The shoes came by post inside a box stuffed inside another box, those cardboard walls covered with corporate logos and shipping labels. Derek tore through the packaging tape with a knife and pulled the unworn leather into the open air. The scent wafted into his nose, and Derek let it linger a moment before he kicked off his old shoes. Then, he set his new shoes on the floor and stuffed his feet inside them.
He’d been saving all summer for these. A little each paycheck, like his parents said. It made all those nights bagging beer and chips for half-drunk customers worth the trouble. Besides, all that was in the past. He wiggled his toes inside his new shoes.
This was the future he’d been waiting for.
His feet almost sighed as he started toward the kitchen, the fresh soles pressing up against the ball, arch, and heel of his foot. It was a foreign shoe, not yet accustomed to his weight, his gait, his life experience — what little experience he had, anyway.
“That’s a good lookin’ pair,” his mother when he walked in. “Who got these for you?”
“I did,” Derek said.
She looked at him and smile, the grin bright across her face. “You been saving like we told you, huh?”
His mother walked over and crushed him in a hug. “That’s my boy! Now run and go show your father! He’ll want to see what you bought. Marcus!”
Her voice echoed down the hall.
“Yeah?” came the reply.
“Derek’s got something to show you!”
“Oh? Send him down!”
Derek swallowed. “What if he don’t like them?” he asked.
His mother gave him a look. “Do you like them?”
“Then so what if he don’t,” she said. “It’s your money. You saved it, and you bought something you liked. But you should still show him. Go on, now.”
Those new shoes thumped down the hallway toward his father’s office. A nervous air lingered outside his father’s closed door. Derek recalled the discussions they’d had about money: How money was always tight and that Derek shouldn’t be off buying pointless things, especially if he could make due with what he already had.
For all the hours he spent standing in his old shoes, he figured that a new pair might make his job more comfortable. But would his father see it that way? Derek didn’t know.
He knocked once and pushed open the door. His father, hunched over a desk, was studying a sheet of paper. His glasses balanced on the tip of his nose, as if they might slide off at any time. When Derek walked in, he snatched them off and set them on the desktop.
“What’d you want to show me?” he said.
Derek pointed toward the floor and smiled. His father followed his eyes. When he saw the shoes, his frowned deepened. Derek braced for the worst, but then his father gave a slow, appraising nod.
“New shoes?” he said.
Derek swallowed, waiting.
His father looked them over, then looked up at him — and smiled. “Lookin’ sharp, son. Lookin’ mighty sharp.”