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The Gas Station
The gas station is located at an unremarkable corner, near an intersection. The intersection is normally not too crowded with either cars or people. The gas station itself is an odd teal color and has only four pumps to use. It has a little mart thing that all gas stations seem to have, where you go to the restroom, buy stuff, or pay for the pump. Me, I’m in that small mart as a cashier.
I worked there for six months when it happened. I can’t say it was a good six months. I was just bored most of the time. It feels like people rarely ever come in. The station sometimes feels deserted. I felt like I was tending some gas station in the middle of nowhere, though it was very much near society. I was actually tempted to leave finally. Sure, it paid. But the work was brutally boring. I could finish entire books while waiting for someone, anyone to pull a car in.
I had come to expect nothing out of my job. All I knew was that I got money for sitting around and doing nothing. Except there I didn’t have the TV and couch I had at home. I was miserable and bored. But I wanted money. Then I heard of another job available and decided if I got that job I would never even set foot in the gas station again.
My employer didn’t like it whenever I read a book or anything else to keep me entertained. One time, he threatened to fire me. So I was always just stuck leaning on the counter or tapping my fingers or staring into space, bored, for hours, looking forward to going home. I still don’t know how my employer could pay me.
I was just waiting at the cash register, bored as usual. I was tapping my fingers on the white counter and just staring out at the ordered flow of traffic going by, waiting for one to finally pull into this station and give me something to do. I looked around me and ended up staring at a piece of mud in the corner, still bored, for about a minute.
A car pulled in. The windows were tinted and it was the same ghastly color teal the gas station was. It was pretty clean and looked fine. It was futuristic.
The door opened slowly and out stepped a girl, probably nineteen like me. She was wearing white shorts, flip-flops, a green T-shirt, and a smile.
She started walking towards me. I was a bit nervous. I didn’t have a girlfriend and was looking for one. I’d scoured dating websites. Yes, I was nineteen and I used them. But, I just didn’t know how to meet girls. I mean, what do I do, go to a club? I didn’t and still don’t like getting drunk with my buddies.
She kept her sweet smile on as she walked over to me.
“So,” she said, “could you put twenty on number two?”
She slipped the twenty out of her pocket and delicately handed it to me. I tried to avoid touching her hand because I thought that’d make things awkward. I tried to flash her a smile, but it came off as an awkward half-smile that looked like an earnest, but bad, attempt at a smile.
She didn’t seem to care. She walked elegantly over to the red gas pump and began to fill up her teal car. I watched her, not sure what to do. She was cute, but I was unsure in myself—I’m not some European hunk.
She walked back towards me and into the small mart through the clear double doors.
“I’m just gonna look around for something to get, okay?”
Again, I flashed that half-smile. Why can’t I ever flash a good smile around people like her?
I tried to think of something to say. A simple Okay would have done, or even a slick pleasantry thing like, What would be the name of this beautiful young lady passing through here? But, I’m not that slick.
So I just said nothing to her, fidgeting in place, trying to avoid eye contact with her, and desperately thinking of something, anything, to say so she wouldn’t leave and walk out of my life for possibly forever. She was pretty, looked smart and comfortable with herself, and though I only hear her talk twice, I kind of liked her.
I finally managed to squeak out a hoarse and embarrassing, “Okay.”
I said okay so in such a low voice she didn’t even hear me, so she just continued to gaze around the mart like it was some amazing temple. She started to gracefully glide between the cramped aisles of toilet paper, bottled water, and other random things lit by the fluorescent bulbs above. She obviously didn’t need anything. Her feet pattered softly on the hard floor.
I was watching her out of the corner of my eye—I didn’t want her to notice me watching her. Then out of nowhere she said:
“Why are you so quiet? Cat got your tongue?”
I croaked back, “Well, I, I um…you know?”
She giggled for a second.
“By the way, my name is Emily. If you wanted to know. What’s yours?”
My mind was aflutter with thoughts but I managed to say somewhat calmly, “Matt.”
“Well, you’re a shy one, aren’t you?” she said.
I’m actually not terribly shy, I just get this way sometimes around certain people. Like her.
“Well, no I’m not. It’s just right now I am,” I said.
“Right now? Whatever. Well, it was nice to talking to you.”
“Yeah, you too,” I said.
She started to drift out the double doors and was walking out of my life. I felt guilty at myself for not seizing the moment. What’s that phrase again? Carpe diem. Yeah, I’ve never followed that.
I mean, if I’d only grow the courage to just do things, you know, just do something, things would be better. Not to think about it forever and ever, ponder it alone before I go to sleep and wonder what if and just do it. Why didn’t I ever just do it?
And then she went into her teal car. She sat down on the gray seat and she started turning on the ignition with her black key. I had to do something; I just had to take a chance.
I ran out of the shop. I managed to hit my thigh on something as I was running out. Thankfully, my pants didn’t tear or it would’ve been ridiculously embarrassing. I banged the double doors open and came up to her car and struck her tinted window.
She rolled it down and looked at me.
“You, umm, forgot you change, Emily.”
She smiled at me.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Well, I just—well I was wondering if maybe sometime you would like to, you know, maybe if you want, go to a movie?”
She said yes. I would go with her on Saturday.
When Saturday finally came I tried to act casual and relaxed, like we were friends who knew each other for a while and were just having fun at the movies. The movie was a stupid action movie called Forget Everything and was about some guy on a mission for revenge.
During the movie, I was dead silent. I just kept thinking over and over: I did it. I actually managed to do something. She was silent too, but more because of the movie than anything else.
We both were eating yellow, tasty, popcorn. But no, we didn't accidentally touch hands, look at each other oddly, and then kiss passionately. None of that. We both just watched the action movie, sitting down on dark red seats with our arms resting on the black armrests. I didn’t know what to say and I don’t know if she did, but she sure didn’t act like it.
After the movie, we went to an Italian restaurant called Vinny’s. I don’t remember what we ordered except for the hard crust bread and dark green olive oil. We talked plenty with each other, but I can’t remember of what. All I remember was that I liked her and she seemed to, well, like me.
She told me to stop at a park so we could walk together. The park was pretty small and out of place. It was only green trees and a dirt path. I’ve never been much of a romantic, so I didn’t pick up on the fact that a beautiful full moon was out when we were talking together. Sure, I like the idea of romance, Hollywood style, but I don’t believe in it. Still, we walked together and it was a pleasant and crisp night.
I dropped her off at her apartment at ten. She seemed content. We said our goodbyes, and I was off. I went home and relaxed on the couch for the rest of the night, eating strawberry yogurt while watching CSI on TV.
That was when I realized something. I didn’t have her number. That day in the teal gas station she told me her address and where to meet her at some time on Saturday, but I never asked for her number. I felt like a fool, like I’d been had. I felt like she was just playing with me, just flirting with me and in the process getting a nice Italian meal, an action movie, and a ride home.
I wasn’t sure what to do. How I'd meet her again I did not know. The next foggy morning I woke up feeling okay. Not happy, just okay. I wasn’t sure what I experienced yesterday. I’ve never believed in dating stereotypes, like don’t call the day after, don’t get too close and play hard to get, etc. It all seemed fake to me. But I liked something about her.
That day I went to Barnes & Noble and just read there for a while. I read all the usual magazines I read: Wired, Time, and more. There was nothing out to see, so I didn’t bother with trying a movie. I was at the bookstore from twelve to two. I wasn’t sure how to spend the rest of the foggy day. I mean, it was 2 PM, I was alone, and didn’t feel like sitting around at home.
I decided I should try Emily’s place. Maybe she’d be there. I thought it was better than staying home on the couch playing some videogames. When I finally arrived at her place after being lost for five minutes, I was as unsure as ever. I walked in up the brown stairs to her apartment, number four.
I heard some rustling behind the door. I heard a delicate body walking up to the off-white door and looking through the eyepiece thing. She opened the door slowly and looked at me serenely. She didn’t say anything. She grumbled something about how last night was nice and that she’d call me later, she was tired, love ya, bye. She closed the door and walked back to whatever she was doing.
She didn’t have my number either. There was an orange flier for some plumbing company outside her door. I picked it up and wrote on the back “You forgot to get my number,” and my cell number. I slipped it under the crack of her door. I knocked twice, hoping to get her attention. I didn’t hear movement this time.
I stayed at her door for about fifteen minutes. I knocked a few other times during those minutes, and again, she never got up.
I wondered if I had done anything wrong. All I wanted was someone to be with. I still wasn’t sure if I liked her or loved her. I probably only liked her, because I felt no pang of rejection or the urge to write poems comparing her to the midnight moon or anything like that.
I walked out of the small complex to my dark blue car to drive home. I played videogames for the rest of the day. She never called. I guess she didn’t like me or something. Or maybe I smudged the paper the wrong way or wrote down the wrong number. I don’t know. Whatever it was, I never saw her again, even when I went back to work at the gas station Monday.
I still don’t know if love was even there. I felt no heartbreak. All I felt was memories: the waft of the Italian restaurant, the darkness of the movie theatre and sudden hush among the crowd before Forget Everything started, the sound of her engine turning on right before I stopped her from leaving, the taste of popcorn, the coolness of the night in the park, the quietness of the apartment complex, the sound of her door closing softly.
I know I’ll never see her again. I left my job to work at a different gas station, where I actually do things.