Friday, April 8, 2011

Strawberry Rabbits (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Sheri Ward over @ her blog, A Candid Thought. Click here to read and share more great stories!

Author's Ramblings: This is a bit of prompt fiction from the sheer fact that I feel like eating bucketloads of Easter candy. You know, the kind in shiny pastel wrappers that are ONLY filled with chocolate and marshmallow stuffs. I kept it short and hopefully enjoyable as well. Thanks for reading and happy weekend! 


Reni twirled the keyring around her thumb, watching the metal flash in the sunlight. She stood at the front door, alternating her glances between the elderly gentleman in the foyer and the bright sunshine just on the other side of the door. Her quick movements and bright, summer clothes betrayed her teenage nature in contrast to the owner of the house.

He was putting his loafers on, with painstaking, slow movements that made her nibble her lip and twirl the keys a little faster in a not-so-subtle way to hide her annoyance. She couldn’t offer to help him in this moment and quite frankly, she didn’t even want to be there. The sigh was stuck somewhere in her throat and she was better able to swallow it when he finally stood up.

Relief showed plainly in the fresh smile she offered him, the door already open as she stood on the tiny front stoop, holding it open for him. “All ready?”

He returned the smile, the cobweb of wrinkles on his face stretching to accommodate the expression. His steps were shuffling and even slower than the movements used to put on his shoes. Reni didn’t mind that much, because now she was standing outside in the fresh air and not inside the stuffy-to-her house.

She let him hold her arm for support and quickly went about turning the locks on the doors and using the spare key beneath the stone frog to lock the last one. Turning carefully, she helped him down the stairs, taking it one at a time.

By the time they reached her old pickup truck, most of the tension had drained away and Reni cheerfully held the passenger side door open for him, waiting until he was settled and buckled in before skipping around to the driver’s side.

In a matter of minutes, they rolled down the old dusty driveway and turned out onto the country road. She fiddled with the radio and then readjusted the rearview mirror. “Music fine?” She’d turned it to a soft rock station with the volume on low.

Mr. Bearn nodded, the smile still lingering on his old face.

They rode to town in a companionable silence.

Eventually, buildings began to show and traffic increased. Within minutes, they were in the heart of the town and heading for the old grocery store near the post office. Reni circled the lot three times before she found a close parking spot.

On days like today, she wished that Mr. Bearn would apply for a handicap tag so she could hang it in the front and park where she liked. But he insisted he was well enough to walk and therefore didn’t need to bother with something like that, especially if there was someone else who might really need it.

Stepping out from her side, she trotted ‘round to hold the door open, pretending not to notice when he took a few moments longer to figure out the seatbelt buckle. She jammed the lock down and pushed the door shut, settling into an awkward half-pace to keep stride with his shuffling steps.

At one point, she moved ahead to wrestle a cart out of the usual gaggle of meshed metal and tested it for squeaky wheels and bad steering. She’d done this enough times to know that when shopping with dear old Mr. Bearn, it was best to find a cart she didn’t mind pushing for the next few hours.

“Find a good one?” He was soon standing beside her, puffing in soft breaths.

“Yep.” She gave it a little half-pull and twist. “See?”

He gripped the edge with both hands, resting for a moment before one shaky hand finally fell back to his side and he started forward. Reni took a deep breath and let him pull the cart for the first few steps before she started to push.

It would be a long three hours or more.

~*~*~*~*~

Progress was slow. The aisles weren’t as crowded as they would’ve been, that was the only good reason for going grocery shopping on a Tuesday. Important things never seemed to happen on a Tuesday and that meant calmer customers and almost no crowding to make up for the unusual day.

They’d finally made it to the seasonal aisle and here, Reni stifled a groan. She’d forgotten about this part of the shopping trip. Usually, there weren’t too many holidays to remember and she was always careful to charge her cellphone or MP3 player for the shopping trip.

Mr. Bearn was a special friend from church and by her parents’ decree, she chauffeured him back and forth to the grocery store once every two weeks. They’d worked out a decent routine and managed to come to a mutual understanding in spite of the obvious differences.

As far as Reni was concerned, it was an unnecessary exercise in patience and so she tried her best to endure it without losing her mind. At first, there was hardly ever any conversation between them, but as time moved on, the brunette teen realized that the old fellow was working on a budget and half the time spent staring at a product, meant he was doing mental calculations in his head.

She’d figured that out quick and nowadays when he stopped longer than a handful of minutes, she’d tug the cart to get his attention and ask what price he was dissecting. In most cases, she could solve them in her head or using her cellphone calculator. It was an additional chore she didn’t mind as long as it speeded up the whole grocery shopping thing.

“Easter candy.” Mr. Bearn observed, his hand clutching the cart tighter in excitement. “I had forgotten about Easter candy.”

Reni chewed on her lip then settled for nibbling on a fingernail. If she dared to speak now, she had a feeling some of her impatience would come bubbling out and then that would cause trouble for everyone, somehow.

She watched him touch every type of chocolate within reach and could already see him adding up the dollars in his head. Nearly every holiday, he would buy some sort of chocolate and after taking two pieces for himself, would gift the rest to Reni and family as thanks for their help.

It was just as much a personal quirk as a special treat for him. His staples were basic and habitual—just like his constant refusal to hand over a written grocery list and miss out on the shopping experience himself.

Watching him debate the various packages of chocolate candies, Reni checked her cellphone again, replying to the handful of text messages that had come in. She almost wished she were at the bowling alley with her friends, enjoying the free food and laughter that always came with the church youth group excursions.

It would’ve been fun, except for her conscience would’ve seared her on a live grill for ditching Mr. Bearns on the grounds of free junk food and company more her age. If she turned him down on a Tuesday, it just meant that her Wednesday and Friday would suffer for it and then it would become even more of a headache.

A half-hour passed before Reni realized that they were still in the candy aisle. She frowned. “Mr. Bearns?”

He was fingering a package of chocolate-covered strawberry marshmallow rabbits.

Reni looked from the package in his hands to the purple net bag filled with egg-shaped chocolate rice crispies. It only took a half second for her to size up the situation and do the figuring in her head. It was cheaper to have the mini eggs than the marshmallow rabbits.

 Her frown deepened. Surely a few extra dollars wouldn’t be that big of a headache to the old man and he could either substitute something or skip another thing if it was that important.

“Mr. Bearns?” She tried again.

“Hm? Ah, sorry Reni.” He made himself smile at her and reluctantly returned the package to the shelf. “I’m almost done.” He looked at the cart and then back at the shelf. The movements were repeated a few times and then he snatched the package of chocolates off the shelf. “We’re finished. Let’s go.”

Reni blinked. “Really?” He tried to turn the cart, but it was too heavy. She stared at him for a moment longer before the rest of it registered. A careful glance at the cart was proof enough. “What about your dairy stuff? You didn’t get milk or butter.”

“Ah, well, I don’t—I mean, I’m sure I can-”

“If you don’t want to walk all the way there, I can grab it for you.” Reni jammed her cellphone in the back pocket of her jeans. “You said you use it for the oatmeal and toast every morning, right?” She wrinkled her nose. “A half-gallon and a small pat?” She was already turning on her heel and heading down the aisle. “Stay here with the cart. Be right back.”

She left before he could protest.

Dodging easily through the half-crowded aisle, she was soon standing at the dairy case and selecting the necessary items according to the man’s favored brands. He was going to give up not one, but two of his staples for the sake of a present.

It left a sick feeling in her stomach.

Snatching them up from the cooler case, Reni hugged them to her chest and trotted back to the aisle where she’d left them.

“Got them.” She dumped the armful in the cart and turned it with practiced ease. She’d caught the fact that he’d put the chocolate back in the time that it took her to grab the milk and butter. “Ready?”

His head bowed and he merely nodded, giving no answer, his face hidden from view. 

Reni pushed the cart forward and at the last minute, she reached back and grabbed the chocolates. It'd be worth it if he smiled. She mused. For all his slowness, he wasn't the worst grocery shopping partner she'd ever had.

Taking the self-checkout—to ensure that she packed his groceries the way he liked them—she grabbed the purple net of chocolate and the special strawberry rabbit confections. By the time he stopped sorting the groceries long enough to realize what she was doing, Reni had already paid and bagged the sweet treats. 

"Here,  you wanted these, right?"

“Reni…!”

She shrugged. “Happy Easter.” Her nose wrinkled. “I thought you didn’t pack the green beans with the canned corn.”

For a moment, he stared at her and then he smiled so widely it reached his eyes.

© Sara Harricharan

5 comments:

Catrina Bradley... said...

Sara, this is so sweet! I almost cried at the end. I love this girl's heart. Great story!

Sherri Ward said...

Loved this one, Sara! I'd like to say I'm always patient with old folks (whom I am rapidly becoming) but truth is I have struggled to be patient in times like this.

Sherri Ward said...

Loved this one, Sara! Wish I could always be patient in times like this, truth is I struggle with it, too!

Sherri Ward said...

Loved this one, Sara! Thanks for sharing!

Debra Ann Elliott said...

What a great story!