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The Swing of Things #2

Tracey left job orientation with a smile on his face. Things seemed infinitely easier when explained one at a time instead of being presented as a jumble. He wished he had more professors as courteous and patient as Frank, the one who had ran the session.

It was Friday the 17th, closer to two weeks after he'd been hired. But with midterms being dumped on him, time had flown and he hadn't even noticed the date until he was on the phone confirming that he was still interested in the position that had been offered to him.

Of course, now he needed clothing. For the first couple of weeks he would need to be in uniform but after that the shift would move to strictly overnights with no interaction with customers. At that time he'd be allowed to wear whatever he wanted, but until then, there was a strict list of guidelines he had to follow. At least his hair wasn't a problem. It was a sandy blonde and getting a bit too long. But Tracey liked the look. It felt very summer-like to him and he always did enjoy summertime.

Tracey knew very little of shopping. Usually he just picked up whatever he needed if he ever needed anything and quite embarrassingly, his mother still bought his socks and underwear. He wasn't even sure what size he wore, which was bound to present a problem.

The multitude of racks of clothing in the men's department boggled him. He knew he needed a green shirt and khaki-colored pants. Style was unimportant - customers just had to recognize him as an employee by color. Still, most everything he found was either not quite right or just not him at all. Finally he stumbled upon a rack of safe-looking beige cargo pants that were both inexpensive and decent looking. Trying to turn around and stare down the back of his pants to see what size they were was quite a conundrum though. Finally he just guessed that he wore a 32 and grabbed a pair. Next was a green shirt. He was going to try everything on anyway, so it didn't really matter if he messed up the first time.

Luckily there was a table of plain-colored t-shirts labeled clearance sitting quite near to the fitting room. Grabbing two, Tracey managed to get a second of the attendant's attention as he entered the fitting room. With a computer and complex phone bank in front of her, she certainly seemed to have her work cut out for her.

The pants he had grabbed were a bit too long, but otherwise perfect. And the shirts fit good as well, perfect for their price of less than five dollars. Tracey knew he'd get a store discount card later, but it wouldn't help at the moment when he actually needed to buy things.

Leaving the fitting room, Tracey went back to the pants rack and found a pair in the same size but with shorter legs. Hopefully that was everything he would need for the time being. He had a good pair of shoes and plenty of the basics, so he felt set.

His first day would be Monday; start time of three in the morning. It was going to be an adventure, if nothing else. He wasn't sure he'd be able to handle the hours, but Tracey was optimistic.

Now there was just the weekend and five chapters of history text between where he stood and what he knew was most likely going to be an amazing learning experience.

For some reason, all he wanted to do was pay for his new clothing and then go home and take a nap. Part of that had to do with yet another late-night tutoring session with Rebecca. He really wished that she would come to him earlier in the evening, but he wouldn't ever shy away from helping her. She was finally beginning to understand the basic principles of algebra and Tracey was quite proud that he'd managed to help.

It was Friday, the only day of the week where Tracey had the house to himself for most of the day. Both Vicky and Rebecca were in school, his mother was at work, yet he had no classes. It left him with all the freedom in the world, despite the fact that he rarely did anything with it besides sleep or lay out on the porch roof, daydreaming. He just didn't know what to do with himself on days where he had downtime. He used to always work Fridays, but now he was a bit lost for ideas.

He knew he should probably be off with friends or something, but the last remnants of his high school buddies had scattered to universities across the country and not a one of them seemed to be able to be bothered with Tracey, the one with limited potential who was slowly getting through general education classes at the community college. It wasn't that he was dumb, just that he was directionless and he couldn't see venturing out into the world until he had some idea of what he wanted to do. So far, community college hadn't helped much. But he had learned plenty of careers that he was not interested in, so at least he had a little more certainty about the future.

If nothing else, he thought a reasonable college education wouldn't hurt anything, even if he did end up being a drone in a factory for the rest of his years.

Settling down onto his bed, Tracey closed his eyes and daydreamed about being a rock star until sleep claimed him.

Tracey walked towards the store, a bit intimidated if anything. The parking lot was pitch black but he knew he was not alone. The lot was dotted with cars along one side and he had added his own to the herd without much of a thought. But still, all he knew was that he supposed to meet someone named Dinah when he got inside.

He assumed the butterflies in his stomach were natural. He wanted the job badly enough that he didn't want to mess up too badly right from the start. Hopefully he wasn't supposed to be perfect from the moment he punched in.

The same men he'd seen the other day were walking a dozen or so yards ahead of him, chattering to themselves as the redhead gestured wildly and made himself look like a bit of an ass.

Just inside the doors, Tracey found himself staring at an Amazon of a woman.

"And who might you be?" she asked, looking him twice over.

"Tracey Evans," he replied. "This is my fist night."

That should have been obvious and Tracey kicked himself inside once he realized what he had said. There was nothing like a stupid first impression.

"I'm Dinah Zee," the woman said, looking quickly at her watch. "And as soon as I get things started for the day, I'll give you the grand tour."

"Should I be doing anything right now?" Tracey asked, looking around as everyone scampered off towards the back of the store.

"Just stick with me," Dinah explained. "And I have to admit to being a little surprised. I thought you were going to be a girl."

"It's a unisex name," Tracey said for what had to be the thousandth time in his life. Sometimes he wanted to ask his mother just what sort of bad drugs she'd been on when she'd named him, but he never could quite round up the balls to do so. In high school he'd just been 'Evans', which worked for him.

"You have anything against clothing? One of the ladies on that side of the store is pregnant and on leave so we're short-handed."

"I'll do whatever I need to," Tracey said, hoping he wasn't sacrificing himself to an estrogen pit. But then again, it was always a way to meet girls as well. Suddenly, it didn't sound like such a bad deal.

"I like that," Dinah commented. "Just don't let anyone here push you around too much. If you seem to be getting dumped on, let me know. I know what's fair around here and what isn't. I've been with this crew for ten years now and running it for the last two."

"Okay." Tracey just didn't really know what to say. He felt as though he was somewhere completely alien. Without most of the lights on and without people all over it, the store didn't seem much like a store at all. It was more like a barren wasteland filled with multicolored baubles. There was something just sort of dissonant about it but Tracey was sure he'd get over the feeling once he was doing something more than following Dinah about like a lost puppy.

"Basically what we do is run this store from behind the scenes," Dinah said, smiling. "Without this team, the store would not function. No matter what anyone says about us, we're the ones who hold everything together. Don't forget that. Hell, take pride in it if you want to. I'm proud of what I do here and I think everyone on this team should be proud too."

They pushed through a set of swinging doors into the back of the store and Tracey was surprised to see a small army of people setting up pallets and grabbing all sorts of things on wheels that he didn't quite have the names for yet. It looked fascinating.

"We have a new crew member!" Dinah announced loudly. Everyone turned to look at Tracey and Tracey couldn't help but want to hide behind Dinah. He was rather sure that he'd fit.

"His name is Tracey and he'll be starting off over with the ladies of soft-lines," Dinah continued. "Today's trailer should be a breeze, so there'd better be no problems when I check back."

Tracey looked around as she spoke, picking out a pair of women he was sure to be teamed with as well as the two men again. They were up by an open cargo bay door, looking up at a very full trailer of cartons.

Smiling, a rush of excitement poured into Tracey's body. This really was going to be an adventure.

"Before I leave you with Kathleen and Laura, I'm going to show you a few more things," Dinah said, gesturing for Tracey to follow her back behind a high wall of shelved cartons. "Don't worry if you don't understand everything today. I'd rather you learn at your own pace than get frustrated and leave."

Tracey found himself really liking Dinah the more that he listened to her. They walked through the entire store with Dinah pointing out things that Tracey never would have noticed during a casual shopping visit. Really, the entire set up of how things made it to their proper shelves seemed both amazingly simple and intricately complex at the same time. Still, by the time Dinah led Tracey over to the aisle where clothing was being sorted, he felt somewhat confident in his understanding of everything that had just been relayed to him.

"Nice of you to join us," an older lady said, looking up from where she was sorting things from a large cardboard box emblazoned with the company logo.

"Easy, Laura," Dinah said before looking to Tyler. "But don't worry - Laura's bark is worse than her bite."

"I've never bit you," Laura replied, laughing. "And welcome, Tracey. We're thankful for the help over here. No one ever likes to help us besides Matthew and he's so busy right now with the Halloween costumes that he can't sneak over."

"Would you care to explain the process here to Tracey?" Dinah asked. "I need to go up and let in the backroom team."

"Fair enough, Dynamo," another voice replied. Tracey turned to see another woman coming toward them, dragging a pallet towering with boxes. Somehow she'd managed to be quiet though - probably just practice.

"Have fun, Tracey," Dinah said, digging from keys from her pocket as she headed towards the front of the store.

"So what we're doing is sorting and unwrapping all the clothing that is coming off the trailer," Laura explained. Things that are on hangers get unwrapped now and the other stuff, like underwear, goes to the department first and is then unwrapped. But is has to be sorted."

"Let's just go hang some clothing," another voice chimed in. Tracey couldn't help but be surprised at the young, pale woman who had appeared. "That'll be a good start. My name is Valerie and I do all the hanging around here."

And that was how Tracey found himself elbow deep in a shopping cart full of individually wrapped pieces of clothing, tearing away plastic wrap and sorting things onto racks by department. It was difficult at first, since Tracey was never too sure just what went to which department. Some things that looked like girls clothing really belonged in the juniors department, some sweatshirts went to the womens area while others went to exercise gear.

His head was spinning by the time the freight was sorted and Tracey found himself being herded off to help the gentler of the two older women, Kathleen, put out items in the girls and boys departments.

Despite knowing it was nothing to be embarrassed about, Tracey felt himself flushing as he grabbed an armful of girls underwear from Kathleen's shopping cart. It was easy to find where it went, once he stopped thinking about the fact that he was holding an armload of little girls underwear.

Momentarily, he felt sorry for whichever poor sap was stuck with the task of putting out the condoms and tampons and other awful hygiene products. He couldn't help a snicker at the thought of someone needing to stock the enemas and suppositories.

Of course, whomever that person was, Tracey realized, was probably quite used to what they did and understood that all boxed products were the same and would all be bought and used by someone who needed them. And the train of thought would stop there, happily. Still, Tracey was rather glad that he had not been assigned to the tampon aisle. That would have been a bit too much for the first day on the job.

Before he'd even thought to look at his watch, he heard Dinah's voice over the store's public address system announcing that it was time for a break. Not sure how long it had been, Tracey looked down at his arm to check and it was already six in the morning. Time had flown by much quicker than he thought it would.

"Take a breather," Kathleen said as she walked over, dumped her armload of girls shirts back into the cart and motioned for Tracey to follow her.

"This isn't so bad," Tracey commented as he followed her over to the small cafe-like area at the front of the store. A handful of crew members were already sitting over there while others were streaming outside for a cigarette.

"It grows on you," Kathleen replied as she sat down. Tracey sat down at the next table and was surprised when he was almost instantly joined.

"Doing okay?" the lithe, androgynous man he kept seeing asked him. Tracey was a little confused. For some reason, everyone seemed to care about him even though he was the new guy. It felt really weird to have so much attention paid to him when all he thought he was supposed to be doing was showing up and working. There was never the same sort of community in the restaurant. Instead that was always more like a constant battle with each work station against one another. This was completely new and it made him feel disconcertingly warm and fuzzy inside.

"Fine," Tracey replied, smiling. The man didn't have a nametag on and neither did his friend, the redhead.

"Kathleen isn't marching you around and forcing you to be a purse-rack, is she?" the redhead asked, snickering.

"I only do that to Matthew," Kathleen replied. There was an obvious twinkle in her eyes as she glared at the still unnamed redhead.

"Everything is really nice so far," Tracey said, looking around once more.

"I'm Tyler, by the way. And this is Matthew," the redhead announced before pointing to his friend. "I stock over in toys and Matthew..."

"Never wants to see a Halloween costume again!" Matthew wailed before burying his head in his arms against the table.

"That's right, it's your first Halloween, isn't it?" Kathleen commented from where she was sitting. No one had sat down across from her so she had her feet up on the opposing chair.

"I thought ten thousand glass Christmas ornaments were bad," Matthew bemoaned. "But nothing tops random pieces of Halloween costumes scattered everywhere."

"Someday we're all going to barge into someone's home and trash their stuff," Tyler announced. "See how they like it."

"Don't say that," Kathleen replied. "It's job security."

"Besides, you'll scare off Tracey here," Matthew added. "And I think he likes working here so far."

"I do," Tracey said, amazed he could finally get a word in edgewise. He felt a little awkward being wedged into such an obviously tight-knit group but was happy to be instantly accepted.

"So where did you used to work?" Tyler asked. "You look familiar."

"The Mourning Dove Restaurant," Tracey replied. "I was only a busboy, but I had decent hours."

"I bet that's it!" Tyler exclaimed. "My girlfriend used to work there!"

Tracey couldn't possibly think of any woman in that place he liked enough to wish upon someone as seemingly nice as Tyler. He almost didn't want to ask her name for fear he would remember her and possibly be stuck seeing her again. Usually no one had left the Mourning Dove for good reason - the happy people stayed and the grouchy people went.

"Oh?" Tracey finally said. That way the ball was now in Tyler's court and he could bounce it back if and when he wanted to.

"Her name is Patti Donovan," Tyler said. "She was a waitress there up until a couple of months ago."

Inadvertently rolling his eyes, Tracey found himself confronted with quite a few very memorable incidents involving Patti Donovan. He had grown to hate her with a distinct passion because she treated everyone in the restaurant like complete shit just because she deemed them lower than herself. He'd been quite relieved when she finally stopped showing up for work and had liked her replacement a thousand times better.

"I figured as much," Tyler said softly, having obviously seen Tracey's reaction.

"Sorry," Tracey muttered. So much for being liked at this job, he figured.

"No, it's okay. She and I... Well, we've been dating for almost two years but ever since the spring she's been really weird and moody," Tyler explained.

"Classic behavior of a two-timing bitch," Kathleen interjected.

"So... that means we need to catch her in the act," Matthew said, a smile forming across his face.

"You're kidding me, right?" Tyler asked, frowning.

"We've played enough spy video games that it shouldn't be any problem. And Tracey, since she doesn't know you know us, you'd be perfect to catch a few handy glimpses of her in action," Matthew replied, looking from Tyler to Tracey in one fluid motion.

"You boys..." Kathleen began, only to be interrupted by Dinah bellowing overhead that it was time to get back to work.


"We'll plan at lunch," Matthew said, not bothering to ask Tracey if he was actually in or not. It seemed like he was. And besides, for some reason, he really did want to take another jab at Patti Donovan. He still had a very clear memory of one time she stuck him with about two hours of extra work because she was feeling like a lazy bitch.

Tracey followed Kathleen back to where they'd been working.

"Don't let them railroad you into anything," Kathleen warned, having a hard time not laughing. "Though usually Tyler is the brains of the operation and Matthew is the willing pawn."

"I don't really mind," Tracey replied. After all, it wasn't very likely that anything would come of their plans. Hopefully Tyler would just grow a bit more common sense and dump Patti Donovan like week-old milk.

While hanging boys socks, Tracey racked his brain trying to remember if any other men had come to visit Patti while she was working. He couldn't even remember Tyler though - in truth he never really paid much attention to people who didn't pay attention to him. And since he hadn't liked Patti to begin with, he was that much more likely to have not bothered with her affairs.

Somehow, but not entirely in a surprising way, lunch break crept up just as quickly as the morning break had. The stock crew routinely went on lunch the moment the store opened and while Tracey thought it a bit odd to be on 'lunch' at eight in the morning, he was quite hungry and was happy to be able to buy a small pizza from the cafe.

He carried it upstairs to the break room where he encountered both Matthew and Tyler hunched over a colorful puzzle.

"One with purple and black edges," Matthew said, glancing around at the pieces scattered across the table.

"Too tedious. Brain breaking," Tyler replied, shaking his head. "Toronto did evil to you. Stop it."

"Jealous..." Matthew said softly.

"I am not jealous!" Tyler exclaimed, flushing a bit and walking to another table. That was when he noticed Tracey. "Our private investigator has arrived."

"So what did you have in mind for me?" Tracey asked as he sat down at the table Tyler was at. He hadn't noticed before, but both Tyler and Matthew had sandwiches that looked homemade. Remembering the price of his pizza, he decided they had done the smart thing. And halfway through that thought, he realized that they had identical sandwiches. Despite knowing full well that Tyler tried to have a claim on Patti Donovan, Tracey briefly thought that his coworkers were a better pair than anyone and Patti could ever be.

Matthew didn't look up from the puzzle.

"She supposedly works at that seedy bar over by the river," he said, fingering a yellow puzzle piece. "The one with the blue neon with so many letters burned out that it says E Pi Ba."

"That would be The Pint Bar, in English," Tyler translated. "You are old enough to drink, right?"

Suddenly there was a kink in the plan.

"I'm not," Tracey admitted. "I mean, I could probably get in but I'd have to order a pop or something."

"Do you have a girlfriend who's older?" Matthew asked.

"You're way too gung-ho on this," Tyler commented before taking a bite of his sandwich.

"I want to see you happy," Matthew replied. "And right now, this is not making you happy."

"I don't," Tracey finally said. "Still... I'd just have to go in and get a Coke and shoot a round of pool with someone, right?"

He didn't mention that he had no ideas who he would even play pool with. He wasn't even sure why he knew that the Pint Bar even had a pool table. Maybe someone in one of his classes had mentioned it. And maybe he could find a willing participant for this little plan in one of his college classes. It was worth a shot.

"Exactly. And maybe she'll talk to you since she knows you."

"I don't think she likes me much," Tracey replied.

"Then maybe she'll brag about something incriminating," Matthew offered.

Tyler was suddenly silent and it wasn't just because he was eyeballing Tracey's pizza.

"Guys, I really don't like thinking these sorts of things about Patti. She used to be really cool."

"I know," Matthew said, standing up and moving to sit at their table. He put a comforting hand on Tyler's back and sighed. "I know."

As they left for the day, Tyler invited Tracey to come over and hang out, but Tracey had to decline. His first class was at noon and school was still quite important to him, even if he wasn't entire sure why was enrolled to begin with. It just seemed like the right thing to be doing at this point in his life so it's what he did.

Instead of paying attention to a long, dull lecture on American History though, Tracey found himself imagining himself as a private investigator, tracking Patti Donovan and reporting back to Tyler about every bit of evil his girlfriend committed in his absence. It was a fun little daydream and somehow managed to keep him awake despite his waning consciousness. He had been up since two that morning and he was starting to get sleepy, even with a can of pop running through his veins and a decent afternoon's sleep banked up.

Thankfully Tracey had only two classes on Mondays. It made things so much easier to deal with. He only hoped Rebecca wouldn't need too much help with her homework that night. He didn't think there was any way he would be awake for it. Maybe for once his mother could step in and do a little more than her share while he did a little less than his.

That reminded him - he had to do laundry as well. His nice, new pants had somehow ended up with a long smear of dirt down the right leg.

With the laundry in the dryer, Tracey felt he'd accomplished enough that a nap before bed was in order. As he walked through the main hallway of the house, he couldn't help smiling. He'd had a very good day, despite the trivial things. And it wasn't entirely too often that he could consider a day truly good. Usually he just got through them and headed on to the next.

When he got closer to his bedroom, Tracey realized that his door was open. Usually he closed it without thinking, a remnant of when he had to close it to keep their dog, Muffin, out. But while Muffin had passed away at a ripe old age years ago, Tracey was so used to closing his door that he could never really bring himself to stop doing it. Besides, the implied plea for privacy tended to keep out other pests, such as his younger sisters.

No more than a second after he finished that thought, he realized that yes; one of the two was settled comfortably onto the beanbag chair beneath the window Tracey didn't go in and out of to get onto the porch roof.

"Rebecca?" he asked, curiously. He hadn't even realized that it was late enough for her to be home from school. Then again, it didnít take particularly long for the girls to get home from school. The middle school that both attended was only a five minute walk from the subdivision they lived in.

"I think I met someone today that I really like," Rebecca said, not meeting Tracey's eyes.

Tracey sat down on his bed and looked at her. Rebecca had never really had any close friends that he could remember. While Vicky was always the most popular girl on the block, Rebecca had never been outgoing or even that personable. She was generally even picked on, though Tracey would never admit to knowing about that.

"Would you like to tell me more?" Tracey asked. It did make sense - Rebecca didn't have anyone else to talk to or get advice from, so she'd come to him. Tracey felt the warm fuzzies returning inside as he realized that he was one of his sister's closest friends.

"I met her in art class," Rebecca explained. "She was drawing pictures of faeries."

Tracey asked the only question he could think of. "Did she just move here?"

"She's in eighth grade," Rebecca replied. "I was scared of her at first because I thought she might be one of Vicky's friends. But then I saw one of Vicky's friends being mean to her, so I figured she had to be okay."

"Speaking of which, where is your sister?"

"Cheerleading practice," Rebecca reminded him. He really should have known, but at the moment his brain was starting to get a little fuzzy and sleep deprived. Asking Rebecca to take care of the laundry was sounding like a better and better idea all of the time.

"Right... So tell me more about this girl."

"Her name is Emily Andersen. And she writes for a magazine!" Rebecca had a light in her eyes that Tracey rarely saw. "Or... she says she does and would bring in the newest copy tomorrow so I could see. I don't think she would have said that if she were lying. But, Tracey, why would someone so young be writing for a magazine?"

"Why not?" Tracey replied. "If they're interested in what she does, then it all works out."

"She said she'd draw me a faerie tonight," Rebecca continued. "And one for you too."

"For me?"

"Yeah..." Rebecca looked away again. "Because you're really cool."

Tracey was suddenly stuck for words. Somehow fantasy art didn't really appeal to him, but if it was something Rebecca was commissioning, then it had to at least have a spot on a wall somewhere.

"I'll have to hang it somewhere..." he finally muttered.

"Mine is going to go on my door," Rebecca said as she stood up and stretched. "Maybe it'll keep Vicky out. She keeps stealing all of my pens."

As a mental note, Tracey decided that once he got his employee discount card, he would buy Rebecca all the pens she ever wanted.

"Would you do me a favor?" Tracey asked once he saw that Rebecca was going to leave.

"Sure thing."

"Would you take care of the laundry once it's done? I'm really tired and I think I'm going to sleep for a bit," Tracey said, flopping back. He was rather sure that he would wake up once before work so that he could shower and take care of anything else he needed to.

"Can I make sure Vicky's stuff is all wrinkled?"

"Only if you don't tell me about it," Tracey replied, smiling as Rebecca turned his light off and shut the door on her way out.

Not more than a couple of minutes later, he was asleep.


Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!
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