Paying Her Debt

By: Emma Shortt

Chapter One

Andy placed her hand against the small of her back and slowly, so it was almost unnoticeable, stretched it out. She swore she could feel the muscles pop like the hips of a cheap stripper, probably protesting that they were long since overdue for a break. She rotated her spine, before bending over to pick up another box. Damn, they were heavy. The weighty jars of expensive caviar strained her arms, the edges of the box cutting into the delicate skin below the crook of her bicep.

She shifted and pulled the top of the box open. The cardboard sprung up, almost smacking her in the face. She bent it down, cursed under her breath, and started to remove them, the ache in her arm becoming more pronounced by the second. Sure, she could keep the box on the floor and unpack the caviar that way, but her back wasn’t up to another hour of constant up and down. This, though painful, was the quickest way to get the job done.

She sighed, her mind skipping to her lumpy bed at home. It was as uncomfortable as hell but she’d give just about anything to be able to crawl into it right now. Darn, she’d take a ratty old chair at this point and be grateful for it. Anything to ease the ache in her muscles. Keep dreaming, Andy baby.

Her gaze strayed to the clock above the store entrance, and she was slightly shocked to see the hour. Just after three, another two hours of her shift to go—she’d kind of hoped it would be at least four by now. Andy grabbed another jar of caviar and frowned. This would make what? Another fifteen hour day? Yes, she’d started work at the hotel before two this morning, finished at eight, and made her way to the store for nine. She needed that hour in-between the two jobs, time to change from her hideously unflattering maid’s getup into the immaculate uniform Finest Foods expected of all their staff, which, though slightly more tailored, was about as comfortable as a first date. Andy wondered if the senior management ever tried shelf stacking in a starched white shirt and a perfectly pressed knee length black skirt. She doubted it. Likely there would be a swift change of uniform if they did.

She swallowed down a yawn and looked around guiltily, hoping no one had noticed. She was just so fucking tired, not sure how many more fifteen hour days she could take. Still, she was grateful to have both of her jobs—especially in the current economic climate—and shouldn’t complain. Not vocally at least. The store in particular paid some of the highest wages around, and the money was going someway towards clearing her debts. Those never ending, stomach churning debts….

A customer approached. Her gaze on a spot just past Andy’s nose. Andy quickly lowered her eyes and plastered a false smile on her face. “Can I help you?”

“One jar,” the woman said. Yeah, don’t bother adding a please.

Andy handed the customer the caviar, not expecting and certainly not getting a thank you. The customers of Finest Foods were some of the wealthiest and snootiest people in the area and expected deference from the staff who served them. Even the men expected her to reach the goods on the top shelves, even though Andy barely made it past five three. It went against the grain for Andy to act subservient but that was the gig, and her paycheck was enough to quiet any qualms. Well, almost enough.

“How are you getting on there?”

Andy turned to see Rick, the assistant manager, appraising her aisle and her, for that matter. He’d been trying to get in her panties from the moment they’d met but even in her lowest points Andy hadn’t considered it. Nice as he was, Rick, with his spiky hair and strangely sallow skin, did nothing to inspire her lust. Not that any man had since Pete.

“Fine thanks,” she replied, though her aching arms screamed like a lobster in the pot. “Nearly done with the caviar. I’ll start on the olives next.” A familiar pang hit right dead centre as she said those words, and Andy had to bite down hard on her lip to contain the feeling. Who’d have thought that she, Andy Jones, straight A student, would end up stacking shelves? Just over a year ago she’d had her own business, a flourishing little concern. Of course, that was before everything had gone down shit creek, leaving her with a broken paddle. No, not a broken one, a fucking fractured barely held together one.

I’d planned to open a second shop by now. She shivered and ignored the thought. She, more than anyone, knew how quickly plans could unravel. One drunk driver, one slippery road, one cheating bastard of a fiancé….

It was painful to consider, to remember, so she brushed the thought aside, wondering instead how to arrange the olives today. Black or green to the front? Wow, it’s certainly an intellectual challenge, something to keep those neurons of yours ticking over.