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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2207943
January thought her twenty-first birthday would bring her good things. It didn't.
         January thought her twenty-first birthday would bring a great many things: legal drinking, of course, was first on the docket. But after that, an info-dump of adulthood maturity, things that adults just know, would be nice. Like how to do taxes without panic attacks. Yeah, that'd be nice. And maybe a sense of how to party correctly. So far January had only partied to the point of not remembering the night before, or she stayed in, studied, and didn't party at all. She didn't have the science of partying down like so many of her college friends.

         Twenty-one brought none of those things. Not even legal drinking: she would have to take her now-expired driver's license to the DMV before the drinking was actually legal. And she didn't remember to do that, because twenty-one also didn't deliver her the How To Adult For Dummies instruction manual. And there wasn't even an attempt at partying, because January had work.

         January's birthday was December the fifteenth, so work meant Christmas retail hell.

         What I'm about to tell you might shock you, so please be sitting down for the following: K-Mart department stores still exist. They do. They're a strange sort of liminal space that exist somewhere between an everlasting 90s dreamworld and a future apocalypse. The floors, an off-white, speckled vinyl, are somehow perfectly dingy, and yet clean at the same time (because nobody walks on them). The shelves reaching above your head are filled with things you forgot you wanted back when you were kid, and forgot stores still sold, like Barbie Jeep. The air smells of lemon cleaning supplies and whatever cheap air freshener is on sale.

         January worked at a K-Mart. Her job was to make sure the shelves were stocked during the busy Christmas season. But since nobody actually shops at K-Mart besides the ghost of Grandpa Bill and luddite Aunt Sherry, January didn't have much to do besides stand around and listen to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" on repeat.

         On her twenty-first birthday, January stood in between the off-brand lightsabers and the Legos.

         January stared at the not-Lightsabers. LaZer Swords, they light-up when you wave them! Except they didn't, because they were out of batteries. A blue one would always go off when she walked by, but if she tried to pick it up and swing it around, it would forget to work.

         "Hey! January! Busy?"

         January whirled around to see K-Mart Kraig. K-Mart Kraig was the manager who loved his job. Loved K-Mart. What a great company, right? Really takes care of its people. Kraig was sixty years old and an alcoholic with chronic pain. Sometimes he would lie on his back in the middle of the seasonal aisle and sing "Jesus Loves the Little Children". HR had fired him at least six times this year, but always forgot when Kraig came back to work the next week.

         "Yep, Kraig. Straightening the toy shelves." She wasn't.

         "Great! Doing great!" Kraig gave her a thumbs up and trotted back to women's clothing.

         January walked around the aisle to the preschool toy side. A Care Bear winked at her. January winked back. It seemed like the thing to do.

         January wandered to the shoe section. It was small. Three aisles in a corner. Men's, Women's, Children's. A sparkly pink pair of shoes fell off the shelf as she walked by. January hadn't bumped them. Before she could reach down and pick them up, they started tapdancing to the ever present Mariah Carey. January decided to leave them be.

         January found herself in the seasonal section. Plastic Christmas trees of all sizes surrounded her. One grew as she watched, taller and taller until it reached the industrial lights above. January shook her head and sighed.

         January's phone dinged at her. Five minutes until the end of her shift, which meant it was time to hover behind the cashiers until she could clock out.

         January couldn't find the front of the store.
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