Life could be better if Robert Smith were an alpha male, but he was still a beta. For the past eight years, he worked behind the customer-service counter of Cheap Prices, a moderately sized grocery store located in his hometown of Freeport, Long Island. It was his first and only job since graduating high school in 2003.
Robert remembered his parents would tell him stories of how they came to the United States from Jamaica with just three dollars collectively in 1984. From there, his father was able to find a job in construction, and his mom opened a day care from the apartment they lived in. Robert was born a year later, November 8, 1985. The year after he was born, his parents were able to take out a mortgage loan on his current home. The house was located on the north side of Freeport on Barnes Avenue. It was a three-floor family house with a basement and attic. Robert, his two brothers, and their mother lived in the house for over twenty years.
Currently in 2012, his family came a long way from just three dollars in America, but times were difficult now. Since the divorce between his parents, all the bills in the house had been on his mother. The recession of 2008 made managing the bills much more difficult. The time was now to man up and take more responsibility in the house, beginning with finding a better job.
Robert was kind of embarrassed that he still lived at home with his mother at twenty-six years old. Maybe this was why women did not take him seriously romantically. He believed one day he would find love. But for now, he understood that no woman that he admired would ever be interested in a man who did not have a car, had to walk everywhere he needed to go, had no game and, quite frankly, no swagger, or a man who had a pathetic job and wore the same clothing in a limited rotation every week. He had to improve himself drastically before he could think of dating women. No woman with dignity would or should take him seriously.
Dating was a concern, but it had to be the least of Robert’s worries. Managing the house was immensely difficult for his mom. He was at the age now that he needed to be helping more if he was living under this roof. His mother’s weakness, just like his own, was that she was too nice. Any other mother that was struggling, if she even allowed her son to live in the house at the age of twenty-six, would at least let him pay most of the bills in the house. He was fortunate to have his mother provide him with shelter with minimal rent, but knew he could do better because if a home was not in order, nothing else would be.
Robert was not a real man, allowing his mother to be burdened by all that responsibility herself. In a way, he felt he was taking advantage of his mother’s kindness. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the roles would reverse, and he would be the one providing for his mother financially. She deserved a rest. She was a queen who, from the very beginning, had done everything to provide for him and his two younger brothers. She was a blessing to have as a mother.
A positive of working at Cheap Prices was that more often than not, the female customers were incredibly attractive. Younger, middle-aged, or sometimes even older, elegant women were the objects of his admiration.
Today it was a humid summer day. On the way to the beach, many customers shopped in Cheap Prices for coolers, ice, snacks, and other necessities for a nice relaxing day on the sands of Jones Beach, a place Robert wished he were, to show off his new and improved beach body, six-pack included.
Robert’s eyes locked in on a curvy lady wearing nothing but a bikini in the grocery store, just as all the other surrounding male observers did. In the midst of his staring at the girl in the bikini, Stan, a daily regular customer, walked up to the courtesy counter the same way he did every single day.
Stan was the last person in the world Robert wanted to deal with. He was an irking old man with a bald head and a gray goatee. Maybe outside of dealing with him behind the courtesy desk, he was a nice guy and cool to get along with, but behind the desk was at least ten minutes of irritation, every day. It was like Stan found the ultimate pleasure in annoying Robert. Stan played the same lottery numbers every day and said the same irking and insulting jokes every time. Unfortunately, no matter how much a customer annoyed him, he had to service them with a phony smile on his face.
“What you doing looking at my woman? You wouldn’t know what to do with that … probably shit in your pants if she gave you some,” Stan joked, slapping his hand on the counter playfully.
He had that silly laugh he would let out every time he would tell his half-funny jokes. The only reason they were half funny was because of the way he would laugh at them.
Robert did not respond. There was something about elder people that no matter how much they tempted him to, he could never disrespect them. Stan tempted Robert more than any other person, sometimes to the point that he wanted to take Stan outside to put his fist down his throat, but after eight years of working behind the courtesy desk, dealing with different personalities all day, two of the main things Robert learned were patience and composure. Without them, he would not have a job. Plus, he did have a lot of respect for Stan as a person and knew, at the end of the day, he was only joking.
While Stan filled out his lottery slips, impatient customers began to form the line behind him. There were always limited cash registers open. Although the sign above him read Courtesy Desk, he basically was an advanced cashier. He handled Western Union, money orders, the lotto machine, refunds, and bottle returns. He partially played a role in security, watching over the general-merchandise aisles from which shoplifters loved to steal at night. Most of the time the phone rang, it was while he was scanning groceries for predominantly impatient customers who were allergic to waiting in the lines of the regular cashiers.
Honestly, Robert could not really blame most of the customers. Who wants to wait in an express line (twelve items or less) that was the length of Disney World’s Splash Mountain, just to pay for a few items? He did not have a scale at the courtesy desk, so customers with produce could not pay here. It made his job slightly easier and a bit less aggravating, but overall, standing behind the courtesy counter was incredibly stressful.
“Excuse me, will there be other lines opening up?” the middle-aged white woman asked angrily.
Robert was already fed up with Stan’s shenanigans; now he had to deal with agitated customers. Unfortunately, it was his job to kiss customers’ behinds all the way to the exit door.
“I’m sorry. This is all we have right now,” Robert said calmly and professionally. He wanted to say, “Stop being impatient, woman, and wait until I get to you!” Perhaps with a little flavor of profanity, but it would have been inappropriate.
“I can’t deal with this! I should have gone to Stop and Shop instead!” the customer said, dropping her basket on the ground, and then she stormed out the store.
A box of toaster strudels and a few apples bounced out onto the floor. Good, she would not be able to pay here anyway; he had no scale for the apples.
Robert honestly could not care less whether she went to King Kullen, Pathmark, Walmart, Stop and Shop, or any of the other supermarkets in the area. It was not his job to keep customers in the store; he didn’t get paid enough for that. All he cared about was that he was leaving work in about an hour. Soon he would be free from handling nagging impatient customers, and his douchebag managers who got paid to basically sit in their offices in the back and eat pizza all day to conceal themselves from the real line of fire. The only time store managers were on the floor were when the district manager and top managers visited, when they would force all the other employees to be in super kiss-ass mode so they would impress their bosses.
“Put my shit in a bag,” the rude thug said after Robert completed ringing his groceries.
This guy was another regular as well. Even when it was not busy, unlike today, he would always walk past all the registers to pay at the courtesy counter as if he had some special privilege, or as if he were allergic to paying at the regular registers. Usually every time he paid for his groceries, he liked to speak to Robert as if he were his child.
Robert was scared of thugs; there was no denying that. They imposed this ruffian image that made him uneasy inside. He remembered high school as if it were yesterday. He was without a doubt one of the more bullied students in his 2003 class. Looking back, he lacked the ability or confidence to stand up for himself. He was a coward, perhaps another reason he could not find a woman of his desired choice. He was pushed around by all kinds of assaulters, whether they were in his grade or below. It did not matter if they were bigger than him or smaller, or if it was the star wide receiver on the varsity football team or a random peer that found joy out of taking Robert’s lunch money. It could have been a teammate on the lacrosse team or a random student in the cafeteria; he was one of the number one targets in the entire school. Taking Robert’s lunch money was easier than stealing candy from a baby.
Throughout the entire school, Nate Clark was the most persistent of all Robert’s assaulters. Nate was popular for all the wrong reasons. He was well known for his fights in which he victimized a lot of people, his countless suspensions, and his notorious gang of followers called HURT. Robert tried to avoid him throughout the school days, changing his route for classes, using different bathrooms. It was like hide-and-go-seek. His main ground for hiding was the library because most thugs did not like to study or read books. Somehow, Nate always found Robert, and when he did, it was not friendly. He was usually always with someone else, and he went out of his way to humiliate Robert no matter who was around.
“What’s up, bitch?” Nate said aloud for everyone exiting the cafeteria to hear.
Robert did not answer. Maybe no one would realize that Nate was talking to him. Instead, Robert tried to walk around Nate and ignore him, but he was unsuccessful as Nate grabbed his heavy backpack, pulling him back. Minus the baggy clothing, Nate might have only been a few pounds more of body mass than Robert, but still he wanted no problems with Nate or his gang members. He did not want to get embarrassed in front of all the fellow students walking by. This was already embarrassing enough.
“Where you going? You didn’t give me my money today, nigga!” Nate said aggressively with his fist balled up in front of Robert.
He remembered the last time Nate punched him in the stomach, and no one was around. While he was on the ground crying, Nate went into his pocket to steal his lunch money. Robert did not want to get punched in the stomach by Nate again.
“I have to go to class. I can’t be late,” Robert said, trembling from his fingertips to his toes.
“And there is a fee for walking in my motherfucking hallways, nigga!” Nate said.
“I don’t have any money. I spent it on lunch today.”
In front of all the students walking by, Nate grabbed and shoved Robert to the ground. As his book bag burst open, some of the books scattered around on the floor. This was embarrassment to the fullest. Perhaps it would have been better to stay on the floor and die rather than getting back up.
“Tomorrow, before school begins, I want you to meet me with my money by the main entrance. If I don’t see you, the next time I do, I’m going to hurt you bad, pussy nigga!” Nate said, standing above Robert.
Nobody around cared to help.
Of course, Robert did not go to school the next day. How could he? If he did, Nate would take his lunch money. If he refused, Nate would humiliate him in front of everyone. It was a no-win situation.
The day after, Nate kept his promise by beating Robert up in the boys’ locker room as he was preparing for gym class. He gave Nate the only $5 bill he had after the beating, and it was days like this that Robert wished he did not exist. He could not tell the principal because he would have endless problems with HURT. All he could do was take the beating and hope it would not happen again. Moments like this made it hard to face the mirror.
Over the years, Robert learned that with being a man, it was important that he stood his ground against all who disrespected him if he did not want to be a victim anymore. So he pulled out a few bags and left them on the counter for the thug.
“You could bag it yourself,” Robert said assertively.
The dead stare from the thug sent jolting fear throughout to Robert’s bones. He tried not to let it show by hiding his shaky hands under the courtesy counter.
“My nigga! What’s wrong with you? Every time I come to this store, you give me a problem!” the thug said.
“I’m not your slave. You want me to bag your groceries, you ask me politely and talk to me with respect. Don’t talk to me like I’m a kid!” Robert said.
“I’ll come back there and beat your ass like my kid! How about that? Matter a fact, what time you get off, pussy?”
Robert was more than intimidated by the thug now, but no matter the outcome, he would not permit this guy to talk to him however he pleased.
“I get off in thirty minutes!” Robert said, matching the thug’s anger.
Instantly, Robert regretted his words. Thugs or anybody for the most part did not play fair. If they were to lose a fight, they were getting one of their boys and/or some kind of weapon, most likely a gun. Most thugs were allergic to one-on-one fights. They had too much ego to take the loss. They would rather see you dead.
As the minutes ticked away, Robert’s regret increased. He was somewhat confident he could beat the thug in a one-on-one fight, although all he knew about combat was the boxing and MMA he watched on television. He was not as skinny and frail as he was in high school. In the past few years, he built a great amount of body mass and strength going to the gym at least four days out of the week. But what if the thug really came back to his job? If a fight broke out, Robert would lose his job. If the thug brought a weapon, he could possibly lose his life. What if he simply lost the fight? It would be embarrassing, but at least he finally had the courage to stand up for himself, unlike how he handled bullies like Nate in the past.
“Hi. Which aisle is the coffee in?” the female customer asked.
Robert did not want to deal with any more customers for the day. He was already paranoid about what might occur after he clocked out of work and exited the building. When he turned away from the clock on the wall, which his eyes were glued to, his thoughts were instantly disrupted by an incredibly attractive woman standing in front of the courtesy counter. Blood rushed throughout his veins, and his heart pounded rapidly.
“It’s in aisle eight,” Robert finally answered, stunned by her beauty. “Would you like me to show you?”
She smiled, which was the most glorious image he had viewed in while.
“OK,” the woman answered.
Robert’s mood changed from ready to battle, now to a soothing feeling of being in the presence of such a majestic woman. She wore tight blue jeans, a white V-cut shirt, and white high heels. Her skin was a dark-brown complexion a few shades darker than his, with red lipstick, green eyes, and long silky curly hair that touched her bare shoulders. She appeared to be around his age. Her astounding physique commanded a lot of attention from some of his fellow male coworkers as he walked her to the aisle. He hated how unsettling it was being around an extremely beautiful woman. Maybe it was because he did not have any sisters, and his father never taught him how to interact with girls he was attracted to. Maybe it was something he had to learn on his own. He wished he had it in him to flirt with this girl to get her number, but this was not his expertise. Standing in her presence was challenging enough.
“Robert, come to customer service! Robert, come to the courtesy desk!” Gale, the manager, said over the intercom as he reached the coffee aisle with the customer.
“Isn’t that you?” she asked.
“Yes, but I’m going to help you first before I go back. Is this your first time shopping here?” Robert asked.
“Second time … I came in a few days ago, and I really liked the store, so I decided to come back.”
Glad you did, Robert thought. Anxiety built up inside him. Her beauty was remarkable, and distracting. He could not think of any follow-up questions. He had to figure out a way to continue this conversation.
“Well, here’s the coffee,” Robert said, walking her to the general area in the aisle. “If you want, you could pay for that at the customer-service desk with me.”
“I have a whole cart full of groceries. I’ll get on line. Thanks, sweetie,” she said.
“No problem. What’s your name? So I’ll know for the next time I see you.”
It was a beautiful name that fit her aura perfectly. Destiny did wear an elegant smile that seemed like an invitation to learn more about her, but there was no way a woman who possessed her appeal could ever be interested in a man who worked behind a customer-service desk. It was time to snap back into reality. She had to be taken by a man who had a lot more than him.
“I’m Robert,” he said with a gentle handshake. “I hope to see you soon.”
Minutes later, it was time to leave. Robert’s reliever for the courtesy counter, Arnold, came in and counted the cash in his register to make sure they were balanced. When they finished, Robert clocked out of work, then he walked with his gym bag on his shoulder heading to the exit. He was prepared for the thug that threatened him earlier, although he would have preferred not to fight. Anxiety built up the closer he walked to the exit.
“Going home now?” A recognizable voice asked from behind.
When Robert turned around, Destiny was walking out the door with a cart full of groceries. It was perfect timing. He had a feeling that even though he was off the clock, he still would not have the courage to ask her for her number.
“Yeah—I mean no, I’m going to the gym now. Did you find everything that you needed?” Robert asked, with an eye behind him for the thug he dealt with earlier.
He was nowhere in sight. Maybe he decided not to come after all. This was still an uncomfortable moment, now with the added anxiety of talking with Destiny.
“Yes. Thank you for helping me. What gym do you go to?” Destiny asked.
“Goliath Fitness. It’s a ten-minute walk from here in Merrick,” Robert said.
“OK, I know that gym. I got a free pass in the mail. Is it a good gym?”
“Yeah, they have a lot of equipment. The name may not suggest it, but there are a lot of ladies that work out there as well. It’s not just a gym for colossal-size men. Look at me.”
“One day soon, I’ll go in and check it out. Do you want a ride there?” she asked.
Robert hated to make people go out of their way for him, even when they offered, but there was no way he would decline this. He had a great opportunity to talk to her on a personal level, even if it was only for five minutes, and possibly get her number, which was probably unlikely.
“A ride would be nice. Is it out of your way?” Robert asked.
“It’s OK. I don’t mind,” Destiny said.
Robert pushed her shopping cart and accompanied Destiny to her car, a luxurious Mercedes Benz, all white. He wondered what kind of profession she worked to own this kind of car. She probably was a supermodel that he did not recognize. Maybe she was in a relationship, or married to a man with an endless amount of money. He did not see a ring on her finger, but just by looks alone, she could steal any man’s heart. She seemed to be a pleasant person internally as well.
They were now driving a few blocks away from his gym. The conversation was flowing smoothly. Destiny was very easy to talk to. This was a perfect opportunity to at least try and ask her for her number. A woman like her would never be interested in a man like him, but it was worth the try. Not trying at all would have felt a lot worse than if she declined him.
“You should work out with me sometime. I mean, if you’re free. You appear to be a very busy woman,” Robert suggested.
“That would be great—I need a workout partner. I need to be pushed in the gym. What’s your number?” Destiny asked.
Robert was so excited that Destiny asked him for his number that he momentarily forgot it. He could not believe this was happening so easily. It would have been a little better if he received her number because there was the possibility of her never calling, but even if he received her number, she could ignore it, block it, or give him a fake number, so he could only hope she was interested enough to communicate through cell phones.
After giving Destiny his number, Robert gave her a hug goodbye, then he exited the car, eventually entering Goliath Fitness with an extra ego boost. It seemed too good to be true. He was mildly doubtful she would ever call or text, but he was excited when she sent him a text message as he reached the locker room.
‘Hey, this is Destiny,’ the text message read.
Robert was a firm believer of the two-day rule when receiving a girl’s number, but this was an exception because she texted him first.
After the hour-long motivated workout, Robert replied to Destiny’s text message. They went back and forth his entire walk home. Destiny even offered to pick him up, but he declined. He definitely did not want her to come out of her way. She lived on the south side of Freeport. It was about a ten-minute ride from her home to the gym. It was surprising how easy it was talking with her. The text messages ultimately turned into a surprising late-night phone call, in which Robert learned so much more about Destiny.