Chapter 3: Rick
I’ve been asked to work a double shift, so I’m at work at 6:00 a.m.
Amazing how many peeps are here already.
I reach for my coffee and knock it over.
I look around, but don’t see any paper towels or napkins.
It’s all over the desk and under the computer tower.
“Do you need a hand wiping that up?”
I look up and see Melanie, the girl Martin’s working with.
She opens her purse, fishes around, and comes up with a package of Kleenex.
“This isn’t much, but it’s good for a start. I’ll run to my car and grab something stronger. Do you need another coffee? I saw a McDonald’s around here.”
“Oh yes, please.” I fish around in my pocket but can’t find any change. “Shoot. I don’t have any money.”
“Don’t worry about that.” She smiles at me.
Why is she here so early? Martin’s not coming until nine.
While she’s gone, I mop up the coffee as much as I can with the Kleenex.
Melanie reappears and hands me a roll of paper towels and a package of baby wipes.
Does she have a baby? She sure doesn’t look like it, and besides, there wasn’t anything in her medical papers about that.
“While you take care of that, I’ll go grab you that coffee.”
When she returns, she’s carrying two large cups.
“You look like someone who could use two of these.”
How the heck does she know that?
I grin and grab the nearest one. I take the lid off and slug it, even though it’s very hot.
“Man oh man, thanks. I owe you one or two.”
“You’re Rick, right?”
“Yep, that’s me.”
“You don’t owe me anything, but um, do you know how to work the machines here?”
“Yep, all of ’em. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Can you check my settings on the stair machine? Martin showed me, but I’m afraid I’ll press the wrong button or something.”
“Sure, but I can’t stay long, and technically, I’m not allowed to leave my post.”
“I’ll be quick, I promise.”
I follow her into the gym area where all the machines are set up.
She steps up onto the stair machine and quickly taps on the control panel.
I scan the settings.
“Looks good to me. Just remember though, I’m not qualified to suggest exercises or tell you what’s safe, but that looks moderate to me. It won’t kill you, and that big red one’s the STOP button if you feel funny.” I indicate a man on the other side of the room. “That’s Tim. He is a qualified trainer, so if you feel funny, call out to him.”
“What happens if I have a heart attack?”
“Everybody here is trained in first aid. If we see someone down, we go to them. You can also call Tim over now and ask him about these settings.”
She smiles at me.
“I trust you.”
She presses the Start button.
The machine starts to move, and she takes a step.
“You’re welcome. Thanks for the coffee.”
I go back to my desk and drink the rest of the first one.
Man, this day is really something. Maybe I should work a double shift every day.
At 8:45, Martin comes.
“Morning,” I say.
“What are you doing here so early?”
“I got asked to do double. Melanie brought me coffee.”
“We’re not scheduled until nine.”
“She’s been here since just after six.”
He frowns again.
What’s with all this frowning?
“I spilled my coffee, she bought me two new ones, and helped me clean up the spill. I helped her check her settings on the stair machine.”
“You left the desk?”
“Just for a couple minutes.”
“You know the rules. Don’t do that again.”
Has he always been so stuffy? Funny I’ve never noticed it before.
“Okay, I’ll be good.”
He doesn’t smile, but at least he stops glaring at me.
“I haven’t seen her since, so I guess she’s still in the gym. Tim’s on duty, and she knows to call him if she has a heart attack.”
He frowns again.
Shoot. I probably shouldn’t have said that, but come on man, it was just a bad joke.
“Sorry. I mean-”
“You know what shut up means, right?”
“So take my advice, and learn to do it. You talk too loud, you know.”
Before I can come up with something to say, he turns around and walks off toward the gym.
The next hour passes by very slowly. The coffee has made me feel jittery, and the way Martin acted leaves me with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
What the heck is up with him?
At ten, Martin comes out of the gym with Melanie right behind him.
He’s talking in a low, intense voice, so I can’t make out the words, and she’s listening attentively.
I watch in disbelief as he walks toward the exit.
We don’t escort clients to their cars, not unless it’s late at night and there’s nobody we know outside.
He comes back three minutes later.
What took him so long?
He walks past me without a second glance.
Something makes me glad I didn’t try to say goodbye to Melanie.
At lunch time, I realize there’s nobody scheduled to stay behind the desk while I eat.
Shoot. I’ll have to go without lunch. Even running to the restroom is probably forbidden. And if stuffy old Martin catches me, he’ll probably report me to management.
Double shoot with a shot of blasted heck.
I’ve just resigned myself to starving to death for the rest of the day when the door opens, and in walks Karin, almost two full hours early.
“Hi Karin, why so early?”
“Huh, you should talk, weren’t you here by eleven on Saturday?”
“Yeah, but there’s nothing exciting to do at home.”
“I’m so happy to see you.”
She raises her eyebrows.
Oh man, so much more fun than old Martin and his frowns.
“See, I have to work double today, and nobody’s on the desk so I can have a little lunchie break.”
“Sure, go have your little lunchie break, but make it quick, will you? The real reason I’m here so early is because I have to work on my syllabus.”
She puts her hands on her hips and pretends to frown at me, but her face won’t quite make it look real.
“My my, have you forgotten college courses and how each one has its own syllabus?”
“No, but this ain’t college, sugar.”
“Nope, it’s Karin’s version of bootcamp.”
“Oooh, sounds scary.”
“It is, so wipe that smile off your face, young man.”
“What’s going on here?”
It’s Martin, who’s walking itto the waiting room.
He looks kind of tired and is frowning.
“I came in early,” Karin says. “I’m gonna man the desk while Rick gets some lunch.”
“Are you working on your class?”
“Ask Tim to sit at the desk for five minutes so he can eat.”
“No way,” she says. “Tim’s been working all morning. I can think about my class while Rick’s eating.”
Martin shrugs and walks away.
“Thanks Karin, see you in two shakes.”
I dash off to my locker and realize I forgot lunch.
Double dang it, triple shoot, and quadruple blast it! Lousy heck, hang it and dang it and darn it and dash it!
I run back to the desk.
“Sorry, I forgot my food, so I have to go to McDonald’s.”
Then I remember I don’t have any dough.
“Uh, can I borrow ten?”
She smiles at me and hands me a twenty.
“Pay me back tomorrow, or I’ll drag you into my class and test my syllabus on you.”
I fake shudder and she laughs.
I hot foot it over to McDonald’s and stand in a long line behind a man who’s jabbering away on his phone.
Somebody bumps my right hip.
“Careful,” a woman’s voice says.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Stay beside me, please.”
Somebody bumps my hip again.
“I said to stay beside me!”
A hand tugs at the back of my light jacket.
“Would you stop that? He’s going to get upset.”
The guy talking on the phone swears loudly.
I say, “Hey man, cut it out, there’s kids in here.”
The little hand tugs at my jacket again.
“How many times do I have to tell you to stop doing that?!”
I turn my head and see a frazzled-looking young woman with a little girl who looks about five.
“Sorry,” the woman says to me.
“No problem,” I say.
The line moves a little.
The guy makes another call and swears at somebody else.
When I repeat my request for him to stop doing that, he ignores me.
The little girl keeps on ignoring her mom and tugs on my jacket every chance she gets.
The guy talking on the phone reaches the front of the line but is still talking.
“What are you having?”
“I told you three [blank]ing times, I don’t care how [blank]ing busy you think you are, I want this done [blank]ing now!”
“Sir, what can I get for you?”
He ignores the lady taking orders and keeps swearing at whoever he’s talking to.
“Sir, there are lots of people behind you, please tell me what I can get for you.”
He keeps ignoring her, so we’re forced to wait until he ends his call.
“What do you want?” he says to the lady.
“What would you like to order?”
“I gotta make another call first.”
“No sir, please order now or go to the back of the line.”
“The [blank] I will!”
I step up beside him.
“I’d like four large coffees, two Big Macs, and two orders of fries please.”
“It’s not your [blank]ing turn!”
“Thanks,” the lady says. “Is that everything?”
I turn to the woman and little girl behind me.
“Would you like me to order for you?”
“What are you having?”
“Um, just a coffee for me please, and a Happy Meal for my daughter.”
“Coming right up.”
The guy glares at me and punches at his phone.
“Hello, may I speak to Mr. Jenkins please?”
The girl’s mother hands me some money and I pay for our food.
“Hello, it’s John from sales. I got them to agree to the proposal, and they’re working on it now.”
He listens, for a change.
“Yes sir, that’s all taken care of.”
I pick up the tray of food and smile broadly at the lady behind the counter.
A little hand tugs at my jacket.
I carry the food through the packed place to what I’m pretty sure is the only vacant table and pull out two chairs.
“May I sit with you?”
The girl’s mother nods, and I pull out a third chair.
The little girl sits down and grabs not the Happy Meal, but a cup of coffee!
“That’s not yours,” her mom says, taking the cup from her daughter’s hands.
“It’s warm,” she whispers.
“There’s a drink in here,” her mom says, grabbing the Happy Meal and opening it.
I sit down and pick up a Big Mac.
The little girl grins at me and then steals a handful of fries from one of my two orders.
“Give those back!” her mom yells.
They’re already in her mouth, so she really can’t.
I smile at the little girl.
“Would you like to have my fries and the other Big Mac and I’ll have the food in the Happy Meal?”
I put them in front of her and take the Happy Meal, take out the ridiculously small drink, and put that in front of her.
Then I find the toy. It’s a brightly-colored figure from some game I’ve never heard of.
“Would you like to keep this?” I ask.
She shakes her head.
“Thanks. Wow, look what I’ve got.” I smile at the girl’s mom, who smiles weakly at me.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “She has behavioral problems.”
I feel uncomfortable hearing her mom talk about her like that with her sitting right there, so I say, “Are you having anything to eat?”
She shakes her head and picks up one of the five coffees.
The Big Mac is big and tasty, and the Happy Meal is small and tasty.
The Big Mac and fries keep the little girl occupied, so I eat the other order of fries after asking the girl’s mom again if she’s sure she’s not having anything.
I wash everything down with one of the coffees, say goodbye to the mom and her little girl, grab my remaining coffees, and head back to work.
I put the three cups down on the desk in front of Karin.
“Sorry it took me so long. I had to wait forever in line, and then I still had to eat.”
I hope she’s not gonna bust me.
“You’ve got some kind of sauce on your face.”
“Oh, shoot. I’ll be right back.”
I run into the restroom and get a good look at myself in the mirror. There’s a spot of special sauce on my right cheek.
Thank you, Karin!
My beard doesn’t look so great, either. It needs both a trim and a good cleaning. I don’t have time for the former, but the latter can be done right now.
I slather on soap and wash my face and beard thoroughly.
I hear the door open, and somebody comes in.
“Karin’s been waiting for you for over an hour! Quit playing games and get back to work!”
It’s Martin, and I’ve never heard him talk like that.
“I gotta wash my face first.”
“Why the devil were you gone so long?”
“I forgot my lunch and had to go to McDonald’s and the line was long and then I had to eat.”
Why is he bulleying me, and why am I explaining myself to him? It’s not like he’s my boss. Heck, I don’t even know which one of us is higher in the order of professionals. Besides, I don’t care about stuff like that. I thought we were all a team and helped each other out. I’d never treat him the way he’s treating me today.
“Okay, fine, but hurry up. Karin has a ton of work to do.”
Does he think I don’t?
He goes into a stall and I check myself over to make sure there’s nothing on my shirt that’ll make me look messy.
There isn’t, but I do see how not flat my belly has become.
Maybe I should take Karin’s class. Fat chance.
I leave the restroom and go back to the desk.
One of the coffees is in Karin’s hands.
“Thanks for the java.”
“It was a placatory gesture so you wouldn’t test your class on me.”
“It didn’t work. I’m still gonna lure you into my gym, lock the door, and drag you through every drill.”
“What do I have to do to make sure that never happens? I’ll bring you five coffees every day if you’ll only let me live!”
“What’s going on here?”
It’s Martin, again.
“Rick and I were just having a chat.”
“You’ve got work to do, so don’t let him waste your time.”
“He’s not.” She looks puzzled. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, why wouldn’t it be?”
He glares at us.
“Get back to work.”
“We are,” she says. “I’m gonna work on my syllabus here, and Rick’s gonna help me.”
“You know he left his post this morning,” Martin says.
“No, I didn’t know that. Was there a problem?”
“Yes, he was socializing with a client.”
“What does that mean?”
Her expression is serious, but there’s a little dance going on in her eyes that I don’t think Martin notices, because he’s too busy getting up on his high horse.
“A young woman came in around six and he left his post and went with her into the gym.”
“Were you here at six?”
“No, I came just before nine.”
“So how do you know what happened at six?” She doesn’t give him time to answer. “Go back to work or stop telling people what to do. If you want to help me with my class, you can, but I’ve had enough listening to you order people around. We’re a team here, and we don’t go around trying to get each other into trouble.”
Without bothering to apologize, Martin walks away.
“So,” she says, “are you gonna join my class?”
“Yes,” I hear myself say. “Yes, I will.”