The annoying chime alert I’d become so familiar with over the past five months drew my eyes from my book to the security screen. I took in the classic car sitting at a pump, watched as the driver climbed out and rounded the car to open the passenger door and a woman in a short skirt slid out. Aww, a gentleman. You didn’t see that every day. I slid my bookmark into place, noting that I had too many hours left of my shift and not enough book.
The night had been surprisingly slow so if I didn’t pace myself I’d end up having to buy a magazine or dig through the bargain bin for something to read. Another chime as the automatic doors slid open and the couple strolled in. I’d learned to judge people quickly and accurately, a necessary skill when you worked the 10pm – 6am shift at a 24 hour convenience store, so with a glance I took in their neat dress, short skirt and skimpy top for her, jeans and a button down for him, and I relaxed. I moved my hand away from the panic button where it sat by reflex and pasted on my customer service smile. It went perfectly with the dead eyed gaze I looked into every day when I brushed my teeth.
“I’m going to grab some snacks Ty, want anything?” The girls voice carried easily as did his reply.
“No thanks, I’ll organise the fuel and meet you outside.”
Life hadn’t been a picnic since I’d walked out of Tyler’s house all those months ago. After his question I’d calmly finished my coffee then asked him where the door was. He’d offered to take me home but I’d walked and once there I’d sat in front of the computer, updated my resume and started applying for jobs. My experience was out of date, I had no references to offer since I’d lost touch with them years ago. The few interviews I’d gotten would have been embarrassing if I’d had any pride left at that stage.
I remembered walking into this place for the first time, the bored teenager behind the counter hadn’t even looked at me as she’d directed me to the manager’s office. The door had opened and things had changed. Margie was the manager and owner and she’d looked at me with a curious smile then asked one question. “Why?”
A decade older than me and she understood everything. That I had no skills, that I needed a job.
“I don’t know if this place is right for you Lillian. I only have the overnight shift available and it can get rough,” she’d said with a sad smile.
“I’m tougher than I look. Please, just give me a chance.”
I’d gone home jubilant with a stack of paperwork to fill out and been met with disdain then disbelief.
Paul had been bristling for an argument. “No wife of mine is going to work there,” he’d said through gritted teeth.
“That’s the point isn’t it?” I’d replied casually. I knew arguing was pointless, getting angry or upset just made him happy. “Soon I wont be your wife and I need to be able to support myself.”
Just like the day I’d moved my things out of the master bedroom he continued to argue but I wouldn’t be swayed. It had been difficult explaining to the boys what was happening but as kids did, they took it in their stride. Mama and Daddy didn’t share a room anymore and they got to bunk in together. That was fun and exciting and was their focus. Then when I explained I wouldn’t be there every night if they woke up, they were thrilled by the idea that I’d be out at night.
For me the bright and shiny had been that I was there for them before and after school. I slept in between those hours which had the added benefit of not seeing Paul in that time. In true style, he had decided that if I wasn’t going to ‘act like his wife’ anymore, I would be a border and he charged me room and board. The negotiations wold have been funny if they hadn’t been so tragic. We ended up assigning a value to all of the household tasks I currently did which massively reduced the amount of board he had planned to charge me.
Work itself had been tough and scary. Margie hadn’t lied, it got rough some nights. I learned to trust my instincts and hit the panic button without hesitation. It sent an alarm to a security company and they would arrive within minutes. 3am brought out the crazies, drunks and stoners. People leaving clubs, shift workers, overnight travellers. People who just needed fuel. Like Tyler.
He had his head down looking through his wallet as he approached the counter so I had the opportunity to look at him. The months had been kinder to him than to me, his shoulders broad, his skin lightly tanned, hair neatly trimmed. Me? I was pasty from working nights and sleeping days, I’d lost weight and hadn’t had a haircut in months, my style of choice these days was a neat ponytail with home trimmed bangs.
“Can I get $50 on pump 4 please?” He asked without looking up, his fingers flicking through his wallet still. Maybe I’d get lucky and he wouldn’t look up at all.
“Sure thing. Cash or card?” The words rolled out automatically as I worked the computer.
“Cash,” he said as he looked over his shoulder. “You done Jen?” He raised his voice a little to call.
Oh right, his … friend? Date? I quickly checked the camera feed to find her flicking through a magazine.
“Be there in a minute,” she called back and he sighed heavily.
“Just the fuel,” he said and I realised he was holding out a note. I tried to ignore the tremor in my fingers as I reached for it, tried not to gasp as our hands made brief contact.
I swear I didn’t but his head jerked up, his eyes locked to mine and I couldn’t look away.