Zee had stopped talking to me suddenly in the middle of the summer.
“Zee, have you heard I Want to Sex You Up? Color Me Badd sings it,” I said when I was punching out after my shift. He didn’t even turn around; he just kept cracking eggs into the cookie batter.
From then on, every time he came up front where I was working as the cashier, I’d try again. “Zee, have you designed any toilets lately?” He had enjoyed telling me about projects in design school. Our first conversation was him asking how high do you think a toilet is? My answer– four feet– made him laugh his ass off. “Four damn feet? Girl, have you ever used a toilet before? Show me a goddamned four-foot toilet seat.”
Zee and the other prep staff were cool because they went to community college and used the money from work for rent and food instead of lip gloss and movie tickets like I did. I tried every trick I knew to hide that I was a middle class suburban girl with a bright future that included four years at a university where my parents would pay the bills. When I wasn’t at the bakery, I was donning my Catholic school uniform and taking AP classes. But to Zee and his crew– Dana, Wendy, Mikey– I wanted to seem gritty and destined for something exotic like a one bedroom apartment on Northwest Highway and a lifetime of riding the bus to my commuter school.
The best evidence that I was as cool as anyone who took the GED instead of messing around with high school was my raunch factor. I pretended to be sluttier than Miss Blanche Devereaux from Golden Girls. I could turn everything that happened at our little bakery into a sex joke. Cherry tarts half price on Tuesdays? Yeah, that’s what she said. I’d laugh like I was queen of the bordello. It was Zee who always instigated the banter and relished the opportunity to educate me with lurid stories about his love life. Everything he said was news to me, since I’d only grazed first-base once in my life.
When Zee stopped talking to me, the others followed shortly. It was so boring I was forced to do my job and focus on the customers, all of whom I hated for being able to walk the mall freely, while I was stuck serving them brownies as big as my head.
The last day of work before I shipped off to college, I turned in my apron and name tag (which read “Cookie” instead of “Christie.” I was that edgy).
“I’ll be seeing you, Zee,” I said, expecting him to ignore me.
“Sure,” he said, not making eye contact.
“Good luck with design school. I’ll let you know if I ever see a four-foot toilet.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“You know why I stopped talking to you, right?” He said to my back.
“Your mom called the manager and said I had to stay away from you. She heard you talking on the phone one day to one of your prep school friends. You said, ‘Zee at work says if you pierce your clitoris, you can have a constant orgasm.'”
Mortified, I stood in the doorway until Mikey almost knocked me over trying to get a tray of croissants out of the walk-in.
“Zee, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wasn’t supposed to talk to you.”
“Have a good time at college,” he murmured.
“I’ll try,” I answered, feeling the gulf that was always between us swallow me up and carry me away.