“I should have brought a change of clothes,” I tell Kyle as I take my purse out of my locker then close it again. “It’s too late now.”
I’ll never be able to drive home and still make it to the meeting on time. Not that I really have anything nicer than my work uniform I could wear. I have no clue what people wear to a shareholders meeting. Not that I even know what a shareholders meeting is. All I really want is a minute of Mr. Reed’s time, and I know he’ll be at the meeting.
He’s the CEO and holds the majority shares for Community Mart grocery stores. It’s an employee-owned grocery store, which means all the employees who work at the grocery store have stock in the company. It’s part of being an employee, but it also means you can go to the quarterly meeting if you like. I’ve never known anyone to actually go before, but I don’t have any other options. Talking to the CEO is my last shot. He could make or break things for my sister Hazel and me.
“Who cares? It’s your work uniform and it’s a company meeting. If they don’t like these uniforms, then they should change them.” Kyle plops down onto the bench and opens up his lunch. He digs into the bag and it reminds me that I haven’t eaten today. By the time I got off the phone with one of my sister’s doctors, I’d been out of time to eat and had to get back to my register.
“The uniform isn’t that bad.”
Kyle makes a face at me as if I’ve lost my mind, but I’m not sure he’d find any uniform to his liking. He told me the other day it needed a pop of color. We wear black pants with a white polo and our name tags. If you ask me, I think we’re pretty lucky and I’m not going to complain about it. Over at Sun Price grocery store they have to wear these ridiculous hats that have a spinning propeller on top of it.
“I could blend into the walls wearing this.”
“With the customers we get, sometimes I wish I could blend in with the walls. I don’t need any flair to draw attention to me.” You’d be shocked how mean some people can be over expired coupons or us running out of a product. Not that they’re all bad. I do have a ton of customers I love who always seek out my line.
“Ain’t that the truth. Mr. Sims is always on the lookout for you.” Kyle wiggles his eyebrows and I have to fight a groan. Who doesn't that man notice? I think his only preference is vagina.
“Please don’t start with that.” I sit down next to Kyle on the bench and he hands me an apple slice. I take it knowing this will be it until I get home and have dinner tonight.
“Just saying he’s a hottie.”
“He’s also our boss,” I remind him. I have no desire to get tangled up with my boss and then end up without a job when things inevitably go south. The store manager, Mason Sims, thinks he’s a ladies’ man. I think he’s only into me because I never flirt with him like everyone else does. He’s so creepy. He’s our freaking manager and he flirts with everyone. Not just employees but customers, too.
“Don’t forget a manwhore,” Kyle adds, reading my mind. He scrunches up his nose and shakes his head. “Who knows how many holes he’s stuck his D into.”
I smack his arm. “Shh,” I half-heartedly scold him, not wanting us to get busted talking shit on the boss. “That’s gross,” I add. I don’t want to think about Mason’s D.
Don’t get me wrong. I can see why it’s so easy for Mason to land as many women as he does with his looks. He’s got that whole all-American thing going on with blond hair and blue eyes. He’s also good at his job, except for the flirting crap. Still, he rubs me the wrong way. Those baby-blue eyes of his linger too long on my body and it makes me uneasy. He’s clever, though; he makes sure to do it when no one else is around.
“You going to make it home before Annie needs to leave? I can always go over when I get off my shift,” Kyle offers, making sure I have someone to take care of my little sister if I can’t get home fast enough.
He knows my sister Hazel can’t be home alone. She gets off school at three, and the state helps with after school care three days a week because she is special needs. The other two, Annie comes to the grocery store and helps bag groceries. She loves it. She spends all the money she makes on feeding her animals.
“I should be fine. Annie doesn't leave until six thirty. I think I should be back home by then. The meeting is at three. How long could it last?”
“No clue. Sounds boring as shit to me. I’d fall asleep.” This I believe. Kyle can power nap anywhere. I’ve had to nudge him awake a few times at work. I once found him asleep on his lunch break in the back room on a pile of paper towels. It actually looked more comfortable than my bed. But in all fairness, my bed is a sofa pullout. “Let me know if you get held up. You know I love me some Hazel Basil time.”
“You can come by for dinner if you want. I promised Hazel we’d have pizza tonight.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll grab the pizza though. One less thing you need to worry about.” I reach for my purse to fish out some money. Pizza is the one thing I let us splurge on each week. It’s Hazel’s favorite. “Don’t even think about it.” Kyle stands and grabs his lunch. “I’ll get the pizza. You get it next time.”
“Thanks.” I know he’s offering to pick it up because he knows how tight money is for Hazel and me. I also know there’s no fighting with Kyle when he gets his mind set on something. I learned that within the first week we worked together.
I’m more of an introvert who wants to work and keep my head down. I have too many other things to focus and worry about and don't have time for friends. Hazel owns all my time and I’m good with that. I love my sister and we are a team.
When I met Kyle he informed me we were going to be best friends. I brushed off his comment at first, but within a week he was right. The man is relentless in the sweetest way. I don't know what I would have done without him over the last few months.
“See you tonight,” he tells me as he starts to push out of the break room. “Oh, and I hear Mr. CEO is a hottie!” he yells as he departs.
Of course he heard that. When I think of the CEO of Community Mart I think of a graying older man in his sixties with a big belly. I do think he’s probably really kind if you go by how he runs the company. The stores are always putting on food drives and offering different things for employees. Like the program they offer so that Hazel can work here even with her special needs. It’s why I had a spark of hope that Mr. Reed would be able to help me. He seems like he cares, and I’m banking on that today.
Picking my purse up from off the bench, I head for Mason’s office. The door is open, so I knock on the frame. He looks up at me from over his computer and smiles.
“Come on in, Bailey.”
“Oh, I was just letting you know I’m heading out.” On Thursday I normally work until six, but I requested off early for the meeting.
“You’re really going to that?” Mason asks, and I nod. I’m not going because I care about the shares meeting. I’m going so I can get a minute of Mr. Reed’s time. I’m told he’s always at the meetings. Though with my luck lately he won’t be this time. But I still have to try. I really don’t want to go the route of showing up at his office. That seems creepy, and I really want to make a good impression.
He lets out a long sigh. “Fine.” He shakes his head as if he’s disappointed in me for taking the time off. Which I’ve never done before. In fact, I pick up every shift that I can and come in when they need me if called. Asking to leave a few hours early should not be a problem. “But we need to talk when you get back,” he adds, making my stomach clench with panic.
“Is something wrong?” I take a step into his office, wringing my hands together. I cannot lose this job. Not only do I need the money, but the insurance is about to be everything for Hazel and me. I need that more than anything.
“I think maybe your role around here should change. Maybe a promotion.” He stands up from his desk and walks towards me. I have to fight myself from taking a step back. He reaches out, tucking a piece of my blonde hair behind my ear. “I do need an assistant manager now that Kim is leaving to go work at the corporate office.” His finger trails down my neck and it sends uncomfortable chills down my spine.
Here I thought Kim leaving was going to be a good thing. She was mean and I’m happy she’s gone. Kyle, Hazel and I might have all done a happy dance when we heard the good news. Kim didn’t like us, and it didn't help that Hazel is not one to hold her tongue. She made a few comments about Kim right to her face, and it took everything in me not to burst into laughter. Though it was clear to Kim at the time I was dying to. That really didn’t help her from disliking our little group.
I’m pretty sure she’s leaving because of Mason. Another girl bites the dust after having a quick affair with him. They all fall in love then can’t stand to watch him move on so easily. Kim had taken it harder than some of the others. She’d gone from mild bitch to mega bitch.
“I should really go. Don’t want to be late.” I swallow the lump in my throat, wanting to get out of here before something happens. He's offering me a promotion. It’s better pay, but I can see clearly what he wants in return. My skin feels tight and the office feels smaller.
“We’ll talk about it later,” he finally says after a few beats.
I think he was enjoying my unease. I nod before I practically run from his office. When I finally make it to my car, I let out a deep breath I didn't realize I’d been holding. My mind races, but I push all the Mason Sims bullshit to the side. I have something more important to focus on right now. I’ll worry about that mess tomorrow.
I put the key in the ignition and pray it starts. When it does my chest feels lighter. It always does when the car actually starts. I don’t have time to get a jump start. I really need to find the time to get a battery. Oh, and the money for it.
When I pull out onto the highway, I go over in my head what I’m going to say to Mr. Reed. I’ve practiced over and over again. I’m not above begging at this point. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure my sister is never taken from me. We’re a team and I won’t have that broken.