Without Merit(2)

By: Colleen Hoover

I’ve already looked at everything in the store, but I don’t want to check out yet and leave because I’m enjoying this game too much.

I attend a very small public school in a very small town. And when I say small, I’m being generous. There is an average of twenty kids in each grade. Not class. Grade.

My entire senior class consists of twenty-two students. Twelve girls and ten guys. Eight of those ten guys have been in class with me since I was five. That narrows the dating field quite a bit. It’s hard to find someone attractive that you’ve spent almost every day of your life with since you were five years old.

But I have no idea who this guy is that’s made me the center of his attention. Which means I’m already more attracted to him than any person in my entire school, simply because I don’t know him.

I pause on an aisle that’s clearly visible from where he’s standing and I pretend to be interested in one of the signs displayed on the shelf. It’s an old white sign with the word SHAFT written on it and an arrow pointing to the right. It makes me laugh. Next to it is an old sign that looks to be from a gas station. It says LUBRICANT. It makes me wonder if someone placed the sexually suggestive signs together or if it was random. If I had enough money, I’d buy them and start a sexually suggestive sign collection for my bedroom. But my trophy habit is expensive enough.

The little boy who has been browsing the store with his mother is standing a couple of feet away from me now. He looks to be about four or five years old. The same age as my little brother, Moby. His mother has told him no less than ten times not to touch anything, but he picks up the glass pig sitting on the shelf in front of us. Why are kids so drawn to fragile things? His eyes are bright as he inspects it. I appreciate that his curiosity is more important to him than following his mother’s orders. “Mom, can I have this?”

His mother is an aisle over digging through a rack of old magazines. She doesn’t even turn around to look at what he’s holding. She just says, “No.”

The boy’s eyes dim immediately and he frowns as he goes to set the pig back on the shelf. But his little hands fumble when he tries to set it down and the pig slips from his grasp, shattering at his feet.

“Don’t move,” I say to him, reaching him before his mother does. I bend down and start picking up the pieces.

His mother plucks him up and sets him a few feet away so that he’s out of reach of the glass. “I told you not to touch anything, Nate!”

I glance over at the little boy and he’s staring at the broken glass like he just lost his best friend. His mother presses her hand to her forehead like she’s exhausted and frustrated, and then bends down and starts helping me pick up the pieces.

“He didn’t do it,” I say to her. “I’m the one who broke it.”

The woman looks back at her little boy and her little boy looks at me like he doesn’t know if this is a test. I wink at him before she turns back around and I say, “I didn’t see him standing there. I bumped into him and dropped it.”

She looks surprised, and maybe even a bit guilty for assuming her son did it. “Oh,” she says. She continues to help me pick up the larger shards of glass. The man who was standing at the register when I walked in appears out of nowhere with a broom and a dustpan.

“I’ll take it from here,” he says. But then he points to a sign on the wall that reads YOU BREAK IT, YOU BUY IT.

The woman takes her little boy’s hand and walks away. The little boy glances over his shoulder and smiles at me and it makes taking the blame so worth it. I return my attention to the man with the broom. “How much was it?”

“Forty-nine dollars. I’ll only charge you thirty, though.”

I sigh. I’m not so sure that little boy’s smile is worth thirty dollars. I walk my pageant trophy back to its home and pluck a much cheaper, much less appealing trophy from the shelf. I take it to the register and pay for the shattered pig and my first place bowling trophy. When the man hands me the sack and my change, I head toward the door. Right when I go to push it open, I remember the guy who was watching me from the second-floor railing. I glance up before I walk out the door but he’s no longer there. Somehow this makes me feel even heavier.

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