A TIA for Gia
by Barnaby Hazen
Gia had been working the night shift for about six weeks. She was always a little early, but one day she came in right at the time of her shift to find the register was alone in the back counted out for her, with a post-it note reading: “Gotta run, hope all is OK text me,” with Andre’s number scratched at the bottom. The last shift manager had left the money alone! What was going on?
Gia was already distracted because her boyfriend Elifèt had just moved to Boston to go to a better school to finish his business degree. They met in June at the University of Arizona, had a wonderful time together, but Elifèt had already decided to transfer before meeting Gia and felt the awkwardness of wanting to change his plans for a woman, but not wanting to act hastily, for fear of losing her respect. They had their plans well mapped, it was two years to finish, the visits and chats would be plentiful and the romance full of longing, then leading to marriage. But lately he had been distracted by his studies, and she wasn’t sure how to read him over the phone yet, so excuses on his behalf were ominous to her, very unsettling indeed.
For Gia, the fear of introducing a Haitian fiancé to her strict Hindi parents was temporarily at bay, while the fear of losing Elifèt altogether and having no boyfriend at all at the end of semester was creeping up on her with surprising force. Meanwhile, what was going on with Andre? The previous shift manager texted her back a “Thnx,” but no explanation. She sometimes saw Byron, the Store Manager on Thursday nights. Would he know what had happened? Byron often seemed to test his employees for loyalty, or there was at least something odd about his management style she couldn’t put her finger on, but discomfort was gnawing at her and it looked as if it was going to be a fairly busy night. Friday was a holiday at University, and people were partying already so she wouldn’t want to try to slip in a call to Elifèt before he would probably be asleep. Waking him was dodgy—might be he was sweet and reassuring, might be he was short and grumpy and she didn’t think she wanted to chance it that night given how she had been feeling about him all week.
When Byron the Store Manager walked in, he already had a strange look about him that made Gia nervous, so she answered his questions with noticeable caution.
“Evening, Gia. How is the shift?”
“Fine, thank you.”
"Nothing unusual?" and he was smiling right at her.
“Um, well not that I really…”
“It’s all right, it’s all right. Andre already told me what happened, don’t worry, I’m just going back there to double check the numbers. He had an emergency, it happens. Not that I want you to think it’s cool to leave the register, nobody should ever do that, but as long as the numbers are all right we’re all good. “
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
“No need, I’m just,” and suddenly Byron paused curiously, then doubled over, took two big steps forward to barely grab hold of the counter to keep himself from falling. It was surprising to Gia that the glass of the counter didn’t break considering how heavy he was.
“Sir? Byron, are you all right?”
Byron nodded, recovered his balance briefly, then staggered his vastly overweight body around to the back office and sat right down. Gia kept asking him if she should call the medics, but he kept sweating, convulsing, shaking his head and grimacing, “NO! Don’t you call nobody. I bet you’d love that wouldn’t you, if I were…” and then he let out a sound of pain; but he was so consistently clear in his insistence that he would be fine that Gia could only watch the front, help people out, go back and check briefly, then nervously pace outside the office.
He was back there for an hour before he finally started to feel well enough to stand. She got him some water, then he went and got himself a soda, looked at Gia and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll cover this before I go.”
He was back there probably another forty-five minutes, breathing heavily but looking a lot more even when suddenly the love of Gia’s life surprised her by walking right into the store. She actually saw him on the camera before she knew for sure it was he, hopped over the counter to leap up again right into his strong arms and wrap her legs around his hips. That grin of his, that big dumb grin was the most beautiful sight she thought she’d ever seen, as he explained that the school did not have all of the classes and opportunities this year that he expected, and he and his parents agreed that for the price it was better, the education he could get right there in Tucson, until perhaps those opportunities were to reemerge for him in Boston. This way Gia and Elifèt could talk about options, perhaps she might find something for her field in graphic design in Boston for the next semester, but he thought it was important that they be together while they made these decisions, because the distance could be very confusing at this stage of their relationship.
Byron was watching, knew something of this man and occasionally slapped his own right arm, which was still a little numb, while he insisted several times over that he could cover Gia’s shift for her. She fought due to concern over Byron’s health, but eventually the romance of Elifèt’s surprise got the better of her and she reluctantly punched out and even gave Byron a little hug on the way out, “Just call me if you need me to come back.”
Byron respected Gia and Andre as intelligent, dutiful, and highly ambitious employees who obviously wanted his position, who wouldn’t? He knew he wasn’t the sharpest guy who ever managed a store, and his health almost put his job up for grabs; but his perseverance was what set him apart. Gia called to check on him, probably just wanted to cover herself from any repercussions from corporate, but his night was made by the fact that this perseverance of his had given him some real dirt on two very ambitious junior employees in one night.