In which Katy deals with the aftermath, sees the Racist one last time, and makes a friend.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
You’d think a near-death experience with shadow creatures would warrant a vacation. Nope. Today, I find myself dashing around the apartment, gathering my things for work, and planting a kiss on Guy’s cheek.
The aftermath of my dance with Death was quiet and exhausting. Once my friends had woken up, we licked our wounds and mourned our dead. Arnold’s body disappeared in a surprising whiff of smoke, so burial wasn’t in the cards. After hightailing it out of the library, we made our way home and collapsed on the couch. 48 hours later, I’m yelling goodbyes to my friends when Guy gently grabs my upper arm.
“Hey.” His voice is soft, and I know what he wants to talk about, but I just can’t right now. After everything I’ve been through, you’d think I’d stop to smell the roses and have meaningful conversations. But the rent doesn’t pay itself-
“Katy.” Guy runs a hand through his hair and clears his throat. “About what you said, you know before that thing grabbed you…”
“I gotta go,” I deflect and grab a handful of change and cash from the reused pickle jar I hide behind a picture of my mom and dad.
“Stop. Please.” I turn away from the front door and sigh.
“It’s not a big de-”
“Thank you,” Guy quotes as he grips my hands tightly, “for making me feel like I mattered.” I look away and try to hide my burning cheeks. “For not looking at me like I was crazy or stupid or a joke. For simply being my friends, even when I didn’t think I deserved anything.” He articulates my confession with ease, and I can’t help but feel touched.
“What’s there to talk about? I meant it if that’s what you’re asking.” He rubs the tops of my hands as if the message will soak through my skin.
“You’re so hard on yourself,” he chuckles, “but I want you to understand something.” He grabs my shoulders. “And I need you to hear me.”
“Guy, you’re freaking me out a little.”
“I know everything there is to know about you. Every horrible thought,” he nods his head to the right, “at least until recently. Every dumb choice. So you have to believe me when I say this. You. Are. A. Good. Person.”
I instinctually pull away, but he moves his hands so they lightly encompass my neck and face.
“Stop. I mean it. Sure, you fuck up, but you keep trying. And to tell you the truth, it’s kinda gross how good you are.” My glare hurries his confession along. “What I mean is, there’s a lot of things and people I hate in this world, but you will never be one of them.” I shake my head.
“But what if I-”
“You could NEVER do anything that will send me away willingly. Hell, you could kill someone-”
“We’re not killing anybody,” I laugh in exasperation. “You know, some people would call this,” I wave between both of us,” a toxic relationship.”
“Well, Some People can burn for all I care.” I place my hands on his hips and lay my cheek on his chest. His selfishness throws me for a loop, and the part of me that worries about doing the right thing is urging me to leave his embrace. But I want to be selfish, too. I want to choose me. And so I do.
For about forty-five seconds. My phone buzzes, and duty calls. After banging my head against Guy’s chest repeatedly, I run out the door.
One over-played radio song later, I park my car in the store lot. The day passes boringly enough. Boring is good. Until the last person I want to see walks through the sliding doors and looks around at the baggers as if searching for someone. The Racist’s eyes settle on me, and I quickly turn back to cleaning the register farthest away from the front. Don’t come over here, for the love of-
“Miss.” A cough behind me dashes my hopes. I move around the register to put distance between us and pretend to clean a spot on the belt. The Racist winces and takes a deep breath through his nose.
“How can I help you?” The words that exit my mouth are dull and empty. Fuck being nice.
“I just came over to-to apologize.”
“Ya, right.” I laugh at his painful delivery. “I’m gonna call my manager over, so I suggest you leave in the next five seconds.” I grip the cleaner in front of me like a gun.
“Please,” he begs. The adrenaline kicks in, and my hatred for this man makes me lightheaded and almost giddy. I take a deep breath; I had already decided not to hurt him once. I could be better again. Tired eyes wait for me to respond, and after a few moments, I lean against the cubby and raise my eyebrows.
The Racist takes a few steps back and pulls a grimy stool out from the register across from mine. He sits with a loud thump and stares down at his weathered hands; every other fingernail has dirt underneath. He clears his throat.
“I’m sorry.” Ready to tell him where to stick his mediocre apology, I close my mouth when he looks up at me, eyes a teary red. “I’m sorry for what I said and what I did.”
“Do you believe it?” I ask.
“Believe that I should go back to Mexico?” The Racist’s hands tighten around each other. “That I took your job?” His face turns a splotchy pink.
“What did I do to you to make you want to hurt me so bad?” I look around for a manager, but there isn’t one in sight.
“You didn’t do anything!” He whisper yells, nearly rising from his seat. I flinch away, and he collapses back onto the stool. He stares at a spot on the register wall.
“When I was a boy,” he says in a faraway voice, “around ten or so, I had this friend: Tomás. He was a little Mexican kid, smartest in our class, and had this huge family. Me? I had-” he trails off and smiles humorlessly. “The man I called a father was a piece of shit drunk who hit me and my ma.”
I open and close my mouth.
“One day, we’re walking home from school, talking about Christmas presents and whatnot, and we’re right outside his house. My dad pulls up in his truck, yelling at me to leave the spic alone and get in the car.” His hands come up to his mouth as if in prayer.
“For the next ten minutes, he goes on and on about how horrible beaners and illegals are. I try to defend Tomás, say he’s one of the good ones, and all I get in return is being told to stop with that gay shit. And me, being the fool that I am, obey.” The Racist runs his hands up his face and pinches the skin between his eyes. “I never talked to my friend again.”
Hesitantly, I put my bottle of spray down on the floor and walk around the register.
“I’m sorry.” Maybe I’m a fool too, but I feel a weight lift off my heart. He stares at me and laughs incredulously.
“Don’t be. I’m the idiot who listened to a man I hated for fifty years.” The sorrow in his voice propels me to stick my hand out and help him off his seat.
“I’m Katy, by the way.” He stares at my hand and softly takes it. His other hand grips the register wall, and we lift together in unison.
“So, Nathan,” I awkwardly emphasize his name, “what now?” He rubs the back of his head.
“It’s funny, I don’t really know. Maybe find a job, talk to my daughter.” There’s a story there, I’m sure, but my shift is almost up. “I’m sorry to bother you. I guess I’ll be leaving now.” He turns away and walks toward the sliding doors.
“Nathan!” I call after him, and he turns back. “Do you think I’m one of the good ones?” It’s a trick question, and I’m not sorry. The corner of his mouth ticks up.
“All of you are.” He exits the store and disappears into a sea of shoppers going about their daily lives. While I don’t need his validation, it feels good to know that people can change. I smile to myself off and on for the rest of my shift.
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