The doors of Nino’s Grocery stated that they opened at seven, but Adam Parrish was there before five nearly every morning.
It was all part of a routine—up by three-thirty, out of the shower by four, fed and on the way to work by four-thirty. That generally gave him a fifteen minute buffer for traffic and construction, which always seemed to be happening during the exact times that Adam was on the road.
Today had gone smoothly, so far, which meant that he was able to catch a ten minute nap in the car before trudging up to the storefront with his red Nino’s polo slung over his shoulder. The sliding glass doors were locked, as usual. Adam had found this habit a bit ridiculous when he’d first started at Nino’s, but that had been before he watched a customer pry the doors open at six-fifty one morning. The entitlement in some of these people had never truly surprised Adam, but with every increasingly stupid customer interaction, he lost a little more good will for people in general.
Adam pressed the small, silver button nestled into the brick of the store front and listened as the doorbell rang over the store’s intercom system. Inside the store, he could see several grocery clerks working on stocking and fronting their assigned aisles. Only the keeper of aisle seven (sauces and kitchenware) looked up.
Adam didn’t like to mingle with the grocery department, as it tended to house either loud, boisterous ex-football players or fragile elderly women, with little variation in between. Adam’s roommate, Noah Czerny, was one of the exceptions.
Ronan Lynch was the other.
The tattoo that snaked up around the collar of his navy polo shirt would’ve set him apart anywhere, but the leather bands covering his wrist set him apart more at Nino’s. Adam wasn’t even allowed to wear a watch in his department, and for weeks, he’d assumed that the rules were different for grocery, which wasn’t classified as a fresh department in the way that deli was. A few faux-casual questions to Orla Sargent, the gossip queen of customer service, had proven this theory incorrect. Ronan was an exception to the rule.
Adam had never asked him about it directly, because it seemed to be a no-win situation—either he didn’t want anyone to ask about it, in which case he would turn his foul attitude on Adam, or he wanted someone to ask about it, in which case Adam would have to give him the satisfaction of the interest. He wasn’t willing to deal with either outcome.
The doorbell had stopped echoing through the store by the time Ronan made it down the aisle to unlock the sliding glass doors and tug them open. “You forget about your bed in the basement?” he asked.
Adam gave him a look that he hoped came off more contemptuous than exhausted or petulant. He still had a few minutes to make it to the time clock, but it didn’t matter. Even if he’d gotten to work half an hour early, he wouldn’t have had time for Ronan’s attitude. “We don’t have a basement,” he said.
“Weren’t you here last night?” Ronan clarified.
Adam had been at Nino’s the night before, but he was almost always at Nino’s, so it seemed like a stupid question to ask. “Weren’t you?” he countered. “Some of us have work to do, man.”
“Asshole.” Ronan punctuated this with a rude but predictable hand gesture as Adam slipped past him into the dimly lit store.
"What's the word for an in-between space? The magical kind, like rest stops or secret doorways or whatever? Lemon? Limousine?"
Adam didn’t look up from the tomatoes he was dicing. The store was opening in thirty minutes, and he needed to have twenty-four more salads completed by then if he was going to have any hope of finishing the morning's production on time. He could feel his roommate's expectant gaze, and sighed. "Liminal spaces," he offered.
Noah snapped his fingers and pointed at him. "Liminal! That's it." Noah stood on the other side of the counter, leaning on a shopping cart that was filled with bags of chicken breading. "This is a liminal space," he said, gesturing around himself in a way that made Adam vaguely wonder if he would pass a drug test today.
"Nino's?" Adam asked.
"Grocery stores in general, but yeah," Noah said. "Only when we're closed, though. Soccer moms screaming about coupon fraud while their kids throw milk cartons on the ground kind of takes the charm out of it all, obviously."
"Obviously," Adam echoed, portioning out the tomatoes onto the six half-completed salads at his work station. Across the store, fluorescent lights began to flicker to life, the surest sign that the store was ready to open its doors to the masses.
Adam didn't see the magic.
This was a job, plain and simple. He clocked in, he worked his ass off for seven to ten hours, he clocked out. What happened in-between his visits to the time-clock was a blur of irate customers, co-workers with varying levels of competency, and a lot of forced smiles.
The only thing magical about being in the store before it opened was that Adam was able to get shit done without interruption. Well. With limited interruptions.
"NOAH." Both of them jumped at the sound of the grocery manager's voice—Noah, because he was using the grocery cart as a fill-in skateboard, and Adam, because Jesse Dittley was alarmingly quiet until he opened his mouth. “YOU DOWN-STACK THAT PALLET YET?”
Noah pulled a face at Adam that Jesse couldn’t see, and then sent the cart sailing into the deli. Adam reached out and stopped it with a hand instinctively before remembering that the contact would require him to swap gloves. “Just dropping off deli’s stuff,” Noah called out. He flipped the hood of his sweater up over his bleached hair and gave Adam a two-fingered salute before scurrying out of his manager’s sight.
Adam rolled his eyes. The damage was done, though. The morning quiet had been replaced with the sound of the bakery to his right and the grocery clerks in front of him. Soon, his seven o’clock person—Tad Caruthers, he noted with disgust—would be there, and he wouldn’t get a moment of peace until his lunch break.
It was the same every morning.
Over the tops of the aisles in front of him, Adam could see Ronan’s shaved head as the other boy stepped up and down from his ladder, fronting the last of his row before the store could open. Asshole, he thought.
The thought was almost, almost as dismissive as he wanted it to be.
Adam found the Nino’s break room to be generally intolerable, which meant that he usually did everything in his power to make sure that he was able to eat lunch in his car.
Two steps out of Nino’s had left Adam stepping right back inside. The humidity had hit him like a wall the second he left the air conditioned walkway, and there was no way Adam was going to sit in his car for an hour in that kind of heat.
"I have an announcement, everyone."
Adam exchanged a look with Blue across the break room table that said, Do you know what this is about? and another that said, No, me either. Gansey, who stood at the head of the table, a thumb pressed to his bottom lip, was the only person in the sea of multi-colored uniform shirts who seemed to know what was going on.
"Well? Spit it out," Blue said.
Gansey gave her a smile that seemed more nervous for its lack of nervousness, and then cleared his throat. "Henry and I have started seeing each other. The Henry from customer service, that is."
The clarification was unnecessary. Adam wasn't sure he'd ever seen Gansey exchange more than ten words with the other Henry in the store. The only genuinely confusing thing about Gansey's announcement was that he hadn't already been seeing Henry Cheng. Adam figured it would be unhelpful and potentially damaging to point out how obviously into Henry Gansey had been for months.
Noah didn't share this concern. "So, like, when you guys are doing your laser pointer morse code thing, is that sexting? Because I don't want to have to engage in workplace kinkshaming, man, but I totally will."
This earned a loud, delighted laugh from Ronan, whose presence had almost gone unnoticed by Adam. He'd been asleep on the bench along the wall since Adam had entered the room. "How do you say 'and then what' in morse code, Dick?" Ronan asked.