Sophomore Mary Kate Sherwood is currently taking Professor Tammy Greenwood-Stewart’s Intermediate Fiction 103 class. Here is an excerpt from her her story “Price Check.”
“Shut up,” grunted Cathy, trying to push herself up onto the checkout counter. She kicked a carton of cigarettes out from under the register, stepped onto its flimsy cardboard, and clambered onto the red Formica surface, scraping her shins as she hoisted herself up. Rocky, startled, started laughing, allowing Cathy to snatch the cool, wet plastic of the soda bottle from his fingers.
“Got it!” she crowed victoriously. She unscrewed the cap, closed her eyes, and took a long pull of chemical-tasting bubbles, savoring the coldness against her dry throat.
“Cathy!” boomed a voice in the darkness. She choked on the soda and wrenched her eyes open to see Jeremiah standing feet away, staring up at her as she knelt on the counter.
Rocky backed away quickly, folding his hands innocently behind his back. Cathy fumbled with the soda bottle, coughing and trying to dismount from her perch.
“Jeremiah, I—” she said, and dropped the bottle. The slick plastic slid swiftly from her hands and exploded in a syrupy, carbonated mess at Jeremiah’s loafered feet.
Rocky yelped and took another generous step back. Jeremiah jumped back too, then glared up at Cathy, his chapped lips pursed in disgust. For a moment, he seemed speechless.
“This,” he said finally, “is unbelievable.” He picked up the gurgling soda bottle with his fingertips and slammed it down on the counter, next to Cathy’s knee. “First,” he said, “first, I see you ringing yourself up for store merchandise, which you know is against Drug-Mart rules, Cath. Then I turn around and you’re climbing on the counter like it’s a jungle gym! What are customers gonna think, Cathy? And now you go pouring soda all over the place—it’s gonna take forever to clean this up! And I just got these shoes!”
Cathy, bewildered, looked down at Jeremiah’s loafers. The right one did indeed still have a Payless size sticker on the side. She said, “I—I’m sorry, Jeremiah. The soda—it’s really hot in—”
“I don’t care how hot it is, Cathy!” bellowed Jeremiah. “You kids, all of you spoiled brat kids that come in here day after day—you and you and the stock guys and even Connie—all of you, you all walk in here and never once do you take this job seriously—”
“I don’t work here,” Rocky pointed out. Jeremiah threw his hands into the air.
“I am the general manager of this store,” he growled. “I’m here all day, every day, and you know what I do when I get home? I play in my band.”
He paused, smirking at Rocky and Cathy, clearly waiting for the impressiveness of this statement to sink in. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “My band. ‘Price Check.’” He looked at both of them, clearly hoping the name would ring a bell. Getting no reaction, he continued, “So not only do I have to open and close and run this godforsaken store, I gotta balance it with my band. My music. And every time one of you little punks reads a magazine on the job, or steals a bag of gummy worms, or spills soda, it just makes things harder for me. You kids got a lot to learn about being successful, both of you. Well, here’s your first lesson.”
He turned to Cathy. “You’re fired, Cathy. Go on, get out of here.”
Cathy felt suddenly cold; there was a stunned buzzing in her head, like an air-conditioner with a blown fuse. She knelt there mutely for a minute, and then Rocky leapt forward violently.
“Hey, you listen,” he barked at Jeremiah. “You listen to me for a second. Don’t you push her around like that! You can’t just fire her! She’s the best damn person you got at this place. You know why she’s working at your store all day, every day? Not because she loves freaking drug stores so much, and definitely not because of you, jackhole.”
The sheer volume of Rocky’s voice sparked something inside Cathy, igniting an energy that pulsed forcefully through her veins; she heard herself shout, “Yeah!” in answer to his words. Both men turned to look at her. Her face burned, but she felt her mind clouding over in a haze of heat and anger. She leapt to her feet atop the counter. Rocky and Jeremiah titled their heads back to look at her as she towered above them. She could see the whole store, its pristine aisles stretched out neatly before her like the grid of a city; tiny, scattered customers looked up at her in shock.
“I work eight hours a day at this pointless job so I can make some money,” she said. She could see only Jeremiah’s puckered, wrinkled face, could hear only Rocky’s impassioned voice. “So I can buy myself a car and get away from you, and this town, and this damn store!”
“Hell, yeah!” said Rocky, nodding. “She does everything you ask her to. I’ve seen it, I come in here all the time. You’re always yelling at her, man. And how do you thank her?”
“You fire me!” answered Cathy, shouting down into Jeremiah’s wide glassy eyes. “Well, guess what, Jeremiah? You can’t fire me. I quit.”
She pulled off her nametag and spiked it down at Jeremiah’s feet, loving the dramatic bounce it achieved as it hit the gray carpet, watching it splash down and stick in the soda.
Rocky grinned up at her and reached out his wide, tanned hand. Cathy felt her smile light up as well; she slapped her palm against Rocky’s and leapt down next to him.
“Oh, and Jeremiah?” she said, straightening up. “‘Price Check’ is really the stupidest band name ever.”
“See ya, man,” said Rocky, tugging gently on Cathy’s sweaty fingers. She turned away from Jeremiah, keeping her hand firmly in Rocky’s as they marched towards the exit. The doors flew open respectfully before them as they approached, and together, they crossed triumphantly onto the sprawling blacktop, the infinite freedom of the Drug-Mart parking lot.