The Idea of a Store
Shopping for an army was exactly as grueling a task as it sounded, and after her early-morning wake-up, Eleanor didn’t trust herself to do it alone. Nor did she trust herself with the nearly two thousand dollars in cash she had in her wallet. She figured she could deposit some of it in the bank but the rest of it she would just have to spend. And with the envelope, she did what any self-respecting person who comes into a suspiciously amount of large, unmarked bills would do: she put it under her mattress.
Cullen sat in the passenger seat of the Civic, threatening to nod off. She decided if he did, she would let him nap, at least on the way there. Dragging his ass to CostCo would probably be easier on the commander than having him try to deal with his post-combat troops on exactly no hours of sleep. At least she’d gotten maybe four. The commander, his face pressed up against the cross-body seat belt, eyes flicking open before sliding desperately closed, had clearly gotten none.
Eleanor put on the radio softly and watched the landscape roll past. The sky was grey, threatening rain, which was good; they needed it. She’d been using irrigation system on her small berry patch far more than she felt like she normally would, and if she kept spending all the money on the water bill, the berries would hardly turn her a profit.
Not that it mattered, she remembered, glancing again at Cullen.
It was the bees that worried her most; profits or not, she wanted to make sure they were alright. Wildflowers still lined the highway, alfalfa flowers still bloomed their purple blossoms, but with the decline in bee populations already sharp, she’d been keeping a close eye on them. The queens seemed healthy, but, and maybe she was just being paranoid, the worker populations seemed a little smaller than they should. She worried that her constant pestering would scare them, disrupt them more, so for the past few weeks she’d just let them do their thing. She’d get the honey from the frames soon, but mostly she didn’t want to disturb them. As a result, however, she could only do an exterior inspection, and she couldn’t tell one way or the other if there were any cause for concern. She didn’t want to bring in any additional queens unless she absolutely needed to, but she hadn’t seen any swarming this year. Should she have had to split the hive by now?
Eleanor sighed. The Inquisition had been here just shy of two months now. Summer’s hold was at its tightest, but soon it would back off. Autumn would be nice; cooler, softer, redder. It was the first time Eleanor could remember looking forward to it. But summer had gone by in a flash. She just didn’t want the rest of the year to do the same.
“Banner year, too,” she mumbled to herself, jabbing at the radio controls to flip from a commercial to music, any music.
“Hmm?” asked Cullen dreamily from the passenger seat. Eleanor shook her head.
“Just thinking,” she told him, taking her eyes away from the road long enough to give him a reassuring smile. He smiled back and reached across the center console to pat the top of her leg, then turned over toward the window and drifted back to sleep.
She realized, as she gave the cart a nudge to push the commander further down the aisle, that this was the first time she had taken him out shopping.
Perhaps this had been a mistake.
Cullen stood amidst the giant pallets of bulk foods and looked around in awe. He left the cart in the middle of the aisle and seemed not to hear Eleanor asking him to help her grab things on higher shelves.
“Cullen,” she went around to the front of the cart and tugged it out of the way. “Cullen, come on. Let this lady through,” she said, and directed both buggy and man to the side of the aisle so a mom with her two children riding side-by-side in the upper compartment of a large cart could get past. She walked back around to the commander and grabbed his elbows, scootching him out of the way. “Hey, you’re supposed to be helping.”
“I,” he said, not looking down, eyes still scanning the shelves, “...sorry. There’s just… it’s a lot of…”
“Right, and we need to take some of it home,” she said. Eleanor knew she was being impatient with him, knew she should have expected some level of culture shock, but she was exhausted, and the store was busy, and she just wanted to grab eight hundred pounds of canned goods and go home.
Well, maybe not exactly that. But she wanted to load up the cart and, as her dad would have said, boogie.
Finally, Cullen looked down at her, Eleanor’s hands still on his elbows, and he said, “We can have these things?”
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “I assume you’re familiar with the idea of a store.”
He shook his head, then halted and said, “No, I mean, I am. Of course.”
“Come on,” Eleanor urged, releasing him. “Let’s get moving. You can ogle while we shop.”
Eleanor let him pick out things he thought he and his people could use - even as he kept insisting that they were fine, they didn’t need anything, they could always get a periodic resupply from Skyhold, and Eleanor insisted back that yes, that was true, but they were at CostCo right now, and could be home in an hour or so. Reluctantly, Cullen placed a few self-indulgent items in the basket, and Eleanor placed a few more: bulk supplies of aspirin and bandages, vitamin c supplements, hand sanitizer. For the house she grabbed what could only be described as a mountain of eggs, hustling Cullen to be careful, be careful as he lowered each large carton onto the bottom of the buggy, loaves and loaves of bread, more fresh and frozen veggies than she was confident she could fit in her freezer, and what felt like a hundred other things that just sounded good. In addition to the beer she’d been planning to buy anyway, she also got a few bottles of wine and some cheese. It had been a long time since she’d had money to burn. She wasn’t going to squander away her whole stipend - what if her small harvest of crops was no good, what if there was something wrong with the hive, what if she couldn’t find time or jobs online; she still worried about these things as though Cullen hadn’t promised her the money he’d just given her four times annually - but tonight she was going to sit down with a book and she was going to drink some wine and she was going to eat more cheese than her vascular system was prepared for.
But first, she decided, as Cullen helped her load everything into the trunk of the car, cardboard dusting her shirt, condensation from cold veggies on her hands, she was going to take a long, long bath.