“I want to speak to a manager!” The shrill, Karen-esque voice outside my office door ran straight through me, setting my temples to aching. I hunched my shoulders to keep from moaning out loud in dread. There was no glory in retail management, and nothing reinforced that notion more than the phrase, “I want to speak to the manager,” especially when it was spoken in the angry-lady way only women could manage.
“Ro,” a voice squawked over my earpiece. “Someone wants to speak to you.” With a sigh, I pushed my chair away from my desk and pressed the button on my earpiece to speak to my team. All the department heads wore one. “Coming.” I’d just sat down after a big rush up front where I’d bagged groceries for an hour to help get my team through it. Spring had sprung, bringing warm weather and a solid yellow layer of pollen on absolutely everything. And every Karen came to the grocery store to buy grilling supplies and a ton of meat. It’d been a long day, but at least I’d made it nearly to the end of my shift without having to deal with an irate customer. Until now. I opened the door to my office—the office situated behind the Customer Service desk—and plastered the trademark fake-polite retail smile on my face. “Hello, how can I help?” A woman with a short blonde bob and overly drawn eyebrows glared at me. Whoa, lady. Easy on the contouring.
“Are you the manager?” she snapped. No, I was wearing business casual clothes instead of the uniform of jeans and a red shirt the employees wore simply because I loved the style. “Yes, ma’am.” I kept my voice neutral and professional. I was a pro at it after twenty-three years in the business. “What can I do for you?” She slapped a small pack of ground beef on the counter. “This is supposed to be on sale.” She sniffed. “2.99 a pound.” We hadn’t had a ground beef sale for 2.99 a pound in weeks. I knew. It was my responsibility to proofread the ad every week. “I’m sorry, that ground beef isn’t on sale, but I’d be happy to give it to you at that price as a one-time courtesy.” It was always easier to give them whatever they wanted. Then they went away, and my day went on.
“It is on sale!” the Karen screeched. “And I can prove it!”
“There’s no need for that,” I said, still pleasant, with my hands up. “I’m perfectly happy to give it to you at that price. As a matter of fact, how about you take this package for free?” Anything to make her GTFO. She sniffed and looked down at the meat as if considering my offer. “Well, I didn’t ask to speak to you just to get something for free.”
“Of course not,” I said placatingly. She damn well had, too. “But I want you to have it for bringing this to my attention.” The Karen’s blonde bob swung as she crossed her arms and looked down her nose at me, this woman who probably never worked a damned day of retail in her life. My anger choked my throat, and as I scanned the package and put in the code for changing the price, I glanced at the pink meat, focusing my magic. There wasn’t much in this world I could do in the way of magic, but one thing I’d gotten down was accidentally ruining my dinners when I tried to make them cook faster with magic. I hated to cook and had been trying on my own for years to magic my way to easier food, but I still hadn’t made much progress. I wouldn’t give up. But in the meantime… Sending a little burst of power into the core of the meat, I smiled genuinely at the Karen for the first time since I came out of my office. By the time she opened that package of meat, it’d be spoiled. And, if my past experience was any indication, she wouldn’t realize it until the meat was cooked and on the table. And it would taste awful. Mwahahaha.
“I hope the rest of your day goes well,” I said sweetly to the woman. “And thank you for shopping at Finer Foods.” She gave me a satisfied smile and took her beef, which I’d put in a plastic bag. As soon as the woman was out of earshot, the customer service rep leaned closer. “Why’d you give her the meat for free?” With a sigh, I winked at her. “Because now she’s gone. And it cost us about three bucks to get rid of her.” I patted her on the back. “And the store will still be here tomorrow, crazy customers included. Worth every penny.” My watch beeped, reminding me it was time for my final walkthrough. The paperwork back on my computer would just have to wait another day. It had already waited five or so. What was one more? I walked around the customer service desk and grabbed a grocery cart to walk the store and pick up any products left lying around. No doubt I’d have a buggy full since I hadn’t had time to do this since the first thing this morning. Smiling at customers, I made my way around the perimeter of the store, picking up the ingredients I’d need for dinner along the way. One of my regulars stopped me and nodded toward my chin. “You know, some witch hazel would do the trick for that acne.” She giggled. “I bet you never thought you’d be worrying about both wrinkles and acne did you, dear?” Gritting my teeth, I curled the corners of my lips up. “No, I sure didn’t. But yes, adult acne is a thing and thank you, I’ve tried witch hazel.” Why did everyone think it was okay to speak on things that were absolutely none of their damn business?
“Well, no doubt you used the wrong formulation or didn’t use it long enough.” She reached over and patted my arm. “See you next time.” Smiling and seething, I watched her walk away, wishing I had enough control over my power to turn all her hair gray or make a bunch of little hairs sprout from her chin. Oh, yeah, that’d be good. But I’d never had any training. I’d only ever met one other witch in my life, and she lived an hour away, so we didn’t get to talk as much as I would’ve liked. She wasn’t the same sort of witch as me, though. She could do stuff like help plants grow faster and boil water. She didn’t know how to describe my magic to me so I could figure out better how to use it. When I’d walked every square inch of the customer floor, I pushed the button of my earpiece. “Guys, I’m heading out. Anybody need anything?” I got no replies besides a bunch of goodbyes, so I pulled the earpiece off and rubbed the back of my ear. What a relief to have that thing away from my skin. I should’ve developed a callous back there by now, but I hadn’t. By the time I got to my car, I was regretting the new shoes. Why hadn’t I brought a pair to change into? My feet were about to fall the eff off. When I pressed the button to start the car, I sighed and relaxed before calling my only witch friend. I frequently called her just to catch up during my thirty-minute drive home. My hometown was so small it didn’t even have a grocery store, so I drove the miles to Charlotte five days a week.
“GW!” I said. “What a day I’ve had.” Her name was Giselle Wilhelmina, but I’d given her a nickname once I’d found out what a mouthful of a middle name she had. Most people called her Giselle. Her voice floated to me in an echo. GW loved speakerphone. “Did you finally figure out how to make a customer disappear?” I snorted. “Unfortunately, no. I tried to make one woman’s hair go gray, but it didn’t work.”
“Well, better luck next time. Are you coming over this weekend for the planting ceremony?” GW loved to do nature ceremonies. Spring was the perfect excuse.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” I promised. And I wouldn’t. It was always good fun. She made all sorts of things grow and cooked up a mess of food, though I didn’t know why when it was just me and her. She didn’t have a coven; said she was a loner. Well, she once had a coven, long enough for some training, and I wished I’d had at least that much.
“Any word back from your mom?” she asked. I’d recently had a horrible dream about my birth mother. In it, she’d told me she was so sorry. I hadn’t been able to see her face, but her hair had been long and bright red like mine. The same shade, which was likely my subconscious tying her to me. “No, the one dream was it. I watched one of those silly, sappy movies that night before the dream. I think it just put me in a weird headspace.”
“I still think you should ask your parents about her,” she encouraged. “Find out if there’s anything they held back about you or when she gave you up.” Sighing as I sat at a stoplight, I considered her words. “I know. And I’ve thought about it. But what else is there to know? I was dropped at a fire station when I was just a few hours old. My mother was probably very young and couldn’t take care of me. At least she didn’t throw me in a dumpster.” She’d cared about me; I was sure of it. I’d been left wrapped in a soft blanket with a little note in the folds. It had only said, “I’m sorry.”
“No, of course. Sorry to press you.” I changed the subject and got her talking about her store, an herb and crystals shop, and the ride home passed quickly. Thank goodness for GW. I didn’t know what I’d do without her.
L.A. (Lainie) Boruff, USA Today Bestselling Author, lives in East Tennessee with her husband, three children, and an ever growing number of cats. She loves reading, watching TV, and procrastinating by browsing Facebook. L.A.’s passions include vampires, food, and listening to heavy metal music. She once won a Harry Potter trivia contest based on the books and lost one based on the movies. She has two bands on her bucket list that she still hasn’t seen: AC/DC and Alice Cooper. Feel free to send tickets.