In which Katy applies for a promotion, receives less than stellar advice, and comes home to a smoke-filled apartment.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
↩️ Chapter Four
Tom and I make our way out of the dairy freezer. The stale warmth of Receiving, otherwise known as the mysterious Back that customers believe magically replenishes itself and holds the exact on-brand paper towels they need, feels amazing on my skin. We pass pallets of soda, chips, canned goods, and other items. Walls of food loom over our heads as we creep towards the exit out the back. I turn to look at Tom.
“We need to find the others,” I say with conviction.
“Obviously.” Tom stares straight ahead. A few seconds tick by and he huffs out a breath. “What?” He growls.
“Why can’t you look at me?” Even as he pauses and turns to face me, he’s looking over my head. Not a difficult feat, but still rude as hell. “Wait, are you mad at me for sending everybody away? I’m really sorry about that, I know I fucked up…” His eyes flick down to me with an intensity that makes me want to hide.
“The others?” His voice rises. “I don’t care about them. Rain, Regina, Arnold, and especially not Guy.”
“But they’re our friends,” I manage to interject.
“No, they’re your friends. I don’t need friends, not like you do.” His voice trembles and I realize I’ve never seen him this out of control. His hair is poking up at the sides and his hands clench before he continues. “What I’m wondering is why you thought you could get rid of me? You need me, without me, you are nothing.” I try to come up with a response, but I honestly can’t. Who says things like that? Tom grabs my arm and pulls me away from the direction of the exit.
“What are you doing?” I struggle to pull my hand away, but his grip is relentless. I curse at him as he drags me along until I see his destination. Against the wall is the green trash compactor that we use to smash cardboard boxes, which is fun on the more boring days at the store. No way. He wouldn’t.
In this scenario, I’m the cardboard box.
I lock my car door, enter Luna’s, and head up the stairs to the head manager’s office, all the while taking deep, calming breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth, like in that YouTube video. You can do this, Katy. It’s just a meeting with Carlos. He’s cool, he knows I work hard, and he’s more than fair with everyone. After last night’s interview prep session, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Fortunately, I was able to convince the Voices to stay home. With a bit of experimentation, we discovered that ever since they emerged, they can only read my thoughts when we’re in close proximity, and even then, it takes a bit of effort. Yay for privacy. I grab the door handle of the head manager’s office.
“Good morning Katy!” Carlos beams at me as I enter and take a seat in the chair in front of his desk. His bright yellow shirt and the wrinkles around his eyes enhance his sunny personality. I check out the office before responding in kind. Employee of the month certificates, filing cabinets, a desktop computer, extra work uniforms, and a few cheesy motivational posters make up the most prestigious location of the store. When I was first hired, I was grateful for the job and still am for the most part. However, my attitude is currently lackluster due to Christina’s management style, and my excitement dims when I compare my current role to my dream of collegiate success.
He leans forward in his chair and clasps his hands together on the desk, his large belly slightly nudging the old furniture. “So let’s get to it. You’ve been here a while now, so it’s no surprise to me that you requested this meeting to discuss moving from bagger to cashier.” I nod my head and give him a small smile. Maintain eye contact. He glances down at the open folder under his hands and murmurs to himself before he glances up. “You’re an excellent employee according to the other managers, cashiers, and even a few customers had a nice thing to say.” I try to keep my excitement to a minimum, but if this conversation goes the way I think it will, I’ll finally make $12 an hour and won’t have to pull from the modest amount of money my father left me just to pay rent and stay afloat. I may even be able to save more than a few dollars each paycheck for college.
“But…” Like a hammer missing a nail and hitting me squarely in the thumb, Carlos interrupts my thoughts. “There were a few comments from one of the managers and a customer about smiling.” My mind blanks for a few moments.
“Um, can you explain a little more?”
“Sure,” Carlos smiles apologetically. “You tend to keep your head down, don’t greet the customers very often, and,” he hesitates for a moment before saying, “you tend to frown a lot. You know how customers get; they want the whole song and dance.”
I search my mind for any particular incident he could be referring to when it hits me. A month or so ago, an older man went through my line with a few items; it was a busy Friday and I had to switch from line to line just keep up with the customers. After perfectly bagging his groceries – bread on top of the eggs and cleaning products separate from food – he set his eyes on me. “You need to smile more.” I willed the corner of my mouth up, despite my aching feet, frazzled brain, and the fact that my fifteen-minute break was two hours late. Proud of his apparent wisdom, he left the store with a bounce in his step.
“Oh,” I say to Carlos. “I understand. Does this impact moving me to cashier?” I try to keep the disappointment from my voice.
“A little, but not by much.” He points at the folder on his desk. “All you need to do is act more sociable around customers and smile more. That’s half of customer service. If you can show me and the other managers that you can do that, I’ll have you trained and promoted in no time. Your next evaluation is in a few weeks.” Carlos tells me how phenomenal of a worker I am, but it goes through one ear and out the other. I shake his hand before I leave. After drifting through the rest of my shift, I drive home and enter my apartment.
The smell of smoke tickles my nose. The smell of smoke… “What are y’all doing?!” I find Arnold with his hands in his hair and Regina pulling out a pan of black circles. Rain stares at me with eyes wide as saucers and I don’t see Tom or Guy. Arnold grabs what appears to be a box of cookie mix and shakes it at Regina. The Voices can handle objects now. Great.
“I followed the recipe exactly.”
“Why did they burn then?” Regina smiles sweetly, but I can tell she likes to get on Anger’s nerves.
“I don’t fucking know,” Arnold seethes, but when he sees the look on my face he tries to calm down.
“Language.” Happiness turns to me. “We wanted to surprise you with some fresh chocolate chip cookies, but,” she waves at the mess in the kitchen, “you see how that turned out. How did the meeting go?” My sigh says everything. Rain sidles over to me and squeezes my hand. I want to pull away, but I squeeze back and let go. Regina walks over and pulls me in for a hug. I don’t hug, I don’t like touching people at all, but her intention makes me warm and I feel the tension leave my muscles and slip away.
“Adorable,” Arnold interrupts, “but these cookies are a bust.” He flings the brittle baked goods into the trashcan with indignation. “Let’s order pizza and talk shit about Carlos.” I laugh, toss my keys on the counter, and give my friends my first real smile of the day.
Feedback is always appreciated 😀
↪️ Chapter Six