Chapter 3 – Encounter at Greeting Point
“That’s it, dance. Shake your lily white ass, buckaroo!”
Eric glared at Sookie as she easily copied the highlighted figure on the screen and taunted him at the same time. He knew she was using underhanded tactics. She didn’t put that much jiggle into her team dancing. Sookie put an extra spin in her steps and added a little shoulder shake to distract Eric even further.
“Adele, Grandmamma, as referees I hope your taking note of Sookie’s attempts to distract my team member fully from his task.”
Adele rolled her eyes at Andy and turned back to watching the two youngsters. While she had admiration of her Granddaughter using a man’s weakness against him, Sookie’s dancing was blatantly sexual. Her smile turned to a frown as she watched Eric’s eyes follow the roll of Sookie’s hips. While the others were laughing and congratulating Sookie on her landslide win, Adele walked to the door and smiled before asking to see Sookie in her office.
Sookie was still grinning as she closed the office door behind her but it was soon wiped off her face when she turned around to look at her Gran.
“Pretty proud of yourself, aren’t you?”
“I … well … did I do something wrong?”
Adele sighed and sat down behind her desk. “Do you remember what I told you before you went to University?”
“Work hard and be proud of your achievements. Yeah, I remember.”
“I also told you that if you acted like a loose woman, you’d be treated like one. During that game you made out like you were a lap dancer, Sookie. Are you a lap dancer?”
“No, you’re not. You’re a manager. If you want these people to pay you the respect they should as the person who manages them, then you can’t act like their friend, Sookie. You don’t have control over your friends, but you have control over your employees.”
Sookie nodded and picked at her nails. She knew her Gran was right. She also knew that she could have won that game without shaking her ass and drawing attention to her boobs. As if her Gran were some kind of telepath, she voiced her next concern.
“I’ve seen you dance, sweetie, you didn’t need all that extra jiggling and distraction to win that game. As a reprimand, for being such a damn fool show off – you’ll be doing the greeting along with Eric tomorrow morning.”
“What? No! Please, Gran, anything but that!”
Adele put her hand up for silence and Sookie complied. “A good manager does the dirty jobs to show their staff how it’s done properly. You agreed to be my Number One here, Sookie, did you think it would be all laughter and horsing around?”
“You’re right, Gran. I’m sorry. From now on I’ll be the kind of manager you want me to be.”
“No, Sookie, you’ll be the kind of manager I know you can be.”
Vic’s Redneck Roadhouse – Later that evening
Andy was giddy as a child on Christmas morning when he pulled his shirt out of the bag. He stroked it lovingly, tracing the letters on the back with his fingers. The polo shirt was the same colours as the Bon Temps football team, white trunk, black short sleeves and red script. On the front it had ‘SB Electrical Superstore’ embroidered on the left breast and on the back it had ‘Andy Bellefleur – Sales Manager’.
“Sweet! We got one for you too, Sookie. Just the one, mind. Special for opening day.”
Sookie smiled as she took her own, smaller, version from the plastic wrapping and slipped it on over the top of her standard work uniform.
“These are great, Andy! I love the colours.” She slipped it back off and looked at the writing on the Back. “Sookie Stackhouse – Technical Support Manager.”
The voice from behind them startled her a little, but she would know it anywhere. She clenched the shirt in her fists and slowly turned around to face the bane of her first year at University.
“Felipe De Castro. I never expected to see you again.” She took in his white shirt and his green and blue striped tie. Her eyes flicked to the badge on his chest. “But here you are leader of the nerd squad at Buy Everything. Didn’t you have some big job lined up with Apple?”
Felipe’s eyes narrowed before he set his features in an expression of boredom. “Well, yeah, but it wasn’t that great. I figured I needed to climb down the ladder and work with the little people, give myself a challenge y’know?”
“Suuuuure.” Sookie rolled her eyes and turned back to Andy. “Felipe was the TA in one of my first classes; Professor Davis expected great things from him.”
“And he expected great things from you, too. So how is it you’re here and not finishing your degree? Couldn’t cut it with the big boys, sweetheart?”
Andy felt for Sookie as he saw the cloud of sadness pass over her. But just as abruptly as it appeared, it was replaced with determination. Sookie’s mouth set in a firm line and fire shone in her eyes.
“Actually, I felt that I’d learned everything I needed to there. I decided to get back into the family business – my Gran needs someone to pass the reins to when she retires from owning her own electrical superstore. I mean, you have to admit – owning your own business is far more appealing than being some flunky in a big corporation.”
Andy saw that she wanted to put this guy in his place, and he didn’t like the look of him anyhow, with his silly moustache and smug smile. He kept his mouth shut about Sookie only being co-owner once the older ladies took their leave.
“Yeeeep.” Andy stretched casually before locking his hands behind his head to make his biceps bulge. “When we open tomorrow, you guys at Buy Everything will get a run for your money that’s for sure.”
Felipe snorted. “You think you small town plebeians will be able to compete with the might of Buy Everything? I’d love to see you try. “
With that final comment, he swaggered away. But not before signalling to the barman and jerking a thumb in the direction of Sookie and Andy’s table. Not five minutes later, the barman came over and cleared his throat.
“Howdy folks, I’m Vic – the owner of this fine establishment.”
Sookie blinked at the cigarette scarred table, which also had ketchup stains, and then looked around at the rest of the bar. It was a dump. Everyone knew it was a dump, but it was the nearest place to the retail park that sold food.
“Uh … okay. Is there something we can help you with?”
“You sure can, little lady. You and your goon here can pay up and never come back. I don’t like seeing my regular customers, like Mr. De Castro, gettin’ upset.”
“Pfft. He wasn’t upset – he was bein’ an ass!” Andy tossed his one-ply paper napkin on the table.
Sookie narrowed her eyes and placed a hand on Andy’s. “We haven’t caused any trouble, sir. But if you want us – and by extension all thirteen members of staff from our company to never set foot in this … bar, then that isn’t a problem.”
Vic’s eyes widened. Felipe was a good customer, and acquaintance, sometimes he brought a couple of other guys in with him … but thirteen customers was a lot to lose. Andy spotted the cogs turning in Vic’s head and smiled at Sookie.
“Yeah, I mean, I heard there was gonna be one o’ those burger franchise Bar & Grilles opening in the park. I’m sure they’d be more welcoming.”
Sookie nodded. “I’m sure they would.”
“Uh … look guys. Felipe is kind of a friend of mine; his Daddy fronted me the money to buy this place. He comes in on Thursdays, if you could just make sure you don’t come in that night then I don’t see any problems.”
“You’re a smart man not to turn away business, Vic.” Sookie took some bills out of her pocket and dropped them on the table. “We’ll be back – but not on a Thursday.”
Andy clapped Vic on the back before following Sookie out of the door. Once they got to their cars, he stopped and tapped his hands on the roof of his Corolla.
“Is this Felipe guy gonna cause us problems?”
Sookie sighed. “He’s Khan to my Kirk, Andy. He was a pompous ass in College and he’s still a pompous ass – but now he’s a pompous ass that thinks our business is a threat to his.”
“But we are.”
She was taken aback by the statement. Could SB Electrical really be a threat to Buy Everything? She thought about the team they had. Any company would struggle to get a tech support team of the calibre she had gathered, and the sales staff could probably sell snow to the Black Watch.
“Well, we’d better get ready for him to pull some nasty tricks then.”
SB Electrical Superstore – Break Room
Adele paced in front of the packed tables and chairs. She was nervous. And she hated being nervous.
“We are now T minus two hours until those doors get pulled wide and the customers flock in. I know you’ve all been anxious over what areas of the store you’ll be working in.”
Sookie and Andy stood up and started passing out the special polo shirts. In random order, with no indication of which people were on which team. The only one’s not dressed in jeans and being handed company uniform were Adele and Caroline. They wore smart skirt suits, black, with white blouses underneath and red chiffon scarves around their necks.
“On the back of each shirt you will find the team you are on for today. We’re still seeing where some of your strengths lie.”
Eric ripped open the plastic bag for his shirt and closed his eyes in frustration. When he opened them the text on the back of the shirt was still the same – ‘Technical Support and Sales’.
Why is fate kicking me in the nuts over and over? It seems the more I want to get away from geeks the further I’m pushed toward them.
“Are you coming, Eric?”
He blinked to find Arlene smiling at him and curling her flame-red hair round her finger. She winked at him and he cleared his throat before standing and gesturing for her to leave the room before him.
“Oh, you wanna check out the goods, huh?”
She wiggled and Eric laughed uncomfortably. “I don’t like to date within the workplace.”
Arlene chuckled and looked over her shoulder. “Oh, I’m sure we can rectify that, honey.”
Crom, give me strength.
Eric rubbed his face with his hands and went into the men’s locker room to change into his shirt. Andy, Jason, Bill, Sam and Terry were already in there. They were chattering excitedly, the pitch of their voices giving away their nerves. Jason straightened the collar of his shirt in the mirror.
“This is it boys, the big day.” He turned to the others and clapped his hands once before raising his arms to the sky. “Are we ready to sell?”
“That’s what I like to see, a little enthusiasm.” Andy clapped him on the back and smiled. “Now boys, those doors are gonna open soon and we need to be ready for anything.”
“Anything?” Terry gulped.
“Anything. Female customers – use your charms.” Andy looked straight at Eric and pointed to him. “But not too much, we don’t want any lawsuits. Male customers – use your man card and make that stove sound as macho as you can. We clear?”
“Crystal.” Eric replied sarcastically. “Does everyone here know why I was fired from Buy Everything?”
“Yeah, man, Pam told Sookie and Sookie told me and Gran.” Jason shrugged and smiled. “Personally, I was more shocked about the amount of pussy you must have let pass by than the fact those girls tried to sue you for flirtin’ with ‘em.”
“Yeah, well, lesson learned.” Eric grumbled.
In the women’s locker room a very different conversation was happening. At the very moment Eric was being warned against leading women on, Sookie was trying to break up a catfight between her cousin, Hadley, and Arlene Fowler.
“I saw him first, bitch, I call dibs!”
“Cram it Hadley! He ain’t even paid you a lick of attention.”
“Would you guys stop it?” Sookie eventually managed to get between the two women and separate them. “I get that Eric is a very handsome guy, but I think this is a decision he has to make. If this stupid squabble carries on to the floor, you guys are going straight in for a visit to Portia. She’s been studying Human Resources and working hard on a staff handbook. I don’t want to have to hold disciplinary meetings before we’re even open!”
Pam took Arlene by the arm and pulled her into the small shower room while Sookie tried to calm Hadley down. Once they were tidied and had quietened down, Sookie didn’t have time for a sales pep talk. The four women emerged into the sales floor to glares from Adele and Caroline and bemused looks from the guys as they noted that all four women had flushed cheeks.
“Now that we’re all here, let’s get these walkie-talkies handed out. Terry and Hadley – you’ll be running small item stock from the back to the service points. Any big ticket items are booked for delivery. If it’s too heavy for you to lift – it’s too heavy for the customer to lift.”
Terry saluted and took a handset from Adele. Hadley rolled her eyes and brushed against Eric on her way to get her handset, earning a low growl from Arlene. Sookie nudged the redhead and glared at her before grabbing Hadley and pulling her to one side.
“Hadley – not cool. This is opening day, a big day for Gran. Grow the fuck up and think about someone else for a change. Get into the stock area; I don’t want to see you out here again unless you’ve got a sold product in your arms.”
Hadley pulled her arm out of Sookie’s grasp and narrowed her eyes at her. Sookie had always been the favoured Granddaughter, the golden child, the one Gran doted on. The one who got believed when she blabbed on Uncle Bartlett, he’d always told Hadley no-one would believe her if she said anything. Hadley hated that Sookie was exerting her authority over her. But more than that, Hadley hated that Sookie was trying to get in the way of her getting a boyfriend.
“Look, Sookie, you may be hot stuff when it comes to computerology or whatever, but when it comes to dating, I’m the Slayer. By hook or by crook, Eric will be mine.”
Sookie sighed as Hadley stomped off to the stock area and rubbed at her temples as she rejoined the rest of the group. Adele was confused about the altercation between her Granddaughters but didn’t let it interrupt the flow of her speech.
“Jason, Sam and Andy – you’re our big guns. You sell, sell, sell and get those consumer driven asses to Arlene at the sales point.” She handed Arlene another handset. “You’re my money taker, Arlene; I hope you can count better than you can dye your hair.”
Before Arlene could be offended, Andy steered her toward the sales point.
“Bill, Pam – you’re on tech support and sales. Sookie and Eric are your back-up if that section gets too busy.” Bill and Pam nodded and went over to the Geek Clique desk. “Sookie and Eric – your handsets are on the same frequency as Quinn’s. Greeters and door folks are the first line of defence against shoplifters.”
“And crazy people.” Sookie sullenly added.
“Yes and crazy people.” Adele checked her watch and nodded. “It’s time.”
Sookie and Eric just made it to their places before the store’s PA system crackled and Adele’s voice echoed through the building.
“Open doors – engage.”
The click as Quinn turned the key to operate the automatic doors was as loud as the heartbeats of the waiting employees. A crowd had already gathered on the sidewalk outside, a few of them not waiting until the doors were fully open before trying to squeeze through. Eric gulped as a large irate woman made eye contact with him.
“Shields up! Rrrrrrred Alert!”
Sookie snorted but stopped when she saw Maybelle Harrison making a beeline for Eric. “This is not gonna’ be pretty. We’re talkin’ violence, strong language, adult content.”
“You, boy, I bought this laptop here last week and it don’t work!”
“Okay, ma’am, I can see you’re upset but there’s no way you could have bought this here.”
“You callin’ me a liar, boy?”
“No, ma’am, I’m simply suggesting that you may have gotten a little confused. We weren’t open last week and for the record, this isn’t a laptop – it’s a waffle iron.”
SB Electrical Superstore – Break Room – 8:15pm
Sookie, Hadley and Pam were sharing a bag of cherries at one of the tables as all of the store’s staff had gathered at the end of a busy day. They were waiting on the final number as Andy, Adele and Caroline emptied the cash register and counted the receipts.
“Should be a good count, I’ve never served as many customers as I did today.” Jason was pleased as punch that most of the stock requests from the sales point had had his name on them.
“It’s the retail park. In the strip mall, folks only went there for something specific. Here you get the folks out for the day and wanting to browse. Browsers make good buyers.” Sookie bit another cherry in half and picked out the pit with her fingernails.
“Did you get a lot of action, Eric?” Arlene winked and tried to sit on his knee.
He sprang from his chair and walked over to the refrigerator for a bottle of water. “I managed to talk a few people into the more expensive option.”
Bill coughed and mumbled under his breath about that not being what Arlene was talking about. Hadley glared at Arlene but soon turned her hundred watt smile toward Eric.
“Hey, Eric, did you know I can tie a knot in a cherry stem using only my tongue?”
“Uh … really? How very … Audrey Horne.”
“No really, you don’t have to. I believe you.”
But it was too late. The stem was in her mouth and Hadley was contorting her face into a multitude of expressions. Moments later, Hadley uttered a ‘guk’ noise and her hands went to her throat. She fell into Sam’s lap, clawing at her neck.
“Oh my god! Sam, quick – do the Heimlich manoeuvre or something!” Sookie shouted.
“Dammit, Sookie, I’m an Electrician not a Doctor!”
Bill jumped out of his chair and grabbed Hadley, pulling her out of the chair and wrapping his arms around her midriff. The others watched as Bill tried to stop Hadley from choking and as Hadley, stupidly, tried to fight him off. She pointed to Eric as she jerked spastically in Bill’s arms until finally the cherry stem flew out of her mouth and hit Portia on her left cheek.
“I should have gone to law school.” Portia took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her face as Hadley threw herself at Eric.
“You saved me!”
“Uh … no, I didn’t. Bill saved you.” Eric unwrapped Hadley’s arms from his waist and sat between Sookie and Pam.
“But I know you would’ve if he hadn’t gotten there first.”
“Sure, I was just on my way to save you but I took an arrow to the knee.”
While most of the room laughed uncomfortably, Sookie, Bill and Pam eyed Eric with suspicion. Particularly Bill.
This development does not increase my chances of rekindling our high school romance.