6:30 AM. And the mall parking lot was already full. A line of people waiting outside the main doors, lined up against the wall. The people up front obviously camped out here overnight. Others, further down the line, brought chairs and iPads and books to read. Further down the line were ordinary people—the “late comers”—who got some sleep the night before.
It was Black Friday. The #1 sales day of the year.
And I had the pleasure of working it.
I worked at one of those big box department stores. We were always one of the anchors at the end of the mall. Sears, Macys, JC Pennys… they were all on the East, West, and South ends respectively. Holding down the North end was my store, the place where I worked. Carringtons. More or less just like any of the other big name retailers. We sold mens, womens, and childrens clothing. Furniture. Home décor. Towels, dishes, auto repair supplies, camping gear, and of course, electronics. That was where I worked.
Electronics was split into three sub-sections. There were computers on one end, video games on the opposite end, and in the middle, my department, were TVs and other miscellaneous home electronics. Cell phones, alarm clocks, smart home devices, stereos, that sort of thing. And I worked on commission. Every product was different. And it varied month by month too. If corporate decided to push a certain product or brand, we’d often get double or triple the usual commission on those items, for the duration of that sale. I wouldn’t consider myself the greatest salesman. That would be Bob. Older guy, sweet as pumpkin pie, kind of like everybody’s favorite grandpa. He’d been selling home electronics, in one company or another, for the past 25 years. He knew his stuff. He had repeat customers and referrals. And was just so nice and friendly and helpful and educational about everything, it was just hard to say no to buying whatever he recommended for you.
Then there was Kevin. Stupid Kevin. I hated him. He was the next best salesperson in the department. Fresh out of college. Super competitive. He was more of the pushy salesman type. The kind that gives sales people everywhere a bad name and unpleasant experience. But, what can you do?
Somewhere around number 6 or 7 is where I fall on the list. Which, considering something like 15 people work in this department, that’s still pretty good. It’s a job for me, not a career. But I know my stuff, like helping people, and I’m very easy going and no pressure. People seem to appreciate that and overall, I tend to do pretty well. I make enough money to afford my own little studio apartment in San Diego. I spend my free time at the beach, going out hiking, or playing video games at home. And Netflix and things like that too, of course.
I just celebrated my 26th birthday. I invited a bunch of friends. Most of whom, honestly, I didn’t know that well and weren’t very close. But I had a couple good friends. They, and some of the others, showed up for dinner at Dave and Busters for my birthday. We ate good food, played lots of arcade games, had some laughs.
And then I returned home, alone, to my little studio apartment. Slept in my bed, all alone, by myself, setting the alarm on my cell phone to wake me up in time to get to work. Then I usually come home, rinse, and repeat. Alone.
You getting a certain keyword here? I’m not a loner by nature, and I do have friends. But you know how it is at this age. All of my friends have “significant others.” They’re either in long-term committed relationships or already married and popping out kids. Somehow I missed that boat. Never met the right girl.
Not from lack of trying.
I dated a special sweetheart through my first three and a half years of college. She got accepted into grad school—in another state—and although we tried the long distance thing, it just got harder and harder until we finally decided to break it off officially. Met a few girls here and there since then. Through a mutual friend. Online. Even a customer once gave me her number. But none of them went very far. Never lasted more than a few dates before fizzling out for one reason or another—or they just outright disappeared on me. Which is lame. If you’re not interested, fine, just let me know so I can move on too, you know? Don’t just “disappear” and stop returning all my texts and calls, without any explanation why.
Anyway, I digress. Now that I’m 26, and haven’t had a “real” girlfriend in a while, and seeing the available dating pool get smaller and small, I’m beginning to worry. What if I don’t find someone? Is it too late for me, did I miss my chance? Seems all the good girls are getting snatched up, if they’re not already taken. Who’s left for me? It’s not my fault my college sweetheart didn’t work out. But here I am, 26, and still working part-time in a retail store. I guess I’m not exactly a “high quality” match either… Not that I want to stay in this current sales job forever. But it’s stable and good enough for now. And I’m a good looking, intelligent, friendly, sensitive, sweet, charming guy. I open doors for girls. Treat them to dinner and movies and things like that. I treat them with kindness and respect, just how I’d want to be treated. I think I’m a good guy and have something to offer. So why can’t I find anybody?
But that’s for me to worry about another today. Today was Black Friday. And there was a line of customers waiting—impatiently—to come in and save money on some new TV or clock radio or something.
I went in through the employee entrance, swiped my ID card to clock in, and headed for my department. My manager was there, gathering everyone around for a little pre-craziness jump start meeting.
There were already eleven people there. I wasn’t late. I was scheduled to come in at 6:45. But apparently some people had 6:30 or even 5:30 or 4:30 AM start times, to get the department and displays and inventory all ready for the madness that was about to unfold.
The manager continued, “So myself, John, and Thomas will all be roaming the floors with radios. If you need us, call us. But know that in all likelihood, we’ll be tied up helping somebody else at the moment, so please be patient and give us a few minutes to get to you. Most customers will be nice and understanding. But this is Black Friday. Some of those people out there haven’t gotten any sleep all night. They just want their savings and to get out of here as fast as they can. Just pace yourself, don’t take any rude customers personally, and help each other out. We’re expecting over 90,000 people to pass through our doors store-wide today. Thank you everyone for coming in so early. I’ll be around to give breaks when the time comes. And remember, smile, be happy, remember the three C’s: Courteous, Consumer-Oriented, and Cleanly. Our main gate will be opening to the public in about ten minutes. So if your tills aren’t opened and counted up yet, please do so now. Thank you everyone – have fun, and good luck! Here’s to a million dollar day!”
I’d heard this speech, or something similar to it, for the past three years in a row since I started working here. Not that other department stores are all that different. Whatever. I’ve lived through a Black Friday madness before. I’ll do it again.
I counted my register’s drawer and made sure I had enough change and lower domination bills. I knew what hot items were in the big sale. The assistant manager was keeping track of certain inventory items by hand, in addition to the automated computer numbers that were, honestly, sometimes inaccurate. The doors opened. The crowd of people rushed in. I, and more than half the employees in this department, attended to customers, answered questions, rang up orders… Money started flowing. Commissions started earning. The crowds got bigger. The lines got longer. The noise got louder. There was some Christmas music playing overhead, but you could barely hear it over the hustle and bustle of all the shoppers and sales people.
It came in spurts too. The first few hours were most chaotic. Then it slowed down a bit. Just a little bit. Then the next wave of people came and it was super packed and busy again. My lunch break was coming up soon, once the manager came to relieve me. It was a good time too. Towards the end of one of those wave rushes. I didn’t mind staying busy and working hard. It helped the time go by faster and it meant I was earning a lot more money. I was glad my lunch just so happened to be during one of the slower points in the day.
And then, just before my break, another customer came up to me. “Excuse me, sir?” she asked from behind me.
“Yes, how can I help you?” I replied, as I did a billion times before, in automatic response. I turned around and saw her.
She was this super cute blonde girl, maybe a couple years younger than me, wearing a red Santa hat and an ugly Christmas sweater that read, in fancy letters, “Joy to the World.”
She smiled back at me. “Wow, you’re cute.” Then she blushed a little. “Anyway,” she quickly recovered, “I’m looking for a new video game for my brother. I know that’s not really your department, but the other guys are all busy over there and I’m in a bit of a hurry. I know, I know, everybody’s rush, rush, rush today. But really. I have to catch a flight back to Vegas. It was the only one that wasn’t booked out. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have waited until the last minute to book a flight, and I suppose I could drive there, except I hate driving, especially on a long trip like that through the middle of the desert, I mean, what if I have a breakdown or something? Then what?”
I think I was falling for her. She kind of had no filter and didn’t know when to stop talking, but maybe she was just nervous. Either way, I loved watching her speak. I loved listening to the sound of her voice. I could listen to her ramble on and on about nothing for days. And that smile. She was so cute. So pretty. I wished I could kiss her.
That would be totally inappropriate, of course. I could get fired for doing something as stupid as that. But anyway, where was I? Oh yes. “Um, sure,” I said. “Do you know what video game he wants?”
“Kinda,” she said. We started walking together towards the video game section. “I know it has a lot of guns and explosions and people dying and all kinds of different weapons and vehicles and stuff he can use. It’s Call of… C’thulu? Is that right? Night of C’thulu? No, that’s not it. Something C’thulu. It’s a fantasy adventure too, I believe.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. “Let’s see if we can find it together. Do you know what system he has?”
“Console. Like, Xbox, PlayStation…”
“Oh! PlayStation. The most recent one. He always buys the latest and greatest stuff. Quest for C’thulu? No, maybe, I dunno!”
I took her to the PlayStation section. We started looking over all the game titles. Something, anything with “C’thulu” in its name. I thought I found it. “Is this it?” I gave her a game box entitled “Hunt for C’thulu.”
“That must be it!” she said excitedly. “How much do I owe you?”
“Let me ring you up…” I walked her over to the nearest register, logged in with my employee ID and password, and scanned the game. “After tax, comes to $65.69. Need anything else today?”
She dug into her purse, fishing for her credit card. “Nope, that’s it, thank you so much,” she said, finding the right card and handing it to me. Our eyes locked for a second. I smiled. She smiled back, blushing, embarrassingly turning away.
I looked at her card. It had a picture of a red and green wrapped present over a winter wonderland background. I swiped it. She signed for it. “Amy Claus,” was her name. Amy. What a pretty name. Wait, “Claus”? That was a real last name?
I placed her game and receipt in a bag. I was about to hand it to her. But she seemed so nice, so friendly… and she was beyond cute. I had to take a chance. Had to ask her. “So um, I hope you don’t mind my asking, but… could I give you my number? Maybe we could meet up again and grab coffee sometime?”
“Oh,” she said sadly. “I’m sorry. Normally I’d love to. Believe me. You seem like a really nice guy. But I’m gonna be out of town for a while.”
“After you get back then?”
“No, I mean… I’m moving. After I visit my brother in Vegas, I’m flying straight to New York City. I’ll be living there for, I dunno, probably a while. I don’t know if or when I’ll be back in San Diego, sweetie. I’m sorry.”
“No worries. I understand. Well, hey, it was nice to meet you. Have a great flight and good luck with the move! And happy holidays!” I said, sincerely.
“Thank you, and merry Christmas and happy holidays to you too!” she said with a smile. She took the bag from me. Our hands accidentally touched for a split second. She looked up into my eyes again. Seemed to be thinking about something, debating something.
Then she turned to check behind her, see if anybody was listening. Then gently held my arm and pulled me aside, out of the way. We found a semi-private little fairly quiet corner, where no one would hear or really notice us.
“Actually, you seem really sweet. Heart of gold, am I right?”
I shrugged. “I like to think so.”
“Tell me, why’s a cute guy like you still single?”
I shrugged again. “Bad luck? Just haven’t met the right one yet? My dream girl happens to be moving to New York? Stuff like that.”
She blushed and smiled. “Been single a long time?”
I thought about it, doing the math. “Uh, I guess about five years now, actually, wow, come to think of it. I guess time flies when you’re busy.”
“You like helping people? Spreading joy to the world?”
“Sure, of course. Who wouldn’t?”
“You’d be surprised. Most people are very selfish and self-centered. But not you. I can see it in your eyes. You know, they say the eyes are the gateway to the soul. Do you believe I can see into your soul right now?” she asked, holding intense, yet lovely and pleasant, eye contact.
I shrugged. “Maybe. Depends. What do you see?” I smiled.
“I see… a man who’s lost. He’s comfortable. He’s doing okay for himself. But he’s missing something. Love. Connection. Freedom. True joy. Hmm. I can give that to you, if you want,” she answered.
I looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s not my power, but I can put in a good word for you with Daddy.” She checked over her shoulder again. And I knew she was in a rush to begin with. “I can’t promise you anything—” she looked down at my name tag “—Sam, but if you had one Christmas wish right now, what would it be?”
“You mean beside a date with you?” I playfully replied.
“Seriously,” she said. “If a date with me is your heart’s true Christmas wish, then say it. If not, tell me the truth. Out loud. Right here, right now. Anything—anything—you could wish for, at all, in the whole wide universe, your imagination’s the limit—what would it be, Sam?”
I had to think about it. “Gosh, I don’t know.”
She seemed like she really wanted to keep talking, but she also had a plane to catch. “Happiness? Health? Wealth? What?” she asked me. “It can be anything, okay? Imagine that Santa’s real and you have the belief of a child. Christmas is coming. What do you ask for, now, as an adult, right now in your life. True love? A new car? Bigger house?”
“I dunno. I guess, deep down, if I’m honest… my Christmas wish would be—”
“Wait, say it like, ‘I wish for… blank,’ okay?”
“Okay. Honestly? Don’t laugh,” I said. “This is gonna sound cheesy, but it’s true, okay? I just wish that I could make people happy, ya know? Put a smile on their face, make them feel good, add a little love and joy and happiness in their lives. I meet so many people, working this job, that just don’t seem happy. I think the world would be a better place if—”
“I hear ya loud and clear. That was pretty close to my wish too, actually, believe it or not. Not exactly, but pretty close. I wanted to put more beauty and love and joy into the world, give that gift to as many people as I could, in some personal and meaningful way. I didn’t just want to donate money to some charity. It felt too detached, ya know? I wanted the personal touch. I wanted to see the people I was helping. See a smile put on their face. Help them laugh, help them feel good, feel more alive, feel more connected, ya know? In this world, with social media and all, everybody seems to be more isolated and lonely than ever. So I made a wish to help people feel more connected and happy. And I wanted to somehow directly give them that happiness, see it on their faces… and, well, Santa granted my wish. Although, not initially in the way I expected, that’s for sure.”
I looked at her curiously. Wait, what? She was speaking figuratively, of course. Not literally. Santa didn’t actually grant her wish. It was a metaphor.
“So it sounds like you’re a lot like me,” she said. “So maybe he’ll grant your little wish too. No promises. But like I said, I’ll put in a good word for you. Although, hmm… Daddy’s already got a lot of sons. Last I heard, he said if he adopted anybody else, it’d probably be a daughter.”
Uhh. Maybe this chick was a little crazy. Funny, she didn’t seem crazy before. Normally I could sense “cray cray” a mile away. She seemed perfectly normal and friendly, totally sane, until just now.
“So, I dunno what that means for you,” she said. She smiled and giggled. “Maybe we’ll be sisters, who knows!”
Her cell phone alarm went off. “The time!” she exclaimed. “I’m gonna miss my flight! Gotta run!” She was about to bolt off, but turned back for one second to give me a quick peck on the cheek. “Merry Christmas!” she exclaimed. She held up the purchased game too. “And thanks for all your help,” she said as she ran away.
What a strange, weird girl.