Bethany stared at her parents with wide eyed shock as spaghetti slipped off her fork and back onto her plate, splattering a little bit of red meat sauce and parmesan on the table. "You...you what?"
Her dad smiled. "We got you a job at your Aunt Trisha's bookstore."
"But I don't want to work at Aunt Trish's bookstore. I don't want to work anywhere."
Her mom put down her fork and delicately dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. "Bethany, we've been over this. We want you to learn money management skills, your aunt needs more workers, and you need to get out more. And, it'll help you pay for that missions trip you've been wanting to go on."
"To Spain?" Bethany mirrored her mom and put her fork down too. But not to look serious for or for dramatics; she'd legitamitely lost her appetite."You guys aren't going to help me pay for that? I've been studying and preparing for it for years."
"We'll pay half if you take this job and work hard at it," her dad said. "That's the deal."
She had to obey her parents. Obeying her parents was good, and she had to go on the trip. Obeying God was good, and as her youth pastor said, her goal in life should be to make disciples of all nations, because that's the mission God left for his diciples. So, missons trip. But first, job. But...job.
There wasn't a way out. She smiled tightly. "When do I start?"
Her parents smiled at each other, pleased. "Tomorrow at five thirty," he dad said. "You can take your mom's car."
"Your aunt will be so happy," her mom said.
Bethany said she was glad, and it wasn't a lie (she was happy that her aunt would be happy), but she definitely was not glad herself. She began to eat again as if she wasn't dreading this new development in her life. A new club, a new job. She was sensing a pattern, and there was nowhere it could go but down.
The next morning, it was raining, and Bethany did not want to get out of bed at all, much less at five in the morning. She dragged herself up anyway and by five fifteen she was climbing into her mom's car and worrying.
What if she crashed her mom's car? What if she forgot how to get to the store? What if she had to interact with customers and they didn't like her? What if she had to interact with coworkers and they didn't like her, or she didn't like them? Were there even going to be other coworkers? She was nervously pulling into one of the diagonal parking spaces in front of the little brick shop.
It was in the older part of town, where the buildings were made of bricks and the rickety houses were shadowed by mature trees, like a little oasis of character in a sea of surrounding strip malls and beige housing developments. The shop itself was on the corner of two little tree-lined streets, and looked warm and inviting even in the early morning. Above the door was a red canopy, and above that was a sign with the name of the shop, black letters that read "Tea & Tomes".
Bethany took a deep breath and got out of her car, walked up, and, ignoring the 'Closed until 6:00" sign, entered the shop, a little bell tinkling above her head. The shop looked empty, but from the back Bethany heard an "Oh!" as the bell rang, and her Aunt Trish's mess of curls appeared from behind some shelves, then the rest of her, arms full of new, shiny books. "Hi Bethany," she said with a big smile.
"Hey, Aunt Trish," Bethany replied. "How are you?"
"I'm fantastic! So I think I'm going to teach you to ring up the cash register today, and I'll take the coffee bar. We got some new books in that need to be stocked up, but Jared'll be picking that up when he gets here, with his young teenage man muscles and all." She winked and Bethany shifted uneasily. Crap, another employee. And a teenage, male one that she didn't know, at that.
She listened as Aunt Trish explained how the cash register worked. It was pretty easy. Type in numbers, swipe card or hit enter for cash. No checks. Print reciept, put in book, put book in bag, and smile. That last part was going to be the hardest, but she could do it. Probably. Just think about Spain, she told herself. You can do this. She could do this, right?
About ten minutes before opening time, the door opened. A boy in distressed jeans and a black t-shirt entered, saying "Hey, Trisha! What's u...who are you?"
Bethany turned around from the bookshelf she was looking at, figuring out how the place was organized. Recogniton flashed over both his and her face at the same time.
Before either of them exactly pinpointed what was happening, Aunt Trish was out from behind the coffee bar where she was putting on a pot, and introducing them. "Jared, this is my niece and your new coworker, Bethany. Bethany, Jared. Have you two met before?"
"Um..." Bethany said, feeling awkward. He was the boy from knitting club, right? That just sat there? Or was this guy someone else? She should have paid more attention in introductions that first meeting...but that was nearly a week ago now.
"We've seen each other around," Jared said, giving her a look that said "do not specify". She took this to mean he was actually the guy from knitting club and that she should not mention that. Her stomach sank a little bit. From what she'd seen he didn't seem that...agreeable. Well, on the bright side, maybe that meant they wouldn't have to interact much.
"Yeah," she said, looking at her aunt, who was smiling brightly, then back to Jared. "Around."
He gave an almost imperceptable nod. Apparently she'd done well. She went back to studying the shelves. Apparently they were organized by genre, then by author. "So, Trisha. What do you want me to do today?"
"The books on the counter over there and some boxes on the floor in the back have all been priced, they just need to be put on shelves. Can you do that, and I'll take the coffee counter? Bethany's got the register."
"Sure," Jared said. "I'm on it."
"Great, thank you," she said to him. Then, to both of them, "It's five fifty eight, I'm opening up!" She walked over to the sign in the door and flipped it over.
Bethany didn't understand why she opened so early on Saturdays for the first twenty minutes or so, but after that, the shop got busy. Lots of people came in to get coffee and chat with Aunt Trish, and she seemed to know each one personally, from the red headed single mom with three kids, seated all around a little kid sized table in the corner, each happily muching a huge cookie to the wiry old man with a loud voice and infectious laugh, both seemingly bigger than he was. Nobody seemed to want to buy any books, so she sat on a stool back behind the counter and knit quietly, looking up and smiling slightly when she was introduced to a regular.
She supposed, as far as jobs went, this wasn't so bad. She didn't have to do much of anything all morning. At twelve thirty, the shop was empty, and Aunt Trish suggested that she go out and get sandwiches for them, on her, to celebrate Bethany's first day. She didn't turn down the free food, and Jared didn't either.
"Don't make or take any lives while I'm gone!" she said as she left, laugh mingling with the tinkling of the door bell.
Bethany blushed a little and kept knitting. Jared emerged from amidst the shelves, heading back into the storeroom for another box of books to shelve.
"What does she think we're going to do?" she heard him mutter, then quickly tuned him out. She didn't want to hear where that thought was going.
After some silence, Aunt Trish returned. "I come with food." Jared emerged from the back room. "Glad to see the place is intact," she said.
"Mmhmm," Jared said. "Let's eat."
They proceeded to the back room, overstacked with boxes and shelves of books and a refridgerator, small counter, and little square table against the wall with space for three crammed the back corner area.
"So, Aunt Trish said, unwrapping her meatball sub. "Where exactly did you two say you've seen each other around, again?"
Bethany and Jared looked at each other. "Just around," they said, oddly in unison. Bethany didn't know why she was backing him up, but she guessed it seemed like the right thing to do. Everyone was entitled to their secrets, right? Or was keeping information lying?
"You know, halls and stuff," Jared said quickly, because Aunt Trish was looking between them amusedly and she definitely was not buying it.
"Yeah, and like when I was volunteering and he came into the animal rescue league for new dog tags," Bethany added (it wasn't a lie, she had seen him at the dog tag engraving machine once), and Jared nodded approvingly.
"I see," Aunt Trish said, looking slightly less suspicious. "And how is Elvis?"
"Elvis?" Bethany asked, putting down the turkey sandwich in her hands to look over at Jared.
"My dad's dog," Jared said.
"Yes, but Elvis?" She raised her eyebrows and smiled.
"Because he ain't nothin' but a hound dog," Jared explained, daring her to question it further.
She shook her head and made the same face again. Elvis. Really? He smiled slightly and shook his head.
Aunt Trina laughed. "Isn't that clever."
Bethany opened her mouth, but the look Jared gave her closed it. Maybe they were friends now.