Debbie pulled her coat closer and stifled a cough. She couldn't seem to shake the cold that had been hanging on now for almost two weeks. She no doubt needed a few days of bed rest, but then who would do the laundry, the cooking, and the shopping, and pick up Molly from day care? This was the lot of a single mother. If she didn't do it, no one would.
But enough of feeling sorry for herself. She had to focus on the task at hand. She threw some diet dinners into her cart and headed for the frozen pizza rolls. Just then, the wheels of her cart squealed and turned sideways, and she lost control. Much like with her life, she thought wryly as the cart veered off toward the other side of the aisle.
Right before the cart rammed into a man coming down the aisle, he caught it and righted it.
“Whoa, there,” he said to her. “You didn't have your turn signal on.”
Debbie looked at him. He was about her age and very attractive, with dark blonde hair and sweet-looking brown eyes. She felt her face turn red.
“Sorry about that,” she said in the hoarse voice she'd suffered with for the last few days. She wondered if he could even understand her.
He smiled. “I know how these runaway carts can be. Have you ever shopped at Henderson's? I never understood why they built the parking lot on that hill. I had my cart go AWOL on me and it slammed into a BMW.” He grinned. “Raised my insurance rates, I can tell you.”
Debbie giggled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I've wondered about that, too.”
“I'm Jack Dawson.”
“Debbie Lidell. I won't shake your hand. I've got a cold.”
“I hear you. I just got over one last week. I'm sure my son brought it home from day care.”
She nodded. “Mine's from my four-year-old, Molly. She and her friends were all sick.”
“My ex is always telling me I have to constantly wash my hands when Jake comes over. But I never seem to do it. Doesn't seem manly, you know?”
She laughed. Hmm, so he had an ex. Interesting.
Her gaze drifted to his cart, and she saw several boxes of mac and cheese piled on top of each other. Molly would kill her if she didn't bring home a similar stash.
“I'd better get going. I still have some shopping to do. Nice to meet you,” she said.
“You, too. Maybe I'll see you around.”
Another week passed, and Debbie's cold finally went away. Feeling much stronger, she set out for Henderson's, determined to pick up loads of the fruits and veggies the market was well-known for. She refused to get sick again.
Her heart rate sped up when she realized Jack had said he shopped there sometimes. Would they run into each other again? She kept her eye out, but she'd seen no sign of him by the time she stepped into line to pay for her groceries.
She arrived at the check-out stand and withdrew her ATM card from her wallet. But when she swiped the card, she was beset with a sudden loss of memory. What in the world was her pin number? She smiled at the cashier sheepishly, and tried her birthdate followed by Molly's--3271006. Wasn't that right? Or did she change it? She attempted it the other way around with no success. The familiar feeling of a loss of control came over her.
“Sorry, that's still the wrong code,” the cashier said, a sympathetic look on her face.
Debbie tried two more combinations of numbers, but nothing worked. “I feel so stupid,” she said. “I can't seem to get it. I'll just use my credit card.” Then she remembered she was at her credit limit. The card wouldn't be accepted. “No, make that cash.” She looked into her wallet, but she only had a twenty, a ten and a five. Her total was $38.49. Maybe she had the rest in coins. But her change purse revealed a pitiful collection of mostly pennies.
The cashier was starting to get antsy. “Maybe you could step away so I could help the customers behind you.”
Debbie felt herself burning up. She was about to move aside to ponder which items to give up when a hand reached around her with a five dollar bill.
“This should cover it.”
She turned to see Jack smiling at her.
“Uh, thanks,” she said, inwardly cringing with embarrassment.
Once she'd paid, Jack scooped up her grocery bags, settled them into her shopping cart, and led her outside to her car. He loaded her groceries neatly into the trunk.
“That was really nice of you,” she said, taking the cart from him. “I can pay you back. I'm just so embarrassed. I had a senior moment...well, an early forties moment, anyway."
“I have a better idea. Why don't you and Molly join Jake and me for pizza tonight? You can spring for the soda.”
She looked into his brown eyes and could see the kindness there. A kindness she wouldn't mind seeing for some time to come.
She nodded, and accidentally released her hold on the shopping cart. It went sailing away from her down the parking lot's incline. Open-mouthed, she watched it shoot directly into the corral for empty carts.
“Amazing,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Could you show me that again?”
They shared a long, hearty laugh. And for the first time, Debbie realized that losing control wasn't always such a bad thing.
About the Author: Carol Ayer's short romantic fiction has appeared in The Prairie Times, Woman's World, and a previous edition of The Long and the Short of It. Her romantic novella Storybook Love is available from Wild Child Publishing. Visit Carol's website at www.seaaircarol.com