This story is by Joey Pinkney and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“Remember this. I am your manager before I am your girlfriend,” Poppy Uprichard said. She stabbed at the last bits of her salad. She was a natural-born redhead with a fierce personality to match. “I will always be more focused on our business before your pleasure. This isn’t Mount Shasta Ski Park. This is Raleigh, North Carolina.”
Poppy stuffed a forkful of salad in her mouth and quickly crunched on the vegetables. Her emerald green eyes were fixed on her boyfriend of eleven months.
“Why do you have to be such a bitch?” Luke Gladden said before laughing. He was a Northern California transplant and as wild as his dirty blonde hair. “You’re the assistant manager at an All Cell in the middle of nowhere. Technically, we’re off the clock. You’re my girlfriend, and we are having lunch.”
Luke took another bite out of his juicy hamburger. Mustard and ketchup mixed in the corners of his mouth. He nodded with pleasure at Poppy. His piercing blue eyes matched his blue All Cell polo.
“A lunch break we really shouldn’t be having together, I might add. Fraternizing,” she said. She took a quick sip of her soda, placed the cup down and grabbed a napkin. “Here.”
Poppy leaned across the table and patted the corners of his mouth with the napkin wrapped around her index finger.
“But, no,” she said as she balled the used napkin and dropped it on her tray. “Somebody had to get caught placing sports bets on the company’s computers. Really, Luke? Like, really?”
“Dude, you know how slow the store gets on a Tuesday. There was nobody in there but me, Sean and Jackie. Sheldon was at lunch. No customers.”
She shook her head. “And please tell me that the thing about a bookie coming to collect money isn’t true.”
“Who told you that?” he asked.
“Oh, my god!” said Poppy.
“Vitali is an awesome dude,” he said. “Plus, he was dropping money off, not picking up.”
Poppy threw her hands up in exasperation. She started gathering up her trash. “Come on. Finish this up. We have to get back to All Cell.”
“Wait. What?” he said. “We don’t have to get back exactly in thirty minutes. You’re the manager. Remember? Plus, it takes two minutes to get back.”
“All the more reason not to be late. Why don’t you get that? You clock in and out on time and goof off in your free time.”
“If All Cell was so worried about the clock, why don’t they get their panties in a bunch when I stay later than I’m scheduled to take care of the influx of customers? This clock thing gets pretty convenient when you bigwigs want it to be.”
Poppy swirled her hands in circles to motion for Luke to hurry up.
“I get popped on the wrist for being fifteen minutes late,” he said while finishing off his burger.
“If you don’t pick your trash up, I’m gonna pop you on the butt,” said Poppy. “Let’s go!”
Luke dumped his trash and slid the empty tray in its place. He then rushed to open the door for Poppy. Moments later, Poppy and Luke were back in the store.
“Luke,” Poppy said. “After you clock in, could you please meet me in my office.”
“Sure.” He walked over to his station and paused without touching the computer. Then he continued to the back office.
“What kind of meeting is this?” he asked.
“Close the door. Have a seat,” Poppy said. “Debee? Are you there?”
“Yes.” A female’s voice came from the office’s speakerphone. “Poppy, is Lucas in your office with the door closed?”
Luke shot a stare at Poppy and mouthed the words, “What the? Who in the world is that?”
Poppy tilted her head towards the speakerphone.
“Yes. Lucas Glennan here. Please call me Luke,” he said. “And you are?”
“Hello, Luke. My name is Debee Clair, All Cell ID Number DC2474. Luke, could you verify your All Cell ID Number?”
Luke leaned forward and said, “It’s LG2034.”
“Oh,” Debee said. “You were hired before me.”
“I’ve been here eight years,” Luke said. “Nine, next January.”
“And you’re still a Retail Sales Specialist?” said Debee. “Poppy. Your ID Number, please?”
Luke sat back and looked at Poppy.
Poppy said, “It’s PU555Y”
“Is there something funny, Luke?” asked Debee.
“It’s just that PU555Y looks li-”
Poppy pounded her fist into Luke’s thigh. He exhaled in pain. She stared at him and shook her head profusely.
“Nothing.” He cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”
“All Cell began using letters at the end of ID Numbers last year,” Debee said. “Welcome to the company, Poppy.”
“Luke, I am one of the Lead Investigators in the HR Department. You are in violation of key Business Code of Conduct policies.”
“Excuse me?” Luke fidgeted in his seat then muttered, “This is crazy.”
Debee went on to list a number of documented infractions from time card violations to reselling customer’s old phones to sports betting to sending inappropriate emails using his company email address.
Debee concluded the meeting by telling Luke that, due to the violations, he was no longer an employee of All Cell and was required to turn in his company-issued cellphone and ID badge immediately.
Before Debee could complete her instructions, Luke tossed his company cellphone and ID badge on the desk and stormed out.
“Debee, wait for my call,” Poppy said as she stood up. “Luke!”
Luke burst onto the sales floor while untucking his polo from his pants. Within seconds, Luke was across the parking lot near his car.
“I’ll be right back, everyone,” Poppy said as she walked outside of the store.
“Luke Gladden, stop.” Poppy jogged to Luke. “Let me explain.”
“I can not believe you just threw me under the bus like that, Poppy” Luke said, “I didn’t rip you a new asshole in front of everybody because I love you.”
“Do you remember when I told you about the corporate party where I caught the HR exec on the phone screaming whose dick do I have to suck to get that contract in the parking lot? Well, that’s who we were on the phone with. Debee Clair.”
“That was Debee with the two Es?” Luke said, “Wow, I got fired by the company whore. Unbelievable.”
“No. You didn’t. She owes me a few favors,” Poppy said. “I caught her coming out of the VP of Marketing’s room early the next morning.”
“This is like a bad nightmare,” he said. “Is this a prank? Where are the cameras?”
“Luke, calm down. Listen to me for a second,” Poppy said. “I can tie everything together if you’ll let me. That conversation we had with Debee was off the books and off the record. Debee was on her lunch break in her car with her laptop. She’s not filing any report. She’s awaiting my next contact.”
“That means you’re not fired. That was smoke and mirrors.”
“What’s going on here?”
“We can move to Denver, Colorado, where a manager position at a new store has been offered to me. You’ll be a Retail Sales Specialist under me. Debee will give us both paid vacation time starting in two weeks if we take the deal I set up.”
“Deal?” Luke leaned back onto his car. “You tricked me, Poppy.”
“What does that matter? If I had told you beforehand, you would have messed up this whole thing. I lied a little white lie for us. The only reason you’re in Raleigh is because your mom moved here. You loved skiing in Colorado with your dad before he passed. Now we can live there. You can ski year round. Although I was born and raised here, my dreams, hopes and aspirations are bigger than this city’s limits.”
“You lied to me. You set me up. You didn’t clue me in on your scheme to arbitrarily move us to Denver.”
“What matters now is your decision. Do you want to be stuck in Raleigh, alone? Or do you want to be skiing the best slopes and smoking the best pot with the woman you know deep down in your heart that you love despite the fact she lied to you to pull this whole thing off? Either way, I’m going.”
Luke yelled in aggravation.
“I’ll go under one condition,” Luke said. “So your answer is very important, Poppy.”
“What is it?” Poppy asked.
“Poppy, I will move with you to Denver, if,” Luke said as he struggled to pull a small velvet box out of his pocket. He fumbled with it while getting on one knee. “If you will be my wife, first and foremost. Before anything else, I want you to be Poppy Kelci Gladden. Will you marry me?”
“Oh, Luke,” said Poppy. She began crying. “Yes, Luke. Yes!”
Luke slid the engagement ring onto Poppy’s finger, and they never spent another day without each other.