Earth Minus Jeans... ( Lenny, Part 3 )
I recognised her immediately. Except that last time, she'd had the lipstick and the mascara on the right parts of her face.
Infact, she'd had everything in the right place the last time I'd seen her. My drunken hormones had noticed that straight away at the nightclub. And that was part of the problem, because unfortunately as I was to find out, she'd also had fists in the right place, on the end of her arms.
I couldn't remember a great deal about that night a few weeks back. Not surprising seeing as I'd been more inebriated than a hamster that's been dunked several times into a barrel of whiskey. I had a vague memory of her catching my eye as I propped myself against a wall. She was dancing with a less appealing female friend, and despite the voices of reason screaming at me " Don't do it! ", I stumbled over to their spot on the edge of the dance floor. I barged in between their writhing forms and did a quick unchoreographed jig before turning to her and slurring " Me Tarzan, you Jane. "
Then I think I turned to her friend and slurred " Me Kermit, you Miss Piggy " which was the first bad move. For that remark I received a middle finger from Miss Piggy and she stomped off to the bar.
The object of my affections mouthed 'asshole' at me, and then I have a feeling I offered to measure the length of her mini-skirt.
Clutching my nose and picking myself out of the debris of the nearby table I'd crashed into, I reached the conclusion she wasn't interested.
That just left me having to decide between buying a fresh round of drinks for the three large guys who had been sitting at the demolished table, or for them to take me outside and demonstrate just how unhappy they were at seeing their pints crash to the floor.
And now to my abject horror, here she was breezing into the store with her face paints more jumbled up than a Rubiks cube. Instinctively I looked for somewhere suitable to hide.
" Bloody hell Emma, you feeling okay today? " Alan asked her.
Expecting the usual rocket for being late, she gave him a confused, harassed look.
" What? "
Alan consulted his watch. " Only twenty-eight minutes late this morning. I'm impressed lady. "
She frowned. " Yeah alright, sorry again. I was- "
BAAD AASS! the stereo suddenly interrupted and shook the whole place from its roots.
MASSEEV VIBE COMING ATCHA...
" Carlos! "
An innocent goateed-expression rose from behind the cash desk.
" OFF! " Alan shouted.
" Aww maan. " There followed the sound of a grumpy exchange of CD's, and Whitney started grinding and scraping away at our senses. Carlos reappeared with two ridiculously large pieces of tissue plugged in each ear.
" This is Jack, " Alan introduced me to Emma, " He's starting with us this morning. "
She glanced at me with a quick, out of breath " Hi " as I prepared myself to deliver an embarrassed apology for our previous meeting. She did the inevitable second take and studied me for a second.
" Have we met bef- "
" No, " I interrupted, deciding on a late change of tactic. Complete denial was the way forward here.
" You look fam- "
" No I don't. "
" Oh. " She continued to study. " I'm sure I've seen- "
" No you haven't! "
Alan chimed in. " What? Have you two- "
" No we haven't. "
Emma was proving a hard nut to crack, and persisted in trying to place me. " Were'nt you the- "
" No I wasn't! "
" Oh.... " She finally gave up. " ....oh well, whatever. "
" Maybe ees one of your clients from last weekend, " Carlos called over with a dirty grin. " Not dat you look at their faces dat much, but... "
" Carlos, " Emma turned on the Latino like Hurricane Betty suddenly changing course, " if you don't shut up, we're not gonna have any jeans to sell today cos I'm gonna ram every single pair down your fat gob. "
Carlos appeared to take the point and returned the large white blobs of tissue to his ears, as Whitney continued to warble on about always loving somebody or other.
" So Princess, watcha late for this time? Taken hostage by Colombian drug dealers perhaps? Flattened by a speeding milk float? "
" Yeah, sorry. My car broke down. "
" You don't drive Emma. "
" Yeah yeah, I mean the train was late. "
" You live a couple of blocks away. " Alan was fending off each excuse with a practised ease that suggested to me they'd been through this scenario a number of times.
" Oh god sorry, I'm getting confused here, " she muttered whilst holding a hand to her forehead and fishing through her handbag. She retrieved a tatty piece of paper and consulted it. Meanwhile, Alan collected a file from one of the till drawers and returned to us, leafing through it. To my amazement, the label on the spine of the folder read EMMAS EXCUSES.
" Yep, " she said with a nod, " Um, my dog escaped out of the door and it took me ages to find him and get him back inside. "
Alan shook his head immediately. " No, your dog died last week. "
" Did he? "
" Yes, that's why you were off last wednesday, remember? "
" Oh yeah, of course. " More consultation followed. " Right. My goldfish escaped out of the door... no hang on. "
More consultation. Alan waited patiently, tapping his fingers on the folder.
" It's my gran, " Emma said, her lips beginning to quiver. " I was up all night because my gran passed away yesterday evening. "
Alan looked this one up in his folder. " What?...Again?! "
" Pardon? " She forced a tear from her eyes.
" Well I'm not being funny Princess, but your gran died a couple of months ago. "
" Not that one, " Emma sobbed. " The other one this time. "
" How many grandmothers have you got then? Cos you also lost one at the end of last year... bleedin' ell Emma, you lost another one last summer an' all! That's four grans, bet you got loads of toffees when you were little... "
" Alright alright! " She took another look at her list. I couldn't believe at this point that she was still racking her brains for another excuse.
" Any more you wanna throw at me? " Alan asked. " How about the one from monday where err... " he ran a finger down the page, " here it is. Where you got mistaken for an illegal immigrant from Romania because you'd just had yer highlights done and you were wearing a headscarf. "
I had to turn away now. It was all becoming too much and I had to fight back the giggles that were frantically trying to claw their way out. But in trying to contain my hilarity, my body began convulsing beyond control. I turned back to them to find Emma glaring at me. I didn't care anymore and carried on laughing.
" I overslept Alan, okay! I got hammered with my mates last night and I overslept. Satisfied? "
" Not really no. "
" And on top of that, I had some creep this morning asking me if he could measure the length of my mini-skirt. You can put that one in your little black folder if you like Prince Charming! " She then threw me a meaningful look and stormed out the back.
I stopped laughing.
" Asked her what? " Alan looked baffled, and so for good measure ran a hand through his 'perfect' hair. Clearly the sort of person who liked to always be in control, he had to check that at least he still had his 'Ladykiller' looks... purely for security reasons.
The morning wore on like an uneasy cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, mainly because of numerous withering glances from a certain female member of staff. I winced each time and involuntarily felt at my fragile nose.
Alan had spent the rest of it in a state of deep thought, no doubt analysing how, for once, he'd not had the last word over Emma's lateness. Even worse than that, she'd pipped him at the post by a short head in the ' self assured-sarcasm stakes. '
Carlos had failed in two more attempts to seamlessly change the music over on the store stereo, before finally having to accept that the transition from Whitney's Greatest Dross into Mutha-effing Jungle Bass Anthems had all the inconspicuous subtlety of a car-bomb.
Even the manageress, Janet, made a brief and rare appearance on the shop-floor, before retreating back to her office for more headache tablets and another fag. I surmised that life at the top was lonely and stressful.
As we drew closer to midday, I noticed a growing tension amongst the others. Not so much between them now, as a joint telepathic acknowledgement that something far more dark and evil was looming like the growing humidity before a storm. In a way it seemed to be bringing them together and flinging their petty differences aside. Even Emma began to offer a thin smile in my direction, as if my own misdemeanours were forgiven in the light of what was to come.
" Please tell me he rang in sick this morning, " she pleaded with Alan at one point. " I just can't be dealing with him today. "
" Sorry treacle, " Alan replied in his best Pete Beale/Dirty Den voice. " When does he ever call in sick? You know as well as I do, he'd pitch a tent and live here if he was allowed to. "
" Well keep the stupid git out of my way will ya? "
" I'll be too busy keeping the stupid git out of my way. He can waffle away at 'new-boy' over there. " He nodded towards me. " Jack can think of it as an initiation ceremony. "
I didn't much like what I was overhearing. " Um, Carlos, who and what are they talking about here? "
" Oh er, you know...thingy...Him. "
" Who? "
" Lmmnm " he mumbled.
" You mean this 'Lenny' guy? "
Carlos puffed his cheeks, and once more glanced upwards whilst crossing himself. " Listen, when he walks in like, you'll eer bells tolling innit. And watch out for the swarm of Bats. If God created the Earth, Satan created the part-timer...and came up with thingy. " And with that glib explanation, he stuck the tissue back in his ears and wandered off.
I was down on my haunches, trying to look busy and pretending to tidy a pile of jeans. I couldn't understand where the sudden cold wind had blown in from, seeing as our store was deeply ensconced within a shopping mall.
Hmm, a bit odd.
I sensed his presence before actually looking up and noticing the figure standing over me. At first I had wrongly assumed it was another customer waiting to pick on me. All damned morning I'd been peddling the line " I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm new. It's my first day and I don't know nuffink so don't even bother asking me what the time is because I'm just going to keep repeating the words ' I'm new ' until you sod the hell off and leave me alone. "
" Hi " said a voice from above me, and I got to my feet and turned to meet my other new colleague.
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