The Swing of Things #10
"There are three weeks until Christmas," Dynamo said, sitting down on the counter of the cafe, looking out over the stock-team. "And in those three weeks, we will have between twenty and twenty-four trailers. This means that every single one of you is going to work six nights a week because we have all been approved for overtime!"
Sudden cheering burst out amongst the group. Tracey attempted to do some quick math but all he could figure out was that overtime was more than ten dollars an hour to do absolutely simple menial work. It wasn't a bad deal.
"But in exchange, you will hand over your lives. I will tell you when to come in and when to go home. Your families will probably want to do me in with heavy artillery, but that's how this business works. And suddenly you will be seeing sunshine in January and not be too damned sure how you ended up somewhere in next year," Dynamo finished. "Are there any questions?"
Tessa raised her hand.
"What if we don't celebrate Christmas?" Tessa asked. "But instead..."
"That's between you and Team Relations, however I suggest you celebrate Candlemas before you come in," Dynamo answered before heaving a sigh. "You ask the same thing every year."
"And I'll keep asking," Tessa replied, rolling her eyes. "I want my holidays just like anyone else."
"Any good questions?" Dynamo continued, ignoring Tessa as best she could.
"How far in advance will we know about double-trailers?" Scott asked, forgetting to raise his hand.
"Anywhere between two days and ten minutes," Dynamo answered. "I don't have control over the Distribution Center nor their crazy ideas regarding what we can and cannot handle. Anyone else?"
Everyone sat silent for a few minutes, looking at one another and expecting someone to talk. After all, it kept them from working and they were still getting paid.
"Fine," Dynamo announced. "Get back to work. Except for you seasonal peons. You all need to stay here and listen to me."
Eight of them stayed, Charlie looking nervously at Tracey and then up at Dynamo.
"Alright. As you know, you were all hired on for ninety-days. And while I would like to keep as many of you as I can, that isn't an option," Dynamo explained. "You're a very good group and I'm grateful to have you."
"So are you keeping anyone?" a girl whose name had already slipped Tracey's mind asked.
"I'll get to that," Dynamo said, glaring ever so slightly. "For the next few weeks the store manager, team relations, the logistics executive and myself will be watching all of you as well as analyzing the needs of the store for the next year. Whether we keep any of you depends on the results."
"So... basically there's no reason to get our hopes up," Charlie surmised.
"That's not what I said," Dynamo replied. "If I didn't have a need for more people, there would be no need to go through all this stupid paperwork and charts and graphs and things I don't really want to do. Just from past experience, at least one of you is going to get hired onto the permanent team. And if Marina doesn't come back after having her baby, which is looking to be the case, there will be space for at least two."
"How will you pick?" It was Roger, a pimple-faced thirty-something who looked as though he lived in his mother's basement.
"I'll be watching you," Dynamo said. "Whether you see me or not, whether you hear me or not, I will be watching you. I will watch how you interact with my team, how well you meet your goal times, how much you've learned, how much you seem willing to learn, and how far you seem to want to go. I'm not necessarily looking for people who are going to be on this team forever. I'm looking for people who can use this as a spring-board. You can all do better than this and I'd like to help you along. Are we clear?"
A few stray 'yes, ma'am's sounded from the cafe area and Dynamo smiled as she slid off of the counter.
"Good. Now stop slacking and get to work."
Tracey felt absolutely no better as he made his way back to where he and Tessa had been finishing off the rack of mens clothing. Now he was in competition with Charlie and a bunch of other really decent people. Part of him was screaming that he could find another job without too much trouble and he didn't need it quite as badly...
"She give you the ol' 'I'm only keeping one of you' lecture?" Tessa asked, grabbing a handful of pajama bottoms and stalking over to the sleepwear section of mens.
"Yeah. It's a little creepy too, knowing she's paying that much attention to all of us. Now I'm scared to make a mistake," Tracey explained.
"She does this every year," Tessa said. "And the boss before her did it too. It's a standard speech, thrown at the seasonal help each year. Funny thing is that usually when that speech is finally given, the decision has already been made."
"Dynamo knows exactly who she wants to keep," Tessa said. "And don't just stand there. Work."
"Right," Tracey said, dragging the rack along the main aisle so he could get rid of the rest of the sleepwear and heavy robes that plagued the rack and anyone attempting to move it.
"But she'll still have a blast peeking around corners at you. Don't think she isn't. But the less attention she pays to you, the better - if she seems to ignore you, you're all set. I wouldn't worry anyway - you're a perfect replacement for Marina if she doesn't come back. None of the other newbies have gotten this part of the store down to an art-form like you have. Plus you work well on the line and you can handle highly unstructured work," Tessa explained, bringing a hand to her chest when she finished. "Nnn. I think I'm talked out for the day."
"It's okay," Tracey said, laughing. "Just grunt and point and we'll be good."
"You know who last year's scared little seasonal peon of choice was last-year, right?" Tessa asked suddenly, pausing with a handful of novelty boxers racked up her arm.
"Matthew, who dared brave the infants department and earned a place in our souls," Tessa said. "Just think about that."
At that moment, Tracey was a little curious to find out just what Tessa knew and how she knew it. Somehow he didn't think she had figured out the grand schema of questionable sexualities and the brilliant bits of self-depreciation that went along with it. But no matter what, he couldn't discount her as being much more receptive than he gave her credit for. She obviously had six or seven senses that were always being put to good use.
Once the mens rack was taken care of, the pair split up for different departments. While Tessa wandered up to sort purses and mittens, Tracey found himself over amongst Matthew's fascinating array of glass baubles.
"You and Tessa are speed demons," Matthew said when he saw Tracey approach. "I guess Dynamo's scare-the-newb's speech didn't get to you."
"It did," Tracey admitted. "But Tessa explained the underlying message to me."
"Still, the key is to figure out what needs to be done and do it before she asks. But not all the time, because then it just makes her look bad. But if..." Matthew stopped and smirked. "You know, just go with it. I'm sick to death of being here right now and I'm sick to death of these stupid ornaments."
"I never asked for this department. But I bet they all get monotonous after awhile. I can't say I was any happier in infants, but this is just... a little bleh, I guess," Matthew explained.
"But it changes all of the time," Tracey commented, opening a giant box only to find that it contained the same type of ornament that Matthew had already build three giant sections of.
"Not fast enough. But even though sometimes the work gets to me, the general environment is a completely awesome thing," Matthew said, looking around. "I can't expect everything to stay totally the same when I finally get the courage to out myself, but dang, I also don't think most of the people here would bat an eye. Everyone has their own story and this is one of those 'cast the first stone' environments - no one here is so free from issues and baggage and whatnot that they could dream of condemning me for finding love in a completely unexpected place."
Tracey chose that moment to yawn.
"That was amazingly poetic," he said. "But damn, everyone is really talky today. I don't think you said this much at dinner-breakfast-whatever-that-was."
"I guess... I dunno..." Matthew answered. "I think you should be the one talking. I saw more than a couple of intense looks between you and..."
"Shhh..." Tracey hushed Matthew, looking around. "You may be fine to chatter on all day, but some of us are still a bit more..."
"Secretive. Fine. And that confirms exactly what I wanted to know," Matthew said with a growing smile chasing across his face. "But don't rush things. Keep writing in your notebook."
"I really don't like the notebook," Tracey said quickly.
"That's why you need to do it," Matthew replied. "Now hand me those ornaments and I'll find somewhere to shove them. For that is what we do here. We shove things into crevices. Full dirty connotations in full application. If it is an opening, I will shove something into it! If there is space, it will be filled! For it is Christmas!"
"I heard rumors of shoving things in places."
Tracey turned to see Tyler standing behind him, a pair of costume reindeer antlers on his head.
"Does that mean I'm getting some help over in toys?" Tyler asked, grinning. "Or is all the fun dirty talk staying over here."
"Shove off," Matthew said. "Tracey is my bitch for the time being. Maybe after lunch he can be your bitch."
Tracey felt a little uncomfortable crouching over the box of baubles, being fought over even in the most ridiculous and mocking way possible. The day was far from over and already it was also bordering completely on sheer insanity.
And there was still the very real possibility of spending quite a bit more time with Timothy during the day. The kiss earlier and the energy that had been emanating from it were still quite fresh in Tracey's mind. He didn't feel quite so much nervous as randomly expectant. And also tired, which was not a very good sign at all. Hopefully a little more caffeine would cure all of his ills.
"Your bitch? Wait a second, I..."
Matthew glanced at his watch.
"End of discussion, I guess."
But before Tyler could look at his watch and before Tracey could finish unboxing the entire box of Christmas ornaments, Dynamo's voice rang over the public address system, calling everyone to take their lunch break.
"I'm not property," Tracey commented, not at all serious and well aware this was just one of the strange little games played between the two friends. It was good to see them getting along so well - at first the crisp tension between Tyler and Billy had Tracey worried. But they seemed to have come to a reasonable compromise regarding Matthew and Tyler seemed comfortable again. Though it wasn't too likely that Tyler would ever completely get over being lead around like a lost puppy by Ethan, even after hearing repeated explanations that Ethan did that to everybody.
"You're a level one-half peon, and we're level one peons," Tyler explained. "Therefore, we're within our rights to..."
Charlie came bounding up, much friendlier than she had been earlier. She had styrofoam bits in her hair and not a single one of the guys so much as bothered telling her. She was the sort that always seemed to end up more disheveled than anything by the end of the day. Tracey could only imagine her on the unload line, dealing with broken and leaking cases of detergent or perhaps Tracey's new personal favorite - broken open packages of powdered sugar. That had produced a fine, dusty layer on just about everything within a ten foot radius and had also had Dynamo in a fit of laughter. But the sugar was quite a bit better than the detergent or hair conditioner, one of the other most common damaged products to leak all over everything in creation. Somehow one bottle of cracked conditioner had the mystic ability to leak all over some two-thousand cartons in a trailer despite not ever coming in contact with more than a dozen of them. But yet even when there was no probable way for things to be sticky and stay sticky, they still managed to be.
Thankfully everyone had a good sense of humor and a dirty mind so if nothing else, incidents like that lead to a good bit of amusement.
As Charlie launched into yet another fit of words, Tracey tuned her out. While everyone else was growing talked-out, he was growing listened-out. Instead he found himself realizing just how much he was enjoying himself. It wasn't that he had absolutely hated the foul, hot dishwashers cave in his neighbor's restaurant. But it hadn't been anything like this. There wasn't the same sort of atmosphere.
Tracey found himself hoping that yes, this would become a job that he could hang onto until he had a little more direction in his life. Unless it became his direction. So far he knew of four level-three supervisors who had come from the overnight stock-crew. It was seeming a bit like a step in the right direction, if nothing else. And retail was certainly more fun than Tracey had ever thought it would be - especially when he just had to deal with the things people bought and not the actual people themselves. He didn't know how he would handle January and returning to 3am shifts that would bleed into the time when the store was open.
He wasn't sure how he would handle customer service and being in uniform and not being able to speak or cuss his mind when he felt like it or act like an idiot to lighten the mood or... January was still four weeks off. There was Christmas to get through first.
And there was plenty to keep him busy. Or one thing, at least - figuring out just where his true feelings lay and what would happen if he kissed Timothy again.
"Space Cadet!" Matthew called, waving a hand in front of Tracey's face. "I asked if you'd like to share the microwave pizza I brought for lunch."
"Sure," Tracey replied. "Sorry. I was just thinking. About Christmas and stuff."
"Bleh, what a lame excuse to give people stuff," Tyler announced. "I'd rather give out gifts because I want to, when I want to, as opposed to having the tradition dictated to me by, um, tradition."
"Next time be eloquent and then you'll have a valid point," Matthew said quickly, snicker. Tracey joined in as they climbed the stairs to the break room.
"Christmas will be over before you know it," Matthew said. "So savor every day."
"That sounds like the words of a man waffling on the stairs and getting paid for it." Dynamo peered over the railing at the landing.
"This from a woman who always reminds us to pee on the clock," Tyler mumbled, trudging forward.
"Remind me once we switch back to days to give you all the speech about being easily replaceable with all new people who will work for less and not question my authority," Dynamo said with a smirk.
"I do enjoy the sound of mutual respect," Matthew said, pushing past Tyler and heading to the time-clock.
"When did you get such a mouth on you, anyway? That personal leave really did something to you head," Dynamo commented. "But you work quicker, so I don't really mind."
"Not just his head..." Tyler said softly, looking back at Tracey.
Why wasn't it time to go? Why? Why wasn't it time to go yet?
And then there was the general awkwardness of trying to figure out how to get rid of Charlie. Not that Tracey had suddenly deemed her the enemy because she was capable of taking his job away, but because it made absolutely no sense to drop her off and then have Timothy take him home and linger for some quality time. And it also made no sense to try to pawn her off on Tyler or Matthew. But Tracey sure as heck wasn't quite up to mentioning to Charlie that he had been making out with her brother earlier and really wanted to revisit that particular action as soon as humanly possible.
That was also awkward. So as Tracey shrugged on his coat while standing in the dwindling line of employees waiting to punch out, he couldn't find a single thing to say to Charlie.
"Hey, Tracey?" Charlie asked suddenly, popping over beside him. "When you're out, I need to ask you something."
"Sure," Tracey said, expecting the worst. But there weren't many worse things possible than... He didn't even want to think about it. She knew...
"I know," Charlie said once the two of them were secluded halfway down the hallway that lead to the store executives' offices. "I mean, about earlier with you and Timothy and the train. I just wasn't about to say anything then because I didn't want you to feel awkward."
Yes, it was going to be an insanely talky day.
"But if you're wondering if I'm okay with it, I'm definitely okay with it," Charlie continued. "So what I want to say is that if you two want to spend some time alone talking or whatever, go ahead and have my blessing but I do have to warn you that..."
"You're rambling," Tracey interjected. He had really had enough babble for the day. And he was really hoping that Timothy would not be infected with the same strain of verbal diarrhea that everyone else seemed to come down with.
"I said," Charlie reiterated, "that I do have to warn you that if you hurt him, I will impale you on thousand of tiny shards of broken Christmas ornaments while throwing hot coals at your privates. Is that clear?"
Despite that threat coming from Charlie and Charlie, well, still having bits of styrofoam in her hair as well as glitter from somewhere, being Charlie, it was still a good threat. Tracey nodded.
"Good. I already rang Timothy so he should be on his way," Charlie said, a blush showing on her cheeks. "And please don't ever tell me anything. I mean, as much as I like you and stuff, he is still kinda my brother and all and I don't think I even want to think about that."
"I just want someone capable of being quiet for a few minutes," Tracey muttered to himself as he followed Charlie down the steps. And then he realized that he himself had just been talking too.
Both were surprised to see Timothy already waiting at the curb.
"I was on my way when you called," he explained, "since it was so close to when you normally get out. Are we doing breakfast or anything?"
"Not today," Charlie said. "I'm just really tired. As dumb as this sounds, could you drop me off before you drop off Tracey? My head hurts too and I want to lay down as soon as possible."
Charlie could act, if nothing else. Except she was a little too convincing with her performance and Timothy was suddenly looking at her in a panic.
"Are you okay?" he asked. "Do you need any medicine? We could stop and get you..."
"I'm just exhausted," Charlie interrupted. "Really."
"I don't think it's anything to worry about," Tracey added when it looked as though Timothy wasn't going to let it go so easily.
"You sure?" Timothy asked one last time before settling back into the driver's seat. Tracey and Charlie took a quick glance at one another.
"I'm sure," Charlie said quickly. "Don't you dare worry about me. I'm old enough to take care of myself, as are you."
"Right," Timothy said. "Oh! Tracey! I found one of my Keeping Still mix tapes and brought it to listen to. Since Charlie never has any good music in this thing."
"Headache," Charlie reminded them, making Tracey start to believe that she wasn't just acting the part of sickly sister.
"You just don't like Keeping Still," Timothy replied, pulling away from the curb. "Which is exactly what I'd expect from you. You've always been difficult."
"Me? You've been nothing but a complete pest to me since the moment you came into this world," Charlie shot back, sitting forward and leaning against Timothy's seat.
"Which is why you're still somehow my best friend in the entire universe," Timothy finished.
"That's just how the world works," Charlie added. "Now, I crave silence and a quick ride home. Well, first I want to mention that if I get lucky, I may get to keep my job and my employee discount. See, Dynamo..."
Luckily Charlie was very easy to tune out.
"Are you sure this is okay?" Timothy asked for the third time since he had stepped into Tracey's house.
"Mom's at work and the brats are at school," Tracey replied. "Though Rebecca has gotten much more tolerable and isn't technically a brat anymore."
"You're close with your sisters too?"
"Just 'Becca. Vicky is too busy being Miss Popularity to care much about her directionless brother," Tracey replied as he pushed open the door to his room. It was a bit messy, but only because he had left things all over while trying to get ready for dinner earlier.
"Someday, would you draw me?" Timothy asked, looking around. "Just me, as I am."
"I can only draw you as I see you - As what you mean to me," Tracey explained. "Er, it's something Rebecca told me about art theory, I guess."
"What do I mean to you? Well... I guess that's a hard question, isn't it?" Timothy sat down on Tracey's bed and looked up at him.
"I'm, if nothing else, curious," Tracey replied as honestly as he could. "But please don't think I'm using you - I really have grown to like you."
"I know," Timothy said. "I saw those drawings, remember? As tacky as it may be, a picture really is worth a thousand words."
"Then maybe today I've just needed drawings - everyone keeps wanting to talk."
"I thought you wanted to talk," Timothy said softly, diverting his eyes.
Tracey finally sat down on the bed beside Timothy.
"Just talk? No... Not just talk. I want... to..."
And finally taking his own damned mental advice, Tracey chose to be quiet and devote his mouth to other things. Timothy was sweet, tasting of the fruity soda he was always drinking. And he was willing too, letting Tracey control the kiss completely and lead it deeper until Tracey couldn't help but wonder if Timothy was feeding on the same sweet intoxicating lust that was starting to drive him.
"Tracey!" Timothy exclaimed once they pulled apart to fully breathe. "I..."
"Charlie told me exactly how she would dismember me if I pushed you," Tracey said softly, laying a quick kiss on Timothy's nose. It was an incredibly sappy gesture but it just felt right. Timothy felt right. And it was okay. It was okay to feel that way about Timothy. It was okay to just be... himself. There was nothing to be afraid of.
"I'd love to tell you she's all bark and no bite, but it would be a lie," Timothy said as his slid further onto the bed. "The last guy who attempted to wrong me ended up with a couple of broken fingers. And he was one of the luckier ones."
"You've done this before?"
"Does that matter?"
Tracey shook his head as he took Timothy's lead and settled down beside Timothy, looking up at the ceiling. There were ancient glow-in-the-dark stars still stuck up there, nearly forgotten except when Tracey took a moment to make a study of just what was above him.
"I'm guessing you haven't?"
"Not with a boy," Tracey replied, suddenly very self-conscious again. It seemed like every time he took a step, he slid back two.
"I'll have to teach you," Timothy replied. "When you're ready."
"There's something about you..." Tracey began, only to trail off and look back at the ceiling.
"I can only hope that's a positive fragment," Timothy replied, propping himself up on one arm so he was back in Tracey's range of vision. "But Tracey, what I'd really like to do is stop talking for a little bit. I really did much prefer the kissing."
And before Tracey could even find the words to agree, Timothy was on top of him, body pressed tight, sharing everything he could at that exact moment. And not a single bit of it even began to faze Tracey. Not Timothy's arousal pressing hard against his thigh, not his own pressing back, not the fact that he was kissing a boy who was kissing him, none of it.
"I'll make you a deal."
"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Tracey replied. He didn't want to unwrap his arms from around Timothy. He didn't want to let go.
"If you can make it to see the sunshine in January, we each get one thing," Timothy offered.
"And that would be?"
"I get you to draw me, naked, as you see me," Timothy said. "And then you get to do whatever you'd like with me. But not until then."
"You drive a hard bargain."
"Motivation," Timothy replied. "And the fact that I'm rather high-maintenance."
"As long as you aren't Ethan," Tracey said with a laugh, finally moving a hand to wrap into Timothy's long, suddenly wild hair.
"Ethan is at a level I cannot begin to aspire to," Timothy confessed, moving so that he could rest his head on Tracey's chest. There was just enough friction in there to deliciously tease Tracey's arousal and Tracey knew he would be masturbating for days just to calm himself down. He hadn't been so amazingly turned on in ages. Not even with his fantasy-Johnny. Not even when drawing pose after pose of Johnny spread for him, aching for him.
Tracey couldn't help but want to draw Timothy now. And all he needed was a little bit of sunshine, in January.
"Okay, okay, as stupid as this sounds I managed to wrangle the details out of Lainey who managed to wrangle them out of Dynamo," Tyler said as he ran over and sat down for their last break.
"You talked to Lainey? Are you running a fever?" Matthew asked. "I thought you were the president of the Lainey-Is-A-Traitor Club."
"Well she's still sweet on me," Tyler shot back. "So what if she doesn't know that I'd rather she ate glue."
"Fine, fine. Just spill it," Charlie said. Charlie always seemed to be the sensible one who could divert things back to the topic at hand.
They're keeping two in the backroom," Tyler said. "And two for our crew."
"I'm not one of them," Charlie admitted, casting a wave of silence over the table. "What? I thought about it and it would interfere too much with the classes I want to take. And since I want to go on to a real college, I figured school was more important right now. My parents agree and are willing to help me out financially."
"But that means you won't be here," Matthew said. "I guess it's not like you're dying though - you're just going to be doing other things. But we'll all stay friends, right?"
"Of course!" Charlie exclaimed. "We can still have breakfast. You could even visit me on campus if it wouldn't make you spontaneously combust or anything."
"It might," Tyler announced. "So now that all bets are off on the permanent hires, I'm ready to cast in my chips."
"Mix metaphors much?" Tracey asked, laughing. "And how are we supposed to know if we were kept on, anyway?"
"Check your little mail-folder," Matthew instructed. "If it has a pink slip, you're gone next week. If it's white, you have a week left but you should re-apply next year. And if there's nothing at all, you made it. It's simple, really, but I couldn't look for my own last year. I made Tyler do it."
"Like I really felt good about that," Tyler replied, laughing. "We'd only just started talking but dang, I know a good quality friend when I find one. And Tracey, I'll be damned if you make me check your folder for you."
"It's okay," Tracey said. "I'm not afraid. It's January second and in two weeks we'll be back on days. I'll see the sunshine in January."
"And it'll be blinding," Matthew concluded. "Trust me. It'll be blinding."
"Over-acting much?" Tyler said, smirking. "But yeah, the slips should be up there by the time we punch out for the day. Just call me Mr. Information."
"And you think I over-act?" Matthew asked, rolling his eyes. "You've never listened to yourself, have you?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd swear you two were a couple," Charlie commented.
"Well thank the heavens that you know better," Matthew shot back.
"Maybe I should go check now," Tracey murmured.
"No!" Tyler exclaimed. "You have to wait until you're leaving. So you aren't running around either giddy or homicidal or vice versa. And besides, we all need to be there like complete idiots to stare over your shoulder and make you nervous. And I don't feel like getting up just yet."
Well, at least there was logic this time.
As soon as Tracey punched out, he headed to the office that contained the regular employee's cubbies and the seasonal employees’ mail-folders. Truth be told, Tracey rarely checked it more than once a week and it almost never had anything in it.
Finding his name, Tracey pulled it all the way from the bin it hung in and tossed it on top of the others, slowly flipping it open so that everyone could see the contents.
Tracey found it amusing that the dull green inside that matched the dull green outside of an empty hanging file folder could be just as blinding as the sun on a brisk morning in January.
Just like what he was going to see.
So far all he had was a string of little triumphs. But they were triumphs nonetheless.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!