Earth Trolley

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When It Became A Little More Complicated

I was standing in an aisle, but it wasn’t filled with boxes of cereal. I looked up and down. There were two shoppers with their carts, but they weren’t familiar to me at all. On the shelf beside me were shrink-wrapped packages of chili and potted meats. They all had squeeze bottle caps. Potted meat and ready-made chili were never on my shopping list. Ever. I wondered if Jim liked the stuff. Then I wondered where he was. Was I supposed to be doing something here?

My future life had accosted me the three times before, throwing me right into the conversation. Now I seemed to be on my own. I looked at the items in my cart, searching for clues. I had another shapeless, nondescript purse.

Note to self, I thought, ‘In the future, do not buy ugly, garage-sale’—I cut myself off, wondering if a slight variation in accessories would change the outcome of my future.

That’s when a figure entered the aisle without a cart. He was very wide, had a full salt and pepper beard, was wearing a bright, Hawaiian-vacation button down, a Steelers’ cap, and sported some khaki shorts, fleeing from his white legs as he moved.

He was one for the people-watchers, but I still needed to get a handle on why I was standing there. So I turned back to peruse the articles in my cart once more. I had just come to the conclusion that Jim liked Oreos, beef jerky, and lots of spray cheese, when a shrink-wrapped package of salsa and two bags of tortilla chips plopped into the basket. I looked up to find the large, bearded man had dropped them there.

He was huffing, and I saw the beads of sweat escaping the sides of his cap before he told me, “Sorry it took so long. I ran into Johnson. I told him he’s got this place running like clockwork. I’ve always liked him.”

The eyes were right. The features under the beard were rather extended, but right, too. But it couldn’t be! He held a box in his hand toward me, and I glimpsed the heart on his wrist. Yep. This was Jim. Really fat, wilderness explorer Jim.

“I got your favorite scent,” he told me. That’s when I noticed what the box was: Massage oil. I looked up at him, slow on the uptake, and he winked confidently.

My face must have shown my distress because he immediately asked me, “What’s wrong?”

“Where’s Hope,” I questioned, cringing at the thought afterward that things might have changed. Maybe we didn’t have a Hope. Was that possible?

His brow crinkled slowly. “She’s in school, Lyn. We took her up there last week… Got her settled in her dorm… What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m—I’m a little off today.” This was sort of true.

He nodded knowingly, and the acceptance surprised me. “Okay,” he said, “It’s probably just that vitamin deficiency, like you had a few years back. What vitamin is it you need? I don’t remember.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, let’s get you up to the pharmacy. Sue or someone will be able to tell us.” He shrugged, “And it’s not like we have to take this trip just yet. We can take it easy all we want.

“Hope’s fine at school. You’ve got a month off. We’ll just relax.” He placed his hand over mine, and I let go of the handle. Strangely, I wasn’t pulling away from the touch, but freeing my hand for his to close around it. Instinctively.

Apparently, there’s a two-hands-on-the-buggy-at-all-times rule for the Earth Trolley because there I was in the cereal aisle again feeling just a little bit frustrated without being completely sure why. Jim’s appearance had left me somewhat shaky, but I hadn’t wanted to slip away from that moment so abruptly. I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket to check the time.

5:03 p.m. How was that possible? Then a smile spread slowly across my face. No time gaps. Nice.

My hands were ready, fingers itching for that handle, when someone ran into me from behind.

“Oh, I’m sor—”

I’d caught myself with the Earthy Trolley. It rolled forward, still under the impact of the push I’d received. The cart ran into a shelf, and products on the lower tier went tumbling to the floor. I almost let go to pick them up.

“Ahhhh! I just finished straightening that side!” A teenage girl stomped around me and knelt down to clean up the mess I’d made.

“Sorry,” I told her. “I must’ve lost my balance.”

She glanced at what was in my cart as she restacked the bottles and boxes. “No. Mom, noooooooo! If you must buy that stuff, please get it at another store or have Dad ring it up on his own. I have to work with these people. I am going to die if anybody sees you buying that.” I read the label of the item in my cart and blushed. It was more specific than massage oil.

“Okay, take it out. I—I see your point.”

“Thank you,” she said with a long-suffering air as she removed it.

“Where’s your Dad?”

“He’s still in the office.” Hope looked up at me. I saw her invisible braces glisten as she added, “You just came from talking to him, remember?”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Hope stood up and straightened the uniform top she was wearing. “Huey’s Grocery” was embroidered on the badge with her name clearly displayed beneath it. Then she looked at me and drew up her shoulders. Her face took on a pleading expression.

“Please, Mom. Can’t you just talk Dad into it this once? I promise I’ll vacuum the house, clean the car—inside and out. I’ll walk Pest in the mornings for a month!”

Without any hesitation, I told her exactly what my mom would’ve said to me only a few years back. “Absolutely not. What your Dad says is final.” I felt pretty proud of myself for knowing how to respond like the mother of a teenager.

But Hope wasn’t done. “I really thought you’d understand. I mean, you said it was your dream to go to Spain when you were young.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, I wanted to go to Spain. Just three months ago I’d been set to go when I’d landed my job with the newspaper. It had been too important to keep the job. So I’d promised myself to reschedule after the 90-day probation period.

“Where in Spain? Barcelona? Madrid?” I asked eagerly.

“Yeah…”

“The Palacio Real?”

“…and La Seu Cathedral—Mom, are you okay?”

“Um…” I thought about what Jim had called it. “I think I’m having a vitamin deficiency.” I knew what I’d said didn’t make sense, and the skeptical look remained on Hope’s face.

“Well…” she said. “Vitamins are right here.” She followed me down the aisle. I looked over the labels, trying to figure out what vitamin I was supposed to need. Finally, I saw the word “Memory.” I was a flinch away from lifting my hand from the cart to reach for it, when I remembered to hold on.

“Will you put the 'Sound Memory' one in my cart, please?”

She looked at me quizzically again. “Okay…”

She placed it next to my purse, and I told her, “Right now I can’t remember where the office is. I need you to give me directions.” I was hoping it wasn’t far, and I could push a buggy there. Hope needed to go to Spain. I wanted to go!

“Okay…,” she repeated. “You walk out of the aisle, past the registers, turn left, and walk until you see the elevator on your right with the sign that says, ‘To Offices’.”

“Oh,” I said and smiled with relief. Jim worked in the grocery store? Interesting.

I pushed the cart through a register aisle and found the elevator. Under “To Offices” it read, “Employees Only.” I wondered if I needed a pass or something. The elevator door was closed, and I had to keep my hands on the handle.

Spain. She wanted to go to Spain.

A woman with auburn hair approached me. “Lyn, I wanted to ask you what I should bring Saturday.” I just stared at her. “You know, like chips or drinks. I could bring chocolate chip cookies, maybe?” She took in my cart and suddenly asked, “Do you need to see Jim?”

“Yes.” I know the relief was in my voice. She smiled and opened the elevator door. I walked into the lift, realizing how nuts it was that I was still pushing my cart with three items in it. The seconds that passed while going up were really awkward.

“Let me get the door for you, too,” the woman offered, stepping out of the elevator in front of me.

“Thanks,” I said, feeling grateful that I didn’t have to ask where Jim’s office was. The door was unmarked; and, when my cart and I passed through, my guide quickly led me toward a small corridor. She smiled at the man making copies in the main room, as we passed. He looked at me and my cart with a perplexed expression. Then my guide knocked on the door labeled “Jim Huey, Manager/Owner.”

“Jim?” she called out. “Lyn is out here, and she needs to see you, I think.”

My husband was the owner of Huey’s grocery store? Huey... ah. Was this why this lady was being so nice?

The door burst open seconds later. “Now, Lyn…”

He surveyed me and my trusty buggy before looking at the woman, who raised her eyebrows and gave a tight smile.

“Lyn,” His voice was very gentle. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m having a bit of a spell. You know, it’s a vitamin deficiency. My mind just kind of goes, and… well,” I jumped into my original reason for seeing him. “I’m changing my mind about Hope’s trip to Spain.”

“But we talked about this. You do remember talking about why it was not a good idea,” Jim prompted.

Behind us, the woman was waving the man at the copier out the door, closing it after them.

“No, not really. Is there any way to make it a good idea? She really wants to go.”

“I know. I really want her to go. But that teacher of hers is not somebody either of us trusts. There aren’t enough chaperones, and—”

“I’ll be a chaperone.”

“But you are going to be on your book tour, remember?”

“I’ll cancel the tour.”

“Lyn. Are you—You just told me you couldn’t reschedule at this point!”

“I want to go to Spain with Hope. That’s my dream, too. We could go together, Hope and I.” It sounded strange saying her name, knowing she was my daughter with only a handful of years between us.

“You want to be a chaperone? What about Darcy? She’s already booked your flights and hotels and sent your itinerary. This is big. You said it would affect your career.”

“Going with Hope to Spain is bigger.”

Jim shrugged. “It’s your choice.”

“You’re okay with that, right?”

“Of course I’m okay with it! I’m just surprised.”

“So, I can go?” Hope stuck her head in from the hallway.

“You little sneak!” barked Jim, but he chuckled. His shaven cheeks were jolly apples as he grinned.

Hope grinned back.

“You don’t mind going with me, do you?” I asked, suddenly considering her feelings. I had to remember I was her mother, after all. Would I want my mom going to Spain with me?

“I don’t mind. It’ll be kinda awesome.” She was bobbing all over the room now. “Oh,” she stopped, “but you’ll let me help you pack, right?” I nodded and looked down at the floppy tan handbag in the basket. I could definitely use the wardrobe advice.

“Awesome. You guys are mint!” She threw herself at me with a huge hug, and my hands came off the handle.

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