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The hardware store assistant led Amy and her new fiance Eric into the materials section of the Decor-A-Home store. “Now do you guys want a bed frame that’s made of wood…”

“Too expensive,” Eric muttered. Their price range was tight, but a turquoise Hermes saddle bag hung from Amy’s arm. Though it could’ve been a birthday gift, the store assistant took it as an invitation to up sell.

“Wood is more sturdy. It lasts generations, and if you get a classic style, then it will never be out of fashion.” The assistant looked to Amy. Amy had a long, pointed chin that didn’t match her squinted eyes or tomato-like nose. She hefted her bag higher on her shoulder and turned to Eric.

His clean-shaven face was round and baby-like. He had slicked back his hair with gel to appear older, but it wasn’t working. Amy placed her slender hand on his forearm. “Maybe we could splurge, just a little. For the children or grandchildren. We could pass the bed frame down for generations.”

“Like your bag?” he asked. 

Amy withdrew her hand and turned to the store assistant. “We’ll see your other material options please.”

“What about wicker? Beach themes are all the rage.” The assistant lead them further through towering stacks of planks and boards and screws. “The wicker can come in any color you want and is more flexible.”

This time Amy gauged Eric’s reaction more closely. What she saw is impossible to say because his face didn’t change.

The assistant pressed on. “We also have metal, a very popular choice right now.”

Eric glanced at the metal poles and checked his watch. He had an appointment soon, one that couldn’t be rescheduled. “Metal works. Now can we pick a style?”

“Actually, first we’ll go through the paint shop and pick a color.” The assistant led them into the next room. It was basically a bright gymnasium overwhelmed with people. Sunlight flooded the room from windows up high. On the two walls and the floor, the room gradually transitioned through every possible shade of one color to shades of the next one until the rainbow (plus black, white, and gray) was completed.

Eric grabbed his forehead as if the colors had given him a migraine. “Amy, you pick. I’ll go on to styles so we can get out of here faster.”

The assistant was supposed to stop him. She was supposed to stay with the guests at all times. But she’d had a rough day. So she’d say the guest was in the bathroom. Sometimes you can’t keep up with everyone.

“I’m going to the blues.” Amy called as she disappeared into the teeming crowd of store assistants and customers.

The assistant bobbed and weaved trying to keep up, but she’d lost sight of Amy. In a store as big as Decor-A-Home, it was easy to lose someone. The assistant took a breath and spun slowly, scanning every inch of the blue area. When she was satisfied that Amy’s pointy chin wasn’t there, the assistant moved on to the next color and the next, systematically. Protocol told her that she should use the intercom to find Amy, but the assistant couldn’t afford another negative mark. Maybe Amy had gone to the bathroom.

The restroom was filled with women but not Amy. The next best option was to find Eric. He would know where his wife had run off to. The assistant did one last sweep before moving onto style.

Eric was standing right where he said he would be. He’d found a beautiful scroll pattern frame. “Will you tell Amy that I want this one in dark brown? I’m sure she’s already picked out an absurd pastel color.”

“Actually, I don’t know where she went. She said she was going to the blue section, but I couldn’t keep up with her.” The assistant tried to keep her face blank and her tone casual. If she panicked, then so would Eric. 

“Amy likes to run off. I’ll check and meet you here.” 

Before the assistant could object, Eric was speed walking back to the paint section. The assistant found contentment in the fact that Eric was all business. Then five minutes passed with no sign of his return. Making sure to stay in sight of the scroll frames, the assistant edged towards the paint shop. 

After ten minutes, she went looking for Eric. Young couples, old ladies, and families with fussy kids all perused the paint section. They got in the way. The assistant pulled aside one of her coworkers and gave a short description of the customers she was looking for. No luck. 

She had to go to the intercom. Keeping her eyes peeled the entire way, the assistant went to the center of the store, lifted the radio for the intercom, and asked Eric and Amy to report to the store center. The assistant dreaded the conversation she’d be having with her boss later. At least she’d be able to get this couple helped and move on. But they didn’t come. After ten minutes, the assistant came over the intercom again urging the couple to meet with her. Maybe they were talking and hadn’t heard. Maybe the intercom system had sounded gravely the first time.

Ten more minutes passed and no one came. The assistant went to the registers. Five were open plus a self-check out section. She gave a detailed description to every attendant. No one had seen Eric or Amy. 

“Are you sure?” the assistant asked the man at self-check out. 

“Yeah. They could’ve decided this store’s too expensive or that they’d come back another time.” He said this doubtfully. Usually people would have the assistant escort them out rather than run away.

Eric didn’t seem like the running away type. 

“And you tried the intercom system?” the worker asked.

“Twice.” 

“Then that’s all you can do. If they come through, I’ll let you know. It’s not like they’re in danger.” 

“Yeah.” The assistant convinced herself that Eric and Amy were capable adults who had probably just left. Then the assistant helped five more customers before the end of the day, luckily avoided a talking to about losing guests, and forgot about the couple.

A week later the missing persons report came out.    

Fiction

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