A/n: Oh god, what am I thinking starting a new story? Especially one where I kind of just came up with the idea three seconds before I began writing it, without any planning whatsoever? That's completely unheard of coming from me. I must be a masochist. I must be. But I'm still going to post it and write it because I have a feeling it'll be worth it in the long run. Hopefully.

And because this was so spontaneous, I have absolutely no clue when I'll be updating. Maybe next week, maybe next month-who knows? Certainly not me.

Enjoy and let me know what you think! Please and thank you.

Clean Up On Aisle 7

Chapter One

Good Luck, Brady; You'll Need It

I looked up at the sign above the entrance to the building with a sense of foreboding. I couldn't believe I was actually doing this. What had I been thinking? Sure, I needed the money, but did I need it this badly?

Yes. Yes, I did.

Resigned, I took a deep breath and then walked up to the glass doors. They slid open automatically as I got near, letting out a blast of cool air that greatly contrasted the late August heat outside. I stepped through them, goosebumps rising all along my bare arms and down my back. This was probably the first sign that deciding to work here was a mistake; I was going to freeze my ass off.

I kept my head down as I walked to the store manager's office. Even though I knew it wasn't true, I felt like everyone in the store was watching and snickering at me. I know it's ridiculous (and probably a bit stuck-up) of me, but I couldn't help it. At the time, I had no idea that working here would turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me; the only thing I knew then was that all my friends had jobs at semi-classy restaurants, ritzy cafés, or brand name clothing stores while I was now stuck as a stock-boy at Grant's Grocers. It was beyond embarrassing.

But beggars can't be choosers, I suppose. It was either here or that nasty fast food, drive-thru restaurant across the street, and a local grocery store was definitely the lesser of the two evils. That didn't mean all that much, though; I still felt like this was below my dignity.

I knocked on the manager's office door and sullenly waited until I heard her voice call me in before opening it. As I closed the door behind me, I took a swift glance around the office, though I already knew what it looked like from being in here last week for my interview. It was relatively small, but surprisingly not that crowded, even with the desk off to one side of the room. It was nice, I guess. Then again, I haven't seen any other grocery store offices to compare it to, so…yeah.

The woman sitting behind the desk smiled at me and stood up as I walked in. Trisha Grant extended her hand out to me to shake, which I did as I tried to smile back at her; though, I'm pretty sure it resembled a grimace more than a smile. It wasn't like I had anything against her—from what I'd gathered when I'd first met her, she was a nice lady, full of kind and friendly smiles. It was just…she was the owner of this place that had already become the bane of my existence, and that prevented me from liking her as much as I probably could've.

"Good afternoon, Brady," said Trisha. "Ready for your first day?"

"Uh huh," I replied warily and without much sincerity. If Trisha noticed, though, she didn't show it. She just gave me a large grin, clapped her hands together and said "Great!" before stepping out from behind her desk.

"I'm going to introduce you to Mary," Trisha told me, steering me out of her office with a hand on my shoulders. I blinked at her a few times, not only in surprise, but also at how weird it was to have a woman about four inches shorter than me push me around. Nonetheless, I went along with it because what else was I suppose to do? "She'll show you the ropes—not that it's all that difficult to figure it out on your own. But Mary will just help you get the feel for things quicker. All right?"

"Y-yeah," I said distractedly. "Okay." Now that we were back out in the actual store part of the place, I felt like everyone was staring at me again. I glanced around uncertainly, wishing I was back at…

Well, not back at home, but somewhere that was definitely not here.

Trisha grinned at me again and then turned to face the check-out lanes. "Mary!" she called out, in almost a sing-song manner. I looked at her oddly out of the corner of my eye just as the girl at the nearest cash register looked up.

"Yeah, Trish?" Mary said. Her gaze then flickered to me, becoming curious. I fidgeted and avoided making eye contact.

"Close your register," Trisha said, still smiling. "This is Brady—remember me telling you about him?—and I'd like you to show him the basics."

"Oh! Yeah, okay." Mary nodded and flipped a switch next to her, making the blue light in the large number three above her go out. She then quickly walked over to us, and as she got closer, I took in her appearance.

She looked about my age—eighteen or somewhere close to that—and had long mousy brown hair held back with a thin, red headband. Her eyes, which were hidden behind thick glasses, were doe-like and a muddy green color. There were more freckles on the bridge of her nose and across cheeks than I had on my whole body. And when she gave me a small, friendly smile once she was standing in front of Trisha and me, I saw that she had metal braces on her teeth. I stared at her with dread, not even trying to smile back at her.

This girl was the epitome of geeky. And she was now my co-worker. Great.

"So, Brady, after Mary's done taking you around," Trisha was saying as I wallowed in self-pity, "I want you to restack aisle five, and then take inventory of what we have in the back. All right? Oh! And here's your apron. Your name pin's already on it."

She handed me a dark green apron after seemingly pulling it out of thin air. Looking at it like one would look at an electric eel they were told they had to kiss, I took the apron from her and reluctantly slipped it on.

This was really happening, wasn't it? I really was working here. Christ…

Once I had the apron on, Trish flashed me a grin and patted me on the shoulder. "Welcome aboard, Brady," she said. "Good luck."

And then she walked away, patting me once more on the shoulder before leaving me there with Mary. I had never wanted to hide under a rock—or go back in time to keep my past self from applying for this job in the first place—more than I did right now. It must have shown on my face too, because Mary gave me a comforting half-smile.

Or what she probably thought was one, when in reality it did absolutely nothing to comfort me. It just made me even more anxious about this job.

"It's really not that bad, you know," she then told me. "I'm sure you'll end up liking it."

"Yeah right," I said doubtfully.

Mary just shrugged nonchalantly at me, as if to say whatever without coming out and actually saying the word. I narrowed my eyes at her, but before I could open my mouth to call her out on it, Mary turned and started walking towards the aisles.

"C'mon. I'm supposed to be showing you the ropes," she said, motioning me to follow her. "And I think we'll start with the organization and categorization of things. You can't be of much use if you don't know that."

Heaving a large, put-upon sigh, I followed after Mary. She shot me a glance from over her shoulder as we entered the first aisle, her eyes calculating as they skimmed over me. After a few seconds, she hummed thoughtfully in her throat then turned back towards the shelves. I raised my eyebrows at her.

"What?" I asked.

"Nothing," Mary said. "It's just, that green suits you."

I looked down at my apron and groaned miserably. Oh, god. Kill me now—why did she have to say that? That was the last thing I wanted to hear!

Feeling tormented, I looked back up at Mary to see her watching me out of the corner of her eye and smirking slightly. I glared angrily at her as I realized she'd said that on purpose just to taunt me. But Mary only snorted under her breath at my glaring and then began explaining how to organize the cereal.

And I had no choice but to swallow my indignation and pride, and listen to her.


Four hours later, I was back at home, feeling incredibly low. It wasn't because the work had been hard or anything like that. It just seemed degrading. Especially after meeting the other employees—the people I now had the pleasure to call my coworkers.

Beside Mary, there was only one other person around my age working there: a pimply, nineteen-year-old kid that had the awkwardness of someone who was still trying to get used to his own body after growing rapidly in a short amount of time. His name was Tim, and he had talked my ear off as he showed me how to and then helped me take inventory. I don't remember much of what he said, but I do remember that I hadn't cared much at the time. In fact, I'd found him downright annoying.

Next I'd met a twenty-something year old woman who wore too much make-up by the name of Cindy. She was blonde—though, I couldn't tell whether she was a natural blonde, or bottled—and acted like it. When we were introduced, she was all smiles, like Trisha had been. But unlike Trisha, Cindy's looked a little forced. I guess I had to give her credit for trying, though.

Then there was Bill, a middle-aged man with a beer gut, crooked teeth, and thinning hair. He was one of those classier examples of trailer trash—if trailer trash could even be classy—and he thought he had great a sense of humor. Unfortunately, he was gravely mistaken.

And the last person I'd met was this little old black woman named Fran. I liked her best because she didn't try to make friends with me like everyone else had. She had just taken one look at me, frowned, harrumphed, and then gone back to her cash register. I wished everyone would take a leaf out of Fran's book the next time I went in for my shift. It would make pretending I didn't have such an embarrassing job that much easier if I didn't have them around me, reminding me that I was stuck with a bunch of losers.

With a sigh, I shut the front door behind me and walked down the hall. It took about five paces for me to notice just how quiet it was in the house. When I did, I stopped where I was and closed my eyes, biting down on my tongue and gripping the handle of the plastic bag I was holding hard. I knew what the silence meant—it had become a familiar thing in the house over the past couple of months—but that didn't make it any easier to deal with, or make me any less frustrated.

After slowly counting to ten in my head, I opened my eyes and continued walking down the hall. As I past the entrance to the living room, I saw my mom sitting rigidly on the couch, staring at the television without really watching it. Further down the hall, I noticed that my dad's home office door was closed. Shaking my head at them, I turned and went up the stairs.

When I reached the top, I went left instead of right, heading towards my younger brother's room. He was playing video games—I could hear the sound of him yelling at a zombie, or something of the like, to die—but that wasn't unusual since it seemed like that was all he did. What was unusual was how loud he had the volume. Though, maybe that wasn't so unusual either, considering what I'd just observed of our parents downstairs.

I opened the door of his room, simultaneously rapping my knuckles on the wooden frame as I walked in. Dillon glanced at me out of the corner of his eye before quickly looking back at his game.

"Hey, Brady," he said. He didn't bother pausing his game, and I didn't bother asking him to. We both knew he could talk and play at the same time without becoming too distracted either way.

"Hey," I replied. I plopped myself down next to him on the floor and then pulled out two cans of Red Bull from the plastic bag, along with a Subway sub. I placed a can and the sub in front of him before opening the other can for myself.

"Oh, cool," Dillon said when he caught sight of the food. He flashed me a smile without taking his eyes off the TV screen. "Thanks."

"No problem," I told him, smiling back.

I watched him kill zombies for a little while, taking small sips of my energy drink every now and then, but my mind wasn't on the game at all. Surprisingly it wasn't on work anymore, either. Instead, it was on my parents and what had happened while I hadn't been home.

"What were they fighting about this time?" I asked when my morbid curiosity eventually got the better of me.

The moment the question left my mouth, a dark scowl immediately took over Dillon's face, and he started jamming the buttons on his controller with a little more force than necessary.

"I don't freaking know," he grumbled. "Probably something stupid like the laundry or dishes. Like it always freaking is."

"Language," I warned him, albeit a little distractedly. I was too busy thinking about how he was most likely right—that the fight was probably about something trivial like that, as it always seemed to be—to admonish him about swearing like I normally would.

To keep myself from becoming too incensed, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply through my nose for a minute. Then I pushed myself back to my feet, and, after ruffling Dillon's tawny colored hair, headed out of the room.

"Wait," Dillon said just as I was walking out the door. "Play against me for a bit?"

I looked over my shoulder at him and saw him staring at me with a hopeful expression on his face, having actually paused his game to do so. I gave him a rueful look back and shook my head, even though I would have liked to and felt guilty about saying no to him.

"Sorry, Dillon," I told him, hoping he knew that I honestly was. "But I've got to go do the laundry. Or dishes. Or whatever it is that needs to be done." I smiled a bit at him. "I'll be up when I'm done, and then you can whoop my butt at it. Okay?"

Dillon grinned at me and nodded. "Okay," he said.

"Good. Oh—and don't forget to take a break to eat."

"I won't."

I smiled at him one last time before I left his room. After shutting his door behind me, I went back downstairs. Purposely avoiding the living rooming and the office (I didn't want to be around either of my parents), I wandered around the house to take stock of what needed to be done. It seemed like everything needed to be, not just the dishes and laundry. That must have been one hell of a fight.

Sighing wearily, I checked my watch and then got down to business, tackling the kitchen first since it was what needed the attention the most. I had about three hours before I had to be at the movie theaters to meet Shaun; with any luck that was enough time to clean the house, play a few games with Dillon, get ready, and then get myself there. And if it wasn't, then…

Well, then hopefully Shaun would understand me being just a few minutes late.


I made it to the movies in time, but just barely, and only by speeding the entire way here. It was a miracle I didn't get pulled over by a cop, but I wasn't complaining. On top of everything else, the last thing I needed was a speeding ticket to deal with.

Once I was in the building, I practically sprinted up to the ticket booth, where I could see Shaun waiting with an impatient and slightly annoyed expression on his face. When he finally noticed me jogging up to him, he blinked and stared at me in surprise. That was enough to tell me that he had already begun to think I would cancel on him again, and it made me feel awful.

"Sorry," I said, panting as I stopped in front of him. "But at least I made it, right?" I gave him a hopeful look, willing him to smile.

Shaun did, although it was only a little and I could tell it was reluctantly. "Yeah, I guess," he said.

I grinned, feeling a bit better, and then leaned forward to kiss him. At the last second, however, just as I was about two inches from him, Shaun ducked out of the way, hissing my name warningly. He glanced around the room, making sure nobody had been watching us, and then turned back to me with a glare. I hung my head and looked up him through my bangs with an apologetic expression.

"Sorry," I mumbled, feeling rightly ashamed and guilty. I should have known better than to do that; I knew how much he hated PDA.

Shaun continued to stare sternly at me for a few more seconds before he exhaled and shook his head, his expression then going back to normal. I sighed in relief, glad he wasn't angry with me.

"Whatever. It's fine," Shaun said. He motioned for me to follow him as he turned and started towards the theaters. "C'mon. I've already bought the tickets and the movie's about to start."

"Okay," I said, even though I was already following after him.

He led me into theater four, choosing seats near the back where there weren't a lot of other people around. I would have preferred seats closer, but I wasn't about to say anything. While I knew Shaun would move if I asked him to, I also knew that if we did, he wouldn't hold my hand once the lights went out. I wasn't about to compromise that just so I could see the movie. Besides, it made him feel more comfortable sitting back here and that was all that mattered.

So, I sat down in the seat next to him without a complaint, and waited patiently for the lights to dim and the movie to begin.