Chapter Nine: Rolling with underdogs

*Remember you can listen to the audio version of this series on iTunes and Stitcher 

    Lincoln’s dark eyes held me in their focus for what felt like a million years. In reality, it was probably only a few seconds before he looked back down at the paper on the counter. He slid a pen from behind his ear that was hidden in a sheath of curly locks. He sketched a few things down as I approached him feeling weird now that we hadn’t said anything to each other yet.

    “Hey.” My voice cracked with the single word which brought a wave of heat across my face. My hand nervously clutched the camera in my hoodie pocket.

    He looked up, “The clock-in machine is in the store room.” He hesitated before adding, “The room you walked through with Malachi and Molly on the way to the smoking spot.”

    “Okay, thanks.” I felt an awkward smile pulling at the corners of my mouth. Before another thought, I said, “How was the rest of your weekend?”

    “All downhill after seeing you at the party.” With that, his eyes darkened, which made me want to throw myself across the counter and kiss him. I wouldn’t even come close to having that kind of confidence, but I could image that Molly would have no problem doing such a thing.

    The sensation from blushing only made it worse. Instead of saying thank you, an awkward noise escaped from my mouth. Flustered and embarrassed, I gave him a quick salute before stumbling toward the back of the store. I slammed my elbow on two different clothing racks on the way to the large black door in the corner left of a mostly dark store. Between the dim lights and black and brown decor I was hoping that Lincoln wasn’t able to see my lack of agility.

    The heavy door slammed behind me only adding to the thumping mess in the center of my chest. For some reason, I was coming undone at the seams.

    “Take a deep breath honey,” my mom’s voice was louder than it was the day before.

    I wished I knew what this meant. Did it imply I was getting worse or better? Or perhaps I did have powers.

    I was absolutely hoping for the powers. It was way better than losing my mind.

    The door opened and in came Lincoln, up close he smelled like pot smoke and sandalwood. “Forgot to turn the music on. So it goes. Lights on, music on, registers up, and then the gate. Malachi said something about going over seasonal displays tomorrow. I’m only a week newer than you.”

    “We work together again tomorrow?” The possibility that I might not survive this ran through my mind as I glanced around looking for anything that resembled a clock-in machine.

    “Yep, we are on together all week. Tomorrow night we close.” He eyed me with an unreadable expression then said, “It’s a gray box that looks like a bloated thermostat.” Lincoln pointed at exactly what he described.

    “Right, it makes sense it looks like that. I was picturing something more like a movie ticket kiosk.”

    “Gadgets up on Route 17 had machines like that.” Lincoln reached over my head. He pressed a large button then quickly turned a silver nob a few clicks to the right. A loud beat thumped through the speakers.

    I clicked around on the machine until I successfully clocked myself in. A rush of change swirled around me.

    “A new chapter,” my mom said, her words wrapped in a subtle laugh.

    It concerned me that I was hearing her more and more while I was around other people. When it just happened in the quiet moments when I was alone, I could justify it to myself more.  I’ve considered reading books about grief but kept talking myself out of it. I didn’t want to share the experience with anyone because it was all my own. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I was on my own ride. Everyone grieves differently and is impacting all us in different ways.

    “You zone out a lot,” Lincoln’s voice broke through my inner dialogue.

    “Yeah, I’ve got issues I guess.” I pushed a chunk of turquoise behind my ear.

    “We all do.” His thin lips held each word closely before releasing them. Lincoln tilted his head toward the front of the store. “We should get back to it.”

    “Yes, let’s.” I shook my head at my lack of smoothness as I followed him to the front of the store.

    A woman nearing middle-age was fumbling around the Japanese t-shirt rack, all featuring different games and shows from the last four generations. My toes would touch the back of Lincoln’s feet if I weren’t careful. I lingered near the edge of the counter when he slid back into the position I first found him in.

    I tapped on my leg as I looked over his shoulder. He was drawing a giant lizard playing the drums. Gothic-style writing said in a thought bubble coming from the lizard’s head, “A drummer looking for a band.” A million possibilities of what I could say to him beat me over the head like a storm angered wave. My body was betraying me in sorts, but my mind wasn’t helping because it was after things all it’s own. I was beginning to think that having a goal of being distracted was on the dangerous side of things. I was becoming consumed by wanting to know everything about him. Every single warning bell has been going off. I could see clearly he was trouble and no good for me. In the same breath, my mind was telling me to jump in head first and to back away slowly and listen to Pete’s advice.

    The woman stood hunched over the circular rack wearing a heavy frown as she inspected the graphic on each shirt before sliding each one by. She pulled her large brown leather purse into a more desirable position before drifting over to the table of figures of various cartoon characters. Without any prior thoughts or awareness of where I was, I pulled out the camera, turned it on and snapped a picture of a complete stranger like I had so many times before.

    I slid the camera back into my pocket to find Lincoln looking at me and not his poster. His brow furrowed. “Did you just take a picture of that woman?”

    “I did.” I ran my hand nervously through my hair as I looked down at my feet. I considered a variety of excuses for a brief moment before adding, “It’s this weird thing I do. I dunno how else to explain it.”

    “I drum absent-mindfully on things without realizing. It usually drives everyone around me nuts.” Lincoln pulled on his sleeves causing his hands to disappear.

    I pointed my chin at his poster, “Looking for a band?”

    “Yeah, I’ve moved around a lot over the last few years. I miss being a part of something constant.” Lincoln brought his attention back to his drawing.

    “I kinda like the idea of moving around a lot right now.” I was surprised by how open I was being, and how comfortable I suddenly was.

    “Change can be good, but it usually isn’t.” His eyes revealed evidence of past scars.

    “Future is always uncertain.” I chewed on my thumbnail. Of course, I knew all about terrible change. Again I found myself enjoying what people didn’t know about me. I liked standing in front of someone without feeling like an open sore.

    “Sure is.” Lincoln lifted the poster up and showed it to me. “What do you think?”

    I stared at it closely, taking in the crudely drawn lines of the lizard and all the wording along the edges of the paper. “It’s awesome.”

    Lincoln turned the flyer around to inspect it himself, then shrugged. “It’s all right for the first draft.”

    “Pete’s band needs a good drummer.” The words sat in front of me after I spoke to them, shedding a spotlight on my interest in Lincoln.

    Lincoln laughed as he bent down and pulled a large black book out from the shelves underneath the counter. “Pete doesn’t want me in his band.”

    “You gotta be better than Wilson.”

    “At drums? Oh, I’m awesome. Way better than the slob your buddy has on the set. But, Pete hates me. I don’t blame him.”

    Something in Lincoln’s eyes softened, I saw a glimmer of sadness, the kind of sadness that lives in me. I wanted to reach out and touch his hand, but I refrained from fear of exploding or embarrassing myself. Lincoln turned his attention to the black book in his hands. He flipped it open. Each page must have held at least five clippings that were sticking out every which way. He slid the search for something constant into the book, closed it, then pulled out a comic.

    He leaned against the register with his back toward the rest of the store.

    I stood there for a second too long helplessly staring at him, trying to think of something to say about what he was reading. Finally, I weakly said, “Like Deadpool?”

    “Oh yeah. He’s one of my favorites. Are you familiar?”

    “Not at all with any comics.” A flustered heat spread across my cheeks making imagine vines climbing my legs and strangling me.

    “You are missing out.” Lincoln turned his body so that he was suddenly very close to me. It took all of me not run my finger through his curly hair.

    “Oh yeah?” My voice was barely audible. I was nervous, and he could definitely tell.

    “Absolutely.” Lincoln’s mouth wasn’t far from mine. The world was quiet. “The best stories are in comics. Underdogs are my favorite.”

    “That sounds like me.” I mumbled in my shoulder, not quite sure what to do with myself.

    Lincoln surprised me by laughing. “Oh yeah?”

    “Underdogs.” I mumbled starting to feel like an idiot.

    “Yeah, I got that. Rooting for underdogs is the way to go.” With this, he rubbed the top of his head causing some his hair to fall in front of his eyes.

    Was I making him nervous?

    “Excuse me,” a strained woman’s voice broke through our moment, giving me the chance to sweep myself off the floor. “I’m looking for something for my thirteen-year-old nephew and haven’t a clue where to start.”

    “I got you,” Lincoln said, handing me his comic and sliding out from behind the counter.

    I stared at the red and black masked man on the cover wishing that woman hadn’t interrupted whatever was happening.

***

    Electric guitar filled the speakers causing the store room of The Angry Crow to feel even more claustrophobic. I clocked myself out as easily I clocked in. The first day was under my belt, and it felt good even though I wasn’t on the road to anywhere, in particular, I also wasn’t standing still.

    “I’m out of here too,” Lincoln said appearing in the doorway. “My replacement finally got here. Malachi says that Derek sometimes doesn’t show up. I was getting doubts.” Lincoln reached past me to sign himself out as well. The musky smell of his cologne swirled around in my nose making me dizzy and distracted, and it felt so nice to be preoccupied even though I was already aware that this particular preoccupation wasn’t the best thing for me in the long run, right now it felt really good.

    “See you tomorrow?” I said sounding way more hopeful and interested in seeing him again that I suddenly felt like I was standing in the middle of the ocean naked.

    “We are on the schedule together again.” With this, he stepped closer to me.

    Without thinking about it, I leaned into him. Lincoln’s hands were in my hair, and then he was kissing me. I wrapped my arms around him, allowing all me to lose myself in his touch. Lincoln pressed the weight of his body into mine, gently pushing my back against the wall. His chapped lips moved with mine. My head might as well have disconnected itself from my head. Lincoln moved one his hands from my hair, and slowly brought it down to my hip.

    My phone let out a loud triple beep.

    Lincoln took a small step back; his dark eyes held me. “That’s you?” His voice sounded as flustered as I felt.

    I nodded as I pulled it from my back pocket to see it was Molly. Out front and waiting.

    “Molly’s my ride. I should go.”

    “Okay.” A few thoughts passed through his mind as he paused, just staring at me. “See you tomorrow?”

    “Yeah, work and all.” My heart started jumping around in my chest, and all of my extremities were tingling. I had to get out of there before I don’t know what. “See you.” Without any more words or touch of any kind, I made my way quickly out of the tiny room and through the store.

    I couldn’t figure out what exactly just happened. I mean I knew I just made out with Lincoln but I wasn’t sure why or if it would happen again. I definitely didn’t know what it meant.

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