You can tell a lot about people by what they buy at the grocery store. For instance, that old lady right there, with the two dozen cans of cat food, and the pile of TV dinners (topped with this week's issue of the TV Guide, of course) most likely lives alone with a bunch of cats. She probably can't cook, so she spends her days of retirement watching soap operas and Wheel of Fortune re-runs while she eats frozen meals.
And that guy over there – he's got three six-packs of beer, a can of peanuts, a steak, and one magazine curled up in his hand. He's obviously going home to get smashed. He'll eat his peanuts and drink so much beer that he won't remember looking at the magazine's "100 Sexiest Men Alive" list when he wakes up tomorrow morning. The steak's only there to make him look more manly. How can I tell? It's in his eyes, the way they're twitching from shopper to shopper as if he thinks any one of us might discover his secret and yell it out for the entire store to hear. Don't worry, buddy, no one here cares that looking at half-naked men gives you a stiffy.
"Did you find everything okay?" a female voice says, and I look up to see that I'm at the cashier (finally). I shoot her one of those tight smiles you give people to humor them when you just want them to shut up. Either she doesn't notice or she doesn't care, because she just runs my items through without saying anything. And then she says it: "That's a cute baby you've got there." I sigh. "Taking care of him for your mom or something?"
"Something like that," I reply, keeping my eyes anywhere but on her.
"What's his name?" When she asks this dreadful question, I notice for the first time that she has a bit of a southern drawl. I wonder where she came from to have that accent way up here.
"Emery," I answer as she bags up my last couple of items. I grab the bags thankfully, glancing at Emery in his seat at the front of the grocery cart before piling the bags into the back. Then I get out of that place as quickly as possible.
It's not that I'm ashamed of my kid, it's really not. It's just that no one expects a guy my age to have a kid, so they always ask questions. Questions with answers like, "I was stupid. My girlfriend left me. After she had him, she dropped him off at my house and ran off. I haven't seen her in months." Not a very pleasant subject – I prefer to avoid it altogether. But I really do love Emery. I mean, if I didn't, would I have kept him and begun raising him on my own? If I didn't want him, he'd probably be living with a couple of nice, adoptive parents by now, instead of growing up in my shitty little apartment.
A loud crash and Emery's screaming brings me out of my thoughts. "Shit!" I hear a voice say, and the same echoes in my own mind. "I am so sorry. Guess I lost control of the carts…" Once I take Emery out of his seat and get him to calm down a little bit, I look up to see something that I wasn't expecting. It's a boy – it's obvious he works at the store by the uniform apron and the long row of shopping carts that he just ran into my carriage. "I'm…really sorry – really sorry," he says, as he tries to get the carts back in order. The thing that surprises me, though, is that he's gorgeous.
"Um…yeah," is all I'm able to choke out in reply. In my defense, I have a crying baby on my shoulder, the frozen food in my cart is melting, and some stunning grocery store boy just rammed into me. My cart, I mean. Just rammed into my…cart. "It's okay," I finally manage to say.
"Is he okay?" the guy asks, and it takes me a second to realize that he's asking about Emery.
"Yeah, he's all right. You just scared him, that's all." He finally gets the carts straightened out and he starts to push them away. I'm putting Emery back in his seat when the boy turns around again.
"Again, I'm so sorry." I force a small smile and nod, pushing my cart away to try to get away from the store as quickly as possible.
The next time I see Grocery Store Boy, it's a couple of weeks later and he's bagging. I'm not sure if he recognizes me or Emery first, but in any case, he recognizes one of us. "Oh, hey," he says. "You're the guy I ran into a couple of weeks ago, right?"
"Yeah," I say. I'm wishing that he doesn't make a crack about the giant package of diapers in my cart, but I try not to get my hopes up. He doesn't say anything about them, though. Instead, he just says that he's still really sorry, and that he's fairly new at the job. I see that his name tag says Mike, and I consider introducing myself but decide that it would be too weird to introduce yourself to your bagger guy. So I just return the polite smile that he gives me on my way out the door and wonder how I ended up in this incredibly strange situation. Here I am with a son, lusting after some grocery store baggage boy. It's all very ironic. The only reason I have a son is because my parents wanted me to fall in love with a nice girl, so they set me up with one. Of course, they stopped talking to me when I got her pregnant. If they'd just listened to me when I told them I'm gay, none of this ever would have happened. But then I wouldn't have Emery. I look at him and he smiles in that toothless, baby way. I smile back.
Since then, I've seen Grocery Store Boy (Mike, I guess, but it's weird to call someone that you only know at the store by their real name) every week. Sometimes he's socking shelves, sometimes he's bagging groceries, and sometimes he's handling the cash register. But I always see him and he always says something. At first it's just something polite, but after a while it gets a little more personal. One day he catches me eyeing Brad Pitt on the cover of Troy, but he doesn't make some asshole remark about it – he doesn't even ask how I could be gay if I have a kid, and he knows that Emery is mine; at this point, he's figured it out. He actually doesn't even ask if I'm gay. But I can tell he knows, so I confirm his suspicions. He shrugs, as if he already knows, but I don't know how he could, unless he just has really amazing "gaydar" or whatever the hell it's called.
The worst thing is that Emery likes him, too. He's gotten so used to him that every week, Grocery Store Boy comes over and says hi to him. Lately, I've even been letting him hold him. I didn't want to at first, because I was falling for the guy enough without finding out that Emery loves him. But then it got to the point where, if I walked away without letting him hold Emery, he would start screaming – Emery, that is. So now I can barely separate them. Somehow, Grocery Store Boy has become more a part of our lives than our actual family. He seems practically perfect, but that's the problem. No one is ever as perfect as they seem in the beginning. I can take the disappointment, but Emery is too young to have to deal with the pain that people cause.
Still, maybe he's different. He only smiled knowingly when he saw me go back later to grab that copy of Troy. (How could I have left it? It was only ten dollars…)
I've decided to stop shopping on Saturday mornings. I just can't keep seeing him every week or I'll end up doing something stupid – like throwing myself on him and either never being able to show my face in the store again or ending up with an even bigger problem. So that's why I'm at the store tonight, on a Thursday. It's getting late and the store's almost completely devoid of people. Emery is falling asleep in his seat in the shopping cart. I'm kind of cranky after a long day of work, and I just want to get this whole shopping thing over with. I'm pushing the cart hurriedly down the cat food aisle (it's a good shortcut to the cereal shelves) when I hear a loud crash, very similar to the one I heard the first time I met Grocery Store Boy. Only this time it's me who's crashed into someone. Luckily, it doesn't wake Emery up. I look to see who it is that I hit and surprise, surprise – it's Grocery Store Boy himself. Only he isn't wearing an apron, and he has his own cart full of things. Suddenly he's not Grocery Store Boy, he's Mike. "What are you doing here?" I ask stupidly. Clearly, my plan isn't working.
He smiles and even laughs a little. "I have to shop, too," he says. And then he's slowly inching his way closer.
"I – I know," I stutter – I'm not emotionally equipped to handle this situation – "that you'd…you know…"
"Shop while I'm working?"
He shrugs. "I prefer it here at night." He's only a couple of feet away now; he runs his finger along the edge of my shopping cart as he moves closer. I'm getting nervous. I back up against the shelves. "It's more…peaceful, personal." It seems that Emery recognizes his voice, because it wakes him up and Mike turns to greet him happily. I see Emery smile and giggle at him. Then he turns back to me and he's only a foot away.
"You know," he says as he's leaning in, "you can tell a lot about someone by what they buy at the grocery store." I glance over at Emery to see if he's as panicked as I am (he seems quite cheerful actually) and that's when I notice the copy of Troy perched right on top of all of the other purchases in Mike's shopping cart. Emery giggles when he finally presses a kiss to my lips.
I guess you really can tell a lot about people by what they buy at the grocery store.