5. Shopping Interrogation Technique
Charlie was getting very tired very quickly of flipping burgers. Despite the wide variety of dishes found on the menu the customers continued to order the simplest meals: a hamburger, fries and a coke. Quite frankly, she was royally sick and tired of seeing people gorging on these foods when she had worked so hard perfecting her skills in making the specialty dishes that the diner offered. In her opinion, her New England clam chowder was pretty damn close to the best in Boston, and the chicken salad sandwich was an almost forgotten addition even if it was her favorite.
The few regulars that always ordered the specials were her favorites and they managed to coax a smile from her when they greeted her by name. Mr and Mrs Samson were her favorites by far and she never minded being asked to alter the regular recipe to suit their tastes because they were so appreciative of her efforts. They also had the tendency to talk to her while she worked. Mr Samson had some crazy stories to tell from his days in the war and Mrs Samson loved to swap recipe ideas. Charlie had gotten into the habit of bringing index cards in her back pocket to jot down recipes from Mrs Samson or on some rare occasions, wrote down her own for the old woman to have.
Charlie shifted her weight, felt the press of index cards in her back pocket and smiled. Even thinking about the Samsons lightened her mood.
And jackasses made it plummet again.
Greg entered the kitchen, shouting greetings to everyone and sending a leer at Charlie and Norah. Charlie's eyes flicked to the clock and she snorted. He was late. Again.
"Hey Charlie, how's it goin'?" he asked, squeezing her butt and grunting in pain a second later when her elbow made contact with his gut.
"Sorry," she said flatly, leveling him with a glare. "Reflex."
"So cold!" Greg rubbed his stomach even while he grinned at her, moving over to his station and throwing on an apron. "You'll warm up to me eventually, baby."
"Don't count on it." Charlie rolled her eyes and decided to ignore him for the remainder of her shift. Which turned out to be a very difficult task.
By the end of her shift, Charlie had either elbowed, kicked or punched Greg a total of twelve times in retaliation to sexual harassment – typically because he grabbed her ass – and his cat calls had numbered far higher than she cared to count. Her entire body ached from moving faster than usual in order to keep herself occupied and not steaming over Greg's comments. Mitch and Norah had aided her several times by chatting with her – or rather, Mitch rambled on about nothing and Norah made snarky comments about everything – and keeping her mood from plummeting completely.
If the Samsons were not present, Mitch and Norah were the reason Charlie was still sane and quite possibly why she had not yet quit the diner job.
That and the fact that she really needed the paycheck.
Charlie tossed her apron over the washer in the corner of the kitchen and tossed her gloves into the trash. Mitch gave her a grin when he came back to the kitchen to grab another order. "You leaving?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm out."
"All right, see ya tomorrow sweetheart." Mitch waved with his free hand and then disappeared into the diner with a tray on his arm.
Norah gave her a half wave from her place at the counter and went back to fixing a drink for a customer.
Charlie went into the break room and grabbed her bag out of a locker. Her sneakers skidded across the greasy floor and she slid across to the tiled floor of the dining room as she pulled her shirt from the waistband of her pants and went into the restroom to change out of her sticky work clothes. Grateful that no one was currently inside, Charlie stripped out of her uniform of black pants and a red polo and pulled on her usual pair of shorts and hooded tank top. Her work sneakers were tossed into the bag with the rest of her dirty clothes and she slipped into a pair of worn Chucks. Several customers waved to her as she left the diner a moment later and then she was free.
Part of her wanted to wait for Mitch and Norah to get off work but that would give her nothing to do for two hours. While it wouldn't be the first time she had hung around until one or both of them got off work, it made her feel silly to hang around for so long by herself very obviously doing nothing.
Charlie sighed and flipped open her cell phone. No new texts, voicemails or missed calls. Go figure. She smiled bitterly and began the walk back home.
To be completely honest, what she really wanted was a quick run, a shower and then a nap. Somehow she doubted she would get any of it.
The moment she walked into the house she was accosted by Max, who cried "Retail therapy!" and yanked Charlie back outside to her car. Charlie didn't bother protesting – it never did any good despite the fact that she was a rather awful shopping partner – and rested her head against the seat as Max gleefully tore out of the driveway and sped to the mall.
"So why do you need retail therapy?" Charlie asked finally as they waited for a green light.
"I don't, I just feel like shopping and you could use some new clothes."
"I have tons of clothes."
Max gave her a shocked look. "You hardly have any clothes, Charlie."
"Compared to you, no one has any clothes."
"I like having a large amount of choices."
"Uh-huh. Max, you know I'm not going to end up buying anything."
"Sure you are. Maybe a T-shirt if you find it on sale." Max grinned at Charlie's defeated expression and laughed. "I know you too well, sweetheart. Besides, you looked flustered yesterday and you won't spill at the house so I'm dragging you out into a nice neutral area to interrogate you."
Charlie sighed and covered her face with her hands. "It was nothing, Max."
"Uh-huh. And that's why you looked so out of it when I got back from work." Max parked the car and got out, leaning against her door as she waited for Charlie to follow. "It was only you and Nat at home so something had to happen. Spill it."
"It really wasn't anything, Max-"
"Bullshit. If you don't tell me I'll force you into something pink and tiny. Try again."
Charlie tucked her hands in the front pocket of her tank and scowled. If she really thought about it, most of her emotions last night had been based on shock. She had not expected the experience to be anything like it had, nor had she expected to feel anything about it. She had had no idea that modeling for someone could be so intimate. And really, it hadn't been that bad, her surprise had just amplified any feelings she might have had and made her reaction that much more extreme.
"It really wasn't anything big. I was just surprised," she said finally.
"What'd he do?"
Charlie smiled slightly and shrugged. "He just asked me to model for him."
"And you said yes?"
"Well how was it?"
Charlie shrugged again. "Not what I expected. He was just really intense and it surprised me."
Max was grinning again and Charlie unintentionally hunched her shoulders almost in defense. "Got you all hot and bothered, did it?"
"Oh for… No. I've just never seen him so focused. Normally he's so spacey so it was weird to see… You know what I mean?"
Max nodded and picked up a red top from one of the racks, studying it critically before putting it back. "For however long you sat for him-"
"Two and a half hours I think."
Max lifted a brow but continued anyway, "He was basically staring at you for a long period of time. He's a hot guy, that would affect anyone."
"It's not that, it's just how serious he was. His entire expression changed from that puppy face to all 'I-am-artist-man-let-me-feel-you-up-with-my-eyes' kinda thing. Stop looking at me like that."
"You make something that has the potential for sounding sexy and turn it into something that's just plain weird."
Charlie rolled her eyes and fingered the fabric of a shirt as she passed by. "Thanks."
"Mm, maybe I'll ask him to draw me. Those eyes of his must be so sexy when he's focused," Max said thoughtfully as she looked over another top and added it to the pile on her arm.
Charlie took a T-shirt off the rack and studied it, finally deciding it wasn't worth trying on and put it back. She wasn't sure if Nat's gaze while she modeled for him had been sexy but it had certainly had an intensity she wasn't used to.
"I still can't believe he's single." Max tugged her sleeve and the two girls made their way toward the changing room. After getting her number – a nine, which was actually low for Max – Max disappeared into one of the changing rooms while Charlie sat on a bench just outside. "I mean, he's gorgeous, I can't believe no girl has snagged him yet."
"How do you know he's single?" Charlie asked, frowning at her feet as she realized that she might need to buy a new pair of sneakers.
"I asked." The door flew open and Max posed dramatically for Charlie, who merely blinked at her. "What do you think?"
Max looked at herself in the mirror and twirled. "I look sexy, you bitch. Shopping with you is like shopping with a guy."
"I'm not sure if I should take that as an insult or not. And you were the one that dragged me out of the house to go shopping, I had no say in that."
"You could have said no."
"Since when did that ever stop you?"
Max laughed. "This is true. Now are you going to go try anything on? I saw a skirt that would look adorable on you."
Charlie wrinkled her nose. "I hate skirts, you know that."
"Maybe, but you have some killer legs, girl, you should show them off." Max thrust out her hip and crossed her arms beneath her ample chest as she looked Charlie over from head to toe. "You're the only girl I know who can actually pull off that whole tomboy look without looking like a total dyke but that doesn't mean you can't be girly on occasion."
"I hate girly clothes, they're uncomfortable."
"You'd get used to it, I'm sure."
"I don't want to."
"Stubborn bitch. Go try on something cute and make me happy, mm?" Max winked and disappeared back into the stall.
Charlie sighed and hauled herself off the bench. "Fine, I'll look but I don't think I'll find anything."
"Good enough. Now go search!"
Charlie shook her head and wandered out of the changing room and into the store. She was almost positive she wouldn't find anything, she never found anything she liked at Macy's, but it could be rather relaxing to walk around the racks sometimes. Charlie tucked her hands into the pocket of her tank and wandered over to the junior boys section to look for T-shirts.
She mindlessly moved through the racks, fingering fabric and studying styles without really seeing any of them. Most were prints from TV shows she had never heard of but on occasion she could find something that was not only her size but had a good design and was on sale. Actually, Macy's had a crap selection, she realized as she found herself standing before another rack full of Power Ranger print shirts. If she really wanted clothes that fit her style, she would go to Pac Sun or Zumiez. Hadn't her email alerted her of a shoe sale at Zumiez?
Charlie pulled out her cell phone and quickly typed a text for Max, telling her she was looking for shoes at Zumiez. Max texted back almost immediately. Ok I'll see you there in a bit ;)
Hands in her pockets again, Charlie left Macy's and entered the mall, not paying much attention to those around her as she walked the familiar path to Zumiez. It used to bother her that she knew the way so well to every store she liked because that meant she spent way too much time at the mall but after awhile she became used to it and no longer cared. The mall wasn't so bad. A little noisy and overly capitalistic but the cookies were good.
Charlie slipped into the familiar store and headed straight to the wall covered in Chucks, immediately bending to examine the sale items on the bottom. There were no other customers that she had noticed and the two girls working in the back were chatting amiably on the couch, playing some Xbox game.
"What's the time?"
"We still have five minutes before he gets back."
"Ugh, I wish he'd leave and we had our old manager. He was so cool."
Charlie felt the corner of her mouth quirk in a smile. She could sympathize with having a boss who was a bit of a bastard.
"He wasn't just cool, he was awesome! If he asked us to put stuff out on the racks I didn't even care, but if this new guy tells us to I want to strangle him with a hanger."
"It helped that he was hot."
"Hell yeah he was. But isn't he older than us by a lot?"
"Nat? I think he was twenty-two or something."
Charlie paused in her browsing and blinked. Had they just said Nat?
"That's four years difference, not bad."
"True, and Nat never made us feel stupid for being in high school like this asshole does."
Charlie rocked back on her heels so she could see the two girls. "Are you guys talking about Nat Bowen, by any chance?"
Both girls looked around the television to stare at her. "Yeah, you know him?"
"A little." Charlie straightened and winced when her knees popped. "So he used to work here?"
One of the girls, a blonde with smoky eyes and ruby lips, laughed. "Yeah, he worked here for a long time as a manager. He quit like six months ago."
The other girl, wearing far too much makeup in Charlie's opinion, grinned. "He was fucking awesome. He'd walk around wearing one of the hats all day for no reason and sometimes would play SSX with customers."
"He kinda sucked at it," the first girl added.
Somehow that seemed accurate yet funny and Charlie found herself laughing. "That sounds like him. Well, that explains why he looks like the poster boy for this store."
"Yeah, I think he bought most of the stuff here with the discount. Said something about stockpiling or something like that. It helped sell stuff though, a lot of customers would buy stuff after seeing him wear them."
This also did not surprise her and Charlie wondered if Nat had done that on purpose. When she thought about it she realized that he probably hadn't. He probably never noticed that customers paid attention to his clothes and attempted to copy his look, either. Or that his coworkers worshipped the ground he walked on.
"So how do you know Nat?"
Charlie shook herself from her thoughts and looked back at the girls, who were looking at her curiously. "We go to Stanton together," she said with a shrug.
"Can you tell him to visit sometime?" the blonde asked eagerly. "It's no fun without him around."
"Are these girls helping you?"
All three turned to look at a burly man wearing traditional skater gear and not entirely fitting the style walking toward them from the back. The two girls squeaked and dropped the controllers.
"Yeah." Charlie held up shoebox she had forgotten she had been holding. "We were talking shoes."
The man gave the girls a skeptical look but didn't question it, instead moving to stand behind the counter.
"I think I'm getting these," Charlie said to no one in particular. She almost sighed at the look the girls were giving her and added, "I'll tell him. Thanks."
The girls beamed and Charlie allowed a smile in return as she dropped the shoes on the counter and pulled out her wallet.
"I can't believe you, we go shopping and you end up getting a new pair of the exact same shoes you're wearing now."
Charlie looked down at the worn gray Chucks and frowned. "What's wrong with that?"
Max threw up her arms in exasperation and grabbed the mountain of bags from the trunk of her car. "You're hopeless. Now help me carry these things inside."
"Anything you want, your highness." Charlie grabbed the last of the bags and shut the trunk, following Max into the house.
"Good, now make me dinner."
"Go to hell."
"It's okay, I already made dinner," Sam said cheerfully from the kitchen.
Max immediately dropped her bags and dramatically flung her arms around Sam's shoulders. "Sam! Our little sister is completely hopeless with the most important part of being a woman! We had the whole mall to peruse and she only bought a pair of shoes, the exact same style that she's wearing now. Woe! Whatever can we do to change her ways?"
"Drama queen," Charlie grumbled as she dropped the bags and tugged her own bag out of the pile.
"So you got it out of her?" Sam asked.
Max looked smug. "Of course."
Charlie nearly dropped her bag and glared at her roommates, who grinned innocently back. "I hate you both."
"Our resident artist had her model for him and it was a little too intimate for little Charlie."
"I thought so," Sam said, ignoring Charlie's threatening gestures.
"It's not a big deal!" Charlie insisted, wanting to stomp her foot but resisting because it was childish.
"Umm, am I interrupting something?"
Charlie whirled around and nearly kicked herself when she saw Nat toeing off his sneakers at the door.
"Not really," Max said. "But can you show us the picture you drew of Charlie last night?"
Nat paused and looked at Charlie, who stood frozen and staring at him. "If Charlie says it's okay, sure."
Nat gave Max a strange look, as though the answer should be obvious. "Sometimes people don't like other people seeing their portraits."
"Is it okay, Charlie?"
Charlie's hands tightened into fists and she sighed. "Sure, whatever." She plopped down on the floor and pulled her new shoes out of the box, carefully pulling out the tissue paper and beginning to do up the laces, ignoring the others completely.
Max was nearly bouncing in excitement and Sam eagerly took the sketchbook when Nat fetched it from his room. Both women stared at the picture and Charlie stubbornly kept her gaze on the sneakers.
"She hasn't seen it?" Sam asked quietly, finally looking up at Nat.
Nat shrugged. "She said she would see it later."
"Charlie, come see."
Nat shifted his weight from foot to foot when Charlie looked up and she wondered if he was nervous again. It was the same thing he had done last night before asking her to pose for him. For once Max looked completely serious as she nodded and Charlie grudgingly got to her feet and was surprised when instead of allowing her room, Sam passed the sketchbook to her hands.
For a long moment Charlie wondered if this girl was really her until she recognized the pose. Most of the focus had been on her hands – that had been the reason he wanted to draw her, or at least that was what he had said – so a great deal of detail was put in to the shape of her fingers and the delicate chain that ran between them, pooling in her palm and spilling onto the floor. Her hair was left in short, brisk strokes that only caught the bare outline, shadowing her face. Nat had taken care in shaping her lips and eyes, the tilt of her head. Charlie hardly recognized herself. She looked relaxed, a bit intimidated – her eyes were too wide to show confidence – and with the shadows cast over her brow and cheeks, she looked…pretty. Not stunningly gorgeous like Max or a beautiful, gentle woman like Sam but... A much softer version of what she saw herself as being. The girl in the picture wasn't some boyish teenager or an icy bitch but a quiet and slightly vulnerable woman.
"Is that what I looked like?" she asked finally, her own voice sounding strangely distant as she stared at the paper.
"I draw what I see," Nat said hesitantly, shifting his weight again. "Is it okay?"
Charlie almost touched the drawing with her fingers but stopped for fear of ruining it. Pencil smudged rather easily, didn't it?
Sam touched her wrist and Charlie started. "Sorry," she said, offering a sheepish smile. "You're good, Nat. Really good."
Nat brightened and stopped fidgeting. "So it's okay?"
Charlie almost laughed at his eager expression but smirked instead, holding out the sketchbook for him to take. "It's more than okay, it's great."
Nat grinned back and she was reminded of the night before when she had agreed to let him draw her. "Cool." He took back the sketchbook and looked down at the drawing before flipping the book closed. "Cool."
AN: So, about that whole updating every Thursday or Friday thing? Yeah, I lied. I'm super busy with school, work and everything else so updates will be slow, but they'll keep coming. Promise.
Big thanks, again, to Zadien for providing inspiration, ideas and words of encouragement. This story wouldn't be here if it weren't for you, m'dear.