Chapter 2

22 2 0

I pull my jacket tightly closed. Here in Texas, it's usually hot all the time, and it's easy to forget that sometimes we actually do get cold weather. It's the third week of February, which isn't quite considered spring yet, and it's gotten much colder since the sun went down. I did not think about this fact of weather and daylight when I offered to keep the store open another hour. In the summer, the sun stays out until at least eight. Sometimes I'll head to the beach after the store closes and then walk home, and I've never had trouble in the past. But today it's freezing, and I am an idiot. I'm wearing jeans that can hardly be called denim because the material is so thin, and a T-shirt that's even thinner than that. My sweater is more like an over shirt with long sleeves, made from a slightly thicker cotton fabric. Ugh.

My teeth chatter as I make my way up the boardwalk and down a side street toward the north side of Sterling. We live about three miles away, which is a fun leisurely walk in the summer time and an even quicker bike ride.

Right now I have neither bike or leisure. I suck it up though, not wanting to call Mom to come get me. She's probably soaking in the tub by now, drinking a glass of red wine that's become as comforting to her as her late night TV shows. Of all the ways we've had to cut back on expenses in the last couple of years, the cheap bottles of wine are always still on the grocery list.

Mom's not a drunk or anything. It's more of a lonely habit for her, I think. She acted fine when she split from my dad, but it's been nearly three years since then and every day she seems a little sadder. The lines on her forehead deepen ever so slightly, and her hair gets a little grayer when I'm not paying attention. Right now my mom looks like the sad woman she should have been when she got divorced. I wonder if it's all catching up to her.

Not to mention the stress of the store. I knew the struggles of a small business back when my parents were married because they'd occasionally complain about how Wal-Mart ruins the little people and how big chains undercut them on prices. But things were good. We went on a vacation each summer and I got great birthday gifts each year. It probably helped that my stepdad had his own job on the side working for the electric company.

But now all of that is gone, and our stability hangs on each month based on how many people come into the store and choose to buy something. I think that's probably the real reason Mom is in this funk lately. It's like the more the store suffers, the less she cares. She no longer puts everything she has into keeping it running. Instead, she mopes around the place, doing a half assed job of everything.

It's been left up to me to pick up the slack. When I'm not stuck at school or working at The Magpie, I'm online, searching up ways to save a dying business. I'm learning marketing and promotion and advertising. Unfortunately, most of those things cost money. I recently had the genius idea to buy us a billboard that overlooks the beach.

Until I realized those things cost six thousand dollars.

I cringe just thinking about that day. It was two weeks ago and I was sitting on one of the benches near the boardwalk while on lunch break from the store. The billboard directly above me used to advertise the Smoothie King across the street, but now it was empty, with a big "Advertise Here" sign on it. I called the number and talked to a woman who sounded like I'd just woken her up from a nap at one in the afternoon.

"I'm inquiring about the billboard located on the boardwalk," I had said, using my most professional voice.

She then dropped the price bomb on me, and she said it like it was nothing. Like people spend several thousand dollars a day on a freaking sign overlooking the city. Shell-shocked, I'd politely thanked her and said I'd call back after speaking with marketing. I thought pretending to have a marketing department would make me sound like less of an idiot, but it probably didn't.

Natalie and the Nerd - SAMPLERead this story for FREE!