She bulleted through the mall entrance just past the old cooking oil stench of King Burger. Their cleaning crew tried to cover the smell but instead created a new aroma of old oil a la Pinesol. Vanessa hated parking on this side of the Fairview Mall as it always meant she had to pass the last place she was fired from. But she was almost late (again) to her new job and this was the quickest path to it! She was determined to make this fourth week at Marianne’s Dress Shop a good one You see this was her third job in six months and she was sure the manager, Candice, hated her. Vanessa was all of 5’2”, round with bushy red hair and freckles. In contrast to her Candice who was tall, blonde and wore a size 6. She was certain her time at Marianne’s was numbered but she really wanted to stay there long enough to earn the employee discount. 30 days was the magic number to qualify for the big 50% employee discount and she was 29 days in.
She remembered her last firing oh so well. Pimpled face Toby, the newly promoted assistant manager at King Burger, screeched in his high prepubescent voice –
“You can’t tell a customer they suck V!”
She was not sure why he renamed the entire King Burger staff to the first initial of their first names.
“V you man the register, D and M you’re on grill.”
It was so demeaning. But when a rude guy called her out for not adding grilled jalapeños to his burger, she had it. He changed his order so many darn times, she couldn’t remember what buttons to hit on the crazy register! She hated the King Burger register with its pictures and no words or numbers. Only symbols for every single solitary ingredient and action. Oh, you could easily pick a litany of items to put on your burger but if you wanted to change anything you had go through a top secret series of buttons and get the annoying buzz of “manager key needed” before that one change could be made. This rude dude made so many changes that it gave Vanessa hives trying to figure it all out - So she rolled the dice and hoped he’d just eat the damn burger. Nope. She did mess up, but when the dude called her “fat and stupid” telling him that he “sucked” seemed like the right response. Toby did not agree,
“If it IS your fault and a customer calls you fat and stupid, you will take it or you’re fired!”
Fired seemed to be her only choice.
She made it to the store just as the iron gate entry to Marianne’s Dress Shop was being pushed up by Candice’s long luxurious arms that spouted the padded shoulders of a lavender pant suit. Why does everything she wear make her look so thin and perfect? Vanessa whined in her head. She self-consciously pulled up her off the shoulder tiger print top only to have it fall back down into its intended position. Candice walked in long strides in her matching Candies heeled sandals and turned on the lights from the back. Rows and rows were revealed of tops, pants and gypsy skirts filled to the brim in the middle of the store. The Christmas lights flickered on as a nice holiday accent to sides of the store which were lined with pant suits and dresses of every pastel color, geometric and animal print imaginable. But the front of the store was where the real action was - Coats. Five huge round racks of winter coats that were going on sale for 50% off. Four topped with Santa and his elves and the fifth centered one topped with an elegant Christmas tree. The surrounding Santa and elf racks had your neon colored ski coats with matching gloves and bomber jackets in red, blue and brown colored faux suede. Under the Christmas tree hung full length winter wools in butterscotch gold and houndstooth and the coveted real rabbit’s fur in jet black, white and palomino. Marianne’s had the best coat sale in town and today was going to be a big money day.
Vanessa had her eye on the black rabbit’s fur knee length coat since last month. She happened upon it when she failed to fit into anything at Contempo, Marianne’s rival dress shop on the second floor. Everything at Contempo was for tall willowy girls and rarely did they have a petit sized 14 for someone like Vanessa. She noticed the sleek black coat in the window of Marianne’s on a mannequin standing in a snow scene with, ironically, Christmas bunny’s looking up at it. She also saw the “Help Wanted” sign, filled out the application and got the job by a phone call without even an interview. She thought a desperate seasonal hire for a someone like her was par for the course. She showed up and met Candice for the first time and was immediately intimidated. She was tall, willowy and everything Contempo hoped to dress but she was the manager of Marianne’s and despised them with a passion.
“Marianne’s is everything Contempo is not. Accessible, affordable and the store every girl ends up at in this mall.” Candice’s pep talk would start.
“We will sell everything in this store, and Contempo’s racks will all still be full and overpriced.”
Vanessa enjoyed these pep talks and secretly admired Candice. That’s why whenever Candice asked her to fill a shift, she was there. Vanessa did everything she asked her to do - folding, hanging, straightening, dusting, vacuuming, handing out flyers, and even staying late to do inventory which garnered the much sought after over time. The other girls asked her what her secret was with Candice? Vanessa had no clue. She just knew she wanted that rabbit coat and that sale was finally here. You see, with the 50% off sale going on, employees got ANOTHER 50% off on top of that, which was gold in the retail market. You can not only get a rabbit’s coat for next to nothing, but restock your wardrobe for the next year! Vanessa was a 30 day employee today and that coat and any other cute outfit she could find was hers for pennies on the dollar! Take that King Burger who only allowed free drinks for its employees! Vanessa happily thought as she headed to her post to re-stock the holiday sweaters. But her happy mood was stepped on, killed and smooshed when she heard Candice say,
“Vanessa you’re on register today.” It was like all the wind got knocked out of her.
There was only one register in Marianne’s and it was located on “the island” in the middle of the store. Well not really an island, it was a carpeted step up and it overlooked the entire store and you looked really important when you were on it and Candice nicknamed it “the island.” Since Vanessa started, Candice and one other girl, Lulu, were the only ones allowed on the island. Vanessa quickly looked around, Where’s Lulu? Vanessa screamed in her head. As if reading her mind, Candice, continued,
“Lulu was transferred to our Northridge store. So, Vanessa you’re up.”
The other two girls looked shocked. They started before Vanessa and clearly were asking why Candice picked her over them? With clammy hands and a twitch in her eye starting ,
“Are you sure?” Vanessa asked.
The other two girls chimed in. “Yea, are you sure Candice? It’s going to be busy day.”
“Yes, I’m sure” she said glaring at the girls and motioned Vanessa to the island.
Images of King’s Burger register’s past filled her head. Manning a register and taking a person’s money almost always gave them the mistaken right to bully you when they were unhappy with the price. Vanessa was beside herself, King Burger’s register had pictures, Marianne’s register only had numbers – dear God what was Candice thinking!
Like a condemned man, Vanessa stepped up onto the island and started tidying things up. Candice joined her and said,
“You’ll watch me first, and the you will take over. The register is pretty self-explanatory, put in the amount, hit the % button hit 5 0 and you're good to go. For now, you fold, bag and thank the customer.”
Vanessa gave a feeble nod and the day began.
Candice had a well-timed order to things when ringing up purchases. There was the cashier and the helper. The helper took tops, pants and skirt off the hanger, folded them with the price tag facing out. If there were multiple items, each was carefully folded and placed on top of each other with the tag on top. The cashier would punch in the price as the helper would remove it and carefully slide it into a bag. If it was a dress, coat or pantsuit – the helper would keep it on the hanger and hold the price tag out for the cashier to read. As expected, the sale shoppers came in droves. Moms and daughters happily looking for something cute for Christmas, best friends picking sexy fun outfits for the holiday party and husbands tagging along with their wives finding a wall to support him as the pack mule to her all her Christmas bargains.
Vanessas enjoyed the ritual of taking the clothing from the customer and preparing it for Candice. Candice never spoke to Vanessa while ringing up but always spoke to the customer on every purchase, “This is cute.” “Good choice.” “Wow, you’ve matched this beautifully.” The customers loved her and happily handed over their money, check with 2 IDS or credit card. Only once did she say her name, when Vanessa handed a bag to a customer and said “next” instead of thanking the previous customer. That was a rule never to be broken in Candice’s presence –
“You will always thank a customer for their purchase and you may add “have a good day” only AFTER you thank them. That is what good customer service is.”
The well-oiled machine of the Candice and Vanessa was going at a good pace when Candice interrupted with,
“Let’s switch.” Vanessa froze.
Without waiting for a response, Candice stepped aside and started reaching for a customer’s clothes. Vanessa quickly stepped in front of the register and did an awkward bow almost asking it to be nice to her. Vanessa felt her chest tighten as Candice held up faux fur jacket with the price tag for her to read. It was like she needed glasses, Vanessa squinted her eyes and tried to make out the price. She saw a 4, she pressed a 4, she saw a 9, she pressed a 9, she couldn’t find the decimal then finally found it. Two more 9’s and then she hit total button. She told the customer the price and with a glaring eye, the customer shrieked, “Where’s my 50% off?” Vanessa mumbled an apology and frantically added the discount. The woman paid cash and despite her stink eye, Candice presented the beautifully bagged jacket to her and thanked her.
The next was a stack of clothes with price tags out. Vanessa wanted to run screaming from the island but with no lifeboat in sight she begrudgingly squinted at the price tag and punched in the numbers on the register at a snail’s pace. Once again, she forgot the discount and once again the customer corrected her. Her ineptitude seemed to go on forever.
Even though Vanessa continued to side stare Candice pleading her to take over, Candice seemed not to notice and neatly bagged each item and thanked the customer for their purchase. The line started to get longer and longer and this only unnerved Vanessa more and more. An impatient grumble started from the line of customers and this only served to give Vanessa heart palpitations.
“Why don’t you have another register?” A particular nasty woman shouted from the line.
Vanessa wanted to cry.
“I asked you question. Is there a manager here?” the woman said louder.
Vanessa turned toward Candice expecting to be relieved of duty when Candice looked at the customer,
“I’m the manager.” She said pleasantly.
“Why don’t you have second register?” The woman sneered.
Without missing a beat, Candice quizzically answered,
“Well, let me see. Where did I put it? Oh, that’s right we don’t have one.” Her eyes then became cold as she continued,
“I am so sorry miss; we are small shop with a rather great sale going on. If you would like to take your business elsewhere, like Contempo, you can shop there, pay four times the price and still wait just as long.”
The grumbling line went silent and a guffaw was heard from a husband shifting his bags to the other hand for the tenth time. At that very moment, Vanessa got some clarity. They all want something and they all actually have to wait in a line for me to give it to them. Power and perception is a funny thing. When you don’t think you have it, you bow your head in submission but as Vanessa looked at the long line of customers, she realized they could not get a damn thing unless she gave it to them. In that moment her vision cleared and she realized she wanted to give it to them and make them happy, and she started ringing them up. As Vanessa’s pace quickened, she swears she saw Candice grin. They worked in unison - a never ending sales machine. Vanessa even started to tell the customers the original price of the coat first and with a little flare pressed the discount button and announced the new price to the customer’s glee! It actually became fun for Vanessa, like she was a dealer in Vegas handing out Black Jack on every deal.
Vanessa didn’t even realize what time it was until she heard the bing bong tone and the announcement over the speaker in the mall, “The Mall will be closing in 10 minutes. We at the Fairview Mall want to wish you Happy Holidays and invite you back to shop with us tomorrow.” She looked up and Marianne’s looked like it had been looted. Bare shelves were everywhere and several racks were empty and one was sporting a never to be purchased or worn lime green jacket with yellow faux fur trim. This made Vanessa chuckle. Candice was already lowering the store gate half way to encourage the stragglers to leave. The other two girls had punched out already and were ducking under the gate to leave. “You comin’ Vanessa, we’re getting some burgers for dinner” they shouted. “I’ll pass.” She answered. She started to straighten the island up when Candice stopped her. “You go on, I’ll finish this up.” Vanessa started to step down off the island when she heard, “Good job today, Vanessa.” Vanessa looked up at Candice in her lavender pant suit with padded shoulders that looked more like a general’s epaulettes, as Candice surveyed the battle field of discarded pants, shirts and skirts. Before she could thank her, Candice reminded her in a business like way, “Don’t forget to clock out.”
Vanessa made her way to the backroom where the time clock was, found her card and punched out. Just left of the time clock was a rack of layaway clothes for customers to pay and pick up later. One of the items was her jet black rabbit fur coat. Her heart sank. It was the only reason she took this job and she completely forgot to set one aside for herself before the sale started. With a defeated sign, she picked up the coat to take one last look at it and saw that it was even in her size. What a bummer, she thought. She looked for the layaway tag to see who the lucky person was and there wasn’t one. She then saw a pinned note on the sleeve. It said, “Hold for employee Vanessa, per Candice.” She gently placed it back on the rack. She remembered trying on the jacket a couple of times but didn’t think Candice even noticed her. It seems she did, and she actually didn’t hate her and went out of her way to reward Vanessa with what she wanted most, BEFORE inviting her on the island and trusting her on the register. Vanessa got her purse, came out the back and hurried to the front of the store as Candice turned off the lights. The Christmas tree lights on the empty coat rack were the only thing shining in the store. Vanessa and Candice enjoyed them for a moment and then pulled Marianne’s store gate down together until they heard the click of the lock.