“Dad, you’ve got to be kidding!”
“You need a job, and he needs somebody to work the shop.”
“But a dry cleaner?”
“You have lofty goals? Maybe you shouldn’t have dropped out of college.”
“You said you weren’t mad.”
“I’m not mad, you’re the one who is mad. I’m just going to walk away now, and you’re going to slam the door.”
My hand is already gripped on the door. But I close it quietly. Maturity. I am a grownup. It might not seem that way, living at home again at age 20. But lots of people move back home. A lot of people don’t go away to college in the first place, they live at home while attending. It’s culturally acceptable. It’s living in a dorm that’s wasteful. Moving home was the responsible choice.
I lie down on the bed, grab my stuffed unicorn, Beatrice, and hug it tight.
“We’ll show Dad, we’ll show everybody. I’ll be the best dry cleaner in Jersey.”
It took a few days for me to start working. Apparently, there needed to be a background check, and then I had to sign the NDA in front of a notary. Seems overkill for a dry cleaner especially since the guy who runs it, Parker, is a friend of my dad’s.
“We have some unique trade secrets,” Parker assures me.
“That doesn’t sound reassuring.”
“It’s all on the up and up.”
I work the front. Pick-up and drop-off. I get to press a button and the rack slowly clatters until the right garment arrives. I kind of love that. Yes, during the first day, Parker told me to stop playing with the rack. He said it with good humor. If he’d been pissed or yelled at me, I would have quit right there. I didn’t want the job anyway.
“Honestly,” he says, “I’ve had better luck with people who play with the rack than those who don’t. If you think the rack is cool, wait until you see some of the strain removers we use.”
And in slower hours, he closes the shop for a bit, and takes me into the back room and shows off. He grabs the worst items, the most severe stains, and with a spritz and a wipe, they come clean. I hate to admit it but it is kind of awesome. I even end up bringing Beatrice in for him to clean.
“This unicorn has seen a lot of love.”
“Y-yeah,” I stammer, “It’s probably silly of me to have brought her…it here.”
“She’ll be ready before you clock out tonight.”
There are two types of customers. Most are normal. They have their lists of chores and errands. They bring suits and dresses. They’re in a hurry or chatty. You wouldn’t even think of them as all similar if you never encountered the other type of customers. Those are the ones who come in with hoodies and baseball caps, sun glasses on. People who look like celebrities walking their dogs. They never give their names, just account numbers that they have memorized. No claim tickets needed. Their clothes are in garment bags.
“Don’t open any garment bags. Just accept them, and I’ll handle it.”
I really want to open the garment bags. Parker takes those to the basement room. I’ve never been in the basement room. I try to think of the worst-case scenario. Garment bags filled with drugs, or exotic animals, or illegal French cheeses. Or just rich people who like their privacy. Ones who don’t want to explain the weird stains they get. Because then we’d know what they get up to at their illegal French cheese parties. Okay, I’m hungry, and I have a cheese craving.
It’s the third time this blond lady has been here. I know because she’s fricking gorgeous. Maybe the sunglasses help her escape notice, but when she’s standing right in front of you, nothing is dimming her radiance. Ugh, what is the matter with me? I’m doing my best to just be normal. I’m not even queer, but this woman leaves me flustered. And then she does it.
She lifts her sunglasses and peers at me.
“You’re Sanjay’s daughter, yes?”
She knows my dad? How does she know my dad?
“You know my dad?”
Dad does go out Thursday nights. But I guess I never asked where he went. Bowling. Drinks with the guys? Nope, apparently, he goes out on secret dates with radiant women in their 40’s.
“He didn’t tell you? That’s when our D&D group meets. Parker is in it too.”
“You play D&D?”
“It’s more fun than punching real monsters in the face.”
“What? Tell your dad I said hello,” she heads towards the door.
“Yeah, you too.”
You too? What is the matter with me? Maybe she didn’t hear that. I take a few deep breaths. Her garment bag is heavy. What could be in there? I know I shouldn’t open the bag, but the blond woman started this. She knows my dad. They game together. Just a peek.
It’s a costume. A superhero costume. A real one. It’s too high quality. And the stains, well, you don’t get stains like that doing a cosplay photoshoot. This is Galaxia’s costume, and didn’t she just fight a bunch of shark people on the Jersey shore? That’s shark person blood.
“I told you not to open the garment bags,” Parker sighs, “I suppose you want me to explain.”
“Yeah, the special accounts are for superheroes to help them retain their anonymity. That all makes perfect sense, but you and my dad play D&D with Galaxia?”
“Is that what she said?”
“It’s not D&D it is a tabletop RPG but it’s on a completely different system.”
“Does Dad know?”
“Yes, he’d never call it Dungeons and Dragons.”
“That he games with a superhero?”
My Dad hangs out with a superhero every Thursday night. I didn’t know. I’ve been living at home for six months, and I never even asked him where he goes.
“I’m a bad daughter,” I whisper.
“I don’t know about that, but you’ve been a pretty good employee. You know, until you started opening garment bags that I told you not to open.”
“Am I fired?”
“Nah, we’ll just wipe your brain, I’ve got a chemical that can remove a memory like that,” he snaps. “Anyway, shark person blood is a bitch to deal with, so I’m going to get to work on this.”
He picks up the bag, and heads towards the back.
“It’s just the game, right? He doesn’t drive her home or anything afterwards, does he?”
“That’s a conversation you have to have with your dad and your new step-mother.”
“That’s not funny! Parker! I said that’s not funny!”
But I hear the door slam to the basement.