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Babel Ring

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It was dead.

I pulled my novel du jour closer to my eyes, a habit I have when fully invested in a story. It was just getting to the juicy part when I heard a loud knock over the pings of the arcade games.

Surfer jerk was back for more snacks. One look at his beady blood shot eyes easily gave away the reason for his frequent trips to the concession stand.

He pulled his hand away from the reinforced glass top of the candy case and ran it through his long, greasy sandy blond hair.

“Still reading? What are you a geek or something?”

Ah, the wit.

I closed the book and shoved it in a little space right below the register.

“What can I get you?” It’s best not to engage his type.

“Ummm,” his eyes squinted as he stared at the board above my head. “What can I get for a buck and a quarter?”

“A pickle fifteen years ago.”

“Then that’s what I’ll have. Yeah, a pickle sounds good.” He stuck his hands in the pockets of his board shorts and rocked on his sock-less heels.

Wow.

“Actually, you know what, we’re out of pickles. But I can give you four quarters for your dollar and you can try your luck at the candy grabber game.” I pointed to the claw machine that stood 20 feet behind surfer jerk.

He didn’t like that idea. “Well, what if you just give me some of that popcorn? No one will know. It’ll be our secret.” He tried a Corey Haim half-grin paired with a lopsided wink. I tried really hard not to laugh. I guess I succeeded when the muffled noise I made came out sounding like a sneeze.

“God bless you.”

“Um, thanks.”

“About the popcorn?”

“Sorry, can’t help you.”

“Aw, sure you can,” he leaned over and stuck his calloused elbows all over my glass.

“Nope, sorry. They watch me…on closed-circuit, you know on security cameras.” It was a lie.

“Bull.”

“Not kidding.”

“Fine. Whatever.” And with that surfer jerk stalked out of my life. Never to be heard from again…at least until I had to clean his mess up in the theater later. It looked like half of the stuff he’d bought ended up smeared or crushed on the floor. No wonder he kept coming back.

I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like the soda came first, then milk duds all melty and smashed, then the popcorn stuck and crushed into both soda and duds. Unfortunately, I’ve never been a halfway gal. My choices were clear. Leave the crap for the morning crew, or start scraping. It was the last show of the night; I had nowhere to be, so I went to the back room and got out the scraper and mop.

On my way back to the theater I ran into Ben, the assistant manager and only other person working tonight.

“Hey Mel, I’m going to cut out now if you don’t mind. I have an early meeting tomorrow. What do you say?”

“No.” He wasn’t going to listen to the answer anyway.

“Thanks, here are the keys. Just make sure you lock it all up.” He tossed them to me and I stupidly dropped the mop to grab for them.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve done this before you know.”

“I know.” He started walking away, reached behind the concession stand and pulled up his case and coat. “I owe you.”

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