Normally when I work at night I flip to a cooking show and start watching that. There are only so many work related things to read, and everyone knows that I am more into footwear than technology anyways. Sometimes I watch a game, the Milwaukee Bucks have been on a hot streak lately, the Bradley Center of my youth has been replaced by the Fiserv Forum (few things smach of North American hubris as the naming of ballparks and convention centers after companies with more money than good taste in naming rights, but I digress), that night I was restless. Since I work exclusively with men, we talk a lot about sex. Who is having it, who isn't, how much they are getting, who would bang the MILF that was in with her volleyball playing daughters, the guys talk about their cocks, other people's tits, we've had camel toe conversations, and I can pretty much guarantee that any HR employee would fire us collectively if any of the conversations we have on a daily basis were overheard by members of said task force.
There were three people in the store that night, rare, I thought to myself as I greeted the portly gentleman and his well fed daughter. I want to mention that I work next door to a barbecue joint, this guy reminded me of the owner, a former South American cowboy with a love of the Australian outback, and medieval Japan. Prominently featured on the signage inside were pictures that he got online, and I often wondered if the shy samurai and the lone wallaby were meant to be a part of something larger thematic statement that had been buried under offers of two for one smoked meat combos. We get all types at the store, the guy I was talking to laughed about his email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and claimed it made him a hit with the ladies. I smiled politely to show I got the joke. The dirt under his fingernails was caked on thick, no amount of soap, scrubbing, or even a vigorous lathering with shampoo was going to get that grease out from under there anytime soon. The odd pair left and I was left alone with a very different sort of man.
That night I had turned the TV to the classical music channel. A violin concerto set the stage for the encounter, I approached him with what I hoped was a steady, friendly smile on my way back from the door. Noticing the hours posted he told me that he could come back tomorrow, but we had a couple of minutes before we were officially closed, and I explained that I didn't mind working late to help someone in need. He objected further, he was worried about my safety, and to be perfectly honest with you, so was I. Most of our clientele is the older, retired type. He was younger, he had just come from work he explained in a voice that reminded me of the maple syrup I had drizzled over a fruit plate that morning. Smooth, deep, dark, complex, sweet without being sugary; the rest of him was just as delicious as the music that was pounding in my ears by this point in time. When I explained that I was going to lock the door he nodded knowingly. If we were playing tag, I was it.
A strange thing happened when I tried locking the door; no matter what I tried, I couldn't lock it. Then I realized that it had already been locked for the evening. A chill went down my spine as I watched two dancers doing a bebop type dance in the parking lot. The temperature felt cooler than it had been previously. I whirled around, but the man was still standing by the counter, chivalrously waiting for me. Time to get down to business I thought to myself, forcing my mind away from the fingers that drummed on my countertop every so often. Just as I was asking for the last signature I needed, the overhead lights flickered. Storms in the area were responsible I told myself, thank goodness I was almost done for the day. I was so cold it felt as if my fingers were blue from lack of circulation. Not even the heat radiating off of the customer I was with could keep me warm behind the expanse of shelving we called the cashwrap station.
Was it my imagination, or was my customer lingering as he shook my hand, drawing out the contact between my icy hand, and his much warmer one. I could have sworn his eyes were brown when I first met him, now I saw that they were very deep and dark, but the color was actually blue. I was losing it right then and there at work, nothing was as it seemed that evening. Flickering lights from electronics seemed to dance before my eyes, I tried the door to let him out, this time I could neither lock, nor unlock the door. Slightly scared, but determined to smile my way through the ever increasing chill, I tried fumbling with the lock mechanism again. He was standing very close to me, we were close enough to kiss, and suddenly I was caught up in a new fear. What if I lost my job because of an inappropriate interaction with a customer?
Vivaldi faded and a new concerto began. My customer was talking, his voice was the same, but I felt very differently about him than I had previously. At night the store is never completely dark. Winking lights flash, LEDs shine steadily, the noise and revelry from next door spills over onto our shared sidewalk, occasionally a raucous drunk will yell when he or she is asked to leave for the evening. Sometimes lovers leave together, arms twined around each other's waists, his or her hand in his or her back pocket. I kind of like things like that every once in a while even if it isn't generally my style. I heard a light tinkling sound, as if a lightbulb had shattered, when I turned, I was alone. No customers in the store with me as there had been moments ago. My hand went to the lock; this time I could unlock it, but trying to lock it was an exercise in futility.
Our store is carpeted so I wasn't sure where the sound of breaking glass had originated. I was starting to get really scared. Nobody would hear me if I screamed. Music from next door drowned out the melodic flutist playing on our screen. My eyes scanned the perimeter, I think I screamed involuntarily. I know I didn't yell that loudly on purpose. The customer I had seen earlier was outside now, but how he had gotten there was a complete mystery to me, as strange an occurrence as the broken glass I couldn't locate, or the sudden pitch black of the store around me. Only my breath was visible, puffy clouds of frozen terror creating a grey and white haze before me. Frost crunched beneath my feet as if our carpeting had turned to glass. Only the man was warm. Clad in the clothes he had worn while inside the store, he seemed impervious to the bone chilling cold.
I can't tell you how loud the next sound was. Running to the back was an automatic reflex, whatever had fallen behind our back door, it was too heavy for me to move. Now I was trapped. Sure I could have used something to break through the heavy plate glass of our windows, but how stupid would I look on camera the next day when the guys at work came in to open the store. Never in my life had I been so afraid, but I was curious too. This guy was clearly waiting for me, motionless and silent, as if the no longer hungry diners leaving the restaurant next door didn't exist, as if we were the only two people alive on the planet. He wanted me to do something, but I had no idea what. Numbly I counted the cash and coins, punched out, and entered the alarm code, praying harder than I had since my parents had caught me sneaking out of the house to meet my friends. The lock turned easily this time. Go to my car, or take a chance on him? In the blackness, I smiled to myself.
For the Quest