The Swing of Things #1
Tracey Evans glanced quickly at the nearly shut conference room door, wondering if he could manage to make a run for it and save what little bit of his sanity was remaining. The interview was not going well and he knew it.
It wasn't that he had shown up unprepared, or so he thought. The thing was that the questions seemed to be boggling both himself and the interviewer. Part of him wanted to ask how old she was, as she did not look much older than Tracy's own twenty years. And obviously she was a bit of a novice when it came to interviews.
Of course, that was a trait common to both of them. For the last three years, Tracey had been bussing tables at his neighbor's restaurant and for the last two years, that money had been going towards classes at the local community college.
However, Tracey's neighbor got a good offer on the restaurant from a chain looking to move into the area and accepted, leaving all of the staff without employment just before the holidays.
Tracey had no clue about retail work and was surprised he'd even managed to get an interview. So far he had applied at every place he could find a help-wanted sign and so far this was the first place to call him back.
His interviewer, Lainey, according to her nametag, finished writing something on one of the plethora of pages to a seemingly unending interview book. She looked up, catching Tracey's eyes for a moment and smiling.
"Sorry again," she said. "We just got these new books last week and the questions are tripping me up too."
"It's okay," Tracey said. "You can only do what's within the company guidelines, right?"
"Yep," Lainey said, looking back down at the interview book. "So... Let's say I asked you to do a project for me and you said you'd finish it before you went home. And then things get crazy and you have to go in a couple minutes but the project isn't done. What would you do?"
Tracey was rather sure Lainey had stopped reading the interview book verbatim. Then again, when she did try to read the book word for word, she stumbled constantly. At least this time she hadn't stopped and apologized mid-question.
He knew it could be tough to be the new person, anyway. So maybe Lainey wasn't doing such a bad job for what experience she had. No one could be expected to be perfect right out the gate.
And then there was the question. It had to be a trick - all of the questions seemed to be trick questions. He mulled it over in his mind for a minute before answering.
"Well, first I'd ask your opinion to try to come up with a solution together. Maybe you could find someone to help me or for me to set up to finish the project," Tracey said, thinking hard about what little he remembered from his high school career exploration class. He knew it was important to seem like a team player but also to take responsibility. "Still, I'd hope to learn to be organized enough to actually, um, figure out a way to have everything done."
Lainey's jaw dropped. Apparently that was his first right answer amongst many failures for the day. He just hadn't been comfortable before. He had been nervous, especially while waiting. He had been send to sit in the employee lounge where he was eyeballed from a distance by a gaggle of older female employees who seemed to regard him as a foreign spore wafting around their garden of gossip.
Hell, Tracey wasn't even sure he wanted to work there. Between the staring hens and the inept mid-manager he was attempting to get through an interview with, the place was actually looking kind of scary.
But even if wasn't the job of his dreams, it would pay tuition and give him some spending money. He was quite thankful for a mother who made enough to support the family without him working at the moment. But at twenty and still living at home, Tracey felt as though he needed to contribute. Ever since his father had left them twelve years before, Tracey had been the man of the house, despite there not needing to be one. His mother was a specialist at the local hospital and though she wasn't home often enough, money was never a problem.
Sometimes Tracey had felt more like a surrogate mother to his younger siblings than a father figure. But it was okay as long as they were all happy, he had decided.
"Um, wow," Lainey murmured, her pen scratching on the paper. "I really like that. No one ever things about actually asking for help and there are always so many people willing to help."
"Do you have time for a second interview?"
"Yes," Tracey replied, hoping he could wait where he was.
"Awesome!" Lainey chirped. "Just take a seat back in the lounge and I'll have someone be right with you!"
After a moment of hesitation, she reached out to shake his hand. Tracey was at least impressed that she had a firm handshake. As she stood, he noticed she had a more muscular frame than he'd first though. Obviously she wasn't just a paper-pusher, despite apparently being regaled to interview duty at least for the day.
Thankfully the lounge was empty when Tracey stepped back into it. The television in the corner was set to CNN, something he really didn't mind. In his business class the semester before, he'd had to watch a whole lot of business news and CNN always seemed to be the least confusing of all of the channels. He didn't really like the news though, in general. It always seemed too depressing.
After what seemed like an eternity wrapped into five minutes, Tracey heard voices coming down the hallway. Unfortunately, not one of the voices sounded very managerial. Instead, he guessed, they were more employees programmed to point and snicker at anyone attempting to join their cliquey work-unit.
Instead, the small army that came staggering in mainly headed for the vending machines and only quickly glanced at him. They seemed to be leaving for the day. For some reason, his eyes were drawn to a pair of guys about his age who looked painfully normal. One was a bit too pretty and skinny, but not enough that he looked freakish. Instead he just looked a bit underfed, if anything.
Lainey had mentioned the existence of overnight shifts, which would explain why there seemed to be people leaving at ten-thirty in the morning. Working overnights would definitely he a good idea for him - that way he could finish up the semester without any trouble while still working part time and having some spending money.
The room emptied again, leaving Tracey alone with a weather report and a half-finished puzzle on the next table. He didn't even like puzzles, but it was something to do and his nervous energy level was rising by the second. He wouldn't exactly keel over and die if he didn't get the job, but hell, he really did want to give it his all. If he had anything to prove, it was too himself.
Tracey hadn't even heard the woman sneak into the room. Her voice was so quiet she was barely audible. Yet she held herself with the sort of presence that Tracey knew she was someone important.
"That's me," Tracey replied, standing and grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair where he'd been sitting. It wasn't a particularly chilly day, but it did look as though it was going to rain. And with the sort of mother he had, he was practically brainwashed into planning ahead and doing what he could to stay healthy.
"I'm Christine, one of the executives here. If you'll just come down to my office, we can do a second interview," the woman explained, holding her hand out for a quick shake.
Tracey followed, looking all around him at the myriad of information plastered on the walls. He'd never worked for an actual company before. It looked... rather complex.
Christine's office was two doors past the conference room where he'd been ready to run screaming before nailing the final question. Part of him already felt like a millionaire and part of him figured that this was just standard protocol. He hoped Christine's half of the never-ending interview book would at least be something somewhat interesting and involve questions that could actually somehow be answered.
"I have to apologize if I'm a bit slow firing questions at you," Christine said, just as soft as before. She seemed to be permanently on the lowest volume setting and Tracey realized he'd have to pay close attention to her or he'd get lost or distracted. She didn't have the confused charm of Lainey, but she did seem to be the one dealing the cards.
"These interview books are new to us as of last week and some of the questions are... Some of the questions use words I had to look up in the dictionary," Christine continued, laughing lightly. Somehow Tracey had thought that her laugh would be musical, but instead it seemed rough and hoarse.
"I noticed that already," Tracey commented. "But I'll do my best."
Half an hour later and clutching a handful of forms, decrees, and other pieces of important literature, Tracey left Christine's office, high on life and thrilled at having a job. One smartly-placed question had landed him a spot on his suddenly-coveted overnight shift, a place he felt he could learn a bit about retail without being rushed headfirst into dealing with too many customers too quickly. It was great.
But first there was a mandatory drug test and background check. Christine had told him that it would take between a week and ten days for everything to clear and not to get frustrated if things seemed to be taking longer than expected, since just about everyone was hiring and it was a strain on the providers they used when so much information and testing was needed at once.
Tracey had just nodded at that - obviously there were sides to big business that he'd never even thought of. His neighbor had always just hired people on the spot and sometimes let them start later in the day. There were no drug tests and no background checks. And certainly no employee orientations, peer trainers or complex managerial structure.
Part of him missed the hot damp cave he'd ruled as a dishwasher. But those days were gone and deep inside, Tracey was actually happy to be able to try something new.
Paper in hand, Tracey marched out of the store with a smile on his face. He just had class to worry about now, and a paper to be finished for the next day. Midterms were coming up too, something he didn't want to think about. It didn't fit in with his growing euphoria and he certainly didn't want anything to interfere with that.
Once he was in his car, a late model compact that got reasonable gas mileage and didn't cost a fortune to maintain or make payments on, Tracey let out a celebratory whoop. And then, a bit embarrassed, he looked around quickly to see if anyone had seen him. He couldn't help being a little self conscious, after all.
However, on the way back college, he had to get the drug test out of the way. Technically he had twenty-four hours, but he didn't want to push his luck on getting up early enough the next day to get to the clinic listed on one of the pile of forms that now sat on the passenger seat in no particular order. He hoped he wouldn't have to give blood. He wasn't much of a fan of needles.
The trip through the clinic was quick though, and involved little more than emptying his bladder into a plastic cup and handing it and one two of the forms from the pile to a nurse before heading merrily on his way. He wished he had a cell phone - calling the small handful of people he knew sounded like a reasonable idea.
Tracey settled for telling his classmates, only a few of whom actually seemed to bother caring. Momentarily he had somehow forgotten that everyone around him seemed to be so damned apathetic. Smiling as he read over an English 102 assignment sheet, Tracey hoped to meet some genuine people at his pending job. While he already knew there were gossip-mongering hordes, he did think there seemed to be some 'real' people.
Somehow, Tracey noticed as he looked at the due date for his assignment, it had become October without him noticing. No wonder he had gotten a job so quickly, just one blink and the holidays would be creeping too close for comfort. It was Thursday, October 2nd, and thing were looking skyward.
Suburbia was downright boring when analyzed for too long. Sitting out on the porch roof beneath his bedroom window, Tracey couldn't help but savor the cool breeze that filtered through the trees and ruffled his hair. He had a pullover sweatshirt on, shielding him from the weather.
He knew his younger sister, Vicky, was constantly jealous of his roof access, but he hadn't picked his room. It had been given to him when they moved there, when he was still the only child. Vicky was thirteen and just moving into the awkwardness of her teenage years. She wanted everything and seemed to know why she should have it, but yet somehow, she just didn't get it.
Tracey had a hard time remembering that age. For some reason he equated being thirteen with both playing eighth-grade football and trying to have a better video game collection than any of his friends.
His other sister, Rebecca, was twelve. Her existence was the catalyst for their father leaving, and she had somehow found that fact out. No matter how much love and affection everyone gave her, she carried a dark weight on her shoulders that no one so young should have to bear. No one actually blamed her, anyway, but it wasn't enough. Rebecca barely struggled by in school and spent more time in her fantasy worlds than in the real world interacting with others.
He had only one more page to do until his draft was finished. And then he could go type up the actual paper, if he could get Vicky off of the computer. Ever since she and her friends had discovered internet chat rooms where they could chatter all night, Vicky had become a bit of an internet potato. Of course, he didn't dare mention that Vicky had also put on a bit of weight thanks to her new, lump-like lifestyle. Any way, she was only thirteen and an extra ten pounds was no big deal yet.
It was getting darker and as the sun threatened to sink below the horizon, Tracey realized he really needed to go inside. There was plenty of time to type his paper and get a good night's rest. After burning through a good deal of adrenaline in his growing excitement over employment, Tracey knew he needed to rest.
"Vicky," Tracey called as he climbed in his window. It wasn't awkward at all - he'd been going out and sitting on the porch since he was young so the motions he made were fluid and graceful. It was an amusing contrast to watching either Vicky or Rebecca come and go through the small opening. Despite both being quite a bit smaller, their lack of control was apparent.
"I can hear you," Vicky replied from the room across the hall. "What do you want?"
"The computer," Tracey stated, closing the window behind him and gathering a couple of other papers from his bed. "I have homework."
"But I'm right in the middle of telling Cindy what Amy said to Melissa about Angela!" Vicky replied, obviously annoyed.
"I'll wait," Tracey said as he stepped into the computer room and sat down at a desk on the other side of the room.
"What about my privacy?" Vicky cried, glaring at him.
"What about my homework?" Tracey shot back, reaching up to knock his blonde bangs back into place. Feeling his hair, it felt wind-blown and wild. Thankfully no one important had to see him any time soon.
"Fine. Let me just walk out on my friends," Vicky whined.
"You'll see them tomorrow," Tracey reminded her. "They can eagerly hang onto the edges of their seats until then. I absolutely have to type this paper."
"Employed procrastinator," Tracey corrected, chuckling as he rearranged his notes and picked up a pen to finish his last page as Vicky grumbled out loud as she logged off of the computer.
Tracey looked up, realizing that somehow Rebecca had appeared behind him. She was truly non-existent in some ways. She had the ability to move around most of the house unnoticed. He assumed it was from years of trying not to exist, not be seen in any way as she fought her own misplaced guilt.
"What is it?"
"I need some help with my math homework," Rebecca said, managing a faint smile. "Mom said that you are good at math."
"Bring it in," Tracey replied with a smile. It was often that Rebecca asked for help. Instead she tended to just not do her work if she didn't understand it.
"Then I can stay on the computer," Vicky stated, smirking.
"No, you can't. I will type and help your sister when she gets stuck," Tracey said, staring a hole through Vicky.
"Thank you," Rebecca said quickly before scampering from the room.
"This is so not fair."
"Get used to it," Tracey replied. "Life isn't fair. But we all make do."
Vicky didn't say a word as she stormed from the room. Tracey already had MSWord fired up by the time Rebecca returned clutching a battered but thick math book crammed with notebook paper.
She held out the book, eyes wide. "I need to know what X is. I'm not good with this stuff."
At that moment, Tracey knew he was in for a very long night. But it was okay. Some things were more important than sleep and Rebecca was one of them.
Before he knew it, Rebecca's homework was finished and it was nearly eleven o'clock. Shooing her to bed, Tracey took another look at his own looming deadline.
But he had spent some quality time with Rebecca. And time did tend to fly...
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