Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty-eight years, and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon.
For thirty-eight years Frank had unlocked the sliding doors every Monday morning at 7 a.m. For thirty-eight years Frank had seen employees come, had watched them grow, and applauded as they moved on to bigger and better things. For thirty-eight years Frank had called his little red brick store, tucked away between the state liquor outlet and the nail salon, home.
Frank turned right into the Shop & Save’s parking lot and let the engine hum for a moment. With his left hand Frank sipped his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and shook Sara awake with his right.
“Hey,” Frank whispered. “Rise and shine.”
Sara woke with a start and looked around the cab. Her blonde hair spilled out of her hoodie as she pulled it back, dazed. “I’m up. I’m up.” Sara said, yawning. Her arms shot out in a stretch and nearly knocked Franks coffee.
“Easy, killer.” Frank said, killing the engine. The old pickup ticked away in the cold November air as Frank and Sara stepped out. Leaves blew against Frank’s boots as he stretched, smiling to himself, glad that it wasn’t snow. The New England winters were getting harder and harder for Frank, not that he felt the cold. He was sure every year that his pickup wouldn’t make it through another cold spell, but she did… somehow. Still, he thought, this year might be it.
Sara followed Frank to the sliding door, arms crossed over her chest to fend off the nip in the air. “Getting there, Frank. Betcha we’ll see a couple of snowflakes next week.” Sara said, watching the cloud escape her mouth. “Oh, and thanks for the ride.”
Frank shrugged and unlocked the Shop & Save’s doors. “Don’t mention it Sara. I’ll have my buddy Brian look at it. From what you were telling me it sounds like a wheel bearing.” They stopped next the light switches. Frank flicked them on all at once and smiled. “He’ll have your car right as rain, and he won’t charge you out the ear for it.”
Sara smiled and yawned. “Thanks Frank.” She reached in her bag and pulled out her red work vest. “I’m gonna go get my drawer.”
Frank nodded. He was technically supposed to be present to get retrieve drawers, but after four years of tireless work, Sara had earned his trust. She was an honest kind of person. Not always the most organized, but honest.
After sorting out his office, Frank paced around the produce section. There was another hour until the store opened and Frank liked to linger near the front to greet the employees, his employees. The first in was Todd, then Sally, Anthony, Bradley, Stephen, Jessica, and finally his new hire Addison. Each greeted Frank warmly, save Addison. The teen was still shy, but that would change with time, Frank knew.
Little through lunchtime required Frank’s attention, so he spent most of his time working on inventory, and showing Addison this in’s and out’s of back end work. Stocking, rotating, the price gun. The two were in the middle of rotating apples when the PA sounded.
Frank to Register 3. Frank to Register 3, please.
Frank turned on his knee and reached out a hand to Addison. “A hand, wouldya?” The teenager reached and gradually lifted the 62 year old from the floor. “Thanks.” Frank used his work vest to wipe away the dirt on his hands. He waved Addison on. “Follow me, eh? How about a lesson in dealing with people?” He chuckled softly and Addison smirked nervously.
Register 3 was the only drawer with no line. The woman standing in front of Sara had her arms crossed and huge blonde hair that would make Dolly Parton jealous. Frank snuck past two carts in the next line over to Sara’s side. “Hello ma’am,” Frank offered, smiling. “How can I help you today?”
The woman huffed. “Your cashier here,” she said, waving a manicured hand, “won’t take my coupons. It took me two hours to cut them yesterday and this, this girl won’t accept them.”
Sara handed Frank a stack of clippings and he shuffled through them, frowning. “First off Ms. er…”
“First off Ms. Wasilla, Sara here is my most qualified cashier and I hope you aren’t insinuating that she can’t do her job because of her gender.” He looked up and smirked. Ms. Wasilla’s face turned from indignation to embarrassment.
“I would never.”
“–And second of all Ms. Wasilla, these coupons are for Stop & Shop. This is Shop & Save; We mistaken for them all the time. That being said, I don’t think I’ve seen you around this store before, so I’m going to honor these coupons and give you the benefit of the doubt.” Frank stuck out a hand. Ms. Wasilla took it and shook. “I’m Frank Rooney, the manager, and I’d like to see you back.” He smiled and nodded at Sara to continue the transaction.
“Addison,” Frank said, turning to the teen at the end of the belt, “can you go ahead and bag Ms. Wasilla’s groceries for her?”
After Ms. Wasilla paid and Addison had bagged her groceries, Frank took two bags in each arm and offered to carry them out. She blushed and said that would be just fine. The two walked together to the parking lot, occasionally slowing as Ms. Wasilla wanted to walk next to instead of in front of Frank, leaving him guessing the direction. They eventually stopped behind a large white SUV and she fobbed the trunk open.
“Just anywhere is good.” Ms. Wasilla giggled. “And thank you so much Frank. Tell er, what was that cashier’s name again?”
“Tell Sara that I appologize for my behavior. Sometimes I just get so carried away. And, this week especially has got me all wound up.”
“Oh call me Miriam.”
“Miriam,” Frank said. “Say no more. I’ll tell Sara what you said, and you don’t have to worry about it. We all have those weeks sometime.” Frank put the last of the bags snuggly in the trunk and closed it. He stood and wiped his hands on his vest. “I hope you have a lovely rest of the week Ms. Wasilla, and I hope to see you again soon.”
“And I you.” She said, smiling.
Miriam walked around to her door and climbed into the SUV. Frank turned back to his store to see Sara and Addison grinning in the window. Back inside from the cold, Sara began to rib him.
“New lady friend Frank?” Sara asked. Addison chuckled.
“No. Nothing like that. Just making friends.” Frank said.
“Uh-huh.” Sara said arching an eyebrow, as she walked back to her register.
The rest of the day was uneventful. One jar of tomato sauce fell from the shelves; Frank cleaned it himself. Frank looked at his watch after storing the mop. Closing time already? He thought.
Frank approached Sara and Todd lingering by the automatic doors. “Sara do you need a ride home?”
She re-shouldered her bag. “No. But thank you Frank. Todd’s going to drive me home. He just lives a mile down the road from me in the Evergreen Apartments.”
Frank smiled and looked at Todd. “Well that’s very kind of you, Todd. Thank you.” Frank waved as he turned. “You two drive safe. And have a good night.”
“You too,” they both called out.
When he returned a minute later, both had left. The store was empty, save for himself. He looked at his watch. 7:08. Just in time to get home and watch catch an episode of Law and Order, he thought. Frank headed to the frozen section and grabbed a Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese dinner from the darkened cooler.
The drive home for Frank was quite. He hardly listened to the radio these days– preferring to gather his thoughts, while his body took over the mechanics. Tonight, his thoughts revolved around Ms. Wasilla and that big hairdo. He half hoped he would see her again, but what would he say? The thought gave him the jitters.
After running a few scenarios in his head, Frank pulled into his driveway. His two bedroom house stood quiet. Frank keyed in, took his boots off, and headed straight to the microwave with his dinner. A few beeps later, Frank headed back into the living room, where he found his old phone book. He gave the cover a blow and opened the whitepages to “W”.
“Wasilla. Wasilla.” He said fingering the page. “Wasik. No. Wasilky. No.” Frank scanned the page over again. Still nothing. He sighed and closed the phonebook softly and tossed it to the coffee table. Frank rose to a ding from the kitchen. He pulled his tray from the microwave and ate at the counter– hardly breathing as he went. Ten bites later, the tray was clean and Frank felt the day creep up on him, weighing his limbs down until he collapsed into his living room chair.
A ring from his telephone woke him some time later. He waited for the tone to pick it up– half hoping, maybe irrationally, that it’d be Miriam.
“Hey Frank, it’s Sara. Just wondering if you could give me another ride in tomorrow. I called your guy, Brian, but he’s not free ‘till Friday. Just call me in the morning to let me know if you can or not. Have a good night.”
At the click, Frank settled again into his armchair. He resigned to get up an extra 20 minutes early again. Sara needed him, so he would be there. Then the thought hit him: another week would make it thirty-nine years even. He chuckled sadly and closed his eyes.
Prompt: Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty-eight years, and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon.