By 6:00, he’d mostly forgotten about the weird conversation. Instead he was focusing on not freezing to death in the walk-in cold storage. He was stacking the large bags of ice into a cart for restocking, and loathing every second of it. Being in the freezer was like deciding to saunter around Antarctica in your underwear.
When he emerged from the freezer, he was startled to see Hannah waiting for him.
“…Hi.” It took an abnormal amount of time for her to find her voice.
“Hi.” He was now frozen not only by the small shards of ice on his sleeves, but by her beauty. The night before had been too dark to really see her face. It was unfortunate that her hair partially fell over her face. She had beautiful green eyes and such a sweet face he couldn’t believe he had called her weird earlier.
She stood just about an inch shorter than him, but with the same skinny build and sleekness.
“Linda said you’d be back here…She said you’d show me the clocking machine and stuff…” She stood there with her hands behind her back and not meeting his gaze like a kindergartner who knew she was in trouble.
“…Um, yeah, I’ll show you, follow me.” He walked past her and right up the hallway towards the clocking machine just outside of the break room. She was acting even weirder now than the night they’d met. He wondered if something else had happened that night, or if she was just always this strange.
She followed him slowly, looking around the hall like she’d never been in a building before.
“Did Linda tell you about sweeps and stuff?” Thomas asked as they reached the machine.
“So basically, you want to press this when you start your shift and type your ID number…” She appeared to be listened to him intently as he explained the machine to her, though with the air that she was really thinking about something else. However, as Tommy instructed her to try the clocking machine herself, she managed it perfectly.
“Good. So, um…I guess I’ll show you where the supplies and things are…” He waved for her to follow him to a small closet area just behind the break room.
“This is for the cleaning supplies and spill caddies and things…”
She nodded. He couldn’t see how sad she was.
After he’d showed her the basics of what to do and how to do it, they ended up at the front of the store, Tommy checking and Hannah bagging in his line.
At times, as he passed her items he had scanned, their hands touched, and he noticed her flinching like he had burned her. It made him wonder if she was a victim of some sort of abuse. That would explain her shyness.
It would also explain why Linda had hired her. She certainly wasn’t hired for her people skills. She rarely made eye contact with customers, and rarely spoke other than to say have a nice day.
The more Thomas thought about it, the more it made sense, and the more he felt the need to help and watch over her. His mothers sister, who was killed by cancer when he was 12, was a victim of abuse as well. Her husband had been a control freak, and ended up assaulting an officer after a traffic stop. It ended with a shot in the back and a near-empty funeral service.
He was unsure what abuse (if that was her story) had to do with requesting a night shift, but it didn’t matter. There had to be a logical reason, and he would probably only find out by becoming a friend of hers.
Near 7:00, the lines had died down a bit. Taylor strutted over to Thomas and Hannah’s line and leaned onto the stand near Hannah. She back away.
“Oh come on! Am I seriously that bad?!” Taylor growled. It was the end of his shift, so he was tired and irritable.
“Oh, no…It’s just…Me. Never mind. Sorry. Who are you?”
He sighed. “Taylor. I usually go home at seven though, so I guess I won’t see you much. You work nights right?”
“Can I ask why?”
Thomas almost slapped him for that one. The guy could never tell when a subject should be left alone.
“Um…I just…prefer it…I like having my daytimes to…hang out and…stuff…”
It was a very obvious lie. She wasn’t too good at controlling her awkwardness, apparently. Taylor looked as if he was about to object, but Thomas discretely stepped on his foot, ushering a glare from his best friend.
“You should get home, Taylor, the nights are getting darker quicker,” Tommy told him. “I bet you don’t want to walk home in the dark.”
He continued to glare at Thomas, and said nothing as he turned to leave.
As customers began to enter their line again, Hannah spoke up.
“Thanks for that.”
“Oh, no problem. He’s…” He scratched his head. “He doesn’t know when to shut up. Sorry about that.”
She laughed lightly. “That’s okay, I guess…”
It was obvious to Hannah that Thomas knew she was lying about the night shifts. The sweet part about him was, he didn’t ask.
As she bagged people’s groceries, she watched Thomas with a certain growing affection. She could tell he was a good person the night he’d accidentally hit her on his bicycle, and as she watched him interact with customers, she knew her perception of him was correct.
But it just made her more upset inside.
By 11:00, the store was nearly deserted, save for the few late-night drinkers and hyped-up teenagers.
Thomas, Hannah, and their manager, Ross, were the only employees left except for the re-stockers. Hannah was doing sweeps, while Tommy scanned for the last couple people in his line. Ross approached him as the last customer was leaving.
“How’s da new girl?” Ross asked him in his thick, Jamaican accent.
Tommy really had no idea what to say. She wasn’t engaged with the customers at all, which was what Geil’s looked for.
“She’s nice.” It was all he could think of. If felt stupid.
“ I heard some weird tings ‘bout ‘er,” Ross told him, whispering now. His accent made things sound like tings. It was always entertaining for Tommy to hear him talk, but now he was really listening.
“She don’t have a family. Dat’s what Tim said. He was der during her intaview. Where she get da money, Tommy? She ain’t got no family, yet she move here and live in dem fancy apartments up on Birch street.” He shook his head. “Ain’t make no sense.”
She doesn’t have a family? Tommy thought sadly. That pretty much explained everything except for the night shift thing. But it was strange. Where did she get the money to move into the Sunrise Apartments? They weren’t horribly expensive, but it certainly didn’t seem possible for a teen with no family and a minimum wage job to buy a place there. And it sounded like she had rented the place before she got the job at Geil’s.
Nothing with this girl really added up, yet Thomas still felt obligated to help her. Maybe she came from a rich family, and had used that money to get the apartment. Either way, she didn’t have a family, and that wasn’t acceptable to him. She was obviously a sweet girl, just injured and unsure. And wanted to help her, but he didn’t really know how. She didn’t seem very open to friendships, but maybe, just maybe, he could bring her out of her shell a bit.