Charlie

by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 11: Charlie Gets a Job

"You're awfully quiet."

"Sorry, what?" I asked.

I must have zoned out because Charlie was looking worriedly at me. "Does it bother you that I got a job? You don't have to come with me you know."

It took me a moment to realize what we were talking about. "Oh. No, no of course not. It doesn't bother me at all. Heck, I think it's a great thing even if all you're doing is stacking stuff."

"I am not just stacking stuff," Charlie rolled his eyes. "I'm a cashier's assistant. Which means I help the cashier."

"Yeah right," I chuckled. "And what does the cashier's assistant do in this place? Oh right. He stacks stuff."

Charlie smiled. Title or not, even he knew that the job would involve a lot of stacking. "I just wanted to help Mr. Maloney. He's getting too old to be doing all the lifting in that place."

"Yeah, but he certainly could have gotten someone else. Like someone from another high school, those actually needed it."

Charlie gave me a reproving look before he continued adjusting the polo he'd be wearing to work. It was Saturday and we were over at his house. He'd gotten a weekend job (well, a Saturday job) helping out at a "second hand store" where people left their old junk for free or extremely low prices. The owner, old Mr. Maloney, tried to resell them. To be honest, I thought the place looked like a dump and I didn't think it was a sustainable business. Eventually you'd have more useless non-liquid assets than cash. And yes, we did have accounting in fourth year. It was part of the Southmore curriculum.

I promised to bring Charlie to work and back every Saturday. I mean what were best friends with cars for, right? Besides, it was near enough to Casey's anyway where Rebecca worked on weekends (oh, just about seven or eight blocks). I figured it was a perfectly good excuse to stop by.

"So what were you thinking about?"

"What do you mean?"

He moved over to the closet and looked for a bag to put a change of clothes in. "You had this lost look on your face, like you were thinking of something serious that was bothering you."

"Why? Can't I meditate upon serious and contemplative issues?"'

Charlie chuckled. "No offense, Derek, but you don't think deep."

Ouch!

From my lack of reaction, Charlie stopped what he was doing and moved over to sit on my bed. "Hey, I'm just kidding. You know that right?" When I still kept quiet, he sighed. "So tell me. Is there something wrong? You're not worried about your date tonight are you?"

"Of course not," I said with a wave. The dating realm was certainly something I was perfectly comfortable with. Nothing could make me nervous, even a date with a girl I might for the first time consider special.

He gave me a searching look before nodding. "So if it's not that, then what is it?"

I thought about it for a moment trying to figure out how to best explain it. "You know when someone is trying to tell you something… yet doesn't because he can't or won't… and he's purposely evasive, yet you know something's there that he's trying to say… and you feel that it might be important…?"

Slowly, a small smile broke through his worried lips. "You mean like what you're doing now?"

I had to laugh at that. "Yeah, I guess."

"I think it would help if you gave more details," he grinned mischievously.

I thought about it. Part of me wanted to share with Charlie the details of my conversation with Travis. Yet, somehow I knew that whatever that dickhead was trying to say was somehow inexorably tied to Charlie. I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Different topics of conversation were mixing up in my head and I wasn't sure what meant what. It was as if the message was right there in my head yet every time I came even close to grasping it, it would slither away. My mind almost seemed like it was purposely avoiding thinking about it, as if someone was in my head saying don't think about that, think about this instead, insert picture of sexy and gorgeous women.

It was weird and honestly kinda freaky. On top of all that, I wondered what the heck was wrong with the bed that my butt was aching slightly.

I knew something for sure though – Travis was warning me. Change or face the consequences. The question was what was I supposed to change? And what consequences was he talking about?

"Derek?" Charlie prompted after the silence had stretched far too long.

I took a deep breath as I decided. "There's just some things I have to work out on my own if that's okay." I tried to say it in as kind a way as possible so as to not hurt Charlie. I've never kept a secret from him and having that one secret then felt a bit off somehow. It was like not telling him something was akin to betraying him.

After a few seconds of looking at me, he nodded. "Just know you can always come to me, okay bro?" His inflection was slightly off at the last word and I had to shake my head at it.

"No problem bro," I said emphasizing the way he said the last word. I raised a fist for him knock against. He did so though awkwardly. I shook my head again and he just chuckled and shrugged. "Now you better finish getting ready or you'll be late on your first day."


Mr. Maloney was nice for an old man. He was one of those war veterans sent against their will and then returned to a world different from the ones left. He had a thoughtful attitude that certainly didn't suit war. When he came back, he really didn't know what to do. The industrial revolution that came with war revamped the way businesses worked and he felt lost in the new world where everything was the same thanks to mass production.

He was if anything sentimental. He had various collections of things that were really of little value now though could be valuable in a few decades. Unfortunately, he was unlikely to reap the fruits of that labor. Nonetheless, he enjoyed collecting things, seeing the qualities unique in each item. Sometimes he bought things because they were dented or flawed, especially if it wasn't intentional. He'd rather have a slightly misshapen product than a perfectly good one that looks like everything else. It was a silly habit if you asked me.

Charlie had found out about the job through his mom. She had done some pro bono work for Mr. Maloney who couldn't afford an expensive lawyer, yet needed legal assistance to sort out his pension and benefits from being active in the war. Somehow, they became friends and kept in touch even after all the legal proceedings were done. She had heard from him that he was having trouble because his one and only clerk was pregnant and would be out a few months at least. No one else was willing to take the job for the price and period he was offering I supposed. That left him to operating the store by himself seven days a week.

Mrs. C brought it up with Charlie and my best friend was apparently more than happy to help him by working there on Saturdays. I didn't really understand why because that kind of work experience didn't exactly help his resume but I wrote it off as one of his quirks.

Mr. Maloney looked up at us as we entered the store. The door had one of those old fashioned bells that rang when someone walked in.

"Why hello, Charlie," he said in a rough voice that spoke volumes of the things he had seen in life. With an approving nod of his head, he continued, "you're early. And who's this?"

"Good morning, Mr. Maloney," Charlie said. "Yeah, my friend gave me a ride today. It cut down on the travel time I needed. Sir, this is Derek Hampton. He's my best friend."

Despite his old age, Mr. Maloney stood up swiftly with a straight posture as though he was standing in attention. He reached out his hand and roughly shook mine. "Nice to meet you young man. It was certainly nice of you to help your friend. I know this place isn't exactly an easy bike ride away. And for whatever reason Charlie insists on not taking the bus."

"Pleasure to meet you sir and it was no trouble at all."

"It's not so bad," Charlie said. "Derek here insists I need to find an exercise anyway. I enjoy biking and I've biked much, much farther than here. It won't be a problem for me if I had to do that to get here and home."

"Well, if you insist on bringing your bike then I'll give you a key to the back door. There's plenty of space there for you to keep your bike safe. The door leads to the alley at the back of the building."

"Is it alright if Derek stays here for awhile?" he asked.

Mr. Maloney looked confused. "I'm sorry, Charlie, but I really can't afford to pay the two of you right now."

"Oh you don't need to pay him," Charlie said quickly. "He's just going to keep me company for awhile. Maybe even help out if there's a customer. Or maybe he could help stack stuff." His eyes looked playfully at me.

Mr. Maloney looked uncertain for a moment. "Well, if you don't mind helping your friend without pay…"

"I don't mind, sir," I said amiably. "I'm usually with Charlie on weekends anyway. And if there's no practice at school there really isn't much I can do at home. This place," I said as I looked around at what could only be described in my mind as a dump, "might be refreshing."

"Well then, it's up to you. I will at least prepare you some snacks for later. I'm not that cheap," he chuckled. "Well, as I told you before Charlie, most items…"

"…have a price," Charlie interrupted, "and I can deduct up to a maximum of twenty percent on the price written on each item. If the buyer looks like he is willing to pay more, then don't give a discount. If it looks like he really can't afford much, then give him a discount." Charlie smiled at the older man, who looked pleased.

"Well, it looks like you have everything in order then. Pull the chord twice if you need me," he said pointing to a thin rope next to the cashier. "It rings a bell to the back. I'll be out again in a minute or two."

"No problem sir, don't worry about a thing."

Mr. Maloney nodded a few times before going to the back room, probably to eat raisins or whatever else people his age did.

"So, Derek," he said as he looked around. "Which items do you want to start stacking?"

I punched him in the arm as he laughed at my expense.

Admittedly, the junk wasn't as bad as I first thought. Certainly there were some items that still seemed reasonably good given the low price they were sold at. There were only a handful of customers that early in the morning so I had plenty of time to look around.

The store was actually quite big. There were shelves upon shelves of second hand stuff ranging from toys to furniture to kitchenware to electronics and even to stuff that looked like they fell from the back of a truck. I actually ended up buying this pair of dice on strings that I could hang on the rearview mirror. I figured it would look cool in my Camaro. Of course, I went through the rigorous discounting process with Charlie insisting that I couldn't afford much and needed at least a thirty percent discount. Unfortunately, Charlie knew how much my allowance was and that I could easily afford the item. Eventually, I relented and paid the full amount, but not before grumbling a few times about not getting a best friend discount.

"So what are you wearing tonight?" Charlie asked as he reorganized some of the items in one of the shelves. We decided that to help out even more, we would sort out some of the items during the lull times. Making things more orderly and presentable might help increase sales.

"Charlie, only girls ask that kind of question to each other," I laughed as I stacked old plates together.

"I am just saying we don't want to wear the same color or style now, do we?"

"We've known each other's clothing patterns for years, Charlie. It's unlikely we're gonna look like twins given the difference in our styles. Like mine are all cool and chic while yours are all uptight." I had to pause to dodge the punch to my arm. "Seriously though, it's not like it's bothered you before."

"Well," he said carefully. "I was thinking of wearing something different and I didn't want to have to change out of it if you were wearing the same color and all."

I stopped my stacking and looked at him. "Wait a minute. Isn't it me going out on a date?"

"Excuse me," came a small, barely audible voice behind me. I looked and it was some kid, barely a teenager. I moved a bit to let him pass behind me then turned back to Charlie.

"Yes, I know you're going out with Becca," Charlie said as he organized similar looking utensils together. They were all faded and stuff and the only way anyone would buy them was to melt them then turn them to something else. I certainly could not imagine anyone wanting to insert those in their mouths. "But remember she's bringing a friend. I want to look nice for her friend too."

"Well, okay," I shrugged. "As long as you make sure you get rid of her so that Rebecca and I can have some private time then you can wear whatever you want. I'll adjust to you. I'll owe you big time for this."

"Excuse me," the kid said again a little louder this time. I looked at him with a somewhat annoyed look. I gave him plenty of space to pass. He took a half step back as I gave him the once over. He had slightly worn clothes, that looked like they'd been passed on to several owners before him. The ends were tattered slightly as proof of their veteran use. He had a slightly displeased look in his eyes with the way I was looking him over.

I raised an eyebrow at him but he didn't say or do anything. It almost felt like he was trying to muster his courage or perhaps was trying to size me up as well. When it was clear he wouldn't say anything else, I turned back to Charlie. "So I told her we'll be watching a movie later. I need you to insist on watching something else. You can watch any movie you want. I'll even pay for popcorn and drinks. I'll buy tickets for Rebecca and I ahead of time so we'll have no choice but to watch the movie I picked which better be different from yours. I love you man but I have plans to get freaky tonight and I'm not sure you'd want to see."

Charlie chuckled. "Wouldn't she wonder why you only bought two tickets knowing there would be four of us?"

"Well just tell her you wanted to watch a different movie. That's why I bought only two."

"Isn't that going to make me look like a whiny jerk?" Charlie laughed.

"I told you, I'd owe you big time," I grinned.

"Excuse me," came the kid's loud voice. This time even Charlie looked at what was happening. The kid was visibly glaring at us, or specifically me.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Charlie said quickly as he stood up from his spot on the floor. "Did you need help with something?"

"Yes," the little brat looked visibly relieved as Charlie spoke to him. He cast me one more annoyed looked at me before turning to my best friend. "I needed to ask you about this game." He handed Charlie one of those plastic DVD containers.

"PIXELS 2.0," Charlie read out loud. "A real life adventure in a fantasy world. What about it?"

"What's with the age requirement?" the kid asked. Charlie looked for it and even I couldn't help but give in to my curiosity.

"Must be fourteen years old to play," Charlie said. "So it's for teenagers, what's wrong?"

"Read it again." He wasn't condescending or anything. He actually seemed nervous again.

Charlie read it again. "Must be fourteen years old to play. I don't see anything wrong with it."

"But there is," I said as I angled the case a little to get a better look. "It says you must be fourteen years old to play, not fourteen years old and up."

"Exactly," the kid looked relieved to not be the only one to notice it, although the look of relief instantly vanished when he realized it was me who had said it. At that point, he just glared again.

Charlie turned the case around but there was nothing in the description that would otherwise have given us an explanation for the unusual age requirement. "Must be a typo," he concluded.

"Does that mean it's no good?" the kid asked.

"Sorry, I really don't know," I've never played it or even heard of it.

"Oh," the kid sounded a little disappointed. I was hoping he would take his game and leave but apparently he had other plans. "I wanted to get my best friend something good for his birthday. He's turning fourteen and when I saw this I thought it was perfect. He likes computer games you see." And then almost shyly added, "But, I really can't afford to buy another gift if this one isn't any good."

"What's your budget?" I looked around to see if there were any signs that even remotely suggested the price range of the goods on those shelves. There weren't any. Talk about chaotic. That was something else Charlie and I would have to do.

"Oh," he intoned. He didn't sound annoyed at me anymore. He sounded a little embarrassed even. The blush rising to his cheeks made me feel like I asked an extremely green question about his sex life in a room full of nuns. Any confidence he had surged out of him to the last drop. "I don't really. I mean…"

"Well this is just fifteen bucks," Charlie noticed the sudden meekness in the little brat… err, kid… and he adopted a more compassionate tone.

"Yeah, I know," the kid said sadly and I realized that even that amount was already stretching his budget if it wasn't already too much.

I snatched the case out of Charlie's hand. The sudden movement surprised him. "Isn't this thing on a special sale today?"

"What?" Charlie frowned.

"I know Mr. Maloney said that this specific item was on sale. I know it only costs like five bucks until today."

"But…" Charlie began and after a few more seconds of looking at my beautiful face finally realized what I was up to. "Oh yes, I remember now. Yeah, this game is on sale, just until today."

As puny as the kid was, he wasn't stupid. He knew what we were trying to do. He looked disbelievingly at me as if he couldn't believe something nice came out of my mouth. Can you believe that? I could have sworn he was trying to suppress the smile that was growing on his lips. "It would be really great if it was on sale."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure it is." I grinned at Charlie who shook his head grinning.

We brought the item to the counter and Charlie rang it in at fifteen. The kid looked nervous when the number popped out at the old cashier's screen but Charlie just asked for five dollars. The kid pulled out a small worn-out bag of coins that matched the rest of his clothes. He started putting out coin after coin on the counter, in very small denominations. After awhile Charlie just said to pour everything out so that we can count it all. Once more that blush rose to his cheeks.

"It's okay," I said in an exceptionally soft spoken voice. Honestly, it sounded so gay but I knew it would reach out to the poor brat… err kid.

At first, he looked wary, as though he was worried we (or specifically I) might steal his money but after awhile he relented. "Okay," he said just as softly. He poured out the contents and out came A LOT of pennies, a couple of nickels and a few dimes. There was also a marble and two crooked paper clips, one red, the other blue.

We sorted out the coins into separate piles and counted them. Charlie asked if the kid wanted to pay with the smallest coins first and the kid looked grateful for the suggestion. By the time we sorted the coins out, Charlie had gathered five dollars for the register and the kid was left with two dollars and twenty-three cents, a marble, and two paper clips.

Charlie bagged the DVD case in one of those cheap brown paper bags and gave the kid his receipt. The kid looked at the receipt for fifteen dollars then looked at each of us. He smiled, thanking each of us before he took his new prize home.

"He looked kinda poor," Charlie said. "And I don't mean just today."

"Yeah," I agreed. "The way he fawned over those coins made me think that he's saved it for quite awhile."

"Does it seem odd to you that such a poor kid would have a best friend who has a computer? Do you suppose he was playing us that whole time?"

"Maybe," I shrugged. "But, I don't think so. Sometimes you get the weirdest combinations in best friends. I mean look at us. I have such a weirdo for a best friend."

"Doofus," he said with a friendly punch. "You did something nice today. You're going to make someone's best friend really happy."

"I think I already have," I smiled at Charlie who couldn't kill the grin he's had on his face since the kid left.

He shook his head and returned to the silverware he was sorting. I joined him stacking plates some distance away both of us with contented smiles on our faces. "Oh, and Derek?"

"Mmhmm?"

"You better cough up the ten bucks because I am not paying for that with my salary."

I just shook my head and laughed.

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