It’s Saturday, and I make my way into the shop with curiosity on my shoulder. Today is supposed to be the busiest day of the week. Brandon is already here, as usual, as he opens up. I walk in. He smiles. I sort of smile then walk to the back to set my bag down before coming back out. After setting up the register and scanning over the store, I take my seat and wait patiently for noon. But, unlike the weekdays, people are already walking in, so I get up from my post and work the floor. I’ve had four days of practice, and I hope it does me well. I wasn’t as lazily as I thought I was going to be—no longer taking after the mysterious girl who sat there before me—so I’m sure I can handle it.
One person. Two people. One leaves. Three more come in. It’s manageable. One person. Three people. Two leave. Four come in, it’s a family, the kids are complaining. The mother scolds as they tug on shirts and as they hang on the racks. “I want this! No, this one!” The little girl cries in my back of my head as I try to focus on the cash register. “That was two shirts and one hoodie?” I ask the woman again and she nods, impatient. Another asks me to fetch some transfers for her to compare on the shirt, so I leave the register and grab the three. I hand them to her but she tells me “No, not the dolphins, I said the flower, the surfer, and the starfish.”
I hold my tongue and grab the starfish, putting back the dolphins. She takes it roughly and holds up her hoodie, centering each one and judging which might look best. “This one,” she mutters and drops the other two on the counter.
“Okay, all you have to do is take it to the guy over there and he’ll press it for you,” I mutter as I swipe up the leftover and slide them back in their slots. When I get back to the main room five more people must have come in. The mother and her two children are at the counter while the dad walks back outside.
“We need the hot pink cropped shirt in a small,” she asks as her kids stick their hands in the keychain bowl. I hurry to the back and search through the boxes. There’s no small so I return to tell her and the little girl throws a fit. “What do you mean you have no smalls? Look what you’ve done,” she nearly yells at me and grabs her daughters arm. “This is ridiculous. Just get me the flower transfer and the surfboard then.” She looks down to her child. “You’ll have to get the normal shirt. Go grab it. If you cry, you’re not getting anything.”
I sigh and run back to the storage room. I grab the surfboard but my heart drops when I feel the empty slot that’s supposed to be full of Hawaiian flower transfers. It’s been the most popular one this week, and we don’t get anymore shipped until Monday. What the heck am I supposed to do? If I go back out there that woman’s going rip my head off. “Come on, Emma,” I mumble to myself, “you have to get it over with.”
Leaving the safety of the storage room, I place the single transfer on the table and look up at her beady eyes. “We’re out of Hawaiian flowers.”
“Excuse me? Are you kidding?”
“Um, no. It’s been the most—”
She snaps, “I don’t care. First the shirt, now this. What kind of business are you running here? You’re out of everything!”
My Heart picks up pace and a panic bubbles up inside of me. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but there’s nothing I can do. The Hawaiian flower has been the most popular. Maybe you’d like to pick out another one instead?”
The little girl comes back with the normal shirt in her hands and places it up on the counter. The mother looks down at her. “They don’t have your flower, this girl doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.” The girls face scrunches up. “If it’s the most popular design, maybe you should actually think and order more of them, right?”
I nod, not knowing what to say. My hands are gripping the table as if gravity is no longer a thing and if I let go I’m going to hit the ceiling. My knuckles are white and I feel as if I can break the counter. My face is hot and I don’t want to cry because a lady is yelling at me about a flower, but sometimes I can’t control myself. Her rant slowly starts to blend into one long shout, the words leaving her mouth no longer making sense.
Just as I feel the tears watering in my eyes, a hand touches my shoulder and he whispers to me “Why don’t you take a little break, okay?” I take step back and watch as Brandon seamlessly takes control of the situation. Not wanting to stay a second longer, I flee to the back room and crash down at the table.
I met Milo Talker at the boulders.
It was the summer after Hunter, and I was sixteen. I can’t remember why I went to the boulders because I hated the place after Hunter, but I went one night. The tide was high and most of the boulders sat in the water, so the regulars hung around the upper half of the beach. Someone had started a fire and people were throwing things into it. I watched from a distance until I saw him. He looked back and saw me too. This was when I was still hopeful. Hunter hadn’t caused me to give up completely, so I inched closer to the fire where he was and hoped he’d talk to me.
I didn’t know who Milo was then, I didn’t know about his reputation. All I saw was an older boy with long hair and a tattoo on his arm. He was different, he looked dangerous, I was a young girl, it was bound to happen. He was eighteen and new.
He glanced back at me a few times as I sat in the sand, and after the fourth, he gave in and made his way over. My heart vibrated in my chest as he sat down beside me. He had an empty beer bottle and stubble on his jaw. I remember the first thing he said to me. “You’re a pretty thing, aren’t you?” I was entranced. I blushed and looked away and looked back and played with a strand of my hair. He smiled. He asked how old I was. I said sixteen, and so he never asked my name, he just called me Juliet. He said I was his Juliet.
It wasn’t like it was with Hunter, with Milo there was no moving slowly. He had an old Mustang convertible from 1999 and asked me if I wanted to go for a ride.
I agreed because my mother was mad at me at the time, and I felt like an adult. I felt grown up and ready for love, and I thought that this was the beginning of something special. Milo was going to rescue me from my past heartbreak, he was going to be my healer. He drove down the main road and placed one hand on the wheel and the other on my thigh. The wind rushed past us and blew my hair in every direction. I also remember the music. Milo listened to the weirdest music.
After ten minutes he slowed down and parked off to the side of the road at the lookout point. The ocean crashed up against the wall below us and I will never forget what he said to me. “I want to taste you.” Then we kissed. It was like electricity charged through him and shot into me. He brought me onto his lap and I felt like an adult, I felt like nothing else mattered. I had this beautiful stranger and the waves and I was content. He didn’t kiss me like Hunter did, he kissed me like he would never have to see me again.
I look to the doorway of the back room. Brandon is standing there with his hand gripping the frame. I turn around in my seat and say, “Thanks.”
He shrugs. “Sometimes crazy people come in, but no problem. I called Sally and she said she’s coming in, so you can have the rest of the day off.”
“I’m not a bad employee, am I?”
Brandon smiles that same golden boy smile. “No.” A moment of silence settles between us, but I feel like he has more to say, so I refrain from getting up. “You know, there’s this house party being thrown by some guy tonight. Half of the beach is going. Uh, I just thought you might be interested.”
Am I going to go? Not a chance. But am I going to let Brandon get away with it? I nod and he glances off. “Well, aren’t you going to tell me where the house is?”
He looks back and gives me an amused look. “It’s on Robson Street, second house from the end on the left. I’m sure you’ll hear the music, though.”
I nod again, not giving a clear answer, and make my way out of the store through the back door. His eyes watch me as I do so, I can feel those pretty blues on my neck. It’s not until I hear the door shut behind me that I can breathe normally again. But it’s not until I’m halfway down my Aunts street that I realize I’m making a mistake. Was I trying to be mysterious? My kind of off-brand flirting? Why didn’t I breathe like a normal person? I know, because I’m sliding into the pit again. The pit that is teen-girl infatuation.
I have the mental ‘talk’ with myself: no, Emma, boys are no good. No, Emma, he’s clearly walking around the block. No, Emma, he’s going to break your heart. But even after the much-needed talk, I find myself laying on my bed just thinking about him. It’s not pleasant thoughts like, oh, Brandon has such great hair, it’s angry thoughts. Oh, Brandon is such a charmer, all he does it smile and wave at all these bimbos and expects them to drop to their knees. Brandon is a user. Brandon acts like the boy of your dreams just to confess that he’s gotten a girl pregnant and has a two-year-old son. No, he has a son and a set of twins with two different girls because Brandon never learns.
I roll onto my back and glare up at the ceiling. “I have to quit my job,” I mumble to myself.
A knock comes to my door, and I realize once again that I am not the only person in the universe. My Aunt sticks her blonde head through and smiles at me. “We’re going out for dinner. Your mother said you need to get ready.”
“Do I have to go?”
She shrugs. “You’ll have to ask her. She makes the rules.”
“Can you ask her for me?”
My Aunt steps in. “Are you getting lazy?”
I sit up and counter, “Lazy? I’ve been working nearly all week. I had a hard day today.”
“You came home early?”
“That’s,” I think, “that’s because it was so draining that Sally sent me home.”
My Aunt hums a ‘sure.’ “I’ll ask her, but what are you going to eat? Something around here?”
I shrug. “Yeah, I don’t care.”
“Have you made any friends? Maybe you can go get food with some friends.”
“I have no friends,” I flop back down, not ashamed of my loneliness. It’s not like I’ve been trying, I’m sure I could have forced my way into Brandon’s little group of drunk party girls, I just see no need to waste my time with people I have to be fake around to have some sort of artificial connection with. “I’m not good at making friends.”
“Oh, you’re such a liar,” my Aunt overlooks, “you make friends every time you’re here. All the other years you were constantly out doing God knows what.”
“What can I say? I’ve gotten antisocial.”
She shakes her head. “You know what, you can skip dinner with us boring old people if you have something better to do.”
I think in the moment that this may be fate. Fate’s calling down to me, almost shouting about how I need to go to the party now. He’s laughing at me. I hate him. “I’ll go to this house party then.”
“A party? Is it safe?”
“I guess. A lot of people are going. Does that get me out of dinner?”
My Aunt seems satisfied. “I’ll talk to your mother.”
Am I going to the party? Of course not. Fate can go away because all I have to do is create an illusion. I pull on a pair of jeans and whatever top comes out of my suitcase first, walk out the front door, wait in the bushes as they leave, then return to my bed. Simple. Sad? Yes. But simple.