I was nervous. Really nervous. This was my last chance. They were serious this time. I couldn't risk losing this job now that the holidays were done and gone, and my on-the-side retail job along with it.
"Mommy, do they have beds where you work?" Anna, my beautiful ray of sunshine, asked me innocently. She hadn't quite grasped the concept of a second shift job.
"No, sweetie," I answered. We were just getting out of the car at Happy Homes Daycare. It was a home daycare, run by an amazing trio of women; sisters who lived in a huge beautiful house. They ran twenty-four hours, seven days a week. It helped a lot when I got fired. Again.
"But if there are no beds then where do you sleep?" I was lifting her over the baby gate at the front steps.
"I don't sleep, sweetie. I work," I explained. That seemed to placate her for the time being.
Jolene, the homeowner/head sister, met us at the door. Anna went running into play with the other kids. Jolene gave me one of her classic grins and invited me inside.
"Would you like some lemonade?" She offered. "The children and I just finished making it."
"I can't, I have to get going," I told her. "Thank you, though."
I gave her Anna's backpack. Jolene had most of what Anna would need for the night; I only needed to supply a change of clothes and the teddy bear Anna couldn't sleep without.
"Don't worry," She told me. "You'll be just fine. And Anna is in good hands."
I smiled, thanked her again, and climbed back over the baby gate. I didn't know what I'd do without Jolene.
The walk into work was long and awkward. People looked but no one talked. I knew from my orientation where to go and who my trainer was but that was of little comfort. It was the future that I was worried about.
"Don't look so nervous," My trainer, Brandon, told me. "You'll do fine."
Brandon was tall, pale, and thin. He had thinning hair, short and dark, and prematurely showing his age in the back. His voice was a tad higher than it should have been, but his light blue eyes were gorgeous.
All throughout the night he told me I was doing fine. But I was so nervous. I had to do well here. So much was riding on this job, this last chance.
I almost sat alone at break. Brandon was at a table by himself. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to talk to him. I got this funny feeling in my tummy when I asked if I could join him. I asked him how I was doing and he threw me some line about how I was doing just great.
"That's nice," I replied, trying not to appear rude. "Positive Reinforcement, that's cool. Now tell me the truth."
He looked a little surprised but I guess I should have expected that.
"Look," He leaned way in, "no one walks in at expectations, alright?" As if I'd let him stop there. After a tad more prompting, he continued. "You're a bit quicker than most newcomers," That was good, right? "Well, yeah. But you're nervous. That's going to make you make mistakes. So calm down. You'll do fine, just don't be so…rigid."
Honesty was so refreshing, even if it was sugar coated. I guess it was better than him being a jerk, right? He continued to encourage me throughout the night, giving me pointers and reminders occasionally.
At the end of the night the supervisor pulled me aside. I wanted to cry. Please don't fire me on my first day! I can do better, I swear!
"You did a good job today," He smiled. It was an odd look on his otherwise stern face. Maybe he wasn't as critical as I thought. "You have plenty of room to improve, but today was a great start. I'll get with you tomorrow about any errors, but so far you're doing very well." He looked up some numbers on the computer for me. I wanted to hug him. It'd been a long time since I'd been praised for my work rather than criticized.
The relief washed over me in a way I'd never thought possible. I felt relaxed, awake, and maybe even sort of comfortable. On the way out the door my coworkers noticed, some welcomed me, others just smiled.
"We're a close-knit group," One of them told me. "If you ever need help, just ask anyone."
Brandon came up to me and asked about my talk with the boss.
"All praise so far," I replied. He smiled and congratulated me.
I hadn't let myself look at a man since I got pregnant with Anna in high school. Too bad I couldn't risk this job for an oddly attractive coworker.
"Someone had a good first day," I hadn't realized until then that I was indeed smiling.
"Yeah, I guess I did," I agreed.
Samantha, one of the other sisters, was awake to greet me when I picked Anna up late.
Anna woke up a little while I was buckling her in. She hugged me tight around the neck and almost wouldn't let go. It was a reality check; I'd been fantasizing about Brandon. My mind was made up; work was for work and nothing more.
Somehow or another my mind kept creeping over to him while I was driving home. It wasn't until I'd collapsed on the couch that night that I was able to push my thoughts of him aside.
I slept like a baby that night. Anna was snuggled up against me with her teddy bear. She wasn't asleep, just quiet.
"Want me to make you some breakfast, sweetheart?" I asked her. She nodded her head 'yes.'
We were on our last box of cereal. If I didn't make it last, there'd be no breakfast for about a week, until I'd be able to go to the food pantry again. Maybe picking up a crappy fast food job again would help…
I sat with Anna while she ate. She didn't ask any more why I didn't eat with her. I hoped she started to believe my stories about eating while she was playing. I feared that she knew that usually if I didn't eat with her then I didn't eat at all.
Anna and I went to the park on the way to Happy Homes. I had plenty of time to dawdle, but that feeling in the pit of my stomach was creeping in again. It was different this time, though. There was an excitement mixed in with it. It took a long while to identify what it was exactly.
"We've just had our afternoon snack," Jolene said to me when we first walked in. "Would you like to join us, Amber?"
I was starving. My stomach decided to answer for me. Jolene giggled and signaled for me to follow her.
There were two PB&J's and a bowl of fruit waiting for me. I drank a big glass of water and watched her refill it. Suddenly, halfway through the only meal I'd have for the day, I felt a pang of guilt run through my chest.
"We all go through hard times," Jolene murmured. She was a mind reader, I swear.
I thanked her repeatedly for the meal before I left.
My second day on the job went at least as well as my first. Brandon checked in with me a few times. I got an odd trill in my chest every time I saw him. I'd never smiled so much in my life, or at least not at work.
At break I sat a few tables away from Brandon. I still didn't quite know what it was that I liked about him. In a lot of ways he was my type; something I hadn't thought about in a while.
He caught me looking at him a few times and I didn't want to seem weird, so at lunch I sat outside. It was dark, and quiet. The silence was almost deafening after being exposed to the noise in the warehouse.
The lack of noise only made the noise seem louder once I was re-exposed to it. I was looking forward to getting back to work, but the supervisor was waiting for me.
I had errors. Not a lot of them, less than was typical, or so he said. He wanted me to slow down until my errors dropped. I smiled and thanked him for the feedback, hoping that my panic was masked well.
Every careless moment was suddenly criticized. My errors went up. The Agency gave me a warning on my speed. On Friday, my supervisor came up to me at his usual time; we'd talked everyday about my errors. They went up every day, and I got slower every day.
"Now I've talked with the supervisors from the Agency," He told me. "I understand that you're under some pressure to perform well," I nodded and looked down. "I want you to put this week behind you. Everyone starts out under expectations. Everyone." He gave me his usual brief smile, patted me on the shoulder, and left.
I could feel the tears welling up. Maybe the Warehouse wasn't going to fire me, but the Agency definitely was. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Brandon.
"Don't let this stuff get to you," He said. I tried my damnedest not to cry, but a few stray tears got out. "Hey," He wiped the tears away, "you're doing fine. Scott already told the Agency to ease up, right?" Stressing is ultimately going to give you more errors. Remember that day you came in smiling?"
He'd noticed that. That was…weird. Or maybe not. I wasn't sure.
"Yes," I answered, sniffling a little.
"No errors," He smiled down at me. "Not until Scott checked in with you and you started stressing." He smiled. "You can do it, just be positive."
If only it was that easy.