“Hey, look at them,” Justin points with his right hand, the one not holding the cigarette, at the couple walking through the black sliding door. “They’re a new couple.” he squints at the red headed man and woman with the chestnut braid down her back.
“How can you tell?” I ask as I sit up straighter, pulling my sweatshirt around my shoulders. Then I notice she’s in the middle of a laugh, looking at the man like he hung the sun, moon, and the stars. “Oh, that’s how.”
He takes a final drag of his cigarette, “Come on.” He stubs it out. I follow Justin back into the store, anxiously stuffing the last bite of my PB and J into my mouth. Sticky peanut butter sticks to the roof of my mouth and I smack my lips. Justin pretends not to notice. We’re tailing the couple, but then we peel off to clock in while they head to produce like two halves of a banana peel. Justin’s cologne mixes with the scent of his cigarette as he leads me to the clock in the station and watches me punch in my code. I’m proud of myself for not checking the sticky note I was given by Lisa, our manager. Justin clocks in after me and we weave to the back where Lisa stands. She is peering over a clipboard, peeling on page up, then letting it drop, peeling two pages up, and letting them drop. She seems relieved to see us. “Will you two please bring this cart out to Jerry to Produce and bring back his cart,” she asks while checking her smart watch. “It should be empty, then come back because I’m going to have you,” Lisa points her black felt tip pen at Justin, “Teach her,” the pen flies over to me, “How to run orders for pick up.” Justin shrugs and grabs the handles of the large produce cart. It’s got three platforms that have two oversized blue milk crate carts filled with apples. Justin checks behind himself as he drives the cart with expert ease past the refrigerators and pallets with mountains of food, to the black double doors at the other end of the back room. I hold open the double doors and reflexively look for the mystery couple. The bright fluorescent lights shine down on a busy family of three held together by loose shoe strings and the mother’s stern voice, an elderly woman attempting to tear apart two bananas because she only wants one, and a teenager with a black sweatshirt covered in dirt sneaking a few grapes.
Jerry’s cart is not empty so I help Justin by pulling old salad kits off of the display case while he stocks the new products. I then add my salads back in so we can maintain proper rotation. It takes us half the time it takes Jerry who moves as slowly as I sloth. He shoots me a toothy grin as I begin driving his empty cart to the back room and chucks when I trip over my own feet. Justin shoots him a look which shuts down the older man’s laughter. As we weave to the back I hear a woman’s voice, “Ok, well if you want steak, I want potatoes.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see her braid bouncing nervously behind her. Justin gives me a wink. We park the cart next to the far left fridge so the employees throwing freight can reload it quickly. Justin leads me back out to the produce section and quickly past Jerry. We bob and weave through a herd of teens heading to the coffee shop nestled in the back of the store. We wave at Simon, the cart pusher, who is walking out, covered in sweat, for another round. His cheeks are pink like Santa’s and his nose is red from the cold like Rudolph. He takes a gulp of his energy drink and tosses the can into one of the coffee shop’s black trash cans. “This is where we process pick up orders,” explains Justin. I stare at the mountain of the same blue milk crates that are used for stocking. “Our job,” Justin grabs the handle of one of the carts, “Is to snag a cart, grab all of the requested items, and scan them in.” He points to the laminated sheets of printer paper, “They're organized by time, so you grab the cart with the closest time. Each cart could hold up to three orders.” He checks his watch and grabs the first blue cart under the 2pm slot, “Looks like we’ve only got one to do this time. That’s good since you’re training’.”
A black tablet is hanging on the silver hook attached to the cart. “To Produce!” proclaims Justin with a laugh and I take the tablet from his nail bitten fingers. The tablet tells me we need four Pink Lady apples, these single serve guacamole bows, some fingerling potatoes, and a bag of grapes. I grab the apples and Justin shows me how to scan them into the tablet. A satisfying green check appears. I snag the grapes and potatoes. As I scan those in, Justin suddenly appears at my side. I can smell his cologne even stronger now and my PB and J sandwich lurches in my stomach, threatening to make a second appearance. “So, we don’t have those guac bowls out,” Justin motions with a thumb over his shoulder, “And I’ll show you how we check back stock.” He rips the tablet from my hand and I resist the urge to raise an eyebrow at him. He rapidly clicks through some buttons on the screen-lo and behold, we don’t have any back stock. Justin clicks a red X next to the item and it reveals the customer hasn’t selected any preferred substitutions for the item so he scans in the store brand version. As we go over the client’s list again I hear a woman’s voice. It is soft and gentle, like a frightened rabbit, “I guess I didn’t know you didn’t like potatoes.” I hear the sound of a five pound bag of russets being dropped back on the display case.
“I guess I hadn’t told you that. I’m sorry, Baby,” the long arms of the man envelope the girl with the chestnut braid. I catch a sheepish smile, muffled in his red flannel shirt. He kisses the crown of her head as Justin snaps his fingers at me.
“Sorry I said anything earlier. Didn’t know they’d distract you so badly,” he hooks a thumb at the couple who are now full PDA making out. I blush deeply and snag the tablet back from him. We weave over to the bread section. Justin grabs the meats: chicken breasts, a 5lb roll of ground beef, and some breakfast sausage while I grab a loaf of bread and a bag of Everything Bagels. While I’m waiting for Justin, a grocery cart wizzes past me as fast as a race car. The girl holds on for dear life to the handlebar as she perches on the little metal base. Behind her, the boy grips the edges as he runs. They’re cackling like children. It makes me smile. Justin appears and says, “We’ve got the meat!” before rolling his eyes at the young couple while I check each item off. We march past the seasonal section. The girl is squealing up ahead insisting that the boy slow down! Justin tells me to take the cart up a few aisles because we can grab stuff and circle back. The tablet has the grocery list sorted by aisle number. I take aisle three where the coffee is and grab a red coffee can before heading into the baking aisle next door where I snag one five pound bag of flour and one of the sugar-common items on the shopping list given that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I find the cart where I parked it, but no Justin so I scan my items in and drop them into bags before placing the bags into the crate. “I got it, OK!” I hear Justin’s raised voice and tablet in hand rush to aisle 5. It’s the canned food aisle. Justin is cleaning up a display of run away cans. The girl with the chestnut braid is as red as a tomato. The boy is kneeled next to Justin, trying to place the cans on the display. “Please sir,” Justin’s tone is exasperated, “Continue your shopping. Accidents happen.” He holds the young man’s gaze and they nod at each other.
Their cart’s wheels squeak as they walk away in shame. I kneel beside Justin and begin to help him organize the cans. When I look at Justin, I notice his cheeks are colored like the girl’s. Human intuition suggests that if he met my gaze, I might see glassy green eyes. I know better than to say anything. He works like a robot, focused on just the task. “She’s my ex,” he sighs and stands. “That’s how I know they’re a new couple. That’s the guy she left me for,” Justin tells the display of soup on sale. He heaves another sigh and walks back to our cart, handing me a can of Chicken Noodle when we arrive. I scan it in and force a smile at him, “We’re half way through.” Justin shrugs and we head over to the cleaning supply aisle.