This is the first chapter of the novel Petty. If you'd like to read the whole thing or just support the author, you can buy it on Amazon in paperback for $11.99 or an e-book for $2.99.
New chapters will be posted every Sunday - click the "PETTY" tag below to see previous chapters.
Almost everyone who works at Wonderments comes from out of state to do it. There's a big push by the company to get students from all over – even overseas. The sheer number of long distance employees is why they have employee housing on site. Even more than I noticed on the first day, my dorm is a genuine shithole. The paint is peeling off the walls, the floorboards are warped and uneven, the handrails on the stairs jiggle when you grab them. Most of the room door handles are tarnished brass, but the one to my room is made of glass. I'm not sure if I should take it as a bad omen or a good one. Mostly, I just take it as a sign that shit breaks on a regular basis around here, and no one cares enough to keep things looking nice.
Last night, I forgot my toothpaste in the public bathroom before I went to sleep. When I woke up I discovered some jackass had taken the toothpaste tube, put it on the floor in the hallway, and stomped it, exploding the toothpaste all over the wall. That's the kind of respect people have for this place. It was filthy when I moved in; I can only imagine what it's going to look like at the end of the summer.
I've had two roommates come and go in the last week and a half. One stayed for two nights and proclaimed he was going to look for housing outside the park – I still see him around occasionally. The other one came in, unpacked all his stuff, stayed one night, woke up the next morning, packed all his stuff, and left. I haven't seen him since.
The Wonderments housing department must be determined to use all their space efficiently, though, because I'm lying in bed at 10 a.m. (the quietest time of day, because everyone is either at work already or sleeping off a hangover) when there's a knock on the door. It opens before I can get out of bed, and a kid steps into the room with a suitcase, a duffel bag, and a cowboy hat.
“Oh. Woah. Sorry dude. I didn't think anyone was in here. Do you want me to come back later or something?”
I'm wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. He's wearing a look of surprise most people would reserve for catching someone naked with a leather ball gag and a farm animal.
“No, it's fine.” I sit up.
“I'm Cory, from Texas,” he says. He extends his hand and I shake it.
He's young – pretty much no way he's over twenty-one – and when he smiles I can see he still has braces. I look him up and down a little bit. It's not just the ridiculous hat. He's got a heavy pair of dark blue jeans and a black belt with a giant belt buckle featuring what I think is the Texas state flag. His brown cowboy boots still look new. Really new. I want to ask him if today is the first day he's ever worn them. Even if I only wore them for a day, I wouldn't be able to keep them that clean. I'm waiting for him to tell me he's a character actor for the summer and that he's actually from New York. He doesn't.
I can picture him with a piece of straw in his mouth, spurs on his boots, and a holster on his hip with a shiny old-timey gun in it. Maybe he's looking forward to getting that stuff soon, and he's just waiting for Christmas or his birthday.
“Okay Cory, welcome to the party. This place is where the magic happens.”
He looks disappointed. “Well, good enough. We'll go make our own magic if we have to. Do you want the top bunk or the bottom bunk?”
The bottom bunk has my pillow, blanket, and book on it. He just saw me get out of it not two minutes ago. “You can have the top,” I say.
“Cool. Works for me.” Cory ignores the ladder and vaults himself up to the top bunk, sitting so his feet are hanging over the side of the bed. He kicks his shoes off where they fall to the center of the floor with a loud thump. His suitcase and bag are already there, not put anywhere in particular, just dropped at random when he felt like not carrying them anymore. “I'm so glad to be here,” he says. “It's an awful long bus ride from Mansfield. I'm beat.”
“Do you have orientation today? I had orientation the first day I was here. It started at 8 a.m. I didn't get shown my room until the end of the day.”
“Maybe. I don't know. I don't think anyone said anything like that. I'll figure it out later I think.” He then swings his feet up to the bed, crosses his legs at his ankles, lies back, pops his cowboy hat over his eyes, and puts his hands behind his head. If he had a piece of straw in his mouth he'd look like a cowboy right out of a cartoon.
I have the suspicion Cory is going to be with me for the rest of the summer. I resolve to spend even more time outside the room than I otherwise would have.
* * *
I've been taking a hundred bucks a night out of my register, and no one here suspects anything. It's because I don't steal from Wonderments. If I did, I'm sure I'd be caught already. You don't become a multimillion dollar enterprise letting money fall through the cracks.
“Here's your change, enjoy your day!”
The kid I'm helping scoops up her handful of overpriced chocolate and runs off, money and candy clutched in one hand. Next is a high school kid buying matching sweatshirts for himself and his girlfriend. He hands me $80 and I ring him up with a big smile on my face.
“Here's your change. You guys enjoy your day.”
Next is an old man who buys a baseball cap and a few lottery tickets. I can tell right away that he's not to be fucked with. He hands me $30 and I make sure he gets all his change. Sure enough, he looks at the register total, looks at me, looks at the money in his hand, and looks at the register total again, counting every dime. Satisfied, he puts on the cap and shuffles out of the store.
The kid here now has to reach up just to put the sucker he picked out on the counter. Where his parents are is anyone's guess. It shocks me how many parents just let their kids run around here all day unsupervised. I've heard that helping lost kids find their parents is a full time position for some of the security guys. He puts a twenty dollar bill up next to it and I ring him up. I could short him ten bucks if I wanted to.
“Here you go kid. Enjoy your day.”
An amusement park is the perfect place to short people change. It's one of the last places in America where people still use cash more often than they rely on debit and credit cards.
The line of customers thins out for a bit and the girl working the register in the other corner of the store comes over to me. “Enjoy your day, enjoy your day,” she mocks, using an absurd, nasally voice. “How can you be so fucking chipper all day?” She uses the word “fucking” like it's a guilty pleasure.
She looks perfect, or at least the version of herself she believes is perfect. Long, dark hair, thick, straight, and shiny. I've never met anyone with hair that long that manages to have no split ends or straggling hairs. I wonder how she pulls it off. She wears too much makeup in every respect – eyeliner a bit too dark, lashes a bit too thick, lips a bit too red, skin just a bit too pale. I have the strong urge to turn a garden hose on her and fuck it all up.
“You don't want people to enjoy their day?” I ask her. She doesn't notice, but I'm using a pen to make a series of hash marks on a piece of paper near my register to remind me of the total, for later. $35.50. I've haven't forgotten a total yet, but it never hurts to be safe.
“I've worked retail more than once, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone as happy to be working customer service as you are. You're just so... chipper.” It seems like she knew she was using the word twice, tried to come up with a synonym, and failed. It annoys me, but I ignore it. I do get sad, or angry, or depressed, but generally I don't show it because showing it isn't useful.
“Look. This job sucks.” I'm lying. This job is awesome. “But we've got to get through it one way or another, and being miserable about it doesn't help.”
A customer comes up – a twenty-something girl with a friend – and buys a small plastic battery-operated fan. It's guaranteed to break in an hour or less. I give the girl her correct change. My cute coworker is pretty unlikely to notice any shenanigans, but it's not worth getting caught over a dime.
“Enjoy your day,” she says to them with a big, exaggerated smile. I can't tell if she's taking my advice or mocking me.
“What's your name, anyway?” I ask. As soon as I ask I feel dumb, since she's wearing a name tag – we all are. She holds up the name tag, clipped to her thick and baggy Wonderments work uniform.
“Nicole,” she says.
“So... Nikki? Nic?”
“Nicole,” she says again. “Not Nikki. I hate the name Nikki. I told you my name is Nicole because it's Nicole.”
“Okay, okay,” I hold my hands up defensively. “Nice to meet you, Nicole Not Nikki.”
She rolls her eyes at me and sighs audibly. It's starting to get busy again, so she turns with a flourish and returns to her register. She looks just as amazing from the back, and it fogs my brain.