Chapter 1:

Day 1


The store is quiet, filled only with the humming of drink machines. I kneel in front of the shelf placing packs of instant ramen on the shelf in front of me. I move slowly in a stupor of fatigue and boredom that always comes towards the end of my shift. Half a minute later, the packs are all in place and I stand with a sigh, picking up the empty box and carrying it to the back. I swiftly break down the box and set it on the recycling cart.

Then, I stand still for a bit, staring at nothing and only thinking of my bed at home, before the bell on the front door rings and pulls me back to reality. I take a deep breath, then go to meet the customer. As I turn the corner, I stop short. In the doorway is a woman, her black hair is shoulder length and frames her face on the sides. Her bangs just barely brush the tops of her eyes, which are a deep brown, sunken into her face and encircled by dark spots, as if she were in a state of severe sleeplessness. She wears a t-shirt displaying a nearby restaurant and comfortable jeans, which still cling to her shapely figure. She glances around, seemingly looking for something, and her eyes finally land on me. I stand frozen for a second, before I realize that I should probably do my job and assist her.

“Hello, is there anything I can help you with?” I say and give her a brief smile. She smiles brightly back at me, and I shift slightly from foot to foot, now more conscious of how my uniform fits me.

“Yeah, I was just wondering if you sold any oil here?” The woman asks.

“You mean for a car?” I ask.

“No, I mean cooking oil. It’s very urgent. I have to deep fry some donuts tonight for my sick mother.” The woman says with a blank expression. I don’t say anything for a few seconds, put off by her reasoning.

“It’s cancer.” She adds in the silence. I raise my eyebrows.

“Oh, I guess it is urgent then,” is all I say and the woman busts out laughing.

“Sorry, sorry. I just wanted to mess with you a little, but you took that better than I thought you might.” She says, smiling brightly. I smile awkwardly in response, feeling somewhat weirded out by the whole encounter.

“Oh, well, did you need any oil then, whether it's for your car or deep-frying donuts for your mother with cancer?” I ask, raising one eyebrow.

“Actually yes, car oil if you have it.” She says, her smile so bright that it contrasts sharply with her tired eyes.

“Yeah, it’s over there.” I motion to the stand in the corner of the store next to the ATM. She wanders over there and quickly picks out a bottle of oil, bringing it to the register. I ring it up in silence and give her the total. As she hands over the money, she hesitates with the bills still in her hand.

“I’m sorry if I actually made you feel uncomfortable. If you couldn’t tell by my face, I’ve been under a lot of stress lately.” She says in a softer voice than she had used prior, and gestures to her tired eyes.

“You’re fine, it really isn't a problem. If you had walked out without saying anything, I would’ve just thought of you as a pretty, but odd woman.” I say with a gentle smile. I realize immediately what I said.

“Oh, pretty huh?” She asks, raising both her eyebrows, her mouth turning slightly upwards on the edges in gentle amusement. My cheeks redden, and to hide my embarrassment I quickly pull the money from her slightly outstretched hand and complete the transaction, looking down at the register as much as I can. The woman giggles quietly as I hand her back her change.

“Have a good night.” I say, not quite making eye contact with the woman.

“Thank you. You have a good night too, Theo. The woman says, and I look up, confused for a moment before I realize that she must have read it from my nametag. The woman holds my eyes as she smiles sweetly at me, and all I can think is: Maybe beautiful is more fitting, rather than just pretty. The woman turns and walks to the door, while I remain in place, watching her as she leaves. She hesitates in the doorway, then turns around.

“My name is Amelia. I’ll be in tomorrow night most likely.” She says, gives me another smile, then walks out the door.