Luke and I are grocery shopping together.
Grocery stores are an exercise in psychological manipulation. It is virtually impossible to enter a supermarket intending to buy a quart of milk and emerge with only the milk. First, consider the entrance. Once you enter the grocery store, you must traverse the entire store in order to reach the checkout line.
And where do the entrances to grocery stores usually leave you? In the produce department. You are surrounded by scents, textures, and bright colors that result in a surge of endorphins. The lighting of the store is manipulated to make fruits and vegetables appear at their brightest and best. And of course, the dairy aisle—one of the most popular locations to visit—is always hidden in the back of the store so you are forced to pass through a wealth of tempting products before reaching it.
Even the way the shelves are organized is a psychological trap. The most expensive items are always placed conveniently at adult eye level, with the generic brands placed down by your knees. Sugary cereals or other items meant to appeal to children are placed at eye level for children. Even the giant size of the shopping carts is intended to encourage more purchases.
“Even the music is meant to manipulate us,” I explain to Luke. “A study of supermarket shoppers found people spend
more time shopping when stores play music. You’ll notice there are no windows or clocks or skylights that give you any external time cues.”
“That’s fascinating,” Luke says as he throws a box of corn flakes into our cart. “I never realized how twisted supermarkets are.”
“So the key is not to be fooled by their subtle tactics.” I seize the handle of the cart and navigate us away from the bright boxes of the cereal aisle. “We have a grocery shopping list. We need to stick to exactly what is on the list. No impulse purchases.”
He grins at me. “You are so wise.”
“I’m serious. The more time we linger in the supermarket, the more unnecessary items we will purchase.”
He nods thoughtfully. “So… would this be a big no-no then?”
With those words, he grabs me and his lips find mine. Right in the middle of the supermarket. And despite my determination not to dawdle here, I don’t mind one bit.
In the week since we deleted the video from EJ’s phone and home computer, Luke and I have grown closer than ever. He was anxious about EJ retaliating, so he insisted on spending the next few nights at my house. But EJ didn’t try to contact me—I’ve blocked him on my phone and he never showed up at my front door like I worried he might. Even after those first few days though, Luke hasn’t gone home. Well, just once to grab more clothing, but then he came back right away.
As I allow Luke to kiss me right in the middle of aisle six at the grocery store, I realize that this is the happiest I have ever been. I have a wonderful man in my life, my book is coming out soon, and I have diffused the EJ situation. And I have this feeling that more good things are soon to come.
I jerk away from Luke, guilty for my display of affection in a public place. It was utterly unprofessional. Although Luke doesn’t seem the slightest bit sorry. He has a dopey grin on his face.
When I turn around, I recognize one of my patients. GW. The woman who was first convinced that her mailman was trying to kill her, then her pharmacist, and more recently, her son. When I’m alone with patients in my office and I hear their darkest thoughts, sometimes I wonder how they manage to function in their lives. But here is Gail, looking very put together in a fetching pink sweater and khaki slacks, with her makeup more perfectly applied than mine after Luke smudged my lipstick with that kiss. I wonder if she’s been taking her medications.
“Hello, Gail.” I wipe my lips self-consciously, ignoring the burning sensation on my face. “It’s nice seeing you.”
“Oh dear,” Gail murmurs. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you and your gentleman friend. I just got excited when I saw you.”
“That’s quite all right.” I tug at the collar of my blouse and glance at Luke, who is looking at me expectantly. “Luke, this is Gail, a patient of mine. Gail, this is Luke. My, um, friend.”
Luke smirks at the description of “friend” and Gail seems amused as well. But as I got into my thirties, the term boyfriend felt strange on my lips. After all, Luke is hardly a boy.
“I haven’t seen you for a bit, Gail,” I say, attempting to diffuse the awkwardness. “Is everything all right?”
“Everything is great!” Her jowls jiggle as she smiles. “I took your advice and sat down with my son, and we had a wonderful talk. It made me realize how right you were about the stupid paranoid thoughts I was having about everyone. It completely turned things around.” She beams at me. “You really helped me.”
She looks much better. She sometimes used to show up at our appointments slightly disheveled with the scent of alcohol emanating from her—a fact that I gently tried to bring up a few times and she always laughed it off and changed the subject. But today, she just smells like perfume. Lilacs, I think.
“I’m so glad you’re doing well.” My phone buzzes inside my purse. A text message. “It was my pleasure.”
Gail turns her attention to Luke. “Your friend here is a wonderful doctor. She has such a brilliant mind.”
He grins at me. “I know it.”
While Gail goes on and on, extolling my virtues, I rifle around in my handbag to retrieve my phone, to make sure I’m not being texted about any emergencies on my patients. I glance down at the screen and see a message from an unfamiliar number.
It’s a video.
I don’t need to click on it to know what it is. I recognize my own image right outside that red Jetta. I have seen this video so many times, I see it in my sleep. But I had thought it was gone forever.
I sent Luke to get rid of that video on EJ’s computer. But it seems like he had another copy tucked away somewhere.
I glance up at Luke and Gail, who are still talking. I type into my phone with trembling fingers:
What do you want?
I stare at the screen, waiting for his response. Three bubbles appear, and I imagine his finger tapping out letters on his phone. Finally, two words appear on the screen:
I have just made things so much worse.