“As Life Goes – Elementary” – Excerpt II – Author Jason Zandri

Mark had just finished moving the last of the items around the main part of the convenience store and he stepped through the adjoining door to the three garage bays with the design layout in his hands. He laid it down on the work station table when someone approached the glass walk in door to the garages. He made his way over to unlock the door.

“Hi,” Mark said swinging the door open in the late afternoon winter darkness. “Sorry about the lack of lighting outside” he said as he looked up at all the overhead lights that were turned off, “but we’re not open for a couple more days and I was trying to not attract people to the building early. I am figuring on a formal opening on Monday. Can I help you with anything?”

The young woman stepped inside and stomped off her boots to kick the freshly fallen snow off. “Hi,” she responded rather meekly taking her woolen hood off her head and removing her hat, “I saw your ad in the paper, for part time help, and I was hoping to catch you while you were in here to apply.”

Mark raised an eyebrow to the young woman, “Well you’ve already scored a couple of points with me for taking the initiative in walking here in the snow to put in the application,” he said as he looked out the door at the oncoming snow storm. “And fairly quickly too; I don’t think the ad ran more than one day.” Mark motioned for her to step back into the main store and he reached behind her to re-lock the walk in door to the garage area. Matthew peaked out of the office area where he had been finishing his homework to see who his father was talking to.

“So I see you had design plans,” the young woman said as she unzipped her coat part of the way and pointed to Mark’s hand with the paperwork, doing her best to make small talk and seem at ease. “Are you planning to expand the store side or re-open the garages for car repair?”

Mark could tell she was nervously trying to make small talk but she was fairly effective in her process despite being nervous. She came across as genuinely interested about it rather than simply making the comments for the only purposes of small talk. “Well, Miss…”

“Diane. Diane Wakeford.” She responded nervously and extended her hand to shake Mark’s.

“Miss Wakeford. Did you grow up around here?” Mark asked as he lightly and politely shook it.

“Oh no, I’ve lived here my whole life. Twenty four years.” Diane said as she took her hand quickly back.

“I see. Interesting.” Mark said as he walked behind the main counter and took out application paperwork for her and grabbed a pen and clip board. “Did you go to college for business or marketing?”

“Oh no sir,” she responded quickly and lowered her head slightly, removing her striking blue eyes from view by looking down at the paperwork she took from Mark. “I went to work right after high school. It was just what I had planned and it worked out for me, you know, going straight to work and all.”

“And are you working now?” Mark asked leaning back against the counter.

Diane looked up straight at Mark and quietly responded. “No.” She paused for a second and cleared her throat but never took her eyes off of him. “I was a couple of years ago, as a retail associate and in store product marketing associate. I’ll put that information down here on the application. It was at Barker’s, then King’s, but they are closed now of course. I’m sorry that you won’t be able to confirm the employment.” She set the paperwork down to take her jacket off. The room wasn’t overly warm for a winter temperature setting but she was clearly beginning to heat up. “I actually worked there part time while in high school as the retail associate and then closer to full time hours over the summers. Once I graduated I got the store product marketing associate position.”

Mark studied her for a moment and then said, “So you worked there until they closed, as a store product marketing associate?”

Diane quickly became attentive and answered, “No.” She still appeared to be nervous about the questioning but managed to plow through it regardless. “I left about a year before the company went out of business. It was a family decision.” Diane paused for a moment. “Well not my family as in my mother and father. Well stepfather. My father and mother are divorced. He remarried and moved out of town.” She suddenly became aware she was nervously rambling and offering up more information than she was being asked for. She quickly settled herself and continued. “I was living there prior. It was after that I moved out to live with my fiancé. So it was our decision.”

Mark held up his hand slightly. “That’s fine; it’s a personal reason you’ve given. You don’t need to divulge the details.” Diane smiled at the statement and it appeared to Mark as if a weight had lifted off of her. “So Diane, why don’t you start filling out the application and tell me what you’re looking for as far as weekly hours and shifts.”

Diane took the forms and the pen and stepped over to the counter nearest the cash register to begin filling them out. “Well I was looking for something full time but I don’t have a car right now so really anything nearby will do. This is only a mile from my house so walking to work is easy for me regardless of the weather. I guess the nice thing is that minimum wage just went up twenty five cents to $3.35 an hour so that’s basically eight percent more than I would have been making.”

Mark watched her fill out the form quickly and neatly. He noticed she didn’t have to pull anything from her wallet to reference for the forms like her driver’s license for that number nor her Social Security card. “I need to find someone that can cover four to six shifts in a part time capacity to start Diane,” Mark said walking over to the coolers and turning the florescent lighting out. “Depending on how things go with that person, how they work out, being dependable and working hard and all, I may add the hours and increase the pay.”

Mark noticed a slight shift in her behavior at the comments. He presumed it was a job she needed by her reaction. “So tell me Diane,” Mark said, mentally preparing to take note of her responses, “you noticed the design plans in my hand when you came in. I am planning to do something with the old bays there. I haven’t decided exactly what I might do. I could hire someone to do auto work or I could sublease out all the space for someone that has more capacity to do it than I do. Or I could expand the store into some or all of the three bays. What do you think I should do?”

Diane stopped, set the pen down, and looked up at him intently with her piercing blue eyes again. Mark took the time to look into them this time and felt uneasy, as if he was suddenly the one on the interview. “You want to know my thoughts?” she asked quietly.

“Why not?” Mark said quickly reclaiming his composure. “You’ve been in this town all this time. You probably know a lot of what young adults your age are looking for in and around the area. Yes; if it was your store what would you do?”

Diane took a moment to collect her thoughts and stepped over to the glass door between the store and the bays. Matthew who was still listening from the doorway of the back office backed up half a step to not be seen.

“I would keep the far bay with the heavy lift and highest ceiling and partition it off.” She seemed to say what she was thinking with confidence but Mark could still sense that “girlish” uneasiness, or something else, coming from the young woman. “That way if you have the capacity to do the work or find someone that does, you can use that area.” She tucked her head slightly and then pointed to the glass into the middle of the remaining area. “The other two bays; I would convert them for store space but I would lease the area like a kiosk in the Mall.” She turned her head to look at him to make sure he understood her. “You know. Like up at the Meriden Square. Where they sublet the spaces for other small businesses.”

Mark was genuinely intrigue by her idea. “What would you put in there?”

“Well you’re subletting the space so it could be almost anything. What I think you really want to have is something that compliments everything else that you already do here. Maybe someone who is interested in a sandwich shop? You could have the coolers and the counter areas all ready for them to go and they would lease the space and make the food. They sell from their counter and when people want soda or juice for the sandwich they come to you. That or you’re cross drawing. Someone that has to grab lunch, get their lottery tickets, cigarettes, and fuel on their break is going to come where they can do it all in one stop.”

Mark said nothing and just mulled her idea over. He walked over at her partly filled out application and glanced at it. RATE OF PAY – any. SHIFTS DESIRED (if applicable) – any. DATE AVAILABLE TO START – any.

“You didn’t like the ideas?” Diane asked with a detectable level of concern in her voice.

“Oh no,” Mark said quickly looking up from the paperwork. “They are quite progressive. I certainly hadn’t thought about subleasing chunks of space inside the store to a large degree. That’s a creative way to look at it because I don’t need to do the work myself, using your example, handling the food and the prep. That and I don’t have to hire another hand that may be interested in “just” working. With them leasing the space it IS a business of theirs to make or break. The more I think on your ideas, the more I like them.”

Diane smiled widely. “No one’s ever really expressed an interest in one of my ideas,” she said in an elevated tone backed by a rush of excitement that was evident on her face. She reached over and hugged him but immediately tensed up. Mark also tensed up as he was surprised by the sudden forwardness. She immediately let go and jerked herself back embarrassed. “Oh I’m so sorry for that.” Diane lowered her head and stepped back.

Mark stepped forward, feeling somewhat awkward and reached his hands forward clumsily and said, “Look, no harm done. You got a little caught up in the moment and excited.” Mark backed away just slightly. “When can you start?”

“I’ve got the job?” Diane said wildly.

“I don’t see why not. I have to hire someone and while I am sure I can find another worker, I guarantee they won’t be this excited and enthusiastic.” Mark said as he looked up in the security mirror and saw Matthew peering around the corner to see what was going on.

“Oh!” Diane called out putting her hands over her mouth. “I can start right away Mr. Sanford.”

“Let’s see,” he said looking over her partly filled out application. “You were born in 1957 so that makes you twenty four. Yeah, “Mr. Sanford”, my father, he’s down in Florida. “Mark” will be fine.”

Diane didn’t respond. She continued to have a huge smile on her face.

“I am not completely sure what hours I am going to need you, especially at first, Miss Wakeford but I am going to try to keep you at a total of thirty per week. More if the business can sustain and justify it.”

“Could you call me Diane?” she asked as tears welled up. “I would be uncomfortable calling you “Mark” if you’re going to call me Miss Wakeford.”

“Sure I suppose that’s fair. Look I am going to collect my son and lock up. Can I give you a ride home?”

Diane turned and looked out the window. The snow had picked up slightly. “If it’s not going to put you out of the way. Otherwise I would appreciate that.”

Matthew came around the corner the remainder of the way with his books and his father’s jacket. “I locked up the rear door. Here,” he said handing the winter coat to his father.

“Matthew,” Mark said as he took the jacket and pulled his keys out. “This is Diane Wakeford; she’s going to start working here next week.”

Matthew looked up into her eyes and just stared at her while slow extending his hand out. He meekly squeezed out a “hello” to her. While she was basically twelve years older than him, she was barely five feet tall. Matthew was not much shorter than her at fifty four inches.

Diane blushed a little at Matthew’s apparent attraction and reaction. She smiled and responded “hi” a little forcefully.

“I’m sorry for staring,” Matthew said somewhat embarrassed while his father turned the remaining lights off. “I could swear I’ve seen you before.”

“My sister is your age and in fifth grade over at Pond Hill; Melissa Bancroft. Same mother different fathers.”

“Ah,” Matthew said looking over at his father.

Mark fumbled around some papers behind the counter so he could listen in a little and get a better understanding of his new employee’s demeanor as well as to give his son the chance to talk to her a little.

“Are you friends with her?” Diane asked. Matthew just continued to stare at her. “Missy. My sister. I know school just restarted with the New Year and all. I’m not exactly sure how long you’ve been over at Pond Hill, but we just live down Ward Street right near the north end of East Street so I was wondering.”

“I’ve seen her,” Matthew said with his voice breaking an octave higher than it normally would. “I tried to introduce myself to her but she’s a little aggressive for a girl.”

Diane laughed aloud. “That’s Missy. She is everything I am not. Brave. Fearless. Indifferent to whether everyone or no one likes her. She’ll never admit it but she likes a challenge. If you engage her, you’ll get her attention. Don’t walk up and introduce yourself. I know you haven’t formally met her but if you walk up and just talk to her like you’ve known her a while, she’ll respond.” Matthew nodded his head slightly and Diane leaned in to whisper in his ear. “She’s starting to get interested in boys and you’re handsome… You’ll catch her interest before she even knows what hit her.”

Matthew’s smile grew wide as Diane drew back and looked at the expression on his face. “I see my sister already had your interest.”

Matthew slunk backwards slightly as he could feel the blood rush to his face.

Mark came around the counter with his things and the keys to the car. “Are we all set to get going?”

“I am Mr… Mark. Thank you again for the opportunity.”

“I’m looking forward to have you on board,” Mark responded moving past the two of them for the door. Both of them followed him out and he locked up the store for the evening.

And the story continues…

“As Life Goes – Elementary” – now available for order for the Amazon Kindle

as-life-goes FINAL cover large

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