September 2000
by vulcanviking (Joe White)
Copyright 2000-2003 by Joe White

The teenage kid had been fumbling through his pockets and looking half-panicked. Great, thought Jake. There's one on every shift.

"These will be due back on Tuesday at 11:00," he said to the bedraggled mother, sliding the cracked green cases across the counter. The mother said something to Jake -- or maybe she was talking to her two-year-old with the shoelace problem; didn't matter, the teen was stepping up to the counter and holding out a video.

"Can I get your phone number?" Might as well play it by the book, no telling when Bill's gonna be breathing down my neck.

"Um, well..." The kid scuffed his shoes on the tile floor, letting out a squeak that made everyone wince. "I, uh, don't have a membership."

Well, this'll get the kid out of line. Jake eyed the long line-up as he pulled out a drawer and shuffled around. "Okay, I can get you a membership form to fill out." He pulled a form and slid it across the counter, pointing as he talked. "We have the two membership options, one is $25 for the first two years and you get twelve free rentals, the other is free but you have to leave a credit card number or a $100 check as a deposit."

The kid had forgotten to close his mouth. Figured, he had no money. Well, he looked almost college age; maybe he'd have a credit card.

"Um, well, I don't have a --" Figured. Jake made a show of pretending to listen to the kid's sob story.

The kid was talking about a mile a minute. "And so I don't have a credit card, I mean not yet, and I don't have that much money on me, and of course the nearest ATM is about -- I mean, the nearest one for my bank, and besides I don't get paid until next Tuesday, and --"

Enough already. "Right, right. Well, I'm sorry, why don't you just leave the movie here at the counter, and I'll have someone put it back."

The kid was panicking again. Jake glanced over at the movie's title, then tried to suppress a grin. Well. This movie was a chick flick with some steamy scenes, and had developed a reputation. There had been an unusually large number of guys renting this one, willing to suffer through the corny parts in hope of a payoff after the movie. Or during. Probably the kid's girlfriend was home alone, and he wanted the movie now.

"Um... um... well, you know, the last time we watched this movie, my girlfriend rented it, and she actually sent me out tonight to get some stuff before I came over, so I, uh... could I, you know, put it on her account?"

Jake shot the kid a come on, you know better look.

"Um, yeah..." The kid shuffled his feet again, then just stood there.

Jake sighed, picked up the video, pushed the form toward the kid again. "So, sir, if you could just fill out this form, and bring it back with --"

The kid suddenly perked up. "Oh, wait, hey wait. My sister, she has, you know, she has a membership here, I think. Well, I think it was here. But so anyway, she has one and could I use, you know, use her membership to rent this?" The kid was wringing his hands and scuffing his feet. Another shoe/tile squeak echoed through the store.

Jake sighed. Gray area. "Could I get the phone number, please?"

The kid grinned in relief and spewed numbers. Jake tapped the keyboard, then looked directly at the kid. "Libby Dennison, I presume?" Someone in line giggled; the kid turned red, but nodded.

Jake's mouth twitched. Yeah, family memberships and all that, but the kid might be trying to pull a fast one. Maybe "Libby" was really his girlfriend. Always pretend Bill's looking over your shoulder. Oh, whee. A couple more questions, then. Cover his ass, but don't hold up the line for too long.

"Can I just confirm your address?"

"Huh? Oh, oh yeah. It's 2741 Hazel Avenue."

So far so good. "And what's her birthdate?" Hell, the kid might even know his girlfriend's birthday, but even Bill wouldn't ask more than two questions with this line.

"Oh. That'd be, um, June 21."

Jake raised his eyebrows. "And the year?"

The kid snorted. "How the hell should I know? She's got like three different fake IDs."

Jake closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, the line had gotten longer. Without a word, he tapped some keys, held the video up to the scanner, and hit the PRINT key. "All right, that'll be $3.64."

Oh, holy cow biscuits, is this ever going to end? The kid was panicking again. "What? It's not a new, I mean, I didn't get it from the new release section, I got it from over --"

Jake popped open the case and started tapping the "New Release" sticker on the video. "Yes, we do keep some copies in the non-new release sections, but it is still a new release." And you're the eighth person in the past hour who's tripped on that same thing. Thanks to Bill our dear, dear friend. Jake tried not to make a face.

The kid glanced around quickly, then dropped two crumpled bills and a quarter onto the counter. "Hang on, let me see if I have any more here."

Oh, God, come on, kid. I already saw you go through everything you're wearing to find that much. Maybe he could have the kid move out of the way, get the money later -- no, the computer would never take that. Jake sighed, tapped his foot, leaned on the counter, glared out the window.

The kid was babbling again. "And, you know, my girlfriend was so upset earlier -- tense, you know? So I thought, hey, I'd get her a movie that would help her relax, and..." The kid's face was turning red. He had found some change and was counting it out onto the counter. Jake kept half an eye on the change, but the kid was still a buck short. "And help her feel better, you know? 'Cause we got this a couple months ago, and... and we, uh, really enjoyed it." He fished around in his jeans pockets, his face now beet-red.

The lady behind him in line was glaring at the kid, and holding a hefty-looking purse. Farther back in line, some kid started whining about hamburgers. A girl angrily marched out of the back of the line and headed for the exit, slapping her video down on the counter as she brushed past. Great. Bill is just gonna love me for this. Jake took a deep breath. "Sir, I'm afraid you'll have to --"

"Wait!" the kid shouted, suddenly excited. He squatted on the ground and started to -- was he rolling up his pants leg? God, Jake didn't want to touch money that'd been in someone's socks. "My girlfriend gave me some money earlier." He stood back up, proudly holding a ten.

The door jingled, and Jake relaxed as Amy made her way to the second register. Lordy, but she took long smoke breaks sometimes. He reached for the ten -- didn't look too sweaty -- and leaned over to the printer to tear off the receipt. A small piece of paper twirled toward the floor as he turned back to the keyboard.

"Oh, wait, oh wait, could you just grab that?" The kid was pointing at the piece of paper fluttering toward the carpet. Oh. He must've had it folded inside his ten. Jake bent down and grabbed the slip of paper, giving it a quick glance.

Then he looked back up at the kid. Aside from being jumpy, the kid seemed fine. Jake slowly connected some of the things the kid had said. Rented this movie a couple of months ago. Girlfriend sent him out to buy some stuff, gave him money.

Jake spoke slowly, sounding out the idea. "Did your girlfriend ask you to rent this movie tonight?"

The kid shifted a little, scuffed a foot. "Well, um, no. Not really, but she was pretty tense, and I thought she could use --"

"Did she, um, tell you what she wanted you to get, when you were out shopping for her?"

The kid frowned. "Well, uh, no, she... she didn't. She just gave me that list."

Without a word, Jake hit the CANCEL key and flipped the receipt toward the trash. He held the ten and the slip of paper out to the kid.

After a hesitation, the kid frowned and reached out to take them. "Is something wrong?"

Jake's eyebrows rose. "You tell me."

Puzzled, the kid glanced down at the note. Read it. Read it again, his eyes opening wider. His mouth opened and closed while his hands reached out to steady himself against the counter.

Then he turned and left the store at a dead run.

Jake watched him go. Slow down, kid, it's a wonder you didn't give yourself a concussion on the door on your way out. Shaking his head, he turned to the next customer in line. Well, I'll have a good story for the guys after work.

A piece of paper fluttered back from the door as it swung shut.

Written on it were the words "Home pregnancy test."