Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
After what I had done I expected to wake up the next morning to find myself stranded in the ass-end of nowhere but instead I got the silent treatment all the way back to Albany. I wanted to apologize to Athena a few hundred more times but I couldn’t get near her to do so. Paul followed me like I was a known shoplifter in a diamond market.
Once we got back to Albany, Paul had me follow him in my car out to a newly abandoned gas station and we worked in silence making what little preparations we could at that hour of the evening. By the time we were finished the stars had come out and the streetlights had come on, Paul told me to sit down with him on the rear bumper of the U-Haul truck.
“Well,” he ran his fingers along the irregular surface of his toupee. “I must say Al that I’m pretty surprised at you.”
The ragged rusted metal of the bumper prickled against my legs, I sighed heavily, “I’m surprised at myself, and disappointed.”
“What the Hell did you think you were doing?”
“I thought I was acting the way a guy was supposed to act.”
He shook his cigarette at me, ashes flittered everywhere, “Where did you get that crap? If you want a girl to like you you’re supposed to just be yourself.”
I rolled my eyes, “That might mean more if it wasn’t coming from a man with seven different social security numbers.”
“That’s not the point! Who on Earth taught you to behave like that?”
“Every guy I talk to, the lady that ran the dress shop, my grandmother…”
“This is not the time for joking around.”
“I’m not! Everyone tells me I can’t get a girl to like me by being sweet to her so now I’m in trouble for not acting sweet to a girl I liked.”
“You didn’t realize she liked you already?”
“Yeah as a friend.”
“And what’s so bad about that? You don’t think Debbie and I were friends before we got married? We knew each other for years.”
“That’s not… this isn’t…” I stood up, that sick feeling I had been cradling in my stomach all day suddenly became sharp.
What have I done?
“You’re in too much of a hurry, you’re trying to hard.” Paul took a last drag on his cigarette and flicked it into the darkness.
“What the Hell else am I supposed to do? Not try? Sit on my ass and wait for the love of my life to come along? Sorry tried that one, failed miserably. Besides I’m 19 years old, these are supposed to be my prime carousing years. Tell me something- were you all polite and patient when you were my age?”
“I didn’t think so. In fact Debbie told me that at parties you would just walk up to girls and say ‘Let’s do it’ until one of them said yes.”
He smiled and blushed a little, “Yeah that’s true.”
“So why is that OK for you and my brother and my Dad? What am I doing wrong?”
“That kind of stuff doesn’t work for nerds,” he said, “I mean you did know that you’re kind of a nerd right?”
“Well, that explains all the comic books doesn’t it?”
“You’re not a bad guy Al just confused,” he paused for emphasis, “really confused. Now you know you can’t work for me anymore right?”
“I kind of saw that coming yeah,” he handed me my last wad of twenties. I pocketed it.
“I need to know one other thing,” Paul asked. “and I want you to be straight with me, it’s not like I’ll be running to the cops or anything.”
“Cops? What do you mean cops?”
“Were you stealing money from me?”
That made me feel even worse. Had I fallen so far in his eyes?
“Did you?” he asked again.
“No,” I said. “I may be a loser but I’m not a thief. I don’t know why you should believe me now though. If you want I know a good lie detector place…”
Paul patted me on the shoulder, “No, I figured as much.”
A car pulled into the empty gas station, I couldn’t see who it was but I figured it had to be Debbie. After all Paul had driven the truck here and I had a feeling that after this was over he sure as Hell wouldn’t want me driving him back home in my car.
“That’s my ride,” he turned to go.
There was one last thing I had to say, “Look Paul, I don’t… I didn’t… could you just tell her I really am sorry? Please?”
Whoever was behind the wheel of the car beeped the horn twice. Paul raised a hand but kept looking at me, “Why?”
“Because you and I both know I’m never gonna see her again and I would like to leave her with something more than the memory of me being a jackass.”
The bright glare of the headlights cast Paul in silhouette, the light made it look like he had melted Astroturf perched atop his head, “So you’d rather she think of you as a sorry jackass?”
“That’s all I’ve got. Can you give me your word?”
“Sure Al sure, but now I’ve got to turn my back on you.”
He shook his head, “No you don’t. Athena is my step-niece, the Casey’s are her half-brothers.”
“She’s the baby of the family and they want to talk to you. Really talk to you”
“Oh. Oh crap,” I looked to my Monte Carlo and tried to gauge my chances. “Could I trade you my last week’s pay for a head start?”
“Sorry Al,” Paul turned to go and three shapes got out of the car.