Content Warning: Physical and Sexual Violence, Language
“Fine,” he says at last, circling the lowest number and signing his name.
I hold out my hand. “Congratulations. You just bought yourself a car.”
His hand is a little clammy, but he shakes on it and leans back in the chair. “You didn’t even buy me dinner first!” he jokes.
I hate those jokes.
But I am a professional, so I plaster on a smile. “I’m going to step out for a minute and get everything moving for you, and I’ll come back with some paperwork. Sound good?”
He nods. He’s already got his phone out, telling someone I just bought a car! The ones who put up the biggest fight are the ones who are the most excited to show off. They’re also the ones most likely to call and kick up a fuss the next day. I’ll make sure that he can’t.
I step out of my office, my shoes clicking on the showroom tiles. It’s getting late. The summer sun is starting to sink and the clouds are moving in. The traffic is easing off. Any minute now, my sales manager will summon the other salespeople. They’ll circle around the red sedan. Luke will ask who has something lined up tomorrow, sigh quietly when they tell him they don’t have any appointments, and dismiss them all. All but me.
It’s looking like it might be a long night. But there’s hope. If my customer fought me every step of the way because I’m a woman, he’ll probably lay down for the male finance manager.
Luke is leaning back in his chair, but he perks up when I step into the glass enclosure they call a sales desk. He grins. “Did you get him?” he asks.
I hand him the sheet of paper. “Get that asshole out of my office,” I tell him.
He gets it. Out of all these men, he’s the only one who seems to understand. “You didn’t even need a turnover,” he reminds me encouragingly. “And you’re gonna make some money off of this one.”
I wasn’t going to ask. I have spent the last week trying to avoid getting commission breath, but I have bills and I need to eat. “If he says one more sentence to my boobs, I’m going to leave his car in neutral and let it roll into traffic,” I threaten.
He shakes his head as he types, but I can hear him chuckle softly. The printer whirs. I know the sheets coming off of it are for me: a Buyer’s Order and a We Owe (and he will probably say we owe him floor mats for his trouble, even though they are already in the car and I will be putting them in myself before he leaves). I have come to love the scent of hot ink as much as I hate the combative pigs I sell to.
The signatures collect themselves. I point, he signs, and he presses his phone to his ear with a shoulder. I hope this is one of those easily impressed friends who will celebrate with him and not one who thinks that car prices should be what they were thirty years ago. I should take him to the car and remind him how everything works, but I want to celebrate right now. First one in nearly two weeks, after all, and depending on what we made, I can afford to put gas in my car. My savings are nonexistent after… well, what happened thirteen days ago.
I scoop up the papers and run them back to the sales desk. “Stay with your customer,” I am reminded. I nod and walk slowly to the fridge. Maybe if he has water once he gets off the phone he’ll be too busy drinking to talk. I don’t feel like answering the inevitable “Are you seeing anyone?”
As long as he doesn’t put his hands on me, I can’t do much. I can’t afford to lose this deal.
Thankfully he is still on the phone, and he stays engrossed in his conversation until the finance manager appears in the doorway. Tim shoots me a knowing look. Of course my customer will end his phone conversation for a man.
I am relieved when they are gone. I have an hour to get everything done. There is a trade to stock in, a Buyer’s Guide to fill out, a spare key fob and owner’s manual to grab from upstairs. It is easiest to start there.
I hate coming up the stairs anymore. I hate the darkness of the half-empty room with its rows of file cabinets on one side. I have one key in each pocket, the trade on the left and the sold unit on the right. The fob is not threatening. I lace the old-fashioned metal trade key between my fingers as I fumble for the light switch. The fluorescent bulbs buzz to life. They are so bright it nauseates me, or maybe it’s the smell of the room: old papers and cardboard boxes.
“What are you doing up here?” I ask, shoving my way past him to the newer filing cabinets.
“Putting up a deal,” he says.
I roll my eyes. “Since when do you work after 6?”
My general sales manager frowns down at me. Jake is well over six feet tall, and the first person to make me feel small since third grade. “I just kept it from coming back,” he explains, and his voice is wearier than I’ve heard it in a while. “I don’t need the owner on my ass right now.”
I recite the stock number under my breath as I dig.
He puts his arm on the filing cabinet. He is closer than I want him right now. “I bet you’re glad to be selling again.”
I slam the drawer and he draws his arm back. The entire cabinet shakes. “Can we not do this right now?” I ask. “My customer’s in the box.”
“You’ve got time. Is it healing up alright?”
I don’t answer. I am on Drawer #2, and it’s not in here. I mumble a few choice words.
“Have you eaten anything?”
It is too much, the brightness and the overpowering scents of cedar and pepper and dampness. “God damn it, Jake, I don’t have time for this!” I shout. “I’m hungry and I haven’t slept since it happened, and I don’t want to fucking be here!”
“Look, you’re lucky I gave you a few days off. We actually needed you last week. Lou’s pissed at me for it and I’ve already had to talk him down from taking it out on you.”
I don’t give a fuck what either of them think anymore. I pause long enough to flip him off.
He laughs. He reaches into the drawer, and his hand goes straight to the back to fish out an owner’s manual and spare key in their frosted plastic pouch. “Is this the one you sold?”
I snatch it out of his hands and turn. My hair moves as I do and my neck is bare. He grabs my arm. “The bruises are healing up,” he offers.
I pull away and cover it with my hand. “Don’t ever touch me again,” I tell him and storm off. The lights flicker as I go, and I hear him snickering to himself. Must be nice to find everything funny.
I close the door to my office and sit at my desk. It’s windy now, a soft sound that muffles the conversation between my bosses in the showroom. He must have followed me down.
I reach into my desk, pull out the stock tag and the buyer’s guide. All my VIN numbers are ready to go. There’s a soft knock at the door. “Just me,” Luke says.
“Come in,” I tell him without looking up.
He sits across from me, setting his backpack in the floor. “Jake’s gone.”
I don’t look up from my work. “Thank fuck.”
“He was trying to help you.”
I sigh and shake my head. “Well, he didn’t.”
He stands as quickly as he sat. “You need to eat something,” he tells me. "You'll feel better."
I am pressing the stock tag into the upper corner of the trade’s windshield when Tim calls me into his office. “We’re all done here,” he says, cheerful as ever.
“I’m ready to go home,” my customer says.
I put on my big, fake smile again. “Let me show you a few things on the car and you’ll be free to go,” I tell him.
He follows me out. I open the door for him. While he adjusts the seat, I look around to make sure everyone is gone. It’s starting to drizzle. “Look,” my customer says, “I’m sorry if I was kind of a jackass. Last time I bought a car I got ripped off.”
“Well, now that you know me, that’s not going to happen again,” I tell him and lean closer. “Look up. See that button?”
He looks up. There’s no button. This is a base model. But his neck is bare. My teeth dig into the flesh around his Adam’s apple. My own neck still aches, and I know his hurts because he is trying so hard to scream. I remember how hard I tried, how I went limp when I gave up, just as he is doing now. He isn’t fighting near as much as I did.
Luke's right. I feel better with something in my stomach.
Someone claps their hands, and I turn to look. Tim has been standing in the showroom all this time, watching, and now he has opened the door to applaud my first meal. I wipe the blood off my chin and take a bow. He laughs. “You go on home now,” he tells me. “I’ll clean it up this time. Great job today.”
On the ride home, I call Jake. He answers with, “Did you eat?”
“Yeah,” I say.
I can hear the smile in his voice. “Not so bad after all, right?”
“You still should have asked first,” I tell him and hang up.