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"It takes the profit from 22 towels to pay for one package of copier paper."

Stuart wondered to himself why he hadn't seen the poster before. It obviously wasn't new, as it was slightly faded and had clusters of thumbtack holes in each of the corners, each one telling the story of some over-self-important store manager making herself feel more important by "suggesting" that her underlings reorganize the bulletin boards near the staff room. Again.

The staff room...Stuart hardly went in there. In his 18 months at the store (16 1/2 longer than he'd anticipated), he had no reason to go in. He bought his lunches in the food court, so the filthy communal fridges were hardly a necessity. He spent his breaks in the loading dock, reading the order manifests and smoking Kool Lights. The staff room was home to two separate breeds of people. There were the blue-haired ladies who gathered around the folding tables telling the same stories about moving their children into the college dorms to each other. Across the room, several uncomfortable-looking twentysomethings have staked their claim to the worn couches in the corner, trying their hardest to mask their discontent by forcing laughs at the blurry Simpsons episodes (which they've likely seen half a dozen times) picked up by the television's failing antenna. Of course, the store was too cheap to give its employees cable. After his second day at the store, Stuart lost all interest in the staff room and its denizens.

It was 10:30 p.m.; the store's doors had closed 90 minutes earlier. Stuart had spent most of that time folding the same five pairs of Dockers in an effort to look busy. If you don't look busy around there, you wind up folding t-shirts on the children's clearance table. ("Why bother folding them?" he'd ask under his breath. "They'll just spill Hi-C on the fucking shirt the first time they wear it.") But now Stuart could go home. Almost.

He ducked into the men's room for a quick wank. Stuart hadn't lost interest in all of his co-workers, after all. For a while, he considered asking out a woman from Housewares. As he scratched his balls to work up his erection, he thought of her and the background he'd invented for her:

Marie was a pretty sorority girl at some state college who slept with the smart, quiet guys on her dorm floor partially to get them to write her term papers for her and partially out of boredom. After college, she married some marketing major, bought a minivan and lived the life. Then her six-figure husband was caught expensing a 16-year old whore on a business trip to Germany and his firm summarily fired him. She then summarily fired him (and his lack of income), but was surprised to find the market for slightly-less-pretty-than-they-were-eight-years-ago women was saturated. I bet her mom got her this job, the first honest one she's ever had. Maybe her aunt.

Besides her name, Stuart knew very little about Marie's actual life. He once thought he overheard her tell a co-worker in the hallway that she was into swinging, and considered asking her out. He only heard later that she was talking about taking her daughter to the park, not swapping husbands.

Pausing to inhale, Stuart flipped his tie over his shoulder and got to work on himself. He let his mind wander to his newest crush -- assuming bitter 25-year olds still get crushes -- Violet. Violet was new to the store, having just moved to the city to go to college. She was a pretty girl...short, olive-skinned, always smiling. He couldn't tell if she was Mexican, Spanish or a mix of something slightly more exotic. She was too new, too sweet for him to invent some lurid story about her. Yet.

Stuart could very well jerk himself off at home, except that he needed to justify to himself waiting the extra fifteen minutes for the staff room to empty. Not having something with which he could occupy himself (and the privacy of the sheet metal walls of the bathroom stall) would mean he'd have to interact with the bluehairs. Another "You remind me of..." story would drive him insane. After everybody leaves, it's pretty easy to dart across the hall from the men's room to the copier room and jam a ream of copier paper into his knapsack.

While peeking into the hallway to check for the loss prevention people, a pang of guilt struck Stuart, but he took the paper anyway. As he walked down the stairwell to his car, he let his mind wander. "Damn, I should buy some towels tomorrow."

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