A Vantage Point of Asses, chapter 5

After work, Jenna remembers her mental note to head back in the direction of Little Spoon. Her bad mood seems to have diminished a little, because she’s actually looking forward to baking. She’s a bit surprised that she’s never noticed Al’s Organic Foods store before. But then again, she’s never been hipster enough to look for any organic food stores and her mind is always so set on getting to the coffee shop. It’s a small shop, especially compared to the big super that she usually visits, closer to her home. She figures that if she’s going to try new things, she might as well start doing them the organic way. That way, if her chocolate chip cookies fail miserably and her kitchen explodes, at least she can say she didn’t damage the environment. Much.

She looks over her list of ingredients that she compiled when she was still in the office and had the sudden clarity of mind that it might look a little pathetic if she were to enter the shop with a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and nothing else. That just about screams depression. So instead, the things she needs are now neatly written down on a piece of notebook paper. Much more mature that way.

At first Jenna thinks that the shop may be empty – except for the bored looking youth behind the counter – but it’s not. There are actually a couple more people in there, who seem to know their way around better than Jenna does. The thing is, the labels on these organic products are much less distinctive than the colourful commercial stuff that the big supers have. In the somewhat dim yellow light of the store, everything looks like racks of off-white cans and yellowish saran wrapped blobs. Jenna has a sudden fear that they might be called different things here, because it seems that kind of shop.

It doesn’t turn out to be as much of a challenge as she thought it was going to be and after five minutes, all she needs is chocolate. Maybe this whole thing isn’t doomed to fail after all, Jenna thinks, and enthusiastically rounds the corner into the candy isle, but it’s narrower than she anticipates. Her wheelchair catches on a rack of something or other, sending the dozens of packages sprawling across the floor with too much noise for Jenna to pretend it didn’t happen and it wasn’t her. “Shit!” she hisses.

The cashier looks up from his unfinished game of Sudoku, but his pimpled face shows no signs of intent to help her. Jenna curses again and backs up, rattling the rack again, because apparently the first time wasn’t sufficient in dislodging the entire contents of the rack to the floor. “Oh, for crying out loud!”

She begins picking up the packets off of the floor, but it is a slow process because everything is just slightly out of her reach and she can’t move without backing into other things.

"Here, let me help."

She looks up to see a guy about her age, already crouched down on his ankles, picking up the things she dropped putting them back on the shelves. He smiles at her, and she returns it awkwardly.

"Don’t worry about it," he says, "They shouldn’t cram so much stuff into a tiny shop. What were you looking for? I’ll get it for you."

He doesn’t look like he belongs here. He’s not indie enough. He’s dressed kind of sharply, like he goes into meetings all the time, but it’s a good look on him. The only thing that fits in this shop is his hair, which is adventurous. It’s the only thing Jenna can think of to describe it. Handsome, Jenna thinks, but then shakes herself. “Dark chocolate.”

He casts a quick look into the basket on Jenna’s lap as he puts the last couple of things back on the rack. “Chocolate chip, huh?” he smiles.

A look of surprise plays on Jenna’s face and she smiles back. Oh god, stop it. “Yeah! How did you…?”

"I have a sister. She makes me go to Al’s because they have the best stuff," he replies as he gets up and passes behind her into the isle.

Oh great, he probably thinks I’m a child. Or depressed. Yikes. Oh, whatever, I’m done anyway.

He returns half a minute later, dropping back into a crouch and handing her not only a bar of dark chocolate but also a tiny bottle of cinnamon powder. “Trust me. It’s the best thing.”

Jenna can’t stop being surprised, or smiling, because he’s ‘stooping to her level’, like he has an idea what it’s like to always have to look up at people. Neither of them notices the guy that walks into the shop dressed in all black and a balaclava, until it’s too late.

"Nobody fucking move!" he shouts.

Jenna’s eyes shoot over to the cash register, where the terrified looking teenage cashier has a gun pointed at his head. Fuck. Evidently, Jenna’s first instinct is to back further into the isle, but a voice in her head says she’ll back into things again and startle the robber. And then there is the guy with the adventurous hair, whose hand is on the arm of her chair, keeping her there.

"Stay…" he mouths and then he’s the one who moves, still crouching.

Jenna shakes her head in a panic, trying to grasp his arm but he’s already out of her reach. What the hell is he doing!? Is he freaking crazy?

"Give me the money. Now! Open your till, hurry up! I haven’t got all day!" the man in the balaclava is half shouting at the cashier, who nervously gropes for the keys to the register on the chain connected to his belt. "Easy dude, I’m getting the keys!" the boy stammers, his voice high with puberty and panic. "Don’t shoot me!" he adds, but then his eyes move from the man with the gun to somewhere behind him and the robber whips around without moving his gun even an inch.

"I told you not to fucking move!" he shouts when he sees that the man from Jenna’s isle has moved and is coming up out of his crouching position with his hands half raised defensively in front of him. Jenna can’t see his face from where she’s sitting, but for some reason, she imagines he’s calm and focussed. Unlike herself. She can feel her heart beating 120 miles per hour because whatever he’s doing, he must be crazy!

"I’m not armed," he says, "My name is Alexander, but you can call me Alex…"

"I don’t give a fuck about who you are!" comes the reply and the gunner’s hand trembles with the tension.

Alex nods a little, “Ok, but why don’t you let the lad go? You can talk to me and I’ll get you what you need.”

"Dude, what are you doing?" the cashier says nervously, "Just let him get the money and leave!" he looks back at the robber. "Dude, just TAKE IT!"

Alex takes a step forward hastily, his hands still outstretched in front of him, trying to smooth over the situation. He knows he’s made the wrong move as soon as he sees the robber’s face. The robber pulls the trigger but it is followed by another shot. Jenna screams and ducks, because that’s the only thing her brain is telling her to do. It is the gunner who cries out and crumples to the floor. The place is immediately swamped with police officers.

There’s so much confusion Jenna can’t immediately make sense of it, but she can see the cashier. He’s unharmed, half hidden behind the counter as the police collect the robber off the floor. They must have shot him in the leg. Her eyes flick immediately to Alex, but he’s being moved back away from the gunner by the police, who seem to be thanking him. Jenna suddenly remembers to breathe and lets out a breath she didn’t realise she had been holding for the past minute. Some of the panic ebbs away with it, but there’s still an uncomfortable tightness in her chest that she can’t let go of. Her hands are clasped around the arms of her wheelchair so tightly that when Jenna realises she is still holding on and lets go, it actually hurts. She flexes her hands, staring at them, a bit surprised that they’re still there.

When she looks up, a police officer is talking to her, looking a little worried. “Ma’am? Are you alright? Are you hurt?” he frowns, and Jenna shakes her head no.

"Are you sure, Ma’am?" the officer presses, and Jenna finds her voice. "Yes, I’m fine. A bit shaky, that’s all."

"I’ll need a quick statement. Can you come with outside with me for a second? It won’t take long."

Jenna nods and follows the man, a lot slower than usual. They stop at a police car and the officer takes a notepad and a pen from atop the dashboard and takes her statement. By the time she’s given it, she can’t remember a word of what she told the police officer. “Thank you, Ma’am, you’re all done here. You can go home.”

Jenna nods distractedly, but the officer has already moved on to the next witness.

"Hey," Alex says as he walks over, "You ok?" he asks, a little hesitant.

Jenna looks up. “Oh, hey… Yeah, I think so…”

"Good," replies Alex. He sounds relieved. "Jenna, right?"

Jenna nods, he must have overheard her telling the policeman.

"Alex," he smiles.

"I know," Jenna replies, still sounding a little distant as she says it, and then she seems to suddenly pull focus. "You’re nuts. How did you stay so calm in there?"

Alex grins for a moment, and shifts his weight from one leg to the other and back, his hands stuffed in his pockets. “Well, that wasn’t exactly my first time witnessing someone being held at gunpoint.”

Jenna frowns at him.

"I work for the UN," he offers, as though that explains it all. "Hey, where are you headed? You seem a little rattled."

"I have to get the 7. Bus. Home." Jenna replies. "Yeah, I should probably go home."

"Well, I’m not going to let you go by yourself," Alex says and there’s something in his voice that makes Jenna reluctant to disagree with him, so she says nothing and starts wheeling herself in the direction of the bus stop and he follows.

She stops after a few feet, flexing her fingers again, but before she can continue, he’s pushing, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Again, she doesn’t argue. Truth is, she’s pretty tired. They’re nearly at the stop when Jenna looks down at her lap and sees the basket full of ingredients. “Shit! I didn’t pay for these! We have to go back!”

Alex chuckles. “I don’t think they’re going to be too worried about that right now. But if it will make you feel better I can go back in there tomorrow and give them money. I didn’t get any of the stuff I came for.”

He parks her at the stop and sits down on the bench beside her. Jenna glances at him curiously and Alex catches her looking at him.

"What?" he asks.

"Are you for real?" Jenna asks, and he grins again.

"Pretty sure, yeah, why?"

Jenna just looks at him a second longer and then looks away, shaking her head. Alex just chuckles. They wait for the bus, and get on it, not saying particularly much, until Jenna speaks up again. “Wait. This probably isn’t your bus.”

"Nope. Just taking you home," Alex says, simply.

"You’re very strange," she replies.

"You said that already,"

"No, I didn’t. I said you were nuts."

"Oh, well. Also strange apparently," he smiles.

"You’re not dangerous are you?" she asks.

"Me? No, well, not usually," he replies.

That’s comforting,” Jenna squints at him.

"You did ask,” Alex shrugs. She shrugs back.

Jenna finds that the bus doesn’t take quite as long to get to her stop at night as it does during the day. Probably because there is hardly anyone on the bus but them. The bus driver – one Jenna doesn’t know – lets them off and continues on his way as they continue on the sidewalk. There’s only a tiny voice in the back of Jenna’s head that tells her that she doesn’t know this guy and that she’s a little insane for letting him walk her home, but she decides now is the perfect time to ignore it.

He helps her inside, turning lights on for her and taking the shopping basket into the kitchen for her, where he sets it on the kitchen counter. “Well, that’s you all set for cookies. Don’t do it tonight, though, because I’m afraid you’ll set the house on fire.”

Jenna scowls jokingly at him, but he’s probably right.

"I’m going to leave my number on your desk, in case you need anything, ok?"Alex finds a piece of paper on her desk and writes down his name, number and e-mail address down as legibly as he possibly can, clicking the pen twice when he is done and tapping the piece of paper with his index finger pointedly. "Really, if there’s anything…errands, burglars, chocolate chip and cinnamon cookies baking lessons… call, ok?”

Jenna is just watching him, a bemused smile on her face. “You’re insane,” she says.

"I know," he replies, and points his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the front door, "I’m gonna let myself out. You’re ok, yeah?"

Jenna, still smiling, nods. “Yeah.”

"O-kay," Alex chirps, marching past her. "Night, Jenna."

"Night, Alex."

Ten seconds later, Jenna hears the front door close. And she has suddenly lost all need for a pity party. She finds her phone and resists the urge to call this guy right away. There are about four missed calls from Lemon and three messages, but Jenna doesn’t even open them. Instead, she writes a new message.

To: Lemon

Life has gotten significantly more interesting. Sorry I haven’t called. Lots to tell you. Gimme a second to gather myself and I’ll call. Love you.