Alyssa - Chapter Nine

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Alyssa stood in the grocery store checkout line and redid her mental math

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Alyssa stood in the grocery store checkout line and redid her mental math. What was the state tax here? She'd tried to look it up on her phone, but her battery died before the page loaded. In her wallet was her last ten dollars before she got paid tomorrow. In her hands were a box of tampons, two chocolate bars, and a bag of apples. If she'd done her math right, she'd have just enough.

Now that she was at the checkout, she was questioning whether she couldn't have waited one more day. Did she need all of this? None of these were necessities for today. The opportunity to shop at an actual grocery store was a luxury, and she enjoyed looking around.

As everyone in line stepped forward, she rocked back on her heel and considered taking the chocolate bars back. What if she didn't have enough? Her back brushed against someone else, and she glanced over her shoulder, an apology on her lips, and froze. "Oh," she said. "Hi."

Of course Pasha would be at the grocery store in this two-bit town Mia had added at the last minute. The Mending Hearts Tour was promoted as a four corners of America tour, but in reality, Mia was skimming the edge of the country. This was their only interior performance, and Alyssa suspected they'd added it to satisfy her hardcore mid-West fans who'd stirred up a social media storm.

"Hello," Pasha said with a nod, the corners of his lips tipped up with the hint of a smile.

Warmth spread through her. Why was that acknowledgment, the hint he might be happy to see her, thrilling? Tension sprung up between them. They'd spent the last week doing extra rehearsals, squeezing them in between his guarding shifts. Their sessions were going well as long as she didn't come into any physical contact with him.

She could demonstrate, give him verbal instructions, pass him an iPad for videos of other dancers breaking down the steps, but there was no more shadowing, no more rough hands on her hips. She glanced in his basket. Enough protein bars to feed a bear, and some chocolate milk, which she'd noticed was on sale but hadn't been a necessity with the little money she had.

When it was her turn, she stacked her items on the conveyor belt, silently cursing her large box of tampons. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been embarrassed about her period, but right now, with him in line behind her, so big and so silent, she wanted to throw the box down the aisle and pretend she wasn't really a woman.

"Eleven dollars and eighty-five cents," the cashier said. "Did you want a bag? It's an extra charge."

"No bag," Alyssa mumbled as she dug out her ten dollars and then prayed she had enough loose change to complete the transaction. When she'd emptied her wallet and searched the bottom of her purse, she eyed her items, her cheeks heating. She was still over a dollar short. The chocolate. She'd have to sacrifice the chocolate.

From behind her, two dollars were thrust toward the cashier. "Here," Pasha said, his voice gruff.

The cashier snatched up the bills before Alyssa had a chance to protest. Using her hair as a shield, she mumbled, "Thank you." She left the change for him and gathered her items, hurrying out the automatic door into the waiting warmth. Once she was outside, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting the summer breeze wash over her. So embarrassing. The last few days before she was paid were tense every month, a balancing act between her wants and needs.

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