“Ugh… I feel like crap.”
Stan rolled to his side and snoozed the 6:30am alarm on his phone. He hated waking up early, he considered anything before 10:00am to be early, but today was a special day. It was Valentine’s Day. His least favorite day of the year in most cases, but this year he knew it would be different. This year he was going to ask Janet Berry on a date. Even if she said no he would be lonely knowing he had tried his best.
Janet had been his crush since his last year in high school. While he had played the trumpet with his close friends from middle school, she played the Trombone. It’s funny how little we really know about the people around us until we become interested in them. They had sat near each other for four years and she had never caught his attention until the last semester of his senior year.
That semester the class had gone down to Nashville, Tennessee for a field trip. It was really an excuse for the band director to take his son on a senior trip on the schools dime, everybody knew it but nobody could prove it. For the most part the trip had been far from memorable. He didn’t like country music at all and they didn’t visit any places that hadn’t been country music themed. He liked the Dolly Parton section of the country music hall of fame, but for different reasons than most of her fans.
It was in the free time at the hotel that the students had most of their fun. The packed hotel rooms provided the perfect environment for rumors and gossip. Brittany Stevens was pregnant, Long Tom was gay, anything was fair game in the massive gossip flood. Some nights, when the teachers went to sleep the adjoining room, the students would sneak out one by one like little inmates to sit in the stair well and revel in their teenage rebellion.
It was on one of these little excursions that Stan had first noticed Janet, all five feet two inches of her. She was sitting next to her best friend, he couldn’t remember what her name was. Janet’s short blond hair stood out from the long bright ginger locks beside her. He remembered her being shy and quite, but the peach schnapps had made everyone louder and boulder than they might typically have been. She had brown-green eyes that looked like grass stains on leather boots. They were overlain with neat eyebrows and they seemed to ride on her pinched up mouse nose. She only had a couple pimples and her teeth looked like pearls in her mouth whenever she smiled. At that time he could think of nothing more beautiful and if they had been drinking something stronger he may have asked her on a date right then and there, but such is the life. Every choice made leaves behind countless missed opportunities.
His alarm had just started going off. It must be 6:35 am. With a grunt Stan rolled out of bed, stepped over his massive pile of dirty clothes and headed towards the bathroom. He knew she wouldn’t get to work until 8:00am. That gave him about 90 minutes to get prepared, and he planned on using every second of it getting ready. Nobody wants to ask for a date while looking like a slob… even if he was one in his own bedroom.
8:13pm, he was only a little behind schedule. That was probably a good thing anyway. Janet probably needs to go through her morning duties at the grocery store before she’ll start stocking. As he pulled into the parking lot he searched for her car. It was a silver, 1995 Ford Taurus with a 13.1 sticker on the back windshield from when she ran her half marathon a few years ago.
Finding the car was important. He needed to park close to her so they could walk the same direction when they left the store together, but he couldn’t park too close to her. That might be a little awkward. Once he found her car he parked one row over and five spaces farther from the door than she had. That put her car directly in line with his car and the entrance to the grocery store.
Once he parked he turned the engine off and sat there. He had told himself that he wouldn’t chicken out, and he didn’t plan to, but this was his last chance to drive away and pretend that this had never happened. It was possible that she could reject him- No. There was no way she would. If he kept himself optimistic then surely his confidence would come across and she would say yes. Maybe… He forced his doubt to the back of his head and nearly jumped out of the car to keep himself from going home empty handed. Then he took a deep breath in, locked the car, and walked over to grab a cart.
“Oh my God he’s finally here!” she thought as she watched Stan walk through the grocery doors. He hadn’t seen her yet and she intended to keep it that way. It had been two months since she had first seen him at the store. He had only been in the store for a few minutes to buy some energy drinks and doughnuts, but she was sure that he had recognized her. It was just a little glance out of the side of his eye, but she was sure it was directly at her face. In that brief connection of the eyes she had recognized him the same time that he had recognized her. She was sure of it.
At first she didn’t think she’d ever see him again, after all they hadn’t seen each other for nearly two years, but she saw him the next day. This time he was doing a full week of shopping. Then he was there again the next week, and the next week. Every week for eight weeks Stan showed up at almost exactly 8:15am to buy his groceries and every week he had become more handsome in countenance and fashion. The first time she had seen him he was a mess. Dressed in dirty jeans and a Fireball whiskey t-shirt with two blown out armpits, he sported a completely unkempt scruff of facial hair, which matched marvelously with his greasy matted hair. She wouldn’t have even remembered him if his face hadn’t brought back the memories of her slightly tipsy senior band trip.
Today he was dressed to kill. His hair was cut short and styled with an acceptable amount of pomade, she’d have to tell him to use less in the future, and his face was smooth shaven. He wore a blue and white plaid button shirt with a black sports coat over it. His grey slacks were pressed and hemmed to the correct height. He wore black dress shoes and his socks even matched! She wasn’t an idiot. She knew today was Valentine’s Day and she had seen the his feelings for her increase over nearly 8 weeks. Even if he didn’t know it yet, she had already said yes to his date.
He was mulling through the citrus fruits, but he was clearly heading her way. He was probably going to act like it was a coincidence or something. That was alright with her, she could play the waiting game better than most people could, although she was starting to run out of patience. Not wanting him to know she knew he was here she began looking through the jalapeno peppers that were next to her. She picked each one up and looked at its smooth green surface. Some with dried grey cracks on the skin while others were so smooth you could see a grotesque reflection of your face. She glanced over her shoulder and saw him half an aisle away. She noticed that he had grabbed a cart with a stuck caster wheel that scraped across the ground. She decided to track him by the sound of this wheel as he moved his cart.
She could hear his cart get closer and closer. He would stop to grab a bunch of bananas or something, and then he would go back on his path right towards her. When he was within 10 feet of her, she could smell his cologne. It smelled way too good to be him. She could hear the cart come even closer. He was right behind her. Should she turn around? Should she ignore him? Her mind was racing as her anticipation built until finally, the shopping cart was pushed right past her.
It kept going and going, its single jammed wheel shrieking with an imagined pain. What was he doing? Why was he being such a coward about this? If he wanted to date her he just needed to ask! Frustration over came her patience and she whirled around, crushing a pepper between her hands. She saw him near the far end of the aisle heading towards a short woman with blond hair that was rotating Greek yogurt in the dairy section. She readjusted her glasses and stared at the woman… That was Janet Berry! When did she start working here?
She watched as Stan walked up to Janet and tapped her on the shoulder. She didn’t need to hear what he was saying. She could see from here. He was asking Janet to go on a date today. She nearly fell to pieces right then, but the hope that Janet would refuse his proposal kept her standing. For moments she watched, and then she gasped. They had kissed. It had been a little peck, but it confirmed two things. First, Stan had been coming here to see Janet. Second, there was no way Stan had ever remembered who she was.
Embarrassment intermingled with disappointment. She felt hollow inside. She was an adult and she would be damned if she would let anybody see her cry. After pitching the pepper back into the pile of produce, she walked away from her empty cart straight to the dairy aisle. Luckily, the ice cream was closer to her than Stan was. She grabbed a gallon of chocolate and headed to check out. She waited until she was alone in her car before she let the tears run down her face. She looked at the rear view mirror and saw a mess of a woman with bright ginger hair, puffy eyes and crooked glasses. She couldn’t help but laugh. She hated Valentine’s Day…
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