Chapter Description: Tom goes shopping with his family, and strange thoughts are entering his head.
Chapter 9: Shopping
Honey what you waitin' for
Welcome to my candy store
You just gotta prove
You're not a pussy
And step into my candy store
Tom groaned in quiet frustration. “Mary,” he said to his mother. “Why do we have to wear this stuff?”
His mother didn’t look back. She just kept pushing the shopping cart. “Because we have to look our best.” She stopped to get a small carton of eggs. They were at the Shop N’ Go, Scrumpton’s least glamorous grocery store that always vaguely reeked of fish despite not having a seafood section.
“Why?” Tom stopped himself from broaching into a full whine. “It’s not like this is church or nothing. That got him a quick elbow from his sister. Katlynn was in a clean blouse and khakis. Tom was in a button up shirt and jeans. Church clothes for poor people.
“It’s close enough,” their mom reminded them. “Just not in any of the good ways. People know we’re on SNAP, so when we get groceries we have to look our best.”
Tom crossed his arms, wishing he were back in Malacus. “And if we don’t look good enough they’ll judge the shiiii” Mary stopped, waiting for him to finish the curse word. “-crud out of us. They’ll judge the crud out of us.”
“So it’s exactly like church,” Katelyin said. The twins shared a smirk and each playfully rolled their eyes.
Mom stopped long enough to grab some chicken thighs. They were the cheapest part of the chicken that would last the longest in the freezer. (This didn’t count the world famous nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, but the meat that still resembled actual bird was healthier.) The look in her eyes was something fierce. “Tom and Katlynn,” she said. “If you two were little enough I’d take you both over my knee for that.” She stared at them like a woman possessed, a fire burning inside of them that neither could remember seeing in her.
Katlynn averted her gaze, suddenly finding a package of ground turkey incredibly interesting. “Sorry Mary,” Katlynn said.
“What was that?”
“Sorry Mom,” Tom corrected his sister.
Hands on her hips, their mother seemed much less the lazy schemer, and much more the disciplined warrior fallen on hard times. “This world isn’t fair, kids. Sometimes you gotta play by others’ bull hockey rules.”
As had been their custom since they could talk, the Dean twins answered in unison. “We know...sorry.” Mary kept pushing the cart while the twins kept their eyes open for coupons, free samples and sales, as had been the routine.
Or had it? Something seemed odd to Tom. Had Mary had this talk with them before? His conscious brain, but some secret whisper in the back of his brain was throwing up red flags all over the place. This didn’t seem like the same woman who would have brought a broken clock home from a bingo game in the hopes to upsell it.
Maybe it was coincidence; even broken clocks were right twice a day.
“Alright, folks,” Mom said after punching a few numbers into the calculator function of her phone. “If we’ve got this right, we’ve got enough in the budget for a little extra something something. Tom you’ve got breakfast. Katlynn. Sweet treats. Go ahead and pick out something that we can share, and meet me in the toilet paper aisle.”
Brother and sister needed neither twin telepathy nor an invitation. They split from the cart and went to pick out their share of the menu. The twins always took turns. One would choose breakfast while the other chose dessert.
While he was still a few rows from the Shop N’ Go’s breakfast aisle Tom seriously considered forgoing his share of rations if it meant he could convince his mother to get better toilet paper. Mary’s choice in rolls was so cheap that it had the firmness of wet tissue and the texture of sandpaper; a store brand among store brands. The leaves in Malacus were better than the Dean’s bathroom.
He shook his head when he thought of Katlynn getting the dessert. She was probably going to get something fruity; a carton of orange sorbet or something. Ugh. There was a reason that Big Blonde and Beautiful never referenced stuff like strawberry yogurt or banana cream pie; because fruit sucked for dessert.
Quietly, so as not to disturb the muzak, Tom hummed a few bars to himself. “Scoop me up a mess Of that chocolate swirl Don't be stingy I'm a growing girl.“ Speaking of ‘growing’, Tom noticed that his t-shirt was feeling a little tighter in the gut. He looked down and puffed out his stomach, giving it a little jiggle with his hands. It wasn’t much, but Tom was fairly sure he’d gained a little bit of weight.
He wasn’t fat, chubby, or even pudgy, by any definition of the terms, but he could definitely tell that he’d put on a few pounds. It was more proof that his time inside the old clock was more than just a post masturbation power fantasy. You eat like a dwarf, and you start to fill out like one.
It was subtle though, and Tom was likely the only one to notice. He was still skinny, but relative weeks of full meals (and exercise strangling hydragons) was beginning to put a little meat on his bones.
A rumble in his stomach made him rethink his position on the toilet paper. He needed to eat good food more than he needed quilted butt wipes. If all else failed he could hop in the shower and hose off after taking a dump.
“Pop tarts or donuts,” Tom said. “Pop tarts or donuts..?” Ah yes. The eternal question. They weren’t really ‘pop-tarts’. They were ‘Toaster-Tarts’. And the donuts were beyond day olds. They were more like pieces of yellow cake cut into a circle and dipped in preservative chocolate. On the Dean Family Budget, name brand food was pure decadence. Only the store brand of store brands would do. Things requiring extra ingredients (like milk) were out, too; so no Koko Puffs or Rise Crixp-E’s, either.
The sound of cardboard being ripped open and cardboard like-pieces of corn hitting the floor in little pellets broke Tom out of his search for something to counteract Katlynn’s inevitable lemon bars. Some asshole was ripping open boxes of cereal and pouring the contents directly into his mouth. Bits and pieces of Frosted Happy-O’s spilled over his lips or bounced off his chips and onto the floor. Cookie Monster had better manners.
After taking a few gulps of cereal, asshole would sweep the bits of cereal underneath the shelf, close the box and slide it to the back before reaching for another box. Tom had to squint his eyes. He knew this asshole. His sense of time was screwed up, but he knew this asshole.
The last time Tom had seen him he’d been shorter and stouter, with ham sized fist and his face was stretched out to cover the massive skull. The last time Tom had seen that face, they’d made amends and his first beard was being allowed to grow in in honor of the magnificent suit of armor he’d forged.
“Trevor Macintosh” Tom called out. “The hell are you doing, man?”
Tom’s classmate started a smidge when he heard his name called out, and then instantly slouched when he recognized Tom’s voice. “Oh, hey D-man.” Trevor smirked. There was a predatory, almost reptilian glint in his gaze. “Did you find your backpack where I left it for you?”
Scrawny little Tom Dean almost fell to the bait. Tom the Titan did not. “You’re shoplifting.”
“Nuh-uh.” Trevor’s mouth was already filled with another batch of cereal. “It doesn’t count if it’s in my mouth.”
Jesus! Tom had literally forgotten the pure brazen stupidity of his Earth Realm peers. Tom clenched his fist. It wasn’t fair that assholes like Trevor could seem to get away with doing whatever they want while Tom had to scrimp by on nothing. “You’re such an asshole.”
“Eh?” Trevor’s mouth was full of more cereal “Whuh awe you gaw-uh ooo abouw ih?’
Nothing. That’s what Tom was going to do about it. In Malacus he had enough strength and speed to dodge daggers and leap across chasms; check bullies across the room with back handed slap. Here? He wasn’t delusional enough to find out. “What did I ever do to you, Leadshoulder?”
Trevor swallowed the Kohrn Flakes. “Leadshoulder?”
Tom felt his throat tighten a bit. “What did I ever do to you? In what way did I harm you that made it so you wanted to hurt me so? In what way did I earn your vengeance all these years?”
The bully put the box of cereal back on the shelf. His mouth was agape, yet he remained silent. It was as if Mr. Jordan has just called on Trevor in class.
“Did I ever make fun of you? Did I hit you or throw your stuff in the garbage? Why?!” The fury was rising up, building up and building on Tom’s own words. “What did I do to deserve half a decade…” screw that… “...more like close to half my LIFE as punishment?”
“Uh...uh...um…” For the first time in forever, Trevor Macintosh looked like. He was on the defensive.
Tom took a step closer. “We used to be friends. Maybe not good friends, but we could at least co-exist. Leave each other alone. Not anymore though. Why?” Macintosh took a step back. “Why Leadshoulder? Why?” Tom wasn’t even hearing himself anymore. “Did I do something that caused you pain. Cuz if so, I’m sorry and I didn’t mean to, and if I can avoid doing it again and still live my life, I will.” Tom felt himself growing taller. Standing up straighter. Filled with righteous fury, yet keeping his arms calmly by his side, his sad and weak mask dropped into a snarl.
“Or is it just because I’m different enough for you to pick on, but same enough for you to get away with it and not feel shitty about yourself?” The muzak track stopped; switching over tracks. Tom’s voice all but boomed in the silence.
“G-g-get away from me, d-d-dude.” Travis said. “You’re freaking me out, Dean.”
Tom was keenly aware of the shadow behind him. “Awwww,” a mocking voice came from behind him. “Did D-list jizz in his pants again? I thought you liked girls, dude.”
Tom whirled around. His ears weren’t pointy, and his blood wouldn’t be purple. but he knew that face. “ASSASSIN!” He was not Tom the Titan, hero of Malacus here. He wasn’t super fast or super strong. He couldn’t make a wooden arrow burst into flames. And Josh Hamlin wasn’t an elf assassin.
He got Tom’s fist in the palm of his hand, just like in the movies. It was much less cool being the one who got your punch caught like a softball. “Bad move, D-list.” Towering over him, Josh reared back his fist. Tom was going to need a new nose….
Before Tom had a chance to make peace with any particular god, he was yanked back and shoved behind someone. “Leadshoul-...Trevor?!”
“Ease up.” Trevor’s voice was steady. Solid. Like a dwarf.
Josh’s brows knitted together. “The hell, Trev? Loser was trying to punch me.”
“You snuck up on him. He got startled and swung. It’s what I would have done.” Was Trevor Macintosh standing up for Tom? Miracles did happen.
“He started it!”
“No he didn’t.” Trevor was crossing his arms now; a bouncer at a nightclub. “You were fuckin’ with him.”
“He was fuckin’ with you!” Josh said. “I had your back is all.”
“So you don’t think I could handle myself? Is that what you’re saying?” Tom didn’t know who would win in a fight between his two bullies, but part of him was morbidly curious to find out, just then.
Josh was not nearly so eager. “Naw man. Naw. It’s just. He called me an ass is all.”
“He called you an assassin, dipshit. He thinks you're deadly and shit.”
Trevor was now in his compatriot's face. In a low voice he growled to Josh. “Just take the compliment. Know you’re bad ass, and walk away. We’ll laugh about this later.”
“Uh...yeah...sure.” Was all that Josh said. “Thanks D-list. See you later.” Josh walked away.
“So?” Trevor asked Tom. “Am I still an asshole?”
“Yeah,” Tom said. The fear had long drained out of him. “Kinda. But thanks. I guess owe ya.”
Trevor shook his head slightly. “No you don’t. Not for that. See you at school, dude.”
“See you at school.”
Tom felt fuzzy and confused. How the hell had that happened? Trevor and Josh in the same room, with no adult interference? They should have pounced on him like dogs on a two legged cat. Not turn on each other. And Trevor actually defending Tom?! Maybe there was a little piece of good ol’ Leadshoulder in there somewhere.
So confused was Tom, that he didn’t even realize that he’d left the breakfast aisle without picking up any donuts or chocolate Toaster Tarts and had wandered to meet his mother in the toilet paper section.
He saw but didn’t observe his surroundings, looking off into the middle distance, even though there were shelves upon shelves and packages upon packages of toilet paper right in front of him. He kept walking, replaying the last minute and a half in his head. He’d partied with mythical races. Why did this seem less believable?
Still walking. Toilet paper gave way to wet wipes. Wet wipes transitioned baby wipes and lotion. Tom stopped. Parents’ Choice: Paw Patrol Training Pants. Chase. Sky. Marshall. He hadn’t seen or thought of them since at least the first grade. Now for some reason, here, on a box of off-brand Pull-Ups, he felt mesmerized by the sight of them.
Tom’s feet wouldn’t move. His eyes wouldn’t shift. He didn’t want them to. What he wanted to do was to pick up the box of kinda-sorta-diapers and turn it over in his hands; to stare at it as if the painted cardboard was a great work of art. Maybe take a peek inside and see if every pup got their own padded printout or if it was just the three on the front of the box.
He didn’t though. Thoughts of Josh Hamlin mocking him still rocked his gray matter, enough so that the thought of another encounter made Tom’s arms lock up. What would he say if he caught Tom looking at diapers. “Awwww...is that why you keep hiding in the bathroom D-List? Are you still potty training?”
It wouldn’t be so bad if certain other people said that to him, maybe in the right tone. Amanda Monroe, maybe. “Awwww, is that why you keep hiding in the baffwoom Tommy? Are you still wearning to use the potty like a big boy?” Tom shivered, and felt himself salivate a little. He felt...other things down below.
God! Why was THIS turning him on?!
Tom felt disgusted by himself. Why the hell would he feel buzzed about wearing something so gross and...and...he had no words for it...
He should stop looking at the package right now.
RIGHT NOW! Why was he still looking? Why was he beginning to imagine himsel-?
“Wha?!” Tom jolted out of his own daydream as his mother yelled his name.
“Did you get what you wanted for breakfast?”
“Did you get what you wanted?”
A tiny voice that only Tom could hear (he hoped) screamed out. “That! Let me have that! The box! I want what’s in the box! Please with the box!”
His nostrils flared out a bit as he inhaled. “No. Sorry, mom.”
“Well then what are you doing here?” she asked.
“Some guys at school were in the breakfast lane.” Tom said. “I didn’t…” pride made him choose his next words carefully. “I didn’t want to get in a fight.”
Part of him expected Mary not to care. To penalize him. To tell him “Tough luck Butter cup. I guess you’re just gonna have to stick it out till lunch on the weekends.” That part was sadly misinformed.
Instead what Mom said was, “That was a smart decision, Tommy. No point in fighting when there’s nothing to gain from it.” She motioned in the direction of the dessert aisle. “Let’s meet up with your sister and then double back. Scumpton boys are stupid, but they’re not stupid enough to pick a fight with adults watching.”
And surprisingly enough. That’s what they did.
More surprisingly, the rest of the weekend was just as sensible and nice. Comfortable. Gentle Even.
And yet for some reason, Tom couldn’t get that package of Paw Patrol Pull-Ups out of his skull, and he couldn’t say why…