At 11 o’clock, I pulled into the almost empty CVS parking lot. I killed the engine. From my breast pocket, I pulled out the folded, yellow, sticky note. I read the list again, even though I already knew it by heart. Milk, cereal, and dish soap. I put the note back into its comfortable hiding place. I walked through the automatic doors and looked around. She wasn’t there. For the first time in months, she was gone, and whatever connection I had to sanity severed for good.

Several bad decisions and a lot of bad luck brought me to the place where I had to take a night job. A regular, stultifying nine-to-five could no longer cut it. Bills were backed up, and there were weeks when I had to choose between saving for the rent and eating a meal. I usually picked the latter, then spent hours kicking myself for it.

The night job, like the regular gig, was boring. It involved a computer screen and eight hours of having the flesh from by butt grafted onto the thin cotton cushion of the company’s chair. I wanted to quit on day two, but the cash proved to be too good to let go. I sucked it up and started paying my bills.

By the time I saw the girl at CVS, I had enough disposable income that I could buy the little odds and ends that every apartment needs. I would stop in at least once a week in order to buy paper towels, Clorox wipes, and extra packages of toothpaste. On the rare occasions when I “treated” myself, I’d buy a frozen pizza for eight dollars. I’d eat it alone, naturally.

I saw the girl for the first time on a Saturday night. That had been the first week that my manager had given me extra shifts on the weekends. I accepted it because I couldn’t say no. “We are honoring you with a job, so please honor us with your presence.” That’s what the little toad of a manager had said to me after telling me about the benefits of working between 16 and 20 hours every weekend. His comments put me in a foul mood, a mood so foul that only the girl at CVS alleviated it.

She was not pretty. She wasn’t ugly, either. She was the kind of plain Jane everyone sees every day. For a guy like me (who is far from being a looker), she was the type of girl that I could imagine easily sleeping with. One nice word or compliment and she’d jump all over me. Her hair was dark brown to black and her skin was the type of pale that had once been tan. Of all of her features, though, the girl’s eyes were what got me. They were almond-shaped, but large. The irises were the same color as her hair. They were also noticeably sad. They were so sad and downcast that she reminded me of the cartoon character Droopy. That’s why the nickname I gave her was Droopy Dog.

Her unhappiness was made all the more alluring to me by her clothes and mannerisms. She wore the usual CVS uniform of dark blue and red, but her shirt and pants had the crinkled and casual look of someone who did not care about presentation. I would also notice little white balls of fuzz here and there on her pants, and a mustard stain or two did appear on her shirt from time to time. There were nights when she wore a baseball hat with a completely flat brim. The hats never bore the logo of any team, but rather different company mascots or comic book superheroes. They were boys’ hats, too.

Her voice rarely rose above a whisper, and even the whisper sounded hesitant and afraid. It was that attribute that made me fall in love with her. She, I knew, was just as lonely and pathetic as me.

One Saturday night, after buying shampoo, I made eye contact with her and said “Thank you” after she rattled off some rote pleasantry like “Have a nice night” or “Thank you for shopping at CVS.” I gave her a little wave. All she did was look down at her scuffed white sneakers. I left the store and drove home to sleep.

One Sunday in June, I spent my entire shift giving myself the necessary confidence to go up and talk to her. I finalized a plan of action: I’d find some item in the store that was the last of its kind, which would allow me to ask her if the store had any more. While she’d look around for the item, I’d ask her about her job, her school, or her name. I was convinced that the plan would work, but when I entered the CVS that night at 10:50, I saw her talking to a fat co-worker. Well, she wasn’t doing any talking; the other woman, who looked over 40, was talking at her about a litany of personal complaints. I left the store without buying anything.

On my hours off, I began hanging around the CVS in order to find out what her schedule was. I learned that she did not work the day shift on weekends, but did work normal hours during the week. One Friday afternoon, during my lunch break, I found her behind the lone cash register. I put my plan into action.

“Excuse me? Do you have another one of these?”

I held up a box of knock-off brand cookies. Her look asked why I would even want one of those in the first place.

“Let me take a look.”

Her small fingers flew across the off-white keyboard with the speed of an expert. She hummed a little to herself as she looked up my item. When her intranet search proved less than fruitful, she walked out from behind the counter and went to the grocery aisle. She came back and apologized. The store was all out of knock-off cookies.

“That’s okay. I’ll just take this one.” I smiled at her and got no reaction.

The words I wanted to say burned on my tongue, but they did not pass through my teeth. I left the store without saying anything more. I went back to work defeated in every imaginable sense of the word.

The sting of my failure lingered over me like a cloud. I kept entering and exiting the CVS at night, and kept seeing the girl every time, but I never said anything to her. I bought my items and left. I was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost with a debit card.

The next seismic shift in our (non)relationship occurred on another Saturday night, this time in August. For a change, she was not working alone. Beside her in the store was a woman with white hair and glasses the size of saucers. The glasses magnified the woman’s eyes until they looked like they were about to explode from her skull. To me, the older woman looked one step away from full blown dementia.

“Yeah, so I really want to go to Wentworth. I thought about staying home to attend State, but they are not currently offering the major that I want. I’m trying to graduate in three years, and I don’t have the time to wait around for them.”

The girl laughed at her little joke. The older woman nodded her head. She complimented the girl on being so driven.

“I have to be. My parents can’t afford anything right now, and if I want to get into Wentworth, then I have to work a lot. That’s why I’m always here.”

The older woman agreed.

So she’s a go-getter, I thought. She wants to attend a second-rate technical institute rather than go to the loser school that gets billions in federal and state subsidies every year. Tellingly, she made a big deal about Wentworth, but not the Ivy League-level school just one city over. She was the type that aimed high, but not too high.

The other thing that this conversation revealed to me was that she was a poor girl. Given her appearance, I also realized that she was long removed from 18. Maybe she had to work after high school; maybe she had a GED. Maybe, I thought later that night, she was a single mom scratching and clawing her way to subsistence. Her struggles, real or imagined, made me hyperventilate with sexual passion. I did something that night that I hadn’t done in a long time. After finishing up, I went to sleep.

My next trip to CVS was the night when she wasn’t there. I brought my groceries home and stewed in my resentment. How could she abandon me just at the point when I was going to finally break the seal and confess my love (or lust?) to her? How could she run away like Mom when I was so close to making us both happy? I didn’t like the sound of the crazy voices in my head, so I cut them off and drowned them out with the last swigs of cheap wine.

The next day, Sunday, I was called early into work. By 11AM, I was back behind the desk and looking blankly into my computer screen. I did nothing until 11PM. Then, when the clock slipped past 11:05, I called up my sleepy manager in order to complain that my relief had failed to show up. Through several rounds of phone tag, I learned that my manager and the head office, which was located several states away, had fumbled on the schedule. Specifically, my manager had sent out one version, while the head office had sent out another. I had to stay on the clock until they found a replacement. I did not get to go home until 3AM. The other worker tried to cheer me up by reminding me that my long shift meant more money in my pocket. I smiled and agreed, but as soon as the door to the loading dock was closed, I turned around and flashed the guy my middle finger. I hated him and every single boss and manager in the whole world.

Rather than a book on tape, I listened to Slayer at a high volume as I drove home. I was high on anger. I wanted to kill something because I knew that I’d have to go to another job in a mere four hours. Hate and frustration poured out me like sweat. I saw before me a life of unending work shifts and I thought about driving my car into the nearest storefront.

My muscle memory caused my hands to turn the wheel to the right. Without thinking, I parked and killed the engine. I was back in the CVS parking lot. They were closed. She, however, was sitting by her car smoking. She was looking up into the night’s sky, which contained no stars at all.

“We’re closed, you know,” she said to me.

“Yeah, I know. I didn’t plan on coming here at all.”

“You’re like a zombie. Ever seen Dawn of the Dead?”

“Of course. I’ve seen both versions.”

“The zombies go to the mall because that’s what they did when they were alive. If I became a zombie today, I’d clock in right here.”

She pointed to the automatic doors. I nodded.

“I think I’d come here, too.”

“I don’t know why. This place sucks. If I didn’t have to go to college, I would never work here or shop here.”

For some reason, her denigration of CVS angered me.

“A snob, I see.”

“Animals, not people, shop here.” She looked at me. “Except you.”

“Thanks. With that attitude, you’ll never get into Wentworth.”

She stopped dragging on her cigarette. For a split second, her pursed lips made her look like a fish. She removed the cigarette and pointed it at me.

“Not cool. Not cool at all.”

She flung the cigarette on the ground and used her heel to rub it into the asphalt.

“What did I say?”

She gave me a nasty look while she opened her car door. I gave the look right back to her and called her a four-letter word.

“Don’t tell me that you’re one of those overly sensitive girls? What’s the matter, too good for CVS? Well, you’re too bad for Wentworth and Wentworth sucks!”

She slammed her car door and drove off. Her tires squealed a little, as if we briefly found ourselves in the midst of a film scene. I gave the car the finger, too.

Telling the girl off felt good for a time. I felt like I had really accomplished something, especially since I didn’t see her for several nights in a row. The workers there eyed me up and down, and the old lady with the gigantic glasses one time followed me from aisle to aisle. Eventually, one night when I needed eggs, the fat woman told me that I was no longer wanted at that CVS. I could shop at any other CVS, but not that one.

“Fine” is all I said. I left and have never been back.

In the absence of my CVS ritual, I tried to do the adult thing and get plastered every night. That became too expensive, so I switched to watching movies. That became depressing, so I would just lay in bed and think about her. I’ve done that for a while now and I think I’m in need of a change.

I have two options: I can either go back to that CVS or I could break into my neighbor’s house. I could cause a real scene at the CVS. Cops could get involved. It would destroy my future, but it would be a unique story. Or I could break into my neighbor’s house and steal that 9mm he keeps somewhere and blow my fucking brains out.