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It was 4:37 AM when Brandon crossed the street and arrived at the shopping center. The sky was dark, and the weather was bitingly cold, but nearly every parking space he passed was occupied. Thanksgiving had only just passed the day before, but as he ventured closer to the plaza, eerie Christmas music could be heard echoing up from the sidewalk from some well intentioned landscape speakers. The trees, as well as a few shrubs, were covered in warm white lights that cut through the early morning gloom, and various holiday decorations hung from the lightposts above.

Brandon tried not to groan. The lights and decorations had been up for weeks, but he’d been hoping that the holiday music would be postponed until at least the first of December.

To anyone passing by, Brandon would have looked like a disgruntled college sophomore with a decidedly scrooge-like expression. They wouldn’t have been wrong in assuming that he was unimpressed with the decorations or the music, but neither were the reason he was feeling so grumpy.

The sun hadn’t even risen and Brandon was already having a terrible day. He’d driven three hours to have Thanksgiving with his family the day before, only to be lectured by nearly everyone about what he was doing wrong with his life. Nothing was ever good enough for his family; his mother gave him a hard time for not having a girlfriend while his dad hassled him about getting a better job. He’d been forced to stay late, even though they knew he had to work early the following day, then he had to make the drive back, and by the time he got home and settled in he’d had maybe two hours of sleep.

On top of that, he’d received an automated email an hour before that had informed him that he needed to be reevaluated for his student loans. He’d skimmed it on his phone, and as far as he could tell, they were saying something about him needing to pay more. As it was, he was barely getting by, and the thought of having to pay even a little more made him want to vomit.

So, he trudged staunchly forward and tried to push it all to the back of his head as he turned a corner.

His eyes were met with the sight of hundreds of people waiting in line. Nearly every storefront in the square had at least a dozen people waiting in front of it. Most of them were chattering away and laughing while others were obviously trying not to fall asleep or freeze to death.

Brandon grunted as he came closer to the building he needed to get into. At least fifty people or so were lined up in front of it, and Brandon sighed heavily as he stared at the weather worn sign hanging over the door. The sign read: Menley’s Toys and games.

He gave a forlorn glance at the front door, and decided that it would better if he used the side door. Moving further to the back of the line, he attempted to charge through the line when he heard someone shout to his right.

“Hey man, you can’t just cut in line!”

Brandon grit his teeth as as he did his best to quell a wave of agitation. He turned toward the voice and saw an overly concerned thirty something man with a large bald spot, “I’m not cutting in line, I’m trying to get into the building; I work here.”

The thirty something man gave him a suspicious look before grinning, “Oh yeah? You gonna open the doors early so we can get in?”

“Nope,” Brandon said apathetically as he fumbled for his keys. His hands were beginning to feel numb from the cold, and it took far longer for him to produce them than he would have liked.

“Why don’t you ask your manager to let us in early, it’s freezing out here,” the balding man whined as Brandon slipped the key into the lock.

“I am the manager, and he says no. We open at seven,” Brandon said in irritation as he unlocked the door. The key stuck in the lock, and he grimaced as he pulled on it hard. The key gave way after he wiggled it several times, and as it he pulled it out, it scraped against his cuticle and cut him slightly.

“Aw, c’mon, why can’t you…”

Brandon ignored the man as he slipped inside and slammed the door behind him.

He flipped the light switch and looked down at his finger, “Freaking hell,” he muttered as he opened and closed his hands to alleviate some of the stiffness. Afterwards, he looked up and immediately wished that he hadn’t. Several rows of boxes were stacked high and wide in the middle of the back room. All of them were full of Black Friday merchandise, and nearly all of them would need to be put out in less than two hours. He was just about to wonder how he would possibly get it all done in time when his phone buzzed.

He fished it out of his pocket and looked down at it. It was his co-worker, Yolanda, Hey, I’m really really sorry, the bus is super late, I probably won’t be there until five fifteen. I’ll try to get there as soon as I can!

Brandon scowled at the text message and tried not to break his phone screen as he pecked hard at the touch screen, ok.

As soon as he hit canlı bahis send, he felt a twinge of guilt at having given her such a short reply, but he shoved his feelings aside and went straight to the coffee machine. He dug through the supply of drink pods in the drawer beside the sink and was astounded to find that the only coffee to be found we decaf.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me!” He said loudly as he looked again. The second time yielded the same result; there was a plethora of tea, hot chocolate and cider, but not a single coffee pod that wasn’t decaf. Angrily, he snatched up a hot chocolate pod and crammed it into the machine, hoping that the sugar might help wake him up a bit.

Several minutes later, Brandon was tearing through the boxes and haphazardly throwing packing material everywhere. The merchandise inside of the boxes was nothing to get excited about, most of it was cheap garbage that Mr. Menley had ordered specifically for the fateful shopping day, but as the young man unboxed the generic toys he began to feel more and more irate.

His thoughts turned to the old man that owned the toy story. The whole reason that he was even in his current mess was because Mr. Menley didn’t want to pay him extra to come in overnight. It would have given him a perfect excuse to miss Thanksgiving with his family, as well as a bit of extra pocket change, but the old shop owner was far too greedy. He’d insisted that Brandon could get the work done the morning of, but for every box that Brandon opened, there seemed to be two more that he hadn’t.

What was more, is that Menley was on an extended vacation, so he wouldn’t even be around for the busiest time of the season. Since the week of Thanksgiving was already a paid holiday week, the miserly store owner hadn’t scheduled enough hours to cover black Friday, and Brandon would be alone with Yolanda until another of their co-workers showed up at nine.

By the time Brandon had opened half the boxes, his irritation had turned to a venomous bitterness. He glanced out the back room door toward the front windows and was upset (though not surprised) that even more people were waiting in line.

His phone buzzed again, and he wrestled it out of his pocket. It was Mr. Menley.

Good morning, my boy, I hope everything is well and that you had a lovely Thanksgiving. Is everything going alright?

Brandon’s eyebrow twitched, “Go to hell, Menley,” he said as he replied, everything is fine, sir, thanks. I can’t really talk right now, got tons of work to do, have a good vacation. “Asshole,” he added to the end of the sentence, not in text, of course, before he hit send.

A few seconds later, his phone buzzed again, “The fuck do you want, old man!?” Brandon snapped at his phone as he pulled up the fresh text.

Yes of course, apologies. Don’t forget to wear the uniform I gave you. It’s a Menley tradition! 🙂

Brandon clenched his jaw as he stared at the smiley face, “I’ll tell you where you can put your uniform and your fucking emojis…” he says through clenched teeth as he replied, yup, I’ve already got it on.

He didn’t, but he knew that the old man would find out one way or another if he failed to don the ridiculous outfit. There were many lifelong residents in the town, the majority of whom were friends with the shop owner. Some gossiping, chain smoking, bridge playing old lady was bound to see him without it, and would no doubt go out of her way to tell Mr. Menley in lavished detail.

Brandon grabbed his backpack and headed for the restroom, “Of all the goddamn stupid, idiot things…” his mumbling was cut off as he slammed the door.

It was ten after five when Brandon stepped out in his holiday uniform. Over his plain white t-shirt, he wore a light green vest with bright red buttons. The vest ended at his waist and was cut in deep V’s at the bottom to accentuate the matching shoes, which were the same color and comically curved upwards at the the toes. Over his hair, Brandon wore a headband that covered his ears slightly and made them appear pointed, and overall he looked like a very convincing, albeit oversized, elf.

Brandon, however, did not feel like an elf. In that moment, he hated himself and he hated everyone who was lined up at the door. In reality, he didn’t really hate anyone, but his sour mood was beginning to ferment into something that he was having a difficult time keeping at bay.

Before he could commiserate on how ridiculous his outfit was, his phone buzzed.

It was Yolanda, Hey, should I come in through the side door? I’m five minutes away.

Yeah, I’ll open it for you, He replied with a sigh.

Afterwards, he glanced up at all trash that was strewn about the floor and went about the task of gathering it up. Within a minute, he finished stuffing it in the trash can and proceeded to carry the new merchandise out to the sales floor.

As he stacked the merchandise, he try tried to ignore the people that were staring bahis siteleri at him through the window. As he began to build a pyramid out of board games, he heard so someone knocking on the window. He winced and kept working, but the knocking became louder. He inhaled deeply and looked up to see a woman with puffy blue lips and bags under her eyes. She beckoned him over, and he hesitantly stood and approached the window, all the while thinking that he should have continued to ignore her.

“Hey, are you guys opening early?” She shouted through the thick glass.

Brandon did little to hide his look of distaste for the question. He shook his head.

“Why not?! It’s cold out here!” She pleaded with him.

“No one is making you wait in line, you stupid bitch,” he murmured under his breath as he turned away.

His phone buzzed in his pocket then and he went wide eyed, “Aw, shit,” he said as he made a beeline for the back door. He’d forgotten all about Yolanda, and she was probably waiting for him at the door.

Sure enough, as he skittered into the back room, someone was pounding on the door. He opened it quickly and stepped aside as his co worker pushed through.

“Geez, Brandon, I’ve been out there for like six minutes!” The girl huffed as she slammed the door behind her with her rump. Her face was bundled tightly with a thick scarf, and in her hand she held a paper cup.

Brandon was nearing his limit, and hearing her her yell at him nearly pushed him over the edge. He glanced at the cup in her hand and scowled angrily, “So you’re late but you had time to get yourself a drink,” he said coldly.

The young woman was in the process of peeling the scarf off her face, and she ripped the second half of the material away from her neck as she flashed a look up at him, “This is for you!” She shoved the drink toward him, “The bus was late and I had to kill some time anyway, asshole,” she charged past him after letting go of the drink. Brandon barely caught it as he turned to see her kick the bathroom door open.

A stab of guilt shot through him, but he clenched his fist as he looked down at the coffee. His relationship with Yolanda was confusing enough for him, but he was in no mood to deal with any of that. Secretly, Brandon had always thought that Yolanda was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, and she was both the sweetest and most caring person he’d ever known. Despite that, he’d always treated her coldly, if only to distance himself from her. She had a boyfriend, and he was technically her boss, so he told himself regularly that it was in his best interest to keep it professional with her.

None of that, however, did anything to alleviate his guilt. He knew he was acting like an asshole, but the realization only made him angrier. More than anything he wanted the day to be over, and if that meant that he had to be the biggest douchebag he could possibly be, then he was willing to accept that.

He took a slow, careful sip of the now lukewarm coffee and set in on the counter before continuing his work.

It was 5:39 when Yolanda came out of the restroom. Brandon glanced at her as she entered the sales room. She was wearing a plain white sweater and jeans, and hadn’t changed into her uniform, but he thought that she looked amazing. Her eyes were red and puffy, and it was obvious that she’d been crying, but he said nothing as she stoically grabbed stacks of toys and carried them out to merchandise.

The two worked in silence for nearly an hour. Sooner than he’d thought, most all of the special merchandise was out, and only a few extra boxes of product remained in the back. In that time, Brandon’s emotions hadn’t stabilized at all, if anything, he was feeling even more erratic.

He knew that he needed to apologize to Yolanda, but he didn’t know how, so instead, he approached her and quietly muttered, “Hey… you should change into your uniform… Mr. Menley has already asked about it.”

The young woman didn’t make eye contact with him as she grabbed her backpack and headed back into the bathroom.

Brandon checked the time and sighed heavily. They’d managed to get everything important done in time, and though there were still a few finishing touching he could have made, he had zero motivation to do anything but the minimum. Soon, he would have to unlock the doors and allow himself to be stampeded with frozen shoppers who allegedly thought that getting in early would be worth the wait. He took up a remote that was sitting on the break room table and clicked on the receiver that was sitting on top of one of the cabinets. A second later, Jingle Bell Rock emanated from the small speakers that were set up into the ceiling throughout the store.

He meandered over to the counter and took up the beverage that Yolanda had brought him. It was cold, but it still tasted wonderful, and his hands began to shake as he sipped it slowly. He stood there for several minutes, knowing full well that bahis şirketleri he could warm the drink if he wanted, but feeling as if he deserved to drink it cold.

Then, behind him, the door clicked open.

He turned and watched Yolanda step out of the restroom. A queasy feeling came over him, followed by confusion, then several seconds of excited nausea. Yolanda looked incredible. The outfit looked as amazing on her as it did absurd on him, and his mouth fell open before he even knew what was happening. Her brown skin glowed in the stark fluorescent light overhead, and for a moment he saw spots around her. She was a short girl, and she was teased for being slightly overweight, but Brandon thought she was perfect. Her generous bustline strained against the tight green vest, the red buttons barely holding together. At her waist, she wore a pleated green mini skirt that had tiny bells sewn onto each frill. Beneath the skirt she wore white leggings, and of course, the token curled shoes. Like him, she was also wearing the ears, but they only seemed to add to her current mystique.

A single, terrible, selfish thought came over Brandon as he stared at her. It was the culmination of many emotions that he’d been struggling with, and the last twenty four hours were bearing down on him like an insurmountable weight.

I will never have her, He heard himself say inwardly as he took a deep breath. It was a pathetic, pitiable realization, but it felt epiphanic. He wanted to hold her and to apologize to her; he wanted to make her scream and bring her more pleasure than she’d ever felt in her life, and he wanted to do all of it at the same time. But none of those things would happen, and none of them ever would.

“Brandon…” The young woman stared back at him with a look of concern on her face, “Are you okay?”

Brandon felt hot tears rolling down his cheeks. He blinked several times as he furrowed his brow. He shook his head once as he balled his fists, “No… I’m not okay, Yolie.”

Yolanda’s concern turned to a mixture of fear and confusion, “Brandon… what’s wrong?”

There was nothing he could do to stop himself. never in his life had he experienced what was happening to him, and in that moment he understood exactly what a nervous breakdown felt like. “Everything is wrong,” he said slowly as he threw his head back and laughed. He allowed his tears to flow freely as he squeezed his eyes tightly, “I might not be able to afford college anymore, I’m working a shitty job and eating ramen every night, and my family thinks I’m a failure!” He gestured to her with another laugh as he opened his eyes and chuckled, “I have to work with you almost everyday and pretend that I don’t think you’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met and I’m so tired when I go home at night that I don’t even have energy to masturbate!” He shook his head and wiped his eyes as he laughed. He didn’t care what Yolanda thought, because it wouldn’t matter either way. “My co workers hate me because they think I’m getting paid more than they are for being a manager,” he crossed his arms and grinned sardonically, “You know how much more I make than you, Yolie? Fifty fucking cents more an hour. You know how I got the job? It’s because Mr. Menley is an old school misogynistic bastard who doesn’t want to entrust a key to the store to a woman! I can’t get another job because this was the only place I could find that would work with my schedule, and even if I wanted to, I’m not qualified to do shit!”

Yolanda stared at her supervisor with wide eyes. After Brandon had finished, the corners of her mouth turned down and her face darkened, “You think you’re the only one who’s got it bad?” She asked flatly as her eyes began to well with fresh tears.

The question caught Brandon off guard and sobered him considerably as he swallowed hard.

“At least you’re passing your classes, I’ll be lucky if skate by in most of them with a C,” her voice wavered as she grit her teeth. “My grandma died a week ago and the only thing my family cares about is who gets her shit!” Yolanda screamed suddenly as her eyes filled with rage. “I just found out that my boyfriend has been cheating on me for weeks with my sister and I’m so sick about it that I haven’t eaten in three fucking days, Brandon!” She screamed once more as she took a step toward him. “Do you think I want to be here, dressed like this, selling shit toys from China to these morons who have literally nothing better to do?!” She pointed at the doorway that led to the sales floor as she walked forward. “I’m sorry that you’re having a shitty morning, Brandon, but that doesn’t give you the right to treat me like shit! I’m not your damn punching bag!” She gestured to herself, “I haven’t slept in a week and I haven’t been laid in over a month! You think you’re the only one who’s stressed out?! Well?!” She stepped up to him and shouted in his face.

Brandon wheeled backwards, both because of her shouting and because he’d never been that close to her before, “No… I’m sorry,” he croaked hollowly as he wiped his face once more. “You didn’t deserve that… I’m sorry.”

She took a step back and wiped her own face, “Did you mean what you said about me?”

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