New Winslow S6E21

The automatic doors slid open, causing Roman to jump backward in the empty doorway. Celine looked at him and he tried not to let himself feel embarrassed. It was an automatic door. There had been automatic doors in grocery stores twenty years ago, right? Of course there were, they’d been around for nearly a century.

He stepped into the grocery store, wanting to leave immediately. It was too big, the ceilings high and cavernous above them. Twenty check out stations were positioned up front, with lines of shoppers stretching through them. A pop song he vaguely recognized mingled with the roar of voices bouncing off the high ceilings, blending everything into a chaos he hadn’t expected. This was seriously the place Celine went every week since they were in their twenties? God, he owed her so much.

“Carts are over there,” Celine said, gently nudging him toward a long row of carriages.

He pulled a carriage out. At least this was similar enough to the general store, though they only had about five shitty ones that frequently broke. But then, this one had a rattling wheel that jolted the carriage as he began to push it toward the produce section.

“Are you sure you don’t want to use an electric cart?” Celine asked.

Roman looked at the cart where it was plugged into the wall. He was tired, nearly winded already, but he wanted to do this. “I’m good,” he said. “I’ll sit down if I have to. Look, there’s a bench right there.”

He smiled at her, winking. It finally worked and she smiled back, reaching over to squeeze his hand where he held onto the cart. “Alright,” she said. “You get what you want for your room, I’m just going to do the usual grocery shop. I’m adding about twenty dollars to the budget this week. Every child in our house is going through a growth spurt right now and they won’t stop eating.”

The mention of the kids hurt and warmed his heart. Some of the groceries he was buying today were going to go toward snacks for the kids when they came to see him. He wasn’t sure when that would be, which added another layer onto the guilt of being away from home and having Celine do both of their work there. And at the House of Pizza.

Any time he tried to bring up work, she said it was under control. He needed to focus on recovering, she had the rest of it. And he believed her, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to help.

“How’s the shop?” he asked, knowing full well what was about to happen.

To his surprise, Celine shrugged. “It’s moving along,” she said. “Charlie’s really stepped up, and it’s been such a huge help. Between him and Tatiana, we’ve got the in-house staff covered. Noah’s been doing delivery nearly full time. We need to get another body on the road soon since they’ll be opening the Limerick place up, but he’s got it covered for now.”

Roman nodded, distracted by the enormous produce displays. There were bins that came up to his hip, just full of apples and avocados. How the hell did they sell that many?

This was ridiculous, he’d been to grocery stores plenty as a kid. It wasn’t like he’d grown up in a small town like New Winslow, Pittsfield was a fairly large mill city, the main urban center for that area. Roman had gone to the supermarket with his grandmother weekly from when he moved in with her as a child, up until he moved away from town. And it hadn’t been that different from what he was looking at now. Except they were in a completely different city and this grocery store was bigger than anything he remembered ever shopping at, even in the few years between leaving high school and getting stuck in New Winslow.

It was cold too, and he wished he’d packed his gloves when they left the Countess. He tried to suppress the shivers and focus on the food.

“Apples,” he said. “I should have a bowl of apples in the room.”

“Are you going to eat them?” Celine asked, looking amused.

“If I don’t, Abby will.”

She was going to start losing teeth soon. Roman’s eyes pricked, but he wasn’t going to break down here in the middle of the grocery store. He took a deep breath, then went over and pulled a small plastic bag off of the roll hung beside the apples. It took a few tries, and he clumsily opened it as Celine pretended to compare prices beside him. But finally the thin plastic came apart, sticking to his fingers, but not to itself. He grabbed six apples, not bothering to inspect them or weigh them, then put them in the cart. The idea of doing anything else, of finding the food and buying it, was so overwhelming and he was exhausted.

He wanted to be back in the general store. There, he actually felt like a middle-aged man. Not a child playing grocery store as he looked at the strawberries and felt that jolt when he realized how expensive they were here. Roman was a businessman, he worked in the food industry. He should know how much these things were.

“They’re so fucking expensive,” he said, hating that there was a tremor in his voice.

“Out of season,” Celine said. “The price will go down soon.”

The tomatoes were cheaper, but the calculations he did in his head still made his heart skip a beat. “Celine, how are these tomatoes so expensive?”

She glanced at the price sign. “They’re not,” she said. “I mean, compared to the hothouse tomatoes.”

“We buy pallets of tomatoes,” he said, staring at the light gleaming off the surface of one small tomato. “God, twenty pounds at this price? Imagine that?”

Celine looked a little concerned. “Rome?” she said softly, touching his elbow. “Come on, I’ll do this myself later, okay?”

There were so many people here. Even if the aisles weren’t packed, there were people in front of every shelf and bin. Nobody seemed to notice Roman as he shook his head and gripped the handle on the large, clunky carriage.

“No,” he said. “No, I want to do this.”

She didn’t argue. Instead, she filled their cart with the produce they needed for the week and Roman picked out his paltry idea of what groceries should be for the hotel room. They walked the aisles slowly while Celine made a show of checking her list and comparing items. Even as she debated prices out loud, he knew it was for his benefit. And he couldn’t argue. By the last aisle, he was too tired to do anything but sit on the bench while she paid for the food.

The voices in here mingled and echoed while scratchy music pumped over the speakers, sometimes interrupted by calls for someone to go to customer service or an announcement that canned peas were buy one get one that day. Roman closed his eyes for a second, trying not to let it all send him into a panic. He needed to be less stubborn, that was what nearly killed him. If he wasn’t ready to be in a grocery store, then he wasn’t ready to be in a grocery store. He’d been trapped in the same town for twenty years, most likely nobody else here right now had had to deal with that transition.

“All set.”

Celine’s voice cut through the chaos like a beacon, and Roman opened his eyes. The carriage was filled with bags and his wife stood there with both concern and understanding in her eyes. He stood up, made sure he was steady, then followed her back out to the car.


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