Next day I walked into the shop on time to start my new job. I believed in giving a good first impression. My boss showed me the ropes. It wasn’t too difficult; man the till, stack the books properly so they wouldn’t fall over, that sort of thing.
‘OK then,’ my boss said clapping his hands together. Your first job is in those boxes over there,’ he said, pointing to a pile of boxes sitting by the door to the storeroom. ‘I’m setting up a new display over on those tables over there and I need you to put the books out for me.’
‘Sure,’ I said, heading off to collect the boxes. There was a girl with her back to me reaching for something on one of the higher shelves. The bookshelves were so close together I couldn’t get past her. ‘Excuse me,’ I said softly, ‘may I get past?’ The girl spun around and saw my face, letting out a little shriek and involuntarily throwing the book up in the air in shock. We were standing fairly close to each other, so it was no surprise that the book hit me square in the middle of my forehead. ‘Ow!’ I staggered back a few steps, not quite realising what had just happened.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Xaria said, putting her hands out to touch my face, then remembering herself lowering them back down to her sides. ‘I’ll go get an icepack.’
‘I’m alright,’ I protested. ‘It’s just a little bump.’ But she had already disappeared, reappearing moments later with an icepack in her hand, which she gave to me at arms length without looking at my face. I sat on the stool she had been standing next to and pressed the icepack against my head. She pulled another stool over from the next aisle and sat down next to me.
‘What are you doing here?’ She asked conversationally, tilting her head to examine my face.
‘I work here,’ I said, wincing slightly as I felt a bruise forming on my forehead.
‘Oh,’ she said, her mouth forming a perfect circle and her eyes showing her surprise.
‘What are you doing here?’ I asked in return, feeling a little awkward, as I always did when we met again and she didn’t recognise me.
‘I work here,’ she replied. ‘Have done since I got out of school.’ She shifted nervously on her stool, digging a toe into the fabric of the carpet.
‘You dropped out of school,’ I said, not surprised by this information. Xaria had never been an academic.
‘No, I chose not to go to college,’ she said slightly defensively. ‘I won’t need to anyway.’‘Oh right,’ I said awkwardly, seeing this was a subject I shouldn’t push any further.