*as always, names have no reference to anyone in real life, no reflection on anyone, they are all fictional characters.
Rick dropped the two blue bowls into the miniature grocery cart. “How am I supposed to know what she would want from a thrift store? It’s not like you can say, ‘Go buy me a dozen eggs, a carton of milk and a certain brand of bacon,’ he grumbled. He wandered along the back wall, looking at the stuff piled four shelves high, but not really seeing anything He knew his aunt would like the bluish, greenish ceramic bowls. Probably just as decorations on the already cluttered library table. What would go with them? At the end of one long rack he saw textiles. A set of ancient placemats hung together on a hanger. The print was faded, the background yellowed, but the pink roses would be just right under the bowls. At least he could imagine her saying that. Or, he’d be dead wrong and she’d hate them. If so, they could always be rags and he could eat giant servings of cereal in the bowls. Or ice cream.
As he wandered over toward the book corner, hoping to find a treasure or two for himself, he bumped into a woman bending over to pick a blouse up off the floor. The impact shoved her forward, she lost her balance and fell, grabbing a few more blouses off the rack in her attempt to catch herself. She sat up, a little stunned.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you,” was Rick’s feeble excuse. Really, he had his eyes set on the bookshelves and hadn’t been looking.
“I’m ok, I think, but could you help me up?”
Rick reached out a hand and pulled her up to stand beside him. Bright blue eyes, brown hair scrunched into a ponytail, baggy t-shirt, jeans, sandals, a pleasant smile, a little younger than himself, he thought.
She said, “I’m going to reach down and pick up those blouses. Don’t knock me over again.”
“No, let me do it.” They both reached down to retrieve the shirts and bumped heads. She laughed, but Rick felt he’d done enough damage and needed to move on. “I’m so sorry. I’ll go and let you shop in peace, without further injury.” He hurried away, leaving her standing with an armful of shirts.
He waded through the stacks of recent hardbacks, thrillers and cookbooks, looking carefully for an old cover. Behind a double deep row of cookbooks he found two old classic copies of Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities. Gems, both early 1900 print dates. He thumbed through, looking at the faded old pictures. A boxing glove jumped between the book and his face. Surprised, he looked up. The gal he had knocked over stood there, grinning at him.
“Found these, thought they might come in handy for your next victim.”
“Very funny. Did I hurt you?”
“No, just my pride. Hard to look graceful and elegant when you’re in a pile on the floor.”
“Or shopping in thrift stores. Do you come here often?”
She looked down at her rumpled clothes. “Does it show that much?”
“I didn’t mean it that way, sorry. I can’t win can I? Either I insult you or bowl you over.”
“No problem. Actually, I like the thrift store look, and you can’t beat the prices. I don’t make a lot of money, so it helps to pay a couple of dollars for stuff rather than a day’s pay. Like those gloves – look – only two dollars. “
“Thanks, but I don’t seem to need the help hurting you. Where do you work?”
“A clerk at the grocery store, not a bad job, but not a great career opportunity. For now, it is work. My degree is in science. Don’t use that much at the store. How about yourself?”
“I am not using my degree in computer software, either. I am actually playing nursemaid to an aged aunt who is paying me handsomely to be her cook, chauffeur and companion. Fortunately she pays someone to do the cleaning, so I’m spared that task. Or maybe I should say she is spared having to put up with my lack of cleaning skills. Career wise, it is not what I planned on doing. It’s not bad, though, she is lively and interesting and almost fun to be with.” Rick stopped talking and wondered why he had revealed so much to this stranger.
“Well, just thought you might like these gloves, and wanted an excuse to introduce myself. My name is Amber Samuelson. And yours?”
“Rick Browning. Good to meet you Amber, and again, sorry about bumping into you.”
“That’s OK. You can bump into me anytime.” She turned to go, and put the boxing gloves on top of the books. “Here, I still think you need these.” She smiled pleasantly at him, turned and walked toward the front door of the thrift store.
Timmy Ellison sat in the straw with his back against the small chicken coop. His three hens, Red, Duck and Swan, loitered around him, pecking at the ground, looking for more of the grain they had already eaten out of his hand. The warm sun made the afternoon seem still, hushed like a quiet pond reflecting the sunlight. Timmy sat, quiet and thoughtful, his eyes wandering around the little back yard. The path from the chicken pen led beside the apricot tree, across the back of the house, and up to the back porch steps. His dog, a yellow lab, lay sprawled out in the sun in the grass near the steps. Their other dog, a border collie, sat outside the pen, imagining heroic herding feats. He liked their little yard. A peaceful piece of country in the city.
Low in the sky, the afternoon sun cast long shadows across the yard. From inside the back door screen, his grandma called, “Timmy, tuck in the hens, then come in and get cleaned up. Susie is coming at six.”
“Right, Nana, be in in a minute.” He shooed the chickens up the ramp into their coop, checked their water, and dumped a scoop of grain into their feeder. On the way out, he said, “Nighty-night girls. Sleep tight,” and closed and latched the door behind him.
Susie arrived just before six. Since she lived next door, it wasn’t hard to be on time. She dragged her feet and moved around sluggishly. Not much energy, or interest in much of anything. Except reading. Timmy could always get her to read to him, maybe because she could just sit in the big cushy chair across from his bed.
Timmy didn’t like to read. Kind of like he didn’t like stuffed animals, he thought. He’d rather have animals like his chickens and dogs and cats. No stuffed animals with fake feathers or fur in his room. When Susie read to him, it all seemed so real. He was glad his Nana went out twice a week and Susie came over to watch him. Thursday, it was just in the evening. Tuesday, Nana left in the afternoon, and they had the evening too. He and Susie would read, sitting in the bench under the apricot tree. They would make a box of macaroni and cheese, with peas and applesauce for their dinner, then read again. Timmy loved the routine, and Susie seemed to enjoy it, too.
He asked her once, “How old are you?” To him, she seemed mostly all grown up.
“Fifteen,” she told him.
In his slow, thoughtful way, he asked, “Why do you walk so slow?”
“I dunno. Bored, I guess. Life is kinda dumb, I guess.”
“I dunno. School is stupid. They think I’m stupid.”
“But you’re not. You know lots of stuff. You read really good.”
“It’s fun to read to you. We can both imagine fun things, different places, adventures. Better than this boring life.”
“I don’t think you’re boring.”
“Thanks, kiddo. Hey. Your grandma said we’d have to walk to the store to get dinner. Let’s get a frozen pizza, do something different tonight.”
“Sure, let’s go.”
Rick, with his aunt’s grocery list tucked in his pocket, headed for the store. She could be so frustrating sometimes. Why couldn’t she decide what she wanted to eat in the morning? He would enjoy cooking so much more if he could prepare and plan. Besides, he could try new recipes, do more complicated things if he had more time. Instead, she’d decide at four thirty in the afternoon that she wanted a roast. How was he supposed to pull that off? Then, she saw in a newspaper ad, that some store across town had them on sale. So here he was, driving his aunt’s clunky old Cadillac twenty minutes across town to get something he could have bought five minutes down the road. It would be almost six by the time he got back. Man! Sometimes she drove him nuts.
Up ahead, he saw the large sign for the store. Might as well make the best of it. He planned what else he could get, in addition to her already long list. Maybe he could avoid going back to the store for a day or two. Distracted with his thoughts, he pulled into the driveway. A loud thud snapped his attention. He looked up to see a teen girl glaring at him, a young boy held tightly behind her. His scared little face peeked around at him. Their eyes met over the steering wheel.
The girl yelled, “You crazy or something? You almost hit him!”
Rick rolled down his window, tried to keep his voice calm. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you.”
“Try opening your eyes next time. It’s better to drive with your eyes open!” She was very angry, and probably frightened, too, he thought.
“Do you see that parking space? I’m going to drive over there and park. Then, I’ll get out and we’ll talk. Calmly.”
She pulled the boy back onto the planted divider, exaggerating the distance between the car and themselves.
“Did I hit you? What was that thud?” They both appeared to be alright as he stood next to them.
The boy spoke. “She grabbed me with one hand and slammed her fist on your hood with her other hand. I’ve never seen her move so fast.” He looked at her admiringly. “You almost hit me,” he said, emphatically.
“I am really very, very sorry. And, I’m very glad no one was hurt.”
From behind him, Rick heard a somewhat familiar voice say, “Did you bring those boxing gloves with you, today? Looks like you need them again.”
He spun around, face to face with the gal from the thrift store. “Amber. What are you doing here?”
“Hello, Rick. I told you, I work at a grocery store. This is it. We heard the commotion, and when I saw who was causing it, I came out.
Embarrassed, at a loss for words, Rick just stood there, dumb.
“You kids O.K?” Amber asked them. “What are your names?”
“Yes, I think so.” She looked at the lady, wearing an apron with the store name, and decided it was ok to tell her their names. “I’m Susie, this is Timmy.”
“She saved my life,” Timmy told her, proudly.
“Good girl,” said Amber. “Is he your brother?”
“No, a neighbor, and I’m babysitting. We were coming to pick up some frozen pizza for dinner. Didn’t realize it would be life-threatening.” She glared at Rick again.
Amber grinned at Rick. “Yes, I’ve had trouble with this guy before, too.”
“Really?” asked Timmy. He was enthralled by the idea that he was almost killed by a criminal. He looked at the driver of the car. “Are you a bad guy?” He turned to Amber. “Did he almost hurt you, too?”
Amber laughed. “No, not really. We did have a bit of a collision though. At a different store.”
Susie said to Rick, “Do you often run into people?”
“No, I just get distracted, don’t pay attention. In my own world, my aunt’s world, actually.”
“Sometimes it is better to hide away in your own world,” said Susie.
“Those are strange words from a young lady like yourself.”
Susie shrugged. “Whatever. Sometimes I think it is better to close your eyes to the stupidity around you.”
“Listen to you guys. What is this, a contest to see who can be the most depressing?” said Amber.
“Sometimes my dog gets depressed when I’m gone too long. He pouts and whimpers.” They all laughed.
“They sound like your dog, whining and whimpering, don’t they, Timmy?” Amber said.
“Yea, I guess so. Susie, are we going to get that pizza?”
“Yes, since, thankfully, we have all our arms and legs, let’s go do the shopping. Thank you for making sure we were alright.” They walked off toward the door.
“And you?” asked Amber.
“I am going to go buy some groceries.”
“I meant a little more long term. Are you going to start paying attention, before you really hurt someone?”
Rick stood, quiet. “Yes. I think it’s time for me to look for a job. I could still help my aunt, but I should plan for a career job, too. It would help get my mind working again. Get me out of that little world I’ve been so comfortable in. Too comfortable. I shouldn’t be buying my aunt thrift store junk and groceries. I should be designing computer software.”
“Good for you.” They walked to the store, together.