by Sue Ellis
With graduation a month away and varsity baseball over, Colton had time on his hands, so he started a job search to keep him in change over the summer. He'd tried half a dozen fast food joints before he saw a sign at a small hardware store saying they were hiring.
Miller's Hardware was quaint, for sure. Not one of those franchise places. An old guy with a limp looked up as Colton entered. "What can I do for you?"
"I saw your sign, and I was wondering about the job." Colton made sure to look him in the eye, like his Mom had taught him. "My name's Colton Harris."
"How old are you, Colton?"
"I'm almost eighteen."
"You ever had a job?"
"Yessir, I've done some lawn mowing with a buddy, and worked for a landscaper now and then."
"You know anything about hardware?"
"Not much," Colton admitted.
The old guy didn't look impressed, but he pulled an application from behind the cash register and handed it to Colton.
Colton liked the smell of the place, a man's place. No perfume or room deodorizer going on. The wood floors were unfinished but swept clean and the shelves neat and orderly. Work socks and gloves dangled on racks next to shovels and rakes. Multiple rows of bins held bolts and screws of every description. There was a gardening section too with seeds and bales of peat moss.
He had the application almost finished when a new customer came in. Harmless looking guy in a dark cap and heavy sweatshirt. Colton wondered why he'd left his sunglasses on in the store, but to each his own. When the old guy asked the new customer what he needed, the guy replied like he was making casual conversation, "I need you to to empty that till right now, old man. Put the bills in a paper sack and don't try nothin'."
Colton's heart nearly jumped out of his chest. The thief put a hand up at Colton like he was directing traffic and giving him the red light, so Colton stood still.
The old man emptied the till like he was told and the guy walked out of the store. The old man whirled around as soon as the guy was out the door and gave a terse "call 911" over his shoulder to Colton as he picked up a shovel and raced after the guy.
Colton was afraid the old man would get hurt, so instead of dialing for help, he followed along. A sack of seed potatoes stood next to the door. Colton picked up a potato and tested its weight. The thief was almost across the parking lot with the old man twenty feet behind. Colton aimed a fastball at his leg. It dropped him to his knees. The old man looked back at Colton, surprised, before raising the shovel, giving the guy a whack on the shoulder and grabbing the sack of money. By then a crowd was gathering and somebody called the cops.
Colton had to tell his story three times, and the old man too. By the time the cops left, it was almost closing time.
"I appreciate you helping out today, Colton." The old guy looked really tired.
"You're welcome." Colton hesitated before adding, "The application's on the counter."
"Oh yeah . . to tell the truth, I don't usually hire summer help. I imagine you're looking to start college in the fall?
"I need a full time man." He scratched his head and offered a handshake. "Good luck to you, son. You throw a helluva spud."
Colton left the hardware store feeling odd, like life after high school wasn't going to be what he imagined, and he'd just had a weird lesson in Reality 101.
His car had a flat tire when he got outside. He had to kick a piece of potato out of the way before he could set the jack.