On the Fence

Page 3


“Accompanying you and pointing to the stores you should pick up applications from, helping you write your name in little boxes. You know, invaluable stuff like that.”
“What would I do without you?”
“It’s too painful to even consider, but it might involve drying pores and withering.”
Chapter 4
I came out of Urban Chic carrying an application and had to wait while Gage finished talking to a redhead and her short friend. I listened to the sound of the ocean, only three blocks away, and took a deep breath of coastal air. Old Town was only ten minutes from our house, but the air tasted different here.
“Did you come to help me or to pick up girls?” After the way the lady behind the register looked at me, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be a future employee of Urban Chic. Perfectly fine with me. There were so many sequins reflecting the fluorescent lighting in that store, I was sure it would produce a massive headache after five minutes.
“I can do both at the same time,” he assured me. “I’m talented like that.”
The only reason I chose Old Town to look for a place of possible employment was because it had so many stores so close together and I wouldn’t have to drive all around town picking up applications. And unlike the mall, hopefully nobody I knew would come around. It was near the beach, so mostly tourists or rich types shopped here. The stores consisted mainly of local owners with local wares—lots of antique shops and vintage clothing stores. And although I liked the feel of the area, what I truly and sincerely hoped was that I wouldn’t be able to find a job. Maybe that was why I stayed in my jeans and T-shirt, my hair pulled up into a ponytail, still wet from my shower.
“Never date a guy whose jeans don’t cover his ankles,” Gage said, pointing to the guy twenty yards ahead. He shuddered.
“But he’d be able to walk through puddles and stuff without even getting his jeans wet. He’s a planner.”
I often wondered why my brothers insisted on making these lists for me. It wasn’t like I had been waiting anxiously on the sidelines for the dating buzzer to sound.
He laughed then steered me to the right. “That looks like a good store.” So far Gage’s employment suggestions had been influenced by whether there was a girl in the vicinity. This store just happened to have an outdoor fountain where a girl and her little sister (maybe?) were throwing spare change into the water.
“Do you think there’s two hundred and sixty-four dollars’ worth of change in there?” I watched the coins ripple the surface. “I could just come here once a week and collect the money out of the fountains.”
“Now you’re thinking creatively,” Gage said. “I could totally get behind that idea.” Then he cleared his throat and spoke a little louder. “My sister”—he always made sure hot girls knew our relationship—“and I were just trying to guess how much money is in this fountain.”
“A million dollars,” the little girl said.
“See, there you go,” Gage said, looking at me. “Problem solved.”
The dark-haired girl in low-rise jeans playfully hit her sister’s shoulder and batted her eyelashes at Gage with a giggle. Before I hurled, I stepped into the store behind her and looked around.
The store smelled like old people—like books and bread and perfume. It was full of . . . stuff—mirrored boxes, colorful lamps, small dog statues. Did people buy small dog statues?
A girl, her blond hair tipped with pink, stood arranging knickknacks on a shelf.
“Hi. Could I get an application?” I asked.
“Of course.” She walked to the counter and pulled a paper from beneath it. “We’re not really hiring right now, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right?”
She bit her lip. “There’s a store two doors down. A little clothing store owned by a lady named Linda. You should try there. Tell her Skye Lockwood sent you.”
“Okay, thanks. I’m Charlie.”
“Good to meet you.”
I waved and walked out of the store.
“How’d it go?” Gage asked.
“Not hiring.”
“Bummer. Well, I’ve already scored three phone numbers, so at least one of us is accomplishing something today.”
“Thank you. Very motivating.” I pointed up the way. “The girl told me to try some clothing store two doors this way, though.”
We walked down the sidewalk and passed a doll store. “Oh, you so need to go in there,” Gage said. I noticed the girl working inside was beautiful—of course. Next time I went job hunting I was leaving my brother at home. He opened the door and a bell announced our arrival. When we stepped in, I realized this store was either on the verge of closing or on the verge of opening. Boxes lay open all over the floor and were being packed . . . unpacked?
“Oh,” she said when she saw us. “Hi. Sorry, we’re closed. Xander must’ve left the door unlocked.” She handed us a card. “But if you’re looking for a doll, that’s our website. We’re going mobile.”
“Mobile?” Gage asked.
“As in trade shows, fairs.” She continued putting newspaper into a box.
“You need some help packing up?” Gage asked.
I grabbed Gage by the arm and yanked him out of the store.
“Did you see her eyes?” He put his hand over his heart and took a few staggering steps.
I rolled mine. “Last store,” I said, pointing at the clothing store Skye must’ve been referring to. “Then I’m ready for food or something.”
“I’ll wait out here.” When he said it, he gestured to a dance studio next door. A girl who looked about our age was inside, practicing in front of the mirrors.
“I swear, Gage. You’re such a guy.” I yanked open the door. The shop appeared free of any breathing person. It smelled like burning incense, but I couldn’t find the source. There were a few headless mannequins wearing tiny dresses. Circular racks of clothes filled the middle of the store and more racks lined the walls. Along the back were large hutches housing small glass bottles. I couldn’t tell if they were for sale or just on display. A floor lamp draped with a scarf stood unlit in the corner.
“Hello?” I called out. No answer. Just as I turned to leave, a middle-aged woman came out of the back room holding a coffee cup. Her brightly colored shirt looked straight out of India and her legs were clad in a wide-legged pair of dark jeans.
“Oh. Hello there.” She set her cup down on the counter, put her palms together, and bowed. “Welcome.”
“Okay. Thanks.”
She stepped forward and I could see that her feet were bare. “How can I serve you?”
Was this lady for real? I tried to remember the name of the store I was in. Crazy Lady Central? Had I accidentally walked into a spiritual healing or massage therapy store? The mannequins and racks of clothes would seem to indicate otherwise, but I was no fashion expert.
I held up the papers already in my hand. “I just wanted to pick up an application. Um . . . Skye Lockewood said you might be hiring.”
“Did she now? I don’t have applications. It’s just me. This is my store.”
“Okay. Well, thanks anyway.” I started to leave.
“But,” she said as I was almost out the door, “I asked for a sign today and here you are.”
“A sign?” I glanced out the window, hoping Gage would come in and save me. He was leaning against the glass next door staring inside dreamily. No help whatsoever. “I . . .” I took a step back. “Have a good day.”
“You want a job, right?”
Not really. “Yes.”
“Well, I’ve been contemplating expanding, bringing in new business. And if Skye vouches for you, maybe you’re just the girl I’ve been waiting for.”
I didn’t tell her that Skye had just met me. “I’m pretty sure I’m not the girl anyone has been waiting for. I have no experience, I’ve never used a register in my life. I really wouldn’t be very good selling clothes either. I mean, look at me.”
She did. She took in my faded McKinley High T-shirt, my Target jeans, and my beat-up sneakers. “So you’re looking for a job, but hoped you wouldn’t find one? Let me guess. Parents forcing you to?”
“Yes. My dad.”
“What’s your name?”
“Charlie, I’m Linda. I think I can give you the best deal in all of Old Town. From six to eight on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then four hours Saturday mornings. So what is that? Eight hours a week? Your dad will be appeased and you’ll hardly have to work at all.”
I nodded slowly. That didn’t sound too bad. Even if it meant working with Crazy Barefoot Lady.
She moved to a small metal tree by the register where earrings hung and straightened a pair, then looked up at me expectantly.
“What’s the pay?” In other words, how many weeks was it going to take me to pay off those tickets and get done with this?
“I can afford ten dollars an hour, so around a hundred and fifty dollars every two weeks, after taxes. But . . .”
Of course there’s a catch.
“You would need to wear something more presentable. If you don’t have anything, I will front you a paycheck to buy a few outfits, but then you’ll be working those first two weeks for your clothes.”
Ugh. Stupid clothes. I looked at the mannequins, who were showing more leg than I cared to see. “I don’t do dresses.”
“Of course not. I wouldn’t put you in a dress like that anyway. It’s all wrong for your aura.”
My aura? I didn’t know my aura had an opinion on dresses.
“What’s today?” she asked.
“Okay, why don’t you come in tomorrow before your shift starts and you can fill out some paperwork? Don’t forget to bring your driver’s license. . . . You are sixteen, right?”
“Good. Then after that I’ll help you pick out a few things that would suit you.”
Tomorrow. I’ll have to start work tomorrow. “Okay.”
She smiled, took a deep breath, then bowed again. “This feels right.”
I nodded and backed my way out of the store. Was this what “right” felt like?
“How’d it go?” Gage asked.
“I got a job.”
“Really?” He looked up at the name of the store. “Linda’s Bazaar.”
“And was it bizarre?” He wiggled his fingers.
“You have no idea.”
Chapter 5
My dad seemed surprised when I told him I’d gotten a job, like he’d expected me to come home a failure. I couldn’t blame him. I was surprised too.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad.”
“It’s not that I didn’t think you could get one, I just didn’t think you really would.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
“Do you need anything?” He looked me up and down. “Uh . . . uniform or something?”
When I was with my brothers, my dad was perfectly normal, but when he singled me out, he was so awkward. And always a beat behind. I still remembered when I was thirteen and my dad approached me one day. Sweat beaded his upper lip. “Charlie,” he’d said, “Carol at work said you might need a bra.” He said it so fast I almost didn’t catch it. Then both of our faces reddened. “I could take you shopping,” he added. “I guess they have stores where they help you get fitted . . . and stuff.” My face still red, I assured him I already had a bra. I had learned the year before, when I started changing out for gym class, that everyone but me had one. I’d told my dad I needed money for cleats and used the money to buy one. Even though I hadn’t known her, it was times like those that I longed for my mother.
“Linda—my new boss—she’s going to help me get clothes.”
He nodded, relieved. “Good. Good.” Then he pulled me into a rare hug. “I’m proud of you.” My dad was tall, so my cheek pressed against his chest. He smelled like cinnamon gum.
“No need to get all mushy. It’s eight hours a week.”
“I’m proud of you too,” Gage said, throwing his arms around us and sending us all collapsing to the sofa.
“Gage,” my dad grunted, untangling himself from our bodies and standing.
Gage filled in the now empty space by wrapping one arm around my neck and the other behind my knee and proceeding to fold me in half. I kicked and struggled to get out. “Surrender,” he said.
“Don’t break anything,” my dad said and walked away. “Oh, and congratulations, Charlie.”
“Thanks,” I called, sounding a bit like Kermit the Frog with my neck bent over like that. I pinched Gage hard on the side and he yelped but didn’t let go. I squirmed and kicked and wasn’t above biting, but I couldn’t get a good hold on his arm. My brothers always called me a cheater when I bit, but they had twice as much muscle as I did, so I had to find a way to even the playing field.
“Surrender,” he said again.
I pushed off the ground with my free foot and almost succeeded in rolling us off the couch, but he eased me back into place.
“Charlie, you stubborn child, just admit I have you. You can’t get out of this.”
I pushed against his neck and he gagged a little, but then just pulled my arm into his hold. The front door opened and closed, and Braden said, “Hey, guys.”