Hot autumn was turning to freezing winter when Wellsey returned to the Pavilion. He stopped just before the automatic doors. He knew exactly where the invisible line was, that opened the doors if crossed. He drew a deep breath, held it for the count of ten, let it out slowly, and stepped forward.
Inside, he spotted Axel, helping an elderly customer find a cardboard box of an appropriate size for the old girl's gardening supplies. Wellsey felt his eyes narrow.
"Axel," he said in the most neutral tone he could manage.
"Morning, Wellsey," Axel said.
Wellsey expected an apology, or at least some sort of acknowledgement that he'd been badly done by. None was forthcoming.
The old girl, clearly nervous of Wellsey, cringed slightly in the direction of Axel. Wellsey scowled and stalked off to the staff room.
He was supposed to come in via the rear staff entrance, but as one of the Pavilion's rare full time permanent employees, he didn't have to clock on, so he came from the front where it was easier to get a parking spot. The flip side of that convenience was that he had to walk through the Pavilion in his work clothes, and he was stopped twice by customers with questions before he even got to the staff room.
In the little staff room, Marlon lounged. When Wellsey came in, he sprang to his feet. "Wellsey!" he said. "How you doing, mate? Good to see you back on your feet?"
Wellsey didn't show it, but he was touched. You never really know who your friends are, until things go wrong for you. There were people who he'd thought were close to him who never even bothered to visit him in the hospital. Then again, there were people like Marlon. Marlon had always seemed to treat Wellsey like a doormat, and he'd been to visit half a dozen times, once with a huge card signed by everyone, and each time with all the news from the Pavilion.
"Coffee?" Marlon said.
"Got one at Carol's," Wellsey said. Carol had visited him once and promised him free coffee for life for his role in the rescue of Zorbar. Wellsey wasn't entirely comfortable with the gesture, and had left the full price of a flat white in Carol's tip jar. Wellsey sipped at the coffee as he sat and glanced at the supercentre newsletter.
"Don't bother, mate," Marlon said. "It's not funny anymore, since Ms Shan's special friend started editing it."
"That true then?" Wellsey said. "Ms Shen and Mrs Lebeau? Carol said something about that, but you know... People like Carol always think everyone's gay."
"All I know is, Ms Shan was already less of a hard ass when she got back from the hospital," Marlon said. "Now she's super happy all the time, and that suits me pretty well, whatever the reason."
"Marlon," Wellsey said. "Thanks."
"For being a friend," Wellsey said. "You were always dumping extra work on me. I didn't think you liked me."
"I respect you and I think you always do a solid job," Marlon said. "That's why when there's something important to do, you usually come to mind."
Wellsey looked at the clock. His shift started in five minutes. Just enough time to finish his coffee.
"Marlon," he said. "You know it didn't go down like they said in the news? Captain Stellar was being an irresponsible ass, like they said, but he didn't cause the problem."
"I know," Marlon said. "I know what Axel has been up to. He's a dangerous man, but he's right about one thing: we need to take the DIY Barn down, and we need to do it before they destroy us."
Wellsey didn't know what to say, so he went out onto the floor, and straight to plumbing. Fiona met him there. After her initial shyness and later arrogance, she seemed to have plateaued in the middle. She was stacking toilet seat boxes when she saw him, but she put them down and gave Wellsey a big hug when she saw him.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have…"
"It wasn't your fault."
"No but I… there were things I shouldn't have gotten involved in. If I hadn't, maybe it wouldn't have swung out of control so bad."
"I did worse things when I was your age," Wesley said.
"Sure," he lied. "Now come on, those 8703-Bs aren't going to stack themselves."
Wesley smiled at her as she went off about her way, then sighed deeply. He'd tried. While he was recovering, he'd tried to find another job. He'd tried so hard. But he wasn't young, and he wasn't educated and he had big holes in his employment record. Ten years ago—five years, even—he might have been able to retrain, find something new. He couldn't deal with that now. The idea of going to TAFE, sitting with a bunch of kids half his age who were picking up these new ideas so quickly while he plodded along… No, he couldn't face it. It had to be here. There was nothing else for him. No place else to go.
He caught up on some paperwork. Whoever had been looking after it in his absence had done a real hit-and-miss job. Then he called his shrinking band of team-members together to talk about departmental priorities. He talked to customers, he checked the shelves, he behind the special orders desk.
And then he went to talk to Axel.
"So," he said to the little man. "What are your plans for taking those Barn buggers out?"
And Axel smiled.