I had returned. My third Kroger run of freshman year. Cinnamon walls greeted me with a nod, the quasi Starbucks waved hello, and the terra-cotta tile beneath my feet stuck to the soles of my shoes like quick kisses. I needed honey crisp apples and nothing else. In the produce section, I reaped my harvest, bathed in fluorescent light. With my three apples secured inside of a sheer plastic bag, I walked to the front of the store, and fate led me to checkout aisle 5. His name tag read “Alex.” A boy my own age, he stood at the far end of the grocery conveyor belt, tucked behind the cash register he’d spent the summer learning to master. “Hello, how are you doing today,” he asked as his fingers danced across the register keys, and my breath ebbed. In his “Hello” an alternate life flashed before my eyes. In Alex, I saw my youth in Mount Vernon.
In this life, Alex and I had met in Pre-calc. I liked his freckles and that his gages were only big enough to slide a pencil through. He noticed me because I always spoke up in class, a master of Sine and Cosine. One day, he approached me in the hallway, a quiet confidence about him. Unconventional as it may have been, Alex asked me if I wanted to see Nerve with him at the Premiere Theater on Friday. “I’d like that,” I answered, tucking a green strip of hair behind my ear, “Dave Franco is such a good actor.”
At the movies on Friday, Alex bought me a Dr Pepper, the preferred soda of my Mount Vernonite alter ego, and we sat in the front row even though the theater was nearly empty. Afterwards we went to Whit’s Frozen custard, and Alex, a messy eater, got pumpkin custard in his left gage. I wiped it out with my pinky finger, and we laughed for a little too long. I saw it all. Teenage mornings spent in Allison’s Finer Diner with my floppy haired Ohioan boyfriend, feeding each other bites of shrimp at 11am, because thats when they stop serving breakfast, insisting his haircut from Vine Street Barber Shop made him look like Ben Affleck, and not his dad. My upbringing in suburban New Jersey vanished. Alex was my life now.
“$7.89.” Alex repeated. I was in Kroger again. I looked down at my Kenyon College teeshirt. My real teenage years, tethered to the tristate area, washed over me and winded me. I handed him a 10 dollar bill and he handed me my change and my honey crisp apples. Our imagined romance vanished into the stale grocery store air. “Have a good one,” he enthused. And I answered, quiet enough for him to wonder if I’d ever even said it, “I love you too.”