It was two days after the Toronto Island incident, and it was still on Phoebe’s mind even as she was trying to focus on her job. She was in the middle of an eight-hour shift at Starbucks, and she had been a little slower on the uptake when it came to accurately relaying orders and names. She was pretty lucky that there seemed to be a lot of patient customers and no lines that snaked out the door.
Kylie told Phoebe that she needed to go to the back room for a minute. Phoebe nodded and headed back there to see Benjamin waiting for her.
“Phoebe, are you alright?” Benjamin asked. Benjamin was one of the on-duty managers for the store. He was a tall, kind of muscular guy with closely-cropped brown hair and brown eyes that always showed a hint of concern. Despite his hulking presence (which could scare off unruly customers if need be) he was easily the kindest of all the managerial staff at Phoebe’s workplace.
“What do you mean? I’m not sick,” Phoebe said.
“There’s clearly something on your mind,” Benjamin said. “I don’t know how many times Nadia had to ask you a second time to make customers had the right order.”
“Oh, I’ve just had a weird couple of days,” Phoebe said. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s clearly not nothing,” Benjamin said. “You’d be your usual, cheery and energetic self, and right now you’re not that.” He had a point, and Phoebe knew it. She needed to get her head straight.
“I’m sorry,” Phoebe said. “I’ll stop thinking about that for a while.”
“Okay, good. But if you’re still a little off, don’t feel bad about going home.” Phoebe nodded at that, and then she headed back to the front of the store to resume her duties. She forced herself to focus on the present, and by doing this she was able to get through the next four hours without a hitch.
When the shift was over, she gathered her things from the back room and decided to walk over to Groove Records. David told her his shift was ending at 6 today, and her shift had ended at 5:30. She had plenty of time to get there, and it only took her about 15 minutes to walk.
When she got there, David was deep into a conversation about records with a customer who had clearly just bought a huge bag full of them. In a chain store, no employee working at a cash register would be able to get away with a conversation that long, but this was a small record store, so it happened all the time. The door always chimed when a customer walked in, so David immediately noticed Phoebe and waved, but still miraculously didn’t break off his conversation at all.
Phoebe had been with David long enough to understand some of the references to bands the two were making, but she wasn’t interested enough to join the conversation. Instead she went and browsed the shelves for a bit, happening to find an old Cat Power record that she didn’t own. She decided to buy it, and then went back up to the counter where David and the customer were still talking.
Phoebe cleared her throat semi-loudly, signalling that David should probably finally end the conversation.
“Ah, sorry man, got another customer here,” David said with the clear subtext of I wish I could have talked longer in his voice.
“No problem, good talking with you,” the customer said. The two shook hands.
“Sorry about that,” David said. “That guy’s an editor at Exclaim! and so we always have new music to talk about when he drops by. Anyhow…” he glanced at Phoebe’s record choice. Phoebe felt like she was being judged and critiqued every time she bought a record from his store, even though David never criticized her choices. He could sometimes be an asshole without realizing it, but he was aware of his snobbery when it came to music. “Ah, What Would The Community Think. That’s a good one!” David was being genuine here. He scanned the album and gave her his employee discount, as he always did.
David glanced at his watch. “Six o’clock,” he said. As if on cue, his co-worker Matt appeared at the door.
“Hey Phoebe!” Matt said. Phoebe returned the greeting and have him a hug. Phoebe had gotten to know Matt fairly well and Matt had shown himself to be a pretty genuinely nice guy.
“We’re a little down today,” David said to Matt, probably referring to the budget. “But don’t worry, Record Store Day is coming up soon and that’ll blow our sales through the roof.”
“Cool,” Matt said, switching places with David behind the counter.
David and Phoebe waved to Matt and walked out onto the street. They were only out on the street for a second when David pulled Phoebe back into the shop. A few people passed by and then David breathed a sigh of what was probably relief.
“Okay, it’s safe to go out now,” David said.
“What was that about?” Phoebe asked, a little annoyed at the suddenness.
“Eh…” David trailed off.
“Tell me,” Phoebe said.
He sighed again. “Alright, fine, that was Sandra. My ex-girlfriend, and the one ex-girlfriend I would like to forget all about.” This was a first for Phoebe. David was actually spilling on some his baggage, something that, admittedly, neither of them had said much about. Phoebe still hadn’t even told him about Manuel.
“Sandra was a girlfriend I had about a year before I met you. We met in an upper-level liberal class, I think it was a world history course. We sat next to each other by chance, and initially she asked me for some help with some of the dates and significances. Eventually we started hanging out outside of class, and eventually we started dating.” He paused to take a breath. “We were really, intensely into each other for a short time, but that was just it; it was a short time. I couldn’t bring myself to be passionate with her every day.
“After a little while, I didn’t have any passion left. I told Sandra that we should stop dating, but we could still be friends. Obviously that wasn’t the right answer for her, and she screamed at me and even struck me a few times. I left her raging to herself, and as soon as I was out of ear- and eye-shot she started texting me really malicious and angry messages. I had to change my cell number and delete her on Facebook and all that stuff. It was messy.” David sighed a third time, as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“Sorry you had to go through that,” Phoebe said. “Anyway, it’s over now.” She moved onto a new thought. “We haven’t talked about what happened on Toronto Island a few days ago.”
“What more do you want to say about it?” David asked.
“I know this is going to sound silly,” Phoebe said, “But did you feel the temperature around us rise a bit after you punched the one guy.”
David looked surprised. “I wasn’t the only person who felt that? I thought I was just feeling warmer from embarrassment or something.”
“I definitely felt it too,” Phoebe said. “I don’t know what happened, but there is something clearly not too normal going on with those guys.”
“I say we investigate them,” David suggested.
“But how?” Phoebe replied. “We don’t even know where they’re staying, or if they’re gone, or anything like that.”
“Good point,” David said. “Ah well, we’ll just have to wait until they come back. And I know they will.”
That wasn’t a guess. Phoebe knew they’d be coming back, particularly the guy with the long brown hair. Phoebe had been alive long enough to know that the guy was interested in her to some degree.