The buzzer woke me up from my daydream like a slap in the face. I pressed the button and spoke into my headset. “Hello welcome to Charlie’s Chicken with a capital c. You won’t find better chicken for miles. How can I help you?”
“Do you have a date for Valentines Day yet?”
“Becky?” I asked peering at the tiny monitor that showed the cars at the drive through. Sure enough my two best friends were sitting there in a red mini cooper, taking up space meant for actual customers.
“So what’s the answer?” Rebecca demanded. “Oh and Adam’s here too.”
“Hi Adam,” I said smiling and saw him wave. Of course Adam was with her. Ever since my two best friends woke up one day and suddenly found each other attractive they were barley ever apart.
“You guys are so weird,” I told them. “Why didn’t you just come in the door? Or call for that matter?”
“We’re on our way to get something to eat and you never answer your phone when you’re working,” Adam said and I discreetly checked my phone, forgetting they couldn’t see me. Danm six missed calls.
“Well why don’t you just eat here?” I suggested. A suggestion which was met with a series of snorts and giggles that made me feel even better about working here. “Rebecca I don’t have a date. You know I’m not doing Valentines Day this year.”
“How can you not do Valentines Day? Never mind, I don’t want your giant rant about how its all a scam thought up by the greeting card and chocolate companies. Adam and I have got you a date! Actually we’ve gotten you two.”
“Two?” I asked because she was acting like that was perfectly normal.
“Tomorrow is Valentines Day so first you’ll have a lunch date with Peter. Then a dinner date with James. And on Valentines Day you call up the guy you liked best and you’ll go out. Perfect!”
“No Becky not perfect,” I said. “Adam can you believe her?”
“Well Rachel I kind of agree with her,” he hurried on before I had time to reply, “its just that ever since we got together we’re worried that you feel left out. We don’t want you to spend Valentines Day alone at home eating ice cream.”
“Yeah Rach and this year I wont be able to join you because I have a boyfriend.” I saw her cuddle into him on the monitor and I made gagging noises. “Plus honey you haven’t had a boyfriend in a really long time. And no that short guy with really bad acne that you made out with because you felt sorry for doesn’t count.”
“I’m seventeen! Not some old spinster,” I snapped. “Did you guys ever stop to think I might have plans today?”
“Well do you?” Adam asked and took the silence to mean no. “So just go on the dates Rachel, relax and have fun. Peter’s picking you up at one. Got to go. Bye!”
Before I had time to argue they sped off. “You didn’t even buy anything!” I grumbled and jumped as someone cleared their throat behind me.
“Talking to yourself, the first sign of madness.” A tall guy with curly brown hair and hazel eyes stood there smirking.
“How long have you been standing there?” I snapped.
“Long enough to know your friends are crazy and the only guys you can get are loners.”
“I’m not mean when your friends come to visit. Oh wait that’s right, they don’t.”
“Rachel that’s not the way you talk to someone who’s going to be covering your shifts while you go out on your dates.”
“You’d do that?” I asked, surprised.
“Well you’d have to mop the floors and clean out the grill for the next three weeks. And come back and work inbetween dates,” he smiled slyly, these were all his jobs.
I knew from expirience that once Rebecca had made plans there was no point in fighting them. “Fine,” I sighed. “But its rude to eavesdrop.”
“Its also rude to lead that poor guy on. Let me bet, it was Fred wasn’t it? He has that whole geeky desperate vibe. I didn’t know you went for that.”
“Yeah you’re not my type. Now don’t you have a job to be sucking at?” I turned back to the monitor and put my headphones in even though my iPod died the first hour into my shift.
Confident Scott had left I propped my feet up on the chair beside me and closed my eyes. I hated working at Charlie’s Chicken. I hated the low wages and the crappy hours. I hated coming home smelling like chip fat and cleaning detergent. I hated the stupid overalls and chicken hats they made us wear. But most of all I hated Scott.
Ever since I’d started working here two months ago Scott had done everything he could to make working here even more unbearable. I thought that because we started working here at the same time we could stick together. But no. From the very start it seemed like Scott deliberatly went out of his way to make me hate him.
He insulted the way I worked the cash register, the way I took orders, the way I mopped the floor, my messy blonde hair, the way I stood, my friends, my car, the way I parked my car, the chicken hat we both have to wear, the way I laughed and the list just goes on and on.
To my recoglection I couldn’t remember anything I’d done in that first day to piss him off. The first thing I ever said to him was, “Hi,” and he just looked down at me with that stupid smirk of his and walked away. It wasn’t like we ever had a chance to meet before that. He’d just moved to town in October and he goes to the local high school wheras I go to the all girls high school down the road with Rebecca. We walk up to Adam after school and I’ve seen him around but we don’t talk.
I’d quit in a hearbeat if I didn’t need the money for college and in this economy I’m lucky to even have this job. Charlie’s Chicken isn’t doing so good at the moment and after Christmas Charlie had to lay off a few people off. Now Scott and I are currently the only two staff he employs. I wouldn’t mind because we’re never that busy but it definatly increased the tension between me and Scott.
Charlie spent most of the time in the back going over bills and trying to find a way to keep this place going. I think he just kept Scott and I on because we’re teenagers who are glad of what money we can get and it would take up too much time training someone new how to grill chicken and mop the floors. It was a Monday evening which was, not suprisingly one of our calmer evenings. Calmer meaning we might get less than our usual five to six customers. I knew Scott would be sitting behind the till with his stupid book trying to look smart reading. So I tipped my chair sligtly backwards, closed my eyes and within minutes I was asleep.
* * *
I woke up to the sounds of the buzzer going crazy and the blarimg of a horn. “We have been waiting here for ten minutes! This is not-” A high pitched voice yelled from the speakers.
Suddenly Scott had grabbed the headset off me. “Hi welcome to Charlie’s Chicken. Sorry for the delay. What can I get you? Mmm hmm. Okay and I’ll throw in some extra fries with that, on the house.” He turned off the headset and grinned at me. “That’s coming out of your pay check. Sleeping on the job, I was going to say I expect better of you but I don’t.”
I wiped the drool from the side of my face and glared at him. “Oh please I cant count the amount of times I’ve walked in here and found you asleep on the floor hugging a bucket of chicken.”
“Now we’re even,’ he stopped at the door and smiled in that stupidly irritating way of his. “By the way you have chicken duty.” He was gone before I could protest.
Fifteen minutes later I stood outside the building holding a billion coupons and wearing the most embarrassing chicken costume ever created. I was just thankful it covered my head. “Get a free piece of chicken when you buy five. Get a free piece of chicken when you buy five,” I repeated tonelessly as I handed out the coupons to the first two people to pass me in fifteen minutes. The costume was heavy and warm and it smelled like someone had died in it.
“Excuse me?” Someone tapped my shoulder and I peered out through the tiny dotted holes when the chickens eyes should be. “Do you know if Rachel Moore is still working?” Peter! I don’t know if it was his sparkly green eyes or the fact that this was the first date I’d been on in two years but I didn’t want it to start off like this.
I cleared my throat and spoke in my deepest voice, “Yeah man she’s just inside. Wait here, I’ll get her for you.”
“Oh thanks,” Peter said looking slightly confused. I waddled back inside and grabbed Scott from the counter where he looked like he might fall asleep. I dragged him into the teeny changing room in the back.
“Hurry I need you to put on the costume and go out and talk to Peter.”
“Ew I hate that thing. I’m not putting that on,” he turned to leave.
“What are you? Chicken?” I taunted him and he pulled off his chicken hat and glared at me. “Please I need you to stall while I fix my hair and my make up. I’ll clean the guys bathroom for the next two weeks. Okay? Great turn around.”
I wriggled out of the costume, passed it to him and changed my gross uniform for the skinny jeans and coat I’d worn in this morning. When I turned around Scott was standing there in the chicken costume grinning with his arms folded.
“You looked?” I schreeched, hitting him even though he probably couldn’t feel it through all the padding. He chuckled and walked out the door.
“Hey I may be a chicken but I’m still a guy,” he called over his shoulder. I ran a brush through my hair and managed to stick the mascara wand in my eye no less than three times before I was finally ready. I hurried outside to find Scott holding the chicken’s head in his hands, chatting to Peter.
“Scott you have to keep the whole costume on. Without the head it ruins the illusion.” I told him and he stuck the head back on and spoke in a muffled voice.
“The illusion that I’m a giant chicken? Let me assure you, kids will be happier to know the truth.”
“Ready to go?” Peter cut in and I smiled and nodded. He went and got his Porche from the carpark reserved for staff and the giant chicken opened the door for me.
“Pinkies up,” he laughed and slammed it behind me.
What did that mean? Driving away in Peter’s car I looked back and spotted Scott dancing for some little kids who were all ponting and waving at him. Now we’d both seen things the other didn’t want us to.
* * *
Peter brought me to a tiny gourmet café in the centre of town. The car jorney had been silent except for the radio. Even though it was a café looking at the prices I felt like I should be wearing something fancier. Peter was wearing a polo shirt and neatly pressed trousers. A beaming waitress came over to us and before I had time to tell her I wasn’t ready to order Peter was talking.
“Hi yes we’ll both have the Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp. Oh and a bottle of sparkling water, not tap water, sparkling.”
I opened my mouth to tell him I didn’t like shrimp and sparkling water hurt my nose but I didn’t want to ask for anything else because it was so expensive. I gritted my teeth and smiled back at him. Strike one.
“So Peter,” I said brightly, “do you golf?” I guestered towards his clothes.
“Yes my father just opened a new golf course in the next city. I was golfing this morning and,” he checked his watch, ‘I expect I’ll golf after I drop you back to that fast food place.”
The date hadn’t even started and he was already planning what to do afterwards? I tried to change the subject but twenty minutes later we were half finished our meal and he was still talking about golf. Not once had he asked me a question.
“I’m a brilliant golfer if I do say so myself. Father has me give tips to his assosiates at dinner parties. Poor stance develops the galore slices, hooks, clubbing and the respective major inconsistencies that characterize a poor golf game…” he continued and I nodded, having totally zoned out now, picking around the shrimp. Boring me half to death. Strike two.
“Excuse me,” I said and went into the little bathroom. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even notice I was gone. I pulled out my phone. And pressed ring. Voice mail. “Adam!” I hissed. “I’ve never met such an arrogant boring person in my life. Where did you find him, jerks r us? And how do you even know him? Call me back.”
When I got back to the table Peter was finished his meal and he smiled at me cheerfully. “We should settle. Your half comes to-”
I had no problem paying for myself but I hadnt even ordered shrimp and there was still more than half of it on the plate, for all he knows I might not have been finished yet. The sparkling water I didn’t drink added to our bill and I would have been more than happy with free tap water. But he didn’t ask me. Strike three.
“Goodbye Peter,” I walked out leaving him looking confused. After I had walked up two streets and got Adam and Becky’s voice mails twice I opened my contacts one last time. It wasn’t hard to find Scott’s number, he was down under Asshole.
* * *
I climbed out of Scott’s battered jeep and he hopped down looking delighted with himself. “Some kid got sick while you were gone but since mopping the floor is now your job I decided to leave it till you got back.”
“Gee thanks!” I said with as much fake enthusiasm as I could muster. He had gloated as much as I’d expected as he’d driven me back but I still owed him for coming to collect me. He opened the front door and peeked inside. “I bet Charlie doesn’t even know you left!” We laughed and he went about turning everything on while I cleaned the floors. A spluttering noise let me know Rebecca’s car had arrived and I ran outside. “What were you two thinking?” I yelled.
She held up her phone. “I just heard five minutes of you yelling in voice mails so lets just skip to the part where we say we’re sorry and Adam knows him from preschool!” Adam smiled appologetically and I frowned.
“You didn’t think to choose someone you actually talked to in the past five years?”
“Everyone else already had a date…and on that cheerful note James is picking you up at eight. I doubt you’ll be going anywhere fancy but here. See you later!” He threw me a bag of clothes and again they sped off before I had time to argue.
“Why woouln’t we be going anywhere fancy? What’s wrong with him?” I sighed and went inside to leave the bag in the changing room. Only six lovely hours until my date. Charlie’s latest tactic to try and make more money is to have the place open until midnight. We do get a lot more customers and he doubles our wages if we stay past seven, which is the time he goes home.
I scrubbed tables, washed the floors again, almost passed out cleaning the men’s bathroom, dealt with rude customers and kids with sticky hands, took orders, handed out more coupons in the chicken costume and counted all the tiles in the ceiling. One hundred and two.
Finally it was half seven and the only customers we were getting was people going through the drive through. I wasn’t going to be stuck for time this date and I quickly changed into the pretty sweater and red skirt that Rebecca had obviously packed because I could be wearing a sack and Adam would say it looks nice, sometimes without even looking at me.
I sat behind the till with the chicken hat still balanced on my head and started to read the book Scott had left down to man the drive through. Suprisingly it was War and Peace. I always thought he had a comic hidden behind the pages but it was marked neatly in the middle and I observed he wasn’t even skipping to the war parts.
I convinced myself that this date might be better, I’d go into this with a positive attitude. That still didn’t stop me from feeling nervous the closer it got to eight. I had butterflies as Scott walked towards the front door holding a bag of chicken. It was dark outside now. “All ready for your date?” He asked, I winced and the reply came up like word vomit, unexpected and suprising.
“You don’t even have a date!”
For a second I thought he looked hurt but then he smiled his maddening grin and held up the bag of chicken. “Yeah, I do. Loser,” he stepped outside the door.
A pretty girl, all blonde hair and long legs, got out of a tiny sports car and took the bag of chicken off him. He said something and she laughed and hugged him before getting back in the car and driving away. My hands gripped his book and I closed it angrily. Why did I even care? This boy was messing with my head. I was still hungry from lunch and I didn’t want to eat like a pig at dinner so I made myself a strawberry milkshake.
“Her name is Sandi. With an i.” Scott’s voice was closer than I expected and I gasped and spun around. He knocked into me and the milkshake spilled down my sweater. “Oh crap sorry,” he seemed genuine. A car horn blasted outside and I groaned. James was outside and again I wasn’t ready. “Here,” Scott unbuttoned his black shirt and handed it to me, “quick put this on. It matches your skirt, I’ll just wear the chicken costume or something.”
He pushed me towards the changing room and for a second I stood frozen before I threw off the sweater and pulled on his shirt. Who would have known that Scott was in such good shape? Sandi probably knew. She had probably seen his amazing six pack and his toned arms a hundred times. She was probably bored of them by now and they probably didn’t make her go weak at the knees.
I stepped out of the changing room and saw Scott cleaning the floor. Still shirtless. He looked up. “You look nice. Hurry or you’ll be late. And Rachel if you call me again to get you I’m gonna have to start charging you.” He grinned. “Now get out of here you loser.”
He went to take an order at the drive through and I hurried to James’ red pick up truck. It was a change from Peter. I climbed into the passanger seat and he grinned at me and shook my hand before the engine roared to life. “Hey Rachel I’m James Gleeson, I’m best friends with Becky’s cousin Karl. I don’t normally go on blind dates but Becky told me you were pretty.” He smiled and reached for the radio. “And looks like she was right. What music do you like?” Definatly a change from Peter.
* * *
The date went the complete opposite of my date with Peter. James was nice and funny and he asked me about myself. The restaurant wasn’t fancy but I got a main course and a dessert that I actually liked and he insisted on paying for both even though I argued with him. He was perfectly nice but for some reason I couldn’t get Scott out of my head. What was with the mixed signals? One second he was insulting me and the next second he was being really sweet and charming. I didn’t get it. More than once I zoned out and James had to repeat himself.
We drove back in silence listening to music on the radio and I traced patterns on the window with my finger. It was starting to get cold outside. I wondered if James was as fit as Scott? It didn’t look like it. The shirt smelled like Scott. Like soap. Before I knew it we were already back at Charlie’s Chicken and he parked in the corner of the car park. “I had a really good time,” I told him, which was true even though all I could think of was Scott sitting inside waiting to tease me about Peter’s blue eyes and messy blonde hair.
“Me too,’ he murmured and began leaning in. Oh my god he was going to kiss me. After a second’s hesitation I leant in too. What was the point of thinking about Scott? He had a date for tomorrow and I didn’t, well maybe I did, this kiss was really good. His hands started off in my hair and slowly slid down my back until they rested on my hips. He began pulling my shirt up inch by inch and I pulled away sharply.
“Woah!” I yanked my shirt back down and suddenly James didn’t look so nice and so friendly. He looked mad.
“Oh my god! I paid for dinner and I sat through this whole date even though you barley said a word. Why are you being such a prude?” He yelled and I flattened myself against the door. I tried to open it but it was locked.
“Let me out,” I snapped.“Open the door James!” I tried not to let the panic show in my voice but my breath was coming faster and he was still yelling. Tears pricked my eyes and I angrily blinked them back. The doors clicked open but before I could jump out his hand snaked around my wrist and yanked me back. “Ow! Let me go!” I shouted and tried to punch him but his other hand caught my fist. His voice filled the car. He was calling me names now and I tried to kick him.
“Let her go!” All of a sudden James was pulled backwards through his car door. The second his grip left my arms I threw open the door and ran inside the building. I pulled out my phone and dialled Adam’s number with trembling fingers.
When I finished telling him what had happened there was a long silence on the other end of the phone. Then Rebecca’s voice, “I’m gonna kill him.” All of a sudden Adam and Becky were shouting threats at once and I peered out at the car park.
I smiled, “Actually it looks like Scott has it under control.” I felt safe in here with the familiar smells of chicken and grease. But Rebecca still sounded tearful and I could hear Adam muttering under his breath. “Guys really im fine now and it looks like Scott is beating the crap out of him enough for the both of you.”
“Rachel we’re so sorry. This has gotten way out of control, we only wanted to set you up with boring guys not assholes and now-”
There was a long pause. “Well its Valentines Day tomorrow, the most romatic day of the year, and you and Scott still haven't realised how good you are together! We planned to set you up with really boring guys so you’d realise how great Scott is. But we never meant-”
“Scott and I aren’t good together! We hate each other!” I cried and began to laugh. “Ew me and Scott? That’s just…” I thought about how he always teases me and how he helped me today and how he’s out there beating up some stranger who treated me badly. And I thought about his muscles.
“Hello? Rachel?” Adam’s voice snapped me back to reality.
“Besides he has a date for tomorrow. So once again I’ll be alone with the only two men in my life that I can rely on. Ben and Jerry. Really I don’t mind though. I’ll talk to you guys later. Happy Valentines Day. Love you.”
“Love you too Rach. And we are really sorry! We’ll talk to you tomorrow, night.”
“Night,” I hung up and the door swung open to reveal a chicken standing there holding its head in its wings. My hero.
“Asshole’s gone,” Scott said cheerfully and I gasped. His eye looked puffy and swollen and his lip was bleeding. “Oh yeah don’t worry about this. Are you okay?”
“I am now. Scott look at your face! Oh god I’m so sorry, you didn’t have to do that.”
“Yeah I kinda did. You think I’m bad? You should see the other guy,” he laughed but he walked with a slight limp. “And next time I see those friends of yours I have something to say about the guys they pick to go out with you. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes I’m fine!” I dragged him over to the sink and gently pressed a wet cloth to his eye. He flinched and I frowned and bit my lip. “Sorry. Do you know they were trying to set us up? Me and you? Crazy.” I laughed. “I officially don’t care I don’t have a date for tomorrow.” I ran the cloth under the water again and gently pressed it to his lip.
“I-I don’t have a date either. Sandi is just a girl in my class. I helped her study for our english exam and she passed. That’s why she was hugging me.” He smiled and stared down at his shoes. Why was he telling me that? “Valentines Day is for losers anyway.”
“Yeah.” I dabbed his lip carefully, trying not to hurt him. The swelling was going down now.
“At least that’s something we agree on,’ he said and we stood in silence for a few minutes. The only sound was the tap running and the clock ticking. “One minute to midnight. One minute to Valentine’s Day. It wouldn’t be so crazy would it?”
“Us? Me and you?”
I laughed. “Scott you hate me!”
“Then I hate you the least I’ve ever hated anyone,” he brushed a strand of hair back from my face and I realised how close we were standing together. I began to giggle. “What?” He asked.
“You’re a chicken and Valentine’s Day is for losers.”
“Will you be my loser?” He said slowly and I looked up into his hazel eyes and for a second I couldn’t breathe. The clock ticked down the seconds to midnight. I reached up on my tippytoes and cupped his face with my hands. Our lips met just as the clock struck twelve. I smiled and murmered against his lips.
“Only if you’ll be mine.”
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