My birthday was looming on the horizon. It was only two weeks away. That could have been the most important thing in my life, since you only turn twenty-three once, but I was more focused on that one test that was to come. I opened my eyes at four-thirty in the morning, a minor headache in the back of my head announced I was hungover; the two beers I had the previous night were a reminder of how bad of a drinker I was. I got ready to go to Staples. I only had to clean restrooms, since they had already found more people to do the job I wasn’t supposed to do. That was good news because I would be off at twelve and have enough time to take my first test.
That was the only test I was ready for. The one Monte Baker was going to give me.
Nothing interesting happened at Staples that day, Roberto was off, and the store manager concentrated on teaching the new squad how to get the job done. I, on the contrary, kept glancing at the clock as my shit-coated gloves retrieved wet toilet paper from the shitter, witnessing how the seconds dragged by, and twelve o’clock was in no hurry to show up. But it finally did. When that happened, I darted out of there as if I had robbed the place. Some people said goodbye or something similar, and I responded in kind by waving my hand goodbye behind me as I left.
The parking lot was booming, the city was alive, cars drove by, and pedestrians carried bags as they walked out of the stores, laughing, kissing, hugging. Yes, one typical couple was giving out too much PDA, and another couple was so sick of each other they didn’t even talk about the weather anymore. Speaking of the weather, I looked up at the clear sky and saw a massive cloud in the shape of a dude smiling at me; that freaked me out a little. Had I been a Christian, I could have sworn Jesus was looking down at me.
This time I crossed the parking lot with prudence, looking at the sides like the decent and shrewd human being I was not. I neither wanted to see another idiot mad at me because I made him halt at my presence, nor was I in the mood to apologize for my reprehensible ways. A famous nobody once said that haste makes waste, and I wanted to heed that advice and stay alive.
I opened the door of the restaurant. The noise was the usual. The same people sat all over the place and talked endlessly about everything and nothing at the same time. Even the same black dude I saw talking about politics the other day, he sat there and talked to a different girl. This fucker doesn’t waste his time, I thought. Finally, I saw Margaret sitting at her usual table, reading something by Patricia Cornwell this time and nursing a small, hot coffee that still had that cloud of steam hovering on the cup.
We smiled at each other. I noticed she was wearing a long pink dress with flowers all over. It looked like the kind of outfit indigenous people from Mexico wear. I realized I was paying more attention to whatever people were wearing, their facial expressions, and the whole enchilada. That’s what I need to do, I said to myself, if I want to be a decent writer someday.
“Hey!” Margaret beamed, happy to see me. She was even happier than me every time I saw myself in the mirror.
Still smiling, I sat across from her. “How are you, Maggie?” I asked, guessing it was ok since that’s how everyone called her.
She put her book down next to the coffee. She wasn’t eating anything else, but I didn’t think she was on a diet. One, she was skinny, and two, she was too old to impress anybody.
“I’m doing fantastic! How are you? I heard you have a meeting with Monte today.”
The way she raised her right eyebrow suggested we were sharing some top-notch secret.
“I do,” I said, thinking it was interesting she was privy to that information, which meant she was an important customer; maybe she was the one I had to impress.
I looked at the register. Blanca and Juanita were working. What about Marlen? Did she finally take a day off?
“I have been studying to become a manager,” I said and looked at Margaret as I spoke. “I already had a warm-up test with Gabby.”
“Oh, isn’t she adorable?” Margaret asked.
“Um, yeah, she is,” I said, while all the negative things I had heard about Gabby last night made their appearance in my head, like a slideshow, and that impulse to over-share nearly made me vomit the words. But I shut my mouth.
“Go on,” Margaret said, still cheerful.
“Well, like I was saying, I had some practice with Gabby the other day, and she said we were going to schedule an appointment with Monte.”
“He’s a very busy man,” Margaret said, and the veneration on her face suggested honesty. “And you know what’s his most important quality?”
“I have no idea.”
“He loves Jesus,” Margaret said, with that look Chris-lovers have, something akin to an eternal, ejaculatory climax. “And Jesus loves him.”
“Good to know,” I said, looking at my watch and thinking, yeah, Jesus also loves me, but I only like him, so this is awkward.
“And what time is your meeting?”
Margaret was surprised, glancing at her watch. “Oh, you’re very early. It’s barely twelve o’ five.”
Blanca started toward our table as I said, “Well, I have this thing about punctuality.”
“That’s a great start,” Margaret said, waving an approving finger in front of me. “That’s also an essential quality.”
Blanca came and made herself comfortable on the chair next to Margaret. “Hi, Maggie,” Blanca said. “Is this guy giving you a hard time?”
Margaret laughed as though that was the best joke she had heard that day. “Oh no, not at all, dear. Gabriel was telling me about his appointment with Monte and how he likes to be on time.”
To that, Blanca burst with laughter, taking us both by surprise. Noticing the puzzling look on our faces, she said, “Who likes to be on time?”
Margaret pointed at me. “He does, dear.”
Blanca nodded. “Oh, I see. I thought you say Monte likes to be on time.”
Margaret looked confused. “Why, he does not?”
Blanca shook her head, still smiling, “Monte is always late. It’s the way he is. He has never been on time. Some people say he won’t even be on time to his own funeral.”
I chuckled. “That’s a good one. Any idea why he does it?”
Blanca shrugged, “I don’t know. He has always been like that, that’s why I thought it was funny.”
Margaret was at a loss for words, while I considered suggesting that being punctual was better than loving Jesus. At least one of the two was based on the real world. In the end, I opted for keeping my thoughts to myself since I really liked Margaret and didn’t want to upset her. She was fragile, and if I tried to argue with her over religion, I would probably give her a heart attack.
“Ok,” I said, trying to keep the point of the conversation, “it can’t be that bad. Most people are usually late, say, ten or fifteen minutes. How late is he usually?”
“Most people, yeah, but not him,” Blanca said, “and I think he does it on purpose because he is the boss, and we have to wait for him.”
“Ok, but how late are we talking?” I insisted.
“If he comes an hour late,” Blanca said, “consider yourself lucky.”
I didn’t know how to feel about that.
Was it a power play? Most likely, I thought, while drinking coffee and giving my notes a final, absorbing, and intensive look. Margaret was still here, perusing Cornwell’s new novel with the same passion I read temperatures and cooking times I knew so well I was beginning to have dreams about them. I needed to make use of the time, and wondering about Monte’s penchant for tardiness was something I didn’t want to worry about.
Patrica Cornwell couldn’t stop looking at me from the back cover of the book Margaret was reading. There she was, the famous writer, with her red lips pursed, ready to blow a kiss, and the tip of her blonde hair flirting with her ears. She was a striking woman, and I wondered if what I was looking at was her because of who she was or merely imagined myself on the back of a book one day as a published author.
I looked at the clock on top of the register. Twelve fifty-five. Five more minutes, and we would know whether Monte could make an effort once in his flamboyant life and be on time. Margaret caught a glimpse of me, her blue eyes reading my face as well. She put the book down, sipped her coffee, and said, “You seem worried.”
I looked at her. “I am.”
“What are you more worried about? That he is going to be late or that you forget something?”
I considered. “The latter. The former is only going to annoy me.”
She nodded. “I can see that. But don’t worry, if you did well with Gabby, I don’t think you are going to make mistakes.”
“That’s a good point,” I said, and as I was getting ready to say something else, the look on Margaret’s face changed back to that eternal climax. She was looking at the main entrance. Someone important was walking in. I caught my breath, ready to take a wild guess and think it was Monte. The clock was only a couple of minutes away to hit one o’clock, so it was safe to assume. I looked back, ever so slowly, repressing a look of panic. Someone was approaching our table, someone wearing heels.
So… it wasn’t Monte.
“Hello, Gabby!” Margaret beamed again, and her eyes somehow got bluer. “It’s been a long time, my dear. How are you?”
I looked up at her, Gabby looked taller, or maybe I sank in my seat. She wore the same kind of power suit she was wearing last time: black pants, jacket, and a white blouse (Or was it black the last time I saw her?). A black, big handbag (big enough to stuff me in it) hung from her right shoulder, and a bunch of documents was nestled up against her breast. She looked at Margaret and smiled in kind.
“I’m doing good, Maggie. How are you?”
“Oh, you know me. Always with great company,” Margaret said and winked at me.
Gabby now graced me with her attention. “I can see that.”
“How are you?” I said timidly, which caught me by surprise. We had already developed some sort of rapport, so there was no reason for me to be shy around her. But I was, and I attributed that to the obvious fact: I was worried about the test, even though I didn’t want to say it out loud.
“Good,” Gabby said. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, keeping my true feelings to myself.
A random customer came by and said something to Gabby about the excellent service and how much he loved it here. Margaret saw a kid that some woman was moving around in a stroller and smiled at him. After the man left, Gabby glanced at her phone and answered a quick message, and I looked at my watch and hoped Monte was on his way.
“Is Monte coming?” I asked.
“He is always late,” Gabby said nonchalantly.
Margaret, who hadn’t stopped making faces at the baby, took a moment and said, “That’s what Blanca was just telling us, that he is always late. I couldn’t believe it.” She then went back and played with the kid while the mother smiled at us.
Gabby’s face suggested she was used to Monte’s tardiness. “He always does it. He apologizes, but never makes an effort to be on time.” The way she said that didn’t sound like the way you refer to your boss. It sounded more like the way you talk about someone you’re intimate with.
“Isn’t that annoying?” I said, unable to help myself.
“It can be,” Gabby said, “but he is the boss. I can’t tell him anything.”
The woman with the baby left, and Margaret looked at us, saying, “Well, you’re right about that, dear. He is the boss.”
I looked at my watch. Five minutes had somehow evaporated in thin air. “How late do you think he is gonna be?”
“Hard to tell,” Gabby said, looking around, seeing if her favorite table was available. Everybody’s favorite table, shall I say. Noticing that it was, she looked at Margaret and said, “Maggie, I’ll sit over there.” Then she looked at me. “Do you want to come with me and go over some of the questions?”
“Of course,” I said, gathering my stuff.
“It was great to see you,” Gabby said to Margaret as she shook her hand.
“The pleasure is all mine, dear,” Margaret said with a smile on her face.
Gabby and I sat across each other at the other table, the one near the register, where countless times I sat and either ate a Quarter Pounder, read a book, wrote an outline for a story, or simply stared at people. We had been there for twenty-five minutes, practicing, as we planned, and there was no sign of the CEO. I wanted to tell Gabby how I really felt about that, how I thought it was disrespectful, but I gathered she had been through this before and probably talked to him about it as they were having sex in that tent during that summer camp.
I shook my head, sending that thought away. It was not the time. Gabby was writing something on her pad, looked up, and noticed me shaking my head. “What are you thinking about?”
“Summer camp,” I blew it out, and my blood froze, and the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ nearly came out, but since I was with Gabby, I had to be prim and pristine with my language.
Her pen stopped in mid-sentence as her eyes fixated on me. She wanted to say something, but what was she going to say? There was nothing wrong with summer camp. It was an innocuous and insignificant thought. She finished what she was writing. Her previously neat handwriting suddenly became a cacography, something I could not read from where I stood. She put the pen down and leaned back.
“Summer camp,” she said, looking at me with intent, planning to get inside my head and get everything out. “You know about it?”
What did she mean by that? The fact that McDonald’s had this summer camp for all the employees or that she might or might not have engaged in intimate coitus with the CEO? I held my breath from both ends. I wanted to fart but couldn’t. It was not the time for that either.
“Yes,” I said, “I know that you guys have this summer camp and take all the managers. I think it’s cool. Something to look forward to.”
But Gabby was smart and did not buy it. And she was also cautious, looking at me without blinking, like a lioness or a psychopath, ready to jump and rip my head off. But she didn’t, since it was not the time, and there were too many witnesses. Instead, she nodded and smiled.
“Yes, it is something to look forward to.” She then continued to write whatever she was writing. “Too bad we women can’t come.” Gabby paused for a brief moment to look at me one more time and said. “But you already know that, don’t you?”
I swallowed, “Yeah, I, uh… I know that, and I think it’s unfair. Why don’t you girls have something special going on every summer?”
She seemed touched by my sudden interest in women’s rights. “That’s right. It is what I have been saying all this time. Monte just thought it was the best thing to do. Why don’t we girls have another summer camp elsewhere all by ourselves? It’s not fair. They get to have all the fun.” Gabby stopped, trying to keep a lid on the subject, but the content of the gossip was so intense I had a feeling it was going to blow up, and Gabby would have to face the music.
But she kept it tight. The woman was good.
I smiled. “Well, don’t you give up.”
She smiled, too, but I also saw the lioness behind the smile.
Monte finally came, and the whole world transformed. Marlen appeared out of nowhere and started to spew orders like a soccer coach; I guess she had been here all the time, and I didn’t see her. Blanca and Juanita stayed put at the registers, smiling and greeting people with extra exuberance. There was even a precocious young man who stopped having an intellectual skirmish with an older man at the table next to us, just to take a look at the impressive, white dude who entered the restaurant. Monte carried a black briefcase, wore a white shirt and a blue tie and grey slacks, and a million-dollar smile.
I looked at him, and my muscles tightened. Then I glanced at my watch and saw the time: one hour late. I looked at Blanca. The two of us smiled, remembering that she had said I would be lucky if Monte came an hour late; well, I guess I was lucky.
“He’s here,” I told Gabby.
She took her eyes away from the notepad and turned her head, just to see her boss shaking Margaret’s hand. “He’s going to take another half an hour talking to her.”
I frowned. “What?” The pitch of my voice came out inappropriately higher.
Gabby turned back, reading my discontent. “That’s the way it is.”
I gulped and tried to shut my mouth. Marlen came to our table and greeted Gabby.
“Hi, Gabby. I didn’t know you were here. I was doing some paperwork in the back.”
Gabby nodded. “How are sales?”
“It’s been slow,” Marlen said. “Compared to last week.”
“How was the lunch rush last week?”
Marlen looked up and to the right, searching for a memory she wasn’t sure she had. “We did about a thousand dollars more.”
“Got it,” Gabby said.
Marlen looked at me. “Are you ready now?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve been reading the booklet day and night.”
She smiled and walked away, giving Gabby a respectful nod. She went on and started greeting customers, asking if everything was alright. Taking a white rag out of her back pocket, Marlen began to clean tables. I looked at her and thought of myself doing the same thing, imagining that I would have to be able to memorize sales, manage people, clean tables, and even restrooms if need be.
Being a manager seemed hard. But it was too late for me to back out.
Finally, Monte graced us with his presence. That smile on his face got more expensive now that he was closer. Gabby stood up and went for the hand as he complimented her outfit, but Monte went ahead and hugged her. I stood up, too, thinking that sitting down could be constructed as disrespectful.
Really? Why am I worried? The son of a bitch came an hour late. He is the one who has no respect.
I looked at his profile more closely and noticed he looked a bit like JFK and Bush had any one of them been a First Lady rather than a President. Sprinkles of grey began to show among his blond, short hair, and his clean-shaven face looked as clean as my buttocks after taking a shower. I looked around and briefly studied the faces of the other managers from afar. They all looked at Monte as if he were Jesus fucking Christ swimming on the water he turned into wine and later walking on it while throwing loaves of bread and fish on the heads of his congregation.
He looked at me, and all I could do was think of him as a petulant grown child who believed the world should do as he said.
“Are you the famous Gabriel Lucatoro?” Monte said as he shook my hand.
I had to suppress my laughter. “Lucatero. Gabriel Lucatero. But it’s okay. Just call me Gabriel.”
He sat next to Gabby, who looked a bit uncomfortable having him too close. “But I want to learn. I always strive for memorizing people’s names.”
Strive. Nice word. I didn’t think I had heard that word before, but based on the conversation context, I had an idea of what Monte meant. He looked at me intensely yet amicably. There was no rush or impatience in his eyes. He didn’t look as flamboyant as I remembered him; he was probably warming up to it.
“That’s very nice of you,” I said, thinking that he should strive for being on time. But I couldn’t bring myself to say it. “I bet it can be hard to memorize people’s names, but trying is all we can do, right?”
“Thank you,” Monte said, and it was the way he said it that made him stand out, with a politician’s flair, looking down at me as what I was, just another number in the payroll, yet making me feel as if I mattered. Yes, for the first time, I experienced how condescending he was.
Instead of having my panties on a bunch over his obtuseness, I decided to play along. “You’re welcome.”
“Now, speaking of memorizing, how do you feel about the position and what you have to learn?”
I gulped, slightly taken aback by the abruptness of it. I thought Monte wanted to get to know me first, but what the hell? It wasn’t like we were on a date. I didn’t say anything, though. I kind of expected that.
“It’s complex,” I said.
“By ‘complex,’ you mean difficult?” Monte air-quoted.
“No. I mean challenging.”
He smiled. “That’s a better word.”
“It is,” I agree, then added, “and based on the time I’ve been working here, I can see that being a manager is more than just expecting a bigger paycheck. It’s about dedication. It’s a way of life.”
I had no idea where I got that from, but Monte Baker was eating it up like an Oreo McFlurry with extra cookies. Even the color of his face changed, bringing a dash of pink on the cheeks that could only be equivalent to a blush. God, did I make Jesus Christ blush? Even Gabby Vazquez looked surprised and pleased, looking at me like a soccer mom who was cheering up her kid as he played on the soccer field.
Monte Baker put a hand to his chest, ready to let out the full spectrum of his personality.
Wait, I thought, are his eyes getting watery, too? Fuck, I also made Jesus cry!
“That’s a very nice thing to say,” Monte said, piercing my soul with his kind stare.
I gulped. “It’s the truth.”
Now we went back to dating mode, and he started asking me questions about my background, how and why I came here, you know, the whole enchilada. I told him what I could, I hid what I couldn’t tell, but most importantly, and under no circumstances did I mention my legal status. True, I was already an employee at the restaurant, but I was unaware of how much he knew about my legality. Or the lack of. It turned out he and the whole company knew everything, I later learned, and turning a blind eye was a well-known practice around here.
He seemed particularly interested to know I was going to school. “Are you planning to major in something?”
“I just want to be a writer,” I said. “I’m not interested in diplomas or anything. I just want to learn the craft and make up stories.”
He frowned as if I hadn’t explained well enough what I meant. “What do you mean?”
“I want to be a fiction writer, sir. That’s my American Dream. Everyone has one. That’s mine. I want to learn your language and become a writer in English.”
Monte was speechless, but the look on his face said he liked what he heard. He looked at Gabby. “Did you know about this?”
Gabby shook her head. “No, I only knew he was going to school but wasn’t sure what his plan was.”
“I don’t talk about it much,” I said.
As we talked about my future goals and aspirations, Monte would look at the register, just to see how the managers were doing the work. I did the same, noticing the apparent shift in behavior they showed when Monte was around. They were exuberantly happy, and Marlen went as far as pouring coffee on people’s cups while sitting on their tables. She didn’t do that all the time. I didn’t think Monte was that stupid to believe they were always this friendly. Or maybe he was.
“Gabby tells me you had a chance to practice with her,” Monte Baker said.
“I did, just recently.”
“How was it?”
“Oh, it was great.”
“Were you in the kitchen?”
“Yes,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee, which was cold and tasted like shit.
“Your first time?”
“Mm,” I said, putting the coffee cup down and getting ready to answer. “No, it wasn’t. I have been practicing with Joel.”
To that, Monte smiled. “How’s Cabral doing?”
I squinted, and Gabby came to the rescue. “That’s Joel’s last name. For some reason, Monte loves it.”
He laughed and nodded. “I do, I do. I think it’s a mighty last name. Don’t you think so?” He asked me.
I agreed. “Yeah, it’s a mighty last name.”
“What’s yours again?” Monte asked.
“My last name?”
“Did you forget already?”
I smiled. “No worries. It’s Lucatero.”
“It’s Italian,” I said.
“I thought you were Mexican.”
“I am Mexican,” I said, unsure if I should teach him about the history of human migration and the fact that a good percentage of last names in Mexico and the entire American continent came from Europe. “But I got this last name from some distant relative I never knew anything about.”
“Fascinating,” Monte said.
Holding the thread of the conversation, I said, “Where’s yours from?”
“My last name?”
He waved a hand, “My last name is too white, nothing is interesting about it.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Noticing this, Monte went down to business.
“I’d like to ask you some questions,” he said.
I smiled. “About the test?”
“Let’s do it.”
He went through his notes, Gabby did the same, each of them focusing on one thing in particular. Gabby mentioned another employee in Fairview just became manager too, and she wanted to take a quick look at the paperwork while Monte tested my knowledge. To that, Monte looked at her and said, “Let’s focus on Lucatoro first… um, Lucatero, I’m sorry.”
I waved his apology away. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Gabby’s facial expression went from calm reassurance to forceful acceptance. He was the main boss, so she had to do as she was told. She put her notes away, and I thought briefly of Hugo, the guy who rented a room in Luis’ house. He’d mentioned being passed on a manager position; this had to be the person Gabby was talking about.
Monte’s finger rifled through some papers.
Founding what he was looking for, Monte said, “So is it safe to say that you’re already familiar with food preparation, and the boxes and wrappers we use for each of our products?”
“Yes, that was the main focus we had last time. Gabby also quizzed me on temperatures, same as Celestino and Marlen. Even Blanca helped a little.”
Monte was pleased to hear that. “That’s great!”
“It is,” I agreed with a close-enough level of enthusiasm.
He took another look at his notes. “As you know, food safety is essential for us,” he said. “It’s the most important aspect of the job we take pride in.” Monte reconsidered, then added. “Customer service is important, too, of course.”
“If I may add, I think every aspect of the job is important.”
The elation in Monte’s face never faded. He continued going through his notes until he found what he was looking for. He put aside the sheet of paper he was looking for and said, “Ok, mhmm, let’s see. “I’m sure you remember what the pyrometer is?”
I didn’t have to overthink. “It’s what they call thermometer here.”
“It’s the same thing,” Gabby said.
I objected. “The main difference between thermometer and Pyrometer is that the thermometer is a device to measure any temperature, and pyrometer is a remote-sensing thermometer used to measure high temperatures only.”
“Impressive,” Monte said. “Where did you learn that?”
“First, the dictionary. You could say I have a bit of an obsession with words. If I don’t know a word, I like to look for its meaning.”
“You said ‘first the dictionary,’” Monte said. “What did you mean by that?”
“After looking for the meaning of the word ‘pyrometer,’ I found ‘thermometer’ to be a synonym, then I went on an internet treasure hunt and down a rabbit hole of information until I found a page that explains the difference between the two words.”
“You must be single, right?” Gabby said with a grin on her face.
I chuckled. “Yes, I am.”
Monte went back to business mode. “Tell me how do you calibrate the pyrometer.”
“The pyrometer has to be calibrated every time you use it, regardless. Grab a cup, preferably a coffee cup, the small size, prepare fifty percent ice and fifty percent water. After that, you stick the pyrometer in it. The temperature has to be thirty-two degrees, plus or minus two.”
They both were pleased with the answer.
“It’s almost like you are reading it,” Monte said.
“I have read it,” I said. “Multiple times.”
I nodded. “Let’s.”
“When checking the internal temperature of 10:1 meat, which one do you check, and what should the temperature be?”
I had to think for a couple of extra seconds. I remembered what Reina was doing in the kitchen last time I was learning. She stood by the grill and put all the meats in it, a total of eight patties. She then clicked the buttons, the base came down and cooked the patties, and when they were done, Reina checked the temperature. But she didn’t check all the patties. I looked at Gabby. She had that soccer-mom look on her face, waiting for me to score. She wanted me to get it right.
I moved my notepad aside and used the table to explain. “We have eight patties on the grill. All of them are placed horizontally; one, two, and three. Then four, five, and six. Lastly, seven and eight.” I stopped, trying to recall the way Reina checked the temperature. Gabby and Monte were hooked to my every word, waiting for me to continue. “I grab the thermometer, um, I mean, the pyrometer, and then check only…” I stopped. I didn’t remember what meat I had to check.
Monte wanted to help. “I can tell you if-”
I shook my head no, looking at the table and picturing what I saw Reina doing. Then I said, “I only check the ones in the corners: one, three, seven, and eight!”
A full smile covered both their faces.
The rest of the questions were of the same, tedious nature. After I nailed all the temperatures and cooking procedures, Monte asked questions about the front counter. He wanted to make sure I knew the temperatures of the coffee, the ice cream, their shelf lives. He even threw in trick questions just to see if I fell for it.
“Is it ok if you serve coffee that has been sitting there for an hour?”
“‘Course not,” I said. “After half an hour, the coffee must go.”
We had been there for about three hours. We even went to the kitchen because Monte wanted to see me in action. I did make a couple of mistakes, forgot the onions on a Big & Tasty, didn’t add an extra slice of cheese on a double cheeseburger. I didn’t look at the chart, thinking I had everything under control. But Monte and Gabby weren’t worried about that. I had proven myself, memorizing and reciting everything else.
We went back to the table. The managers looked at me with pride, the same as Gabby. I cleaned my sweaty forehead with a napkin as they finished organizing their paperwork. It was a good feeling. I have to say. The only problem was that it didn’t last long enough.
I only have myself to blame for that. But that’s a story for another day.
I received my twenty-third year on this planet two weeks later with a new uniform. The white shirt with the blue tie, the blue shirt whit the red tie, and the burgundy polo shirt for casual Fridays; I would pick up the burgundy shirt the next day because they didn’t have it ready. I had to buy the pants, though. I didn’t quit Staples right away because even though I got a small raise for being a manager (it was just one dollar more, which I thought was bullshit), I was still in no place to afford the room with only one job.
One crucial fact was I had no idea how to manage people. I have always been good at managing myself, but dealing with humans was different. But I had to learn, just like anything else. I liked the attention; I can’t deny that, especially from the women. There was a girl in the kitchen who I caught looking at me on more than one occasion. Funny, I didn’t remember seeing her before, but we became very, very close after a while. Even Marlen looked at me again like she used to when I was merely a customer. But nothing ever happened between us. And I think it was meant to be that way because just as May took over the calendar, Marlen came to me and told me something she knew I would be interested in.
“Gabriel,” she said to me as I learned how to count the drawers one night and close the daily sales. “Javier is planning to hire someone to take Luna’s place.”
I looked at her, “What’s up with Leticia? She doesn’t want it?”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“Because she doesn’t want to take her daughter’s job.”
I squinted. “Her what?”
Marlen looked surprised. “You didn’t know Leticia was Luna’s mom?”
I was baffled. “No, I didn’t,” I said, thinking of how Leticia had looked the days following Luna’s demotion. That explained a lot.
“So,” Marlen continued. “Who do you think might take her place?”
“I don’t know,” I said, but a brief look at her eyes made me think hard enough.
Many people had the experience to take that job; Fatima was the right candidate. She had been there for a while. Joel was great as well. Reina not so much since she was a tranquil and unassuming woman. But there was someone else who came to mind, someone who had been here before.
Marlen nodded. “Maria Soria may be coming back to work.”
I smiled, but deep inside, I was afraid to acknowledge I was still thinking about Maria, The Second Maria. Like I said at the beginning of this chapter, the only test I was ready for was the one Monte Baker was going to give me. I had passed that test with flying colors. But I wasn’t sure I could pass this other test, the one that said I wasn’t even able to think about dating coworkers.
Photo by Congerdesign.