CHAPTER 3 – What You See is What You Get


I turned out to be wrong about the snow. We got a dust of it around midnight, but then the sky cleared, and the next morning dawned bright and sunny. In fact, it wasn't until almost October that we actually got any decent snow. Mr. Nakayama would come in and stand behind Bethney, looking out the window at the sunlight pouring in and muttering horrible things in English, Spanish, and Japanese.

The day it finally snowed, though, it did so with a vengeance. We went to bed under clear skies and woke up to four inches of snow, with more falling. When I left for work, nobody had shoveled the sidewalks yet, and the poor paperboy was slogging along through it, having to push his wagon instead of pulling it.

"Here," I said, as he trudged up the driveway. "I'll take that... save you some steps."

"Thanks," he panted gratefully, handing me a rolled-up paper.

I did my own share of slogging up the hill towards the store, but I was in a good mood regardless. Mr. Nakayama begrudges every cent he pays us, especially those of us, like me, who make more than minimum wage, but if it looked like we were in for a long, white, and busy winter, he might just be inclined to be generous. When they opened the ski runs, I decided, I'd ask him about it.

The snow in the parking lot outside the store already had a fair share of tire tracks in it, but there were parts where it was still fresh, and a few undisturbed deer prints. I smiled and started up the steps to the store.

"Morning," I said to Bethney.

"Morning!" a bright voice replied.

I nearly had a heart attack before I realized that Fuuyumi had opened the front door of the store and was standing there smiling at me... which was in fact hardly less disconcerting than the idea that a cardboard cutout was starting to talk back to me. Fuuyumi being on time to work was right up there with Rob Schneider winning an Oscar. The world had to be coming to an end.

"You're early," I said.

She nodded. "Daddy drove me. I didn't want to walk in the snow in my new shoes. See?" She put a foot forward so I could inspect the red leather monstrosities. It took some effort not to ask whether I'd just missed the Lollipop Guild. "Oh, and guess what?" she added.


Fuuyumi beamed. "Daddy says we can wear our costumes to work on Hallowe'en this year!"

This time, I couldn't keep the acidic comment in. "Fuuyumi, what grade are you in again?"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, fine, then, just *be* a party pooper." She continued to stand there with the door wide open as I kicked the snow off my sneakers and came inside. "Just don't mention it to him when he comes in this afternoon. I don't want him to change his mind."

"Why would he change his mind?" I asked, taking off my coat. I looked around for Michelle and spotted her kneeling in front of the counter, arranging rows of newspapers with headlines like 'I Had Bigfoot's Baby' and 'Backalley Boys Gay Love Triangle'.

"Close the door, please," she said, without looking up.

"Sorry." Fuuyumi let it swing shut, then followed me as I went to the back room to hang up my stuff. "He might change his mind," she said, "because he found out that apparently the state's going to up the minimum wage again, so now he he's acting all growly. He says nobody around here earns the money they already *get*. It's a good thing I asked him last night, huh?"

I blinked. It shouldn't have, but it took my brain a few seconds to sort through what she'd said and pick out the implications of it... and then I could almost hear the flush as my raise went down the toilet. If minimum wage went up that would mean Mr. Nakayama in a sour mood for the next six months, while all the stupid high school kids who work here to kill time got more money and those of us who actually consider this a *job* got *nothing*.

"Yeah," I said sourly. "Lucky."

Fuuyumi shook her head. "Jo, like what is your *problem* all the time? Lighten up! Don't you ever have fun?"

"Of course I do," I said, trying to remember the last time I'd really gone out of my way to enjoy myself. That must've been when Chey and I went to Portland to see the Barenaked Ladies. That had been in early July, before Fuuyumi even started working here.

"Then why do you always have such a bug up your butt at work?" she wanted to know. "No, wait, let me guess... you don't think you get paid enough, right? Geeze, you mop floors and sell people gummy bears all day! How much money do you really think that's worth?"

I hung up my coat and mittens in the back, and didn't answer. I could feel my fuse burning down. In a minute I was going to blow up, she would go crying to Daddy, and I would lose my job.

"What do you need the money for anyway?" she went on. "I mean you live with your parents, right? Don't tell me your *parents* charge you room and board."

"They don't," I replied tersely.

"Then what do you care what you're paid?"

"I don't!" I snapped. "I just work here because dirty floors and gummy bears are so much *fun*! I'm trying to save money for school, okay? Some of us can't just go and ask Daddy for a job!"

Fuuyumi opened her mouth, hesitated, and shut it again. "Oh."

"So no," I concluded. "I don't think I get paid enough, and I reserve the right to be bitchy about it."

"I'm sorry," she said meekly. "I didn't realize it mattered that much."

I wasn't in an apology-accepting mood. "Yeah, well some of us happen to think these things matter." I put my cap on, grabbed the push broom, and went to work off some hostility on last night's dust.

Michelle put the last newspaper in the rack and stood up, brushing grit from the floor off her legs. "What was that all about?"

"Are you *positive* you can't fire Fuuyumi?" I asked.

She sighed. "Unfortunately, no, so please try to get along with her."

"I *am* trying," I said.

Michelle looked around the store. "I'll get her to go through those boxes they delivered this morning," she decided. "As long as she's here on time for once, she might as well do something useful. When you're done sweeping, could you re-stock the tobacco shelves? We're almost out of DeMaurier."

I nodded. "I'll tell Chey she smokes too much."

Michelle laughed.

Enrique Iglecias was on the radio when Chey showed up, prompt as usual, for her daily fix. She was decked out in her usual goth gear, with the amusing addition of a bright red and gold Harry Potter scarf. "You know," she remarked, counting out dimes onto the counter, "it was ages before I realized that the chorus of this song doesn't go 'let the rhythm take you over by the balls.'"

I laughed. "I could never figure out the words of that one Prozzak song. It always sounded to me like he was singing, 'oh, my bowl of cherries!'"

"That sounds a bit obscene, somehow." Chey pushed her pile of change towards me. "That should be enough. Oh, and by the way... guess what?"

"What?" I asked.

She beamed. "I got the car!"

"You got the car! That's awesome," I told her.

"You bet it is!" she agreed. "I'm going to go pick it up next week."

I nodded. "Where is it?"

Chey looked a bit sheepish. "Um. Red Deer. That's in Alberta, about halfway between Calgary and Edmonton."

"Alberta?" I shook my head. "What is it with you and Canadian cars?"

"I do not know," she replied happily. "So are you up for another road trip?"

"I don't think I can afford the time off," I said.

"Aw, come on," she insisted. "Edmonton's supposed to have the world's biggest shopping mall! We can get started on Christmas!"

"I already started mine."

Chey stared at me. "You're kidding me."

"Bonus-Mart was having a special on CD's," I explained, "so I picked up one Dennis wanted."

"Dare I ask who it's by?"

I frowned, trying to remember the name of it. "It's... what's her name? That girl rapper with the blonde dreadlocks?"

"Oh, *her*. Lady Jane." Chey rolled her eyes, disgusted. "I think people should be locked up for doing that to their hair. Do they realize how awful it looks?" She shook her head. "So how about the road trip? I can hardly go by myself, Jo! It just doesn't work that way."

I started to answer, but was interrupted as the bell above the door gave a cheerful little dingle, announcing the entry of a tall guy with a shaved head and rings through every pierce-able part of his face. He was also carrying an enormous orange fruity freeze from the coffee shop at the other end of the street, with the straw stuck only partway into the slush so that it made horrible slurping sounds when he sucked on it.

"That's attractive," muttered Chey.

"Excuse me!" I called to him. "Um..." it didn't feel right to say 'sir' to a human pincushion, but I couldn't think of anything else that would sound polite. "Sir?"

The guy turned to look at me, with his straw still in his mouth, and raised one beringed eyebrow.

I pointed to the front door. The 'no outside food or drink, please' sign is right at eye level on the front doors. Customers literally cannot miss it unless they are blind, and yet none of them seem to read it. "You're really not supposed to bring outside food and drinks into the store."

He turned his head to look. "Yeah? So what do you want me to do, then? Throw it out?"

"No," I said, "just please go outside and finish it."

He nodded. "Sure," he said, and turned around... but then he held the fruity freeze out at arm's length and, after checking to make sure I was looking and knew that he'd done it on purpose, he let go of it. The plastic cup split when it hit the floor, and sticky orange slush splashed everywhere.

Chey and I stared, open-mouthed, at the mess.

"Oops," said the guy, and walked out of the store.

Cheyenne recovered before I did. "Why, you son of a *bitch*!" she screamed. She grabbed her cigarettes and ran after him. "Come back, here, you... you don't even want to *know* what I'm going to do to you!"

"Don't hurt him *too* badly, Chey!" I called, but she was already out the door and gone, leaving me with nothing to do put get the mop and clean up the fruity freeze.

Cleaning up spilled drinks is an absolutely miserable job. No matter how many times you wash the spot, the floor always stays just a little bit sticky for the rest of the day, and makes horrible 'ick, ick,' noises when you walk on it. Long before I was done, the water in the bucket had turned orange, and my mopping was putting as much of the fruity freeze back onto the floor as I was getting off.

I took the bucket in back and refilled it, without looking at Fuuyumi; she was busy inventorying candy while Michelle stood over her to make sure she worked.

"Everything okay out there, Jo?" Michelle asked.

"Oh, yeah," I replied. "Peachy."

I took the bucket back out and had just picked up the mop again when the bell rang to announce our third, fourth, and fifth customers for the day.

You've heard of the Men in Black... well, these were the Men in Beige. Actually, there were two men and a woman, all in conservative beige business suits and wearing gold-tinted sunglasses. I looked up and greeted them as they came in, but they ignored me. Instead of saying anything, they went up to the cardboard Bethney in the front window and began scrutinizing it.

I didn't like the look of that. They sent us Bethney as a replacement for Jar-Jar Binks... if somebody made off with her, we'd probably get something even worse, and I did *not* want to know what could be worse than Bethney Starrs. I set up the 'caution; wet floor' sign, leaned the mop against the counter, and went to see what they wanted.

"Hi, there," I said. "Can I help you with anything?"

"Mmm?" the woman glanced at me briefly, then returned to her inspection of the stacked bottles of cola around Bethney's platform-clad cardboard feet. "No, we're fine. We're from Pepsi. We just want to see what sort of displays you have up."

That sounded a bit funny to me. I decided I'd better try to hurry them along. "Well, we don't have much besides her," I said. "We used to have a whole bunch of that blue stuff in the cooler, but nobody was buying it."

The woman nodded and straightened up to take a look at the coolers. "You seem to have a lot more Coke in here than Pepsi," she said, as if I were personally responsible.

I shrugged. "More people buy Coke."

She frowned, which made wrinkles pucker up all around her mouth, then shook her head and took a bottle of Diet Pepsi out of the cooler. "It's that damn Harry Potter ad campaign," she decided, putting the pop on the counter. "I'll take this, please."

I rang it up for her, wondering if she were going to ask for a discount. She didn't, and her two companions just stood there as I gave her the change. "There you go."

She nodded curtly and scraped the coins into her purse, then twisted the cap off the bottle and took a sip. I bit my lip and thought for a moment, then decided that it was too tempting; I just *had* to see her reaction.

"So..." I said, carefully casual. "Is it true that you guys animate Bethney Starrs in a computer?"

The woman hadn't looked like she had much of a sense of humour, so I wasn't expecting a laugh... but neither was I expecting her to nearly choke on her Pepsi. One of the men had to come and smack her on the back before she seemed able to breathe again, then she wiped her mouth on her sleeve and took off her sunglasses to peer suspiciously at me. "What did you say?"

Woah; no sense of humour at *all*. "Nothing," I said, holding up my hands. "Just a joke."

"Ah. Well, then," she forced a smile. "Good day, Miss." She motioned for the two men to follow her, and they walked out to their car.

"What was that all about?" asked Michelle, peeking out of the back.

"I have no idea," I replied honestly.

To my intense relief, the rest of the day was not nearly so eventful. About the most interesting thing that happened was that somebody brought a little tiny poodle into the store and it very nearly tried to mark territory Bethney's leg before Fuuyumi intervened and made its owner take it outside. Having made her big contribution for the day, she came and leaned on the counter next to where I was sorting scratch-and-win cards, and waited for me to say something.

"Do you want something?" I asked.

"I sent the guy with the dog outside," she said, as if I hadn't noticed.

"Oh, wow, she did two minutes' work," I rolled my eyes. "Declare a parade."

"I *said* I was sorry."

"Yeah, you're sorry, and you made one guy take his dog out," I nodded, "that just makes everything okay, doesn't it?"

Fuuyumi scowled and fiddled with her keychain for a few seconds. "Do you want to know why *I* work here?" she asked.

"Not really," I replied. I didn't want to hear whatever bleeding heart story she'd invented to sound better than 'because I was too lazy to look for real work', but I figured she was probably going to tell me anyway.

I was right. "I wanted to go to university in Japan," she said, "like my brother did. But Dad said we couldn't afford to send me, and told me that I could either go to community college in Portland, or he could give me a job."

Yeah, right, I thought. If she wanted it that badly, why didn't she *do* something about it instead of hanging out here doing nothing all day? "So why don't you save your money instead of spending it on ruby slippers?" I asked. "If your parents won't pay for you to go to school, do it yourself."

She looked at me like my hair had turned blue. "Okay, like, do you have *any* idea how much that would cost? I would be *old* before I saved that much money."

"Do *you* have any idea how much it costs to go to New York Film Academy?" I countered.

"Film Academy?" she echoed, startled. "*You* want *act*?"

"Direct," I corrected her. "Yeah, I do. And I don't care if I'm old when I get there. It'd be nice to just have everything I want right now, but I can't do that." Saying that made me feel like such a hypocrite; sure it sounded great when I said it to Fuuyumi, but I probably wasn't any more patient than she. At least I could take some comfort in being able to handle it in a slightly more adult manner.

Fuuyumi studied her keychain a bit more. "So if you hate working here so much, why don't you quit? I mean, there're other jobs. I heard that the lodge pays, like, twelve bucks an hour."

"That's seasonal." I shook my head. "Everything here revolves around the tourists. If I get a job at the lodge, it'll only last me four months and then I'm unemployed again." I'd worked out the math for that a year ago, and even with the extra pay, I'd make less in four months at the lodge than I would in a year at the convenience store. And if I quit my regular job to work for a tourist trap during the winter, I probably wouldn't be able to get it back again.

"So move," was her next brilliant idea. "Go to a real city and work there."

"Then I'd have to pay for a place to live, and for my own food and my own utilities," I pointed out. "Trust me, I thought of all this stuff a long, long time ago."

She heaved a big, pity-me sigh. "Do you just want me to go away?"

"Please," I said.

"Fine, then. Just be like that," she snorted, and stalked off into the back.