Max (Carolina Cold Fury Hockey)(2)

By: Sawyer Bennett


“What do you say, sweet thang?” he says in what he tries to pass as a suave voice but comes off as trailer trash.

“I say there’s no more beer back there,” she grits out, giving a look over her shoulder to the closed door, and then back to the men.

And that was a worried look.

A very worried look, so I decide that this isn’t going any further. Grabbing the closest bag of chips, I stalk up the aisle toward the counter as I pull my hat off with my empty hand. I tuck it in my back pocket, and when I’m just a few feet from the men, the woman’s eyes flick to me, relief evident in her gaze. I smile at her reassuringly and drop my eyes down to her name tag.

Julianne.

Pretty name for a really pretty girl.

The sound of my footsteps finally penetrate and both men straighten to their full heights, which is still a few inches below mine, and turn my way. My eyes move to the first man, then slowly to the other, leveling them both with an ice-cold glare. With the power of my gaze, I dare both of them to say something else to the beauty behind the counter.

Because I suspect the only sports these guys watch are bass fishing tournaments and NASCAR, I’m not surprised neither one recognizes me as a goalie with the Carolina Cold Fury. Clearly the lovely Julianne doesn’t either, but that’s also fine by me.

The sound of fingers tapping on the cash register catches everyone’s attention, and the two men turn back to her. “That will be nineteen dollars and eighty-six cents.”

One of the guys pulls a wallet out of the back pocket of his saggy jeans and nabs a twenty, handing it to her wordlessly. Now that they know there’s an audience, neither one seems to be intent on continuing the crass game they were playing. At least I think it was a game, but I’m just glad I was here in case their intent was more nefarious.

Julianne hands the guy his change and they gather their purchases and leave without a word.

As soon as the door closes, her shoulders drop and she lets out a sigh of relief. Giving me a weak smile, she looks at the bag in my hand and says, “Is that all?”

“Uh, no actually,” I say as I give her a sheepish grin. “Got distracted by those assholes. I need a few more things.”

“Yeah,” she agrees in a tired voice, brushing her long bangs back before turning away from me to an open cardboard box she has sitting on a stool to her left. She reaches in, pulls out a carton of cigarettes, which she efficiently opens and starts stocking the rack of cigarettes behind the counter. I’m effectively dismissed and there’s no doubt in my mind she doesn’t know who I am.

I head back down the chips aisle, take a bag of corn nuts and continue straight back to the sodas. I grab a Mountain Dew, never once considering the diet option because that would totally destroy the point of having a junk food night, and then head straight to the candy aisle. Two Snickers in my hand and I’m set.

When I get to the counter, she must hear my approach as she turns around with the same tired smile. Walking to the register, her eyes drop to the items that I set on the counter, robotically punching in the price of each one. I watch her delicate fingers work the keys, taking in her slumped shoulders as she rings in the last item and raises those eyes back to me.

They’re golden…well, a light brown actually but so light as to appear like a burnished gold.

A piercing shriek comes from behind the closed door, so sharp and high-pitched that it actually makes my teeth hurt. I also practically jump out of my skin, the noise was so unexpected.

The woman—Julianne, according to that name tag—does nothing more than close her eyes, lower her head, and let out a pained sigh. It’s such an agonized motion that for a brief moment I want to reach out and squeeze her shoulder in sympathy, but I have no clue what I’m empathizing with because I don’t know what that unholy sound was. I open my mouth to ask her if she’s okay when the closed door beside the cigarette rack flies open and a tiny blur comes flying out.

No more than three feet high, followed by another blur of the same size.

Then another piercing shriek from within that room, this time louder because the door is now open, and for a terrible moment I think someone must have been murdered. I even take a step to the side, intent on rounding the counter.

Julianne moves lightning fast, reaching her hands out and snagging each tiny blur by their collars. When they’re brought to a full halt, I see it’s two little boys, both with light brown hair and equally light brown eyes. One holds a baby doll in his hands and the other holds what looks to be a truck made of LEGOs.

Looking at me with apology-filled eyes, she says, “I’m so sorry. This will only take a second.”