I checked the schedule to see who else was working my shift. He was on until 6; I was starting at 3.
I fashioned a headband out of a bandanna and pushed my curls off my face to adhere, as much as I was willing to anyway, to proper food safety standards. I put my foot up on a chair to tie my shoe and headed up front to start working. On my way, I nearly ran into him in the narrow corridor by the walk-in freezer.
"Hey," I said, stopping short so we would not collide.
"Hey. You're on today?" he said. Of course he knew I'd be coming in. Everyone checked the schedule first thing because a good crew would make or break a shift. Maybe I was supposed to think he didn't care that I was there.
"No, I just felt like showing up in my uniform for no reason." Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.
"Hey!" I shouted, doing my best to sound offended through laughter.
"I'm kidding!" I knew he was but I pretended not to believe him.
Every time we worked together lately, this was our dance. Rumor had it he had a crush on me. I had a boyfriend and wasn't interested. I maintained that I was doing nothing to encourage his flirting, but at the same time I knew I was doing nothing to discourage it either. It was fun and he knew the situation.
All afternoon the squabbling and banter continued. There seemed to always be a reason for him to brush up against me or full on knock me out of his way. Every little girl knows that boys push you and pull your hair when they like you and just because he was 16, that didn't mean he had grown out of this style of flirtation. And just because I was 18, that didn't mean I wasn't going to react. I always pushed back, shouted at him or threw something, just let him know his actions had not gone unnoticed. It was all part of the game.
At some point, I'd had enough nonsense. It was time to get ready for the full shift change and I was growing weary of his antics. I tried to yell at him playfully but my intentionally light tone didn't do enough to hide my annoyance. I had upset him and felt badly about it. He stomped off to the back to sulk and I followed.
It was fine for me to be tired of him, but I didn't want him tired of me.
He ignored me for a few minutes while I tried in vain to apologize. I was just about to give up, figuring if he was that intent on brooding he could go on and do it then, when he started laughing.
"Good. You feel bad. That's what you get. You're always so mean to me." He was so proud of himself for getting me to beg for his attention. I was furious. How dare he make me look foolish?
"I'm mean to you?! If I'm mean to you, it's only because you're an asshole, always knocking into me or being obnoxious. You totally deserve it!"
He swung a wet, soapy dishrag in my direction and it was on. I tried to protect myself from the rag while simultaneously wrestle it away from him. He was much stronger than I was, so he always had the upper hand. I grabbed one end of the rag so he couldn't whip it at me anymore, but he grabbed my wrist and squeezed it hard so I had to let go. I screamed in pain and tried to punch him. It was the kind of altercation that started as fun but was beginning to get out of hand.
The roughhousing continued. I tripped over a chair behind me and fell back against the upright freezer. We were still attacking one another and he fell towards me. He put his hands up to stop himself from crushing me, one on either side of my head. Time stopped. We were both breathing heavily. My heart was racing, no doubt from the struggle. He probably thought it was for him.
He was smiling and staring at me intensely. I looked back at his blue eyes. He was so close. I should have pushed him off of me but I just stood there, arms frozen at my sides.
The sound of footsteps interrupted the silence between us and caused us to break our stare. We bounced away from one another. He went to put the dishrag in the sink. As I breezed past my other coworker, I noticed her confused expression. I looked up at the clock.
"It's 6. Shouldn't you leave?" I asked him. I was walking back up front before I even finished my sentence. Why would he do that? Why would he get that close? I hopped up on the front freezer and sat there, the cold metal against my thighs, watching the traffic drive by me.
I heard the back door slam and I knew he was gone. My coworker came back up front.
"What was that all about?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said.
He and I never talked about it. We weren't really friends after that.
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