iT'S JUST A CRUSH
“You wound me,” Phil laughed, feigning offense, clutching an imaginary hole in his chest where his heart should go. “I didn’t know it was like that, Ana. I thought we were friends! You knooow, friends who look out for each other..?” he went on. Then he lowered his voice. “So, you and Don, huh? I didn’t know you were into guys,” he sneered, walking past me, toward the front counter.
At that, I shot up and fled into the backroom, my cheeks bright red and hot with evidence of my shame. Cramped corridors of clear bins lined the walls and a camera blinked, red with intent, as I entered. Quickly, I made my way through the maze of boxes, finding it in its usual disarray as I struggled to keep my own from showing and ignoring the camera at the edge of my vision and my tiny echo moving along the small flickering screen of the closed circuit TV. I took refuge in the employee bathroom to rinse off the discomfort of that conversation. When the rusty faucet handle finally budged, a spray of cool, hard water escaped with a hiss and I splashed some on my face to dab away the red hot embarrassment that had spread across my cheeks.
It’s okay... Phil, he’s all talk. Besides... There is something between him and Iris. But there isn’t anything between Don and me. I reasoned. So... Nothing to worry about. I pushed away the word “yet” as it bloomed in my mind. Nothing to worry about...
But when I looked up into the mirror, my full cheeks were still red. They felt warm to the touch no matter how cold the water, and my light brown hair clung to my face with sweat and sink water as I vigorously tried to wash away my agitation. It felt like I was burning up with fever, but the only fever I felt was that flush feeling I got whenever I thought about Don... It’s just a crush, I reminded myself. Besides, he’s got kids... He’s married. Like super married... Ugh, to another Ana, too, I suddenly found myself remembering. Then I thought of him calling her “Ana” and played around with the thought for a moment -- on the phone, over breakfast, when they’re naked in bed together... And the thought of him saying my name when he fucks her didn’t make me feel sick like I thought it would. It gave me a little thrill even. Then, the voice spoke again. Ana... You wanna get fired?
A new resolve emerged when the embarrassment ebbed. I don’t care. Let her judge. It’s late, and it’ll be closing time soon. I grabbed today’s bin of trade-ins and brought it out to the front desk, hoping to hide behind its bulk... Which might have worked better if it weren’t also transparent. No sign of Phil. Maybe he left? Good… I thought. Then, a surge of panic followed. Wait, are we alone? I wondered, trying to maintain my composure.
Finally, Don looked up from his notes. ”¿Y? ¿Cómo vamos?” So? How are we doing?
“Bien. Ya casi acabé con las pardedes, Capitán.” Good. I’ve almost finished with the walls, captain. Ugh, why did I even call him that? It was some weird inside joke that I made once that made him smile. And there it was -- that heart-melting smirk. I loved seeing that smile, but making him smile was even better. I dutifully flashed a bright grin back in his direction.
“Muy bien, Ana” he praised gently, casting his gaze back down at his work while I kept myself busy sorting and pricing at the register beside him. The excitement of hearing him say my name withered as he looked back down at his work. A man of few words. But they were in Spanish, I thought, and he sounded so cute when he spoke it, however little he spoke.
At the front, there was a high counter on the customer side like a backslash to a sink, that led down a low counter where two computers and the registers that creaked beneath were stationed. Once I finished pricing the games, I got to straightening up the displays on the customer side of the front desk and peeked over at what he was reading so intently. He had to stoop down just to prop himself up by those big muscular arms on the low side of the counter. Meanwhile, I had to stand on my tiptoes and crane my neck to see over the high side just to sneak a peek at him, poring over that spiral notebook. Stupid counter... And I was usually so grateful for the foot or so of plywood and Formica that stood between us and our customers.
"¿Y tú?” I asked, pretending to keep busy, putting items back in their rightful places. And you?
“Tengo exámen de estádistica mañana,” he said, running a hand through his shaggy ash blonde hair. I have a statistics exam tomorrow. I peered over to the impossibly neat, tiny handwriting. Well, that can’t be his notebook... Then I realized his glasses were still neatly hooked to his shirt collar.
"¿Te estas olvidando de algo?” I said pointing down at my own collar. Are you forgetting something? He tilted his head and knitted his brow, laughing nervously and holding the back of his neck until he looked down and noticed his glasses and put them on. I blushed at what he might have thought I was pointing at, but damn, he looked so cute with glasses, it was hard not to smile back. Those oval frames made his hazel eyes look even deeper and more insightful somehow. I turned back around to work on the display some more, grinning blithely to myself.
But when I went around the counter to return a few DS game cases to the wall between the registers and the front door, I found Phil facing the exit, probably to keep an eye out for his ride, with all the posture of a gargoyle. Hunched over his illuminated phone screen, and using his backpack as a sort of beanbag chair, he looked up absently as I rounded the corner. Then he shot a wink at me before tapping repeatedly on his phone screen. Ugh, of course, he heard that. Perfect... Then I fished my phone out of my pocket and clicked it to life. 9:57 pm.
At least Phil would be leaving soon. He wouldn’t be caught dead here on a Friday night, after all, which was fine by me. It’s not like he ever does anything anyway, I whined to myself, catching him checking himself out in his darkened phone screen. Except make me roll my eyes, maybe.
“Okay, bud, it’s closing time,” Don finally said, looking up from his notes as if reading my mind. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” he said in a gruff voice that I could only imagine was supposed to be his impression of a bartender. He walked around the counter to survey the store and I receded past him to my bin, grabbing a handful of trade-ins.
“Still down to raid at eleven?” Phil asked, leading on the counter, not looking up from his phone.
“Eleven... thirty,” Don negotiated, folding his arms over his chest. Phil raised an eyebrow. “Fiiine, eleven fifteen,” he relented.
“Whatever, man,” Phil laughed. Then he looked down at the phone flashing in his hand. “Ride’s here anyway... Later,” he called out.
“Later,” Don called back. The door swung closed behind Phil, and Don resumed his post behind the counter, asking me to lock the door as we crossed paths. Just making the most fleeting contact as my arm brushed past his was enough to rattle my already addled nerves. I tried to banish the goosebumps up my arms and distract myself by moving the displays in so the gate would close behind them, but all I could think about were the paltry attempts at conversation I made while Phil was eavesdropping. I mean, Capitán? Ugh, I’m so lame. How am I so lame?! And what was Phil typing? And to whom? Probably texting Don about how desperate and pathetic I am…