Monthly Archives: August 2015

Noticed

Alice waits another week before she gives up. Then she carefully picks everything up and hides it away. Deep. She deletes the one email he wrote to her. (Responding to one of the three she wrote to him, of course.)

She pretends to forget the bright blue of his eyes. She stops looking for him in every part of the store. She tries hard to convince herself that his hair was cut so short because he was dealing badly with premature baldness in her effort to create flaws where previously she saw none.

She pushes it all aside and reminds herself that she has nothing to be sad about. Because nothing ever happened and, she realizes with the unique clarity that comes from hindsight, most likely nothing ever would have happened.

She tries to tell herself it doesn’t hurt now. She studiously ignores the gaping hole where something more could have been. She must have imagined this loneliness and want that she can’t quite ignore and can’t quite name.

***

In retrospect, again that painfully clear hindsight, it isn’t much of a surprise. All of her crushes—the bad ones—have been on coworkers. All of them have been disasters.

Loving a celebrity from afar always seems too easy; too much like cheating to pine for someone so obviously unattainable. So no. Her crushes—the painful ones she can only think about in quick, fleeting moments after the fact—are always real. Always too close.

Nick wasn’t any different.

***

She never actually had a chance to call him Nick. They never said each other’s names. She knew his name after a lengthy search through the staff directory. And he knew hers after the first email. But that was all. Even now, with the bitter aftertaste of what could have been burning in her throat, there is something scandalous about thinking of him that way—a name that never was never really hers to use freely.

Later, after he replied to her first email and they actually spoke to each other out loud, she learned that they had started working at the department store on the same day. It took a few weeks for her to notice him. Maybe Appliances involved more training than generic checkout. Maybe she just hadn’t paid attention.

But after she saw him, after she realized she was unconsciously tracking him across the store, she knew it was only a matter of time. She knew she was in trouble.

That was before any of the emails. Before she tracked down his name and found excuses to talk about the intricacies of the hierarchy between departments just to mention him. Before she called him anything but That Really Cute Guy in Appliances in her head.

After that but before he replied to the first email she thought something had changed. It wasn’t exactly that he noticed her. Girls who got noticed never had these problems. They were handed phone numbers. They were asked out on dates.

Alice didn’t get noticed. In particularly bleak moments she wondered if Dorothy Parker had been right about boys and girls who wear glasses. Girls Who Got Noticed never seemed to wear glasses. They didn’t have complicated crushes that lasted for months only to fall apart like a spectacularly elaborate house of cards.

So no. Nick didn’t notice her. But he did start talking to her. He did, it seemed for a while at least, seek her out. But maybe that’s something any handsome guy would do. (No matter how much she tried to drive home the idea of the premature baldness, Alice could not deny that Nick was attractive. It was a pointless exercise.) And what attractive person doesn’t want to be adored?

She never put much stock in books that talked about characters blushing until those heady early weeks. She must have looked like a lobster from the way her cheeks heated up when he so much as smiled at her.

The problem with having a painful crush on someone you only see in passing at work, though, was that it’s hard to get to know a person that way. It was hard, Alice learned, to find anything to talk about that didn’t make her sound like a blathering idiot.

He kept coming back though so maybe that was all right. After so much waiting, maybe something was going to happen. Maybe, for once, Alice (wildly hoped) she would actually be Noticed.

But Nick was transferred instead. To Electronics. In another store on the opposite end of town.

That’s when she sent the first email. When he wrote back. When they finally both knew the other’s name.

She sent the second email a little later. When she was sure he was well and truly away and the crushed seemed well and truly pointless. When she thought she had nothing to lose because being brave seemed like a grand idea and pride seemed like a small thing to risk.

He was transferred back the week after that. Of course. After the second email asked him out and admitted that she had Noticed him for quite some time. But maybe that was obvious all along with her lobster red cheeks and incoherent speech and the way she politely refused to acknowledge the bald spot even existed. (In hindsight and with just a little bitterness she can admit now that the bald spot was, in fact, significant in size.)

After he came back, for a little while anyway, it seemed like something might happen. She added more cards to her card-house-crush and she thought for once it might stay strong. She made plans. She had hopes. She named things she wouldn’t usually talk about like that loneliness and want that hindsight are making her feel so acutely right now.

She wondered, briefly and fantastically, if this was what it felt like to be Noticed the way all of her friends who did not wear glasses or have elaborate crushes seemed to be Noticed.

But it wasn’t like that.

Two weeks after he came back, three after she sent that reckless second email, and he never said a word to her. He waved the one time she passed him on her way to the register. They looked at each other quite a few times across the cavernous aisle that separated the bank of registers from Appliances. Once, she was so so sure he was going to walk over. But he never did any of those things. He never emailed even though Alice was sure it would have been the easiest thing in the world.

Suddenly, in such a short time, all of the potential and hope fizzled away to uncertainty and confusion as Alice wondered how she could have possibly been so wrong. Again.

That’s when she sent the third email. And she isn’t proud of that. But pride, it turns out, really is the first thing to go when emotions start to run high.

There were a lot of things she wanted to say to him. A lot of questions to ask, if she was being honest. Instead she kept it simple and she tried to stay civil. She didn’t talk about how many hopes she had pinned to him. She didn’t admit that the idea of being Noticed seemed so much more exciting that noticing someone. She didn’t even hint at the weeks of silence. Instead she went to his email—the only one he had sent when everything still seemed about to happen—and she hit reply again. She didn’t think too hard before she wrote that he could have just said no. He could have given her that small dignity of acknowledgement.

 

***

Alice waits another week before she gives up. For real this time. Then she carefully picks everything up and hides it away. Deep. She deletes the one email he wrote to her. She deletes her replies too. She doesn’t need them to remember that she tried. She doesn’t want them to remind her that it didn’t work.

Eventually his eyes don’t seem quite as bright. And his hair really is short because of the bald spot. He is still handsome, perspective can only change so much, but not in a painful way. Not in a way that makes her heart ache anymore.

She pushes it all aside and reminds herself that she has nothing to be sad about. She tries and succeeds when she tells herself it doesn’t hurt now. She tells herself there are more important things and she is going to find them soon. Maybe they’ll even Notice her.

She tells herself all of that and she believes it because, she realizes with beautiful clarity, that it’s true.

That is what she’s thinking, with a small smile just for herself not for any crush, when she sees a new message with Nick’s name in her inbox. That is what she is thinking as her cursor slides uncertainly between “open” and “delete.”

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Problem Solving

“Lemonade,” Ginny, my younger sister says, standing over me. Her wild, red curls block the sun. But just barely. I lean back on my heels, and look up at her round, cherubic face. I wonder how it is even possible that we are related. As opposite as day and night, Gran always says.

“Did you make it?”

“No, the Johnson’s down the street did,” she replies sarcastically. Her hand extended towards me, I watch the cubes of ice clank against the glass. I am thirsty, but not enough to drink Ginny’s lemonade.

“I’ll pass,” I say. Ginny’s lemonade is just a bit too sweet for my liking.

“Suit yourself,” she says as she turns around and back towards the house.

“Hey!” I call after her. She stops, but doesn’t turn around to face me. She knows what’s coming. “Why don’t you stay out her and help me?”

“You want me to help you?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Because you never want my help.”

It’s true. Since mom and dad took on a second jobs, and Gran’s health has taken a turn for the worse, I’ve slid into the adult role around the house. It’s not a role I ever wanted, but it’s a role I have dutifully taken on. And admittedly, I’m a bit of a control freak. Ginny is always offering to help – with the dishes, with the grocery shopping – but I always refuse.  Believe me, it’s not because I don’t want her help, it’s because I want her to enjoy the remainder of her childhood.  But Ginny doesn’t see that.

“Here,” I say handing her a hand shovel. “You were always better than digging holes than I was,” I say.

She willingly takes the shovel from me, and kneels beside me. We work in silence, her shoveling and me weeding the pesky sprouts and shoots of grass and dandelions.

“Remember that summer we spent at the beach?”

“Yeah. Remember how every morning mom had to coax you in just to eat breakfast?”

“I was trying to build Cinderella’s castle!”

“It looked more like a cave,” I say and we both laugh in unison.

“It did not!” she says bitterly, throwing a handful of dirt in my direction.

We don’t talk, but I know we are both silently reminiscing about that long-lost summer. The summer that was perfect. Mom and dad actually had quality time to spend with us. Money wasn’t free-flowing, but it wasn’t as tight as it is now. And Gran was a  vibrant woman who was more active than my sister and I combined.

We spent those summer days lounging on the beach, jumping waves, and eating dad’s famous tuna salad sandwiches. Nights we spent around the table playing Uno.

It’s cliché to even think it, but those were the days.  The days when life wasn’t perfect, but it was damn near close.

I weed silently lost in thoughts of the past.

“Ka-tie! Earth to Katie!”

“Huh, what were you saying?”

“What planet were you visiting?”

“What?”

“You were spacing out. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Keep digging. That hole isn’t big enough.”

“How deep does it have to be?”

“Deep enough to plant that tomato plant,” I say pointing to the row of pots I have lined up and waiting to be planted. “Why are you planting so much this year?”

“No reason,” I lie, and Ginny knows it. She always knows when I’m lying.

“Spill it,” she demands.

“It’s nothing really. It’s just … ” I hesitate, not wanting her shoulders to be weighed down by the burden.

“It’s just what?”

Ginny is a lot stronger than she looks – both physically and emotionally. Stronger than I can and ever will be.

“Money is tight Gin, tighter than it usually is. We’re barely making the bills and rent. And food for a family of five is getting more and more difficult,” I say and linger off. I don’t want her to see the full picture. I don’t want her to know that  I overheard mom and dad talking about how they can’t afford groceries this month.  “This is my way of contributing, Gin. It’s the least I could do.”

“You do a lot, though.”

“It’s not nearly enough. And at least this way I actually feel like I’m doing something … anything, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

I lean back on my heels, and stretch my aching shoulders.  I reach over and grab Ginny’s glass that is stationed between us on the hot concrete slab.  I take a sip of her lemonade. It’s as terrible as I expect it to be. But I’m so thirsty I don’t really care. I’m guzzling the sweet liquid when I hear a clink and a clank.

“What’s that?” I ask looking over Ginny’s hunched shoulders.

“Some sort of metal box,” she says uprooting the dirt covered, rusted box.  Ginny turns the box over in her hands. When she’s done, she tries to pry it open. “It’s stuck!”

“It’s not stuck, it’s locked.”

“Same difference,” she says knowing all to well that I hate that saying. “Here.”

She passes me the box. I inspect it, turning it several times over in my hands. I shake it to try to determine what’s on the inside.  “Something’s in there,” I announce, quite obviously.

“Really, Sherlock?”

I swat at Ginny teasingly. “Do you have a hair pin?”

“A what?”

“A hair pin?”

“Do you mean a bobby pin?”

“Don’t get technical.”

“What do I look like, a walking beauty salon?”

“With that hair of yours … who know what’s hiding in there?!”

“Gran has a ton of them,” she says picking herself off the ground. “Come on,” she says walking away towards the house.

The quiet consumes us as we walk in. I remember the days when life and laughter greeted us at the door. Gran is a sleep in her rocker in front of the ancient television set. Mom and Dad are both at work, due home at any moment. I follow Ginny into Gran’s stark white room. So white, in the late day sun, it’s almost blinding.

I walk over to her dresser, and take a good, long look at my dirt streaked face.  I’m tired, and the dark circles around my eyes show it. Wisps of hair have escaped the bun at the top of my head. My lips are chapped.   Not wanting to face myself in the mirror, I start looking at the many photos Gran has circling the mirror. There are pictures of Gran as a young bride, Gramps, now long gone, in his Air Force uniform. There are pictures of my mom at ripe age of five, dressed in her Sunday’s best and her strawberry blonde curls glistening in the sun. Then there are pictures of me and Ginny.

“Forget the bobby pin,” Ginny says. I spin around and in between her fingers dangles a small, gold key.  I snatch it out of her hands and sink down into the plush mauve carpeting. Ginny sits across from me.

I work the key into the rust lock. It takes some work, but after a long, hard moment I slip the key in. With a good twist, I hear the lock pop. Victory! I lift the lid and my jaw hits the ground .. audibly.

“What is it? What’s in the box?!”

“The solution to all of our problems!”

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