Dear Diary, I’m getting more used to this ridiculous outfit and my job, although I try my best to avoid any mirrors. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I should change in and out of it in the ladies’ room at the shop instead of going to and from home looking like this. I’m sure people know where I work because they recognize this get up, but it doesn’t keep them from gawking.
The morning that convinced me to only wear this in the shop, I got annoyed by a woman who actually stopped in her tracks when she saw me walking down the sidewalk, her mouth gaping, her eyes wide with shock. As I passed by her, I muttered, “Better move your head, lady, your eyeballs are stuck!”
Anyway, back to what I was saying before… if there’s one cool thing about this place, it’s full of color! You should see peoples’ faces when they come in. I imagine they could be having the worst day ever, but everything changes when they let loose around the candy.
Also, working here isn’t without its benefits. For instance, I get to try all of the new candy flavors that my boss Nestor Groves creates.
Nestor isn’t too bad as a boss, usually. Momma always told us to look for the good things instead of focusing on what we don’t like. So, what I can say about him is, he loves this shop and what he does. He’s a bit persnickety and likes things just so which can be a hassle since I’m really not that way at all. For me, if it looks good, it’s good enough. But good ol’ Nestor sees things I don’t and is always moving candy jars centimeters this way and that until he has satisfied some invisible rule that only he understands.
Nestor and I have what I would call a strange relationship. Mostly, we bicker even though we don’t really mean what we say. I think it’s fun to be rude without the usual consequences and he can be pretty snarky.
The reason I’m writing today, Diary, is because this is the afternoon I met him. I don’t know exactly why I describe him with such emphasis except that I sense something about him is different.
He’s mysterious but a real gentleman with a slight accent that I can’t discern.
“May I help you?”
His smile was easy as he said, “Yes, I’m looking for Fairy Petals. My niece just had her tonsils out and I thought it would be a nice treat for her as she recovers since they’re her favorite.”
“Oh sure,” I said with a smile as I lead him to a specific counter. This was the only shop that sold Fairy Petals since they were made special by Nestor. They were one of our most popular items. “Were you looking for any flavor in particular?”
“Well, that I couldn’t tell you, I think she likes them all.”
“The purple ones are our top sellers, but perhaps a mixture?”
“That sounds good.” His smile made the tiny wrinkles around his eyes more prominent and I wondered how old he was. He had one of those faces that was hard to judge age by.
As I began to scoop the candy into a little cellophane bag, I asked, “How much would you like?”
“Go ahead and top that one off,” he instructed. “You’re new here, are you not?”
After I sealed the bag, I turned to face him. “Yes, I’m pretty new. I’ve worked here now for a couple months.”
“Ah, I see. A couple months – are you working here to pay for university? The Fall term just began.”
The thought of missing the Fall term made my heart sink, but I managed a tight smile anyway. “It’s true, yes. I’m working here to pay for school but to be honest, I failed the entrance exam.”
“I hope that means you aren’t giving up?”
“Oh no!” I said quickly. “My aunt is tutoring me and I hope to get into the winter term. I’m working really hard.”
Again, he smiled. “That’s very good. Your determination is impressive.”
My cheeks flushed crimson yet inside, I felt a sense of pride. He was right, I was determined and even in the situation I currently found myself, I wasn’t going to let a single thing stop me from getting what I wanted.
“Marty! Quit yacking with Dr. Sprague and see if he wants anything else!”
“All right, all right!” I snarked back at Nestor before turning once again to my customer… Dr. Sprague.
He chuckled a little under his breath and said, “Nestor is always the same.”
“You can say that again!”
“Tell me, in what field will you be concentrating your studies?”
“I’m not sure, actually. I want to do something really exciting with my life, though.”
He was just about to respond when Nestor butted in. “Marty, go in the backroom and bring out another box of Caramellows. They need to be restocked immediately.”
“Because there are so many customers banging down our door right now for them,” I said before doing as he instructed.
When I came back out, Dr. Sprague was gone.
And Nestor wasn’t done with me. “From now on, just concentrate on serving the customers. They don’t need to hear your whole life story.”
“I was just answering his questions.”
“And boring him half to death, I’m sure. If you hadn’t talked so much about yourself, he might’ve bought something else besides one bag of Fairy Petals. You’re supposed to be pushing the special.”
“So if someone asks me about myself, I’m supposed to tell them I’m not allowed to say? That’s really dumb, Nestor. And rude, too.”
“I just think you can be more efficient. You waste a lot of time.”
“We’re not exactly being overrun today!”
“If you don’t shape up, I’m going to fire you.”
“Don’t hold your breath! You can take this job and shove it!”
Don’t worry, I didn’t quit my job. Not yet, anyway. I said that to Nestor Groves at least three times every shift I worked. The truth was, he knew he was unpleasant to work with and so, I was the only employee he had. Because no one else would work for him, he was practically chained to that place.
As I left the shop for the day, my spirits were up pretty high despite my squabble with Nestor. I had tomorrow off which meant I could get in some extra studying. Especially now that Gloria’s school year had begun. It was Fall now, but the temperature hadn’t really gone down all that much yet and personally, I couldn’t wait for the Autumn weather because I’d never fully experienced it before.
There I was, caught up in my own thoughts when I heard a familiar voice say, “Hi – Marty, isn’t it?”
“Dr. Sprague!” I grinned. “How did you recognize me?”
“I always remember faces. Done for the day?”
“Yes, are you?”
He nodded. “I teach some science classes at Longview University.”
His eyes lit up as if he’d thought of a great idea. “Would you like to sit in on one of my lectures? I think you might like the topics.”
Was he being serious? “Oh my goodness, would I ever like that! Do you mean it?”
“Of course. You are more than welcome. Tell you what, I was just on my way to get a bite to eat. Would you join me? I can give you the class schedule and explain a little bit more about the class.”
I froze, my heart pounding against my chest. First of all, I didn’t really feel as if I was dressed for dinner. Secondly, was this a date? Or … what was this?
As if reading my mind, he quickly added, “I apologize. I forget myself sometimes. I realize we have only just met and I might seem a bit forward. The dinner I’m offering is just a gesture of friendship and to explain about the lecture you would be sitting in on. That is all.”
Normally, this would make me feel funny inside as if I was being tricked or something. But there was something so kind and unassuming about him, so I decided to take a chance.
“All right, but shouldn’t I go home and change or something?”
Laughing, he said, “No, no. You’re just fine the way you are. Speaking of your outfit, where on earth did you find an Accidental Therapy shirt?”
“Oh! Do you know about them?”
“Who doesn’t? They were a great band. When they broke up, everyone thought the world was ending. Did you find this in a thrift store? It’s in really good shape.”
“No, I happened to get it straight from the source.”
Dr. Sprague’s eyebrow went up. “How could that be? You’re much too young to have ever seen them in concert.”
Laughing, I finally told him. “This was my mom’s shirt. I found it in the back of one of her childhood dressers just last summer. She was never a fan of the band, I’m afraid, so when her dad gave it to her, she never wore it.” He still looked confused. “My mother is Blue Capra and my grandfather is Leo Capra.”
“Oh… wow! I’m… I’m completely gobsmacked!” he stuttered. “I can see we have much more to talk about than I thought!”
“Well, I’m starving,” I unceremoniously said. “Where are we headed to?”
Guiding me with his arm, we began to cross the street. “It’s just a few blocks over.”
To my delight, he took me to a pizza parlor and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Before he ordered, I quickly mentioned that I was a vegetarian so he ordered a mushroom pizza with extra cheese and two beers. I’ve never had a beer before and enjoyed the bubbly foam of the amber liquid. The chilled glass stung the tips of my fingers and as I drew it to my lips to take a sip, I couldn’t help but scrunch up my nose. It smelled…. rotten as if it had spoiled.
“I don’t mean to complain, Dr. Sprague, but is it supposed to smell like that?”
He put his glass down so quickly, the golden brew sloshed over the lip of the glass and onto the table. It took me a moment to realize this had occurred because he was trying so hard not to laugh. “I apologize,” he said toward the end of a chuckle. “I’m not making fun of you, honest. You know, this stuff does smell pretty awful.”
With that, he ordered two cokes and by then the pizza had arrived. I was on my fifth piece before I noticed he was only on his second and he was watching me with what I could only suppose was humor in his eyes.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No, Marty, you are perfect. Do you know why?”
It wouldn’t help me to think on it since I had no idea, so I shook my head.
“Because since I met you, everything I’ve seen you do is approached with such confidence and gusto. You love life and it shows.”
Dabbing at the corners of my mouth with my napkin, I thought about this for a moment. “I reckon I’m that way because life, where I’m from, was so… isolated and slow. Some might call it boring, but I wouldn’t. I always had fun.”
It was then I told him about my larger than life family and how my mother had come to end up in Winchester of all places. He seemed amazed and listened with an intensity I found very pleasing.
When I’d filled him in on everything (my life so far could be summed up in fifteen minutes, I found out!), he leaned back in his chair with a thoughtful look in his grey eyes.
“Are you all right, Dr. Sprague? Did I go on too much?”
“Oh, no. I was just thinking about what it must be like for you to be in Longview after where you were before. And, please, call me Xalen.”
Xalen Sprague. I mean, Dr. Xalen Sprague then told me a little about himself and I found myself listening intensely now because his life was that interesting. He grew up traveling all over the world with his archaeologist parents. As a child, his parents taught him a lot about ancient cultures and languages. When he grew older, he became interested in the Neptune Foundation which, he said, was a charitable institution that acquires antiquities and relics.
At present, his mother was dead, but his father still worked at the Neptune Foundation in Alpine County. Xalen told me his doctorate was in biological anthropology and I made a mental note to find out exactly what that meant because I had no idea.
What interested me the most was the fact that he got to traverse all over the world and I told him this which seemed to please him.
“I highly recommend that you attend my class and see if the material interests you. Perhaps you have a future in archaeology.”
A future in archaeology? I asked myself for the hundredth time as I plopped down in a chair at home. Of course, I knew what archaeology was, but only vaguely, so I would have to read about this.
“Marty, you look a million miles away,” Aunt Ruby commented as she came in and sat in the other chair.
And so, I told her everything I could remember about my strange day and meeting Xalen.
“He just dropped me off,” I finished. “Do you think it’s a good idea to see what his class is about?”
“I don’t think it would hurt. It would get you on campus and seeing a lecture will give you an idea of what your classes will be like when you attend there. I’ve seen Dr. Sprague speak and I must admit, I wish I could sit in on the lecture, too.”
“Do you think maybe I’d be good in archaeology?”
Ruby let out a laugh before she answered.
“Honey, if you approach this with as much enthusiasm as you approach everything else, you’ll be able to do anything you want.” Then her eyes darkened a little. “But, don’t let yourself get sidetracked.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re really young and there is so much to life you don’t even know about yet. I would hate to see you put your dreams on hold because of someone else.”
“You mean a guy.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that just yet. Guys are too complicated and I have enough going on right now.”
“Well, now, that’s good to hear.”
Honestly, though, I don’t know what she was really afraid of. I hadn’t heard from Theo yet after sending my last letter. If he wasn’t interested in me, why would anyone else be?
Pushing thoughts of Theo aside, I went next door to pick up Gloria. I have no idea why she hangs out with the Abernathys so much, but there you have it.
When I came inside, Mr. Abernathy was watching TV and Gloria came bounding in from the other room, yelling hello.
“Hello, Mr. Abernathy,” I called. When he didn’t answer, I raised my voice and tried again, but I guess he couldn’t hear me.
“Oh, pay him no mind,” Mrs. Abernathy said as she came in. She looked as irritated as ever.
“Well, we’d better get going. What do you say, Gloria?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Abernathy! I had a nice time!”
Before I could make my great escape, the fiery orange haired beast shouted, “Oh, Marty, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for weeks! Listen, you’re in luck because there is an opening at my salon tomorrow and Gloria already told me you have the day off! Isn’t that great?”
Gloria shrunk a little as I shot her a menacing glare. “Mrs. Abernathy, that’s very nice of you but I have a lot of studying to do. Thank you anyway, though.”
“Well, I’m afraid it’s all set up, so you’ll just have to study some other time. I was thinking a perm for you since your hair is so incredibly straight and stringy. It will look marvelous! Have you ever thought about being a redhead?”
I’m afraid that’s all it took for my temper to take hold of me. Looking back, I’m ashamed, but I’m also hoping she’ll leave me alone, too.
“You know what? I’ve tried to be nice about this, but you just won’t let me! First of all, how dare you tell me about my own hair when you have a blazing fire on your own head that looks ridiculous! I wouldn’t let your hairdresser touch me with a ten-foot pole!”
Gloria gasped then grabbed my hand, pulling me out the door and onto the sidewalk, shouting over her shoulder, “Isn’t she funny? Well, we have to go now!”
“I sure hope she doesn’t complain to mom about what you said!”
“I don’t even care!” I declared. “She had it coming!”
Diary, remind me, if I ever want kids, that I should never be left in charge of children since I’m the worst role model ever.