Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sorry 'Bout That! - You Owe Me One part 5

If you've stayed with this multi-part account this far, you might as well keep riding along for the wow finish..

The only chore for my shift that evening was to tag some pants that had come in earlier that day. Five, maybe ten minutes tops was what it would take me. With no supervisors or customers in sight, this had to be the perfect setup. The pants could wait; now was the time to converse.

Susan was working the register. I deliberately chose a task by her that I knew would take forever: trying to fold Speedo swimsuits people had removed from their boxes back inside so that they fit the same neat way they were before having been taken out. No matter what I did, the box bulged. And when the boxed bulged, they couldn't be stacked very high before toppling over. While that would normally frustrate me, that night it gave me the perfect excuse.

Our conversation veered to restaurants - the good and the bad. We named our favorites and not-so-favorites. The subject of tacos came up. I told her the very best ones were to be had at Tito's Tacos in Culver City. She'd never heard of the place.

Oh, this was just way too easy. The stars must have been in perfect alignment. "Well, how about if I take you over there to show you what I mean?" I said. "Then maybe we could take in a movie or something." I stood there watching for her reaction while hoping she couldn't tell how nervous I was and hoping I wasn't shaking too much.

Susan didn't even pause before reciprocating with a what took you so long-type smile. No, it was more like a grin. "That sounds good. I'd like that," she said, nodding her head and continuing with the smile/grin.

I must have looked like Alfred E. Newman standing there with a stupid grin on my face. "Great!" I managed to say. Then I just stood there. "Uh, well, let me go tag those pants and then we can figure out when to go."


I turned and physically walked and mentally skipped back to the stockroom. Once back there I stood at the worktable savoring the moment, looping the instant replay over and over. I guess it made sense; I mean, what reason would she have not to go out, but nevertheless my big fear had been that she'd find one. Oh, man, this was great. I was ecstatic. I wanted to enjoy my place in the sun but I wanted to get back out there and continue our conversation even more.

I finished tagging the pants and carried them back out to the department floor to put on display. Susan was still at the register. I walked up to her and asked what day was good for her.

She stood there, arms folded across her chest, piercing me with a concentrated, 'something is not quite right here' frown. She looked like I had done something unspeakably horrible to her. And to her family. And to all her ancestors, even.

What could have caused this 180-degree turnaround? We stood there looking at each other, her with a frown and me puzzled. "What's the matter?" I asked innocently.

"Oscar told me you have a girlfriend."

This sucker punch left me speechless. My face was flushed and hot while I processed this unexpected development. I glanced at Oscar who was still out to pasture, seemingly oblivious although at some point during my brief stint in the stockroom he had managed to inflict damage that left me staggering.

All I had to do was tell her Oscar was mistaken and no, I had no girlfriend. But instead I felt obliged to explain the situation so I answered in my best wishy-washy manner. "No, not really," I stammered.

"You have a girlfriend," she repeated. J'accuse.

"No, not really," I repeated. I began babbling on the fly, spewing out stuff like how Amy knew about this and we had agreed to see other people and really, I wasn't doing anything behind her back, and, and.. And finally I realized being a motormouth was digging the hole deeper and deeper.

The hurt and angry look on Susan's face had morphed into one of extreme skepticism so I left her there for a moment after once more trying to assure her of the fact that I was on the up and up, and headed over to Oscar's part of the pasture.

"What the hell is the matter with you??" I snarled through clenched teeth.

"Pardon me?" Oscar asked innocently.

"Why'd you tell Susan I had a girlfriend??"

"You do, don't you? You mentioned -"

"No I don't!" I cut him off with my whispered scream. "We're not going steady!"

"I'm terribly sorry. Did I say something wrong?" Oscar was genuinely apologetic and genuinely clueless. I realized there was no point in saying anything further; what was done was done and in fact I'd contributed to this by having such an ambiguous situation in the first place. But it still hurt. I couldn't believe this had happened in such a short time span.

I attempted more making of amends with Susan that evening but she remained unconvinced. That was cruel, I kept saying to myself. I never had a chance.

Amy was quite sympathetic when she learned of my Wide World of Sports evening - the thrill of victory.. and the agony of defeat.

Susan calmed down after a while. I think eventually she believed my babbling about Amy but still, with another girl in the picture even as I had truthfully described it, how could she have ever felt comfortable? A little while later she quit the student store because she found another job more suited to her class schedule - a waitressing job. Even though things had gone south with us, I still was sad to see her leave.

Occasionally she came into the store. We'd talk. Like she told me before she left, she told me when we saw each other: "I'd like to meet Amy. I bet she is really nice."

"She is," I told her. I wonder if she wanted to see who this incredibly tolerant, patient Mother Teresa was, or if she wanted to see if I had been telling the truth.

Amy, too, wanted to meet Susan.

They both got their chance one afternoon. Amy had recently transferred from West L.A. Junior College to UCLA, so prior to that she and Susan never had the opportunity to run into each other. But one day she and I were walking in the student union when we saw Susan coming down the stairs.

I introduced them. We made pleasantries, and then went on our respective ways.

"That was Susan?" Amy asked after we had walked further. "That was who you kept talking about all the time?"

"Yes, what did you think?"

"She wears too much makeup."


And that, folks, is my account of the one and only time someone owed ME one, haha.. But you never know. Fate is cruel but fate is also kind and perhaps Oscar was an angel in disguise. Elton John could have been singing Susan's song but then again, maybe he was singing mine. We'll never know.

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