Pathetic or Tragic?
Sophie was in her second day of running the Shore Store on her own. Two days earlier, she came to work to find her boss Pappy unconscious on the floor. She called 911 and the paramedics showed up and rushed him away but nobody returned to tell her what to do so she kept the store open, assuming Pappy would return soon.
The Shore Store was a small hut of a grocery mart dating back decades. It was nothing to look at from the outside but it was a useful quick stop for the local lake residents needing to grab necessities when they didn't have time to drive the seven miles to the nearest larger store.
Pappy stocked the essentials, along with the likeable - soda, beer, ice cream, bait, newspapers, sandwiches, and DVDs. There was a pizza oven, a couple of old fashion pinball machines, a jukebox from the 1950s. The place looked dumpy but it had character and it was a local favorite, mostly because Pappy had been running the store for a very long time.
Sophie was able to perform the daily routine but she knew she couldn't keep the solo act up much longer. Pappy was the one who kept track of the stock, ordering, and deliveries, as well as making the deposits. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do as she sat behind the counter waiting for the next customer to enter the store.
The screen door opened a while later and a miserable looking guy in his early twenties entered, glancing around with a look of familiarity combined with disgust on his face.
"Hello," Sophie said pleasantly. "Welcome to The Shore Store. Let me know if I can help you in any way."
"You're the kid?" He asked, giving Sophie the evil eye.
"The kid?" She said with her best customer service smile still on her face.
"The kid who works for Pappy."
"Yes, I'm her," Sophie verified. "Who are you?"
"Leon," he said with a growl. "Pappy's grandkid."
She squinted at him and nodded in recognition. "You used to work here."
"A long time ago," he confirmed. He studied her for a long moment. "You're the kid with the pigtails," he realized.
"That was a long time ago too," she remarked, lifting her hand up to toy with her much shorter blond hair that cupped her cheeks.
"How old are you?" Leon demanded.
"Fifteen," she said defensively. "But Pappy knows I can do the job."
"I think you were like ten the last time I was here."
"When's Pappy coming back?" She wanted to know.
"He's not," Leon answered abruptly. "He suffered a pretty serious stroke. He's paralyzed on the right side and having trouble speaking. They're going to be sending him off to rehab. No way will he be able to handle the stairs now."
Sophie looked momentarily shocked, her upper lip quivering and her eyes filling with tears. She looked away so Leon wouldn't see how upset she was.
"My mother sent me to take over," Leon announced unhappily. "At least until she figures out what to do next."
"Oh," Sophie said, turning to look at him. "So, you're my boss?"
"For now," he said with annoyance. "Hope you don't need this job because I'm not sure what the future holds here."
"I'll stay as long as I can," she replied bravely.
Leon glanced around the store and shook his head with displeasure. "I can't believe I'm back," he grumbled.
"You didn't want to come?" She guessed.
"I was supposed to leave with a couple of friends on a cross-country road trip we'd been planning for months," he explained as he stepped behind the counter and stuck his head into the small office in the rear. "I'm condemned here instead."
"Your friends going to wait for you?" Sophie asked.
"They left yesterday," Leon growled. "Went without me. Can you believe it?"
"Sorry," Sophie said.
"Yeah," he mumbled. "Some friends."
He stared at the messy office for a long moment. "I suppose I'd better get organized," he said miserably. "God, this sucks."
"Maybe you should make the best of it," Sophie suggested with an encouraging smile.
Leon's face turned red and he took a threateningly step toward Sophie, causing her to press back against the counter in fright.
"Listen," Leon said angrily. "I'm really pissed off being here so don't screw with me. Just do your job and keep your opinions to yourself."
Leon could tell by the look on Sophie's face that he had intimidated her and he felt bad about that but just then somebody came in the door and Sophie quickly turned her attention to the customer.
"Hello, Welcome to The Shore Store," she said pleasantly, although Leon heard her voice shake just a bit. "Please let us know if we can help you in any way."
Leon returned to the office and started to clean up Pappy's desk while beating himself up for being an asshole. It wasn't the kid's fault that he was pissed off at Pappy for getting sick, upset at his mother for forcing him to return to the store, and mad at his friends Dan and Marilyn for taking off without him (he was now convinced that Marilyn had chosen Dan over him and that their road trip without him would turn into a love affair between those two).
Leon's life had been in the toilet for a while and being stuck at the Shore Store was just another crummy reminder of how unhappy he was. He dropped out of community college. He was medically disqualified from the military. He'd been bouncing from job to job much to parents' disapproval and he had quit his last one in preparation for the road trip when Pappy was stricken. His parents had helped him out several times so Leon felt obligated to return the favor by taking over for Pappy who had been very good to him when he worked summers at the lake as a teenager.
Leon didn't mind his time here in his younger years but he figured he had moved on from that part of his life so it rubbed him the wrong way returning again, especially with Pappy gone. He didn't envision himself working at The Shore Store in his twenties.
Sophie left him alone after his outburst. Leon wanted to apologize for his transgression but he didn't, instead focusing on getting a handle on Pappy's current state of affairs and figuring out what needed to be done to make sure everything stayed on schedule. He organized the office to better suit his way of doing things and he updated the computer system to be more automated with the reports and bills. There was a clear view of the counter and most of the store from the desk and each time Leon glanced out the door he usually saw Sophie standing at the counter with her back to him.
Leon finally stepped out of the office later in the afternoon to find Sophie sitting behind the counter reading a book. She didn't say anything or even look his way and Leon knew he had offended her but that was the least of his problems right now. He went out to his car in the dirt parking lot adjacent to The Shore Store. There was a partial view of the lake and Pappy had access to a small dock and beach at the end of a path that led out from behind the store.
Leon brought his luggage up the backstairs to Pappy's small upstairs apartment that looked like it was frozen in the 1950s with outdated kitchen appliances, faded carpets and old furniture. He noticed that the small room he used to stay in looked like it had been recently been used – the small black ironed bed was unmade and looked like it had been slept in recently. He stepped into the room and saw some clothes on the chair, and a hair brush on the dresser along with some toiletries. He hesitated, trying to figure out which room he should use.
"Who's been sleeping in my bed?" Leon asked Sophie when he returned to the store.
"Pappy lets me stay sometimes," Sophie answered without looking up from her book.
"Why?" Leon asked, surprised to learn of the arrangement.
"My father drinks," Sophie responded. "It's not always safe where I live."
"What about your mother?" Leon frowned.
Sophie looked up and gave him a frustrated look. "She left a long time ago."
Leon chewed on his lip for a moment, not sure if it was appropriately for the sixty-something year old Pappy to let a young girl stay with him. Then he remembered the pigtail girl and how she was always hanging around and how he once commented to Pappy about her. Pappy explained that the girl was a waif and her old man was no good. They lived in a condemned-looking old cottage in the woods about a quarter mile down the road. If Leon recalled correctly, the guy's name was Fuzzy Torraco and he made his living as a janitor at the nursing home over on Route 23.
"I don't suppose I can stay here now," Sophie remarked sadly as she returned her interest to her book.
"I'll take Pappy's room," Leon told her. "If you need a safe place, you can always come here."
She looked up at him, nodded her head ever so slightly, and then returned to the pages.
Leon sucked in his breath and returned to the office wondering what in the hell he was doing letting a fifteen year old girl stay with him because her father was drunk.