Alexander James McLean Fernandez, A.J. for his friends, Alex for his mother, and “that weird guy who thinks he’s so much better than everyone” to his boss, had learned at a very young age that happy endings just didn’t exist. Even if you worked hard, had talent and did your best effort every time, there was always someone there to pull the rug under your feet.
Some people called this outlook cynical, and some people called him pessimistic, but he knew he was only being realistic. He couldn’t just sit and wait for the Universe to send him, for example, a good job, or the winning lottery ticket for that week, much less a boyfriend; in fact, given that he lived in the middle of Kentucky, where homophobia was pretty much the default sentiment among people, he just didn’t even want to dream about meeting someone until he was able to move away to… well, anywhere but there.
Which was one of the reasons he hated his job with a passion, even if he couldn’t afford to look for a new one as he was saving money to be able to fulfill his goals. Goals, which were far more realistic than dreams, in his opinion, because they didn’t include anything he couldn’t get by himself.
Because one thing was to be a cynical man who knew that life wasn’t getting better magically, a very different thing was to have the Universe rubbing on his face what he couldn’t have.
As a Walmart Greeter, he had been subject to a lot of humiliations over the years. It was not only the boredom of the job, parroting the same line over and over again.
“Hello, welcome to Walmart, how can I help you?” even when what he really wanted to say was ‘Hello, I’m perfectly aware that you don’t want me bothering you right now, but company policy forces me to do so anyway, unless you actually need help in which case I will be over there bothering someone else.’ It would get him fired, sure, but at least it would break the monotony.
He had to work on Christmas and, because his boss, Mr. Pearlman, was a sadistic bastard who probably feed on the tears of new born children and hated him, Christmas Eve most of the time too. Asking for a sick day meant that he better had the plague or was receiving the last rites, because if not, he would never get it.
And then there was Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m.
Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. was both a blessing and a curse. He was a blessing because his mere presence lighten up A.J’s week. In fact, A.J would admit to himself that he hated whenever he got Fridays’ afternoons free because that meant that he would have to wait for another week before he saw Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. And he was a curse because he was the perfect example of the Universe hating A.J.’s guts by showing him all what he couldn’t have. Ever.
On any given Friday, Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. would come through the door, looking perfect. His hair was strawberry blonde (Natural, not anything from a bottle, which were kept in aisle G-2), curled, and short. A.J. knew that he used Bain De Terre Coconut Papaya Ultra Hydrating Shampoo , aisle G-3, not because he followed Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. around, but because he had helped bag his groceries a couple of time and he had seen the bottles more than once. He didn’t know if Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. hair smelled like coconut or papaya, because leaning that close was definitively creepy and A.J. was determined not to be a creepy stalker, but it was hard not to notice the pink bottle.
Now, A.J. didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m’s hair because what he really remembered were Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m.’s eyes. His eyes were clear blue, almost the exact same shade as Absolut Vodka’s signature bottle, aisle K-7, and always, always looked bright and happy.
Which usually took A.J. to think about Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m.’s lips, more specifically, his smile. Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m was always smiling, even as he was trying to find someone to help him when A.J. was too much of a coward to get near and talk to the object of his obsession. Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. had a Colgate (aisle E-2) smile, perfect, white and blinding. But more than that, it was a very kind smile.
A.J. usually stopped thinking about Mr. Fridays at 5:00p.m’s body around there, because everything below the neck got him remembering why he would never get to know him. Because such a perfect man couldn’t be anything but straight.
So yes, the Universe hated A.J.
Because while Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. regularly came alone to the store, once in a while he came accompanied by a beautiful blonde woman with equally dazzling blue eyes, and a kind smile that made impossible for A.J. to hate her as it was obvious she was a beautiful person and made Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. very happy. Because when they came together, they also brought with them a cute little kid, no more than 6 years old, with the same angelic blonde curls as them, and the colgate perfect smile. Worse, Fridays at 5:00 p.m. junior was a well behaved child who never cried in the store or made the greeter’s life hell.
It broke A.J.’s heart to see Mr. and Mrs. Fridays at 5:00 p.m with little wonderful Fridays at 5:00 p.m. junior. The perfect family, happy and wonderful and everything that A.J. would never have.
The door chime rang, and A.J. forced himself to smile. It was time to work, and because the Universe hated him, the costumer was none other than Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m., thankfully without happy family. At least, A.J. was getting a reprieve, maybe because it was Christmas.
“Hello and Welcome to Walmart, how can I help you?”
“Well, I’m not sure…” A.J. blinked, confused. Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. rarely ever answered anything but a ‘no, thank you’ and a bright smile.
“Whatever you’re looking for, I’m pretty sure we can find it here,” A.J. said, still smiling, repeating the lines of his script as perfectly as he could when his heart was pounding really fast in his chest. Because if Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. needed help, it meant that they could spend more time together.
“Oh, I know I can find it here,” Mr. Fridays at 5:00 flashed his perfect smile. Only that this time, it was not the polite ‘I’m nice to everyone’ smile that A.J. knew so well, but a nervous, bashful smile. “I just don’t know if… well, if it’s available…”
“Before he grows old, Brian!” A.J. and Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m., Brian and A.J. thanked the Universe that now he had an actual name to call his crush, both turned to see the door, where Mrs. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. was smiling and waving at them. “Or I’ll ask him instead!”
“My cousin… She thinks I’m too slow, that my flirting needs work, and that if I’m left for my own devices, I’ll die a lonely man living in an apartment with fifty cats,” Brian explained, in a hurried voice. He was blushing, and suddenly the pieces started to click in A.J.’s head, even when it was impossible what he was thinking, because the Universe hated him. “So… Wouldyouliketogooutforlucnhorsomething?”
“I’m sorry?” A.J. blinked, confused. He was sure he had heard Brian ask him out on a date, but that was not possible. So he was probably the punch line for a joke, or had actually taken his daydreams to a new low level.
“Shit, I’m sorry, I made a mistake, didn’t I? You’re not gay,” Brian started walking backwards, his head low and, for the first time since A.J. had seen him, not smiling. “Look, forget I said anything, ok? My cousin is an idiot, I shouldn’t have bothered you, and I promise, I’ll go to another store and won’t bother you again anymore.”
A.J. stood there, frozen, until he heard the chime of the door signaling that the costumers had left the building. He pinched himself, realizing that no, he wasn’t dreaming. Brian, Mr. Fridays at 5:00 p.m. had actually asked him for a date, and A.J. had, stupidly, rejected him.
Brian was not going to be back there, ever again. Because A.J. was an idiot.
That was what got him moving, running out of the store and into the parking lot. And apparently the Universe didn’t quite hate him since Brian and his cousin, who was most definitively not Mrs. Fridays at 5:00 p.m., were still there, arguing next to a white car.
“I’m sorry,” A.J. interrupted them, barely catching his breath. “I’m an idiot, and I’d love to have lunch with you, if the offer is still standing.”
There was a short, uncomfortable pause, when A.J. feared that he had been wrong, the Universe actually hated him and he had dreamed everything for the last five minutes. But then Brian smiled, his perfectly Colgate smile, that made his blue Absolute Vodka eyes lit up, and A.J realized that he had been wrong all his life.
The Universe didn’t hate him at all.