This was a big mistake.

I can’t do this, what was I thinking? Nobody spends almost six years in a row begging for breakfast, lunch, and dinner then starts running a store on a couple hours of training. There are reasons why people are on the street instead of working a proper job.

I shift slightly to my right to avoid the inventory binder stabbing me in the back. Sitting here, behind the counter and out of sight of sidewalk window shoppers, I stare at the clock and pray that it stops, or better yet goes backward.

But it continues on, tick, tick, tick, and now it is only five minutes before the store doors are due to be unlocked. Oh do I ever need a drink or ten right now.

Other than right now, going clean has been a lot easier than I was expecting it to be. Well, I guess this is the first moment I’ve had to face where my usual response would have been to get wasted.

My finger traces the outline of the store key, traveling its peaks and valleys like a lost explorer. I’m so lost right now, completely out of my element; I’m not a fish out of water – I’m a fish in outer space.

The phone rings and I jump just enough to crack the top of my skull on the counter. Swearing loudly, repeatedly, I let it ring and listen to the answering machine’s greeting. After the beep a familiar voice begins to leave a message.

“J, pick up the phone. I know you’re there,” Karl says. “Well, you better be there, for shit's sake. If you’re not you better be halfway to Mexico.”

“Hey man,” I say into the receiver. “What’s going on?”

“Oh good, you are there. I just wanted to see how you’re doing on your big day.”

“My big day? Thanks man, I really needed some more pressure right now,” I tell him. “You caught me just in time though – I was just about to see if there’s a back door I can sneak out.”

“It can’t be that bad,” he says before hesitantly adding, “can it?”

“I can’t handle this kind of responsibility, something major is going to go wrong and I’m not going to know what to do,” I say as panic begins to creep into my voice. “People are going to ask questions that I can’t answer, I’m going to give the wrong amount of change, I’ll forget to lock up before I leave, I’m -”

“J, take a deep breath man,” Karl interrupts. “In fact, take ten. Don’t say another word until you do.” I do as he says since I don’t know what else to do. Following instructions is so much easier than thinking for yourself.

“All right,” I say when I’m done and feeling much calmer, “now what?”

“You can do this J, this will be the hardest part. It’ll just get easier and easier after this,” he says with a confidence I’ll never know. “DJ is counting on you, don’t let him down. Don’t let yourself down.”

“What if,” I begin but he cuts me off gently.

“You’ll handle it. And if you can’t, give me a call and I’ll help you figure it out. What time do you close?”

“Tonight? Seven, I think. Yeah, seven.”

“All right, I’ll swing by around quarter to seven,” he says. “I’ll bring ice cream.”

“No food allowed in the store,” I say automatically.

“See?” Karl says with a laugh. “You’re going to be fine. Call me if you need me.”

“Thanks,” I say then hang up. I look up at the clock to see that it’s one minute past opening. I take a few more deep breaths then walk across the empty, silent store to the door. I stand there for another minute, staring at the deadbolt.

“Here goes… everything,” I say and unlock the door with a resounding thunk. And then… nothing happens. I open the door just wide enough to poke my newly-shaven face out and find an empty sidewalk.

“Idiot, of course there’s nobody out there,” I say as I pull my head back into the store’s shell. “Who would be waiting for a music store to open on a Monday morning?”

I stroll back to the counter, pull a record out of DJ’s personal stash, and put it on. As the first guitar strings play on the store stereo I sit down on the cashier stool and wait for my first customer to arrive.

The End

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