Compulsively Yours

Lonely and neurotic Rupert struggles to find love. After yet another failed date, coworker Eunice steps in with an offer that might solve Rupert's problems... if he can get over some deep-seated issues and bring himself to call her.
Excerpt

            Rupert could hear the squeaking of the trolley wheel from some ways off.  He leaned forward and listened, trying to pinpoint where exactly the sound was coming from.  Triangulating the echo, compensating for the muffling effects of the deli counter... The detergent aisle?  The squeaking quieted for a moment, then returned to its normal harsh whine.  Yes, that would be the softener sheets taking in some of the sound.  Definitely the Detergent aisle then.

            Odd.  He remembered the customer coming in, taking a trolley, disappearing back near the cereal.  But there was no way to get to the detergent without being seen down the central aisle dividing the store.  Unless... Had Rupert dozed off?  He didn't think he had.  Certainly, it had been a long, dull, boring, boring, dull, dull, dull Sunday morning, with only three people in, and one of them only to ask for change, but Rupert was a better employee than to fall asleep on shift. 

            Still, the risk of drowsing, especially out in the open where a customer might see him, wasn't something he wanted to risk happening again, if it had already happened before.  He took a step back from his station, spread his arms, and dipped down into a few squats to get his circulation going.  One and down and one and up and two and down and two and up and three and...  His knees bulged out again and again, sending his green apron fluttering about.  ...And nine and up and ten and down and ten and up.  There.  That should do the trick.

            He stepped back up behind his register, smoothing down his apron and running his hands through his hair.  Wouldn't do good to let a customer see him disheveled. 

            Oh, God, what if his face were flushed?  Worse, what if he were actively sweating?  Simply the thought of sweating caused him to actually break out in a fit of moisture.  The quick exercise, such a good idea moments before, now took on the specter of a terrible mistake.  What would the customer think of him, all disheveled and sweaty, breathing heavily and stinking of.. well, sweat?  Worse still, what if the customer filled out a comment card?

            "Dear sir or madam or to whom it may concern," Rupert imagined the irate customer scribbling furiously on the little yellow card, "despite the fastidiously clean state of your store, as well as its excellent layout and stocking, I must say that I had a most unpleasant experience whilst shopping for groceries this fine day.  Whilst perusing your shelves for goods, I happened to spy upon your cashier boy participating in some act that left him in a most shame-faced state for an employee to be in at 11:30 on a Sunday morning.  Though it is certainly not my place nor my intention to speculate upon what such an action may have been, it is with the most sincere urgency that implore you to have a talk with the boy before another customer is so profoundly inconvenienced. Until such a time that I am assured that the issue has been rectified, I will be taking my custom to Target forthwith.  Good day."

            No, no, they wouldn't write that, Rupert assured himself as soon as his fancy had come to its inevitable and rather excessive end.  The comment cards aren't big enough to write so much.  He quickly revised his fantasy.

            "Cashier was all gross and sweaty.  Bathrooms were nice, though.  Might recommend."

            Even that brief condemnation was still unlikely, however: no one filled out comment cards.  Just to be on the safe side, Rupert reached out for the perfectly straight pile of yellow cards and slid them behind the multiple sclerosis donation jar.  No use giving the public ammunition against him.

            One last thing to do to try and rectify the situation.  Rupert ducked down under the register and pulled off several paper towels.  And rub the face once and rub the face twice and one on each hand then again on the face and--hand sanitizer!

            He tossed the towels and stood, already feeling a little bit more calm, despite the sweat he could feel creeping down his scalp, just beyond the hairline.

            The squeaking of the trolley was louder now--likely canned soup, maybe as far as the boxed rice meals.  Squeak, squeak, squeak...

            And now it was in view, coming down the central aisle, laden with a bountiful harvest of frozen vegetables, bags of flower, eggs, trashbags, and some kind of rash cream, amongst innumerable sundry items.  Rupert tried counting them all, hoping that this customer wasn't trying to pull the old "thirty-five items in the twenty-items-or-less" scam.

            Twenty items or fewer, Rupert mentally corrected.

            Then he looked over his shoulder down at the twenty-items-or-less-but-it-really-should-be-fewer checkout and reminded himself that, oh yes, he was the only one on registers this morning.  No matter what nefarious plans this customer had in store, Rupert was the gatekeeper, and so the customer had no choice but to obey the rules and go through a full-service lane.

            Returning his attention to the trolley, Rupert noticed something else: there was a large bag of catfood on the trolley's lower shelf.  Hmm, that presented a problem.  Despite a century's worth of tradition and refinement, along with Rupert's own four years' experience, first as a bagboy and now as a full-on cashier, supermarkets simply had no always-true protocol for dealing with bulky items on the lower shelf. 

            The customer seemed to be a youngish man, maybe thirty-five.  Would he bend down and retrieve the bag, then let it go through the normal process of riding the conveyer belt?  Or would he expect Rupert to step away from his station, scanner-gun in hand, and dig about at the bottom of the trolley trying to find a barcode?  Perhaps the customer would retrieve the bag, then have the audacity to walk past the bag corral and invade the sanctity of the register by having Rupert scan it from there?  Worst of all, would the customer dare to actually talk to Rupert, and find his own preference on the matter?