Charlie stopped cold at the end of the aisle she’d just turned into. Staring back at her was Mark from the other day.
He smiled and waved when he saw her. She waved back and he immediately started walking towards her. Groaning inwardly, she smiled politely back.
“I hoped I’d see you again,” he smiled shyly at her. “Thanks again for letting me walk through my house. I mean your house.”
“Not a problem,” she said.
“It’s just that ever since I lost my job last year, things have been kind of rough you know?”
She nodded sympathetically trying to determine how long she needed to stand here before she could start walking away again without being rude.
He took a step towards her. “And then my girlfriend left.”
She nodded again. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“And then my mom died and I had to put my dad in a care home. It’s like, I lost who I was, you know? That’s why it was so nice to see our old house. It felt a bit like coming home before all the bad stuff started to happen.”
“I’m glad I could help.” She said. “I’m sorry things haven’t been so well for you.
“It’s better now that I’ve met you,” he said.
She blinked, her smile frozen in place. “Glad I could help,” she said again. “I should probably finish shopping before my ice cream melts in my basket.” She gave a half-hearted laugh.
“For sure,” he said, looking down at her basket and seeing the mint chocolate chip ice cream. “Hey! That’s my favourite too. We should grab ice cream together sometime.”
“That would be great,” she said, edging away. “Bye.” She turned and walked away as quickly as she could towards the end of the aisle. She grabbed her list from her pocket as she walked and scanned it to see what she had to get and what could wait until next time. Unfortunately, she needed milk and that was back on the other side of the store. She thought about going back, but who knew what aisle he was now. The risk was too great. She had just determined that there were other grocery stores in town and she would just pay for the items in her basket and leave when:
“Charlie!” She cringed and slowly turned around to see her friend Kevin walking towards her. Her face broke into a grin. They worked together at her elementary school and had classrooms side by side. They both taught grade 3 and would often collaborate on projects like the Christmas concert. It was also a great set up, as he loved science and math and she loved teaching language arts and French, so they would often swap classes and he would teach her kids science and vice versa. The kids loved it too. It added a nice change of pace for everyone.
“I thought that was you! How’s your summer going? How many books have you read so far?”
She laughed. “Great! I’ve read 3.” She noticed that he already looked tan despite summer just starting.
“Just 3? I would have thought you be at 70 by now.”
“Believe it or not, I do have other interests. What have you been up to?”
“Just got back from the lake yesterday.” He kept chatting about his time camping, but she wasn’t listening. Behind him, down the aisle, Mark had reappeared. He was standing frozen staring at them. He stood dead center in the aisle so the man behind him had to squeeze by on right side to get by him, sending him an angry glare. Mark didn’t seem to notice.
“A few of us are still planning on going back out in a couple of weeks if you’re interested in joining us?” Kevin asked. “I know you said camping wasn’t your thing, but—”
He trailed off sounding hopeful.
She forced a smile as she turned her attention back to Kevin. “Actually, that might not be a bad idea.” Suddenly she wanted to get as far away from here and her house as she could.
“Great! I’ll text you the information when I get home.”
“Sounds good,” she said, turning back down the aisle away from Mark. “Talk to you later.”
“Oh, okay. Bye,” Keven said, looking a bit taken aback by her abrupt exit. She didn’t care. Normally, she would have loved to spend hours chatting with Kevin, but right now she just wanted to get away from Mark.
She made a beeline straight for the self-check out which didn’t have a line. As quickly as she could she scanned her few items and threw them into the bag. In no time, she’d paid and was out the door. She had just reached her car and was throwing the bag of groceries into her back seat when Mark approached her from behind.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“Who was who?” she asked.
“That man you were talking to?” he glared at her.
“Not to be rude,” she said. “But I don’t actually know you and I don’t need to answer that.”
She opened the front door to her car and drove away. In her rear view mirror she saw him standing by the empty stall watching her drive away.
It was happening again.
Her basement flashed before her eyes and she clutched the steering wheel as she willed the image out of her mind.