Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Paper Hearts And A Red Haired Tart
That first day of the soft opening ended with Patty being fired. The employee handbooks stated you couldn’t get fired until you had gotten several written warnings, that way there was a paper trail to cover the company’s behind. I can only assume that management figured Patty didn’t know that.
They moved Bud to run the front register but he was really unhappy about it, his career path with Paper Shredder had more been geared towards hanging around in the receiving area with Chuck.
I made good grades in every subject but algebra, man that was some painful stuff. I don’t know what was wrong but my mind, the same mind that can remember the scriptwriter for the Doctor Who episode ‘The Brain of Morbius’ was actually Terrance Dicks writing under the name Robin Bland couldn’t even resolve the simplest of equations.
Kevin and Alice were a couple now, occasionally they brought Sarah along and we all went to a movie or out to a meal. I always met them there, as there was no way I was going to let Kevin and Alice into my car again and there was sure as Hell no way I was going to sit in the backseat of Kevin’s car. I shudder just to think of it.
It was Marvin who told me that Corey had dropped out of college already. I was more than a little surprised, he always seemed to be the smartest of the bunch of us.
It was in the first week of October that I decided to stop by his house and see what was happening with him
Like most of my pier group Corey lived at home, it was just his father now because his mother had died years ago when there was some kind of natural gas leak in the house. Corey's home stood out from all the others because the lawn was un-mowed and the tall trees rose high over the house it self. The place was slowly falling into disrepair, the paint was peeling and the front porch was nothing more than a dumping ground for bric-a-brac and old newspapers. I parked my car in the dirt driveway of the house and knocked on the door.
After a short while Corey's Dad answered, he was a security guard at a local bank and from the look of him he had been sleeping in his uniform. “Oh hi Albert,” he said. “How have you been?”
“Keeping busy sir,” I said. “Is your son at home?”
He stepped back to let me in, “Oh sure sure. He's in the parlor, you should get him to go out. He's been moping around the house too much.”
I walked into the parlor and found more clutter. I remember coming over to watch wrestling on Saturdays and Corey's Mom serving us lunch. It didn't even look like the same room anymore but the old easy chair was still in one corner and Corey was in it.
At first thought he was asleep, then I realized he was just sitting there staring at nothing.
“Hey,” I said. “I miss you at school.”
He didn't move, “Hi Al. How are the guys?”
“I think Kevin's in love and Marvin's doing good, when he's not picking fights with the professors.”
Corey smirked, “That's Marvin.”
“So what happened?” I asked. “Why did you quit?”
“I just...” he shook his head side to side. “I got a lot of problems.”
“Just problems,” he sighed. “plus I knew what they were saying about me.”
Now that was news, “Saying about you? Who was saying things about you?”
“Everyone,” he said. “Just everyone. I don't want to get into it. It gives me a headache.”
None of what he was saying made much sense, for as long as I'd known Corey no one ever had a problem with him, “What are you going to do now?”
“I think I'm going to work full time for a while. Maybe go back to school. I dunno.”
“Do you want to go out for a bite to eat? We can talk some more.” I jingled my keys for emphasis.
“Sure,” he finally moved, standing up and stretching, his spine crackled. “Just let me get my hat.”
The restaurant was called ‘The Ground Round’ and it was somehow caught between being a steakhouse and a family restaurant. The food was OK and there was free popcorn but every few months the entire menu changed. Since I and my friends were regular patrons these sudden shifts in culinary focus left us feeling like we were trapped in a slow motion buffet.
Corey and I got a table near the bar, he spent a lot of time staring at his placemat and barely said a word until the waitress showed up.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m Faye and I’ll be your server today.”
I looked up from my menu, “Hi, I think-”
But she wasn’t done talking, “Are you ready to order?”
“Yes. Now I’ll start with-”
“Our soup of the day is French Onion and the chef’s special is swordfish steak.”
I paused thoughtfully and then said, “Well that sounds-”
“If you’re ordering alcohol I’ll need to see your ID.”
Corey sighed, “I’ll have bread.”
“The bread’s free,” Faye explained.
“And some water.”
“That’s it?” she was incredulous.
Corey still hadn’t looked up from the table, his fingers were spread out before him, “Yeah.”
“Fine,” our waitress said frostily, “I’ll be back with your bread and water. Then you can place your order if you’re ready.”
“But-” I started to raise my hand but she was already gone so I turned my attention back to my friend, “Is that all you’re going to get? Just bread and water?”
“Don’t you have any cash?” I asked, “I can spare a few bucks if you’re hungry.”
“I’m not hungry,” Corey explained, “I’ve got problems.”
I tried to figure out what kind of problems could have Corey down in the dumps. He was always the most normal of my friends, all the girls liked him and he was a natural car mechanic. At times he was a little awkward and self-conscious but that wasn’t such a bad thing in my opinion.
When the waitress came back I worked my way through her veil of hatred and placed my order for Fettuini Alfredo. All Corey wanted was some butter for his bread and a bendy straw for his water.
“What is up with you?” I said, “You can talk to me.”
“It’s nothing...” he said, “you wouldn’t understand.”
This was getting me nowhere so I decided to change the subject, “So get this, I just found out from Kevin that he went behind my back and dated Lizzie. You remember Lizzie from high school? From Art Club? I dated her for a little while.”
“Yeah.” Corey nodded.
“Of course after she broke up with me I dated her friend Agnes,” I grinned fiendishly.
“Of course then she broke up with me after I took her to the Junior Prom,” I frowned.
Corey buttered his bread slowly, “I went out with Agnes for a while.”
“It was a double date with Lizzie and Kevin.”
“She said I was cute.”
“But...” I felt dizzy, I was glad I was sitting down, “...I went out with her.”
“Yeah, but you weren’t going out with her then.”
“That’s not the point. Friends aren’t supposed to date other friends exes. It’s a rule,” I said, “I mean it must be a rule somewhere...”
Corey chewed his bread thoughtfully, “What do you care? She wasn’t your great love Lilly.”
“That’s not the issue here.” I knew my love life was a disaster, I could accept that, I couldn’t accept the idea of my friends picking through the ruins for traumatized survivors.
“She said you never even put the moves on her,” Corey explained, “you hardly felt her up or anything.”
It always amazes me how quickly my anger can turn into embarrassment, “I was being a gentleman.”
“She was not looking for a gentleman,” Corey finally smiled, “if you get what I mean.”
The waitress brought my order, except that it wasn’t anything remotely close to what I had ordered. I didn’t complain, I was too busy trying to wrap my head around the idea of Agnes wrapped around Corey. I said, “You guys... you guys... did it?”
“No,” he laughed, “it wasn’t like that.”
I felt oddly relieved, “OK then.”
“She just gave me a hand job.”
And suddenly I was glad I hadn’t gotten my Fettucini Alfredo.