‘Such a trooper,’ Esther agreed. ‘I bought her for three thousand bucks with eighty thousand miles on her, and she never let us down.’
‘Well,’ Maggie said, ‘I wouldn’t say that. What about that time on the interstate, on the way to the World of Waffles?’
Esther shot her a look. ‘Are you really going to bring that up? Now? At this moment?’
‘Sorry,’ Maggie said. Outside, the fitting room door swung open again. ‘Oh, crap. Hold on.’
She disappeared back down the hallway. A moment later, I heard the customer say, ‘I just don’t know about these. Now I feel like my ankles are huge.’
‘That’s just because you’re used to the flare,’ Maggie assured her. ‘But look at how good your thighs look!’
Esther tipped her head back, looking at the ceiling. I said, ‘So what now? You’re walking?’
‘Not an option,’ she said. ‘I leave for school soon, and I have to take a car with me. I’ve got some money saved, but not nearly enough.’
‘You could take out a loan.’
‘And be in more debt?’ She sighed. ‘I’m already going to be paying college off until I’m dead.’
‘I don’t know,’ I heard the customer say outside. ‘Neither have really looked right so far.’
‘That’s because finding the perfect jeans is a process,’ Maggie replied. ‘I told you, you have to find the ones that speak to you.’
I rolled my eyes again, picking up my pen and going back to my balance sheet. A moment later, I heard the customer go back into the fitting room, and Maggie reappeared in the office.
‘Okay, so let’s talk options,’ she said to Esther, who was still staring at the ceiling. ‘What about a loan?’
‘I’m already going to be paying off college until I’m dead,’ she repeated, her voice flat. ‘I guess I’ll just have to cash the savings bonds my grandparents gave me.’
‘Oh, Esther! I don’t know if that’s a good idea.’
I knew this really didn’t concern me, but I felt bad for Esther. So I figured someone should jump in to clarify. ‘She doesn’t want to be in more debt,’ I explained to Maggie, wishing there was a way to draw a parallel between this and jeans, somehow. ‘If she takes out a loan, she’ll owe more.’
Outside, the fitting room door banged open again. ‘I don’t know about these…’ I heard the customer say. ‘Are my legs supposed to look like sausages?’
‘No,’ Maggie called down to her, shaking her head. ‘Try the other boot cuts, the ones with the embellished pockets, okay?’
The door shut. Esther sighed. I said to Maggie, ‘More money borrowed is more money owed. It’s basic.’
‘True,’ Maggie agreed. ‘But a car is a consumable item, not an asset. Esther’s not investing the money she puts into it, because it will automatically begin to depreciate. So while it’s tempting to liquidate her savings, and cash in the bonds, the better bet is probably to take advantage of the rate you can get from the local credit union on a loan.’
‘You think?’ Esther asked.
‘Absolutely. I mean,’ she continued, ‘what is the rate right now, like, 5.99 percent or something? So you do that, and keep your bonds in savings where they retain their full market value. It’s a more cost-effective use of the money.’
I just looked at her. Who was this girl?
‘What about these?’ the customer called out.
Maggie glanced down the hallway, her face breaking into a big smile. ‘Oh, man,’ she said, clapping her hands. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think,’ the woman said, ‘that they’re speaking to me.’
Maggie laughed, and as I watched her head back down to the fitting rooms, I sat there, trying to process what I’d just seen. It wasn’t easy. In fact, later that night, when she came in before locking up, I was still thinking about it.
‘That financial stuff,’ I said to her as she slid the cash drawer onto the desk. ‘How did you know all that?’
She glanced up at me. ‘Oh, mostly from my riding days. My mom wasn’t exactly supportive of it as a hobby, so I had to finance my bikes and equipment and stuff.’
‘It’s pretty impressive.’
‘Maybe,’ she said. ‘Too bad it’s not what impresses my mom.’
‘No?’ She shook her head. ‘What does, then?’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Maybe if I’d agreed to do the debutante thing like she wanted. Or taken up pageants instead of riding jump bikes with a bunch of grungy boys. I’d always tell her, why can’t I do both? Who says you have to be either smart or pretty, or into girly stuff or sports? Life shouldn’t be about the either/or. We’re capable of more than that, you know?’
Clearly, she was. Not that I’d seen it, really, until now. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘That does make sense.’
She smiled, then grabbed her keys off the desk, sliding them into her pocket. ‘I’m going to go clean up the denim section while you finish up. Finding those slim boot cuts for that woman was work. But it was so worth it. Her butt looked great when she left here.’
‘I bet,’ I said, and then she was gone back down the hallway to fold. I sat there for a minute, in that pink and orange room, thinking about what impressed my mom, and the either/or I’d been stuck in for so long. Maybe it was true, and being a girl could be about interest rates and skinny jeans, riding bikes and wearing pink. Not about any one thing, but everything.
Over the next couple of weeks, I fell into the perfect routine. Mornings were for sleep, evenings for work. My nights were for Eli.
These days, I didn’t have to make it look like I was bumping into him accidentally. Instead, it was understood that we met each evening after I got off work at the Gas/ Gro, where we fueled up on both gas (coffee) and gro (you never knew what you might need) and planned our evening’s activities. Which meant errands, eating pie with Clyde, and working on my quest, one item at a time.
‘Really?’ I said, one night around one as we stood outside Tallyho, Leah’s favorite club. There was a neon sign in the window that said HOLA MARGARITAS! and a beefy, bored-looking guy sitting on a stool by the door, checking messages on his phone. ‘You think I need to do this?’
‘Yup,’ Eli said. ‘Hitting a club is a rite of passage. And you get extra points if it’s a bad club.’