I pulled into a parking place at Capital East Mall with Evan Lundgren, Tabitha Sasaki, and two freshmen whom I did not know well in my carpool. A few weeks ago, the Jeromeville Christian Fellowship staff had asked for volunteers for a service project. The Nordstrom department store in Capital City took inventory once a year, hiring many one-day temporary employees to help complete the job in a reasonable amount of time. Some of these temporary employees came from church groups, with the money they got paid going directly to the group. The money that JCF raised tonight would be used for scholarships to send students on retreats that they might not otherwise be able to afford.
As we walked into the store, I looked around. I had never been inside Nordstrom before. “This is definitely fancier than anywhere I shop,” I said. “So where do we go now?”
“The Customer Service desk in the back of the first floor,” Tabitha replied, pointing. “Over there. Follow Eddie and Raphael and Armando posing as Lars.”
We caught up to the other guys from JCF whom Tabitha had pointed out. I looked at Armando, who Tabitha said was “posing as Lars.” I had only met Armando a few times; he was one of Lars’ roommates, but he did not attend JCF. I noticed that he was wearing what appeared to be Lars’ usual pair of Birkenstocks, with a flannel shirt tied around his waist, exactly as Lars would be dressed.
“So why is Armando posing as Lars?” I asked when I caught up to the group.
“Lars had to back out at the last minute,” Armando explained. “And someone needed to take his place, because we signed up to bring a certain number of people. So I’m Lars tonight.”
“That makes sense,” I said. I found it amusing that Armando had gone so far as to dress up as Lars.
“It’s kind of weird experiencing life as Lars, dressed like this,” Armando said.
“Last year, when we did this, I got assigned to lingerie,” Eddie said. “We got there, and all the guys were like, uhh…” I laughed.
After we checked in at the Customer Service desk, we were ushered into the employee break room in the back. We then waited around for half an hour, to give the actual employees time to close the store. Other temporary employees besides our group were waiting in the break room, and more people trickled in over the next half hour. I wondered where these other people came from, if Nordstrom just advertised for one night temporary employees off the street, or if they came from groups raising money like we did.
A well-dressed woman stood up in front of the group, welcoming us and explaining how things would work. Each of us had been assigned to a specific department within the store, and each of us would be paired with a Nordstrom employee. She explained the procedure for counting, double-checking, and recording the numbers on a form. “Remember, you’re here to work for the next five hours,” she reminded us after explaining everything else. “If you finish your department early, you will be assigned to another department that isn’t done yet. The store is closed, so you’re not here to shop. If you need a bathroom break, return quickly. And no unnecessary conversations.”
As soon as she said that last part, I suddenly felt much worse about this night. Unnecessary conversations were what made tedious nights of menial labor fun. Oh well, I thought. I was here to serve God, to raise money for JCF, not to have fun. And if the night was too terribly miserable, I would remember this and not sign up to work this event next year.
The woman began naming names and telling us to go to different departments, where a manager from that department would give us further instructions. After a few minutes, she said, “Ramon Quintero, Anna Lam, Raphael Stevens, Greg Dennison, Autumn Davies, and Sarah Winters. You’re in women’s shoes, on the second floor.” Women’s shoes. Good, I thought. No awkwardness of staring at panties and bras all night.
When we arrived at the shoe department, six Nordstrom employees, well-dressed like the manager from downstairs, waited for us. I looked at them to see who we would be working with. A middle-aged woman with glasses and hair in a bun. A slim, straight-haired Asian girl in slacks. An attractive blonde girl around my age with a sweet smile, wearing a dress that showed off her figure in a way that was flattering but not sleazy. An older man in a dress shirt, who made me think of Al Bundy from the TV show Married With Children, who also sold women’s shoes for a living. Two other young adult women whom I did not get a good look at.
“Hi, I’m Cathy,” the woman with the bun said. “I’m the manager of the shoe department. Each of you will be partnered with one of us. I’ll be working with Raphael. Where are you?” Raphael raised his hand, and she continued assigning partners as we raised our hands to indicate who we were. “Sarah, you’ll be working with Jennifer. Ramon, you’re with Ron. Greg, you’re with Keziah.”
“Huh? Who?” I said awkwardly, suddenly startled.
“Keziah,” Cathy repeated.
“Keziah,” I said back, a little confused. I was expecting someone with a normal name like Jennifer or Kimberly or Amy. I had never heard of anyone named Keziah before. As Cathy finished assigning partners, I looked over the six employees, wondering which one was Keziah. I assumed that Ramon’s partner Ron was the man.
“We’re almost ready to start.” Cathy said after assigning the rest of the partners. “I’ll show you which aisles you’ll be working on. Keziah, can you go get the clipboards?”
“Sure,” the attractive blonde said, walking toward the door to the storeroom. I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Of course, it was a typically cruel twist of fate that I would be working with a total babe but prohibited from having unnecessary conversations with her. Maybe I could at least impress her by doing a good job.
“I’m Greg,” I said to Keziah after she returned and passed out the clipboards. “I’m your partner.”
“Hi, Greg! Nice to meet you!”
“You too! Keziah, was it?” I asked, pronouncing it like Cathy did with the accent on the middle syllable. “Is that how you say it?”
“Yeah!” Keziah replied.
“I, um, just wanted to make sure I was saying it right.”
“You got it! I know it’s unusual. I was named after my great-grandma.”
“That’s cool. It sounds Old Testament.”
“I think so. I don’t really know the meaning of the name,” Keziah said. “So are you ready to get started?”
“We’re over here.” Keziah led me to our first aisle, where she said, “So we just count the number of boxes on each section of each shelf, and we record it here. Do you want to count or record?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Doesn’t matter to me either. We’ll be trading off anyway.”
“Sounds good. I’ll start by counting.” I counted the first two sections, then said, “I feel like I should know who Keziah was in the Old Testament, since I’m here with a Christian group. But I don’t.”
“Who are you here with?”
“Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. It’s a chapter of an organization called Intervarsity.”
“We have Intervarsity too, I think. I’ve seen signs around campus. But I’ve never been.”
“Where do you go to school?”
“Oh, okay,” I said. Keziah did not seem to be a stickler for the rule about unnecessary conversations, so after I counted a few more shelves, I said, “I went to Intervarsity’s national convention in Illinois over winter break, and we all got Bibles with a daily reading plan in the back, to read the whole Bible in a year. I’m going through that, but I’m a few days behind. So eventually I’ll learn who Keziah was.”
“That’s cool,” Keziah replied.
We continued counting the boxes on the shelves. I called out a number, which Keziah wrote on the clipboard. “What are you studying at Cap State?” I asked when we got to the end of an aisle.
“Early childhood education.”
“Nice. You want to be a teacher?”
“Yeah. Hopefully something like second or third grade.”
“That’s cool. I’m a math major.”
“Math. Math was always a struggle for me.”
“That’s because you never had me for a tutor,” I blurted out awkwardly. “I work as a tutor also.”
“You’re probably right,” Keziah said, smiling, as she wrote more numbers. “What do you want to do with your math degree?”
“I’m not sure. I’m trying to figure that out now. We’ve been talking a lot about careers in Math Club. I just know I like math.”
“If you like tutoring, would you want to be a teacher?”
“I don’t know. I always thought I wouldn’t, because of all the politics involved.”
“That’s true,” Keziah said as I counted more boxes and told her my totals. “We need good teachers, though. I had a really bad teacher in high school who ruined math for me.”
“That’s too bad,” I said. “So that’s the end of the aisle. Now we double-check, with you counting instead and me recording, right?”
“Yeah.” Keziah handed me the clipboard as we walked back to the beginning of the aisle. All of our numbers matched for the first several sections. We eventually got to one where we did not match, so we counted a third time, very carefully, until we agreed on the correct count.
“Did you grow up around here?” I asked as we approached the end of the aisle.
“Yeah. I was born in Pleasant Creek, but we moved to Capital City when I was four.”
“That’s cool. I’m from Plumdale. Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”
“Oh, okay. I’ve been to Santa Lucia a few times with my family. I love it there! Did you go to the beach a lot growing up?”
“Kind of,” I said. “Mostly when I was little. It’s usually too cold for the beach, I think.”
“True. I remember it doesn’t get very hot there. But it feels nice going there when it’s hot here.”
“It does. At least at first.”
After we finished that aisle, Keziah and I had three more aisles of shoes to count. We recorded and double-checked all of our numbers, and we routinely violated the rule about unnecessary conversations for much of that time. I learned about many things, including Keziah’s most memorable family vacation, her annoying roommate from last year, and why her old math teacher was so awful. I carefully avoided football as a discussion topic, since she went to Capital State, Jeromeville’s bitter football rival. Fortunately, no one was there to get us in trouble for talking.
When we finished filling out our final counting form, Keziah said, “That’s it!”
“Yeah,” I replied. “And with over an hour left.”
“Good job!” Keziah smiled and put her hand up, and I high-fived her. “I get to go home now, and hope to get some sleep before my 9am class.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I have to get up early too. I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep tonight. But I think I have to go be assigned to help somewhere else, until we’ve done the whole five hours.”
“Oh, that sucks.”
“But we’re raising more money for our group.”
“True. That’s a good way to look at it.”
“It was really nice meeting you,” I said.
“Yeah! Have a good night! I hope you sleep well!”
I walked back downstairs to the break room, to wait for a new assignment. I kept thinking about how Keziah had probably walked out of my life forever, and I had just let her go without doing anything. Should I have said something, or would that have just made things worse and more awkward?
“You okay, Greg?” I heard Sarah Winters’ voice ask. I looked around; I had been staring off into space, not noticing people around me, while awaiting a new assignment. Sarah and Angela had also recently finished counting women’s shoes, and Eddie was also there, from another department, waiting for a new assignment.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Just thinking.
The manager from the beginning of the night walked into the room. “They need four people upstairs in lingerie,” she said. “I’ll tell them you four are coming.”
“Lingerie,” I repeated. “Of course it had to be.”
As we approached the lingerie department, walking past aisles of women’s underwear, Sarah turned to Eddie and me and said, “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” chuckling.
Since the actual Nordstrom employees got to leave when they finished their assigned section, those of us who were just arriving in the lingerie department were no longer being paired with an employee. I began counting bras, but Eddie realized he did not have the correct form, so he went to find the lingerie department manager.
I found a bra on the floor and picked it up. “Why is this on the floor?” I asked. “I found a bra on the floor; do we count this?” Eddie was talking to a manager and did not hear me. I looked down at the bra that I was holding; it was quite large. Trying to get the attention of someone who could answer my question, I asked loudly, “I found a 38-DD bra on the floor; do we count this?”
“Greg!” Sarah said from the next aisle over. “Shhh!”
I did not know what to do with the bra, nor did I find any like it on the rack, so I put it with some 38-C bras that were nearby. Close enough. They did not appear to be strictly sorted by size anyway. Eddie returned, and we began counting bras and writing numbers on the clipboard, focusing on our work and not saying much. I missed working with Keziah. She was fun to talk to. Keziah and I seemed to hit it off well, and now I was probably never going to see her again.
By the time we finished counting the bras, it was almost time to leave, and most other departments had finished as well. We returned to the break room to wait for everyone else to finish, and once Tabitha, Evan, and the rest of my carpool had arrived, we walked back to the cars.
“How’d your night go?” Evan asked as we walked toward my car with the others in our carpool.
“Good. I got a really friendly partner who wasn’t too strict about the no-talking rule.”
“That was nice that you guys got to talk. We didn’t.”
As I drove across Capital City and crossed the river back into Arroyo Verde County, the rest of my car was quiet. Since it was very late at night, and most of us had classes in the morning, the others used the twenty-five minute ride back to Jeromeville to doze off, giving me time to ruminate on the events of that night.
I felt like I had missed an opportunity. I had enjoyed talking to Keziah, getting to know her, and now I would probably never see her again. I wished I knew how to ask her out. I wished I knew how to ask if we could be friends and stay in touch. The obvious answer of just telling her would not have worked for me. I would have found a way to make it awkward and uncomfortable just by trying to be honest; being awkward just came naturally to me.
Also, if I did that, it might become public knowledge that I liked Keziah, which felt like it would be too embarrassing to deal with. Seven years ago, in middle school, I admitted to Paul Dickinson that I liked Rachelle Benedetti, and I was mortified over the next couple months to learn that many other people knew that I liked Rachelle. Back then, I imagined people making fun of me for thinking that I had a chance with Rachelle, just as people now might hypothetically make fun of me if they found out that I liked Keziah. I had no chance with a girl like that, so I should just forget about her.
Keziah probably did not like me back anyway. She probably had her pick of all the big men on campus at Capital State and had no need for an awkward guy from the other side of the Drawbridge. Maybe we were doomed from the start, with Jeromeville and Capital State being such bitter football rivals. I also had no idea whether or not she was a Christian. I kept hearing from JCF and the college group at church that I should only be dating Christians, because relationships should be built on a solid foundation of faith. Also, Christian women were less likely to be involved in things that I found unattractive, like excessive drinking or promiscuity. I was probably better off not pursuing Keziah romantically.
But, as I dropped off everyone in my carpool and headed back to my apartment, I could not help but wonder if I was selling myself short. Maybe Keziah and I would have been compatible after all. Maybe I was making too many assumptions. Either way, I would never see her again, and she would become another missed opportunity to toss on my ever-growing pile of regrets in life. I went to bed, with my alarm set to go off in less than five hours, hoping to sleep off the stench of failure.
Readers: Tell me in the comments about someone you wish you could have stayed in touch with.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Nordstrom, Inc. was not involved with the creation of this post.