The smell of milk spilled, spoiled, and waxed forever into the linoleum floor–the grocery store smell–hit me square in the nose as I opened the cooler doors to turn each container of butter to face the glass. A four-note jingle from the front of the store meant a customer, strange for the late hour, but since it was just me and the night manager back in the office doing paperwork, or maybe sleeping, I abandoned my neatening in the dairy and rushed back to my register.
Halfway there I saw him, not a customer after all, but instead a hottie with a sly look on his face and a secret only I knew. I bit my lip so he wouldn’t see me smile and with effort slowed my pace. It was early for Levi, my boyfriend–I was pretty sure I could call him that–to have finished hanging out with his friends and show up here to loiter. Most of the shift was ahead of me.
“Excuse me miss, can you tell me where to find the hot chicks?” And he laughed adorably at his own terrible joke.
“Hot sauce is on aisle two, poultry’s past the dairy.” I answered and was rewarded by a chuckle. I took up the spot on the fatigue mat behind my register, mostly to keep the pretense if my manager decided to notice me.
“What are you doing here already? I’ve got hours left.”
“I was bored. Kinda hoping you would call in.”
I rolled my eyes elaborately. “Hard to call in when I’m already here. You should sleep. I hear it’s what people do at night.”
“I’ll sleep tomorrow afternoon when a certain brunette is available for cuddles.” He leaned over my counter and held his palm out for my hand. I smiled at the little tinge of excitement from my skin on his.
He admitted, more seriously, “I missed you.”
“I left your house two hours ago.”
He toyed with the chunky costume jewelry on my wrist. “Way too long. Come over again tonight? Tomorrow? Whatever.”
“My parents are going to make me move out if I don’t start showing up for family dinner every once in a while.”
He grunted noncommittally and brushed his fingertips over the enamel beads at my wrist, feather light. The air around my wrist distorted, an odd wobble, and one by one the beads changed from green to a deep red. Like a rose bud matured but not quite blossoming.
I gasped and clutched my other hand over the beads, tossing a glance over my shoulder, down the check-out aisle, though of course I knew no one would be there.
He straightened, stuffing his hand into his pocket, and looked at me from under his eyebrows unable to hide his grin and unsure if he ought to try.
My grin mirrored his, conspiratorially, and I said in an unnecessarily hushed voice, “Levi! There are security cameras. What if someone saw?”
His smile grew wider, toothy, and my heart skip-hopped across the inside of my rib cage. He was so beautiful when he really smiled. “They’ll never see. No one comes in here at this hour. It’s like a museum of a grocery store. I don’t know how you stand it. The only way anyone will find out is if you told them and I know you won’t.”
I turned to organizing the gum rack above my register so that he wouldn’t see my satisfaction. No, I wouldn’t be the one to rat him out.
Levi rarely used his super powers and almost never in public. He couldn’t afford the registration fees to sign up with the Conference and he didn’t want to get caught as an unlicensed super. I hadn’t even known that he had powers when we first started dating. I could tell he really cared about me the night he confessed that he had a third-tier illusion ability that could sometimes become permanent.
No one knew, not even his friends, and not just because he was avoiding the Conference. He was shy about it. About having an ability that wasn’t ever going to save the world. He only ever used his power around me. To make me smile.
He hauled himself up to sit cross-legged on the counter facing my register.
“You’re going to get me fired.”
He snorted, “What a tragedy that would be.”
“Hey!” I affected a hurt-tone to hide the real pang I felt at his dismissal. This was the job I’d managed to hold down the longest without screwing it up. So far I had managed to stay awake through every shift, despite the less than stimulating work conditions. And, even better, I had never fainted despite being on my feet all night.
“Seriously, Sam,” and he tilted his head to stare at me in that way that made me forget to breathe, like he was seeing more to me than was really there, “you can’t tell me that this place makes you happy.”
“It’s got seven different types of cheese whiz, what’s not to love?”
“Ha. Ha. No, I mean it. You can’t do this forever.”
“Do what?” I made to restack the gum rack yet again and managed to somehow knock an entire row onto the floor. Typical Sam. I bent to clean the mess.
He plucked the wire gum wrack out of my hand when I straightened. “You can’t hide here like you don’t deserve something better.”
I swallowed hard. That was the thing wasn’t it? “Maybe I don’t?”
It’s not something I could say to my parents or even my sister, Olivia. It wasn’t right to force them into the position of defending me when they were the ones most hurt when I dropped out of University. When it turned out all that high school potential was so much fluff.
That was before I met Levi. He wouldn’t get it. I forced a false smile and a false voice and held out my hand. “Unless you’re planning to make a purchase, sir, I’m going to have to ask for that gum back.”
He slid off the counter, down to my side, forcing me back a step. He caught my wrist to stop my retreat and pulled me in close. Wrapped both arms tight around my shoulders.
I was so overwhelmed by the gesture that my vision went blurry, my head light, it was hard to breathe.
He whispered in my ear, “What do you want, Sam?”
Through the fog of my emotions all I could think to say was, “This.”