Series: Working Class Series
Number in series: Book One
Author: Jeff Erno
Genre: Gay Romance; Gay Fiction
Imprint: Ai Press
Price: 4.99 USD
Flame rating: 4 Flames for highly explicit frequent sex scenes.
Cover art: Jay Aheer, Covers By Design
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Phil Mitchell pours his heart and soul into his job as manager of Speedy Mart, a local convenience store. He loves his work and he loves his fellow employees, but when it comes to his personal life, Phil is lonely and depressed and still pining for his long-departed ex.
He embarks upon the week from hell where anything that can go wrong does. It begins with a truck crashing into his outdoor sign and only goes downhill from there.
Add an asshole homophobic boss hell bent on seeing him fired and Phil realizes he needs to put into place a plan to save himself and his job.
First step in his plan… do something about his love life.
Meanwhile, Ezra, one of Phil’s team members, is dealing with his own roller coaster ride of a week.
As is Brandon, the local cop…
And Mark, the homophobic boss…
Perhaps, with a little… luck, the next week will be better.
Publisher’s note: This title was previously published at Wayward Ink.
PHIL GLANCED down at the digital clock on his dashboard to confirm the time, 5:18 a.m., as he shifted into reverse and backed out of his driveway. He left for work at the same time every day and had done so for years. He pulled into his parking space, the same one he chose each and every day, at 5:25.
He then made his way into the store, first glancing at the gas pumps and outside displays to make sure everything was stocked and functioning properly. The Speedy Mart price ID sign, fully illuminated, seemed to be in working order. Once inside the building, he walked his store, checking each aisle to make sure there were no “holes”, empty spaces created by items that had gone out of stock. He fronted and faced a couple of sections that had been missed by the second- and third-shift employees. He then checked his coolers, ensuring they were functioning properly at the correct temperatures. He checked the floors, the bathrooms, the displays. Finally, he made his way into the office and picked up his clipboard, checking for notes that his assistant managers sometimes left him from previous shifts.
The morning crew arrived at six, and at least one of them was already in the building. Janine, by force of habit or sheer anal retentiveness, was as predictable as Phil in her routine. She showed up for her shift at least twenty minutes early every day. His other first-shift employees, Tiesha, Doreen, and David, were lucky to make it within the seven-minute grace period after their scheduled clock-in time.
“Morning, Ezra,” Phil said, nodding to his third-shift cashier as he walked past the front desk. “Store looks good today.” Phil smiled.
“Thanks!” Ezra said, grinning broadly. The twenty-two-year-old college student had worked for Phil for about four months and had proven himself quite competent. He tossed his head slightly to the left, flipping a shock of blond hair from his eye. Ezra had a cute face and a stellar smile, but his dark eyeliner and array of provocative tattoos suggested he was anything but the boy next door. Still, he possessed the perfect personality for dealing with middle-of-the-night customers, mostly drunks who stumbled in after the bars closed.
Phil’s convenience store did a kickass morning business. Within the first hour of his day, the store would fill with commuters and the registers would be rocking non-stop. Travelers on their way to work would stop for their morning coffee and breakfast sandwiches, fueling their cars and purchasing their smokes, munchies, and beverages for the day.
As he slipped back into his office and removed his lightweight jacket, hanging it on the same peg he used every day, he took a deep breath. Today, being Monday, would be extremely busy, and he’d be running his ass off until at least four p.m. That’s when he’d leave the store for the day, if he were lucky. More likely, though, he’d be here until five or six in the evening. The morning would consist of an onslaught of non-stop customers for the first four hours. After which, he’d then face a pile of banking responsibilities and bookkeeping paperwork. He’d have to write the following week’s work schedule, go through about fifty company emails, and check in a half dozen vendor deliveries which would arrive in the later part of the morning. Additionally, he’d count every pack of cigarettes in his store, as he was required to do each and every day. He’d inventory the three dozen books of lottery tickets on display at the check stands, along with the twenty-to-thirty unopened books in his safe. He’d audit all his cash, then prepare a supply order. Writing the order would consume at least two hours of his time, and he’d have to somehow manage to squeeze it in between the breaks and lunches of his employees.
In the afternoon, after all deliveries had been received and posted, he’d spend two to three hours in his walk-in cooler, filling the rows of soda pop and juice that had been depleted since the previous day. He’d spend a good hour or two outside his store, sweeping the lot and arranging his displays, and in addition to all of this, he’d undoubtedly find himself on the phone at least two or three times with his boss, the district manager.
“Phil, the register’s froze,” Janine said as she popped her head into his office.
“Seriously?” He shook his head and sighed. “Shit.”
“Welcome to Monday,” she replied, beaming a brilliant, sarcastic smile.
He followed her out of the office to the check stand. The register to which she referred was the first of four.
“Did you try the other two?” he asked, aware that the fourth register was currently still being used by Ezra.
“I always use this register,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I don’t wanna be clear down there on the end.”
“Okay, I’ll sign on the end register under my numbers. You can run it while I get this one fixed; then you can move back over.”
“All right,” she said, pursing her lips.
Phil looked up at the line of customers already forming. They stood there glaring at him, obviously impatient and not wanting to wait even a few seconds. Why were people in such a damn hurry to get to work anyway?
He walked over to the far register and signed it on for Janine. Quickly he counted the drawer contents then stepped back so Janine could take over. He told Ezra not to begin closing out his shift until he had the broken register fixed, so at least he’d have two functioning registers operating to deal with the line of customers.
Rebooting the register wasn’t rocket science. He simply had to tilt back the monitor, locate the reset button underneath, and then wait for it to restart. While doing so, he checked all the cords to make sure everything remained securely plugged in, and by the time the register came back up, he noticed David had finally arrived.
“David, take over for Janine. You can run on my numbers until Ezra gets his register closed out. This register’s ready for Janine.”
“I’ll just take that register,” David said.
Janine turned from her customer and glared at him. “No way!”
“I want Janine on this register,” Phil said. He knew David really didn’t care which register he was on. He just liked jerking Janine’s chain. Everyone knew how bunched up she got about her routine, and the other employees sometimes deliberately goaded her by challenging her OCD. “Just do it, David. I’m not in the mood to argue,” Phil intoned.
At one time Phil had held high hopes for David. Surely the kid would quickly advance beyond his cashier position into management. He seemed bright and motivated when he first started, but after a few months, it all went to shit. Now he didn’t seem to care one way or the other, and Phil seriously doubted he’d stay with the company for long. This was just a job to him, a paycheck, and Phil really couldn’t blame him. Even if he did advance in the company, he’d never get to a point where he made a truly livable wage.
And therein lay the perpetual challenge Phil faced. He constantly battled staffing issues because it was difficult to find motivated employees willing to work long term for such low wages. In a retail environment, cashiering positions were considered entry level, and they paid little more than minimum wage. That kind of salary was not enough for anyone to live on, and most employees quickly grew discouraged. They got tired of working their butts off for a company that never rewarded them, and on top of everything, they also faced a barrage of often hostile, ungrateful customers who tended to look down their noses at the menial laborers.
Doreen and Tiesha breezed through the door next, sailing past Phil on their way to the time clock. Tiesha, the food steward, would man the coffee bar and restock breakfast sandwiches and roller-grill items. Though trained on register, she primarily focused on food and beverage and only operated the till during emergency situations like massive rushes or to cover for another employee’s break. She stood by the time clock tying up her apron when Margo stepped out of the back room.
“Girl, get a move on,” she said, one hand on her hip. “I got sandwiches getting cold.” Margo, the other food steward, worked in the back kitchen area, and had been slaving away for the previous hour preparing the breakfast offerings.
Tiesha waved her hand dismissively. “Fuck that,” she said. “Brianna kept me up all night, cryin’ with a earache.”
“Aww,” Margo said. “Poor baby, you got any drops?”
She nodded. “Yeah, took her to the free clinic yesterday and they gave us some drops, but they ain’t workin’ yet. She’s okay now, though. My ma’s at the house.”
“Do you need the day off?” Phil said, interjecting himself into the conversation.
She shook her head. “I need the money, and Ma knows how to take care of her.”
“Well, if you change your mind, I’ll put Doreen on food today and give you the day off.”
“No, no… I’m fine.”
“Doreen, you can take the open register,” Phil said. “Ezra’s closing down now.”
Phil had worked with a variety of employees over the course of the previous ten years at the store. Though confident he had a fairly stable staff, he knew in this business nothing lasted forever. The majority of retail service workers did not remain at one job for exceptionally long periods. He had a couple employees who’d worked for him more than five years, but most were lucky to remain employed with the company over a year.
People who made a living from paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth, generally felt dissatisfied. Often they didn’t know exactly who to blame for their situation—the company, their boss, the customers, or themselves. They just realized there had to be more to life than working a thankless job and collecting a meager paycheck.
As Tiesha sauntered out to the coffee bar and began brewing some fresh pots of java, Phil watched her turn to smile at the customer who’d just walked through the door. One of the regulars, the tall, muscular African-American dressed in hip-hop fashion complete with a cap resting slightly askew atop his head, nodded to Tiesha and grinned. “Too damn early,” he mumbled.
“I hear that. You workin’ this early?”
“Else you know I won’t be outta bed, girl. Course I’m workin. Sucks… till now.” He stepped back and looked her up and down in an obvious manner.
“Get outa here,” she said, waving her hand at him. “I got me a man.”
“But you ain’t got this.” He held his arms out and pointed to himself.
“Pfft.” She rolled her eyes and turned away from him as he continued to stare at her booty.
“Buenos dias. ¿Como está, mi amigo?” Phil turned to greet the customer who’d just approached the counter.
“Bien, bien. ¿Y usted?”
Phil had learned conversational Spanish expressly for the purpose of communicating with the Latino customer base in his store. He began with an online software and studied for three years to get to a point where he could actually converse. The Latino customers, most of them drywallers and landscapers who frequented his business every morning, seemed to respect his efforts and often went out of their way to talk to him.
If he were completely honest with himself, he’d admit that he felt flattered, especially when a guy as hot as Humberto showed interest in him. He wasn’t delusional, though. He knew the young Latin stud had zero designs on him. Phil wasn’t young and hot, and the Latino construction worker probably wasn’t even gay.