I'm Awake Now
Chuck strolled down the sun-drenched sidewalk during the bright August late afternoon. His mind was replaying his day. He felt pretty good. He had to fast all day prior to having his blood drawn for some tests his doctor had ordered, but it never crossed his mind. Not having a lunch break at work kept him focused. He had worked with a greater purpose than usual and was efficient beyond what he had ever deemed necessary. He was inspired by the idea of leaving work a little early and getting over to northwest to wander around and enjoy the neighborhood. It had been a quiet and determined Friday that would hopefully end with some fun.
That night Team Torgo was set to congregate at the Gypsy for drinks and to plan about how to go about finding a sub for The Orange for the state wide tournament in September. He would not be available. The dream was to have Gordy join us, but the prevailing leader in the clubhouse seemed to be the borrowing of the overly intense and often angry Robo Bowler, but who would be the one to approach him?
Chuck massaged the bandage wrapped too tightly around his right arm and turned into Escape from New York Pizza. A slice of pizza would be a perfect springboard into the evening. He could head over to Music Millennium and check on the latest releases before getting down to the Gypsy and grabbing a drink or two ahead of everyone else’s post work arrival.
The brightness of the sun had him blinded for a moment as he walked into the pizza place. Once he gathered his senses, he looked to the counter to his left and scanned the options for slices. He always looked at each option carefully despite always ordering either a slice of cheese or a slice of pepperoni.
“May I help you?” a voice asked him as he focused on the different flavors of pizza in front of him.
“Um, yeah,” he hesitated, and looked around and noticed that he was the only customer; “I think I’ll go big and get a slice of the pepperoni and a medium soda.”
“Chuck? Hey, it’s been forever!”
“Sandy!” he realized too slowly.
“Oh, I forgot that you said that you’d call me by that name,” she said, as she rolled her eyes. “Did you donate blood today?” she asked, indicating the bandage on his arm.
“Sort of,” Chuck looked at his arm as he responded. He noticed that the hair on his arm was standing up. “It has been a long time. “I haven’t seen or heard of you all summer. What’s been going on?” Chuck couldn’t help but notice that Sandray looked better than he’d remembered.
“It’s been a rough summer, to be honest. Jason and I broke up just as I lost my receptionist job,” she told him over her shoulder as she placed a slice of pepperoni pizza into the oven. “I’ve had to find a new apartment and I didn’t have any income,” she added and slammed the oven door with a crash.
“Yeah, no fun, but you don’t need to hear about it,” she smiled and blew her dangling dark brown bangs up with a quick blow from her lips. She walked around the counter and faced Chuck who was bouncing an empty plastic red cup against the palm of his hand. “What have you been up to?”
“Bowling and working, mainly,” he mumbled, realizing that there’s no way he can explain that for him he has had an adventurous and crazy summer, because it was full of moments that are more about running inside jokes that are not based in actual concrete events. His social life would be completely empty if he didn’t have his close friends who were willing to hang out with him. This suddenly depressed him. He couldn’t shake the realization that he was lonely and seeing the happily married, but still flirty Melissa at bowling every Sunday evening exacerbated his feelings of always being the third or fifth or seventh wheel when he was out and about trying to be a normal social person.
“What’s wrong? Bowling sounds fun. Are you in a league?” she encouraged.
“Yes, we just finished it in first place and now we’re going to move on for a state tournament,” he tried to sound enthusiastic, but felt like he was bragging about something that meant so little to him. The bowling was about being wacky and hanging out. He and the guys didn’t particularly care about the tournament. In fact, they were all dreading it, because the excitement of the league had run its course by the end of July.
“Your pizza!” shouted Sandray as she lightly touched his arm and the spun around back toward the pizza oven. She expertly used the paddle to toss his slice onto a whicker basket with a white piece of wax paper sitting on it.
Chuck wandered back to a table not far from the counter and she brought the slice out and set it down and joined him at the table. He couldn’t believe how much he had missed her smile. He could feel his heart racing and remembered that he had always tried to find a way to be alone with her, but it had only happened for a few minutes once before. This is what he had wanted to happen for the last year and he wasn’t sure what to do. He looked down at the pizza, but didn’t want to eat it. He didn’t want to make his inevitable mess in front of her. Instead he fiddled with his cup of orange soda and twirled it around nervously.
“How are Gary and Amanda doing? I’ve been meaning to stop by and visit,” she broke the awkward silence.
“Well, they aren’t doing well. Amanda has moved out. It’s been pretty rough.” Chuck explained and then added, “but you know how that goes,” realizing that she too had been through a recent break up. He didn’t know what to do with this information. He was personally glad to know that Jason was out of her life, but he didn’t know what she saw in him either. She seemed happier and looked brighter than he had seen her when she was with Jason.
“Hi, I was hoping to order some pizza,” a guy interrupted from behind Sandray. She quickly stood up and slid back behind the counter while rubbing her hands together anxiously into her apron. Chuck hadn’t noticed that anyone had come in. He took a couple of quick bites from his pizza and slurped down a drink of fizzy orange soda. He over poured and some of the sticky beverage slipped around the cup and his mouth and down the sides of his cheeks. He sheepishly grabbed a couple of napkins and wiped his face as quickly as possible, hoping that Sandray hadn’t seen him. He was breathing too fast and a surge of energy ran through him, causing him to vibrate. He couldn’t think of what to do. With his old social circle breaking apart and collapsing, he realized that this could be the last time he would ever see Sandray again.
A line began to form at the counter and another employee appeared from the back to help Sandy out. The sounds that had seemed absent before had all returned. The chatter of conversation and clanking plates and pans and the oven door opening and closing, along with the faint sound of Sonic Youth’s “Tunic” buzzing from a couple of speakers above. Chuck half-heartedly took a couple of more bites from his pizza and fiddled with the latest culture weekly, staring at the upcoming shows, but not really reading them. He was killing time, trying to find a moment when he could try to talk with her, but was losing patience. He could always come back in a week or so and try again. Maybe then he could have a plan and could ask her out.
With that he grabbed his stuff and tossed his napkin pile and half-eaten slice and tossed them into the trash, while placing the ice filled cup and basket into the brown bus tub. He slowly walked over to the few people still lingering around the counter and waved to catch Sandray’s attention.
“It was good to see you Chuck,” she smiled and nodded, before turning her attention back to the woman who was asking about ordering for her son’s baseball team’s pizza party.
Chuck waved in return and tried to force a smile through his clenched jaw. She did not see it. He lowered his head and stepped out onto the busy sidewalk. He dodged a couple of fast walking people and spun around and stopped on the far side of the walkway directly outside the pizza place. He knew this was a mistake. He needed to say more. He needed to at least try. With his luck, he would never see her again and would spend every Friday for the rest of his life hoping that Sandray would finally be back behind that counter to take his order. He walked back inside. Sandy and her co-worker both had their backs to the counter making a couple of fresh pizzas and one man was waiting to place an order.
“I’ll be right with you sir,” she said without looking up. She turned and faced the man waiting, but was looking at Chuck with her mouth open and her eyes looking curious. It felt to Chuck that this man’s order took forever as he stared at Sandy intently trying to be as patient as possible for the transaction to end. Finally, the man stepped aside and reached for his beverage cup, and Chuck jumped in front of Sandy.
“What brings you back?”
“Um, I wanted to ask you something,” his resolve immediately began to crumble as all of his hopes with her were now going to be decided one way or another. He went silent. The smile and look of expectation on her face melted him. She was amazing. She had been struggling and she still managed to make him feel good every time he was in the same room as her. Her presence had always lingered with him. He always felt boosted with an added enthusiasm for several days after simply seeing her in passing. “I was wondering if you’d like to go out sometime. If you like to grab some coffee and catch up.”
Chuck saw a flush of red immediately fill Sandray’s cheeks. He had embarrassed her in front of an unsuspecting public. He was convinced that she would say no. That she would be nice about it, but would now have to let him off easy. He knew how little of a prize he was.
“I’d love to Chuck! There’s nothing else I’d rather do!” she smiled brightly and began writing onto an order pad. “Here’s my number. Call me any time!” she added with excited enthusiasm. A guy that had come in behind this scene patted Chuck on the shoulder and said “Nice work, brother,” as Chuck reached for the sheet of paper.
“I’ll call you this weekend!” he shouted a lot louder than he had planned and stepped back out into the sunshine. He took a long slow deep breath in and exhaled for nearly an entire minute. Her electricity was inside of him. He walked deliberately and as calmly as he could across the street on his way to the record store. He couldn’t wait to join his friends.
Find Part I here
Find Part II here