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“You do have a plan,” he says. “Does it include me?”
Shelby feels bad for him and goes to sit on his lap.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Ben says.
She kisses him as though her life depended on it, even though she knows it doesn’t. It depends on equal parts probability and luck. That’s why she keeps throwing the fortune cookies into the glass bowl. No one can predict what will happen. On the night of the accident Shelby fastened her seat belt, something she did only three times out of ten. Helene was perched on the edge of her seat, too excited over their rock-­throwing adventure to bother with her seat belt, which she fastened nine times out of ten. Whenever anyone says that people get what they deserve, Shelby turns away. If that were true, she knows where she’d be right now, asleep and far away, cold to the touch, a dreamer who will never wake or rise from bed or kiss her beloved or lie to him and say, Yes, it’s true, the future is ours.
Shelby wonders if when you make one choice that’s out of the ordinary, all the rest of your life will change, an emotional domino effect. A few weeks after classes begin she’s called into the office at work. Ellen Grimes has recently been fired; there have been rumors of embezzlement and a trio of accountants has spent the last two weeks in the office, behind closed doors. Shelby assumes she’s also about to be fired as part of the downsizing. Clean out the waste before it cleans you out. Frankly, if she were in charge, she would fire herself. She’s been at the pet store for four months, time enough for people to see that she’s a black hole and a malcontent. She smokes weed in the storeroom with Juan. She wears her smock inside out. She gives herself a fifty percent discount rather than the usual twenty when she’s buying kibble for the General and Blinkie, and she does the same for any customer she senses has fallen on hard times. Shelby is the perfect person to get rid of, so she throws a couple of squeaky dog toys in her backpack before the meeting, thinking it’s the last freebie she’ll ever get from this place.
The general manager of the entire chain is waiting for her, a man in a suit and tie who stands when Shelby enters, as if she’s someone worthy of his good manners. Shelby sits down. She’s ready, willing, and able to be fired, and her mouth falls open when she’s told that she’s the new manager of the store. The company likes her integrity and her dedication. They’re impressed that she’s gone back to school.
“I don’t deserve it,” Shelby tells the general manager. “I’ve only been here for a few months. And I just started school. I’m sure I’ll be at the bottom of the class.”
She may be a nothing, but she’s honest. Doesn’t this company see that she’s worthless? Lately she’s been dreaming about the field again. She loses her way in the tall grass and she doesn’t even care that she’s lost. There are blackbirds above her and the wind comes up and that’s when she spies Helene. That’s who’s been following Shelby in her dreams. Helene is running, calling out to Shelby, but the funny thing is she’s speaking a different language, one Shelby can’t understand. Shelby is always disappointed when she wakes up and sees Ben making coffee and the dogs on their doggy bed, another item she marked down for herself at the pet shop. She wants Helene to be there in the apartment, speaking English, telling Shelby that she forgives her.
The manager’s job pays $250 more a week. She’ll no longer need an allowance from Ben. The thought of herself as independent gives Shelby a little shiver of pleasure. She hasn’t felt that for so long she doesn’t know what it is at first and wonders if she’s coming down with the flu. Shelby will have to do more office work, meaning less time with the customers, which is a definite plus. And she’s good at math, even though she hates it. She can figure things in her head without knowing how she does it. The answer just pops up and presents itself to her. The problem is that Maravelle has been working at the store for two years and supports three children. She’s the one who should be promoted.
“Maravelle should have the job.”
That’s what would happen in a fair and just world, but Shelby can tell from the expression on the general manager’s face they’re not functioning in a world like that.
“Do you know how much time she took off last month?” The general manager isn’t a pet person, he’s an accountant. He isn’t a people person either.
“Her kids had the chicken pox.” Maravelle has twin ten-year-old boys, Teddy and Dorian, and a thirteen-year-old girl named Jasmine. She has photos of them taped up on her cash register. In spite of herself, Shelby knows Maravelle’s life story. There was a bad boyfriend, and drugs and abuse, and then one day Maravelle took her kids and walked out to start a new life. Shelby respects that kind of nerve. She and Maravelle usually take their lunch break together. They’re such opposites, Juan, the king of all nicknames, has taken to calling them Beauty and the Beast. They simply call him Asshole.
“Bottom line, she’s absent too much. She’s not being promoted. If you don’t take it, I’ll hire from outside.”
The general manager stands; he’ll shake her hand or he’ll dump her. Shelby knows that much. So she accepts his offer. She’s self-destructive, not stupid. She doesn’t mention the meeting to anyone, but word gets around fast. At the end of the day, Maravelle comes looking for her.
“I can’t believe this! I’ve been here way longer than you!” Maravelle is pretty and talented, but she got pregnant at sixteen and her life took a detour that keeps on veering from the path she thought she’d be on. “Thanks a million, Shelby,” she says with real bitterness.
“They were going to hire from the outside if I didn’t take it.” Shelby hasn’t had a friend for so long, she supposes Maravelle is the closest she’s got. “Look, I’ll give you half the money.”
“I don’t want half the money!”
“Seriously, I mean it. I’ll share fifty-fifty!”
“You just don’t get it, Shelby. It was about me deserving it.” Maravelle looks as though she’s about to cry. “It was the chicken pox, wasn’t it? All that time I took off?”
Shelby nods.
“To hell with everything,” Maravelle says as she stalks away.
That night Ben and Shelby go to the Half King to celebrate. It’s owned by one of Ben’s favorite writers, a fearless journalist he admires, not that Ben has time to read anything other than pharmacy texts these days. They’re sitting at a table on the street, so they can bring the dogs along. The General stays close to Ben, who is messy, and therefore more likely to drop food, even though the bulldog is one hundred percent devoted to Shelby. Frankly, if the General had been a man instead of a bulldog, Shelby would probably run away with him.