He’s leaning on the wall. He’s got his hands in his pockets, and he blankly stares across at some indiscriminate point on the wall. Customers walk in, and his muscles contract a little. He tries to drive himself forward. He tries to push himself, but there is only a grunt. A grunt’s worth of work, but a lifetime’s worth of effort.
If only he could carry himself like her. If only he would be as enthusiastic as she is when she’s ringing up another pair of sneakers. That makes the fifth one today. White. 317th one this quarter. He’s been counting, because he’s got nothing better than do. He’s got nothing else to focus on, because he knows that he’ll always be second best. He’ll always be more caught up in romantic delusions than he is in selling sneaker protector.
He feels like bleach. He feels like life is ammonia. He knows that he is letting everyone down around him. He doesn’t mind all that much anymore. Only for her, though. Only because she’s still here. That’s what he fights for.
He grins inside. He thinks about the action, and he feels the sides of his lips curl a little, aching for a motion. How long has it been since he’s stretched them out?
It’s time to put some boxes away, he thought. He didn’t take pride. There’s… well, boxes aren’t exactly the most glamorous thing to be stacking. Dollar bills though – that’s something. But he knew that he’d have to start with boxes first. Boxes, boxes, boxes.
“Hey,” her voice sang, making his heart scale over his ego. “could you help man the register for a bit? I need to take 5.”
He nods, acting as if he were the most responsible man in the world, and that manning the cash register was only a small feat to him, and that he would perform the duty with the utmost effort nonetheless. How noble. How fake.
He trembles, but he knows everything there is about this register. How to talk to the customer. How to position his hands in the most efficient pattern; how every single step of his plan is memorized – even if there’s a 2-second delay, he knows that his inputs still work. He’s got every movement down. He knows everything there is about customer interaction.
“Hey, you know, you could be a little friendlier to them now and then. Say a “Hello” every once in a while, you know?” His boss would often say to him.
He meant all the best, he knew. But he couldn’t stop himself from speaking his mind. A free country and a lack of censorship does that to you.
“I think most of them would rather just get on with their day, rather than talk to a guy like me.” He regretted speaking as soon as he opened his mouth, but he was apparently just that much more enthusiastic to speak that day.
He could almost hear the girl take a breath and open her mouth to say otherwise. He could almost imagine. ‘No, you’re great – anybody would want to talk to you!’ The classic reassurance of a happy-go-lucky person. The suggestion of deeper feelings.
All he heard from her was silence. And subsequently, her footsteps moving to the furthest corner of the store.
Oh, woe to you, protagonist. Maybe your romantic subplot will get resolved someday.