This is chapter three of a story I’m working on called The Other One. For chapter one, click here.
It’s funny how some things start to come back to you. I just instinctively remembered how to get to the grocery store, despite not driving around town in years. In fact, the store itself hadn’t changed much, so even the layout of the old store was oddly familiar, bringing back memories of the countless times I was in here growing up.
However, even with the sudden rush of familiarity, this supposedly quick trip to pick up things for my mother would still likely take far too long minutes, due to her habit of making remarkably vague shopping lists. She knew exactly what she needed, so she wrote the lists out for herself in some language only she knew how to speak.
Without fail, though, she would ask one of us to pick the things up for her, and without fail, we would waste the majority of our time time trying to interpret which particular brand or size she needed.
I always wondered if she wanted to make it some sort of game. Maybe she got a good laugh out of knowing that we would inevitably bring home at least two incorrect items. But whatever her reasons, it was a foregone conclusion that the next several minutes of my life would be spent wondering if she needed sticks of butter or a tub of margarine, or even something in between.
Right about the time I was surely about to contract hypothermia from the dairy section, I started to worry that other people in the store would start staring, worried that I had lost my mind. I could already feel eyes falling on me, wondering if I would ever come to a decision.
“Aaron?” came a voice to my right. “Aaron Palmer?”
Turns out eyes actually had fallen on me, and was thrown off by a voice that I was certain I didn’t recognize.
The voice came from a moderately tall brunette who had rounded the corner a minute earlier. She had a very natural beauty to her, which didn’t help the situation. I wasn’t exactly expecting anyone to recognize me, much less by someone attractive who I certainly couldn’t recognize. I was so caught off guard that I wasn’t even sure how long I was just staring and not saying anything.
“Uh….yes? That’s me?”I said, putting on the charm as always.
I knew that I knew this person. I was hit with the same feeling as when somebody mentions a quote that you know you’ve heard, but you can’t quite remember what movie it was from. It’s familiar, sure, but you’re not sure why, or even if you enjoyed the particular film. It’s just there, buried, and until the other person throws you a bone, you’re stuck wondering.
Thankfully, she threw me a bone.
“Jenn. Jennifer Riley. Gosh, it’s been….years, hasn’t it?” I could tell she was trying to help me feel more comfortable by mentioning how long it had been, as if I needed a reminder that I hadn’t been around in a while.
“Oh man! Jenn! Wow, I am so sorry! Yeah, it’s been a long time alright. At least, that’s my excuse this time.” I’m brilliant like that.
Jenn Riley and I went to high school together. I don’t think we ever had more than three classes together, so beyond just being aware of each other’s existence, we didn’t talk too much. Best I can remember, we got along just fine when we did, though.
Amazingly, she at least gave me a courtesy chuckle. “Well, I won’t hold it against you this time. What have you been up to? Last any of us had heard, you graduated and fell off the face of the earth. Rumor was that you were actually just the school’s Tyler Durden.”
“Or maybe I had to move elsewhere to protect my secret vampire identity.” Really, Aaron? Countering Fight Club with Twilight? Keep talking so maybe she’ll ignore it.
“Yeah, I live in New York. Believe it or not, this is my first time home since high school.”
“Oh wow, really?” Good, she took the bait. “Man, that’s crazy. I mean, I only just moved back, but I at least visited.”
There was a pause as she likely realized how rude that could have sounded. So she followed it up by not helping the situation.
“Oh, your mother!” she proclaimed. “How did she feel about all of this?”
“Well, it’s not like I never saw my family, Jenn. In fact, they really enjoyed spending the holidays in New York with me. We made it an annual tradition to watch the ball drop in Times Square every New Years. I’ll have to catch it by myself this year, though.”
I caught myself fore my rambling got worse. “So yeah. New York. I just live up there, and work with computers.”
“That makes sense. I mean, you were practically the school’s IT department in 12th grade.”
I had nearly forgotten about that, actually. What a funny thing to be reminded of. Or to even realize that she was aware of it. I thought her recognizing me was fascinating enough, but to bring back memories of all the times I had to help out clueless teachers. I think that skill right there would’ve gotten me out of any classwork I didn’t want to do.
“So what do you do for….who do you work for?” she asked, bringing me back to the conversation.
“Oh, well….I work in retail.” That was the best way I could think to put it.
She laughed, but it somehow wasn’t a condescending laugh. “I assumed you were some big wig in an office! I think you’re better suited to be hands on, anyway.”
I’m not entirely sure what gave her that impression, but at this point, I really didn’t feel like talking about my job any more, for fear of boring us both to death.
“Yeah, I don’t live in NYC. Just a little ways out or so, but my friends and I make it to the city quite frequently. But what about you? What are you up to?” I asked, trying to switch things back to her as casually as possible.
I think she appreciated the chance in direction. “Well, I moved back just a couple years ago, once I was done with undergrad and all. Got a job teaching 3rd graders here, which I LOVE. They’re such sweethearts. Most of the time at least.”
“Oh yeah? My sister was thinking about doing elementary ed, but she’s recently fallen in love with other branches of education, actually.”
“Aw, and how is Ashley? I haven’t seen her since I got back!”
I had completely forgotten that Jenn and Ashley were friends. Ash is slightly younger than me, but she was involved a lot of the same clubs as Jenn at Manchester High. Sometimes, I guess I just forget that there’s barely an age difference between she and I.
“She’s good. Getting her masters at Greymont while doing some student teaching and all. Something like that. I forget the actual term for it. But you should try to get in touch with her sometime. She would love to hang out, I’m sure.”
“Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of hanging out, a friend of mines band is playing in a couple of days in Jackson. They’re really good. You could join us, if you’d like. Figure you might be tired of Manchester by then.”
“That sounds pretty fun.” And it really did. I mean, it would be nice to go to some of the venues I used to frequent in high school. Plus, it might be fun to meet a few people outside of my family. And maybe spend time with Jenn. “I may have some family stuff going on, though.”
“Aaron. You should go with us,” she said with a smirk, as if she had talked it through with my family or something.
“Alright, sure. Sounds great. I’ll see you then. Hey, it was good to see you again!” I started to reach out for a polite handshake, which I assumed was probably the best way to close this interaction.
“Aaron,” she said, with that smirk still on her face and a refusal to shake my hand.
I paused. Panicked. Did I say something wrong? Was the handshake a stupid thing?
She had moved from smirk to a full grin, and seemed to be enjoying leaving me in suspense.
“You probably need my phone number so you can meet up with us for the show.”
“Oh. Yeah. Good point.” Whoops.
I decided that as good as it was to run into Jenn, I needed to get out of the grocery store as quickly as possible so I didn’t run into her again. You know the moment where you’ve said bye and then you see that person again five minutes later? After the goodbye we had, I’m not sure I was ready for any social interaction for the rest of the month.
I was just a little confused as well. Was she really that nice? Nobody is that nice, right? We barely knew each other, but she seemed genuinely pleased to see me, and even brought up high school stuff I had forgotten about. Maybe seeing me made her think about other good high school memories, so the association made her think she had to be polite? I couldn’t tell.
I felt like asking the cashier if this was normal behavior, but she seemed less than pleased with her life at the moment. I’m sure the ponderings of a socially inept person would be less than thrilling to her.
So I kept it to myself, checked out, and got all the way home before realizing I forgot to get the butter.