Testing grounds 2
It seemed quite out of place. Located in a suburban strip mall, surrounded by outlet stores and fast food joints, was a store that stood out, and clearly intentionally so. While all the others kept their names simple and safe, brands that would be recognized and understood internationally, this store was named Dragon Fire. On each side of the name was a dragon’s head spewing fire from its mouth. A large moving truck was parked out in front. Two young local girls had stopped from their morning walk to look upon it.
“So what do you think it is?”
“I…don’t really know. It looks a bit intimidating-oh!”
Distracted by the decorative design, one of the ladies eventually noticed underneath the name, and pointed to the subtext “TEA SHOP.”
“It’s a tea shop! That’s…unexpected considering the sign.”
“Probably just a marketing gimmick gone awry. We’ve never had a tea shop in our town before! Who do you think is the owner?”
“Maybe it’s another girl looking to make a nice little tea party getaway!”
“I hope it’s a nice handsome British Gentleman here to show us the ways of tea!”
“If we’re going that route, maybe it’ll be a retired Japanese Tea Master, looking to settle down and train a new apprentice in the old ways!”
As the girls were lost in their thoughts and fantasies, a third male voice came up from behind them.
“I’m afraid it’s none of those, ladies.”
Startled, they both turned around startled to see a young man, dressed in a stylish blue suit and tie, sporting quite a fetching fedora. His short beard, connecting each side of his face, couldn’t conceal his dashing good looks. The girls internally swooned before engaging in conversation with love struck voices.
“Oh, do you know about this shop?”
“Well, I’m about to spend most of my hours in that building, so I may know a thing or two about it.”
A handsome man, so well dressed, voice soft as silk, eyes that seemed to penetrate the girls’ soul and undress their very essence. To them, it’s clear who this man was!
“Oh! You must be the owner, then!”
The girls were startled once again by an angry, grunting shout. They looked towards the store, and saw a giant, burly man walking down the ramp of the truck, holding multiple boxes stacked on top of one another. Simply dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt, face covered in a straggly beard, his hulking muscles were bulging through his clothes, strained by the heavy items he was carrying. Why he was carrying four at a time was confusing to the girls. His death stare could be felt penetrating their soul, ripping away their very essence.
“GET YER ASS OVER HERE AND HELP ME CARRY THESE BOXES!”
“My goodness, that mover is rude!”
“That, my ladies, is the owner of Dragon Fire, the lovely little tea shop opening up next week.” The girls looked at Randy, then back to the owner, and continued their walk without another word. Randy shouted back at them.
“Be sure to come visit, I’ll be there!”
The girls stopped, looked back, smiled and nodded. Randy knew they’d be back. Now, to go help Dale…
After a few hours of various unpacking and unloading, from chairs to teacups to the ever important cash register, it seemed like there was no end in sight to the work that was going to be required to make this place functional. Even so, Randy could see Dale’s vision starting to manifest. He looked towards the entrance, a small bell tied to the top of the door to let them know when a customer walks in. To the left wall, shelving for where they were going to put all of the tea for sale. Then to the right, where the cashier’s booth will be set up. Standing in the middle of the room, Randy looked to his left, staring at the door leading to the back room, and then to the right will be all the various wares. And all the way to the back of the store is the glorious tea bar, where many folks will be able to sit down and enjoy themselves a fine cup of tea. Dale took a break to get some water, as Randy looked around the room once again to take it all in.
“It’s hard to believe, but somehow you managed to find a way to get this far.” Dale grunted in agreement. “Now the trick will be to keep it afloat after it opens. Remember, you agreed to give me some control as well.” Dale grunted in disagreement. “I’m doing it for your sake, you know. You have this nasty habit of trying to do everything on your own.” Dale gulped the last bit of water as he closely eyed Randy.
“What do ya want to control, exactly…?”
“Mostly the things you don’t like doing or aren’t good at. Namely, anything to do with people. Grant me the ability to hire and fire people, you know as well as I do my judgement of character is much better than yours.” Dale grunted in annoyed agreement. “And to ensure your temper doesn’t ruin things, like how you nearly scared away those girls I was speaking with earlier, I need to have FULL control, meaning you cannot fire anyone I hire for any reason. Otherwise, this won’t work.”
“I have your word?”
“You have my word. You’ve already put up signs around town saying we’re hiring, anyway. I’m going to go take the truck back, then grab me some food. Look to hire no more than four other people. Try to get them all by the time I come back.”
“That’ll be an easy task!”
It was not an easy task. Randy was now on his eighth candidate, with none of the previous ones making the cut. Even though he had full control over the hiring and firing process, he still had to select people that Dale could work with. Or, more importantly, who would be able to put up with Dale. Then there was the ever pressing matter of Randy didn’t want to be bored! Every single person who has come through the door has felt like all the rest, and the current person didn’t seem any different. Seemed to be fresh out of high school, dark skinned, purple hoodie, black pants, something of a strange spikey afro, Randy wondered if this youngster was old enough to even work. The only difference was, unlike everyone before who tried their best to put on a bright and sunny face, this kid’s eyes were almost as bored as Randy’s were at this point.
“So, Kyle, was it? Why exactly do you wish to work at Dragon Fire?”
“Paycheck sounds nice.”
“A paycheck?” In a way, the blunt honesty was a bit refreshing compared to all the flowery language used previously. “There’s lots of other places hiring around here, why take a chance with an unknown place like us? Are you a fan of tea?”
“Nope, I have no interest in it. But the sign design looked interesting. I’m hoping I can at least find a job in which I won’t be bored at.”
“You’re just looking to not be bored?” Randy raised an eyebrow, seemingly oblivious to his shared mutual feelings. “You do know this is a job, right?”
“I’ll still work of course, that’s a given. But if YOU had to choose between a place with dragons coming out of the sign and flipping patties at King of Burgers, which would you choose?”
Every candidate so far had the same canned responses. They either all went to the same job counselor or visited the same website. It put a bit of a smile on Randy’s face as he realized this candidate was indeed different. Between a bunch of fakes saying how much they adore the world of tea but unable to answer a few basic questions of it, and someone who just comes out and says he wants a paycheck and entertainment, Randy knew which one Dale would rather have. But after two hours, that’s only one person, and Dale should be back soon.
Speak of the devil, Randy thought, as the door’s bell jingled, signaling the arrival of someone. Randy assumed it was Dale, but as he looked over Kyle’s shoulder, it took him a minute for his brain to process what he was seeing. Three girls had walked in. Three familiar girls.
The first one, her big bust nearly bursting out of her elegant red Chinese dress with a white flower pattern, perfectly complimented by her long, wavy red hair and luscious red lips. “Excuse me, Dale, are you here?” Green eyes darting around the store, Randy remembers her name well; Serenity.
Next, her straight blonde hair held back by her pointed ears, giving off an elf like aura, complimented by her elegant, pretty face. Her blue eyes make contact with Randy’s. Her loose flowing top hovering above her blue jeans, fishnet sleeves covering her hands and forearms. “Wait, is that…?” It looks like Opal has recognized him too.
“Randy, it’s you! Hello!” The sweet, childlike voice came from the third girl. Her yellow dress going down to her knees, her shoulder length bouncy brown hair complimenting her hazel eyes and adorable features. It could be none other than Allie. Randy’s mind raced, thinking of what might be going on. Then, a slow, sly smile made its way across his face.
“You said you wanted a place with entertainment, Kyle?”
“Welcome to Dragon Fire…”
Dale walked into the store, the jingle of the bell feeling like a little reminder of the new adventure he was about to embark in. He expected to be back much sooner, but he decided to run a few errands, knowing Randy was at the store. Throughout their many years of friendship, he knew he could count on Randy to take care of things while he was away. Looking around, he noticed that a lot more of the unpacking was finished. Had Randy found the workers already?
The door the back room swung open, and out came Randy, alongside another young man. “Dale!” Randy’s face was beaming with joy “You’re finally back! I’ve got some news!”
Immediately Dale knew something was horribly wrong. Dale was never good at picking up hints from people, but being around Randy so long, he’s picked up on his ways. The way he raised his inflection when he said news, to the wide smile combined with his narrowing eyes, Dale knew something was afoot. His eyes narrowed right back at Randy.
“What did you do…?”
“What do you mean?”
The game was on. Randy did something. Something Dale could not see. Now it was a matter of figuring out what. As Dale was looking around, Randy spoke up again.
“By the way, I hired our workers! This is Kyle.”
“Hello Mr. Dale, I’m looking forward to-“
Kyle was taken aback, and Randy had to turn his head away to keep from laughing. Dale kept looking, but couldn’t find whatever he was looking for. Dale began to sniff around after a scent brushed up against his nose.
“Did you make popcorn?!”
Randy turned towards Kyle, “See? I told you you’d be entertained.” Dale’s eyes widened.
“Ah ha! I figured it out! You didn’t actually do anything! You just tricked me so I would go looking for nothing, and make me look like a fool!” Kyle’s confusion was clear.
“What did you do to trick him…?” Randy shrugged as he continued to hold back his laughter.
“Well, whatever. Yer name’s Kyle, right? What are you, 15? Are ya old enough to even work yet?”
“I warned you he may be accidentally rude,” Randy whispered into Kyle’s ear.
“I just graduated high school, so yes I’m good.” Kyle tried to hold back his annoyance.
Dale turned away from the two and looked towards the back of the store, the tea bar still covered in various items. He knew he smelled popcorn, so he began to walk over to find the source. While he was looking away, Randy opened the door to the back room, and ushered the three girls out.
“I’m surprised you two were able to get so much work done all on yer own.”
“Oh, we didn’t. Kyle wasn’t the only one I hired. I also picked up three beautiful ladies to help out as well!”
Dale began to turn around. “Oh, is that-“ his words were cut off as he went wide eyed. Kyle looked back and forth at Dale’s shocked expression, and the sheepish looks of Serenity, Opal, and Allie. Dale’s face quickly went from shocked to exasperated, bellowing out one quick sentence. “You’re all fired.”
“Daaale, buddy, don’t be like that!” Randy said as he went over and patted him on the back. A gesture between friends meant to diffuse the situation, it seemed to Kyle to be ineffective, perhaps even making the situation worse.
“What kind of a joke do you think this is?! Did you call them?!”
“I assure you I was just as surprised as you were when they all walked through that door.” Dale’s eyes narrowed, and his tone grow more dire.
“Your games end now, Randy. Get rid of them.”
“Nope.” Randy maintained his almost innocent tone voice, as if he was jokingly mocking him. But Dale was having none of it.
“We haven’t even opened yet and you are treating my store like a joke?!”
“Dale, I-“ Allie tried to speak up, but was quickly cut off.
“SHUT UP!” Dale’s voice was loud and booming. It sent shivers down Kyle’s spine. The girl didn’t even look like she wanted to object. But Randy’s expression changed dramatically. Angry was too strong a word, annoyed was too soft. He turned towards the girls.
“Allie, Opal, Serenity, please go wait outside.”
“Maybe we should just go…” Opal spoke up.
“No. Wait outside. We’ve still got work to do.”
“You’re not listening! They’re not going to work here!”
“You gave me your word that only I can decide who gets fired.” Dale and Randy glared at each other, none of them moving an inch. Finally, Dale spoke in a low, commanding tone.
“Go wait outside, and don’t go anywhere.”
Kyle stood there for what felt like eternity, having felt an uneasiness he hasn’t known before. He’s had fights with people he’s known, but he’s never stumbled into an argument with complete strangers, much less his bosses. Clearly he stepped into something he has no involvement in, yet no one asked him to leave. Maybe he should’ve taken the hint, but instead he was instead frozen in place, as Dale’s previous shout at the girl seemed to have paralyzed him. The first few minutes were full of Dale shouting and screaming as he paced around the store. Randy just stood there, his expression never changing even a little. Finally, it seemed like Dale had screamed all the energy out of himself, and Randy began to speak.
“Are you done?” Dale continued to glare but did not say anything. “I did not plan this. I can assure you of that. And while you’re too hard headed to even bother explaining why, I know why these three are here.”
“You’re just looking to amuse yourself.” For the first time, Dale had a sense of hurt in his voice. This is the first time Kyle has ever met this man, and all he ever felt from him was a sense of apathetic aloofness and anger. Yet despite all that, something about the hurt in his voice landed in Kyle’s lower stomach. He didn’t know this man, but the way he spoke would be clear to anyone.
“You keep saying that. Do you really think I would do that to you? I knew you would be unhappy, but damn it all even I didn’t expect you to hold onto the past so hard.”
“You thought I’d forget everything?!”
“No! That’s why I decided on this. Because you’re too stupid to forget the things you should. But you need some way to move past everything already. Even you could have figured out by now why those girls are here.” A deafening silence filled the room. Dale had taken a seat at the bar, looking down at nothing, shoulders slumped to make him look like a giant white boulder. Eventually, Randy went and sat beside him. His voice finally softened up.
“You need to get over yourself. And I think the girls need some closure, too.”
“They don’t deserve it.”
“You can think that if you wish. But you knew those three better than anyone. Taking away your history, is there anyone else you’d rather have working at a tea shop than them?” Dale heaved a heavy sigh to signal his reluctant agreement.
“Bring them back in.” Randy got up, and got the three girls. They came in, and walked to just a few feet from Dale. He got up, and turned towards them all. He took a deep breath in and prepared to speak. As this was going on, Randy reached behind the counter, grabbed the elusive bowl of popcorn Dale smelled earlier, and went over to Kyle.
“Uhh, where did this even come from?”
“When it comes to important things, Kyle, I can be a bit lazy and absent minded. But for moments like this, I am always prepared. You will know when it is time to eat.”
Kyle looked over and saw the rest staring at them, the girls looking confused and Dale giving them both a death glare. He took another deep breath, and this time spoke in a much calmer tone than Kyle was expecting.
“Despite your reasons for wanting to work here, I cannot deny that you’ll be good for the store. You should all have guessed already that I’m holding Dragon Fire as more important than myself. I cannot let my personal feelings get in the way anymore. Serenity. Opal. Allie. Welcome to Dragon Fire.” All three of them looked to be beaming with relief and happiness, as they then turned to each other. Serenity spoke up first, side eyeing the other girls. The jealousy was palpable in both her gaze and tone.
“So…who are these two?”
“Wait a minute…” Opal went from confusion to shocked realization, “YOU’RE Serenity?!”
“Yeah, and you are?”
“Opal, the person who had to hear about how horrible you were after you were gone!”
“Opal…?” Allie had an almost blissful aloof look to her. “You were the reason Dale didn’t want to be friends with me for so long…”
“Excuse me…?!” Opal turned towards her in anger. Kyle’s hand instinctively dove into the popcorn bowl. Randy spoke up, just soft enough to not be overheard.
“Are you entertained?”
“Do a fine job working for us, and I assure you that you’ll find as much entertainment as you can handle here.”
“I will do whatever you ask, so long as you let me figure this mess out.”
“That’s what I like to hear…”
It has been over a week since Kyle got hired, and despite the entertaining start, the rest of the time has had tension so thick that a knife would be blunted trying to cut through all of its layers. Even Randy was feeling it. The only conversations that were had were instructions from Randy and commands from Dale. There’s still plenty to figure out about Dale, but Kyle has figured out enough to know that he doesn’t really seem to have a gentle approach to anything. He got to experience his angry side on the first day, and there hasn’t been any outbursts since.
The tension wasn’t just between Dale and the girls. Serenity, Opal and Allie seemed to be wearier of each other than Dale was of them. Kyle was ever curious, they all somehow knew Dale and Randy, but didn’t know each other. At least not entirely, Opal seemed to know of Serenity, and Allie of them both. As they continued to work, the mailman had arrived. Dale rummaged through the letters, until he stopped at one that grabbed his attention. He opened it, and after looking through it, called Randy over to do the same. Randy then spoke up to everyone. He tried to have a cheery tone, but the aforementioned tension seemed to suck out the charisma from it.
“Alrighty guys and gals, Dale and I need to go take care of some bureaucracy down at town hall. Dale needs to sign some stuff, and I need to make sure he doesn’t destroy anything. All of you go take a break, there’s food on the other side of the bar. Opal! Make some tea for everyone! I think that will be splendid.”
They set off, and the tension in the room no longer would blunt a knife; it would outright break it. The girls were all avoiding eye contact, and Kyle might as well have been a ghost to them. Serenity had a look of mistrust when glaring at the other two, almost as if she expected either of them to attack at any moment. Allie seemed to always be in her own little world while working, but now she held a look of worry, like a small child going in for a shot at the doctor. Opal tried to maintain a look of elegance and poise, but Kyle could practically see the sweat drops forming on her forehead. No one seemed to move. Eventually, Kyle’s discomfort got the better of him.
“So, what kind of tea should we have?” Fear and nervousness straining his vocal cords, his voice cracked while pronouncing tea. As humiliated as he felt, his aura of awkwardness seemed to dissolve the tension like cotton candy being dropped in a river. Finally, Allie giggled. This caused Serenity to smirk, and Opal tried her hardest to keep her composure before she too broke into a laugh. Serenity chimed in first.
“I suppose anything will do.”
“Oh! How about something fruity?” Allie said as she raised her hand and jumped up and down. Kyle’s voice might have cracked, but he wondered if Allie’s age had hit a second digit yet. Opal spoke up as she made her way to the bar.
“I’ll take a look at what is available right now.” The others made their way to the bar as well. Kyle sat at one end of the bar, and he couldn’t help but notice Serenity sitting on the opposite end, and Allie sitting in the middle, putting as much distance between everyone as they can. Kyle could feel the tension building back up; he had no intention of drowning in that feeling again. He looked over the bar, and pointed the food out. Thinking back, he noticed Dale bringing the food in, but with how tense everything had been it didn’t even cross his mind that it may have been for others, despite how much he got. They all grabbed the closed plastic trays, and opened them up. Some noodles and chicken from the Chinese takeout joint located in the same strip mall. This was nothing special, but to Kyle’s surprise and confusion, the girls all seemed to have a little bit of a smile while looking at the food.
“No doubt Dale’s idea.” Serenity spoke up in a soft, somber tone.
“He’d always just get the simplest thing.” Allie was next to chime in. Opal, who was hard at working making the tea, set out some cups, and began to pour into Kyle’s cup first, sharing her own thoughts.
“No doubt he got it for all of us.” Opal moved into Allie’s cup.
“Is it his way of trying to reconcile with you all?” Kyle asked, still baffled at this strange sense of nostalgia that is washing over three strangers brought on by some low rate mall food.
“No,” Opal continued, “Dale has this way of doing things that others would consider kind, but he would do them without a thought of trying to show kindness. We’re his workers, so he should feed us from time to time.” She moved on to Serenity’s cup, “it’s hard to describe if you haven’t known him. To him, it’s just the way things should be done.” Opal finished pouring and moved on to her own cup.
“So, Opal…” Serenity spoke up, the judgmental, prodding tone in those mere two words instantly reignited the tension. “What exactly are you to Dale?” Opal stopped pouring, paused for a second, and continued.
“I was…a friend.”
“A friend, huh…?”
“Yes. But that was some time ago…” Every time these girls spoke of the past, the melancholy in their voice was unmistakable.
“Sounds like there may have been something more than friendship…” Serenity’s catty behavior was clearly looking for a fight, but hidden enough just enough subtlety to feign deniability. “Dale certainly didn’t seem too happy to see you.”
“Are you sure you’re one to talk?” Opal’s annoyance broke through her otherwise calm demeanor, with a defying judgmental look in her eyes to match Serenity’s voice. Serenity must have picked up on it, as her smirk quickly faded. “You might not know me Serenity, but I know who you are. It’s awfully brazen of you to show your face here, much less try and judge me, don’t you think?” The anger was quick to show on Serenity’s face, but she seemed to have no response to give. Allie chimed in to break the tension.
“Well that’s not fair,” she was holding her tea close to her face, almost as if ready to hide behind it. “Dale’s told me of you too, Opal. You both hurt him.” Opal’s face turned to anger as well, as she turned towards Allie, who let out a little whimper and shifted her body back ever so slightly. Serenity decided to take a shot at Allie now.
“I’m sorry, who are you again?” Serenity’s jab at Allie seemed to fly right over her head, who seemed to think it was a genuine question.
“Oh, I’m Allie! I was friends with Dale for a while, but then we kind of lost touch. I saw the advertisement for the store, and I couldn’t believe he actually got it open! I mean I could believe it, since I knew Dale could do it, but I couldn’t believe it! You know?!” Both Opal and Serenity were a bit taken aback at the bouncy nature of her response, as Allie turned into a black hole that sucked away the atmosphere that was building up. Kyle, forgetting himself, had to ask a question nagging at him.
“You kind of lost touch?”
“Yeah, things just sort of happened I guess, and we went our own separate ways for about a year.” Kyle’s confusion grew.
“Then….why did he yell at you to shut up last week? That wasn’t anger you hold for someone you casually lose touch with.” The question caught Allie off guard. Indeed, the two other girls seemed to not have thought of that. Allie looked confused, as she moved her eyes from Kyle to her tea cup, like she hoped to find an answer in the dark green liquid. The question seemed to upset her, as she struggled for an answer.
“I’m….not actually sure.” She turned her head towards the other two girls. “I know that you two had some history with Dale, and it’s not my place to judge. But I never had a falling out with him. We just ended up stopping talking. To be honest, I didn’t even come here looking to work. I just wanted to say hi to Dale again. But after he screamed at me, that’s when I made up my mind to work here instead so I can figure out why.” As she spoke the last sentence, tears began forming around her eyes, causing the other three to feel the weight of her emotions. Serenity let out a long, heaving sigh.
“So all you want to do is just be friends with Dale again?”
“Yes, of course. I mean I think.”
Opal and serenity both spoke in unison, “You think?”
“Yes, well…I knew that Dale had…feelings…for me back then. But I was not able to return those feelings back. Now, I haven’t decided yet, but I may want to pick up where we left off, and see if I can return them now!” Opal’s face was hard to read, but Serenity was like a book; and she wasn’t too pleased on hearing that.
“Well, that makes things a bit awkward. You were right earlier. I did hurt him bad. It sounds like both of you know that. But it’s been almost 10 years now. I’m not the same person I was. And I can’t believe how much Dale has grown, too.” She closed her eyes and took a sip of tea. When she opened them again, there was no more anger or annoyance in them. All Kyle could see was sorrow. “I’m here to fix the wrongs of our past, and see if we can pick up where we left off.”
“Where you left off?” Kyle asked. She turned to look at him.
“I was his first girlfriend.”
“Ah ha! I knew at least one of you had to be!” All three turned to look at him. Serenity got her annoyed face back, Opal had a look of annoyed confusion, while Allie just smiled and tilted her head.
“Excuse me, little boy, but who are you again?” Through the entire time they’ve been working together, today was the first time any of them had actually exchanged any words. And Kyle felt like he blew it.
“Just what is your relationship to Dale, anyway?” Opal inquired.
“Oh, I never knew him before this job.” Kyle was not sure what he said to cause it, but all the girls had their own expression of shock. Serenity’s eyes bulged out of her head, Opal spilled the tea she was about to sip, and Allie covered her mouth with both hands. “…What?”
“I thought you already knew Dale and Randy…” Opal’s face began to turn red as she turned away from him.
Serenity put her hands on the side of her head as she looked down in dismay. “I was only saying all that stuff because I assumed like the other two that you would’ve known!” Their unwillingness to engage with him all this time is starting to make sense now.
“We were so mean to you! Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Allie buried her head in her hands, “I just thought you were as angry at me as Dale was!” Kyle stared for a minute at all of their forms of self-humiliation, until he busted out laughing. It seemed to drive the girls deeper into their self-loathing.
“Randy was right,” Kyle spoke in between taking breaths in between words, “This place really is entertaining to work in!” To Kyle’s surprise, all three of their personalities seemed to unify in that moment, as they all made a fist, rose it up just below their chin, and slightly shook it, bellowing out “Randy…”
Opal pointed out the food was getting cold, so they all took some time to start eating. Not a word was said, but Kyle could feel the pressure of the conversation weighing on everyone’s shoulders. Kyle still didn’t know a thing, but he didn’t get the impression that they were in any way bad people. Allie sounds like she had some huge misunderstanding with Dale. Serenity seems to have done something bad, but it was a long time ago and she wants to make amends. And Opal…
“Hey wait a minute, Opal why are you here?” The words escaped his mouth faster than his brain could realize the stupidity of speaking them. Time itself seemed to have frozen, as everyone – Kyle included – was shocked by the brazenness of it all. “I’m sorry, that was dumb…it just sort of slipped out.”
“No,” Opal began to regain her composure as she so frequently seemed to do, “It’s alright. I too was…friends with Dale.”
“Yes…” Kyle could sense more behind those words, and Serenity could too, as she decided to prod some more.
“It sounds like there was more than just a friendship with how you’re speaking. It’s not fair that you know my story with Dale but I don’t know yours.”
Opal let out a sigh. “Like Allie, Dale….he also had feelings for me.” There was a pause after that, as if Opal’s throat was caught and couldn’t utter out more. Kyle had an inclination as to what was underneath the surface.
“And what about you? How did you feel about him?”
“That’s a bit of a dumb question,” Serenity chimed in. It almost seemed like she was defending Opal. “If she had feelings for him as well, don’t you think they would have been more than just friends?” Serenity turned from Kyle to Opal just in time to see her looking away, almost ashamed. “Oh…” she continued, confusion mixed with regret, “I’m sorry, I just assumed that…I mean that’s what happens when two people like each other, right? Unless he confessed, and you blew him off?” Opal continued to look away, the tension was visibly building on her shoulders.
“No,” Allie spoke up, almost as if to save Opal from having to say it herself, “They remained friends for a few years even after Dale confessed.” Allie got up, walked over to Opal, and put both hands on her shoulders as if they had been friends for years. Opal looked into her eyes, struggling to hold back the tears. “Dale explained it to me, and I understand. You weren’t wrong.”
“Yes, I was…” she turned her gaze away from Allie. Without a word, Allie hugged Opal, and both stood there for a few seconds. Serenity felt that she needed to say her peace.
“Alright, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I just want to know, Opal, what do you intend to do while working here?” Opal turned her head towards Serenity to reply.
“To apologize and make amends.”
“No, I mean besides that. I want to get back together with Dale. Allie doesn’t seem like she’s decided which one she wants. What about you?” The question seemed to surprise Opal, as if the thought never even crossed her mind.
“I…I don’t know.”
“It’s not a difficult question. Do you want to go back to being friends, or something more?”
“I said I don’t know. I don’t even think Dale wants any of us around. This was Randy’s decision, and Dale would’ve fired us if he could. He just hired us for his own games.”
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Kyle interjected. The three looked at him in confusion. “After you guys were asked to leave the store on the first day, I remained in there, remember?” From there, the three took their seats as Kyle explained the conversation he witnessed on that day. It wasn’t a long explanation, but he could see the girl’s stress over everything leaving their faces.
“I see,” started Opal, “So he needs some closure as well…”
“I knew I hurt him after our relationship, but to think he kept getting hurt by all of us…” Serenity was even more remorseful now than before.
“At least we know it’s not for nothing,” Allie had an excited pitch to her otherwise mousy voice, as she stood up, both hands in fists in front of her. “Knowing this, I’ll be able to get back together with Dale!”
“Back together?” Serenity asked with a raised brow, “It sounds like you guys were never together to begin with. It sounds like I’ve been the only person who has been with Dale in that way.” Saying those last words with a smirk, she was clearly trying to get underneath the other girl’s skins, and it seemed to be working.
“Now hold on a minute,” Opal barked back, “You’ve already had your chance! Let someone who hasn’t…uhm….you know…” Opal’s composure began to break, and Serenity smelled blood in the water.
“Oh?” She began, leaning closer towards Opal, “Hasn’t what, exactly? What are you thinking of doing with him, Ms. I don’t know what I want to be with him?” Opal’s face was turning beet red, as Allie tried to take charge of the conversation.
“Hey, what about me?!”
“What ABOUT you?” Serenity cut her off. Kyle began to feel like a giddy fly on the wall, as he munched down on his noodles. “You can’t seem to remember if you want to be friends again or be something more.”
“Oh yeah…” Allie looked off in the distance, giving a blank stare. Kyle watched Serenity’s eyes as they went down from Allie’s face to her modest chest. From there, she glanced over to Opal’s chest, Kyle’s eyes following suit, to her proportionally fitting size. Opal noticed Serenity staring, and slowly covered up. Serenity smirked as she reached up high and gave a big heaving stretch. No one was in doubt all she was really doing was trying to show off her noticeably larger chest size.
“Well, girls, I suppose we’ll just have to use whatever ‘assets’ we have at our disposal to win Dale’s attention.” Serenity took a deep breath in, puffing her chest out even more. Kyle wondered if he should say something, they clearly forgot of his existence again.
“Now wait a minute,” Opal began, face turning ever redder, “Dale cares a lot more than merely some woman’s appearance!”
“Maybe at first,” Serenity replied, “But you don’t know what Dale can get like after he gets in certain…moods…” Opal seemed to find a way to grow even redder as her eyes shifted to the side and she softly muttered.
“Well…” Immediately Serenity’s eyes went wide as she stood up, slamming the table with both hands.
“DALE WOULD NEVER TOUCH A WOMAN HE’S NOT IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH!”
“I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS, IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK!”
“What are you guys talking about…?” Allie broke the embarrassing shouting match. Both looked over in confused surprise. “Dale has touched me lots of times, and we were never in a relationship.” Both girls got up from their seats and made a beeline for Allie, who became momentarily frightened. Serenity, followed by Opal, began to badger her.
“He did not!”
“A cute thing like you probably doesn’t even know what we’re talking about!”
“What do you mean?!” Allie was frantic at this point, almost crying as she was shaken by them both, “We hugged all the time!” And just like that, the shaking stopped. Opal and Serenity stared at her, dumbfounded. Then, they slowly broke out into a laugh. Allie continued to be confused. Kyle, the invisible ghost that he turned into, didn’t know how much more his heart could take.