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Diamond Dreams (Part 1)
Clark's was the kind of grocery store that was big, retail, and a place where you could run into your neighbor, swim instructor, and someone from school, all without passing 3 aisles from walking in the automatic doors. The hours there were crazy, but the pay was good and, altogether, Clark's made for a decent summer job. In my green smock and black pants, with my hair in a high pony, I stood behind my register, browsing through the newest issue of Vogue. Or, should I say, browsing through the ads in the newest issue of Vogue. It was a slower-than-usual Sunday afternoon and everyone making a stop before returning home from church had long since come and gone.
I was starting to get lazy as I turned through the color-filled assortment of ads for brands like Gucci and Marc Jacobs. Just as I turned to an actual article, a guy wearing sun glasses, a pair of Levi's, and a Green Day T-shirt walked up to the register with a bag of chips. He cleared his throat.
"Oh, hello," I said, reaching for the chips with one hand and shoving the magazine under the register with the other. "That would be $2.99," I tried to stifle a yawn.
"Am I boring you?" he asked, smirking in a slightly amused way.
"Oh, no, I'm just really tired. I work 9-3 and 6-7 today." I saw his eyebrows quirk up. He was probably thinking I was one of those girls who work 3 jobs to support her family.
"Two shifts, huh?" I knew it.
"We have to work a certain amount of hours a week and my friends and I are going to the beach on Friday. It's just one hour. I have nothing to do tonight anyway." I could tell that interested him. Guys like it when girls get defensive.
In this short conversation, he had forgotten the chips and only now realized me holding them out to him. He slipped me a five, telling me to keep the change, and walked out, excusing himself with a silent nod in my direction. I shook my head as soon as he was out of sight and resumed leafing through my magazine.
Guys like that liked girls who played hard to get. I knew the type. My brother was one, my ex-boyfriend was one, and I was, incidentally, a hard-to-get girl. Barely ever showing emotions was a talent I took pride in. I turned the page from the article, finding an interview with Penelope Cruz boring, only to find a cologne sample with a face that looked familiar. I closely examined the face that seemed fresh in my mind. It was him. The guy that had bought the chips. So he was a model. Didn't seem very much like the type. I put down the magazine, pondering over the mysterious model.
Another customer stepped up to the register with a cart full of items. She seemed like the typical desperate single mom. Her kids were with her and they seemed the mature type, but not in a natural way. Their behavior suggested that they had matured because they didn't have a choice. It was my 6-7 shift that Sunday night and I had been working for half an hour already. That meant 30 minutes left to go. As I scanned the countless items containing the probable OJ, bread, pasta, etc., I examined the lady. She was short, but wearing really tall, brown heels. There were sunglasses perched on top of her head and her hair looked like it was colored semi-weekly. She had on a pair of snug fit, True Religion jeans and a black cami under a beige crochet sweater that had been made with gigantic needles based on the size of the stitches.
"You're total is $72.33," I said.
She had an annoyed expression on her face as she swiped her credit card. Her kids talked quietly among themselves by the cart.
"Thank you, Ms. Steele, have a nice night," I said, glancing at the clock and finding it to be 6:45. I sighed. My shift was almost over.
Another customer with highlights you could tell had been highlighted (yes, it was that bad) walked up to the register with a bouquet of pink flowers, a Visa gift card, and a purple card you knew had to be for someone's grandmother. Some of her hair was stuck to her lip gloss and her smoky eye shadow was slightly too-smudged around her blue eyes. She had on a blue flowery tank with ruffled straps, a pair of denim shorts, and a brown messenger bag hanging off of her shoulder.
"That'll be $54.82," I said, glancing again at the clock. 6:50. She handed me the exact cash, I gave her the receipt, and she smiled and walked away.
The next customer I knew well. She was a Sunday night regular. She was an older lady named Betty Parker who lived with her cat in a little picture-perfect cottage.
"Why, hello, Ms. Betty," I said, flashing a smile.
"Hello, Claire, how are you today?" she returned my smile with one of her own.
"Well, I get off in 8 minutes, so I'm happy you're here with your weekly groceries. Now I can just scan these and go home," I said with a wink.
"Then how are you going to share your gifted helping abilities with other customers around here who will be stuck standing in front of some sleeper's register?" Betty called my job my "gifted helping abilities" and all the other checkers "sleepers" because she says every time she goes to another register the checker looks like they're about to fall asleep. I don't comment because I know her lingo entertains her.
Five minutes of checking Betty's massive inventory of groceries (for an old lady and her cat, anyway) later, I give Betty her total.
"$104.67 is your total, Ms. Betty. Definitely lower than last week, I might add."
She pulled out her American Express card and slipped me a $20, as was our ritual.
"Thank you! And guess what I bought with the one from last week?" That was another ritual; she would guess what I bought with the money she gave me last week while I rang her up.
"Hmm... was it a new top?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
"Betty, you are too good! I brought it to show you. See?" I pulled out a sparkly tee that I knew she would love.
"Oh my gosh, I love it! That must look so cute on you!" she beamed. She was a widow who had a big fortune which she enjoyed sharing with me. She had no family, to her I was family.
"Yes, it does look good on me. Have a nice night, Betty, my shift is over!" I handed her the AmEx card, placed the bags in her cart and said, “Give Whiskers a kiss from me."
"I will", she replied and gave me a hug. "Take care of yourself". I logged out of the register and walked to the lockers in the break room. I changed into my regular clothes in the bathroom and was walking to the automatic doors when I was stopped.
"Just the girl I was looking for." I froze. It was Mr. Sunglasses/Model Guy.
"Hi," I said, examining him with a skeptical expression.
"Yeah. Hi. I wanted to know what you were doing tonight. Claire, right?" his eyes were fixed on mine. I nodded.
"I'm Ari. Ari Jacobs." So his name was Ari. I liked it. Sounded kind of skater/exotic/surfer. Like the name of someone you'd have a summer fling with. I tried not to think about that.
"Ari. That's a ... nice name. It's different. I like that," I said, wincing on how I ended the statement and how flirty it sounded when it came out.
I guess he saw that because he said, "Yeah, I can guess you didn't want that to sound how it sounded. Happens to me all the time. Did you drive here?"
"No. I rode my bike. And thanks for understanding."
"Good. Bike. We can put it in the van. Party. Wanna come? A birdie told me you had no plans."
I blinked, forgetting everything else. "A party? I barely know you. Actually, I really don’t know you.” Something inside told me this was going to be good and that I deserved a night out. “Um... Let me unchain my bike. I'll call my parents and say I'm going out with... A friend," I replied and we started heading toward a bike-rack.
I quickly took out my iPhone and called my mom. She picked up on the first ring, as always.
"Hi. Mom? Yeah, it's me. I just finished work. I'm going out. With a friend. Yes, I'll be home by then. Ok. Love you. Bye." I shoved my phone in my pocket and started on the bike chain. I finished my combination, opened the lock, and walked the bike to where Ari was standing a few feet a way.
"You'll be home by when?" he asked with a curious expression.
"By tomorrow morning," I said in the best motherly impression I could. I tried to keep a straight face, but started laughing. Ari laughed, too.
"Perfect. I'll just get this and we'll go. I have to pick up my friend Brian. He lives down the street so it won't be a complete detour."
"'Down the street' like McKalaster?" I asked.
"Yep," he said, pulling the bike to a jeep, "Open the door?"
"Um, sure," I said, opening the back door to the red jeep wrangler. "Wait, did you say Brian Aderly?" I asked.
"Yep, that’s the one. How do you know him?" Ari questioned while lifting my bike into the jeep.
"He's a good friend of mine. I have a feeling he's also a good friend of yours?"
"Exactly. He actually asked me to pick you up. Hence my inviting you to the party. We're picking him up. Hope that clarifies that I'm not some pedophile who wants to kill you." Ari moved to open my door for me.
"Thanks," I responded. But not before laughing at his previous statement. Thank God he didn’t seem like a pedophile. I told myself to be careful, though, just in case.
We backed out of the parking lot and then Ari turned on the radio. It burst into static for a few seconds before beginning Train’s song “Drops of Jupiter”. My favorite song. I lightly hummed under my breath and before no time, we had stopped in front of Brian’s house. He was waiting in the driveway. When he saw us, he waved.
“Hey, guys! I see you’ve met,” Brian jumped into the backseat, high-fived Ari and hugged me.
“Brian! So Ari here isn’t a ped. I wasn’t sure. At least I have the pepper spray you gave me for my birthday,” I joked.
“I told you I wasn’t! So you’re telling me I look scary enough that you would’ve pepper-sprayed me?” Ari shot us both hurt looks. We just glanced at each other and laughed.
The drive to the party was filled with talking and laughing and singing songs on the radio. We turned into the suburban part of town and onto what looked to be a long driveway to a palm tree-shaded mansion. I looked at Brian and Ari. Neither looked surprised.
“Whose party is this?” I asked coolly. We kept driving up farther and I could hear loud music and see people dancing and talking in and around the huge house. It looked bigger than Chapman High’s gym. And our gym was famous in the state for its size.
“Mine,” Ari replied casually. I wasn’t that surprised. Brian cracked a joke about what a diner, a chicken crossing the road, and a blonde have in common and we laughed off all earlier conversation. Despite the fact that we have nothing against blondes.
Ari turned the car into a secluded garage and we all climbed out. Walking into the house, everyone outside literally stopped to greet Ari and Brian and was introduced to me.
“Everyone having a good time?” Ari asked like a true party host would.
“YEAH!” Everyone outside shouted. We slipped through the front door unnoticed and up a private staircase.
“Where are we going?” I asked Brian while we ascended the steps.
“To change. Unless you want to wear that here.” He simply replied.
I looked down at my jeans, Converse, and white T-shirt. He had a point.
“What am I going to change into?” I whispered.
“Whatever you want,” Brian tossed over his shoulder as we came to a hallway where Ari opened a door.
“Claire, you can change into whatever you want in here. I’m sure something will fit you. Brian and I will go into my room. Meet us back here in 20,” Ari motioned into the door he’d opened and then he and Brian disappeared into another room.
I stepped inside and was amazed to find a big pink room. Filled with girl clothes hanging on racks attached to the walls and floor. What looked like designer girl clothes. Every single one. Sure, I had lots of name brand stuff, but not everything I wore. And a lot seemed to be my size. There was even a miniature of what looked like the M.A.C. counter in the mall that stretched the whole length of the room. On the wall was painted “Madeline Jacobs” in a beautiful cursive in the middle of a wreath of roses. This must be Ari’s sister’s closet. I picked a rack with short party dresses and started thumbing through them. All were beautiful but I wanted to find something that was my style. Maybe some sequins, because this is a party, but something darker.
I found a mini sparkly electric blue number with short fitted sleeves that I absolutely adored. I looked inside for the tag to see who had designed it but there was no name, just “S/P” for small/petite. I found a floor-length mirror and changed into the dress. It fit perfectly and looked awesome, but I could tell it required a little something more. I heard a knock at the door.
Maybe that’s them, I thought, wondering if 20 minutes had passed already.
“Come in,” I called. And to my surprise and great relief, it was neither Ari nor Brian who came in. It was a maid.
“Hello, dear. I understand that you are looking for something to wear and Ari sent me to help you. My, that dress looks wonderful on you. I suspect it needs a little something more, though. Let’s see if I can help you with that,” She spoke in a friendly grandmother-like way. Mrs. Evens, read her name tag. I immediately liked her. She reminded me of someone, the way her smile made wrinkles around her eyes. I couldn’t remember who, though.
“Mrs. Evens, thank you so much. I was just thinking the same thing.” Looking around the room, I pondered whether the missing accessory was a scarf or hat. Mrs. Evens had walked over to a neatly organized set of drawers and was sorting through the biggest drawer. She found what she was looking for and walked back over to where I was.
“These, Claire, are what I was looking for. These black floral-printed tights go perfectly with that dress. I have just the makeup and hair styles to go with it, too. Maddie makes sure we keep them in the book,” Mrs. Evens pointed to a massive binder sitting on the makeup counter. She then opened the binder to the dress I was wearing and showed me the tights selection, makeup and hair selections, jewelry selection, purse selection, nails selection, and shoe selection catalogued with the dress. It turned out there were a lot of ways to wear that dress.
“Can I get these in a 7?” I pointed to a picture of what was labeled “Steve Madden ‘ZAMBUKA’ Crystal Platform Sandals” and Mrs. Evens nodded.
About 15 minutes later, I was “all dolled up” in the dress, tights, and shoes with my hair in a playfully messy bun, my face looking perfect with skillfully lined eyes and fully colored lips, and my nails painted a sparkly electric blue that matched the dress. After I thanked Mrs. Evens for working her magic, she tossed me a sleek black leather clutch, which I later realized was filled with emergency makeup, and I elegantly hastened into the hallway to join the waiting Ari and Brian who now looked stunning, also.
“Claire, that dress looks great on you,” Ari observed, quite plainly checking me out.
“Yeah, good choice,” Brian chimed in.
I looked Brian up and down first, before doing the same to Ari. They were dressed in matching black straight-leg denim jeans, stylish high-tops with a slight color variation for each of them, and form-fitting sports jackets in different shades of blue. Generally, Brian’s outfit was a lighter shade than Ari’s, so while they wore complimentary colors (which also happened to match me), they were still distinguishable.
“You guys don’t look so bad, yourselves,” I finally said.
“Thanks,” Brian waggled his dark brown- almost black, eyebrows up and down, mock-flirtatiously in a way that made me laugh, abandoning my prior hesitation.
“Shall we?” Ari asked, carrying on the mock-flirtation, and offered me his arm.
“We shall,” I laughed again and so did the boys. Brian offered me his arm as well, so I took both of the offered arms and we preceded down the stairs, still giggling.