“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Seth glanced at the clock on his desktop. The very nice, though rather garrulous, lady for whom he had patiently placed an order including 13 different items in different sizes and colors, paused, as if to think it over, and then declared, “Well, honey, I would love to keep going, but Raymond – that’s my husband, he thinks I shop too much – is probably going to have a fit over the ‘damage’ I’ve done already. I should stop before I get myself in real trouble.” She laughed. “But honey, I have to tell you, you’re a pleasant young man. Keep it up and you’ll go far. I’ve lived a long time. I know a good thing when I see it. Well, hear it, in this case.” She went on in this vein for some time – long enough for the warm glow of the ego-stroke to wear off and Seth’s eyes to roll ceiling-ward and then dart back to the clock on his desktop. OMG. Please stop talking! “Thank you, ma’am, he said politely. “Call again if you need anything else. You have a good evening.” He disconnected before she could say anything else. Finally. Peace. He gave himself a few seconds to sit quietly with his eyes closed breathing evenly and then logged out. Time for Friday night.
It was Jenna’s birthday. His circle of “peeps” was meeting at their weekend home away from home: the microbrewery that was far enough from campus that not a lot of other students made it a destination, but close enough that Lyft-ing home wasn’t too pocketbook-painful. He drove home considerably faster than the law permitted since Chatty Lady had kept him stuck at work longer than expected. Oliver and Dana were already in front of his building waiting.
Seth pulled into the narrow driveway between his and the neighboring apartment houses and left his car in the back-lot spot assigned to apartment #7. He was in such a hurry getting out he wacked his knee on the steering column and had to run limping (and cursing) to the front of the building.
Dana saw him first. “Run, Seth, run! The bus is here! The bus is here!” She clapped her hands in rhythm with the words. Oliver, meanwhile, kept his hands stuffed in the front pockets of his threadbare-at-the-knees jeans and declared the obvious. “Dude, you’re late.”
They did make the bus, though the doors had just closed when they got to it. Dana knocked and flashed her brilliant smile mouthing “Please!” at the bus driver. Apparently, he couldn’t resist the sight of her pearly whites, because he opened the door. Forty-three minutes and two transfers later, they alit near their destination on Third St. Having spent half the bus ride rubbing his knee, Seth wasn’t limping (or cursing) anymore. He considered it a good omen for the coming revel.
The evening passed pleasantly. Very pleasantly. Jenna was only a little depressed about getting so old (22) and forgot all about being depressed after a round of birthday beverages bestowed by the 13 well-wishers helping her celebrate the occasion. She loved the gift from Seth. It was a folding picture frame she could stand on her dresser. On one side, it showed a photo of her and Seth when they were four years old sitting together on the front steps of the house she grew up in. Seth had lived next door and his mom had taken the photo on one of the countless afternoons he and Jenna had spent playing together as children. The other side showed the two of them three months ago sitting on the same steps. In a fit of nostalgia, they had gone back to the old neighborhood over the summer to see their childhood homes and had snapped a selfie.
One a.m. came faster than Seth wanted. On the other hand, he was throwing darts rather badly and the alarm on this phone saved him from further embarrassment. Not that anyone else was in much better dart-throwing condition, but it was time to Lyft. He had to work tomorrow at 8:00. “Seven hours from now,” he thought. “Uuuggghhh.”
Order up Lyft. One last swig. Bear-hug Jenna hard. Head outside to wait. Oliver and Dana, teetering visibly, but reasonably upright, trotted out behind him.
There was noise. He wished it would stop. It was piercing and hurt his ears. And head. But it went on and on. He rolled over and opened one eye. Focus came slowly, and when it arrived, it did so with a biting adrenaline rush. The time was 7:45. He had 15 minutes to get to a job that was 20 minutes away with no traffic and he needed to take a shower, brush the fuzz out of his mouth and find something caffeinated to mainline.
He sat up and grabbed his phone looking for the little half red, half black stick figure that would save his job this remorseless morning. It was the logo for the app the company had given every agent who wanted it. Weirdly, not everyone did. Seth didn’t understand why. It made his life so much easier what with school and his always engrossing social life. He could take time off if he had to or work overtime if he spent too much on a weekend. Pretty sweet. It had saved his hind quarters before and it would, hopefully, save them again today.
He tapped on the app icon, and when it opened, pulled up the screen displaying the day’s schedule for the contact center. Blessedly, the eight o’clock hour showed the option to Trade with Agent. He quickly swiped the interval from 8:00 to 8:30, selected an agent named Levi he knew who was getting off work at 8:00, indicated that he would come in on Monday at 7:30, so Levi could leave early and sent the request off to Levi.
By the time he had finished his five-minute shower, Levi had accepted the exchange. Whew. Another magical save thanks to modern tech. Seth’s hind quarters would remain intact another day. A glance in the mirror told him he looked as rough as he felt. Nothing the Keurig couldn’t remedy, though. Been here, done this. Seven minutes later, he exited the building, large travel mug in hand.
Since it was early on Saturday, traffic was light, and with one minute to spare, he slid into his seat at the center and logged in. Levi thumped him on the head on the way out. “Hey, thanks, man. You rock. See you Monday.” Seth swiveled back to his station.
First call of the morning. “Hi, this is Seth. How can I help you?” The voice on the other end sounded surprised and ever so pleased. “Honey, is that you? Who would have believed I’d get you again? Wow! Isn’t this marvelous? – Raymond, I’ve got that nice young man on the phone again. Isn’t that something? – Well, honey, I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking I should have ordered that cardigan in the navy and not just in the maroon. Can you just add that to my order or do I have to start all over again this morning? I really hope you can just add it.” She prattled on. And on. And on.
Seth’s head flopped back on the seat. His eyes closed. His jaw went slack. No way, no how. Really?! He was cursed. He thought briefly about trading more hours with some other agent and getting out of there early. “Put your big-boy pants on, Sethie.” He heard Jenna’s voice mocking him for complaining. She always mocked him for complaining about stupid stuff. He smiled inwardly. No escaping Jenna. He sighed, but Chatty Lady didn’t seem to notice.
“Yes, ma’am,” Seth declared firmly and rather loudly to interrupt the steady stream of words flowing in his ear. “I can help you with that, but we’ll have to place a new order.”