Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Joanna never passed or showed up again, much to my relief. Paul borrowed my car regularly to scout for new sites. He told us he had a few new leads but for now he wanted to stay in Herkimer. Of course all that changed the day Athena sent me back to our motel to get her a fresh shirt.
“…and I told my Dad the reason I shoplift is because he never showed me any love. Bastard! Bastard!” Conrad had been talking the entire ride back to the motel room. I didn’t mind really, I was just glad to be driving my own car again. Paul had taken it for the last three afternoons leaving my coworkers and I stranded until he came back and sometimes he came back pretty late. Besides Conrad’s style of conversation was more of a weepy monologue than a give and take of concepts and ideas. “I couldn’t stay in that house any more so I moved out and I was so lucky I found Paul. He helped me out with money and food and all he needed me to do in return was get a few credit cards in my name that he could use to invest in inventory….”
We were heading back to the motel because Athena had opened a soda can only to have it explode all over her. One moment she had been chatting away and sharing lunch with me and the next a caffeinated beverage was spraying everywhere reducing her white t-shirt to near transparency. The realization that she wasn’t wearing a bra coupled with the realization her breasts now tasted like Mountain Dew caused my brain to lock up. I stood there staring at her with the kind of expression you might find on a chimpanzee trying to solve a quadratic equation.
If I had been a little quicker on the draw I might have been able to gain some favor in Athena’s eyes by offering her my shirt, and I would been able to flash her my nearly defined abs. Sadly Conrad beat me to it, whipping off his shirt and handing it to the mortified girl. She climbed into the back of the U-Haul truck to get changed. The sight of Conrad’s squinty nipples snapped me from my catatonic state. His armpits were hairless and I was about to ask why when Athena stepped out of the back of the U-Haul wearing his powder blue t-shirt.
It was a tight fit at best and it left her midriff exposed. Athena asked me to drive back to the motel and get her a shirt that fit but my brain had locked up again. It took a pinch from Conrad to get my synapses firing in the right order.
I told Athena I would drive her back to the motel but she told me she couldn’t leave. Apparently Paul had insisted she be the only one handling the cash today. I didn’t know what to make of that but I told her I would take care of it. She gave me her key, this wasn’t the way I wanted to get into her room but I supposed it was a start.
Then Conrad offered to come along with me saying that he needed to get a shirt of his own. I shrugged and let him in my car.
“…and Lonnie told me to come back home but I said no. No way. I was living with Paul’s mother and everything was great. My family were pretty upset but Paul smoothed things over by giving most of them jobs of one kind or another…” Conrad just kept talking.
But I didn’t hear him. I was too busy replaying Athena’s impromptu wet t-shirt contest through my head like it was the Zaptruder film.
We got to the motel; Conrad went into the room that he and I shared, I headed into Athena’s. I was gentlemanly enough not to riffle through her unmentionables; at the tender age of nineteen I had vowed the only way I would paw through a girl’s underwear was if she was in it. I got one of Athena’s blouses and headed back out to the car.
And then I heard the screaming, well it was one half screaming the other half caterwauling. I saw Conrad arguing with the lady that ran the motel. Clutching the blouse close to me I approached to see what was wrong.
Conrad had a full head of steam going, “…this isn’t my problem! You talk to Paul! I don’t want to hear it!”
“You people have got to start paying for your rooms in advance. This is not how I do business.” The lady that ran the motel had seemed like a decent sort but as the week wore on she was losing her patience with us. You see the check out time was 10 AM but Paul never checked us out, he just showed up whenever and paid for another day. I mentioned to him that we should have paid ahead and he just snorted explaining that he would only do that if he got a significant discount.
I tried to get between them, “Uh, excuse me?”
“Don’t bother Al! She’s being unreasonable.”
“Unreasonable?” the motel manager’s face was a snarl.
I tried again, “You know I happen to have gotten paid recently, I’m sure that I have more than enough cash to cover today and tomorrow for all the rooms.”
“No!” Conrad shrieked, “Don’t you give in to her! She’s just trying to shake us down.”
“Why you little-” the motel manager looked like she was going to punch him, I should have let her.
Instead I kept my voice even, “Hey Conrad how about you go under the car and check for leaks?”
The motel manager got into my face next, “I want all of you out of here!”
“Oh no, please let’s not go so far. We can settle this amicably,” I started talking faster and dabbed at my sweaty forehead with Athena’s blouse. “This is all just a big misunderstanding.”
“You all get out of here before I call the police!” With every syllable she spoke her face turned redder.
“I don’t care!” Conrad’s voice was shrill, “You talk to Paul. Just go back to your office and sit on your fat ass!”
“I’ll just go empty the rooms now,” I said with a defeated sigh.
She retreated back to the front desk shouting, “Now I am calling the police! You and your boyfriend have five minutes to clear out!”
“What? He’s not my boyfriend!”
“You’ve got five minutes.”
“Wait,” I started after her. “Let’s settle this whole ‘boyfriend’ thing first. I am totally straight.”
“Get away from me!”
“I mean sure I haven’t actually done it yet but I’m good to go.”
“Just get out of here!”
“I have a copy of JUGGS magazine in my suitcase, is that proof enough for you? It’s the one where they published my letter to the editor!”
She slammed the motel office door in my face so I turned away and helped Conrad hurriedly unpack everyone’s rooms into my car.
“Boy,” he grinned at me. “She sure was a bitch huh?”
I frowned, “You would know.”
Once we got back to Athena we found Paul and Debbie waiting for us there, they had bought her a t-shirt at a nearby truck stop. The sight of her wearing a ‘PARTY NAKED’ t-shirt made my brain lock up all over again. This gave Conrad time to blurt out “Guess what? Al got us thrown out of the motel.”