I really love my job. I mean, I don't intend to be here forever. I am working on a career. But for now, this is where I want to be, and I enjoy it. It's not easy. People seem to think that retail is, but it isn't. But I love working with people, and learning their stories. Unlike most retail jobs, mine allows me to deal with reoccuring customers. I could tell you a hundred stories about my regulars. Like how I've watched little Bianca start school, and show me with pride how she can read. Or the Torres family, watching Cosi bloom into a wonderful older brother, watching Jose walk, and remembering the first time they brought the new baby, Sarah, in for a visit. They did that on the way home from the hospital, so we could meet her. The story that means the most to me, however, is probably that of Jack O'Neill. It was definately the most fun. According to the computers, Jack was a customer here for a while before I remember him. Not that that is unusual. In a video store. I really wouldn't know most of my customer's names, and I have been here for almost four years now. I only really remember Jack from about three years ago, when he started to become more chatty. I get the feeling that he had, or was getting, over a difficult time in his life. Obviously, something, or maybe someone, was pulling him through. We got along like a house on fire. He has a twisted sense of humour, Jack O'Neil, and I loved it. In truth, there was very little about this man not to like. Lord knows if he had been twenty years younger, I'd be in serious trouble. He also has an amazingly sweet disposition. One Saturday night (the shift that is the scourge of the video store assisstant manager), Chrissy and I were complaining about the severe lack of decent food to eat in the store. We're not allowed to take a tea break before 9pm, as that's busy time. By 9, nothing is open one this street. Jack sympathised with us, took his videos, and came back thrity minutes later with a pizza from a shop up the road. I could have kissed the man. It's now not uncommon for him to come when I'm working at night with food for me. I return the favour when and where I can. A free video now and then, when he doesn't notice. And I also give him old posters and preview tapes for a youth centre he helps out at. A good deed goes around, they say. I also know Jacks in the Air Force. We got a few round here who are, but Jack says his work is classified. At first, I didn't believe him, but now I'm not so sure. The reason being he's often away for periods at a time. I know this becase he almost always ends up forgetting his videos before he goes. He always says that the excuse would be fantastic, and I wouldn't charge him a fee, IF he wouldn't have to shoot me after he tells me. So now we have a system. When his vids comew up late on my report, I ring, normally leaving a message on his machine, then fix everything, so that he has minimal to pay. As I said, a good deed goes around. Things started to get interesting with Jack after he had been away for a period of about three months. He told me it was circumstances beyond his control, but he would more than make up for the missed pizzas. Not long afterwards he did what quite a few customers actually do. He confided in me and asked my advice. He caught me one Sunday morning - my favourite shift. "Ever been to Minnesota?" he asked as I put the new releases back on the wall. "Nope. I hear it's nice up there this time of year." I replied. "Great fishing. Listen, I need a female opinion on something. You mind?" That was so very a Jack kind of question. "Shoot."
"There's a woman I work with," he started.
"Would that be the blonde one you're here with sometimes?" I interrupted.
"Sam Carter, yeah. I'm not sure where things stand between us. I was think of asking her to go on a holiday with me up there."
"So you can sort things out?" "Exactly. Do you think it's overstepping the bounds?"
I thought about it. "Depends on where the boundary is now." I looked at him closely. This was a man who was starting to realise there was more going on around him than he knew. "My theory is - take the risk. You'll regret it otherwise."
After that, I didn't see him for about two weeks. Seems they ended up going somewhere else, but with another friend, so nothing actually got sorted. But that wasn't the end of it. I remembered the blonde, and remebered that she, too, had an account here. And while never as regular a visitor as Jack, Sam's account had also been unused those three months Jack had been away.
I have a rather simple coding system for my customers. Each customer file has a 'notes' screen, which allows us to keep any extra information about our customers. I give each customer a code of one to six. One is for the absolutley fantastic customers, who we should go out of our way for. A six means extremely volitle - call the supervisior. Everyone knows these codes. There is also a code seven, which is just for me. It means there is
something that I want to take care of with the customer. Jack has a code one - anyone who brings me food does. After that interesting conversation with Jack, I put a code seven on Sam's account. Just to remind me of her apparent connection with Jack.
Luck played into my hands somewhat. It was a few weeks after the initilal conversation with Jack. He hadn't been in for a while, so I assumed he was busy with work. Another manager had quit (meaning I had now outlasted six), so I was filling in on the Friday morning when Sam came in. She must have had a couple of days off, as she had returned some videos hired on Thursday, and went looking for more. When I saw her name come up on the screen as I scanned her videos, I decisded it was time to do some snooping. Don't think badly of me because of it. It's just that I really do care about my customers, particualrly my code one's, like Jack. "Morning," I said cheerfully as I put some videos back with a practiced ease. She smiled shyly. "Hi."
"Did you enjoy the movie you had last night?" I asked, needlessly tidying shelves. "Yeah, it was good. There's something about Denzel Washington."
"Oh, isn't he fantastic?" I agreed. "And I really like that type of movie."
"It certainly kept me guessing."
"Have you seen Fallen?" I asked, as I put the last video away. "No."
"Well, if you liked Bone Collector, you'll love it. Let me see if I've got it in."
"Actually, I;m not in the mood for a thriller tonight."
"Fair enough. Anything I can help with?"
She looked at me with slightly goofy expression on her face. "You know what I'd love? A sappy romance."
I grinned knowingly. "Boy trouble?"
She nodded. Paydirt. "Well, you don't look like you've broken up with anyone. And you're way to pretty for unrequited. So that would make it a case of 'just way too difficult to get together'?" I was guessing. But if she worked with Jack, then there were military regulations involved. She looked at me. "Yeah," she admitted, "it's a bit like that."
I wondered off, before finding the video I was after. I handed it to her. "Ever After. Guarenteed to have you wish for Prince Charming, even though we all know that he doesn't exist. Sam laughed. Oh, I could see what Jack saw in her. Her smile lit up her eyes. "I've heard about this one. My friend's daughter raves about it."
"It's pure fairy tale. Enjoy it."
she took the video from me, and began to read the slick. I heard the door open.
"Lauren! I brought you some pasta for lunch. Hope you like ravioli!"
Sam's eye's widened. I spun around and darted to the counter. "Jack! You are amazing, you know that?" I said, as Jack O'Neill stood in front of me, his eyes moving past my head, to focus on Sam.
I'll confess that I did know Jack was going to come in today. An order of his had arrived, and I had rung him earlier to let him know. I hoenstly did not expect him until the afternoon. I don't think I've ever seen Jack before lucnhtime. So I really had no idea that this was going to happen. "Hey Sam," he said. "Sir," Sam replied. I looked suitably confused. "You two know each other?"
"Yeah, the Major and I work together." Okay, so I already knew this. Your point? "You're a Major? You never told me that, Sam." And she hadn't. Mind you, we had only started talking not twenty minutes ago. "She's also way toosmart for her own good." Jack was definately bragging. "well, naturally," I retorted, hoping to take some pressure off Sam. "She's female."
"Gee, like I hadn't noticed."
That comment made me wonder. Sam, however, was paying very little attention to Jack. I got the feeling that that was a common occurance. "You know, I might actually take Fallen as well," Sam said to me. "Where would it be?"
"Thriller," I said, "Down the back."
"I'll have a look."
"Okay." I turned my attention back to Jack, reaching under the counter to grab his DVDs. "Is that her?" I asked softly, as I went through the motions of checking the discs. "Who?"
"The one you wanted to take to Minnesota?" Yeah, I knew it was her. It always helps to play dumb in these situations. "Yes."
"Why don't you ask her to lunch?" I suggested.
"Now?" Jack seemed taken back by the suggestion. "Yes, now." Lord, as much as I love the guy, he sure can be exasperating. "What have you got to lose? That's From Russia With Love and Goldfinger." I said louder as Sam approached the counter. "That means you know have all the Sean Connery ones. Roger Moore?" I pulled out my order sheet.
"Sounds good," he replied, pulling out his wallet. "Let's say Live and Let Die and Octopussy?"
"Sounds good." I filled out the order and took his money. "Never knew you were a James Bond fan Colonel." Sam commented as she put her videos on the counter. "Well, Carter, you've got to have the classics. I'm gonna check out your new ones, Lauren."
I nodded as I stuffed my mouth with hot pasta. I grinned apolegetically at Sam, before sollowing my food, and begining her transaction. "Is that him?" I asked softly.
"Oh, the . . . yeah."
I couldn't say another word, as Jack yelled at us from the other side of the store. "Hey Sam, what you doing for lunch?"
"Nothing," Sam replied.
"Cool, we'll go grab something. Whadda ya say?"
Sam looked at me surprised. I rollled my eyes, but for reasons different to what Sam believed. He didn't really ask her, did her, and he yelled it across the store? Men. I mouthed the words 'go on' to Sam.
"Okay," she said, as Jack made his way back to the counter. "So, when are we going to have a James Bond Movie marathon at your place?" she asked him, as they went to leave.
"You know, I like that idea. I'll see you next time Lauren."
"Bye Jack. Take it easy Sam."
"You too Lauren."
Well, that wasn't too bad. I didn't see them for a couple of weeks, so I was left wondering how that lunch went. Mind you, the next time I saw them, it was to change all our lives forever.
I suppose it's the same with every job, but we do get some idiots working for us sometimes. Ian was one. He'd've been fired, but we can't fire anyone without the approval of the manager. And our manager had left, (and unlike the previous two, I had nothing to do with it. I liked Liz, but her husband had got a transfer to New York), and we still didn't have a replacement. So we had to put up with Ian. I never liked him, and really didn't trust him. Anyway, I hadn't seen Sam or Jack since that Friday when they went to lunch. It was two weeks later when they came in with some friends. Daniel, an historian, and their African friend, Teal'c. Apparently, Teal'c has only been in the country for a bit, and still doesn't get a lot of stuff. It doesn't quite add up to me, but it's probably classified. I was cleaning the games section when the four came in that Saturday night. Jack had brought Pizza.
"That's it!" I said, gratefully accepting the box. "I'm putting you up for canonisatin. You're a saint!" I put the box on the counter, and Chrissy dug in. "What can I do for you tonight?"
"I need your help. I've decided to buy a game system. Which one should I get?"
I spent the next few minutes explaining the differences between the Playstation and Nintendo 64. I've done this a hundred times, and I always give customers the same speel. Hire the playstation and some games this week, and try the 64 next week. Jack had agreed, and we were discussing the different types of games. Daniel had gotten bored, and managed to find a copy of a movie call 'Get Carter', which he found amusing. Jack was telling him to get a life when it happened. Three men in balaclavas burst in to the shop. One carried a handgun, another a sawn-off shut gun. The third stood guard at the door. "Hand over the money," the one with the gun demanded.
I froze, The gunmen hadn't seen me yet. Poor Chrissy was emptying the till, but her nerves were making her clumsy. Some part of my mind was still working. I hoped that Chrissy had tripped the silent alarm. However, the safe was currently in my pocket. I carefully pulled it out, and handed it to Jack. At first he didn't know what I was doing, but finally he took the key and slipped it into his own pocket. Just in time, it would seem. Chrissy had finished emptying the till, but the thieves weren't happy. "Where's the key?" the first guy demanded.
"What?" Chrissy stammered. "The safe key!"
"I don't have it."
That was when they noticed me. The guy with the shot gun approached me. "Where is it?" he demanded of me.
"I don't have it," I said, shaking where I stood. "Don't lie. One of you always have it." How the hell had he known that? Now I was starting to get annoyed. "I . . ." Think Lauren, think. "I accidentally took it home last night, and forgot it today. I don't have it."
He then swung the butt of the rifle, hitting me in the jaw. Chrissy screamed. Gad damn, it hurt. "Liar!"
Jack jump forward. That's the kind of guy he is. He couldn't stand by and let them hurt me. He went to attack the man who had hit me, but the sound of a gun clicking into place made him freeze. "I wouldn't," said the man with the hand gun. Both Jack and I turned around. He was pointing the gun at Sam's head. "Not if you want your girlfriend to live."
Before Jack could react, however, we heard the wail of police sirens. Chrissy had tripped the alarm. "Man," the guy who had been watching the door yelled, "we gotta get out of here."
He was too late. The cop cars pulled up in front of the store. "No," said the guy with the hand gun, grabbing a hold of Sam. "We sit them out."
I'm not sure what it is in people that makes them think they can get away with such stuff. I don't think anyone has actually escaped from a situation like this. Okay, so there were three of them, and they did have about twelve hostages in all, but there were at least three cop cars outside, and we had two air force officers inside. And me in an increasingly foul mood. The guy with the hand gun grabbed Sam around the neck, and pushed her forward to the front of the store, using her as a shield. The cops, who had been about to burst in, froze, and backed off. The gun man also retreated, pulling Sam with him. The rational part of my brain was slowly losing the battle to stay in control. I was really starting to panic. My eyes darted to Jack, then Sam, then back to Jack. They were looking at each other, a kind of unspoken communication passing between them. I didn't realise it at the time but on reflection later, I realised how intense that really was. I mean Chrissy and I have been working together that long that I don't have to tell her what to do. We just know where we have to be. But that only came about after some time working together, and if a crisis arises, we still have to talk it through. Sam and Jack didn't. Somehow, they knew what they were going to do. The cynic might say that this is what they are trained for. But this went beyond that. Besides, you can't really tell me that the airforce trains for hostage situations in a video store. That connection scared me a little. How could two people be so dependent on each other like that? Was it really possible? Did it mean that somewhere there was someone with whom I could have that connection? I both wanted it and dreaded it. Jack caught my eye, and I understood. They were ready to act. I nodded to show I was ready, and then realised that Daniel and Teal'c were nowhere in sight. Sam moved first, elbowing the guy in the stomach. As he doubled over, she brought her elbow down on his neck. At the same time, Jack jumped the guy with the rifle, swiftly knocking the weapon out of his hand with a well aimed kick. The guy recovered quickly, and threw a few punches, but suddenly Daniel was behind him, video still in hand. He wacked the guy on the head with it. He looked dazed. (I'd always said those things were dangerous.) Jack swung at him with a left hook, knocking him senseless. The sense of triumph I felt, however, was very short lived, as a gun fired behind me. I spun around. Sam had been shot. Somehow, that bastard had kept a hold of his gun.
At this point, the rational part of my brain gave up. These bastards had held up my store, scared my customers, terrorised Chrissy, hit me, and had now shot the (potential) girlfriend of one of my favourite customers. I was pissed. As the thief stood there, shock registering on his face, I ran at him. I know basic self defence, so I somehow managed to grab his shoulders and knee him in the groin. He doubled over, and Teal'c stepped forward to finish him off. Jack ran to Sam.
"You okay?" he asked softly, tending to the wound. "Yeah," she replied shakily. "A zat gun's worse."
I had moved to Chrissy, who quickly embraced me, but I heard Jack's next line.
"Daniel," he said softly, "get Teal'c outta here."
"Ah, yeah. good idea."
As the cops dashed in, Daniel and Teal'c quietly slipped out. As the cops began to gather up the thieves, they took the balaclava off one. I gasped in recognition. He was a friend of Ian's. "Bastard!" I said. The cops looked at me, and I explained. They hastily took his address, and sent a car to get him as well. I was certain he was involved.
Sam was losing blood, and I also needed medical attention. Leaving Chrissy to make a statement and secure everything, I was put in an ambulance with Sam. Jack was refusing to leave her side and sat next to me in the back. Jack told the driver to take up to the air force hospital, where, he assured me, I would be treated. I lay my head against the side of the ambulance, holding an ice pack to my face. Jack leant over Sam and began to gently brush her hair away from her face. "How ya doing?" he whispered to her softly, his hand gently cupping her ear. "I'll be fine," she said.
He was silent for a moment. "After what we've been through, it takes this to lay you up."
"Kind of amusing," Sam replied.
"Sam, I don't want to lose you."
"I'm fine Jack."
"But if this can happen at the video store . . " he paused. "Sam, I'm going to do whatever it takes to be with you."
"Shh. I mean it. I don't care if I have to retire." He leant in closer and kissed her ever so gently. Needless to say, I was jealous. "It'll work out Sam. I'll make sure of it."
I love my job. Even after the hold up. But that night a month ago changed everything. Which is how I found myself here, at Jack's place. I suppose that could be a misuse of customer records, but it isn't really relevant anymore. He seemed surprised to see me. "Lauren? What can I do for you?" he asked, inviting me in. "I just wanted to let you know I'm leaving."
He seemed surprised. "Really? Why?"
I took a deep breath. "I've been offered a scholarship at Harvard. At first, I hadn't wanted to accept it, but I realised I had to."
"Really? What are you studying?"
"Middle East history and relations. I wouldn't have taken it if it wasn't for you."
"Why is that?"
"I'd been putting my life on hold. I was too scared to leave what I knew, what I was comfortable with. I figured I had time. You made me realise I don't. When you told Sam you would do whatever was necessary, I began to realise that I had to take chances every now and then. I have to be willing to take that risk." That I had to say this is what I want, and this is how I get it. "Harvard's pretty cool," he said, almost embarrassed by my praise. "Yeah. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. You've helped me more than you know."
"I don't know about that," he countered me. "But I wish you all the best. You have my address, so let me know how you do."
I smiled. "Thanks. I will."
Jack was my last goodbye, mostly because he was the last stop out of town. As I slam my car into third gear, and head out this town, I still don't know where Jack's relationship with Sam is, if they sorted it out, and what exactly he has done to be with her, but I have every confidence in them. As I do in myself. Scared, yet excited beyond belief, I reach the highway, and say goodbye to what I knew, and look forward to finding my new future., And who knows, I may even find my own Jack.