Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Once we had time to cool off Paul and I apologized to each other, he explained Max’s long running drug problems to me and I explained the heresies contained within Starfleet Battles. With that done I packed a bag and readied myself for our next extended road trip. Everyone was going on this one; all three of the Casey brothers, Athena and even Paul’s wife. We made a little train of vehicles, two U-Haul trucks and two cars, and headed upstate to Herkimer county.
Herkimer is a small town near Utica and if you’ve got to go to Utica for excitement you’re in big trouble. Another exciting thing about Herkimer is the diamond mines, now these aren’t real diamonds at all but a kind of quartz that looks a lot like a diamond. The town of Herkimer itself is bucolic, almost frozen in time in a lot of ways. It always reminded me of a cross between Bedford Falls and Twin Peaks.
I would return here several times over the course of my life but I’m getting years ahead of things with that.
It’s called foreshadowing and I’m allowed.
And what were we doing in Herkimer you might ask? The answer is four words long- Herkimer County Community College. The school was in the midst of its summer session. Paul told us that if we could get set up near the campus or the student housing we would do brisk sales. Grinning he commented that college kids spent money like sailors on leave. Athena didn’t like hearing that one bit and when she furrowed her brow it was just adorable.
“I don’t see where he gets off saying something like that.” Athena paced between the pictures. It was a warm day and she was wearing a red tank top which had caused no end of walk-in business from the young men that lived in the off campus housing.
“I’m sure he was just joking.” I said from the top of the truck with a strip of duct tape in my mouth. The sign was being really disagreeable today.
We had set up business in the parking lot of a long abandoned buffet restaurant. Not only had the bank repossessed the restaurant, another bank had foreclosed on the property the restaurant had been built on. That left everything tangled up in the courts and Paul with a rent free place to do business from. Not that Paul was here now; he and Conrad were off with the other truck at another equally compromised location. Debbie was back at the motel working the phones- apparently there was some kind of problem with the guy Paul had selling brass lawn statuary further downstate.
I’m not really sure where Max was, we would glimpse him only briefly during our week long sojourn in Herkimer and for me those glimpses would be fleeting and Sasquatch-like.
Lonnie was with us and had spent most of the morning sitting in the lawn chair watching the coming and going of customers with dull, suspicious eyes. “I don’t see what Paul said that was so bad,” Lonnie commented. “I spent too much money all the time when I was in college.”
Athena frowned and kicked at the dirt with a sandaled foot, “People Paul’s age can be just as bad with money as people my age. Maybe even more so because they should know better.”
“Just a damn minute here,” I said suddenly. “Lonnie you went to college?”
“Sure I was a liberal arts major.”
“Well, that’s… sobering.”
Athena handed some cash to Lonnie, “Hey why don’t you get us some lunch. I saw a deli the next plaza over.”
My stomach growled at the thought, “Sounds good. Get me a roast beef on rye with Russian dressing.”
“And I want tuna salad.” Athena said.
Lonnie nodded, “And I want a mixed Italian sub.”
We all stood there in silence for a moment, and then Athena said, “You’re going now right Lonnie?”
“That’s why I gave you the money.”
We watched him drive off and I commented, “He really should have majored in Philosophy.”
“Word,” Athena said with a playful nudge.
We dealt with the next rush of customers easily and then in the lull started talking. I couldn’t help but notice she was smiling at me a lot today.
“Now tell me Al,” she began. “What do you do when you’re not working?”
“I… I uh hang out with my friends,” I said. I decided to try that synchronized breathing thing Arian had talked about. Could I really seduce her so easily? “And I write stories …and work out a little.”
“Oh really? What kind of stories do you write?”
“Well, -Spshew!-” I did the best I could match my respiration to hers. “I write horror and humor but according to the rejection slips I get – Sspshew! – my horror is pretty hilarious and my humor is pretty horrible so I don’t know any more.”
“Al are you ok?”
“Yes. Why do you –Ssspshew!- ask?”
Athena gave me precisely the odd look I deserved at that moment, “You’re breathing kinda funny.”
“Maybe it’s –Sssspshew!- allergies? What do you do when you’re not working here? -Sssspsshew!-”
“Well I don’t do much really but that’s kind of nice. My girlfriends and I went roller-skating up to Guptill’s Arena, it was fun but there were an awful lot of Junior High aged kids hanging out there.”
I smiled as nostalgically as I could while gasping for breath. “I had my first real date there with – Sssspssshew!-”
“Are you sure you’re not hyperventilating or something?” Athena drew closer her to me.
In my oxygen deprived state I thought that the blurring of Athena’s features and the darkness collecting at the edges of my eyesight was a sign of her arousal. “No… -Sssspsssshew!- it’s just that your beauty leaves me breath – Sssspsssshhew!-less.”
“If you say so.”
“-Sssspsssshhhew!- You know we should totally go to a movie this week. It beats hanging around in the hotel bar all night. How about we- Sssspsssshhhhew!-” my heart was racing; the Earth seemed to rock under my feet. I could feel the moment to make my move rushing up to me…
Well no, actually it was the ground that was rushing up to meet me.
And then everything went black...