There’s a guy in line ahead of me. He’s talking on his phone about Joey and the Kids, about who’ll pick them up if Joey won’t, and, “Oh, Bridget, would you mind picking up some tea?” Is the tea for the Kids? Or will Joey want tea when he returns from his “business” trip to New York? Joey is a busy father and emotionally absent from his marriage. The Guy Ahead of Me is his brother and becoming Dad to Joey’s children in Joey’s absence. Bridget is Joey’s either overburdened or spoiled wife.
I do not know these people.
Wrigley’s Spearmint gum or Orbit? I can never decide, so I throw both into my shopping cart.
“Well if that’s the case, Joey’s grounded from his Xbox.”
Oh. Joey isn’t a busy father. He’s the Guy Ahead of Me’s son, the oldest of the Kids, an awkward high school student consumed by video games, who loathes Facebook and dabbles on Instagram. He does okay in school, better at art and music than science and math.
There’s the soda cooler. Should I grab a soda?
“Really? Really? Look at this line! Are you freakin’ serious?” says a man behind me. I glance back. Early 20s, brunette, unshaven, handsome in a hungover-frat-boy way. He’s wearing greasy pajama bottoms and smells like socks. I want to tell him that he can skip me; he only has a few things—why doesn’t he go to the self-checkout?—but if I let him ahead of me, I’ll feel obligated to do the same for new members of Lane 5. An older Asian lady just pulled up the rear. She’s looking at her cell phone but not texting.
Mountain Dew? I haven’t had one in a long time. Oh, there’s PEOPLE Magazine. Remember LIFE Magazine? Is that still a thing?
“Oh, okay,” says the Guy Ahead of Me into his phone. “Tell him not to waste our time, then. I’m not buying it.”
Buying what? Why isn’t he buying his tea while he’s here at Rainbow? Are the Kids on a diet during which they can only drink special tea not sold at a supermarket? Eh. The Guy Ahead of Me is buying full-fat ranch dressing and Diet Coke, among other things special tea-drinkers don’t buy.
The line moves. The Guy Ahead of Me starts checking out. He ignores the cashier’s “How are you today?”
Or Dr. Pepper? I don’t usually drink soda, but I’m set on getting something other than this gum as a treat for a successful shopping trip. I’m about to spend $100 on a cart almost completely filled with frozen food.
“Dude, eff this. I’m out,” the Guy Behind Me says but then doesn’t leave the line. I’m tense around him. Why is he so angry? Is his girlfriend threatening to break up with him again? She’s pretty and bubbly and accidentally manipulative. I can relate.
A big Hispanic family enters the line behind the Woman Who’s Not Texting.
Ahead of Me: “Yes, yes! Bridget, yes.” Pause. “No.” Pause. “Yes, but—” Pause. “Okay, well then you tell Joey to stop it. And the tea?” The Guy Ahead of Me slides his credit card and leaves the line. I hope Joey gets to keep his Xbox.
“How are you today?” the cashier asks me without making eye contact. She’s blonde and in her late thirties. Her name tag says “Cindy.” She looks tired and tans too much.
Fanta? And why am I giving Lane 5 such bad stories?
“I’m great. How are you?”
“Good, thanks. Paper or plastic?”
I need Cindy to take her time scanning my items. I need to sort out Lane 5’s story before I go.
I look back.
The Guy Behind Me is looking at the soda cooler. The Woman Who’s Not Texting is plundering through the candy. One of the kids from the Hispanic family is thumbing through lighters and Chapstick.
“Is that all today?” asks Cindy.
“Actually, let me grab a Mountain Dew.”