Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

A Chapter by Ocularfracture
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Remy spends his day off shopping at a thrift store for clothes and other things.

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Throughout the week, I kept myself busy trying to prepare for the class I was going to be taking. I hadn’t been inside of a classroom since high school, and my only experience with other people since then had been the people at New Grounds. I didn’t have any friends and I knew that my wardrobe needed work in the worst way.

Having very little pocket money, and not wanting Sunny to have the chance of offering to buy me clothes, I sneaked into the thrift store one day while she was at work and I was off.

The smell of a thrift store is a very unique and recognizable one. Every thrift store I’ve ever been into has smelled exactly the same with its weird combination of laundry detergent and old books.

It was a Friday when I stumbled in, surprised to find that not many people were there. My guess was that Fridays at the thrift store weren’t quite the same as Fridays anywhere else. Most other people had good jobs with decent pay, and very few people were the same kind of poor, impoverished loser that I was, living off of ramen noodles inside of a grimy, dilapidated old apartment complex and shopping in a store filled with other people’s old, pre-worn clothes.

Even the shopping carts were second hand, I found as I chose one with the name “Charlie’s Supermarket” printed in gold across the handle. I steered the cart down the aisle marked “men’s,” running my hands through the many hangers, in search of anything even slightly stylish that would fit me. So many of the clothes were way too large for a skinny geek like me, and in spite of the fact that this claimed to be a thrift store, I found myself stifling vomit when looking upon the prices.

A pair of handsome, black jeans in the perfect size, they wanted nearly twenty dollars for.

Biting my lip, I took a sour look around the thrift store, noticing all of their fancy signs which hung at different intervals from the ceiling. It was clear what they were spending our hard-earned money on, and I felt a small jolt of spite shoot through me as I looked down at the pants once again, seething.

If I wanted to pay twenty dollars for a pair of jeans, I would just go to Wally World and buy a brand new pair that someone else’s crotch hadn’t previously been grinding around in.  I shook my head, looking around once more to make sure that no one else was near. Then, carefully and discreetly, I removed the staples from the price tag, letting it flutter to the floor where I kicked it under a nearby shelf. I dug through the rack of pants, careful to find one with a like-colored price tag, but a more reasonable price. Finally, I came across a pair of ugly, plaid shorts for only three dollars, and using the same, careful technique, I removed the staples and replaced the shorts on the rack.

Looking around to make sure I was still alone, I worked the staples back through the price tag and into the fabric of the second-hand jeans. It took some work, but once I was finished, I had a rather convincing price tag attached, and I smiled smugly to myself as I continued down the aisle.

The thrift store made me all different kinds of angry, and if I hadn’t been in the situation that I was, I wouldn’t have bothered shopping there at all.

There were no public restrooms. If you suddenly had a serious bladder emergency, or if the thick, dusty air caused you to cough so hard you felt the need to vomit, it wasn’t their problem. They would sooner send you away than allow you to take care of your natural bodily functions.

Just as well, there were no fitting rooms. You either had to be damned sure about your clothing sizes, or be really good at guessing. If you weren’t, and you spent money on something anyway, you were ultimately screwed, because they didn’t accept returns, either. Sure, they’d allow you to give it to them for free so that they could resell it, but why give you back your money when they could put it towards fancying up the store a bit more?

Still, in spite of all these hideous facts, they had somehow managed to acquire the “best in town” award, which they displayed publicly on their window, presumably to deceive the destitute population into throwing their money away.

The whole thing sickened me. They charged more for “name brand” clothing, even when the items in question were tattered and torn, or stained around the collar from the previous owner’s ungodly amounts of sweat. A used baseball bat complete with dents and scratches for a hundred dollars. An archaic, nonworking typewriter for which you could no longer buy ribbon was another hundred. You had to wonder whether or not they truly understood the meaning of the word “thrift.”

I swam through hoards of unwanted clothing, stretched out of shape from all the wear and tear they had sustained from their previous owners, finding very few items that were both inexpensive and in decent condition.

Dust billowed from an old, corduroy vest as I pulled it from the rack to inspect it. I knew I was going to have to wash the clothes before I could wear them, even if only to eliminate the musty scent of the thrift store.

Once I had thoroughly picked through the men’s section, I wandered over to the used books and tapes.

Sunny always had nice music playing in her car, which featured a special dock just for her mp3 player.

My old rust bucket had nothing more than a decrepit, old tape player which was finicky at best.

Squatting in front of the cassette rack, I searched for something that I could play in my own car to fill that dreadful, lonely silence that I endured for every car ride.

The selection was poor. The majority of the cassettes contained recordings of unsuccessful local bands, or music from the eighties-- a decade which I had never really cared much for, music-wise. I was lucky to come across a Beatles tape as well as a Pink Floyd tape, each only fifty cents, but short of the two, nothing else really attracted much attention from me.

I searched around a bit more, hoping to stumble across something inexpensive that I could get as a gift for Sunny. She had done so much for me in such a short time, and I only wanted to return that kindness by presenting her with a gift.

My favorite part of the thrift store was the so called “knick-knack” section�"the place where you would find dozens of people’s old possessions which had been donated for one reason or another. Behind every item, I felt there was a story, and while I could never be sure what the story was, I always got the feeling that it was something special.

Searching the shelves, I came upon several interesting objects, making up stories about their former lives. A painting of little girl’s panties inside of a white frame seemed strange at first, almost creepy. But as my mind wandered, I decided that it must have come from a daycare center where it had once hung proudly on the wall of the girl’s restroom.

A dingy old cooling mat complete with scorch marks, I assumed must have belonged to a loving grandmother who baked lots of wonderful pies and cookies for her grandchildren when they visited.

A hand-painted landscape scene resting in a lush, gold frame was no doubt the product of a local artist who had become frustrated at the lack of interest shown by friends and family, and finally decided to donate it to a thrift store where it would no longer be around to constantly remind them of their failure.

So many various objects were strewn along the shelves, each with two stories: mine and theirs.

At last, I happened upon a shiny, black box with hummingbirds and flowers painted in red and gold on the top. I carefully raised the lid to reveal a large, intact mirror along with a lush, red velvet interior for placing jewelry. The beautiful tinkling sound of a music box filled the air, and I recognized it as an old Cascades song about the rhythm of the rain. The song itself combined with the emptiness of the jewelry box caused me to believe that it was once given to a beautiful woman by a man who loved her very much. They spent several happy years together, until one day, their flame flickered out and she went away, leaving her jewelry box behind. Heartbroken, he donated the beautiful gift to the second-hand store, hoping that a luckier gentleman might have the opportunity to give it to his lady friend someday.

I nodded sadly, convinced that my made up story was completely true, and vowing to respect the poor man’s wishes.

With a glance at my watch, I wheeled my cart full of treasures up to the counter where a woman with pink and blue cotton candy hair sat boredly, tinkering with her septum piercing.

“Find everything you were looking for?” she asked as I laid my clothes out neatly on the counter.

I nodded, placing the tapes and music box on top.

“Cool,” she said, simply. I waited, nervously as I watched her punch in all the prices, wondering if there was any way she could tell what I’d done. To my relief, she simply bagged all the items and then announced my total.

I paid in cash and then left quickly, trying not to feel too guilty about what I’d done. Obviously, I hadn’t outright stolen the pants. I simply paid what I thought they were worth, which was hardly a crime in my eyes. The real crime, I felt, was what they were trying to charge for the hand-me-down clothes that they had gotten for free in the first place.

It was downright disgusting. One could find second hand clothing at yard sales for only a tiny fraction of the prices that the thrift store charged. Unfortunately, yard sales seemed to be an exclusive summer affair, which died out after mid-August, leaving the population of poor folks like me with no other option than the over-priced thrift store.

Getting into my car, I placed the bag on the passenger seat, digging through it for one of the tapes. My fingers rested on the Beatles tape which I withdrew, starting the engine and popping the tape in.

I pulled out of the parking lot, waiting for the music to start. As I turned onto the main street, I was assaulted with a sudden, offensively garbled version of “Help,” which sounded as though the entire band had been placed into a washing machine and forced to perform. I let it play, hoping that it was only a small portion of the tape that had been warped, and that it would eventually become clearer.

Alas, I drove all the way to the Laundromat with the Beatles singing to me from a flushing toilet.

I was glad to turn the car off and end the cacophony as I seized the bag from the seat and brought it inside. The Laundromat was humid and loud, despite being completely devoid of a single other human being. Not caring to sort the clothes, I removed all their tags and dumped them into the nearest washing machine, after borrowing a small amount of the laundry detergent that someone had left behind.

The price for a single load of laundry was insane, and at this rate, I knew I would be out of money before my next paycheck.

Once the wash machine was going, I sat down in an empty chair and pulled my phone out of my pocket to find that I had a message from Sunny.

“How’s your day going?” it asked. Smiling, I hit “reply” and tapped out my response.

“Going okay,” I typed. “Got you a present.”

I concluded the message with a smiley face and then set the phone down on the table, taking the music box out of the bag and turning it over to remove the price sticker. I didn’t understand how they could charge twenty bucks for a used pair of pants, or a hundred for a previously owned baseball bat, but request only two dollars for such a beautiful jewelry box in perfect condition.

I lifted the lid again, letting the delicate and pretty song chime out over the hums and whirs of the washers and dryers.

The box was so lonely in all its emptiness, and I just couldn’t bear to give it to Sunny without putting something special inside. I thought for a moment about anything I might have that I could give her. Meanwhile, the song began to slow, until it eventually stopped completely. As I reached out to wind it once more, the ring on my left hand caught my eye… The mysterious ring that had been given to me so long ago by a stranger who I would probably never see again. With a shrug and a smile, I slid it off my finger and placed it inside the lovely jewelry box before glancing back over my hand, where all that remained of the ring was a permanent scar from all the years I’d worn it.

My phone buzzed and I picked it up to see another message from Sunny.

“You shouldn’t have!” it read. I laughed, shaking my head.

“Oh, yes I should have,” I replied, setting my phone back down on the table.

By the time my laundry was finally finished and I had it folded neatly in a bag that didn’t smell like thrift store, the sun was beginning to set, and I knew that soon, Sunny would be getting off work.

I hopped back into the car and started it, welcomed again by the Toilet Beatles as they belted out a warbled rendition of “Ticket to Ride.”

No sooner had I started moving than my phone rang out with Sunny’s ringtone. I answered it on speaker, chirping a merry “Hello!”

“Hey..” she said. “What’s all the commotion?”

“Oh, the music?” I laughed. “You’ve got to hear this in person. I got this old cassette tape today. It’s supposed to be the Beatles, but it sounds like they’re being flushed down the toilet. I can’t wait to hear what my Pink Flush tape will sound like.”

Sunny chuckled.

“I take it you mean Pink Floyd?” she asked.

“Yep. So you’re off work? Where should we meet?”

“Do you even need to ask?” Sunny said with a laugh. “I thought we could meet at Cappuchina’s like always.”

I nodded, then realized that Sunny couldn’t hear the sound of my head moving, so I grunted my approval.

“Talk about a long day,” she said. “I thought I was never going to get off work. With the daylight slipping away earlier and earlier, I start feeling like I should be getting off much sooner than I do.”

“I know how you feel,” I told her. “At least you get to sit at a desk all day. Sure beats standing at a counter.”

“I can’t argue with that. So how did you spend your day off?” she asked.

I heaved a sigh, hoping to omit the part where I skulked around the thrift store.

“Well, like I said, I got you a present… And I did some laundry, too. I also picked up these awful cassette tapes while I was out.”

“Where did you manage to find those old things anyway?” Sunny asked, to which I grimaced, biting my lip.

“Uh…” I thought about how I could word things, without mentioning the words “thrift store.” “Well, there’s a place around here that sells people’s old, used stuff. They have some cool things sometimes.”

“Ah,” said Sunny, a slight hint of amusement in her voice. “Sounds kind of like a thrift store.”

“I never said that,” I argued.

Sunny just laughed.

“I don’t care if you shop at thrift stores,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. Just because something has had a previous owner that doesn’t make it bad… Except maybe those tapes.  Whoever donated those should have just tossed them.”

I smiled, letting a small laugh creep between my lips.

“Well… I may have gotten your gift from there,” I confessed. “Is it still okay?”

“Of course!” cried Sunny. “It doesn’t matter where you got it. What matters is that you thought of me, especially when money is so tight. Whatever it is, I’ll appreciate it, I swear. Besides, I feel that things are a lot more special when they’ve been loved by someone else before me. It’s like… they have another whole story behind them… just like a person would.”

I grinned so wide that my cheeks burned.

“It is so weird that you said that,” I chirped, pulling up to Cappuchina’s. “I tend to have the exact same outlook on those things.”

“Two peas in a pod,” Sunny said, a smile in her voice. “I’m coming down the street to Cappuchina’s, so I’ll be there in a few. Are you there already?”

“Yep. And I’ve got your gift here. I think I’ll bring it on in, if that’s okay.”

“Sure thing,” said Sunny.

Taking off my jacket, I wrapped the music box inside and tucked it under my arm before stepping in through the double doors.

As always, the atmosphere was comforting and cozy, and simply stepping inside lifted my spirits.

“I’ll go ahead and order your usual,” I said into the phone. “I’m paying today.”

“If you insist,” said Sunny, the sound of the gear shift clicking in the background. “I’m here now, so I’m going to hang up, okay? I’m obsessed with you.”

“I’m obsessed with you, too,” I said sweetly before ending the call.

I stepped up to the counter where a male barista was standing, looking dazed and confused. For some reason, he looked a bit familiar, but not as though I’d seen him here before.

“Help you?” he asked, dully.

“Yeah, I would like a small soy latte and a small caramel cappuccino, please. Two slices of carrot cake.”

He punched the order into his screen, and then uttered the total, all the while gazing at me in a way that made me slightly uncomfortable. I handed him a couple of bills, and as he took them, his mouth began to open and close slightly.

“Hey, wait a minute,” he said slowly. “Don’t you work at New Grounds?”

“Well… Yeah,” I said. “How did you know?”

“I seen you there before, man. Do you remember me? I order a macchiato.”

“Oh,” I said, realizing why he seemed so familiar, “Yeah, I remember seeing you. You’re not gonna, like, spit in my coffee because I work there, are you?”

He laughed a rather windy laugh, handing me my change.

“Nah, man. You don’t spit in mine or nothin’, right?”

“No, of course not.”

He laughed and then turned away toward the cappuccino machine. Even as I heard the bells on the door chime, and even as a pair of arms reached around my back, embracing me, I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off the barista, still somehow worried that he might defile our drinks in some way.

“Nice to see you, too,” came Sunny’s voice from behind me. “You’re not falling in love with that guy, are you?”

I laughed, finally breaking my eyes away from the man as he pressed the lids onto the tops of our cups.

“Well, you’re certainly a sight for sore eyes,” I told her, running my hand through her long, velvet hair. “You look more beautiful every time I see you.”

“Oh, stop,” said Sunny, laughing softly.

“Order up,” came the voice of the barista from the counter. Together, we collected our drinks and treats, Sunny slipping a few dollars into the tip jar.

“Thank you ma’am,” he said, passing us our fortune cookies. Sunny smiled, and we took our seats at our usual table by the window. As she sat, I was aware of an eager twinkle in her eyes.

“Ah,” I said, taking the wadded up jacket from beneath my arm. “You know I got something nice for you, huh? Are you excited?”

“I’m beside myself.” She smiled with anticipation, as I slowly unfolded the jacket to reveal the shiny, painted jewelry box, passing it across the table. Sunny’s eyes lit up the moment she saw it.

“This is…” she trailed off, just gazing at it.

“Do you like it?” I asked. “Open it up.”

“This must have cost a fortune,” she squeeked, raising the lid. Once again, the twinkly sound of a music box glided through the air as Sunny’s eyes glassed over. “I love this song,” she breathed. “I used to hear it on the radio when I was a little girl… Oh, Remy, this is… Thank you so much…”

I smiled with satisfaction, darkened only by a shadow of guilt for making her cry.

“You’re more than welcome,” I assured her. “Don’t cry!”

She smiled, wiping her face.

“I just… Hey. What’s this doing in here?” Sunny extracted the ring, holding it out between us.

“I didn’t feel I should give you an empty jewelry box,” I grinned. “Do you like it?”

Sunny’s eyes bugged out, her mouth moving silently.

“This… But…” Sunny sputtered like I’d never heard before, and I grew slightly concerned.

“I’m sorry…” I said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to have it…”

“It’s not that… I just… This… This is for you. You need to hang onto it. I could never take this.”

Sunny seized my hand and thrust the ring back onto my finger, rather painfully.

“Good grief,” I said in alarm. “I was only trying to be nice.”

“I know,” said Sunny. “I know, I know. I know. I really appreciate the thought, and I absolutely adore the music box! I just can’t accept the ring. It’s very special and I could never take that away from you. Please understand.”

I sat back in my chair, lips tight, feeling kind of silly.

“I’m sorry if I overreacted,” said Sunny timidly, searching my face. “I know your intentions were good… Oh, I’ve upset you, haven’t I? I’m really sorry, Remy.”

I smiled, reassuringly, hoping to brighten the mood a bit.

“I’m not hurt,” I said, softly. “I completely understand, and it’s alright. As long as you accept the music box, everything is fine.”

“Yes, of course I do! This is probably the most beautiful gift that anyone has ever given me.” She sat back, relief washing over her face, and took a bite of her carrot cake. “This song it plays… I remember being a little girl, maybe four or five, and I was sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car once while it was on the radio. It was raining outside, and I was making my toys look out the window so I didn’t have to.”

“What was so bad about looking outside?” I asked, taking a sip of my cappuccino.

Sunny’s cheeks turned pink and she laughed, looking out the window of the café.

“It was the rain,” she said. “For some reason, when I was a kid, I was always afraid that if I looked outside when it was raining, I’d turn into a fish and then I’d have to go live in the ocean, away from my mom and dad.”

I tried not to laugh, afraid that I might somehow offend her. Instead, I distracted my mouth with carrot cake.

“What made you think that? I asked in between bites.

“Oh, it was some silly thing another kid told me. You know how older kids like to scare the younger ones with stories. Once, someone told me that if I touched a poppy, the seeds would grow in my brain and kill me… That one really rattled me since I lived right across the street from a huge field of poppies. Anytime my mom would go near it I would scream bloody murder. By the way, I can tell you’re trying with all your might not to laugh, but I don’t mind if you do. It is funny, after all.”

But somehow having permission to laugh killed the urge, and so I simply smiled instead, finishing my cake and washing it down with a huge gulp of cappuccino.  

“Well,” said Sunny, sitting forward again. “I guess we open our cookies now, don’t we?”

She handed me mine and took her own, unwrapping it before breaking it open carefully.  We made sure to devour the entire cookie before looking at our fortunes, Sunny cackling hysterically as she read hers to herself.

“What’s it say?” I pleaded.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Sunny teased. “You first this time.”

Rolling my eyes playfully, I collected my fortune from the table, clearing my throat as I did.

“Don’t forget to say ‘in bed!’” Sunny reminded me. I nodded and cleared my throat once more.

“A small tragedy will leave you helpless…” I read. “In bed.”

Sunny laughed and laughed, catching her breath only long enough to read her own fortune.

“All your troubles will soon vanish… in bed!”

I waited until her laughter finally subsided before asking her what about it was so amusing.

“Don’t you see?” she breathed, wiping a tear from her eye. “You’re going to bang me to death!” She laughed again, gasping and wheezing as she tried to control herself.  “And then… Then you’re going to feel really bad about it!”

She exploded into another terrible fit of laughter drawing curious gazes from the other customers.

“Alright,” I said, getting to my feet and taking Sunny by the hand. “I think it’s about time we get you home.” I helped her to her feet, her legs shaking from her uncontrollable laughter, and draped my jacket over her shoulders.

“My place tonight?”

Red faced and unable to speak, Sunny just nodded, laughing herself to tears.

Nodding back, I held both her hands and led her out of Cappuchina’s, into the crisp evening air.

 

 



© 2012 Ocularfracture


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Added on June 14, 2012
Last Updated on June 14, 2012
Tags: Remy, Clover, Sunny, Skye, Thrift Store, Clothes, used, unwanted, prices, tapes, laundry, coffee, jewelry box, music box, rhythm of the rain, fortune cookies


Author

Ocularfracture
Ocularfracture

Bennington, NE



About
I've been writing since I learned how. I'm not saying that 5-year-old work was any good. All's I'm sayin' is that the passion has been there as far back as I can remember. My mother always read me sto.. more..

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