To the Artist's Page To our home page
To Keith Berry's next piece
They finally got into the pile just after one, pushing each other around to grab at an item. Most days, they didn't touch even one goddamned sock until three or so, and by that time they were tired, whining, crying about dinner when they had just eaten lunch and didn't want to work too hard or too fast. Stephanie stood there with her arms crossed and watched as all five of them jostled and moped around the pile, grabbing shirts and socks, sorting them out to their baskets. They worked in silence, surprisingly; that was a break. Most of the time they gibbered and yelled about sports scores and their new assignments from school that they were so fucking proud of,
and eventually the yelling would turn into an argument, the simple minded bastards, and then Stephanie would have to break it up.
Sometimes she helped instead of watching, but only when she was bored, or if Susan was looking around the corner, or they were fucking up the pace too badly. Susan wouldn't be peeking her big nose around the corner today. She had to watch the cash register because the usual girl hadn't shown. Fuck her. It all meant that she could stay in the back, which was okay. She felt like shit anyway. Felt tired and fat. She'd been on a diet to lose her stomach and it wasn't working. Everytime she looked down at the little round bulge in the place where others had flat muscle she felt just shitty. Rick always poked her in the belly and pinched the fat, laughing, to him it was all some big fucking joke but it made her feel awful. He called it “fat poking”. It was really far from funny.
One of the goons told some kind of joke and most of them laughed. The stupid, simple-minded bastards.
She lit a smoke and watched without much interest for awhile.
Melvin was folding a shirt. His tongue hung out of the corner of his chubby face like he had forgotten to draw it back in. Stephanie had stayed with him for his entire first day, working with him, walking him through the steps over and over. Lay shirt flat. Brush off any big pieces of lint or string or dirt. Insert the hanger into the sleeves. Button top two buttons. Hang on rack according to color and size. And he could never fucking do it right. He wouldn't put the hanger in, or if he did, he hung brown shirts with blue, or hung skirts on a suit rack.
And now? Laying a shirt down backwards. His hands shook as he reached for a hanger. He took the hanger and tried jabbing it into the sleeves from the back, getting frustrated when he couldn't, his fingers clawing the cloth and spit oozing from his mouth.
"Melvin!" Stephanie shouted.
He looked up. Afraid. She hated the fearful look in all their eyes. Like some kind of dog's look.
"Turn the shirt over. Turn it over!"
She made flipping motions with her hand.
But he just stared at her, hanger in hand, not moving. The other four bustled around him, throwing clothes onto hangers and racking them, not wanting to fall behind. Melvin dropped the hanger, stuck his finger into his mouth. Another thin line of spit dripped from his lip. His eyes rolled from the ceiling to the floor.
She carefully placed her cigarette down, stomped over to him and snatched the hanger up from the floor. She pulled his hand from his mouth, shoved the hanger into it. He took it meekly. She held one finger before his watery eyes, then pointed it toward the shirt on the table.
"Now turn it over," she spat.
He nodded. He gathered the shirt in his clawed, deformed hands.
"Smooth it out!"
He nodded even quicker, and pushed the sides of his hands across the fabric in random circles. Now the shirt was twice as wrinkled than it had been before he'd touched it. He smiled. He thought he'd done something. Stephanie stared sourly at him. Maybe she should make him take the fucking trash out just to get him out
of her sight. Fuck it, they still had to be steamed, anyway.
"Finish it up," she said.
He mumbled something that sounded like yes and bent over painfully to insert the hanger.
Stephanie went back to her cigarette, watching him. Jesus, what an ugly bastard he was. At least he was white. All the rest of them were niggers. If anything was worse than a nigger, it was an idiot nigger, she figured. But Melvin was uglier than all the rest of them. Long, greasy hair, puffy eyes, snub nose, big fat lips, huge ears, gaps in his teeth, hands that looked like claws. He couldn't walk much, he couldn't do anything much besides stand there and get on her nerves. And wasn't he doing an excellent job of that today?
Shit. She didn't want to be here on a Saturday. Why couldn't she be hanging with Rick?
He hadn't called last night or today. Off someplace having fun, probably. She'd call again in a few minutes, after her cigarette. Melvin finally got the hanger into the sleeves, managed to pinch the buttons together after a few minutes, turned with it, stumbling, and slung it on the dress rack.
"The shirt rack, Melvin. There!"
Melvin, looking scared, took the shirt down and hobbled over to the right rack. After he had placed it gently on the rack, he stood there, staring at the floor while everyone else worked around him. Like a piece of furniture waiting to be moved.
"Grab another item!" Stephanie shouted. He shook his head up and down spastically and he groped into the pile for something.
Stephanie stared at him for a moment. Then she turned and went to the phone, dialed Rick's number, held the phone to her ear with her eyes closed. Why wasn't he home yet? Where the fuck had he gone last night? Of course it was Friday night and we all knew how special those nights were for Rick; those were the nights he went up to Rockville with his stupid friends to hang out at stupider places. But he always called her at midnight, no matter where he was or what shit he was in. Except for last
night. Maybe he was seeing someone else. Maybe he was tired of her, who knew? She thought about breaking up with him, shit, he was older than her anyway, and she got a lot of grief from her friends for being fifteen and dating a eighteen year old. She'd break up with him. There were other guys to date, plenty of guys to go out with.
The phone rang. And rang. No one answered.
After ten rings she hung it up. Maybe the bastard was seeing someone else. The fucking little bitch Melanie. The one who had been at his birthday party, falling all over him and giggling, what a Miss Priss, acting like she'd never given it
away before to anyone but would for Rick. That bitch had a tight body, too. Not like hers.
Stephanie was still thinking about it when the phone rang.
Reluctantly she pressed the button. "Hello?"
"Hey Steph. Can you bring a few dozen large bags up front?"
She hung up and grabbed a handful of plastic bags, leaving the retards to their job without a thought or a backwards glance. Out on the floor, things were pretty dead. A few customers were poking around in that absent way that Stephanie knew meant they wouldn't buy a anything, and Susan was sitting down behind the counter, drinking a soda and picking through a paperback book.
"Hey," she said. "How are the boys doing?"
She stuffed the bags underneath the counter and stared out of the storefront window across the parking lot and the baseball field beyond. A beautiful, mild Saturday, seventy degrees and no humidity, everyone at the pool or hanging out, and here she was stuck at the goddamn thrift store. "Get ahold of your boyfriend?" Susan asked. Stephanie shook her head, annoyed at the question and the way it broke into her thoughts. She didn't mind working at the thrift store most of the time. It was a soft job. The only problems were the retards and the court-ordered volunteers. The retards were more annoying than anything, but the court-ordered people were real assholes, always scowling and mumbling to their selves about how much it sucked. Maybe they shouldn't have committed their crimes, if they didn't like it. But it wasn't that bad, mostly. Just on days like this, when she'd rather be out with her friends or maybe just at home, reading a book and drinking lemonade.
"He's probably crashed out someplace," Susan offered. "It's only one-thirty. He might be sleeping."
"Yeah," Stephanie said wearily.
"Don't let it bother you too much."
"Are they into the delivery pile yet?"
"They just started."
"God. That's early for them."
"I know. Melvin's still holding them up, though."
Susan frowned. She was a lot older, maybe forty, but was always trying to look younger and didn't quite make it when she frowned like that. She looked constipated, or something. "You have to remember that Melvin is the most disabled of the entire group. He's thirteen and can't even memorize the alphabet. He's too fragile to live in a group home with the others. He'll probably live in the hospital for the rest of his life....you have to be more patient with him."
"Yeah, I know."
"Keep in mind, they're just here to get them out of their homes and give them a chance to experience a little workplace environment."
"I know. I'm just tired...."
Susan nodded, glanced around the store at the customers. "Well, you better get back. They might be getting a little rowdy by now."
Stephanie turned to walk back.
"Oh," Susan called out. "You had better stay back there and watch the boys for the rest of the day. I won't be able to keep an eye much, being stuck out here."
"If I need you, I'll call. Otherwise, just supervise and take it easy."
She trudged back to the storeroom, feeling perplexed. Of course the goddamn funny looking bitch would stick her back here for the next four hours, that made sense. Yet she also didn't feel very angry towards Susan. It was confusing. She wished she could talk to Susan more, because she seemed very understanding and knew a few things. After all. Susan dealt with these retards for a living; surely she could listen to her problems and give some advice as to what to do. But there was nobody to talk to. No one gave a shit how she felt. Her mom was always watching TV and her dad was out on the boat.
So she was stuck at the thrift store. So what? She could make the most of it. She didn't have to do anything besides make sure the retards didn't kill each other, maybe she could draw a little picture for Rick, or something, maybe write a letter to Sarah who was visiting her grandparents in Kentucky.
Back in the storeroom, just as she figured. None of them were working. They were having another one of their arguments, fingers pointing, their loud disgusting voices cracking and trying to out-shout one another. It sounded like they were arguing school again. They flailed around, arms flying, shouting. No work was getting done. If they didn't finish, she would have to do it herself before going home.
"Stop it!" she screamed.
The five of them turned, fearful and surprised, their voices cutting off instantly in their throats.
"Get back to fucking work.”
They knew the routine. Oh, they acted like complete idiots but they knew when to screw around and when to get serious. They stood there for a few more moments just to spite her, then shuffled back to the table, sending their scrubby hands into the pile of unwashed clothes and shitty underwear. They bowed their heads in concentration. They did not talk or argue anymore.
Stephanie went into the office, lit another cigarette. She'd sit down, but Susan had the chair up front. What a nice bitch. A full-length mirror was glued to the wall behind the desk. Stephanie turned to face it, looked at herself from head to toes, the fat little belly, the short blonde hair, the huge tits, the red lips and lavender eyes. The way her neck looked strangled in the collar of her blouse and the way her thighs looked fat protruding from her skirt. But even though she thought she was gross, she could see how others thought otherwise. Turning sideways, she looked at her ass and the way it stuck out, guys liked that. The way she held her head down. Even the way she held her cigarette, between her fingers and a few inches from her face, looked good.
She felt slightly excited, looking at herself. What the feeling meant, she couldn't figure.
The phone on the desk rang, jolting her from her daze.
"Hi," said a giggling female voice. "Can I....talk to Stephanie?"
"This is her."
"Oh, hi, Stephanie."
"Who is this?"
Silence on the other end.
"Do I know you?" Stephanie asked.
"Yeah....no!....you don't know me, no."
The voice trailed off into giggles. It sounded as if others were giggling in the background along with her.
"Who the fuck is this, Kelly?"
"No, no Kelly here! This is Melanie."
"Melanie?" Stephanie repeated.
"Yeah....Melanie!" the voice laughed. "Don't you remember me? I was at Rick's birthday party."
"Yeah, I remember you."
"The girl that you kept gritting on the entire night, you remember?"
"I said I did!"
"I was just calling....I know you're worried about Rick being out all night....so I just thought I'd let you know that Rick was safe last night."
"Where was he?"
"He spent the night here....don't worry, he just left.”
Stephanie tried to speak, couldn’t make it.
"He's on his way to see you, the little love of his life....and don't let your feelings be hurt, because he bought you a little present to make up…..."
The voice trailed off into mocking sniffles.
"Just calling to let you know....hope you have a good day."
The line went dead.
Stephanie put down the phone, shaking. She couldn't think about it just now. The fucker had spent the night over there with her, he had probably been fucking her for awhile now, maybe every Friday night, lying about being with his friends and instead fucking her and then calling Stephanie from her house....and if he fucked Melanie, he had most likely fucked other bitches....the fears rolled across her mind, leaving her frozen at the desk, staring into nothingness. She hated the whole goddamn world. Hated all of the phony people in the world, the ones who acted kind to your face and stabbed you right in the fucking back the second you turned it.
She wanted to cry but couldn't. It wouldn't come.
For a very long time she stood there, lost in her thoughts and wild daydreams of what had happened the night before, what would happen when he arrived. She'd break up with him, but first she'd give him some serious shit....but maybe she shouldn't break up quickly, maybe she should go along with his lies and smile and act natural and then fuck one of his friends behind his back, get to his nerves, maybe she should suck his friend's dick and then tell him about it laughing, he would probably cry like a fucking baby, seeing how she hadn't done that to him yet....and yet, maybe she should just leave, quit, leave Susan with the retards and go home, climb under the covers, sleep, or lie in bed like a corpse, and ignore every phone call that he made, say she was sick every time he showed up, until she was rid of him completely and the thought of him was just an old, annoying memory....how nice it must be to hide away from the world, how nice.
Stephanie didn't notice the fight until Melvin screamed.
Two of them had Melvin by the arms as he squirmed frantically and gibbered and cried. The other two were putting black shoe polish on his face, rubbing it in, wiping their hands off on his shirt. They scooped huge globs of it out of the can with their fingers and pushed it into his cheeks, his nose and forehead. Melvin screamed every time they touched him.
"Muth fuckkin hongey!" one shouted out. "Mess me up no more!"
The others laughed, howled like animals.
"Stop it!" she shouted. "Leave him alone!"
They stared stupidly at her, still catching up with their senses, then they looked scared all at once. Their hands slipped away from Melvin, and they backed away from the sobbing, confused idiot, all of them pretending like they hadn't done a damn thing. Always that same stupid cow look. And the bastards knew, they were nowhere near as stupid as they played. They probably mocked her, made faces behind her back.....
Stephanie charged over to the one who had been laying on the shoe polish.
"You fucking nigger," she spat.
She slapped him across the face.
He cowered away, holding his cheek. The beginnings of tears welled up in his eyes. The other three began to gibber meekly, slowly, in words Stephanie couldn't understand, as to why they had been tormenting Melvin. Something about how he kept fucking up their work system, always standing in the way.
"Shut up!" Stephanie screamed. "You fucking dummies!"
They shut up and stood shaking with their hands out before them and their eyes on the floor.
"If you act up one more time I'll tell Miss Susan. And none of you will be allowed to work here again. And I don't think they can find another job for you stupid bastards, can they? So do your fucking job and just shut up."
They nodded their heads spastically and wrung their hands and turned back to the endless pile and went into it furiously.
Melvin was still collapsed on the floor, crying silently. Stephanie went over to him, grabbed his arm, and pulled him up roughly.
"Your mother will be here at five, Melvin. Now come on with me."
She pulled him along behind her. It was like pulling a piece of dead wood. He barely lifted his feet. And he was still snuffling, his face smeared with streaks of black like camouflage paint. The bathroom was behind the office, and she moved him along as quick as she could; she had to get Melvin cleaned up and calmed down before Susan got her head out from her ass. People had gotten fired for not watching the retards, and she needed the job. It paid more than most jobs.
"Come over here, Melvin. I'll wash it off for you."
Melvin shuffled forward. Stephanie soaped up a washrag and dabbed it around his mouth and nose, wiping away what she could. She didn't like being near him for some reason. She didn't know why. It wasn't exactly disgust, it was more like some uncomfortable feeling. She wrung the rag out, soaped it again, carefully washed around his eyes. He didn't look so bad now. Satisfied, she threw the rag away and used a fresh one to finish up.
Melvin ceased making his noises, and was smiling slightly.
Stephanie washed his face a second time and threw the rag away. She dried his face with the towel off the rack. She sighed again, hands on her hips, and inspected him one last time. Excellent. Not one smudge left. Hopefully that goofy grin on his face would stay there and no one, not Susan or his mother, would know what happened.
She had to piss; she always did whenever she entered a bathroom. Maybe it was something mental, but even if she was just getting a tissue or checking her make-up, she always felt the sudden need to pee. She began to open the door and push Melvin outside, but stopped herself. She couldn't put him outside. Those nigger retards would just jump on him again....but she had to piss, for Christ's sakes, and wasn't going to do it with this fucking freak in the room. He was staring at the floor, his tongue flopping from his mouth. His eyes were half-closed. Shit, he wouldn't even notice if she pissed real quick....but the idea of him being there, of a fucking retard watching her piss, seeing her naked thighs, made her feel creepy. Or did it? It didn't make her feel creepy, really, just sort of unnerved and tense, like something was going to happen but not necessarily something unpleasant. Fuck it, who cared. She went to the toilet, pulled her panties down, and sat. Her thighs looked fine against the toilet seat. Matter of fact, they looked terrific. She glanced over at Melvin, saw he was paying no attention, and lifted her skirt up a little to see her pubic hair. She had been trimming it lately, at Rick's suggestion, and it looked cute. Sort of…...
She felt sad at once, like the entire weight of it had crashed down on her shoulders. The fact that she would never look as good as Melanie no matter how much weight she lost or how often she cut her hair. She felt angry and frustrated at herself, the whole disgusting enormity of herself, and when she looked up she saw Melvin gawking at her. His eyes, usually swollen shut, were wide open as she stared at her crotch.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" Stephanie spat. "Don't you look at me!"
He shot his eyes down to the floor, terrified.
He looked like such a sorry fucking freak, when he did that.
"Hey," she said. "Hey, Melvin."
But he refused to look up, merely grunted.
"I'm sorry, Melvin."
She shifted her legs a little to obscure his view.
"Do you like looking at me, Melvin? Like looking at my pussy?"
He grunted and shook his head.
Stephanie stared at him. The fucking freak. Why he was even ever born? He was good for nothing but using air that normal people like her could be breathing. Using up government money that she should be getting for her college tuition when she graduated. The little miserable fucker, spending the rest of his life an idiot, never getting anywhere....still, she liked the idea of sitting there naked in front of him. It was exciting. And disgusting. It was both.
"Come over here, Melvin," she said.
He shook his head furiously. His hands bunched into frustrated fists.
"I said come over here."
Grimacing, he slowly shuffled over. He pumped his hands up and down, excited, scared, almost crying.
"Take a look at what I'm doing to myself," she said, and started to play with herself. Melvin's eyes slowly opened and watched. His mouth began to make twitching movements.
"Do you like that?"
"Maaaa," he moaned. "Maaaa."
"Yeah, you do like that, don't you?"
Stephanie took her hand away. She unbuttoned her blouse down to underneath her breasts, pulled it apart. She unclasped her bra in the front and let her tits hang out. Oh, they were fine tits, better than anyone’s, big and firm and with red nipples and she could bounce them anywhere she wanted. And her nipples were hard. She fingered them for a moment, then pulled her skirt back over her waist to show him all of it. Melvin stared, fascinated, his tongue retracted to his mouth. His hand darted for his crotch but then stopped, moved back to his side.
"Go ahead. I want to see it. Take it out and play with it."
Melvin fumbled at his pants, getting his fingers tied up in the drawstring. He pushed his sweatpants and underwear down to his knees, revealing a short, crooked cock that Stephanie only stared at in amusement. His fingers worked the length of it quickly.
"Play with it, freako. Do you want me to suck it?"
"Do you want me to suck it? Do you want me to put it in my mouth and suck it, you fucking mutant?"
Melvin gasped, "Mahhh."
She undid her skirt and slipped it down to the floor to join her panties, unbuttoned her blouse the rest of the way down. Melvin goggled at her fully nude body, the body that would beat any bitches body on any day of the week, the young body that moved with grace and beauty as she stood up from the toilet, facing Melvin from mere inches away.
"You want me to suck it, huh?"
Stephanie spit in his face. It landed in his eye, dripped down his cheek.
"I wouldn't suck your fucking dick for a million dollars, you fucking freak."
Melvin recoiled and pressed his hands over his face.
Stephanie tore his hands away, slapped him across the face. He cried out loudly, like a goat, like a fucking animal, and that pissed her off so much that she slapped him again. A good hard smack. It hit his cheek like a brick. She felt her clit swell a little more each time she hit him.
"Fucking freak!" she cried. "Fucking freak!"
Again and again she slapped him, until he was weeping and pressed into a corner and cowering. Stephanie stood for a moment, her breasts heaving with every breath. She reached down and grabbed his penis. Twisting her wrist, she bent it upwards, contracting all of the blood into the upper half of it. Melvin screamed out in horrified pain. Stephanie slapped his mouth with her free hand, then twisted his penis down again. She grabbed his nutsack and squeezed it as hard as she could.
Too much noise, the freak was screaming too much. She let his nuts go. His screams trailed off to choking, sobbing gasps.
"Maaa!" he cried. "No! No! Maaa!"
"Yeah, whatever, whatever," Stephanie retorted, feeling her blood rushing and pumping through her veins like some unstoppable flood. Her fingers went to her clit again, grinding furiously. Fuck them all, to hell with the entire world of phonies....she felt grand and majestic. She felt beautiful. She pushed her fingers into herself even more eagerly, feeling the promise of an orgasm….
It wouldn't come. Already she was fading away from her heights.
"Shit!" she cried miserably. "Shit!"
She looked down at Melvin, all crumpled up into a ball, sobbing into his hands, his pants still around his ankles.
She dropped to her knees and pulled him over unto his back. He cringed away from her, hands flailing to push her from him.
"Stop it!" she shouted.
They always listened. They had the shit drilled into them since they were kids and it never failed. The words were out of her mouth and his hands fell away. He was looking up at her with resigned terror. She pulled him over unto his back, pushed him flat unto the floor. His cock was still halfway hard, could you believe it? She bent down, took it in her mouth and sucked it furiously to get it hard again, to get it ready. It rose back up in seconds. Stephanie leaped up violently, straddled on top of it.
"You fucking pig," she moaned.
Melvin stared up at her blankly.
It wasn't much of a cock, but it would make it. She pushed herself up and down on it. Yes, it would make it, she was going to come. She began to rock her hips harder and harder on it, impatient. Her hand slapped his face hard. He moaned.
"You fucking freako," she gasped.
His hands came up and grabbed her ass.
"Get your fucking hands off of me!" she screamed, and felt his hands drop away. Oh, it was coming, and it was going to rush through her body like adrenaline thrills, this little retard cock was going to make her come, the only thing better would be to strangle him or beat his fucking face in when she came. She bucked her hips faster, and felt the waves coming, rising, coming faster...."So you want to fuck Melanie?" she gasped. "So you want to fuck that bitch?"
The orgasm was coming closer and closer.
"Fucking freak!" she cried, and punched him in the face, punched him over and over in the side of his head as the waves rippled through her body. It was like heaven and hell all at once, oh yes, oh God, she felt it coming and in her head saw his head getting smashed with a bat, smashed open, screaming as his cock was sliced off slowly. Then it was dark, with no images, and she sighed. She sat there for a while unaware of anything but her incredible relief.
Then she saw Melvin below her, staring up at her with his blank, emotionless eyes, his fat lips, his snotty nose.
"Get dressed," she said. "Get dressed."
She put her clothes on carefully and redid her hair in the mirror while Melvin slowly pulled up his pants and stood by the door. She watched him in the mirror, the way he shook and trembled as if he were cold. Funny thing was, she didn't particularly hate him anymore. She really didn't know what to think about this but she didn't want to press the idea too hard. Fuck it.
She felt better. That was all that counted.
She took more tissues and wiped the blood from his nose. A bruise was rising on his cheek and above his eye; that could be a problem. She'd tell Susan he fell down. He'd done it before; she’d swallow it.
Melvin just stood there, breathing heavily, as she cleaned him up.
"Are you ready, Melvin?"
He nodded and grunted.
Stephanie opened the door and guided him back into the storeroom. She expected the rest of them to be fucking off in her absence, but, in fact, they were working in complete silence. Normally they stopped and stared every time someone walked into the room, even someone familiar, but they took no notice of Stephanie and Melvin.
The phone was ringing. How long had it been? Shit.
"Get back to work, Melvin," Stephanie said, pushing him towards the table. He shuffled over, picked up an old sweater, and began to hang it.
She picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey, Steph," Susan said, irritated. "What the hell have you been doing back there?"
"I'm sorry. I was in the bathroom."
"Well, your boyfriend is up here."
"Right here next to me."
Stephanie slammed the phone down and ran through the storeroom doors. Once out on the floor she slowed down, not wanting to look desperate to Ricky, and walked as casually as she could to the front register where Susan sat in her chair talking idly with Ricky. Oh, shit. He looked so cute. He was wearing his blue shirt and khaki pants, his hair was combed back, he was tanned.
"Hey, baby!" he said. "You're looking pretty good today."
Stephanie wanted to get into his arms but held herself back.
"Why didn't you call?"
"Baby, you know what? I got all fucked up at Alan's house, we were playing cards and---" his voice dropped to a stage whisper as he glanced at Susan, "--and smoking weed all fucking night. I was fucking gone. I forgot to call you, baby, that's all. I'm sorry."
Still she stared at him.
"What's wrong, baby? You don't believe me?"
"I got a call from Melanie a half hour ago. She told me you were with her last night."
Rick shook his head, rolled his eyes. "Aw, shit---yeah, she was there, but I didn't fuck her or otherwise do anything with her, Steph."
"I'm telling you, no. Look, I got you this little thing here---“
Smiling, he pulled a crystal snow-globe from a paper bag.
Inside the globe were flowers and deer.
"Yeah, you know, I saw it and knew you'd like it."
"She told me that, too. That you had a present for me."
Ricky gritted his teeth.
"Look, Steph. That's a lying bitch, all right? Like I said, she was there. And she spent the night there. But I did not fuck around with that bitch, okay? She's just a trouble starting ho, that's all she is. I told everyone I was leaving and coming to see you, and she says, oh? where does Stephanie work? and I told her. As soon as I left, that bitch probably called 411 and got the number here. Don't believe that shit, Steph. It's not like you."
Stephanie looked into his eyes. How green and wise they were, how warm and caring. She was stupid to take what she had heard for truth. She walked forward and hugged Rick tightly. Rick's arms felt like iron bands, they made her feel safe and protected from everything. Everything in the world.
Susan piped up. "Would you like to leave early, Steph?"
Stephanie looked over, surprised.
"I just got a call from that court-ordered girl. She'll be in at three to run the register, so I can keep an eye on the boys. You can leave if you want."
"Shit, yes!" Stephanie said joyously.
Rick smiled broadly. "Where do you want to eat, babe?"
"Bennigan's. No, Ruby Tuesdays. Wait, let me go get my purse out of the back....um, Susan, you know what? Melvin fell down again and got scuffed up a little. He's okay though."
Susan shrugged. "He always is."
"Yep....let me go get my purse, sweetie, I'll be right back."
She kissed him on the cheek and bounced back to the storeroom. She was walking on air. Everything was all right, it had been fine the entire time. Christ, worrying herself half to death over nothing! She ran past the retards at the table, grabbed her purse from the office, slung it over her arm.
"Bye, guys!" she shouted happily.
Each and every one of them moaned something in reply. Except for Melvin, who was silent. He still wasn't working. He was clutching the old sweater in his hands and staring at it as if in a trance. Stephanie stopped in the motion of going through the door and turned to look at him. She observed the limp way he stood, the way his chin hung down to his chest, his tongue hanging from the corner of his mouth. The poor fucking guy, she thought. She went over to him, placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Melvin," she said. "Have a good weekend, okay?"
She leaned in to whisper in his ear.
"Listen, we were just playing in there. Like you do with blocks and shit."
He nodded slowly, once, twice.
"Don't tell anyone, okay? No one needs to know. If you tell, you won't be able to work here anymore. They won't let you out of the hospital anymore. You won’t see me anymore."
Again he nodded, spittle dripping from his lips. Stephanie picked up a dirty shirt, wiped it off absently.
Then she bolted through the door, across the store floor, joined hands with Rick and went out into the sunlight. Susan smiled as she watched them leave. The retards puttered about their clothes, a little more slowly now that they knew Susan would be supervising and Susan was always happy, fun things to say, things that weren't mean and didn't make anyone cry. Left alone for a few minutes, they had fun by flicking rubber bands at Marvin's head, who felt them sting and hurt and did not even look up. He thought about this day; he knew the day was Saturday and seven more days would bring the next Saturday.
To the top of this page