A/N: This is my first fic... haha. Hopefully it's not too weird, I don't know. If there's anything wrong with it, tell me? Anyway, it will probably only be around 7 or so chapters. Maybe. I don't know exactly what's gonna happen and I'm just kind of making it up along the way... so, enjoy, I guess. Expect amateur-ness, overreactions, language... awkward romance scenes... very rough, I'm sorry! Also, there aren't any chapter titles because I'm very unimaginative.
"Hi, welcome to All-Mart. How's your day been?"
I felt my expression go dry as I lifted my gaze. A curse slipped from between my lips. Lo and behold, the person's face was stretched into a Cheshire smile. A knowing smile.
"Fine," I answered curtly. I didn't want a conversation. I didn't even want small-talk. In fact, fuck talking. I wanted silence.
The eyes opened and green eyes peered back at me. I fidgeted. This same person had served me several consecutive times. Every time I went to buy something, day or night, whatever, he was there. Every time I went to pay for something, he was at the cash register. It was as if he'd made it his mission to… I don't know, ruin my trips to the grocery store… or something less lame. Anyway, if it was, he was succeeding.
Ever since I'd realized this unnerving piece of information, his "friendly" smile had become increasingly unsettling. I could see it. I could feel it. I shivered. See? I was fucking paranoid. And even when I tried, apparently in vain, to deflect conversation, it was as if he felt compelled to initiate it - and it wasn't the polite, business-like, obligatory conversation, either.
"Have you been, uh, busy?" he asked nonchalantly.
Nice. And that's what I was talking about - a subtle hint at the fact he has a relationship with me outside this grocery store. Which he doesn't.
I had to bite back the accusations (stalker, molester, rapist, etc.) that begged to be said, and instead answered in a clipped tone, "No."
His smile faltered infinitesimally. I held an observational stare, on the lookout for any tell-tale-stalker traits: licking his lips, wondering eyes. Maybe when he thought I wasn't looking, he'd snap a picture… and use it later t-
No. Don't… don't even. No.
I grimaced at the thought, glancing quickly at the people around me for both distraction and support. I saw a harassed-looking mother, who was pushing a trolley filled to the brim while a toddler pulled at her skirt. I saw a business man in a suit carrying... an apple. I saw other teenagers from different schools, just loitering. I saw an elderly man in the confectionery aisle. And not one of these people seemed as concerned as I was.
There was a lull in the beeping, and I returned my gaze to the cashier. He was having trouble scanning the barcode on a shampoo bottle, his expression now perplexed. He absentmindedly chewed his bottom lip. I narrowed my eyes at him.
It wasn't even as if he was ugly. If it was the first time I'd seen him, I certainly wouldn't pin the word 'creep'. In fact, I'm pretty sure he's what would generally be considered attractive; dark-blonde, tousled hair and a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial. He was tall, or at least taller than me, who stood at 5"6. He even had laugh lines, which I, if I didn't know any better, would have attributed to him spending countless hours in his basement, giggling serial-killer-style to himself – but alas, he had a healthy tan and a light dusting of freckles across his nose – typical beach goer – so I guess that theory was out.
A loud beep broke my reverie. He had bagged the shampoo and was now scanning floss – whatever, shut up, I liked maintaining my oral hygiene.
He gave a chuckle which I was positive was meant for me to hear. My gaze returned to him.
"I see you around here a lot," he murmured, eyes on the scanner. He scanned an energy drink, a box of tissues, a pen.
My voice was terse. "I know." Headache tablets. A notebook. More stationary.
"Do you… live around here?" he continued, his voice painfully casual, and therefore, painfully obvious. My gaze snapped up to meet his. I'm sure it at least conveyed a fraction of the fear/incredulousness I felt for he quickly tried to correct his mistake. Too late.
"No, no no no no," he said, waving a hand quickly as he clumsily tried to package a bottle of milk single-handedly, "I…" he cringed, ducking his head. I absentmindedly took a step back, glad to know my body knew what to do when my mind was too fucking frozen to think for it. "That… came out wrong. I- never mind," and then he tried to brush it off with a laugh.
Damn. I hated silence after conversation – there were only two types; comfortable and awkward. And since I was obviously nowhere near being any form of comfortable around him, it was easy to say what kind of silence this was.
It did some good, though. He refrained from attempting any other conversation – which, by the way, you'd think he'd be good at by now, if not for all the girls he probably picked up with his goddamn pearly-whites, then for the many, many customers he'd already served.
"That'll be thirty-four-dollars-fifty," he mumbled, fingers tapping against the register. I handed him the fifty that I'd already had in my hand – be prepared – and slipped my hand around the shopping bags' handles.
"Twenty-five-dollars and fifty-cents change," he said. I pocketed the money, ignoring the quiet 'bye' I heard him issue behind me. Then, I fucking high-tailed it out of there. Out the sliding doors, past houses, and into the warm, stalker-proof safety of my room – where I collapsed onto my bed.
I must have fallen asleep, because my eyes snapped open – when had they closed? – and I became suddenly aware that it was darker than it had been before. The pervasive afternoon glow that I'd seen earlier had diminished to a pre-evening dusk. A draught of cold air filtered into the room from between the curtains.
The sound of the front door closing greeted my ears. Shit. The small sound evoked a swell of fear. What time did Mom say she finished? What was the time now? If she said she was finishing late – I think I remember her saying she was finishing late – she wouldn't be back until eight. I glanced at my bedside clock, and blanched. It said 5:38.
I was instantly on my feet, hyperaware. My eyes were flashing around in hazed-insanity. Had I locked the door? How long had I been asleep for? Had somebody already come and gone? An image of the cashier flashed across my mind.
No… no way. Like hell he would have followed me. Like hell he could have followed me. Irrational dread collided with my doubt. But no one else is home… and if he knew that somehow, then this was the perfect opportunity to corner me.
"Ryan!" My Mom's call came from downstairs. My shoulders slumped as I relaxed. Anticlimactic, much. "Are you there?"
I sighed. "Yeah, Mom," I called, ignoring the rapid beating of my chest. God, I was fucking stupid. "Weren't you supposed to work late today?"
"No – I told you this morning that I finish at five today."
I exited my room, my hand moving to scratch at the back of my head. I followed her voice into the kitchen. She was behind the kitchen counter, unloading groceries onto the granite top.
She smiled when she saw me. "What time did you get back?"
My face scrunched up quizzically as I struggled to remember what had happened, besides going to the grocery store. "Uh… I drove home right after school, so around four." My eyebrows lifted slightly as I spied the groceries I'd quickly discarded on the couch. "Oh, I already went to the store." Hopefully the milk hadn't gone off.
Mom's hands dropped onto the counter and she frowned. "What did you get? You should have told me," her tone was reprimanding as she resumed unpacking.
I looked to the side in a semi-eye-roll. "Sorry. I forgot." Then, quick to change subjects, I asked, "What time do you work tomorrow?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Same as today. Don't forget it – and call me if you go to buy anything. I don't want to spend any more money that we should, what with our electricity bills and everything-" A tinny-sounding melody erupted from her bag's front pocket, interrupting her frugal-enthused tirade.
Mom ruffled through envelopes, lipsticks and keys, trying to find her mobile – which became louder with every repetition. She glanced at the screen, probably checking who it was, then pressed it to her ear and gestured for me to continue unloading and packing away the groceries. She enthusiastically greeted whoever was on the other end of the line and migrated from the kitchen to the dining room.
I moved deliberately slowly, feeling dejected. I shoved meat into the freezer, drinks into the fridge. I put away boxes of food in cupboards. I didn't even really notice what I was doing. My actions were robotic and methodical, as if my body was on autopilot.
God, this was so mundane. At least if it had been some burglar or serial-killer, there'd sure as hell be more action. I couldn't even begin to think about how bored I'd be during break – only, what, half-a-month away. Two weeks. I whistled lowly.
That was the thing; once you're finally out of school, you have nothing to fill up the time. You get so bored that anticipating the return to school becomes some kind of weird, twisted pastime that plagues you for three months. It was pathetic - even if I resorted to that myself.
There's also that bullshit about how since I'm a teenage boy, I should be out partying or hitting the beach or getting wasted or something. No, screw that. I hate the beach. I hate the heat, the humidity – anything associated with summer weather. And parties… are overrated. I didn't want to be verbally assaulted by songs about one-night stands while I'm hustled around in a throng of sweaty, intoxicated strangers.
I blinked, realizing I'd finished packing away everything. Even the groceries I'd left on the couch. I squinted at the room, double checking. No, I actually had finished. I leant against the counter for a few seconds before I pushed away and made my way back to my room.
I fell back against the mattress with my hands knitted behind my head. It would be Friday tomorrow, the weekend, another week, another weekend, another week, then… break.
"Did you finish the theory sheets?" Mark slumped into the seat next to me, pushing back his skewed glasses with a forefinger.
I grunted, rolling my head to the side to look at him. I was currently seated in one of the music classrooms, waiting for the lesson to begin. When I'd entered and realized that it was practically empty, save for some Asian kid seated in the second row, I'd retired to my usual spot at the back of the class. The canvas material of my book bag felt like it was scraping my face but I was too lazy to adjust it.
Mark clucked testily. "I'm assuming that's a yes?"
I grunted again, rolling back to face the other side of the classroom. I heard Mark sigh before something – presumably his hand – whacked the back of my head. I jolted up from the desk in a convulsive manner, snorting as I did so. Smooth, I thought bitterly as I brushed away hair that stuck to my cheeks.
"What the fuck?" I glared at Mark. He just looked at me for a moment, then sighed and looked away.
"You don't have to be such an asshole this early in the morning," he said simply, leaning back in his chair and stretching his legs out in front of him. When I didn't answer, Mark looked back at me quizzically. "What's got your panties in a knot?"
I rolled my eyes then rested my head against the heel of my palm.
"First of all, I don't wear panties. I find that they bunch way too easily," I quipped, too tired to try and explain something even I didn't understand. He just snorted in this You're Not Funny manner and let his head flop back. His Adam's apple was pushed out noticeably.
"I'm serious, Ryan."
I couldn't think of anything to say, so I just replied lamely, "Yeah, well, so am I."
He shot me a look.
I paused. "I'm just tired."
"Like I haven't heard that one before," is all he said. Silence prevailed, but luckily it was of the comfortable kind.
I broke the silence first, trying to change the direction of the conversation. "Did you bring your… cello, or whatev-"
"Not even close. I play bass. And I know you don't like people overestimating you, because it's obvious they'll be sorely disappointed, but I at least thought you'd remember what I play, since we've been friends for, what, eleven years?"
I winced. It was true. Mark had been my friend ever since kindergarten. We'd grown up together, graduated from the world of saturated colors and saccharine-relationships together. We'd even helped each other decide what instrument to play – I got guitar, he chose bass. He knew my personality and knew how to deal with me, without being overly sentimental - which was good, because sentimentality usually made me uncomfortable.
"Sorry, forgot," I said, and smiled in a way I could only hope was endearing. I was playing the I'm-your-best-friend card heavily, but he was used to that.
"You do that a lot, don't you," he said in a snide tone, but I just dismissed it. Anyone else would probably think he was being condescending, but I knew not to take it seriously. He continued. "I'm just borrowing the school's. It's too much trouble trying to cart it around. It's getting small, anyway," he added thoughtfully. Mark had never bothered replacing his first bass - a scratched, worn-out second-hand thing - once he'd advanced from the pre-teen stage where becoming a famous musician had seemed the only possible career route. I, however, had hung onto guitar. Once I'd begun learning it, music became the form of release that I'd desperately needed. Of course, I wasn't aiming to be in a band or anything. It was just a pastime. Kind of therapeutic, actually.
"Only two more weeks of this hole," I heard him mumble to himself. His voice came out strained due to his awkward position.
I nodded, redirecting my focus to the front of the classroom when our thin, mousy music teacher called for attendance.
The rest of the day passed quickly, pretty much void of anything that was worth being awake for. I vaguely remembered submitting a final for English, being reminded to study over the holidays in trig, and being hit in the back of the head with scrunched-up balls of paper by Mark, stations over, in chem.
I was at my locker at the end of school when I received a text. I sighed when I realized that it was from Mom, but dread welled up inside me when I read it.
Honey, I'll be back late so can you grab some chicken for dinner tonight?
A seemingly harmless text, but little did she know she was basically asking me to walk into the clutches of some psychopath. My mind jumped, assessing all other possible options. The best solution that I was able to conjure was that I could drive to another grocery store - but groaned aloud when I realized that I'd walked to school and that all other supermarkets were miles away. I was so close to hammering my face into the locker next to mine, but luckily (or not) Mark appeared at my shoulder.
"You going home now?" he asked. My mind struck an idea, and I felt my mouth stretch into a wide smile. Mark's face was apprehensive and he took an involuntary step back. "…What?" he asked slowly.
I sidled up next to him and slipped an arm around his shoulders. He tensed up instantly, rigid as a fucking wooden board.
"Mark," I said, making sure my voice was sickeningly sweet, "can you drive me to a supermarket?"
He let out sigh and then shoved me to the side. I bet that hammering my face into the locker would have hurt less. "What the fuck," I heard him mutter to himself. He turned back to me, expression stoic. "You live, literally, within walking distance of one. Why don't you just go to that one if you're walking home – you'd pass it."
I frowned and knotted my fingers behind my head. I didn't want to tell him about the situation. He'd be more likely to admit me to an asylum than believe me.
But still, I was stubborn. "Why not?"
"Because… I'm your friend?" Eh, worth a try. As predicted, my answer had the adverse effect. He turned and began walking down the hallway, towards the exit.
"No," he called back over his shoulder.
"I-I… but…" and then, feeling particularly pathetic, "we're not friends anymore!"
He remained inexorable. "You win some, you lose some," was all he said, and then he was gone. I whirled around and accidentally backhanded a locker, but I had to preserve what little amount of dignity I still possessed and kept my face emotionless. It was a fucking chore trying to wheedle any kind of sympathy from that… statue.
I shouldered my bag and slammed my locker close with particular savagery, attracting the attention of some scared-looking freshman a few lockers down. Whatever. I exited the school building and began on the trek to the store, the feeling of impending doom intensifying with every step.
I looked at the dead, skinned, headless chicken with envy as I dropped him unceremoniously onto the conveyor belt. Lucky bastard, I thought.
I walked grudgingly up to the cashier who angled a blinding smile at me. I didn't return it, making sure I was looking elsewhere until the smile disappeared from his face. He scanned the dead chicken and bagged it quietly, handing it to me. I awkwardly splayed my wallet out on the counter, trying single-handedly to procure the money while also keeping my ID card covered.
I almost groaned when he handed me the change; a note and too many goddamn coins. It was silent while I tried clumsily to get them into the zipped pocket of my wallet. I heard the person in the line behind me let out an audible, impatient sigh. I huffed. Asshole.
"Do you need some help?" the cashier hesitated, their hand paused in midair.
"No," I said, my voice close to a growl. His arm dropped back to his side. I finally succeeded putting away the change, by which time more than a few customers had switched lanes.
He handed me the receipt and opened his mouth to same something, assumedly something that would benefit neither of us, so I turned abruptly and walked off. "Oi!" I heard him call me after a moment, but I ignored him. Instead, I lengthened my strides and increased my pace until I was at that awkward stage between a fast-walk and a jog.
"Hey!" I heard him call again, but his voice only supplied relief. It was quieter than it had been before, signaling that he wasn't following me. And like I had the day before, my semi-job turned into a sprint and I was home quickly, locking the door securely behind me. It was only later when I was looking through my bag did I realize what the cashier had probably been trying to tell me.
I'd left my wallet at the grocery store.
A/N: So... too short? Too long? Bad descriptions? Should this even be listed as humor? Agh, I don't know. And if anyone has any ideas of what to name the cashier... let me know! Also, forgive Ryan's coldness. He'll warm up eventually.