Chapter 2 – Charles
I watch as the young man behind the reception desk types my name into his computer and begins scrolling his mouse. I’m twenty minutes early for my first day of work and nervous as hell, but the kind man looks up at me with a smile and welcomes me to have a seat in the training room.
“Thank you,” I reply before making my way to what must be the visitor’s area where other nervously awaiting newcomers are sitting.
Charles is a supermarket chain that locals devote themselves to for all of their family’s needs. It’s also the first and only company in the area that called me back after my initial interview and offered me a job. I didn’t mind. Up until now, my life has been nothing more than education and I have been anxious for years to get into the working field.
For my parents, it is a topic that is out of the discussion. Their goal was to get me to finish school, start college and work at whatever job they or my fiancés family would manage to grab bag out of their pool of rich and famous friends. I’m twenty years old and I couldn’t be more excited or nervous about starting my first retail job. I should have been sixteen, in high school and experienced at the mall but as I look around at the apparent kids surrounding me, I can’t help but wonder if at this age I’ll even fit in.
Four rows of fold-out chairs are full by the time nine a.m. hits and the room is packed with all kinds of chatter.
“Good morning everyone, we will get started in just a few minutes.”
A very energetic woman announces as she walks through the training room with a box of donuts in her hands. I instantly remember how my nerves hadn’t allowed me to eat any breakfast and I hear my stomach growl in regretful protest.
“Bet lunch is pizza.”
I turn to the man I hadn’t realized sat down beside me, he’s wearing a humorous smile.
“It’s always the same,” He replies, his voice cool. “Donuts and coffee for breakfast then pizza and soda for lunch. Its retails way of making us feel like they care enough to feed us but not enough to cater to our particular wants and needs.”
“Or maybe, you’re just being a dick.”
The sentence comes out of my mouth instead of staying in my head. I instantly regret it, covering my mouth in disbelief but I just couldn’t believe he could be so rude toward a gesture the store didn’t have to provide. Before I’m able to apologize, I notice he’s laughing.
The woman returns with no additional snacks and stands before the crowd. She’s a small statured lady, cheery with short brown curly hair. I remember her from my interview and again from the day, I completed my drug test and initial paperwork. Her name is Gloria and on several occasions during my onboarding, she told me how much I reminded her of her daughter.
I was flattered when she showed me pictures. Her daughter is gorgeous, thinner and seemed to have her life in order. At least that’s what I got from the backdrops of Span, Italy and a few other places I couldn’t pinpoint. She travels for work, Gloria had said and I had been left green with envy but Gloria herself seems like a good person. I imagine her daughter is as well, she looked happy in all her pictures and Gloria beamed with pride as she showed them.
This morning, Gloria was glowing with a different kind of emotion; enthusiasm.
“Good Morning everyone and welcome, welcome to the Charles family. I see a lot of familiar faces from interviews and onboarding and I’m so excited you all made it through. Today we will go over policies and procedures, do a store tour and then you and your buddy will do some role-playing as customer and cashier.”
She clapped her hands together excitedly before continuing on.
“There is an even number of people in orientation today, fantastic. Please look to the person next to you and spend the next five minutes getting to know each other. We will start with an icebreaker answering three questions about each other. The questions are up on the whiteboard behind me.” She turns, pointing in the direction of the board and turning it around. “Make sure you pay attention, as you won’t be introducing yourselves today but your new buddy!”
Gloria began to explain a sign in sheet that would be going around, what time we would break for lunch and when we would receive our uniforms. I took the time to read the board she had rolled behind her after she had set up breakfast. Now that it was turned it around, it allowed me to see the questions we would be working on:
- What is your name?
- What is your biggest fear?
- What would you bring with you, if you were stuck on an island?”
I giggled internally at how ridiculous the questions were but as I came back to the moment, I realized some people were already knee deep into conversation and ice breaking. The guy next to me disappeared. Having talked to him so briefly, I could barely even remember what he looked like. Instead, I get out of my chair and walk over to a woman sitting alone in the back of the room.
“Need a buddy?” I asked showing off my most exceptional customer service smile. It was too forced and I could feel its awkwardness. As quickly as I tried to change my face, she put on a crazy smile and we both busted at the seams with laughter.
“Oh, thank Christ,” she managed to say in-between hysterics. “That was a better icebreaker than this stupid parade.”
Her hands pan around to the others in the room working diligently on their questions. I nod in agreement and wipe my now teary eyes.
“Have a seat.”
“Thanks, I’m Evelyn but you can call me Evie.”
“Claudia, it’s nice to meet you.”
Claudia has long black hair with purple strips. She looks about my age but possibly a few years older. What I can see of her skin is covered with tattoos and she’s wearing a face full of makeup. Her style is amazing and even though she is dressed in the mandatory business casual; I can tell she can’t leave her Goth at home. I instantly admire it.
“So, let’s get down to it shall we?”
Over the next two hours, everyone introduces their buddies. I told the world Claudia’s first and last name, Harris. Explained her fear of clowns and the 20pc knife set she would bring with her to her island stay. She stood on her own to explain that it would be easier than trying to cut various objects with one knife and although strange, many people agreed.
When it came to me, Claudia spoke as if we’d known each other for years. My name rolled off her tongue, she explained my fear of spiders and made everyone laugh she described how I decided to bring a water filter to my island stay so I wouldn’t have to even deal with trying to figure out how to drink salt water.
As corny as the icebreaker was, it allowed everyone a chance to learn names and smooth the tensions and nervousness of the first day. After countless policies, procedures and a helpful handful of sexual harassment examples, we had burned enough time to make it to lunch. Everyone took a trip outside, some to smoke and others to stretch their legs. I decided to go out to get some fresh air.
The morning had been exciting but also terrifying. I had taken more steps over the past few weeks for my future than I ever had before and at times, like now, it felt overwhelming.
“I just saw three pizza boxes head into the store.”
I’m sitting on a picnic bench, my eyes closed and aimed at the sky when the voice makes me jump. I turn my head and open my eyes to see the guy from earlier who I couldn’t picture; Paige Worthington. The icebreaker had helped in learning people’s names, including his though until now I hadn’t realized he was my pizza hating coworker.
“It’s a conspiracy,” I reply faking a stern tone. I see him smile, just as he did earlier.
Outside in the sunlight, I could see him clearly and I wasn’t disappointed. Now that he was standing, I calculated him at six foot, he had shoulder-length hair; tied up but I could see the strands were highlighted. He had bright hazelnut eyes and no facial hair. When I quickly eyed his outfit, a button down, slacks and a pair of loafers; I knew he was the kind of guy who really cared about his appearance.
“There’s no time like the present.”
He pointed over to the front door. A few of the other newcomers were heading in as well. I looked back at him to see his arm extended, hand ready to take a hold of mine and help me up. Unwillingly, I took it. His hand was warm and soft. Even though we still had ten minutes left of our break, I didn’t want to say no. I wanted to fit in and make new friends.
Amber was a true friend, had been for years but she was the only one in town I knew besides her now fiancé. With their wedding preparations yet to be started, I knew it was only a matter of time before it consumed her completely; leaving me bored and lonely.
Hand in hand, Paige and I walk until we cross over the store’s threshold. There, he takes off practically running into the training room to devour the food he had complained so harshly about.
“You and Paige, huh?”
Claudia walks up beside me, and the stench of cigarettes fills my nostrils. We separated once on break; me for the sanity of needing some alone time and she seemed to be making friends with the other smokers on the team. Now that the break was over it looked like we would continue to be orientation buddies. It felt nice.
“Me and no one. He seems nice but I’m here to work, not date. Do you know him?”
“We went to high school together. Seems like forever ago, but when you’re in the same town you barely get away from the people you went to school with.”
I nod, I knew a thing or two about wanting to leave people behind and move away. If I weren’t in a new town, I would be seeing people from my past regularly as well. She ducks back into the training area and I follow. The room is buzzing, a movie is playing on a large T.V. It’s a corporate film about the companies’ charity works, which we had already watched and was now being used as background noise.
“He’s got a reputation,” she continued as we move to the end of the pizza line. “You should stay away from him.”
I nod my head but fight to bite my tongue. I left my old life behind to make changes, including making decisions of my own and yet here I stand with another person who is acting like they know what’s best for me. When she turns to hand me a paper plate, I smile and thank her but I feel the balloon of friendship I started to fill up earlier, now floating away.
Copyright © 2018 by Elly V
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