! ‘Course, they weren’t nearly as mean as the people I work with, whew!”
Nick chuckled, but then he told her seriously, “Thanks for not ratting me out! I know you said I should tell her about my music, but I appreciate you not telling on me when you saw her!”
The thought of telling Janet about Nick’s secret practice never even occurred to Stacy until he mentioned it just now. She assured him, “I would never do that you!”
“Thank you! It means a lot!” Nick stopped the truck as they arrived downtown. He stared at her appreciatively, and when Stacy met his gaze, the world stood still for a moment. Stacy couldn’t help but admire just how beautiful his deep, blue eyes looked! She had a strong desire to kiss him, but she broke eye contact in order to make sure that didn’t happen. She actually had no idea if Nick had that intention, but she decided to act responsibly just in case she hadn’t imagined it. She thought it was wishful thinking on her part, but she actually thought he sounded a little disappointed when he spoke, “Charlie’s memorial is a little small…”
“Maybe we can change that!” Stacy exclaimed as they got out of the truck and headed to the spot where he’d sing.