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As much as I’d like to avoid it
I always seem to end up right back at Culpepper’s drugstore
For snacks that cost less than at the supermarket
To make a quick run for the bare necessities while close to home
To quickly check things off of Izzy’s to-do list.
Now, I stop by after taking a quick drive to scope out the clinic
Just a few streets over.
Secured from the public view
Perhaps in an effort to steer protesters away
The square brick building
Doesn’t at all seem as sinister as naysayers had lead me to believe.
Had it not been for the sign that explicitly stated
The main service they offered
A clueless passerby could easily believe that the Stoneview Planned Parenthood
Was a dentist’s office instead.
I could have gone ahead and gone in
Asked about setting up an appointment
Had I not been so unprepared.
I ended up backing out of the parking lot
Promising myself I’d call the office when I got home
As long as Izzy was still at her newest client’s house, that is.
Yeah, I have absolutely no plans of her finding out I was ever pregnant at all
As horrible as that is.
Though I may be ashamed of keeping it a secret now
I have a feeling I’d feel much worse
If she had to look at me every day
And know that all the work she put into raising me into being smarter, kinder, better than my mother
Was long gone, flushed right down the toilet.
They do say that ignorance is bliss, after all.
Maybe not on my part, but definitely on hers.
Desperate to stop overthinking
I walk through the pharmacy’s automatic doors once more.
Once again, I am greeted by the voice I was now strangely familiar with.
“Welcome to Culpepper’s!”
Yes, I am face-to-face with Levi the Cashier
Who probably knows me as the ‘possibly pregnant tangerine girl.’
Then again, he doesn’t appear to be looking at me with disgust
Or even amusement
His goofy smile as courteous as ever.
Assuming that there’s no reason to be rude
I smile back at him
Forcing two words from between gritted teeth.
I am the living, breathing image of insincerity.
His smile grows larger as he offers me a two-finger salute.
I can’t help but laugh at that as I peruse the candy aisle.
“Need any help with anything?” he asks.
I can see him leaning against the counter out of the corner of my eye.
“Not particularly,” I reply.
“Bummer,” he says.
“It’s been a really slow day. I’m dying to do something, anything.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes.
The poor apron-wearing s-c-h-m-u-c-k.
“Would you like a drink?” he asks suddenly.
“Is that what you ask all the girls?”
I turn around and lean against the candy rack, Tootsie Pop in hand
Cocking an eyebrow at him.
He laughs nervously
Face going slightly pink.
“What? Oh, no. It’s not a pick-up line. It’s just… We’ve got an old-timey soda fountain back here, and the Cokes are, like, really, really good. I fix some whenever the place isn’t too busy.”
He nods toward me as I turn back around and pick up a Snickers bar.
“I was just wondering if you might want something to go with your snack there.”
“So you want me to buy myself a drink, then?”
“Yeah, sorta. You don’t have to, though.”
Okay, I’ll bite.
I abandon the candy rack to lean against the counter.
“How much?” I ask.
“Boss man has $3.00 written on the machine. But, since nobody else is here, I’ll get you one for a dollar.”
I pull three bills from my pocket, the other two being for the candy.
He smiles again.
“Alrighty then. Be right back.”
He pulls back the green curtain that seperated the register from the staff room.
“Do you want any flavoring any it?” he yells.
“Got cherry?” I ask.
I take a seat at one of the chairs at the bar, as vacant as it usually was.
The soda bar had been there since Culpepper’s opening in the 50s
Though its traffic had significantly lessened as the years went on and the staff got lazier.
In fact, since most everyone was getting their drinks out of the refrigerators that lined the store
I’m a bit surprised to see that they still have the soda fountain.
A while later, Levi returns with my drink
Stopping by the cash register to ring up the candy and bag it
Before dropping my purchases in front of me at the bar.
“Here you go.”
He watches as I take my first sip of my drink.
I savor the taste of the cool cherry-tinged soda.
“Wow,” I say, sitting the cup down.
“That’s like, a million times better than the stuff out of the fridge.”
His eyes flash with pride.
“I know, right? It’s a shame nobody knows it’s an option.”
He continues to eye me curiously as I drink in silence.
“I sorta hate to ask,” he starts.
“But didn’t you leave some tangerines here a few weeks ago?”
I freeze, pulling the straw away from my lips.
“Yes,” I reply cooly.
“Why do you ask?”
“No reason, really. Just think it’s kind of weird that I’d keep seeing you again.”
I look down at the bar, examining my hands.
I’m afraid that if I make eye contact with him, he’ll see the anxiety there.
Suddenly, the bell on the door rings, causing Levi to turn back to the cash register.
“Welcome to Culpepper’s!” he yells.
I briefly wonder if saying that comes naturally now.
“Hey,” he says quietly.
“I think I’m gonna have to go back to the register now, but I might catch you later–“
He pauses, seeming to look for a name.
“Candace,” I say.
He holds a hand out to me across the counter.
“Nice to meet you, Candace. May we meet again.”
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