Friday, September 11, 2009

Counting Forwards

...a continuation of Counting Backwards

She met her most loyal and responsible employee, Erika, at the mall bright and early on that crisp September day. The corridors were dark and quiet until the 'click' of her Store Manager key broke the silence.

Today was inventory day. An annual task that could either make or break a new manager of 9 months. But she was confident. It would be a good day, she thought to herself, as she lifted the gate and hurried to disarm the security system of HER jewelry store.

She was supposed to be in Indiana. The first week of December 2000, she had accepted a store in some small town south of Indianapolis. She didn't like cold weather. But, it was a way out. Out of debt. Out of her family. Out of the series of events that eventually lead to last months surgery. Out of the only town she'd ever known...Houston.

Erika opened the safe and began setting out the diamonds. Bracelets, earrings, rings. They were all stunning tokens of love waiting to be counted and recounted before they began their day of sitting pretty in the case. Their only job was to shine so brightly that any cross-eyed lover whose financial judgement was impaired would succumb to temptation and take them home for a wife, girl friend, or both.

The Manager was in charge of setting up and counting the bridal cases. These pieces of pressurized coal had a more poignant role. Their high price tag, often equal to two months salary, served a unique breed of customer. Although many a Tom, Dick, or Harry would flirt with an emerald, marquis, or princess cut for their One, it was the round stone whose perfection drew the most lure. It's precise angles of sparkle and glare cut to the heart of many young men.

Her mind wondered as she placed the rings of gold and platinum in their designated slots.

Would SHE ever be on the receiving end of one of these circular sparkles of joy?

She felt a division every time she smiled and gave her shpeel to a client: Color, Cut, and clarity. Your lover will feel like the most important person in the world. Yada Yada Yada.

She would cover all the bases. Refraining from saying what really choked her throat during a bridal sales presentation:

Why the hell can't I find a nice guy like you to love me and court me and by me a ring? Really. I want to know. Tell me. What's wrong with ME? Am I too successful? Too intimidating? Too pretty? Too strong? Ha! I'm not. I'm a college drop out. I feel smaller than the imperfection in that diamond I just sold you. I don't feel pretty. Sexy, yes. But someone like me can't be pretty. My heart is too black. Strong? HA again! I weep like a willow every night, alone, in my one bedroom studio apartment. I HATE living alone. I hated living with my parents, but I hate living alone more. I smile, but I'm dead. I convince you to spend double what you intended because I'm mad. I'm mad that you are so sweet. I'm mad that your soon-to-be wife is not as cute as me. (Thanks for showing me her picture btw). I'm mad that she has you, you have my diamond, I have your money, my 'boyfriend's' in England or Paris or France, and I'm all alone.

Today was going to be a good day. She smiled as her awaited inventory analyst, Gus, tapped lightly on the gate.

"Good Morning Ladies, are we going to have a good day?" To which she replied with a smile and a nod. Today, her store would be redeemed. Her first inventory was a disaster. A few weeks before Christmas 2000, ironically the day after her birthday, she had been offered this store. It was in shambles with an entire new staff, two of whom didn't speak English. The inventory manifest didn't match up for sh**. It would take A LOT of hard work, long hours and a new management style to fix this mess. She had to make a choice: leave with the offer in Indiana or stay and rescue the local store. She stayed. She wondered if she'd regret it; much like she'd regretted a decision she'd made 5 1/2 years earlier.

A week after high school ended, back in 1995, she registered for classes and attended student orientation at The University of Texas in Austin. She was scared to move to the new town, alone. Her fear, lack of funds, and a boy that needed rescuing convinced her to stay. She regretted it. Little did she know the decision to stay in Houston, both times, would change the entire course of her life, twice.

The counting began. In the days leading up to inventory, all of the employees participated in counting and making note of every piece of mineral and stone. They counted backwards and forwards and backwards again. Today, was a forwards day. Each case was counted, scanned, counted again, and marked with an X. Once it was matched up with a dollar amount, and cleared by Gus, they moved on to the next. Purposefully. Meticulously. Every detail calculated.

She liked counting forwards. It made her feel progressive, less stagnant. It made her feel like she was moving forward towards a goal. Today's goal was to reach an equilibrium. It would be a new beginning. It would be a day to leave the past behind and start with a clean slate.

It was just before 9 a.m. She barely noticed Gus hunched over her desk talking on the phone to his wife of thirty years, until, she heard him gasp.

"WHAT!? A what hit the what!?"

She and Erika looked at each other first and then at Gus. He looked at them both with eyes wide open and explained why his phone conversation had taken a turn. His wife had been watching Good Morning America in the background while they spoke of their grown children and dinner plans. He put her on speaker phone and she described for them, verbatim, what Dianne Sawyer reported. After several minutes of speculation, she tried to spit out the words.

"It was a terrible accident. The airplane just ran right into the...", his wife, audibly shaken, stopped and let out the most awful blood curling scream. Gus picked up the receiver, concerned for his wife's safety.

His dark brown Jewish skin turned a pale pale green as he dropped the phone for a second and hurriedly picked it back up. With his pupils dilated and a confused fear arched in his brow, he looked over at the two young ladies and said with a nervous voice, "Another plane hit the second tower."

Her mind went blank for a minute. Not really understanding the magnitude of what he already knew. It was not an accident. It was terrorism. Purposefully. Meticulously. Every detail Calculated, terrorism.

And then, the towers fell. Then, the Pentagon was hit. Then another plane, with the White House a likely target, went down in Pennsylvania.

They immediately secured the jewelry and left the store to be with their families, wondering who was next. L.A.? Miami? Houston? They DID have one of the largest ship channels in the country. Schools closed. Planes grounded, nation wide. An eerie silence filled the southern skies of an otherwise air-travel-congested town. No sound touched the clouds except for a few birds and six fighter jets that were scrambled from a nearby air base.

During the frenzy, only one person's safety came to her mind; a tall handsome young man, who to work for N.A.S.A. at the time, who, until that day, she'd referred to as a 'good friend'. (It wasn't until about three days later that she wondered about the safety of her 'boyfriend' who worked in Europe and was expected to fly back to the states any day now).

She met up with him and went to her mother's house to check on her little sisters. Once everyone was safe at home, she and her 'good friend' went back to her apartment. They spent the rest of the day by the pool, trying to forget NY and Washington.

That day, they both realized life was short. Nothing was a guarantee. Except, except for the feelings that began to brew on that cool day in September. She starred at the blackness of his pupils to avoid the captivation of his stunning green eyes, but, somewhere between the flecks of yellow and gold that seemed to burst out of the dark center, she saw something familiar. Comfortable. Something in his eyes said, "I'll never hurt you. Give me a chance. I'll love you and I'll never leave you." It was the same contentment and gravitational pull she felt from the blurry faced young man she'd seen in her surgery dreams.

Despite the devastation the day held for millions of Americans, she felt a hot feeling in her chest and she knew today was a good day. A day of equilibrium. A day that would change EVERYTHING. A day to count forwards, into the future. be continued.

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