It was a warm autumn Thursday when things started slowing down at the local grocery. I was standing on register two—the first real register after the express lane—and finally had a moment to breathe, lean against the checkstand, and start the cleaning list for the evening.
The store always got a little slower right around dinnertime, when the 6 o’clock siren rang through town. The after-work and after-school rush passes and peace reigns again. Families were together, eating a nice home-cooked meal. My fellow college students were at the dining hall. Actually, my roommates were probably on their way from band rehearsal there right now.
But me? I was at my new job, fresh and ready to use those “communication skills” I hyped up in my interview while checking peoples’ items, smiling when they asked me to do a price check, giving them change. And of course, sweetly reminding them that we actually do not have a chip reader yet; yes, I know the sign in the chip reader that says “we do not have a chip reader” can be confusing; yes, technology is so difficult to understand these days.
I think I was pretty well-accustomed to the job.
So I was already in routine of cleaning up each evening while still providing that happy-go-lucky small-town cheerfulness I tried to display when a customer walked through the door and I looked up and smiled out of habit.
He didn’t see me—didn’t even look over at all—but grabbed one of our red shopping baskets and took off toward the produce section, probably to pick up the bag of peppers and onions he bought every week.
His car sat in the same spot it always did during his visits, and my eyes sat where they did every time he came in—him.
I watched him walk away until a shelf hid the top of his blonde head.
“Hey, Meagan, it’s your turn.”
The girl on register three popped up out of nowhere, frightening me slightly. It was just a bit past six, and it was my turn to take my fifteen-minute break. I usually just got a bottle of iced tea, but I wandered around the dairy aisle for a minute, pretending to ponder which Greek yogurt I wanted. I don’t even like Greek yogurt.
He was pondering as well, looking at the milk, adjusting his glasses, muttering to himself and seemingly debating between a gallon or half-gallon. I smiled at him again, but he grabbed two half-gallons and turned away without so much as eye contact. My smile faded into an annoyed frown as I went to buy my Greek yogurt and go on break.
Since I didn’t even want to eat said yogurt, and since I maybe wanted to leave the breakroom, I only took about five minutes, then flew back over to my register. The other checkers just chalked it up to my being a new employee and shrugged. Just meant they could go on break sooner.
Every other week, I had taken my full break, and missed out on checking him out. Once I came close enough that I helped bag his groceries, but still, he didn’t even meet my eyes when I smiled at him.
I waited at my post, watching blonde boy weave through the aisles. At the end of the last aisle before the checkstands, he gave a final glance at his basket. My breathing was heavy as I waved him over to my register.
I stared at him while scanning his items, hardly believing that I was finally seeing him up close.
He barely looked at me, but I didn’t mind because it just gave me the chance to study him more carefully. He had ultra-blue eyes that I couldn’t see behind his wire-frame glasses until he was right up next to me. He really didn’t look like anything special. Just a tall blonde guy in a Nike jacket and some jeans. But there was something about the sweetness of his soft face that drew me in.
My heart flipped when he replied “well” and smiled when I asked how he was. I had to will myself not to grin back at him the whole time I checked him out (because I really was checking him out).
But then my heart died a little when he went to pay, and stuck his flashy red credit card into the nonexistent chip reader.
“We don’t have one,” I said as he pulled the card out and noticed the sign. He smiled at me, and man, that smile… even just a little one was enough to send me flying again. “It seems like every time you try to swipe, it’s a chip reader, and every time you use the chip reader you’re supposed to swipe, right?”
I breathed heavily and mentally patted myself on the back for delivering that joke so flawlessly when I was so nervous. He stared at me for a second, like he was trying to figure out what I had just said. I swear I didn’t breathe. He was looking right at me, into my eyes.
The boy broke into a smile while still staring at me, mumbling “yeah,” and chuckling a little bit.
Oh my goooooooooodnesssssssssss he was so cuuuuuuuuuuuuuute.
I smiled back as I grabbed his bags and handed him his receipt.
“I’ll see you next week,” I told him. He nodded, still smiling, oh my gosh, wow, and waved with the hand not tied up with plastic bags.
And I melted right there, watching him leave the store and get into his black Impala. I would have watched his car fade into the distance had another customer not needed help. I was hopeless.
But he had smiled at me. He had finally seen me, albeit in a white polo and black bowtie. But for a moment, I was in his eyesight and maybe in his mind, and that was enough for me.
I could work on him next week.