SixteenMature

It was all going so well.

There had been a steady stream of customers since lunch and most of them had bought a record or two. I was working the register like a retail veteran, making change was getting easier and easier, everyone was being so friendly.

First-time customers were even asking for, and valuing, my suggestions and advice! It was pretty odd to be treated with respect by a group of people who only last week would have only felt pity or disgust or would have just ignored me entirely.

It’s been a long, long time since I felt respected by anyone who had a job and a home. I didn’t even recognize it at first; it was like a long forgotten face appearing suddenly out of a crowded room.

It was all going so well.

Yesterday had been easy, not too many people coming in, a nice way to ease into this new responsibility. Today, day two, it was a lot easier for me to unlock the doors in the morning. I felt good about that, it gave me some confidence. I remember thinking, “two unlocks down, five to go!”

Maybe I should have just left them locked today. Or closed early, that would have worked too. But I could never have seen this coming and it was all going so well.

I had my first female customer around two o’clock and she was a real beauty: wavy brown hair brushing her slim shoulders, librarian glasses, snug sweater, knee-length skirt, and leather boots. If this is what she looks like in fall I’d love to see her in summer. We talked music for almost half an hour; TJ would have killed me if she had seen the looks we were giving each other.

But I was feeling good since things were going so well.

Karl came by at five-thirty to drop off a home cooked dinner. He watched over the shop for me while I went to the back to shovel down the mushroom soup, butter covered bread, and yam fries.

He stayed for a while and we talked about the job, the money, the future.

“I’m really feeling good about this for you,” he said as the sidewalk and street became more and more congested with the after work rush. “I never would’ve dreamed things would turn around so quickly.”

“Me either man,” I had replied. “But it’s only Tuesday, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. I’ve got a long way to go, nothing is guaranteed.”

“No, of course not. But you’ve found the path, you’re walking down it, and you’ve got support. Speaking of which, have you told TJ that you’ve gone clean yet?”

“Not yet,” I had said, “I want to do that on my own for a while. To see how strong I really am. If I start to falter, I’ll have you both to turn to.”

“How long has it been?” he had asked as he flipped through DJ’s personal record collection, nodding his approval at regular intervals.

“Five days.”

“And so far so good?”

“So far so good,” I had told him as another customer came into the store.

Karl had offered to stay until closing but I told him to go home, I’d be fine. I wish now that I had let him stay.

But it was all going so well.

I was ringing up my last two customers at quarter to seven, a nice couple who I had seen in here a few times before. Regulars, like me. They were telling me a great story about DJ, about how when he first opened the store there was a pimp who thought DJ was moving in on his territory. DJ kept telling him that he just wanted to sell records but the pimp didn’t believe him, didn’t think anybody sold those any more, it had to be a cover. Threatened to burn the store down.

DJ had had enough, so he called a few friends in social services and by the end of his first week of business every single last one of the pimp’s ladies had been picked up and put into support groups all over the city. The pimp never knew what happened; he just knew he was out of business.

We were feeling good, we were laughing, I felt like an equal. Like I belonged. It was all going so well.

Then Tommy showed up with a gun.

The End

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