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Chapter no 17 – Kenna

Reminders of Him

Dear Scotty,

I started my new job today. I’m here now, actually. I’m at orientation and it’s really boring. I’m two hours into videos about how to properly bag groceries, stack eggs, keep meats separated, and I’m trying to keep my eyes open, but I haven’t been sleeping well.

Luckily, I figured out that the orientation videos still play if I minimize the video tab. I’m writing you this letter using Microsoft Word.

I used the printer here to print off all the old letters I typed into Google Docs when I was in prison. I shoved them into my bag and put them in my employee locker to hide them because I doubt I’m supposed to be printing things.

Almost everything I remember about you is documented. Every important conversation we had. Every impactful moment that happened after you died.

I spent five years typing letters to you, trying to recall all the memories I had with you in case Diem wants to know about you someday. I know your parents have more to share with her about you than I do, but I still feel like the part of you I knew is worth sharing.

When I was walking around downtown the other day, I noticed the antique store was no longer there. It’s a hardware store now.

It made me think of the first time we went there and you bought me all those tiny little rubber hands. We were a few days from our six-month anniversary, but we were celebrating it early because I had to work the weekend shift and wouldn’t get off work in time for us to go out.

We’d both said I love you by that point. We were past our first kiss, our first time to make love, our first fight.

We had just eaten at a new sushi restaurant downtown and were browsing antique stores, mostly window-shopping because it was still light out. We were holding hands, and every now and then you would stop and kiss me. We were in that sickening stage of relationships—the stage I’d never reached with anyone before you. We were happy, in love, full of hormones, full of hope.

It was bliss. A bliss we thought would last forever.

You pulled me into the antique store at one point during our walk and said, “Pick something out. I’ll buy it for you.”

“I don’t need anything.”

“This isn’t about you. It’s about me, and I want to buy you something.”

I knew you didn’t have a lot of money. You were about to graduate college and you planned to start graduate school full-time. I was still working at Dollar Days making minimum wage, so I walked toward the jewelry display, hoping I could find something cheap. Maybe a bracelet, or a pair of earrings.

But it was a ring that caught my eye. It was dainty and gold and looked like it belonged on the finger of someone straight out of the 1800s. There was a pink stone in the center of it. You noticed the moment I spotted it because I sucked in a breath.

“You like that one?” you asked.

It was in a case with all the other rings, so you asked the guy behind the counter if we could see it. The man

took it out and handed it to you. You slipped it on the ring finger of my right hand and it fit perfectly. “It’s so pretty,” I said. It was honestly the prettiest ring I’d ever seen.

“How much is it?” you asked the guy.

“Four grand. I could probably knock a couple hundred off. It’s been in the case for a few months.”

Your eyes bulged at that price. “Four grand?” you asked in disbelief. “Is it a fucking pigeon?”

I sputtered laughter because I had no idea why you always said that phrase, but it was at least the third time I’d heard you say it. I also laughed because the ring was four thousand freaking dollars. I’m not sure I’d ever had anything on my body worth four thousand dollars.

You grabbed my hand and said, “Hurry. Take it off before you break it.” You gave it back to the man. There was a display of tiny rubber hands next to the register. They were little gag gifts that slipped onto the tips of fingers so you’d have fifty fingers instead of ten. You grabbed one and said, “How much are these?”

The man said, “Two bucks.”

You bought me ten of them. One for each finger. It was the stupidest gift anyone had ever given me, but by far my favorite.

When we stepped out of the store, we were both laughing. “Four thousand dollars,” you muttered, shaking your head. “Does that ring come with a car? Do all rings cost that much? Do I need to start saving for our engagement now?” You were slipping the rubber hands on the tips of my fingers as you ranted about the price of jewelry.

But your rant made me smile, because it’s the first time you ever mentioned the word engagement. I think you noticed what you said because you got quiet after that.

When all the rubber hands were on my fingers, I touched both of your cheeks. It looked so ridiculous. You were smiling when you wrapped your hands around my wrists and kissed my palm.

Then you kissed the palms of all ten of my rubber hands.

“I have so many fingers now,” I said. “How will you afford to buy rings for all fifty of my fingers?”

You laughed and pulled me against you. “I’ll figure out a way. I’ll rob a bank. Or I’ll rob my best friend. He’ll be rich soon, that lucky bastard.”

You were referring to Ledger, although I’m not sure I knew that at the time, because I didn’t know Ledger. He had just signed a contract with the Broncos. I knew very little about sports, though, and nothing about your friends.

We were consumed by each other so much we hardly made time for anyone else. You were in class most days and I worked most days, so the little time we were able to spend together, we spent together alone.

I figured that would eventually change. We were just at points in our lives where we were each other’s priority, and neither of us saw that as a bad thing because it felt so good.

You pointed at something in the window of the store across the street and then you grabbed one of the tiny plastic hands and you held it as we headed in that direction.

I had this fantasy that you would someday propose to me and then we’d get married and have babies and raise them together in this town because you loved it here, and I would have loved anywhere you wanted to be. But you died, and we didn’t get to live out our dream.

And now we never will, because life is a cruel, cruel thing, the way it picks and chooses who to bully. We’re given these shitty circumstances and told by society that

we, too, can live the American dream. But what they don’t tell us is that dreams almost never come true.

It’s why they call it the American dream rather than the American reality.

Our reality is that you’re dead, I’m in orientation for a shitty job making minimum wage, and our daughter is being raised by people who aren’t us.

Reality is depressing as fuck. So is this job.

I should probably get back to it. Love,

Kenna

 

 

Amy put me on the floor after I finished the three hours of orientation videos. I was nervous at first because I was expecting to shadow someone my first day, but Amy said, “Make sure the heavy stuff goes on the bottom, treat the bread and eggs like infants, and you’ll be fine.”

She was right. I’ve been bagging groceries and carrying them out for customers for two hours now, and so far, it’s just your average low-paying job.

No one warned me there could be job hazards on the first day, though.

That job hazard is named Ledger, and even though I haven’t laid eyes on him, I just spotted his ugly orange truck in the parking lot.

My pulse speeds up because I don’t want him to make a scene. I haven’t seen him since he showed up at my apartment Saturday night to check on me.

I think I handled myself pretty well. He seemed remorseful for treating me the way he did, but I kept my cool and acted unfazed, even though his showing back up definitely fazed me.

It gave me a little bit of hope. If he feels bad enough for how he treated me, maybe there’s a chance he could eventually grow empathetic toward my situation.

I’m sure it’s a small chance, but it’s still a chance.

Maybe I shouldn’t avoid him. Being in his presence might make him realize I’m not the monster he thinks I am.

I walk back inside the store and return the grocery cart to the rack.

Amy is behind the customer service counter. “Can I take a bathroom break?”

“You don’t have to ask permission to pee,” she says. “Remember how we met? I fake pee every hour when I’m here. It’s the only way I stay sane.”

I really like her.

I don’t have to use the restroom. I just want to walk around and see if I can spot Ledger. Part of me hopes he’s here with Diem, but I know he isn’t. He saw me applying for a job here, which means he’ll likely never bring Diem inside this store ever again.

I eventually find him in the cereal aisle. I was planning to just spy on him so I can keep tabs on him while he shops, but he’s at the same end of the aisle I appear at, and he spots me as soon as I see him. We’re just four feet apart from one another. He’s holding a box of Fruity Pebbles.

I wonder if those are for Diem.

“You got the job.” Ledger says this without any hint as to whether he even cares that I got the job, or if he’s bothered by it. I’m sure if he’s that bothered by it, he would have shopped somewhere else today. It’s not like he didn’t know I was trying to get a job here.

He’s going to have to find a new store if it bothers him because I’m not going anywhere. I can’t. No one else will hire me.

I look up from the box of cereal in his hands and immediately wish I hadn’t. He looks different today. Maybe it’s the fluorescent lighting or the fact that when I’m in his presence, I’m attempting not to look at him too closely. But here in the cereal aisle, the lights seem to illuminate him.

I hate that he looks better under fluorescent lighting. How is that even possible? His eyes are friendlier, his mouth is even more inviting, and I don’t like that I’m thinking good things about the man who physically pulled me away from the house my daughter was in.

I leave the cereal aisle with a new lump in my throat.

I changed my mind; I don’t want to be nice to him. He’s already spent five years judging me. I’m not going to change his view of me in the aisle

of a grocery store, and I get too flustered in his presence to give him any semblance of a good impression.

I try to time things so that I’m not available when he checks out, but as karma would have it, the other grocery baggers on duty are all busy. I get called to his lane to bag his groceries, which means I’ll have to walk them out to his truck and converse with him and be nice.

I don’t make eye contact with him, but I can feel him watching me as I separate his food into sacks.

There’s something intimate about knowing what everyone in this town is buying for their kitchens. I feel like I can almost define a person based on their groceries. Single women buy a lot of healthy food. Single men buy a lot of steak and frozen dinners. Large families buy a lot of bulk meat and produce.

Ledger gets frozen dinners, steak, Worcestershire sauce, Pringles, animal crackers, Fruity Pebbles, milk, chocolate milk, and a lot more Gatorade. Based on his selections, I conclude he’s a single guy who spends a lot of time with my daughter.

The last items the cashier rings up are three cans of SpaghettiOs. I’m jealous he knows what my daughter likes, and that jealousy shows in the way I toss the cans into the sack and then into the cart with a thud.

The cashier side-eyes me as Ledger pays for the groceries. Once he gets his receipt, he folds it up and puts it in his billfold while walking to the cart. “I can get it.”

“I have to do it,” I say flatly. “Store policy.” He nods and then leads the way to his truck.

I don’t like that I still find him attractive. I try to look everywhere but at him as we make our way across the parking lot.

When I was in his bar the other night, before I knew he was the owner, I couldn’t help but notice how diverse the employees were. That made me appreciate whoever the owner was. The other two bartenders, Razi and Roman, are both Black. One of the waitresses is Hispanic.

I like that he’s a figure in my daughter’s life. I want her to be raised by good people, and even though I barely know Ledger, so far he seems like a decent human.

When we reach his truck, Ledger takes the Gatorades and puts them in the back while I unload the rest of his groceries into the back seat opposite

the side where Diem’s booster seat is. There’s a pink-and-white scrunchie on the floorboard. When I’m finished loading his sacks, I stare at the scrunchie for a few seconds and then reach for it.

There’s a strand of brown hair wrapped around it. I pull at the hair until it comes loose from the scrunchie. The strand is about seven inches long and is the exact same color as mine.

She has my hair.

I feel Ledger approach me from behind, but I don’t care. I want to climb into this back seat and stay here with her booster seat and her hair scrunchie and see if I can find any other remnants of her that’ll give me hints as to what she looks like and what kind of life she lives.

I turn around, still staring at the scrunchie. “Does she look like me?” I glance up at him, and his eyebrows are drawn apart as he looks at me. His left arm is resting on the top of his truck, and I feel caged between him, the door, and the grocery cart.

“Yeah. She does.”

He doesn’t say how she looks like me. Is it her eyes? Her mouth? Her hair? All of her? I want to ask him if we have similar personalities, but he doesn’t know me at all.

“How long have you known her?”

He folds his arms over his chest and looks down at his feet like he doesn’t feel comfortable answering these questions. “Since they brought her home.”

The jealousy that rolls through me is almost audible. I suck in a trembling breath and push back my tears with another question. “What’s she like?”

That question makes him sigh heavily. “Kenna.” All he says is my name, but it’s enough to know he’s done answering my questions. He looks away from me and scans the parking lot. “Do you walk to work?”

Convenient change of subject. “Yes.”

He’s looking at the sky now. “It’s supposed to storm this afternoon.” “Lovely.”

“You could Uber.” His eyes come back to mine. “Did they have Uber before you . . .” His voice trails off.

“Went to prison?” I finish with a roll of my eyes. “Yes. Uber existed.

But I don’t have a phone, so I don’t have the app.”

“You don’t have a phone?”

“I had one but I dropped it last month, and I can’t get a new one until I get a paycheck.”

Someone uses a key fob to unlock the car a space over from us. I glance around and see Lady Diana walking toward the car with an older couple and a cart full of groceries. We aren’t in their way, but I use it as an excuse to close his door.

Lady Diana sees Ledger as she’s opening the trunk. She grabs the first sack and mutters, “Jerk.”

It makes me smile. I glance at Ledger, and I think he might even be smiling. I don’t like that he doesn’t seem like an asshole. It would be a lot easier to hate him if he were an asshole.

“I’m keeping the scrunchie,” I say as I turn the cart around.

I want to tell him that if he’s still going to insist on shopping here, he should bring my daughter next time. But when I’m in his presence, I can’t decide if I should be polite because he’s the only thing linking me to my daughter, or if I should be mean because he’s one of the things keeping me from my daughter.

Saying nothing when I want to say everything is probably my best bet for now. I glance back at him before I head into the store, and he’s still leaning against his truck, watching me.

I go inside and return the cart to the rack and then pull my hair up with Diem’s scrunchie and wear it for the rest of my shift.

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