They were out of strawberries. 

And Mom wanted to make strawberry pie. Avery couldn’t think of a reason for why his mom suddenly needed strawberry pie, but he didn’t question it. What he did question, however, was his ability to do what was necessary. Go to the little grocer just around the corner, and buy them. He’d never gone to the store by himself, and he was almost ten. He hated approaching people. He could barely manage to ask permission to use the bathroom in school, let alone ask where one might find the strawberries. But mom was insistent on Avery doing it. And, determined to overcome his social anxiety, Avery, in a way, wanted to.

The air was damp, and cool, blanketed by a dull grey sky. Down the street, a few trees had leaves already turning. Avery patted the money in his pocket once more, reminding himself that he hadn’t forgotten it, that there was no reason to panic yet. 

After a deep, cleansing breath at the end of the driveway, he set off down the street, sneakers slapping on the gravel, wild hair pushed into his eyes by the wind. Maybe Mom wasn’t totally wrong about getting a haircut. 

Xiao’s was a cramped, but flourishing little grocer just a block away from Avery’s house. The building was old, and filled with foreign, and unique products, most of which consisted of asian ingredients. The shop itself had a distinct smell that somehow told the story of an old Chinese fisherman who migrated to America with only the money in his pocket so many years ago. At least, that’s how it felt to Avery. But entering the store now, and hearing the bell giggle without the reassuring company of his mom, it all felt so… different. Intimidating, he supposed, but also- liberating? The steps he took felt so much more his own. 

Right. Strawberries. Refrigerated fruit. That had to be in the back, where all the fridges were. Avery plowed through his lack of confidence to get to his destination. On the way, he passed an adult who smiled at him. Avery was too preoccupied to smile back. He was on his way to the strawberries, and he could really only do one thing at a time. 

After a brief search, Avery found a container of deep red strawberries to bring home. The container seemed a bit smaller than he remembered, but he had bigger things to worry about. Now came the tricky part. 

The line to the cashier wasn’t nearly long enough for Avery to gather his courage. He couldn’t even make eye contact with the man as he set the strawberries on the counter that was barely level with his nose. He cashier scanned the item, pushed a few buttons on the register, and said, “4.25.”

Avery reached a shaking hand into his pocket. He’d done right so far. Now he just needed to count out the amount. But as his scrambled brain counted and recounted the amount he fanned in his hand, Avery realized that he had nowhere near that much. Had Mom given him the wrong amount? Did he drop any? He glanced at the tiled floor behind him. No, nothing. Just dust, and people’s shoes passing. He looked up at the cashier and gulped. 

“I- uh- I’m sorry but-”

“What was that?” the cashier leaned closer, and Avery could see the uneven stubble on his chin, feel the judgement in his accented voice. He was so tired of hearing that. He was so tired of being told to speak up, to raise his voice, to quit mumbling. So Avery took a deep breath, and, with what felt to him like far too much volume, said, “Sir, I don’t think I have four hundred and twenty-five dollars.”

Then the cashier laughed. Avery stood stunned, uncertain if he ought to be offended or not. In all honesty, he was a bit too proud of himself to be offended. But if the man was laughing, maybe he needed to save the feeling of victory for later. 

“Four hundred and twenty-five?” the man repeated, and Avery noticed that his bellowing laughter had attracted the eyes of every other customer in the store. “Calm down, kid, it’s four dollars and twenty-five cents.”

Of course. Avery had been such an idiot. Now he could hear the snickering from several adults and teenagers behind him, but didn’t care as much as he thought he would. He could go home soon, and that took top priority in his brain. 

Avery handed the man a five dollar bill, which he took, and returned with a small pile of coins. Avery stuffed the coins into his pocket, along with the receipt, then took the plastic bag of strawberries and left the store without a backward glance. 

Walking outside into the cool sunlight felt like freedom. He’d accomplished what seemed impossible only minutes ago. Avery headed home with a spring in his step and a bag of winnings in his hand. He opened the door to his house and plopped the bag on the table, beaming. 

“I did it!” he announced, and his mom glanced up from the pie dough she was rolling. “You did?” she kneeled and hugged him tightly. “You brave boy! Let me see them!”

Breathless, Avery held up the container. His mother’s smile faltered momentarily, then grew, and finally she burst into a laugh. Avery’s face fell. The second time he’d been laughed at in the last half hour. 

“What?” he asked, voice cracking. He examined the strawberries-- no-- raspberries. How could he have made that mistake? Raspberries were small, they were deeper in color. But, he’d been in such a hurry…

Avery slapped his forehead. He could feel the threat of hot tears in his eyes. How stupid could he be?

“Oh, Avery, honey, it’s alright,” his mother assured him, but she was holding back laughter. She stood, and for a moment, all Avery could see was the blurry image of her soft brown feet as she moved to the fridge. Was she just going to continue making the pie like nothing happened? Like he wasn’t crying like a sissy? But then he watched her feet walk back to him, then stop. “Look up.” she said. Was she going to hit him? It wasn’t in her character, but Avery felt he deserved it. He looked. And blinked in surprise. 

“You- you didn’t care if I got them. You just wanted me to try.”

In his mother’s hand was a container of fresh, and beautifully red strawberries. 

March 04, 2020 01:36

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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