I wake up at eight in the morning and wait anxiously for noon to arrive as if it is a train carrying my long lost lover. I’ve never been very social or charismatic, and I’m not looking forward to helping people, all I want is to sit in the high chair by the entrance and look out at the beach. Maybe I won’t be the best employee, but I’ll be pretty happy. Does that make me a bad person? Selfish? Probably.
When I was fifteen, before I met Hunter, I saw a girl sitting in the chair by the entrance of that shop as I walked by. She was beautiful. Young, alive, fresh-looking. She was maybe eighteen or nineteen, and she would always sit there and read a magazine or some romance novel. People would ask her for help and she would point them in the direction they needed to go, but wouldn’t do much more unless Sally was in. Most of the time, Sally isn’t in. I’ve learned from observation that whoever is running the heat press is in charge.
I named her Hannah, which is weird, but I don’t really care. She had black, long, wavy hair that she would braid in random spots and leave hanging. Her skin was tan because she was always sitting in the sun, and she had a tattoo of a Hawaiian flower on her ankle. She was some odd role model to me. We never spoke, she never knew of my existence, but I thought she must be the coolest girl in the entire world. Remind you, I was fifteen and depressed. But I’ve decided to live out my childhood dreams and be the girl in the high chair at the front of the shop.
When eleven thirty comes around, I decide to leave and be early. This may be the only time I show Sally that I’m a responsible employee, so it may as well be my first impression. The beach seems to be as crowded as it will get on a Monday. Not many adults fill the sand, but mostly teens and college kids and a few elderly people layabout.
I don’t stop at the seawall today but walk straight across the street and head into the shop. There are two or three people looking at clothes or pointing to designs on the wall, and I move past them as I reach the register. Sally is there, leaning against the wall, waiting for the people to decide while chatting with some younger guy. She promptly notices me and lifts up. “Hey, Emma, you’re early, I like that. Oh, and you’re already in uniform.”
I look down at my black hoodie. I suppose the employee uniform is anything from the shop because right in the middle is my orange sunset. “Uh, yeah. This one is my favorite so... so I thought I’d wear it.” Talking is hard, as usual. “What do you want me to, uh, do first?”
She motions for me to come around the counter and I do so. “This is Brandon. He’s on the press. I think I already told you that, though.”
My eyes peer up at the guy for a split second before returning to Sally. She must be expecting a ‘hello’ or ‘nice to meet you’ from me, but I cross my arms and squeeze myself. Brandon smiles at Sally, and Sally says, “Alright. I’ll show you around the back at how we organize the transfers. Brandon, you take care of everyone.”
I follow Sally through the back door and have one last look at Brandon. He’s blonde and his hair is short and curly, he looks like a surfer and I immediately decide that I don’t like him. He’s too pretty. Everyone probably loves him and his body and his possible surfing skills, so I’m not going to. He has one of those smiles, one that makes girls feel special.
Sally talks on and on about the organization of the back room. My mind can’t comprehend it all, and halfway, I lose interest. I saw the chair when I walked it. The red paint is chipped to heck and there’s some rough blanket thrown over it and it’s calling to me. “Whenever we get new shipments, just take the boxes back here and put them in their slots. You’re welcome to leave when you’re on break to get coffee or whatever. Brandon’s break is an hour before yours, so when he’s gone you’ll have to do the pressing. I’ll have him explain that tomorrow though since I’m here today. We can head back to the main room and you can get comfortable talking to the customers.”
As soon as we reach the shopping area, a young girl and her mother walk in and Sally urges me to give it a shot. I clench my jaw and walk over, knowing I’ll have to be nice. “Hi, welcome to The Shirt Shack, is there anything I can help you with?”
The woman smiles and looks at me, holding her daughter’s hand. “Oh, no. We’re just looking.”
“Oh, alright,” don’t be awkward, “just let me know if you guys need anything.” I even throw in a smile and she nods. My chest is tight and I turn back to Sally, rushing over as if I’m currently in a war zone and behind the counter is a safe haven.
“That was good. You weren’t pushy and respected their space. I think you might be a natural.”
Sally’s too nice. She’ll encourage anyone even if they stuttered and tripped and forgot where they were when talking to a customer. I can tell she’s not one to really criticize, only give sweet improvement ideas. “Okay. Should I just keep doing that?”
“Yeah, oh, and I’ll show you how to work the register.”
Brandon glances over at us many times throughout the day as Sally teaches me. I always look away when we accidentally make eye contact but find myself looking back again.
Sally sends me home after training and tells me to come back tomorrow at nine for my first shift.
On my way home, I walk past a group of teenagers, maybe a few years younger than me. One of them reminds me of Hunter, so I pick up my pace.
The night after my first kiss, the kiss on top of the boulder, Hunter asked me to meet him at the beach at midnight. I felt like someone edgy and rebellious since I had to sneak out of the house, and I eventually found him by the water. It was difficult since he didn’t tell me anywhere specific, only the beach.
We were awkward at first, hesitant to kiss, to talk, to laugh. He was more comfortable than I was and must have decided to dive right in because he asked me if I was a virgin. I tried to laugh it off and say no in a way that made me look comfortable, but on the inside, my heart felt like it was on fire. He told me that he wasn’t, and all I thought to say was okay. After that, he started asking me a bunch of questions. Have you ever dated anyone before? Was I your first kiss? Do you like kissing me? Do you want to kiss now? We kissed again and he added in his tongue. I squirmed a bit and couldn’t figure out if he was bad at it or if I was.
The rising tide snuck up on us and I began telling him that I had to go soon. He wanted me to stay and told me how beautiful he thought I was. I blushed and shied away, a bubbly feeling rose up inside of me. He then asked if I touched myself. I stopped smiling then. I said no. He said he knew I was lying because everyone does it. I left.
That night I snuck back in and couldn’t fall asleep. For some reason, he made me feel dirty. The way he said it made me feel as if what I had been doing was wrong.
In the morning, I make my way over to the shop again. The sun has already risen. I was the first one awake in the house at eight thirty. Aunt Wendy doesn’t work anymore and my mother is on vacation as she’s a schoolteacher. My father will have to leave in two weeks, though. But he’ll be back next month for another two weeks.
I felt very independent this morning. It felt as if I almost lived by myself. My phone has been dead since yesterday and I’m not going to bother charging it. I’m sure people are still asking if I’m dead or not, and I want to leave them guessing.
When I walk in, the only person around is Brandon. I was expecting this, though, as Sally said she wasn’t going to be here. “Hey, ready for you’re first day?” He asks and I swallow. Brandon looks so inviting, like a piece of cheese on a mousetrap.
“Uh, yeah. I guess,” I mumble.
“Sally wanted me to show you how to work the heat press if you’re ready?”
I nod and make my way over to him. He stands in front of the press while I stand to his side. “Alright. You’re going to open the press,” he opens the press, “then you’re going to set the temperature to three seventy-five,” he reaches for the temperature knob and turns it, “the light will flash,” the light flashes, “now you wait until it’s heated.” He looks to me and I look away. “So do you live here?”
I say, “not permanently.”
“You’re here for vacation then? Do you have a house down here for the summer?”
I know he’s just trying to be friendly, but the last thing I want to do is answer his pointless questions. As he rambles, my mind wanders to the heat press. I wonder what it would feel like if someone accidentally got their hand heat-pressed. “It’s done,” I say quickly, noticing the light turning on.
“Oh, okay. Now you’re going to turn the knob back until the light turns off,” he turns it back. “This is the pressure knob, but you won’t really have to touch that. The timer is already set as well, so you just have to place their shirt on the plate with the designed side facing up, and set the transfer on it faced down. There’s already a protective pad on it, so you won’t have to cover the transfer with anything. So just close the press, start the timer,” he points to a button on the side of the machine, “and when it goes off just press it again to stop it. Then just open the press and remove the shirt. After you peel the paper off you can hand it to the customer, just warn them that it may be hot.”
“And check them out?” I ask, expecting that in this scenario I am alone.
He nods, turning off the heat and closing the press. “And usually we keep the heat on if it’s busy, but if it’s slow you can turn it off.”
We go our separate ways. I head to the chair up front and Brandon hangs back by the press. His sits up on the counter and stares down at his phone or sweeps the floor or brings out new clothes. Two or three people walk in before noon and one of them gets a shirt. I retrieve the transfer of their choice and bring it to Brandon with the shirt. He presses it, I give it to the guy and check him out, he leaves, and I return to my post.
At noon, more people come in and out, so I stay on the floor helping the customers, grabbing transfers, checking to see if we have the right size of shirt or jacket, and handing things to Brandon so he can press them. Every now and then he’ll ask me how I’m doing, I’ll say good, and he’ll give me the garment. At two, things slow down and Brandon goes on break. I sit up front in my chair and watch as he heads down to the beach. I find it odd. I thought he would go get food or head to the back of the shop, but he meets a group of people down by the water. Then he plays volleyball with a few of them. In my head, I make fun of it, but really I’m just jealous that I can’t have friends like he has friends.
I can hear their yelling and laughing from my seat, and I try to look away but my eyes keep drifting back to the game. They aren’t taking it completely seriously, but all of them know how to play. Everyone seems to like Brandon as I expected. He looks like a golden boy down there, blonde hair bouncing, muscles for the girls to gawk at, a smile to make them melt. It makes me hate him even more. I’m becoming some summer-time grinch.
When it’s my turn for a break, Brandon comes back and I walk down the street, turning into a sushi place that I remember liking very much. It’s casual, quaint, and I take my food outside to sit. One order of California rolls and I’m sitting up on the seawall, my feet dangling freely as I eat. The half of the beach that stays mostly dry is still packed with people while the lower half is running barren. I contemplate not going back to work. I think about what would happen if I just go home and never go back. I think I’m dying on the inside, at a faster pace than everyone else.
I think my heart is too bruised and beaten up to even watch other people be happy.
Other people seem to react to life differently than I do, and I wish I could react like them. Brandon would ask me how I’m doing and I would joke about the little boy who kept falling over by the women’s shirts.
Why can’t it be like that? Why do I have to be so hurt and broken and hopeless that talking to me becomes a chore? Why can’t I just have fun at my own birthday party and not jump in the pool like a lunatic? Because of them, maybe.