I wasn't sure what direction this would go in, but Cady's voice, a character I've written a few challenge responses around, came to the forefront first.
I approached the check-out line with sixteen items in my basket. I momentarily considered the Express Line, but the old lady in front of me pulled out a check book and looked puzzled by the paper or plastic question. I decided it was smarter to get into the regular line. I should’ve known better. I should’ve done the exact opposite of my natural instinct since I was pretty sure that I had the worst line karma in the world. In a past life, I had abused people who were waiting in long lines and this was a punishment that came back to bite me in the ass every time I entered a grocery store or bank.
I knew almost immediately that I had made a mistake, but my own stubborn optimism – maybe I’m wrong and this is the fastest lane – kept me from correcting the situation. Cue to ten minutes later in a line that was barely moving, a bratty kid, and a parent that had bought fifty Lean Cuisine meals.
“Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb,” the small child in unisex overalls sang out. It appeared that Mommy and daddy never taught him the meaning of indoor voice. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the kid knew the whole song. Instead, he repeated the same few words over and over. We were on round thirteen when my cellphone rang.
“Tell me I have to drop whatever I’m doing at this very moment and come save the day,” I answered.
My brother chuckled and said, “I wanted to make sure you remembered the vegetables.”
“I know you, Cady. I’ll end up fifty dollars poorer and only cookies and ice cream to show for it.”
“You should be so lucky,” I muttered. I watched as the young mother in front of me pulled out a stack of coupons like she had escaped from an episode of Extreme Couponing. I groaned and said, “I hope you weren’t planning to cook that broccoli anytime soon because I’m pretty sure I’m going to die here.”
“You keep saying you need time to think. The universe has provided.”
“Not like this. There's a weird smell and really bad lighting.”
“Suck it up.”
“Why do I have to do the grocery shopping? It’s sexist!”
I could practically hear Sean rolling his eyes. “I believe I gave you a choice.”
“Grocery shopping or bathroom duty is not much of a choice. I took the lesser of two evils. That doesn’t mean I have to suffer in silence.”
“Like you even know how.”
“I hate you, and you’ll be sad when I die of boredom.”
“Don’t forget to use the tote bags. There's no reason to take your bratty mood out on the planet.”
I glanced at my basket and realized I had left my brother’s collection of canvas bags on the radiator at home. “Yeah, whatever. Bye.” I hung up without giving him a chance to respond and watched as the cashier manually entered each coupon. I glanced over to the express lane and the old lady was long gone. Of course.
I glanced back and forth between my current position and the line at the Express lane, debating whether I should live on the edge with my sixteen items or just stay where I was. Before I could make a move, a young guy slipped into line behind me. I was fated to spend the rest of my life in the longest grocery store line ever created. All the ways I used to picture my life ending, none was ever nearly as tragic as going out quite like this – ensconced in boring domesticity.
“That lady has a lot of coupons,” the guy said just as the kid started in with yet another round of “Mary had a Little Lamb” sans most of the words.
I glanced at the guy. He was about my age and he had the look of someone who tried too hard to be different. His hair was messed up in a way that showed he used a lot of product to make it messy and he was dressed in a strange concoction of pleather.
When he caught my gaze, he smiled and held out his hand. “I’m Tyler.”
“Hi,” I offered and spun back around.
“Do you come here often?”
I rolled my eyes, but remained silent. I didn’t make a habit of talking to most people, let alone strange guys in the grocery store, even if they were semi-attractive.
“I’m new to the area and this was the only shop that had decent food at decent prices.”
And that’s when I knew that he was one of those, the type of person who just kept talking and pretended not to notice the recognized social hints for “leave me the hell alone.” It didn’t matter if I took part in the conversation or not. Tyler-Tries-Too-Hard was going to keep talking. Somehow, I would find a way to blame my brother for this.
“I still haven’t found a decent coffee place.”
I turned around and said, “Café Buzz is pretty good. Two blocks down. Cheap, but it gets busy pretty quickly.”
“Good to know. Thanks.”
“Maybe we could go together?”
Save the planet, fight bad guys…these were things I could do in my sleep. My brother had made sure I knew every possible way to defend myself, but I still hadn’t mastered the ability to talk with guys that weren’t related to me. I was lame and I embraced it. Kind of.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said.
“Your boyfriend would get jealous?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“A pretty girl like you single? It’s my lucky night.”
Curse you, coupon lady and bad line karma! Apparently, even in everyday situations, I was a magnet for trouble. Sometimes it just came in the form of really bad attempts at socializing.
I glanced down at my basket and weighed my options. The problem with moving to the express line was that Tyler might follow me. If I didn’t return home with my brother’s required greens and protein, I might as well find a new place to live. I decided to do what any tough, smart teenage girl would do when faced with a situation like this.
“Oh, would you look at that? I totally forgot Sean’s complex carbs. He lifts like these really big weights because he’s like really big…and he’ll be so mad if I forget them. Excuse me. Gotta go,” I said, moving past him back toward the store. I didn’t give him a chance to respond, just darted into the closest aisle where I could hide out.
If I had just taken the express line, none of this would have happened. And now I was going to have to explain to Sean why it took me an extra half hour at the store.
Not the best night of my life, that was for sure.